Tad said, “I guess they ignite more spectacularly after you have improved them?”
All three clurichauns hissed in unison: “Yes!”
The small party rode through the now empty street. The explosion didn’t come until they had passed the town boundary. The stone walls of the cellar and tavern send the blast up through the roof. The debris landed in a wide area.
At that point Tad and Sara began to move the horses faster to outdistance any possible pursuit. They were uncertain that anyone had seen them leave, but the confusion of whether they were inside would delay any response. They kept up the pace for several miles, slowing down to spare the strain on their mounts.
“Surely we should move faster,” wheedled Morgan.
“No,” Sara said, “we need to keep from exhausting the horses. We may need their speed later and tiring them out won’t do us good.”
Ciara continued to wonder about their hosts past that led to them being so calm under the threat of capture. Even more so was her curiosity at what Sara was. Could she truly be a witch?
The group continued moving through the night, headed east. When the sun rose, the clurichauns were still bewildered. The horses should have been too exhausted to continue for so long, but Ciara suspected they had some unnatural help.
“Where are we headed,” she asked.
“To Red Maple,” Tad said. “It’s just far enough away to outrun rumors. The place is on a trading route and is growing.”
“Do you think we would be followed that far?” Morgan sounded concerned.
“Doubtful. From the sounds of it they will probably be well rid of us. There might even be some other Netani there that we can seek for help.”
They continued for some time until Sara spoke.
“We should probably stop for a rest.”
Tad nodded and pointed at a small stand of trees. They approached in silence and, after dismounting, the clurichauns watched the pair set up a small camp. It was obviously not going to be a long break. Tad and Sara laid out a few blankets for themselves then set out blankets for their small friends. Without a word, the couple laid down and were asleep in minutes. Ciara pulled the blankets closer to them before crawling into the pile. Simon and Morgan, both still bundles of nerves laid down and slept uneasily.
They woke to the sound of someone chopping wood. The clurichauns started looking around alarmed, but could see nothing. Tad and Sara, though, sprang up and rapidly packed their belongings. Tad grabbed their small companions and hoisted them on the horses. Within minutes of hearing the sound, they were galloping down the road.
“Well,” said Sara, “looks like they are more interested in us than we thought.”
“But it was just woodcutters,” Simon squeaked.
“Did you see anyone,” Tad shouted through the wind.
“No, I didn’t.”
“That was Nechtan warning us of danger,” Sara called. She seemed more alive now than when operating the tavern. Her dark hair was flowing in the wind and she was smiling.
Tad noticed their silence and said, “We’ll explain it later, but right now we need to make distance.”
It seemed as though they flew for hours before slowing. The horses were lathered and the couple dismounted to give them a rest. Morgan and Simon still looked apprehensive, turning often to try and look everywhere. Ciara, rather, studied their hosts. Both seemed more energetic to be away from the town, even with the possibility of pursuit close behind.
“You said you would explain about the noises,” she prompted.
“Tad grinned. “Nechtan was a woodsman in life and the sound of chopping wood has kept trouble at bay for years. Anytime I hear it, well, then it’s time to pay attention.”
Ciara knew little about Nechtan, or the Netani in truth, but she sensed truth in his words, not the notes of superstition.
“You are not the people I had assumed you to be,” she said.
“We were a bit wild in our day,” Sara responded, giving the smaller woman a bright smile. Ciara hadn’t noticed the faint streaks of grey in that dark hair, but it was more evident in the sunshine. The little lines around her eyes seemed to appear from nowhere.
Sara and Tad took out bread, cheese, and smoked meat for their lunch. A jug of ale was opened to wash it all down. Simon and Morgan were hesitant. They did not even approach the jug. All three noticed that the two were just staring at them. Morgan was trembling.
“We’re leaving,” he said at last. “This is all too much for us.”
Ciara stared at them in shock.
“But, how can you do this? At least stay until we reach Red Maple.” Her tone was imploring and she was on the verge of tears.
“No,” Simon retorted. “We just want to live peacefully and now we are in the wilderness being chased by humans and in the company of two that must not, themselves, be human. Goodbye.”
The moment was so abrupt that the other three were speechless, but, as one, their faces set hard at his words. No further words were exchanged as the two turned to walk away, obviously making signs to ward off evil. Sara reached out to hold Ciara’s tiny hand.