When mountain ranges cut across the horizon before and behind her, and the blue Toyota still hovered in her rearview mirror, Terrin’s better judgement gave way to curiosity. She tapped the break lightly. The car seemed to hesitate, just a moment, as cruise control disengaged, and then she eased the car into a speed that might be described as grandmotherly. At least to other people. Her own grandmother collected speeding tickets like fine china and had recently begun wall-papering the dining room with them.
Dalia looked up as the car decelerated, glanced at Terrin, then the side mirror, and shook her head. “Don’t do it,” she said.
Terrin took her eyes off the road for half a second to purposefully give her an innocent look. “It’s not illegal to go under the speed limit.”
Taking the Long Road, it took twenty-two days to cross the plain east of Oruasta and arrive back at the base of the mountain string. It was another twenty-five days to thread through the high pass and down into King Madden’s land. Tiernan had counted and recounted, measuring distances and strides, how many would make the journey, what it would take to feed and shelter them the whole way through. The longer the trip, the more wagons they would be tempted to bring, the more excess they would want to pack in case it took longer than they expected. The more wagons they brought, the longer it would take and forty-seven days could become sixty so easily. It was a balance.
He had collected his eighty, men and women ready to go back for those they had left behind. They made it to the mountain roots two hours into the twenty-third day. The wagons were still full. The horses that pulled them had taken a week or so to grow accustomed to their new drivers. Tiernan hardly counted it as a delay.
Deorsa took longer sneaking her four hundred across the plain. Refugees had been coming and going for years now. King Gabreal had never reached out to stop them with anything more than the avoidable tips of his armies, but Deorsa’s folk wore uniforms, carried blades forged from finest steel, and fifty of them rode the sort of horses that made front lines break. Neither she nor Tiernan were anxious for Gabreal to take notice.
Tiernan waited at the base of the mountains for eight days, counting each sunrise and sunset as if he were a scout measuring the oncoming army.
There had been something hanging over the morning. There had been a dullness, something to pacify the discomfort in thought and slow the need for motion. As unsettled as the hours had felt, they had been calm, stretching out endlessly like a tedious, necessary mile. Maybe it had been tiredness, maybe just the chill of morning.
Whatever it had been, Tiernan watched his older brother walk away from him in the stone hall, and knew that it was gone.
The thoughtless strides that had brought him to the high mountain hall could not be repeated. And standing still was no kind of option.
Tiernan watched his brother’s back, then looked over his shoulder. As soon as he took his first step, he knew where he was going. He took long, quick strides in the opposite direction from Callix, the speed and motion clicking into place where the morning’s dullness had been to keep him calm.