Pa woke me up by shaking my shoulder. In front of me he placed a cup of water, and some biscuits and cheese. My stomach grumbled at the sight of the food. Pa sat on the opposite of the fire, and slowly brought it back to life.
I sat up and stretched out my arms. Picking up a biscuit, I popped it into my mouth and sighed. Looking around the cave I noticed Kara was gone. She had clearly gone to find her own breakfast and would be back soon.
“Was Kara gone when you woke?” I said.
Pa nodded. “Yes.”
“Hopefully she will be back soon.”
I rubbed at my sore shoulder as I ate. The pain was less but the throbbing didn’t seem like it was fading.
“Before we set off I’ll need to change your wrapping,” said Pa.
“Okay,” I said.
We finished our breakfast and began to pack up the camp. Pa grabbed some fresh bandages from his saddle bag and called me over. Sitting beside him, we removed my coat and he unwound the bandage. With a wet bandage he gently wiped away the dry blood and examined my bullet wound.
He frowned. “The bullet went through clean and not deep enough to cause any damage, but you’ll have a scar.”
I sighed. “My first scar, the first of many most likely.”
“Don’t be like that,” said Pa, “We might not have to fire another shot on this whole trip.”
I snorted in disbelief.
Pa didn’t respond. He just wound up my arm in a fresh bandage before disposing of the dirty one in the fire.
Packed and ready to go; it had almost been an hour since Pa and I had woken up, and Kara still hadn’t returned. Worry was beginning to fill me. What were Pa and I to do if she never came back? Would we simply go home or would Pa want to continue on? A small part of me prayed that she didn’t return. If I could go home and see Ma and Gean again, that would be perfectly fine with me. But my conscience had other ideas. I knew it would haunt me with the thought of how I could have helped save Kara and her kind. It would haunt me forever.
Pa turned and looked at me from the cave opening. He rubbed the back of his head. “We should get moving.”
“What about Kara?” I said.
“She can catch up to us.” Pa picked up his saddle and placed it on his horses back. “When she returns and sees that we are gone, she will track us and catch up. We can’t afford to waste a whole day waiting for her to return.”
I stood up and crossed my arms. “We have no idea where to go. Kara said that if we stray from the path we could get caught in all sorts of traps. And what if we got lost in these woods? We may never find our way out.”
“Kara told us that we had to make it to the valley of the White Mountains. They are that way.” He pointed west. “If we keep on heading west then I’m sure that we will find where we need to go.”
“What if Kara doesn’t find us?”
“When we reach the valley we can ask for someone’s help to find her.”
I didn’t like it, any of it. But it didn’t seem like I had a choice. Instead of fighting with Pa I walked over to my saddle. I attempted to lift it from the ground but couldn’t grip it. It landed with a thud.
Pa snorted with laughter. He walked over and said, “Probably best to let me do the heavy lifting while your arm heals.”
I didn’t reply. I simply crossed my arms over my chest.
Pa helped my mount Silver and wrapped a thick blanket around myself before he did the same. We left the cave and were hit by the morning chill on the mountains. Pa looked up the path. He said, “There is a clear path in-between the trees, I figure, if we stay between them then we will be on the path.” He looked over his shoulder at me. He seemed to want to know what I though.
“Okay then.” Pa looked back forward and nudged his horse.
The storm from the night before had left the path with a deep fresh layer of snow. Our horses struggled to move at a decent pace, but our slowness allowed us to stay alert to anything around us. Pa seemed to have one hand on his rifles handle at all times. If he was a horse I would describe him as having his ears pricked. Nothing would escape his notice. I was more alert to the cold that was creeping in through the blanket. Keeping warm was a struggle but the longer we rode the colder I felt.
Worry also built. Kara had yet to make any sort of appearance. There had been no sign that of her. Pa had tried to keep me reassured by he was failing.
Around midday when the sun was shining bright in the sky, but producing little warmth, we stopped. Sitting on the stump of a tree we rested the horses and had some food.
Pa wrapped one arm around my shoulder. He said, “Everything is going will be fine, I promise.”
“How do you know that?” I said.
He smiled. “I know because I am your father, and I know everything.”
I laughed. “Yeah, okay, sure.” I shoved him.
He joined my laughter.
“Is it wrong of me to be scared?” I asked him.
His laughter faded and he looked at me with warming eyes. “There is nothing wrong with being scared.” He squeezed my shoulder. “I would be more concerned if you weren’t. Being scared is what will keep you alive. Just trust your instincts.”
I wanted to roll my eyes. Trust my instincts? It was a complete cliché but I couldn’t doubt him; Pa had never led me wrong. “I don’t even know what I’m really afraid of,” I said, “I thought it was that I was leaving behind Ma and Gean, or leaving behind my normal life. I also thought that I'm scared of what I will have to do to help Kara and other familiars. But now I’m not so sure.”
Pa sat silently for a moment. He stood up and looked down at me. “No matter what it is that you fear, don’t let it control you. Don’t let it scare you away from what you want to do.”
“Want?” The word made me angry. “I didn’t want any of this.”
“I know you didn’t want any of this.”
“I didn’t want some animal to show up and just throw my whole life into chaos. I want to be at home with Ma and Gean. I want to be helping you prepare for the arrival of the next lot of cattle. I want this to be someone else’s responsibility. And I want someone else to be getting shot at.” Tears spilled down my cheeks.
Pa’s eyes filled with sadness. “I understand all that. I do. What I meant to say was that no matter what happens in the future, if you are in a situation and you are terrified, don’t let that stop you from doing what you have to do.”
I stood and wrapped my arms around his waist.
He bent down and kissed my head. “Because I know that no matter what you want to do, you will do the right thing.”
We stayed still for a little longer before I pulled back and wiped my face. I turned back to Silver and walked over to her. I stroked her nose, and said, “Let’s get going. We will need to find somewhere to camp before it gets dark.”
We mounted our horses and continued down the path.
The road went from straight to turning in all sorts of directions. The trees, lining either side of the path, grew taller and taller; it wasn’t long before we couldn’t see through any of the leaves. Anyone or anything hidden within was invisible to our eyes. And Pa seemed to become even more alert the further we travelled.
We had just crossed a small bridge when we arrived at what I had feared we would run into, a crossroads. There were three choices to pick from and Pa turned and looked at me. He had no idea which to choose and neither did I. If we picked the wrong one we would end up who knows where. Possibilities of picking a road full of traps, or one that took us in the wrong direction were higher possibilities then us picking the correct root.
I pulled Silver to a stop right beside Pa. I said, “What are the chances, do you think, of us picking the right one?”
Pa’s brow furrowed. “One in three.”
The temptation to roll my eyes at him was high, but instead I tried to pick a path. “You said that we should keep heading west. So, let’s go straight?”
“No,” said Pa.
“Because there is every possibility that the road could end up going in another direction, any of these could lead anywhere.” He was right.
Kara was still nowhere in sight. No sign of her anywhere. It meant that it was up to us. She was no help to us.
I dismounted Silver and held her reigns in my hand. I looked at the road leading to the north. The snow looked completely undisturbed. It had more snow sitting on the top than the other two. Clearly it was less travelled than the other two. Possibly it meant that those who lived in the mountains knew not to go that way, or someone was trying to trick travellers from going down there. The road that appeared to head east looked the most travelled. There were fresh tracks from a cart and horse that couldn’t have been more than a few hours old. And the path seemed to wider as well. Almost like someone had made it wider to fit more travellers along it. The road leading to the south didn’t appear to have many people travel down it. The trees along either side were thick but there were a few animal prints imbedded in the snow. The snow seemed to have been pushed to the middle to hide any trace of human or animal alike, and if you weren’t really looking you would probably not even think about going down there.
Looking down the third road I had this suddenly feeling that it was the road that we should take. I looked up at Pa who still sat on his horse. He was studying me.
He said, “I know that look.”
He smiled. “It’s your ‘I know something’ look.”
“Your right,” I said, “I have this feeling that we should go that way.” I pointed down the third road.
Pa frowned. “Are you sure?”
“That’s not reassuring.”
“I can’t explain it.” I moved around Silver and pulled myself back on her. My shoulder ached as I did so. Rubbing my shoulder, I nudged Silver in towards the road. “We need to take this road. I think it’s my instincts that are telling me.”
Pa nodded. “Okay, let’s go.”
Moving forward Pa let me take the lead. All I could do was hope that my gut was right. If I was wrong, what we found down the road could lead to all sorts of trouble.ns 126.96.36.199da2