Long before the Traveler had crashed around packing up his camp and moved out, the old warrior was awake, watching. Knowing he would hear the inexperienced man’s noise and smell his artificial scent a long while after he disappeared into the trees, the old warrior dropped to the ground and tidied up the mess left behind, covering the ashes with dirt, pushing rocks back where they were better suited, burying a dirty bit of something the Traveler’s food must have been wrapped in.
It took less than five minutes to clean up the site, during which he listened to the other’s noisy passage. Slipping through the shadows, the old warrior was within sight again in less than ten minutes, and spent the morning following what rapidly became a familiar path. Had he known this Traveler’s destination he could have arrived in an hour and had two more to rest before that one emerged from the woods—if that had been his intent.
Instead, after circling around at what seemed to the old warrior an excessive distance, he settled in to make another oversized fire and camp on the far side of the village where the old warrior had first believed he would find his stone. Finding the Traveler was a surprise, then it felt obvious. That the man led him here made the old warrior suspect he should stop being surprised at the twists and vagaries of this quest, and simply forge ahead, eyes and mind open.
This time, rather than sleeping rough and going without food, he circled the village and came upon a farm on the outskirts where he was invited to share a meal and offered a bed for the night. The Traveler’s ignorance of the prospects of hospitality were another mark against his intentions. An honest man didn’t hesitate to sit table with others and accept the warmth of their fire.
After eating, he slept a short time, asking his host to be sure he awoke again before the sun had fully set. Though he offered to help with the farmer’s evening chores before leaving, that one laughed and wished him a safe journey and more excitement than feeding a few chickens and goats.
Moving quietly back around to the Traveler’s camp, he smelled the sickly sweet scent of the man on the breeze, and minutes later, heard him making a fire. With a full belly and two hours’ rest, he once again climbed a tree to await the Traveler’s next actions.
Dozing in the tree, noises from below woke him. The moon had set, and in the pure darkness the coals below glowed. The Traveler pushed dirt over them, gathered his few things, and moved toward the village.
Moving more quietly than usual, the old warrior followed closely. If this one was considering something untoward, he wanted to be in a position to act if necessary.
Their path was straight to the village, along a narrow alley behind a row of houses and shops. At one, the Traveler looked through a window, then squatted under it. In the darkness, the warrior couldn’t make out what he did as he hunched facing the wall, but a sharp ugly smell came through the dark. Rising, the Traveler moved around the building. By the time the warrior followed, the man had disappeared. He stayed behind the corner of the house, not sure if this was a time to act or wait. He had seen the Traveler’s dagger, true, but he had also smelled a medicinal smell which made him believe the man’s plans, though troubling, were not violent. Still, he listened as only a woodsman of his caliber could listen.
From inside came the sounds of the Traveler’s clumsy shuffling attempts at stealth. Whatever he was doing was taking ages. His sounds came now from farther back in the home, then stopped, replaced by other sounds, still quiet, but troubling to the old warrior. A woman’s voice, stifled; not words, only a harsh breathy gasp.
Less than a minute later, more shuffling noises, and then suddenly the Traveler burst through the front door with something slumped over his shoulders. He stumbled and struggled with the weight, but once out of the building he straightened up, adjusted his burden, and walked between the buildings and back into the forest.