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Saff pushed himself upright from where he had been leaning against the Wall. “Well, she’s gone then.” He brushed down his dusty robes and adjusted his belt.
Thyst still stared at the spot where Freya had disappeared five minutes previously. She blinked and shook her head slightly, as if clearing it. “Yes, I suppose so. Now what?”
“I’ve been thinking about that. I don’t think we should go back through Andor. Too dangerous—might be more Guards on the way.”
“What do you suggest?”
“Not sure yet. But first we need to cross back over the Chasm before it gets dark, else we risk falling off that narrow bridge. Once we’ve climbed the stairs on the other side of the Chasm, we head towards the western end of the Andoria Mountains.” Saff gestured across the Chasm.
Thyst turned to follow his gaze.
Saff continued, “We can follow the Andor river upstream—making sure we stay clear of Andor. I believe there’s another mountain pass, which would lead us to Marshford on the other side.”
“Sounds good. Let’s go then.” Thyst adjusted the bow slung on her shoulder and out of habit reached behind her to check how many arrows were still in her quiver. Only two. Too few. Frowning, she strode to the top of the stairs and started the descent.
The stairs were narrow and crumbling, a low wall the only thing preventing her and Saff from toppling into the Chasm. They needed both hands to balance themselves. Down, down, down they climbed. It grew darker and colder. They slowed, moving as much by feel as by sight.
Finally, they arrived at the landing at the base and stepped gratefully on to it, glad to be done with the stairs.
“Now for the bridge,” Thyst whispered. Suddenly, an image leapt into her head of Watcher Paz crumpling in a heap and toppling off the bridge into the depths of the Chasm, clutching at the arrow in his chest. She sat down.
“What’s wrong?” asked Saff.
“Nothing … just …” Tears welled up in her eyes and a sob escaped her.
“Oh. Of course.” Saff crouched down beside her and placed his arm around her shoulders. He cleared his throat. “Paz was a good Watcher and a great friend. He did his duty well. But now his vigil is done.”
“His vigil is done.” Thyst echoed. She brushed at her eyes with the heel of her hand and sniffed. “Thank you, Saff.”
He squeezed her shoulder one more time and stood up. “Ready now?” he queried, his blue eyes full of concern.
Thyst nodded and stood up. She eyed the bridge. It was extremely narrow. Without rails. Over an extremely deep Chasm. She took a deep breath and stepped onto it.
It was quite different from when they had crossed it only a few hours earlier. Then, they had been pursued by Guards shooting arrows at them. It had been intense, trying to help Freya across safely. Because the bridge was so narrow, they’d needed their arms for balance and had therefore been forced to allow Freya to be visible. Thyst had gone ahead of her, and an invisible Paz had had Freya’s back. The arrow that had killed him had been intended for Freya. She sighed.
Now it was just her and Saff. She walked calmly and carefully, taking her time. Saff followed her, a few paces behind.
At the far side, the bodies of two Guards lay awkwardly on the platform where they had been slain, arrows protruding from their chests. Thyst strode over and wrenched the arrows out of them. Wiping the blood off the shafts with her cloak, she slid them back into her quiver. She looked around to see if there were any more. She spotted a third Guard on the second to bottom step and retrieved two more arrows out of him.
“Let’s not leave them here.” Saff said. Grunting, he dragged one, then the other, towards the edge, then pushed them off with his boot. Thyst dealt with the third Guard. That business done, they began the long climb back up to the top.
The sun was on the verge of setting by the time they wearily dragged themselves up the final step and fell panting amongst the dense foliage that grew right up to the edge of the Chasm on this side, concealing the stairway.
“I’d better call Freya.” Saff exclaimed, eyeing the setting sun. He extricated his talking stone from a hidden pocket in his robes. It was blue, with white veins running through it. He placed it on his palm and focused his thoughts on Freya. A haze of blue formed around it. Swirling shades of blue solidified into Freya’s face.
“Saff!” she exclaimed happily.
“How are you, Freya?”
“I’m good! But something very strange happened when I went through that archway. I’ve got a shield.”
“What? You found a shield?”
“No, not found. It just sort of … appeared. On my back.”
Saff scratched his beard with his free hand. “I don’t know what to make of that, Freya.”
Freya shook her head. “Me neither. And that’s not all. There’s a pillar with the Laws of Tyrelia on it. There are four of them: Honour the Ancient, Put others first, Use your gifts for good and Follow the Rules.” The words tumbled out.
Saff chuckled. “Sounds great. So, you’re doing okay?”
“Yeah. How’s Thyst?”
“She’s good. We got back across the Chasm all right, and we’ve just finished climbing the stairs. We’d better move on now. Don’t want to be found here.”
“All right. Say goodnight to her from me. I’ll call Rube now.”
“You do that, Freya. Talk tomorrow.”
Thyst mopped at her brow with her sleeve. “I’m really thirsty and my water skin is empty.”
Saff stood up. “Mine too. Let’s go find that stream.”
They pushed their way through the dense shrubbery that grew all along this edge of the Chasm. Not only did the band of vegetation prevent people and livestock from accidentally wandering too close to the edge, but for a thousand years it had also served to hide the ancient stairway leading down to the bridge. Branches and leaves swished as they brushed against their bodies, snapping back into place behind them, leaving no trace of their passage. Eventually, they emerged into the paddocks and fields at the outskirts of Andor. They turned themselves invisible then walked along the edge of the shrubs until they reached the Andor River. Falling gratefully to their knees, they leant over the bank and scooped the cool water into their mouths.
Their thirst slaked, they filled their water skins. It was well and truly dusk now and, in the distance upstream, the lights of Andor town twinkled from the windows of numerous houses. Andor was built on an island in the middle of the river with multiple bridges to the shore on either side. On their journey to the long-lost path, only Saff had crossed the river by those bridges to lure the Guards into following him rather than Freya and the other two Watchers. The ploy had only partially worked, in that their pursuers had split their forces, and half had followed Saff, whilst the other half had followed Paz, Thyst and Freya.
Suddenly, they heard a noise.
“Shh,” Saff hissed. He put his hand on Thyst’s arm.
They peered into the gloom behind them. There it was again. A thumping sound. Like someone was stamping their feet. A shape moved. Then it whinnied.
“By the Land!” Thyst exclaimed. “It’s your horse, Saff.” She laughed with relief.
“Well, that’s a stroke of luck.” Saff reached out and grabbed his horse’s reins, which were dangling from its bit. He patted it fondly as it nuzzled his neck. “I really thought I’d seen the last of him when I left him at the top of the stairs. He must’ve heard my voice and followed us here.”
“It’s a shame we can’t find my horse, too,” Thyst sighed. Paz and Thyst had left their horses on the opposite side of the river. Who knew where they’d be by now.
“Why don’t we try, though?”
“No, I’m serious. Jump up behind me. Thunder can cross the river.”
“Okay. But you should try a bit further upstream. We were able to cross where there’s a whole lot of little islands. They all lined up like stepping stones. It was amazing,” Thyst recounted.
Saff found the spot and they crossed to the other side. Then he turned his mount to head back downstream towards the Chasm.
“We left them just in there.” Thyst leaned forward from where she was seated behind Saff and pointed under his arm at the foliage. “Beside the river.”
Saff urged his horse forward into the bushes.
“Dapple! Dapple!” Thyst called. She clicked her tongue. “Sandstorm?”
They strained their ears. Nothing.
By now it was dark. “You know what?” Saff asked. “I think we should just call it a night. We’re well concealed here.”
Thyst had to agree. There was not much point in wandering around in this vegetation in the dark. They knew that it grew right up to the edge of the Chasm, and they could easily fall in. She shuddered at the thought.
Saff hobbled his horse. They ate a light meal, then rolled themselves into their blankets and fell asleep straight away. It had been a long day. They had found the long-lost path to Tyrelia and crossed the Chasm. Twice. It was quite a feat!