Child of the Silver Path
Book One: Untitled
Never Knows Best
Shayde kept his head down as he skidded down the dirt path that led from his cabin to the small village on the outskirts of the Blue Dragon Clan's valley. Rocks and soil crumbled under his feet, and a cloud of sand was kicked up as his expert feet easily maneuvered the steep trail. Behind him the Silver Falls roared and cascaded down the rocks, bursting forth from a cavern deep in the Northern Mountains. The Falls were fed by the Ueron river, but Shayde had never seen it. It was just something he knew. He was one of the few children in the village who had actually looked at the maps, or spent more time in the library than was required for lessons. He prided himself on being smarter than the others his age.
Shayde skidded to a halt at the base of the mountain, looking towards the small village on the edge of the Blue Valley. The dirt path gave way to a cleanly paved road cutting through the centre of the town. Silver town; the mere name of it made Shayde's stomach clench. Just thinking of going inside turned his knees to jelly. He wanted nothing more than to turn tail and run back into the forest, all the way back to the small cabin he shared with his mother near Silver Falls.
But he had business in Silver town. There was always some reason for him to make a trip there at least once a week, and Shayde dreaded them the way one might dread being lashed by a bullwhip. Actually, given a choice between the two, he would probably choose the bullwhip. However, the traps he'd set in the forest had yielded nothing for more than a week now, and he didn't want to have to live off the vegetables in his mother's garden patch.
Steeling himself, Shayde forced his head up and stepped into the quiet town. The paved road was covered in dust, and the wind kicked it up into Shayde's face. Fitting, he thought bitterly, ducking his head down under the cloud of dust. Even nature hated him.
A small group of children played near the fountain in the town square. Small shops that doubled as homes made of wood and stone and mortar lined the streets, horizontal shutters raised so the shopkeepers could spy potential customers from the wide windows. The younger children didn't care when he came around; they didn't understand anyway. But the older Dregh and the shopkeepers tried to scare him away with dark glares and hostile gestures. Shayde did his best to ignore them, tugging anxiously on the thin, silver braid hanging down by his right ear. He became very aware of the earring in his left ear with the blue stone that declared him one of them. He remembered how his mother had to fight with the jeweler to get it for him when he turned ten and was finally old enough to wear jewelry. He'd insisted on the eyebrow ring in his right eyebrow as well, mostly because he'd father had had one as well. Whenever he went into Silver town the decorations made him feel like an imposter, playing at being a Dregh. Even though he knew that both his parents were of pure blood, and him as well, he was never treated like he belonged.
He pulled more furiously on his braid, wishing, not for the first time, that he had been born looking like everyone else. He hated his pale skin and silver hair and eyes. How was it possible? His parents, like all Dregh, had richly tanned skin and black hair, but not him. His mother remained convinced that it was a medical condition, that he was some kind of albino, but the doctors declared that it wasn't lack of pigment that made him this way. And so the other Dregh decided that he must have been a halfling - that his mother had been unfaithful to his father.
Sometimes, Shayde actually began to believe the vicious rumors, but then he would remember his sweet, loyal, compassionate mother and he'd shake the doubts away. His mother hadn't even looked at another man since her husband had disappeared and been declared dead. And that was seventeen years ago. Whenever Shayde asked her why she never considered remarrying, she'd just smile and say, "Yovan Highflyer was the only man for me." Shayde suspected it was more the fact that no decent man would come near her than her love for his father. Everyone in the Blue Valley - and a few in the other Clans' valleys - knew her only as a whore.
Shayde blinked when he realized that he'd reached the town square. Some women had come out to rush their children inside when they saw him. Wouldn't want their children caught in the company of a bastard - they could be corrupted. Shayde wanted to scream at them 'I'm not contagious!' but he doubted it would do any good.
Feeling his change purse hanging at his hip, Shayde headed into the butcher's shop. The beefy man who owned the shop seemed to groan when he came in. "I need two cuts of veal," Shayde told the man firmly. The man grunted and started to hobble over to the racks of meat when Shayde stopped him. "Good ones," He said lowly. The merchants in Silvertown were fond of giving him things that were barely edible or hardly useable. Grumbling, the butcher found two cuts of veal that were passable and clumsily wrapped them in paper.
"That'll be eight pieces," he said as he slammed the meat down on the counter.
"Eight!" Shayde roared, "Those cuts aren't worth half that much!"
The butcher made a face and leaned down until his nose was practically touching Shayde's/ He could feel the wind from his nose as he breathed, could see every whisker, every pore, every bead of sweat on the man's face. He could even smell the stench of body odor and rotting meat on him. It made his nose wrinkle in disgust, but he didn't shy away. "Eight pieces," He repeated lowly, his voice dropping to a near growl. "And be glad it isn't more for vermin like you."
Snarling with rage, Shayde practically threw the coin at the beastly butcher and stormed out, tucking the two veal cuts under his arm. He'd been putting up with this kind of treatment his whole life, and he was getting sick of it.
Shayde could feel the eyes on him as he hurried back to the trail that would lead him back to his home so he picked up the pace a bit. The cool air of the Northern Mountains nipped at his limbs through his warm layers. Although the first snow had yet to fall, it was already cold enough to warrant the fur-lined cloak on his shoulders. His bone necklaces rattled in the wind as he broke into a jog at the edge of the valley.
Overhead, a dragon roared as it circled the sacred Mt. Xariut. Probably one of the Dregh had called it. Shayde looked up and spotted the beast in question - a massive green soaring gracefully towards the Green Valley just to the north of the Blue valley. It twisted in the air and fell into a perfectly fluid dive and disappeared out of sight.
Shayde sighed heavily; in just four more days he would be seventeen, and finally he would be able to call a dragon of his own. Some of the other children would tease him that his dragon would half turkey, or a cripple, or some other perversion of nature, just as he was, but when that day came he would prove to them all that he was a Dregh, strong and proud like the rest of them. He would get a dragon and force them to respect him if he had to. He could go over to the Red Valley and battle his way to the top in the Pits. Then people would stop tormenting him and his mother and they could finally move back into the valley instead of living on its outskirts.Just thinking about it makde his toes tingle in excitement. Four more days, he thought, and then things will finally start looking up.
"Shayde!" The high pitched shriek seemed to Shayde to be loud enough to break glass. Still, he had no intention of getting out of bed today. "Shayde!" His mother repeated more firmly, this time ripping his covers off him and tossing them on the floor. "You had better get out of bed right now or else."
"Or else what?" Shayde mumbled into his pillow.
"Or else the Elder won't perform your linking ceremony for you tomorrow. Then what will you do?" He couldn't see her, but Shayde just knew that Reina Highflyer had her hands on her hips and was tapping her foot impatiently.
He groaned painfully as he cracked an eye open against the mid-morning sun. Just as he suspected, she was towering over him, looking irritated. "He wouldn't do that," Shayde protested, even as he swung his feet out of bed.
Although she was well past her middle years, she still managed to retain her youthful radiance. She had a splash of grey at her temples, but her bronzed skin was completely without wrinkles. "You have no idea what he would or would not do," She declared, giving him a heavy glare. "Now hurry up and get dressed. We have to meet the Elder in an hour."
Shayde moaned as he stumbled over to the pile of dirty clothes in the corner of his room. Begrudgingly, he dug through the heap and pulled out a wrinkled shirt. He frowned at it a moment before calling to his mother. "Mom! Do I have any clean clothes?"
"I don't know," She replied coyly, "Did you do your laundry?"
"No," Shayde sighed; if being an adult meant doing his own laundry he wasn't sure if he wanted to be. But then again, it also meant being linked with a dragon, and Shayde wanted that more than anything else in the whole world. Muttering to himself, Shayde selected his least wrinkled shirt and a pair of slacks, then started putting on the many bone necklaces over the years. He had three total, made from the teeth and fangs of large predators he'd killed. Shayde didn't know why he was bothering with his clothes at all. Why should he try to impress a man that would probably hate him no matter what he did. Still, the man was the Elder, one of seven who were second only to the Silver Hand herself. It wouldn't do to insult him with dirty clothes.
Once, before the Edler became the Elder, he was actually a close friend of his father's. Unfortunately, he was also one of the many Dregh who believed the rumors about his mother. As a result, he was more hostile than most. Whenever the Elder came to visit Silvertown Shayde made a point to stay far, far away. He finished dressing and pulled a coarse brush through his long silver hair, then tied it back with a strip of leather.
The Elder had arrived in Silvertown the day before for this occasion, instead of making Shayde travel all the way to Aqua, the largest city in the Blue Valley where the Elder usually stayed. Such an action made Shayde wonder if he really did hate them, or if he was just playing at it to keep up appearances. But if he was playing, he was certainly doing a good job of it.
"Do you remember the formalities?" Reina asked as she hurried him out the door, throwing on her cloak and shoving a piece of fruit into his hands as she did so.
"Yes, mother," Shayde sighed, nearly tripping over his own feet to keep up with her.
"And remember to be respectful, please Shayde?" She practically begged. She knew how little Shayde liked the Elder. "He's doing you a favor."
"I know that," Shayde rolled his eyes, "What I don't understand is why."
Reina shook her head. It was clear that she knew as little as he did in this matter. "I don't know and I don't really care. He can't possibly have anything to gain from this. Perhaps...' She stopped suddenly and shook her head. "Well, whatever the reason, it certainly doesn't matter now. You're going to have a proper linking ceremony. I'll bake a cake and everything!"
"You don't have to do that, mom..." Shayde said, even as he smiled. His mother hated baking, cooking and most other things that normal women did, so getting a cake from her was something special. She was the kind of woman who preferred to go out hunting instead of staying in by the warm fire mending and relaxing. Shayde had heard that she'd been raised a Black until her linking ceremony declared her more fit for the Blue Clan. He could only imagine how she must have felt on that day. Raised among the smallest and probably least liked clan, only to join the most coveted of all of them. The Blues were highly regarded, since they took reign over the element of ice and water, things that were practically sacred to the Dregh. Living so far north, it was winter more than half the year, so whomever controlled the ice pretty much controlled their way of life.
"Like ash I don't," She snapped back. "Tomorrow is the most important day of your life and you'll have a cake if it kills me."
"Well, if you insist." Shayde shrugged. He couldn't remember the last time his mother had made anything fancy, but since she was good at everything else, he imagined his cake would put even the Silvertown baker to shame.
It was only a short walk to Silvertown, and Shayde and his mother made it to the Elder's Silvertown manor early. The butler at the front door was hesitant about letting them in, but when it became clear that they had been invited by the Elder he led them to a lavishly furnished sitting room to wait.
Shayde was too nervous to sit down on the beautiful oak sofa, upholstered in green embroidered with golden leaves. There was also a matching chair and table in the room, and an enormous redwood fireplace with a small fire lit. Shayde wandered over to the window and smiled at the view of Silvertown he saw from it. The manor was only three stories high, but Silvertown was so small that only the richest of merchants had more than one floor to their homes and shops. He could see practically the whole town and could make out the various people bustling about below, gathering around the fountain in the town centre and talking with their neighbors. After tomorrow, I'll be down there with them, Shayde thought with a sigh. All he had to do was put up with the Elder today and he would be all set.
"The Elder will see Reina Highflyer and her son now," The butler sneered, appearing suddenly in the doorway. Reina stood demurely, but Shayde glared at the man. He'd noticed how he'd scowled and refused to call Shayde 'Highflyer'. Many of the people in Silvertown had taken to calling him 'Paleskin' as a jibe about his appearance, but also because they refused to recognize him as Yovan Highflyer's son. He kept his head high as he and his mother followed the spindly man out the door and up another set of stairs to the Elder's chamber on the top floor. The butler announced them briskly and left them there, not even bothering to open the door for them.
Shayde started to curse the man under his breath until his mother shushed him and opened the door, the picture of grace and pride.
The Elder was sitting with his back to them, looking out the huge bay windows. The window faced away from the town, and Shayde was sure he could see the top of Silver falls, and even the clearing where his cabin lay. He'd never know the Elder could see their home from where he was. Frankly, the thought was a bit unnerving.
"It's been quite some time, Reina," The Elder said as he stood from his chair and turned to face him. Despite his informal greeting, there was nothing cordial in his voice. Shayde could see the hate in his eyes as he looked at his mother. It was as if he could barely stand to look at her. It made Shayde's hair stand on end. Why was he doing this if he was disgusted to even be in their presence?
"Indeed it has, Tarn." Reina replied cooly. "I must say I am surprised by your offer. I am quite capable of performing my son's linking ceremony in place of his father.
The Elder's scowl deepened and he snorted before continuing, "Such a thing is unheard of. It is a man's duty to perform the ceremony for his son. If you did that it would be an embarrassment to the entire clan!"
"Is that was this is about, then?" She asked, her eyebrows pinching together, casting a dark shadow over her eyes.
The Elder ignored her question and motioned for them both to sit. "We are here to make sure Shayde is aware of the particulars of the linking ceremony. The ceremony has not changed in thousands of years, not since the First Father made the Pact with the Great Silver Dragon. It is very important that this tradition is not altered in the least."
"I know that," Shayde said before his mother could speak for him. The Elder cast his dark brown eyes in his direction, causing the boy to squirm in his seat. He immediately regretted speaking out. One mistake, just one, and the Elder would abandon his offer to perform the ceremony.
"As long as you're clear," The Elder said. "If it pleases you, Reina, you may wait outside. You are not needed for this."
Reina frowned at him but stiffly stood and left without a word. Shayde immediately started to feel nervous. Without his mother to keep the Elder at bay, he wasn't sure what the Elder would say to him. Furthermore, what would he say to the Elder without Reina there to shake her head when he stepped out of line? He had no idea how to appropriately speak to the Elder. He stared at the Elder nervously and tried to swallow his fear.
"Do you know why I offered to do this for you, boy?" The Elder spoke suddenly, his back turned again so he could stare at the forest at the edge of the Northern Mountains.
"So I don't embarrass the clan any further?" Shayde guessed.
The Elder scoffed and turned, malicious humor in his eyes. "Don't be stupid, boy. There is no way you could ruin the Blue Clan's good name any more than you have."
Shayde tensed and prepared to argue, but the Elder cut him off. "Don't throw a fit, boy. It's the truth. Personally, I do not believe in punishing a child for his parent's sins."
"My mother has never been unfaithful to Yovan Highflyer!" Shayde barked, curling his hands into fists. How could this man stand there and talk that way about his mother?
"Shayde, I know that you love your mother," The Elder sighed, rubbing his eyes, "It is obvious even to the most daft of Blues, but sometimes our love blinds us to the truth..."
"And sometimes our prejudices do the same!" Shayde roared. "You were her friend once, Elder Tarn! How can you believe such things about her? How!"
"I was Yovan's friend once, Shayde, and he is not your mother. Do not ever confuse that fact. My loyalties lie with him." Shayde wanted to say something to him, make him see that his mother was a good person, that she loved Yovan dearly and would never hurt him.
"I never liked Reina, Shayde. When your father decided to marry her I tried to talk him out of it. Reina was...a spirited girl. She suddenly appeared in the valley after her linking and all the young men fell for her. She was beautiful, she still is, but Yovan fell under her spell as all the others did. For years he loved her while Reina flirted with every young man that caught her eye."
"I don't believe you!" Shayde snapped,
"There's nothing wrong with that, Shayde. She was a young girl then. Even I will admit that once Yovan got her attention he held it rather well. I never would have believed Reina would cheat on him until..."
"Until you were born. It was nine months after Yovan left the valley to explore the southern lands. He'd always been restless inside the protection of the valley, and not even Reina could keep here." He said in response to Shayde's confusion and smiled slightly. "So yes, I suppose it is possible that Yovan was your father. But a few short weeks after Yovan left, strangers appeared in the valley with news that Yovan had been killed. There was no reason to disbelieve their story. They claimed to be friends of his, and even returned to Reina Yovan's heartstone."
Shayde knew that stone. His mother wore it around her neck constantly. She didn't even take it off when she slept. There was never any doubt in Shayde's mind that his father was dead. After all, if his dragon was dead then so was he. Dragons were almost impossible to kill, immune to diseases and age. They only became vulnerable after their linked one died. So even though Yovan's body was never found, there was no doubt that he was dead.
". Reina, of course, was heartbroken. She wept for days and it is believable that she may have found comfort with one of the strangers. They did share her home, after all. And if that wasn't enough, years later Yovan's dragon was found dead in the southern pass."
"I don't believe it," Shayde said stubbornly. "And you shouldn't either."
The Elder sighed and shook his head. "Listen to me, Shayde," He said firmly, his dark eyes glowing with tense rage. "Until last week I believed all the rumors about Reina. I never put any of that past her. Sometimes I didn't even blame her. Most of the rage the townsfolk feel towards her is that she didn't even mourn for a suitable time before taking another man..."
"But she didn't!"
"Before taking another man to her bed." The Elder continued. "But last week Gorr," Gorr was the Elder's dragon, everyone knew that, "Came to me in a dream and told me that it had been Yovan's wish for me to look after Reina and his son. His son."
Shayde blinked at the Elder in awe. Only a fool would disregard a message from their dragon. Dragons were far more intelligent and perceptive than any human. If Gorr believed him to be Yovan's son, then obviously the Elder now believed it as well.
"So then...you believe us?"
"Not entirely. Just because you are Yovan's son doesn't mean that mean the Reina didn't seek comfort in another man after she heard of his death."
Shayde couldn't believe what he was hearing. Finally, solid evidence that his father was indeed Yovan Highflyer, and still the Elder didn't want to believe in his mother's innocence. Reina was right when she called the Elder a hardhead.
"There isn't much I can do to help you. The people have already made up their minds about you and your mother. But I believe Yovan would have wanted me to do this for you. That is why I'm doing it."
"I..." Shayde bit his lip, wondering what he should say. The Elder's eyes were hard, but he was butting aside a great deal of prejudice and opening himself up to the judgement of the clan by doing this. "Thank you," Shayde said finally. The Elder nodded curtly and finally they got down to business. The next two hours were spent going over the ceremony, what Shayde needed to say and do, and the significance of the whole thing. Another hour was spent drilling until the Elder finally decided he was ready to go on with his linking ceremony the next day. There wasn't really much to it, just a few words exchanged and then Shayde had to stand around and wait for his dragon to come down from the mountain, after which he would lay his hands on the dragon and it would do the rest. A few traditional sentences later he would be officially linked, and officially part of a clan, a recognized member of Dregh society and he would finally be accepted among his peers.
He was on the verge of smiling when he left the Elder's study and joined his mother, who was sitting downstairs in the sitting room with a book and some tea. Obviously she had charmed the butler enough to bring her some. It was even decent tea, although it appeared the man had made a point of brining her some of the less impressive dishes to drink from. The Elder had specifically asked him not to share what they had discussed, but Shayde found it hard to keep to himself the Elder's evidence. Still, he kept his mouth shut. He didn't want to betray the Elder.
"Did it go well?" Reina asked as he joined her. "You were up there for quite a while. I was beginning to wonder if he'd strangled you to death."
"Mother! Why would he do that?" Shayde blinked.
"You can be a little outspoken, son." She smiled. Shayde rolled his eyes and headed for the door. "Come on, let's get out of here." He said. "I'm starving."
Reina chuckled and followed her son out, glad that he was in a good mood. "There seems to be some excitement near the town centre," She said as they left. "And I'm sure I saw the Silver Hand's dragon waiting at the edge of town."
"The Silver Hand?" Shayde gawked, "Here?"
Reina nodded and started to lead the way to the square. "I believe she's here to speak with the Elder. You know he's being groomed to take over for her." Still, it wasn't every day Shayde got a chance to see the Silver Hand, ruler of the Dregh. He picked up the pace a bit as they hurried for the town centre, eager to get a glimpse of the Silver Hand.
However, as they got closer to the centre, a firm hand fell on Reina's shoulder and stopped them both cold. Shayde turned and saw his mother facing a very large man from the Black Clan. Most Dregh were uncomfortable around the Blacks. They were a suspicious bunch, charged with keeping the laws of the Silver Hand throughout all seven of the Dregh valleys. What could they want with them?
"Reina Highflyer?" The large man asked.
"Yes, Frein, isn't it?" Reina replied, "I remember you from my youth. What do you want with me?"
The man, Frein, didn't seem impressed with the cool way she dealt with them. After all, why shouldn't a woman born to the Black Clan be fearless around them. She probably knew almost all of the Blacks that now surrounded them. A small crowd had gathered as well, curious as to why the Blacks were bothering with the source of most of the town's gossip.
"Reina Highflyer, I am here to place you under arrest."
"What!" Reina gasped. "That's ridiculous, what have I done?"
Frein kept his gaze steady, "Reina Highflyer, you are hereby under the arrest for the conspiracy to murder one Yovan Highflyer."
"That's preposterous!" She bellowed, "I did not kill my husband! I loved Yovan! Why would I hurt him?"
Frein shifted uncomfortably, and Shayde suspected he may have known his mother rather well in their childhood. "It's believed that you conspired with your lover and father of your child to kill your husband so you could be together."
"That is the stupidest thing I've ever heard!" Reina bellowed, clenching her fists so tightly that Shayde was sure she was going to strike him. "That doesn't even make any sense!" Shayde argued, stepping into the circle that had formed around his mother and the Blacks. "Leave us alone!"
The Black, Frein, scowled at him but turned back to Reina and continued to recite speech due every criminal under arrest. "You are hereby under arrest for conspiracy to murder your husband. You are to be escorted to the Silver Palace and held there until your trial. May the light and mercy of her Grace Eliza the Silver Hand and that of the First Father be upon you and guide your soul down the One Path."
"This is so stupid!" Reina cried, struggling to get away from two large men who came to restrain her. "I did not kill him! I did not wish to see him dead and I never, ever cheated on him! Release me this instant!" But the Blacks were relentless.
Shayde watched on in horror as his mother was dragged away.
"Stop!" He cried, running after them. "Leave her alone!" He tried to attack one of them men holding her, but he was grabbed away before he could even get close. "No! Mother!" How could this be happening, now, of all days? The day before he came of age, the day before he received his dragon.
"Hold!" A strong, feminine voice suddenly called out. The Blacks stopped dead and turned to see who had called him. Behind Shayde, the crowd of onlookers parted, allowing a tall, regal woman pass through. When she reached the Blacks she stopped, standing right next to Shayde.
Her features were sharply angled, and she had high cheekbones and fierce brown eyes. Her hair was silver-white with age and she held herself with the poise befitting any ruler. Her long silver robes and high silver-trimmed hat marked her as the Silver Hand, ruler of the Dregh. Shayde could only gawk as all those around him began to drop to their knees, including Reina and the Blacks. Shayde was so distracted with being mere feet from the Silver Hand that it took him a moment to realize that he was supposed to bow, and then plunged to ground so fast he nearly hit his nose on his knees.
"Tell me, Captain Frein," She said stiffly, "What evidence do you have against this woman?"
"Well I uh..." Frein started anxiously. He quickly cleared his throat and said, "Your Grace, this woman's husband died mysteriously seventeen years ago. She has a son who was clearly born of an outsider and..."
"That is not evidence, Captain," The Silver Hand said tersely. "Laying with a man other your husband is not considered a crime. Nor is having an illegitimate child." For once Shayde wasn't tempted to correct the woman and tell her that his mother had never lain with any outsiders and that he was not illegitimate. "Furthermore, there is no way of telling how Yovan Highflyer even died, since no body has ever been discovered." She smiled at Frein's shocked face. "Yes, I am familiar with the case of Yovan Highflyer, and I see no reason to arrest his widow for his death. Unless of course, you have found evidence more accusatory than mere spiteful rumors?"
Frein blushed and cleared his throat again, but eventually shook his head.
"I didn't think so. Release her at once." The Blacks did so and Reina rubbed her arms, sending angry glares at the members of her former clan. "Thank you, Your Grace." She said, bowing her head. The Silver Hand nodded in acknowledgment and then, shockingly, turned to look directly at Shayde. "I had a dream last night boy." She said to him. Shayde blushed and bowed his head, "A dream, your Grace?" He asked.
"Yes. I remember Yovan Highflyer well. He was a good man. I saw many things in my dreams, but they all suggested to me that I come down to the Blue Valley that was once my home. There are hard times ahead of you, boy. Stay strong and true, and you may discover a few things about yourself."
Shayde had no idea what she was talking about, but he bowed again and said, "Yes, Your Grace. I will." She seemed to sense his disbelief, but she said nothing more. "Frein, I will expect more thorough work in the future." She rebuked him.
"Yes, Your Grace," He said stiffly. He bowed his head and kept it that way until the Silver Hand was out of sight. When she was finally gone, he glared at Reina and Shayde and then quickly led his Blacks away.
"He always was a troublesome young man." Reina grumbled, still rubbing her sore arms. Although the Silver Hand and the Black Clan had left, the crowd remained, staring after Reina and whispering fiercely among themselves. "Come on, mother." Shayde said softly. "I don't feel much like hanging around." He took his mother's arm and led the way out of Silvertown, ignoring the looks from the townsfolk. They walked in silence all the way back to their clearing on the mountainside, both trying to forget the strange day in town.