On the first day out, they rode as hard as they could, as often as they could, to put some distance between them and the deserted village. The so-called road hardly made a path in most places, even when they passed by farms and a hamlet. Sometimes the path petered out altogether, but the direction remained steady and they picked it up again after a time. They stopped late. It got dark, and they ate a cold supper, but they saw no indication they were being followed. Greta went back to questioning Briana. Briana said she felt nothing behind them or ahead of them. Vedix wondered this time if the Wolv lost their scent, but Greta thought that would have been too much to ask for.
They rode just as hard on the second day and slowed only a few times when they walked their horses to give them a rest. This time everyone insisted they stop early so they could light a proper fire before dark. The hot meal did wonders for their morale, but the night got cold and the wind came up around midnight.
On the third day, it began to snow. The group pulled off the so-called road to avoid making their passage obvious. They plodded along slowly over the hard grasses and through the trees, often in single file, in parallel to the road, but always with one eye forward and one eye back, searching for signs of life. Silence fell over the group with the snow. Even Pincushion swallowed her thoughts as the world itself insisted on quiet. The birds hushed. The squirrels and little animals went unheard and unseen around the trees that grew in clumps of brown here and there against the white. The leaves were turned but hardly all fallen since it was still autumn and not yet winter. The sky remained gray and stayed low to the ground all day. Once, they came around a bend and startled a small group of deer. The deer paused to stare back at them before they scooted off to disappear in the swirling white. Once, they saw a fox strut across their path, tail and nose raised like a haughty lord. Without a sound, the fox took its time before it whipped its tail like a salute and vanished behind a bush.
By four in the afternoon, they began to look for a place to stop. The group had been very careful over those three days, not to leave marks or signs of passage. Now in the snow, they had moved off the path, but stayed close for fear of losing their direction. Greta let the others keep track of their course. She spent the day, on and off, looking to the back and the front and overhead. Greta knew as long as it snowed, it would hide them and eventually hide their tracks, but she feared once it stopped snowing they would leave a trail all too easy to follow.
Greta heard a sound and paused. Mavis moved up to ride beside her as a sign that she heard it too. Bogus came in from the flank, his nose pointed straight up. Pincushion also let her nose guide her eyes into the air, as Briana gave a sharp whisper.
“Move into the trees.” She and Alesander lead the way to where they could hide from the road and from above. The sound made sense in Greta’s ears at that point. It sounded a shuttle from the Humanoid ship, moving slow, barely high enough to be above the trees.
Greta dismounted with the others. She held her horse and gently stroked her horses’ nose to keep him quiet. Mavis saw it first and nudged Greta who caught the search lights moving along the ground before she saw the vehicle. Greta estimated it as a four to six-person Humanoid craft, and she felt sure its instruments could locate them no matter what they did. Yet the craft seemed to follow the roadway, and after it passed their location, Greta gave thanks in her heart.
“Their fancy instruments must not be working,” Greta whispered and tried to keep her voice soft enough to not be heard beyond the group. “But they can probably still see us and hear us if we get loud, or see our tracks if we are not careful.”
Once the lights of the ship fell out of range, everyone mounted, and Alesander felt inclined to lead them back toward the path they had been following, but Greta stopped him and pointed in a different direction. She moved them off to the northeast, further and further from the Road of Dreams to where the others wondered if they would ever find the path again. Vedix alone realized that given enough snow, they would lose the path in any case.
By six, as the sun behind the clouds prepared to go down, the snow changed to a cold rain. The group came to a rock outcropping in the flat land, and everyone thanked their luck. They found a big overhang in one place that acted like a roof. It appeared sheltered all around by rocks and trees, so the snow had not reached the ground, and now the rain got held back by the rock roof. They felt secure enough in that place to light a fire, and though the space was not big enough so the horses had to suffer the wet, the people were able to get relatively dry and reasonably warm. Again, the hot food helped. And once again, Greta thanked God in her heart because she knew the rain on the snow should obliterate any tracks they made in the snow up to that point. It would also prevent their fire from glaring off the overhead clouds, a sure sign of travelers in the night that could be seen for miles.
Briana felt again that they were not being followed near enough to set off her internal alarms. After encountering the shuttle, no one doubted there were those looking, but thus far no one had found them. This land seemed thinly populated. Over the days, they saw several distant groups of tents set in a circle around a central fire; but they were far enough away so no one came out from there to ask who they were or what they were doing. Since they did not stop, the people ignored them.
“Ger-like dwellings,” Greta called them. “They are more than tents, but not much more. Easily moved, they are the dwellings of a nomadic people, the horsemen of the steps.”
“Maybe, or something like that. They may be Avars, or some early intrusion of Hunnish people. They are like bees in a sense. If you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you.”
“At least they are not Mithrites,” Hermes said, as he got up to check on the horses.