iv) A hiss of voices

A hiss of voices, collectively excited and trying to keep hushed, rises up from the spot where the man fell down. Shyan and Abia watch, their wagon slowed to a pace, as the man’s unconscious form is dragged back into the bush by his ankles.

“Mercy,” comes a scrabbly man’s voice. “Gods, that was a hell of a toss.”

“Thank you,” Shyan calls back. “If you be bandits, we’ll ride on.”

“No, not bandits, exactly,” replies the man. The rustling of branches precedes his emergence onto the road. He’s stocky but malnourished, holding a cloth cap in his dirty hands. A moment later, a woman joins him, in much the same state, bearing a bonnet instead of a cap. “We thought about robbin’ ye, sure, but then ye killed my boy with a rock.”

“I don’t think I killed him.”

“Well the least ye can do is share some of your heavenly-smellin’ vittles,” the man says, making a move toward the wagon.

Shyan gives a subtle signal to Abia, who readies the reins. “Nothing in here worth eating, I’m afraid,” she says to the man. “Back off, unless you and your wife want to join your son in dream land.”

The man’s face darkens. His hand drifts slowly to the scabbard at his belt.

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