Tiernan woke early the following morning and for a moment everything felt fine. He knew he'd been feeling tense the day before but couldn't quite work out why. Then he remembered. The man made of sticks, the figure in the water and the cloud shaped like a man hovering over the village. He felt the plunging sensation in his stomach once more and with a deep breath he sat up in the near dark of the house.
It was getting light outside and a little was shining through the deerskin curtain that hung over the door. It was still very early, he could hear birds singing as he rose from the floor and quietly put away his bedding so he wouldn't wake his family, all of whom were still sleeping.
Once his bedding was away Tiernan left the house as quietly as he could, trying not to let too much light in to bother his sleeping relatives.
The morning was crisp and bright as Tiernan took a deep breath of the fresh morning air. It was already getting warm and the travelling would be easy going for the first few days. Then he and Brianna would get to the mountains to the north and things would get a lot harder. He'd seen the mountains as a boy when his father took him to see them in the distance but he'd never been right up to them. To get the the northern settlements he would outright have to cross them. Only a few from their village had ever managed the crossing of the mountains and lived to tell the tale. The people from the north came down regularly and were used to the steep climb up one side and down the other. He wasn't so sure about his and Brianna's skills.
The deerskin cover of the door moved behind Tiernan and he turned to greet whoever was up so early.
It was his mother.
Rowena approached her son and smiled down at him, he was only a few inches shorter than her and she wondered if by the time he returned she would be shorter than him.
"Do you want some breakfast?" she asked softly. "I can pack you some provisions for the journey too."
"Thanks you." Tiernan smiled. He felt a little less nervous having her around, she was always so calm and unflappable.
"Tiernan!" came a loud cry as Brianna came striding into view. It didn't seem to occur to her that others were sleeping and she should probably be quiet. She seemed more excited and full of energy than ever.
"Shh." Tiernan laughed. "Everyone's sleeping."
"They should be here to see us off, we're travelling hundreds of miles over mountains for them after all!"
Rowena laughed quietly. "It's not quite hundreds of miles but it is difficult to get over the mountain and back. Please be careful. Have you got everything that you need together?"
Tiernan looked down at his feet. "I haven't even thought about it," he admitted.
A huge leather bag thumped to the floor by Brianna's feet as she hauled it off her back. "Yep!" she exclaimed happily. "Flat bread and dried meat for food, we'll pick berries and maybe hunt on the way for more. I have four skins of water, all full, tied to the sides of the bag and I have extra clothes, cotton, wool and leather!"
"All you need now is some breakfast." Rowena said as she bent down to the fire pit outside the house and began to kindle a flame there. "We only have pottage I'm afraid but it'll fill you up enough for the time being."
"Thank you." Brianna grinned as she sat down on one of the logs positioned nearby.
"Do you need me to get anything?" Tiernan asked the two women. He was supposed to be heading this trip in the place of his father and he hadn't got anything done.
"It's all here dear," his mother said as she set the huge bronze pot over the fire and began to fill it with grains, water and vegetables.
"I got it all done last night." Brianna shrugged, "I figured you'd be having talks with your father on what we needed to do on the trip so I thought I'd be useful and get supplies together. That and I knew you'd forget stuff if I left it up to you."
Tiernan gave a weak smile and sat down next to Brianna. He felt useless but there was nothing to be done about it. He'd just have to wait a bit longer to prove himself.
As the friends sat eating their early breakfast the village came alive around them as various people left their houses and started making breakfast. No one really knew what the day ahead would entail. It was down to Wynn as leader to decide what they would do and if life would continue as normal as they waited for Tiernan and Brianna to come back with news.
Wynn came out of the house last and stretched as he walked into the sunlight. He looked like he hadn't slept well at all but he took control quickly enough as various villagers came to him asking what they should be doing.
It was decided while Tiernan and Brianna were away that life would continue as normal, but no one was leave the village alone. Having at least one other person with you was necessary and it was better to go in groups. The night watch would also be doubled for the foreseeable future.
Quite a few of the villagers turned up at the house to give good luck charms and useful items to Tiernan and Brianna for their journey. They were accepted graciously and the gift giver was assured that the two adventurers would do their best and represent the village well.
Finally the time came where they couldn't put it off any longer. Tiernan stood and tried to look confident as he addressed his family and the small group of villagers that were still hanging around.
"Brianna and I will set out now. We'll do our best to bring back information from the tribes north of the mountains. If the northern hunters don't know anything then we'll keep travelling until we find someone that does." H spoke loudly so everyone could hear.
"We'll figure it out and be back in no time." Brianna added confidently. "So we'd best get going, as nice as it is being fed and given gifts!"
The villagers seemed pleased by their little speeches and followed the pair to the gate where farewells were exchanged. After what seemed like an age of saying goodbye to everyone they knew, the two friends finally set off down the hill, turning now and then to wave goodbye to the group of villagers that stood waving them off.
Soon enough they were out of sight of the village and it was just Tiernan and Brianna on the road. The road to the north wasn't used often so it wasn't surprising they hadn't seen anyone yet.
"Nervous?" Brianna asked as she hoisted her pack further up her shoulders. She'd firmly resisted any attempts by Tiernan to carry it for her so he'd taken a pack of extra food his mother had put together for them.
"I am a bit," he admitted. "What if we run into any more of these strange beings on the road? Getting over the mountains is nearly impossible too."
"We'll just have to deal with it when the time comes." Brianna shrugged. "I'm excited, we're going places barely anyone from the village has been before and we get to see the northern villages. It's going to be tough at times for sure but I think there'll be a lot of adventure and fun too."
"We should at least make some basic plans for trouble." Tiernan insisted.
Brianna thought they'd be better just playing it by ear.
They engaged in some friendly banter for a while as they walked down the road. No matter how much they planned, neither of them would be able to prepare for what lay ahead.