Pathfinder's Way(10)

By: T.A. White

The three gave each other a long look. It surprised Shea when neither argued with her. She’d expected them to protest much more than they had.

Without another word, the two set off on their tasks. Shea watched them go.

Please don’t let them get cold feet. The plan required each of them to do their part. She took a deep breath, releasing it slowly. She would need a miracle to pull this off. She still couldn’t believe she’d agreed to this. Why had she decided to stick her neck out? Especially since they’d blame her if anything went wrong. If things did go right, everybody else would take the credit. She couldn’t win. She knew that, but she couldn’t stop herself from trying. It wasn’t in her to walk away. She didn’t want any more deaths on her conscience.

Shea walked to the edge of the building and peeked around the corner. She was counting on the locals being so excited about the impending bloodshed that they wouldn’t notice an extra body among them.

She sauntered confidently past house after house, trying to look like she belonged. People had a tendency to see what they expected. A stranger walking through town while they prepared to execute two outsiders would fall under the realm of unexpected. After all, nobody was that crazy.

With her hood up, she hoped the villagers would simply assume she was one of the herders just in from the field for the execution.

As she moved towards the center of the village, butterflies took wing in her stomach. They’d never covered last ditch rescues in pathfinder training.

A man exited a building in front of her, pausing at the sight of her.

She froze and sucked in a sharp breath. Please. Just keep moving. No need to start a conversation.

It took effort to appear casual. Like she belonged. He nodded a greeting and continued in the same direction as Shea.

She followed him at a distance, not daring to duck away, afraid that would arouse suspicions.

He wasn’t the only one moving around. Shea had several similar experiences as she moved closer to the village’s center. Each encounter got a little easier, though her heart never seemed to settle back into her chest. It remained lodged in her throat as she followed the crowd.

Her senses became hyper alert as she moved. Her hearing attuned to every sound. Beneath the hood, her eyes darted around, looking for some sign that she’d been noticed.

Did that woman’s eyes linger too long on her? That man seemed to be paying unusual attention to her cloak. What about the child she had just passed? Her back itched from the feel of his eyes.

The village square was framed by several buildings and served as the village’s central hub. Four wide dirt streets intersected at the square, making it possible to approach from any direction. A wooden platform was front and center with four posts rising into the air.

That was odd.

There should only be two. One for James and another for Cam. Shea felt a shiver of foreboding run through her at the sight. She hadn’t planned for the unexpected.

She could only hope there were extras because more outsiders had been caught and not because Witt and Dane were last minute additions.

She chanced a glance at the people chattering near her. The men had clumped into several small groups as they discussed business.

The women had gathered in their own little groups as well. Several held young children by the arm so they wouldn’t wander off, while the older children were left to their own devices. Some chased others through the crowd as the adults caught up on the day’s happenings. If not for the ominous presence of the platform, it could have been a regular village gathering.

Shea wondered if executions were so commonplace that they were treated as social hour.

As she’d said before, border towns were crazy.

These people’s clothes were simple, with men wearing plain pants and undershirts covered by light jackets in varying shades of color, though most were muted and faded. Some wore hats, but most left their head bare. The women were almost universally in dresses long enough to reach their feet and sleeves that went past their elbows. The patterns were simple and most were one or two colors. Blue seemed to be a favorite.

She noticed that few wore a cloak similar to hers and none had the hood up. Perhaps she should put hers down. She hesitated, fearing that she’d be discovered immediately as the village, at only a few hundred adults strong, wasn’t that big. All of whom would have grown up in Edgecomb. Surely, they would notice a stranger in their midst, even with all the excitement.

She lingered on the edge of the square to avoid notice, trying to blend in and fought against looking at the roofs. She really hoped the others hadn’t bolted or else she might be joining James and Cam up on the platform.