They camped near the road that night. There wasn't a lot of talking once Nadya had explained a few essentials about camping; each of them was wrapped in thought about what might lie ahead. Nadya was used to sleeping out of doors; for Melantha it was just as comfortable as the floor at home, and indeed somewhat cleaner. Roman woke up regretting the lack of a mattress and startled to find himself covered in dew.
They had a quick breakfast and resumed walking. The land was getting wilder, and from the tops of the hills they could see mountains to the north and west. Around noon they reached Arscova, a village small enough to make Threshold look huge. It had a three-story inn and a temple, and that was pretty much the extent of the place. There the road reached the Foamfire River and turned south toward Verge. The Foamfire was narrower and faster than the Windrush. Somewhere on it lay the Singing Falls mentioned on the map.
"So how do you guys feel about a warm meal?" Nadya asked. "It'll cost us money, but it's a lot better than rations."
"We don't know how many more we're going to get, or when," Roman agreed. "May as well indulge before we get there."
The three of them went into the inn, where there was a boar roasting on the hearth and several groups of people scattered around the room. A couple of people looked up.
"Good day, can I help you?" a man inquired, coming forward.
"Just here for lunch," Roman informed him with a smile.
"That'll be two coppers each, and it's all you can eat. We got some wild pig, and some porridge, and of course there's ale."
They paid up and sat down. Melantha managed not to drool; she'd been eating better and more regularly on this trip than she had for most of her life. Roman, by contrast, found it barely verging on acceptable, but his adventurous spirit made him willing to try anything once.
"So, where you from?" the woman asked, setting down mugs of ale.
"Threshold," Roman told her.
"Really. Where you going? You don't look like normal travelers." She glanced up and down Roman's somewhat travel-worn yet clearly expensive clothing, Nadya's and Melantha's armaments, and the latter's ragged state. "Or are you adventurers?" She put a put a bit of a sneer on the word.
"We're just hungry travelers," Nadya informed her gently. "So, are there waterfalls on this river?"
"Are they easy to find?"
"Sure, just walk." She gave Nadya a weird look.
"We're looking for some nice spectacular ones to go see."
She shrugged. "I don't know any of those, not around here anyway. Maybe farther upriver."
Upriver meant the three would be striking off into the wilderness, where no one could say what lay in store. Six days remained before the Night of Fire. They decided not to spend the night in town, and instead headed north along the river. There was a seldom-used path there, but nothing like a road, and they moved more slowly that day and the next. The river grew deeper and faster as they traveled, and they were glad that they wouldn't need to cross it.
Out of the corner of his eye, Roman saw something moving and turned. It looked like a person in white, wearing a hooded cloak, running away from them into the forest. It disappeared a moment after he pointed it out to the others.
They weren't sure what to do. Chasing him didn't seem likely to do any good with the head start the figure had and the density of the forest, and it was possible that the figure had been frightened of them and posed no threat. They continued on their way, keeping a higher level of alertness than they had before and watching for easily defensible places in case of attack.
A few hours later, they first heard the sound. It was hard to distinguish from the river noise at first, but gradually grew clearer. It sounded like someone singing, a series of notes sliding up and down the scale more or less at random. The three could also hear the sound of a waterfall. As they neared it, they began passing ruined buildings, very old, nothing more than overgrown stone foundations buried in the forest and an occasional overturned statue.
Then the falls came into sight. The main drop was about forty feet high, with a series of smaller falls below, and the current was fierce through the rocks. The singing was louder, emanating from the falls themselves, though there was no sign of how the noise was made. They seemed to be close to the center of the ruined town. On the ridge east of the falls, exactly as the map said, was a huge boulder. They had reached their destination with days to spare.
Nadya looked around the area and found the recent tracks of a man and a horse. There was a smell of woodsmoke on the breeze. She told the others of her findings. "I can't imagine that this far out in the middle of nowhere, the woodsmoke smell and the tracks are unrelated."
"Someone else must be after the treasure," Melantha decided.
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