Farther South

Remnant: Book of Xiandol Chapter 8

Herzeg and his party had crossed the river a ways upstream and then took to the south, following the mountainside. The land was uneven and rocky, forcing the men, heavy packs upon their backs, to traverse the ever-changing slopes. Herzeg continued to keep an eye on the men trailing him, while still looking to the stone crevices and outcroppings for any telltale signs of red staining from surface deposits.

Serinda finally caught up with the leader, supporting her own pack of belongings on one shoulder. “Herzeg, if you don’t stop soon, these men you hired are going to cause an uproar.”

“So let them.” The man huffed back, his breath strained. “They may… turn around and abandon what share of the findings… they had hoped to get.”

“And what if we find nothing else this way?”

“The mountains are vast, Serinda.” Herzeg shouted back. He stopped to brace himself upon a crumbling outcropping, judging the best path down the moist, mossy granite. “If nothing else, we’ll just have to dig deeper.”

“Help!” The call and cry came out from the trailing members of the group. Serinda immediately turned back, her hand to her brow as she looked into the sun. She pranced back over the rocks, returning in the direction of the others. Herzeg huffed and trotted back after her.

One of the workers, one who had been hauling a pack of tools, had slid down a slick patch of rock and fallen upon his back. The women and some of the fellow man had already gathered around him when Serinda arrived. The corner of the burlap had come loose and had allowed some of the supplies to tumble down the rocks below. The man held at his shin, and below it, his ankle was bent at an unnatural angle.

“What’s the hold-up?” Herzeg shouted as he approached. Some of the others were already attempting to pull the fallen man out of the crux of the rocks. The man’s wife was at his legs to help support them.

As the injured man found a place to rest upon flat ground, Serinda joined the woman to assess the wound. “Can’t you heal it, Serinda?” The wife asked.

The mage ran her fingers down the limb. The man winced as her touch made contact with the ankle. “Off! That’s it!” He cried out.

“It’s broken… I’m not certain I can do anything, even to ease the pain.” Serinda shrugged, her lips pursed as she looked to the wife, then to Herzeg. “It’s not an art I have great experience in.”

“Useless magi.” The leader shrugged. “Either be enslaved by the capital’s rule of law, or be left to stay ignorant by exclusion. Listen, Serinda needs to save her energy for our task at hand. Isn’t that right?”

“What are you saying, Herzeg?” The wife spoke up, standing to confront the leader. “How do you suppose we keep moving forward?”

“Boss,” Gul spoke up. “We’re already two men down. Another one out of commission, and we’ll not be able to carry any more haul of iron.”

“If we even manage to get back there.” Another voice called out.

“Split it up among the women.” Herzeg huffed. “Once our rations are all spent, we’ll have the extra space in our packs.”

“It’s unwise to keep moving at this point.” Gul butted in again, crossing his arms. “We won’t have any more light to set up camp in if we want to go any farther. We’re far enough from the river at this point, anyway.”

Herzeg huffed and tossed down his pack. “Fine.”

Serinda sighed a breath of relief and placed a hand on the leader’s shoulder. “A leader has to think of all the people of the group. Thank you for that.”

“Just know that they’re holding you back, as well.”

The others began to support the man and bring him farther up the side of the rocky embankment, to a slight shelter at the back of the ridge. The supplies and bedrolls were deposited down, while Serinda and some of the woman took to arranging a fire for the evening, or dealing with the man’s injury. “Leave some wood out, a couple of flat pieces for a splint.” She directed.

Down from the mountainside, a cold wind blew.

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