The coming dawn scorched the starlight from the sky as Arrow herded the last of his cowls into the day-cave. Already the golden horizon shimmered. He stopped at the mouth of the cave and looked to the east, where the desert strip stretched beyond the reach of any explorer.
And there had been many. On foot, wing and all manner of things. None had gotten far. Those that had, never returned to tell just how far they’d gone. Of course rumours galloped through towns of the latest attempt, and how they must have made it through, but just couldn’t get back for some reason or other.
Arrow had been close enough to the desert strip to know no one could possibly cross it alive. Dead was another matter altogether, but he wouldn’t let his mind drift there. Instead, he let his gaze roam to the west, and he frowned.
Columns of smoke rose up from three separate areas.
There’d been no storms during the night. Not even distant ones, or his cowls would have been restless. He touched his tongue to his lips and took a deep breath. The tattoos coiled around his body pulsed. Just once, but it was enough. Absently he scratched at the one threaded around his arm.
It wasn’t his war, he told himself, turning away. Just because he’d been born marked as Rogue, didn’t mean he had to be one. He’d proved that since he’d turned seventeen three years ago. His cowls were his life, his purpose. He had no desire to fight, to kill, to shed another’s blood.
He’d sworn, the day his mother had been killed by a soldier, that he would never bear arms, never be the reason that someone took their last gurgling breath.
He’d been thirteen.
He’d never broken his vow.
Shaking his head, Arrow slapped his hand against his thigh. ‘Hutt up girls,’ he said, pushing the stragglers into the cave.
He watched as each black and white beast ventured further into the dark. Their soft grunts filled the cave as they lay down and began chewing their cuds. Closing his eyes, he let their calm warmth envelope him. No matter how many times he took their scent into his lungs, it always brought a picture of his mother to mind. Her smile as she sat at the table, holding him on her knee, feeding him spaghetti.
Now he had opened that part of his mind, he knew he would get no rest until dark, when he could push his cowls back out into the mountain pasture.
One cowl stood apart, her iridescent markings on her face familiar. ‘You rest now girl. By nightfall you’ll have a young one to look after.’
He just hoped that by nightfall, whoever had made the smoke had moved on in the opposite direction.