"Hurry, Leanna. We won't clear the pass by nightfall if we don't hurry," Tavis said. He tugged urgently on his companion's hand in an effort to quicken her pace.
"Are you sure this is wise, my love?" the red-haired girl responded, casting a nervous glance at the towering cliffs that loomed on either side. "I've heard the elders talking about this place. They said it was full of angry spirits."
"The elders are just afraid of losing the tolls they collect at South Star Pass. They don't have the men to guard both, so this one goes unused. And they spread their silly ghost stories to keep it that way. Now come on, while there's still light."
Leanna nodded reluctantly and followed the dark-eyed boy along the faint trail. She knew that her father, a village elder, and her overbearing mother would be livid when they discovered she was missing, but she didn't care. They would never accept her marrying someone so far beneath her station. Tavis was just an apprentice hunter and her parents refused to see him as a worthy match. Running away to Merilon offered them their only chance to make a life together.
She wished there was a better way to escape, though. The northern pass was a lonely and dismal place, full of gloom and the muttering of the bitter north wind. Thick grey clouds raced across the sky like frightened cattle and the air was heavy with the threat of snow. The girl shivered and pulled her cloak tighter in an attempt to shake off the chill, but it was no use. She felt like an icy wraith doomed to drift forever through an afterlife of frozen misery.
In an attempt to distract herself from her unpleasant surroundings, Leanna lost herself in thoughts of their destination. The city of Merilon was a wondrous place according to the stories, a swirl of exotic sights and sounds the likes of which she could only imagine. She tried to picture the magnificent buildings of white marble towering over her, bathed in the glow of the warm summer sun. In her mind, she heard the laughter of children playing and smelled the intoxicating scent of jasmine floating on a gentle breeze. The Merilon of her daydreams was a vibrant and happy place, full of light and life. So different from this accursed pass, she thought. Why had she agreed to go this way?
"Are you all right, Love?"
Tavis' question jarred her from her thoughts like a whip crack, though he had spoken softly. Indeed his voice barely carried over the hiss of the rushing wind.
"I don't like this place," she replied.
"Neither do I," he admitted. "Something is making the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I feel like we're being stalked."
Leanna felt the blood drain from her face, making her pale skin even whiter in the growing twilight. "Ghosts..." she breathed, her throat tightening in sudden panic.
"More likely wolves," Tavis said grimly. "Just as bad, if you ask me."
The young hunter pulled an arrow from his quiver and nocked it. "Come on. We need to get out of here. I can't defend us from an entire pack of mountain wolves."
The young lovers moved as fast as possible over the rocks and debris that littered the floor of the pass, but the feeling of being watched grew steadily until it nearly drove Leanna mad.