The young woman Corvala padded deftly across the meadow with crook in hand. Her frame was lithe like a willow but she carried herself with the firmness of an oak, following the trail of bent blades made through the tall grass. Old Gray had come this way.
As she moved through the grass, Corvala batted away the mosquitos that had come out for the evening. The sun hung low over the hills, and soon it would be too dark for her to follow the trail. She hurried across the meadow and came to a riverbank where Old Gray had come. The hoof tracks were plain upon the mud, showing that the goat was following the river upstream.
Corvala hesitated for a moment. Across the river, the trees grew thick and held cold shadows between their branches and trunks. Within the dark, nasty briars coiled and bristled with spines. Thorn Mouth. A forest aptly named, for it swallowed the hills beyond. The little river marked its border, a thin line that kept the wilds at bay.
With a tinge of apprehension, Corvala jumped down the eroded edge of the meadow and began to head upriver. She followed the hoof tracks, but kept the trees and briars of Thorn Mouth always in the corner of her eye.
Going around one bend and then another, she felt the air grow cooler as the sun sank behind the hills. The evening’s gloaming called forth more mosquitos than before. All of them seemed intent on finding Corvala’s veins. Corvala cursed them—and Old Gray—as she continued onward, following the trail in the waning light.
But then she paused. She had heard something. Or at least she thought she had. Could it have been the babbling of the river? No, there it was again. A voice. A woman’s voice. An incomprehensible murmur coming from the forest—just on the edge of hearing.