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Cry for the Wolf, Chapter 2. by Richard Walker
SUMMARY: An inside look at the party of the antagonist, Mistress Myranna, on the road.
Road dust rose in a thin cloud from a dirt track as it wound through the gentle hills of East March, blown to streaming tatters before the steady breezes. The wind bore a trace of salty crispness on this, the windward side of the hills, borrowed from the sea which lay a little more than a league away. Another day neared its end.
The late spring air held a crystal clarity as the sunlight lanced through the wind-whipped ghosts of dust to fire the colors of a gaudy painted gypsy wagon and gild even the sun-bleached and weather-beaten wood of an old timbrel following that slowly wended their way along the rutted dirt track called the Scarborough Road through the hills of the great realm of Shanria on their way to the famed port city of Fallond. Like so many others at this time of year, the city's renowned four-week long Crown Fête was their destination, known to the common folk as the All-Feast. Having had a break from the spring rains long enough to raise the road dust should have made the travelers happy, but they had been on the road for more than two years without relief, so long that the generally resigned looks on their faces said it just didn't matter anymore. They were either shivering in the drizzling rain, stumbling in the unnaturally dense fogs, or choking on the dust that clung to them as sweat cut little clean runnels down their faces and necks, only to turn the dust to mud when they tried to wipe it away.
Or perhaps there was some other reason behind their resigned air.
The drover of the gypsy wagon guided his team carefully, carefully along the deeply pocked and rutted track that ran between the already burgeoning banks of blooming weeds. Deep brown eyes brooded under a dirty smudge of dark brows that met unbroken in the middle, his square, rough-hewn face impassive as stone. The unruly curls of his thick, auburn hair were caught up in a leather thong at the back, ponytail hanging down to mid-back. A few rebellious locks about his face refused to be tamed, tickling his cheeks and forehead now and again with the changeable breezes. A single broad lock of silver-white ran front to back, just off-center, heightening the fire in the auburn. In his supple doeskin breeches and knee-high cordovan boots, shirt laced up to his chin, he was oblivious to the chill of the spring evening. His grim demeanor was occasionally disturbed, but only briefly, by the attentions of the woman sitting next to him, wrapped in a fine crochet shawl, but more by irritation than anything else. He hunched in his seat as small as he could to avoid contact with her for some reason. As broad and thick as he was, this made him look like the stump from some great, aged oak perched uncomfortably on the bench.
The woman amusing herself at the drover's expense was amply gifted with physical charms. Her long sooty lashes, silken waves of hip-length hair, black as jet, and her more than generous curves made her attentions hard, at best, to ignore, but her eyes sharp and shrewd, showing her for the mink she was.