The first three days of marching were especially grueling. Elida pushed hard for us to cover a good distance each day, which the Guards in their training were well adapted towards, unlike the volunteers, many of whom were terracers, pruners, or orchariders, so not accustomed to the heat of the low lands or to covering great distances. But, I must admit some of my bitterness came from this, as an Assayer and an old hermit I was least accustomed to the grueling miles, and though I might have imagined it in my pains, I did feel a great toxicity from Elida toward me; punishment it seemed for my cowing to Kindee the usurper at the gates I Imagined it to be. I was fortunate though as I was given better than an equal share of rest from pulling a trail cart by Kindee, who took my cart during her breaks from halling. The true mercy for me was Dald, who was mindful of the endurance limits and would insist on the goodness of camp sites which Elida wished to have marched past.
Dropping down from Sky Prairie all trails follow the sandy lands for a great ways, and though their are mountains of relief from the heat, they are not where the trail lies. Rust orange was the color of all the lands along the long trail we marched those first three days, and barren were the wide sandy valleys, excepting desert shrubs growing in the drainages.
And toward the end of the fourth day the journey all was made still more
harsh as a bitter sand storm nipped at our heels. We were high enough
into the mountains now not to fear being burred by the sand like a salvage crew in Junktown, but still it stung and cut, and wearied the
eyes, and polluted the nose. A narrow canyon near the main trail offered us some shelter from the winds and sand, as we set up a camp early, to wait for a respite from the sand. It was a very tight fit for hundred and forty five people to camp together in the canyon, but while tarps were being spread to discourage wind and sand and I was questioning folks for updates on the water rations I heard an argument in the distance.
Suddenly confused shouting and barking orders and warnings came from all sides, and the canyon became a kicked bee hive of confused activity, until Kindee's voice called for arms as she squeezed through the crowded canyon toward the mouth of the canyon. Dald and his older brother, the seer Wane, followed in her wake advising camps that we had become surrounded. The guard and the Towalk took up their rifles, but the volunteers had not been issued rifles, for the main armament was still locked, saved for Star's Reach, though some had smoking guns, and the rest had good hunting bows, neither was good in so cramped a canyon.
A parched drawl screamed "We have come to join your expedition, or to end it." from the sands, and several powder gunshots echoed all around.
"State who you are, and your reasons for wishing to join." yelled Elida in a voice that amazed this old cynic with its confidence.
"I am Trul, voice for five bands of Canoyners, we are here to stop those greys from coming back, and to claim the ruins for their spoils. More are better for a raid, but if you want the loot, you should be asking how many warriors surround you, you should maybe be asking what sort of warriors you are to be surrounded so easy also!"
"Our purpose is only to stop the greys, my people have ruins enough beneath our own sands, but you should ask the Towalk too, if they would accept ruffians, it is a foul turn, ambushing us seeking to join us." yelled Elida, seemingly with such guile as I had never thought him capable.
Dald walked toward the voice from the sand storms as he passed Elida he said "I am Dald for the Towalk, I come to see you, to see if I trust you or not, don't kill me or there will be a fight but no trust."
I do not know what happened between Dald and Trul in the blowing sands, but in a while Dald returned with this to say "These people I trust, they are like the low landers who bring our people trade and news, news even of Star's Reach, rough and spit fire, but they are strong. All the peoples, no matter how rough, must come together in this, must come to crush Star's Reach."
Elida bowed to Dald in this matter, and called for our group to stand down. We waited for the end of the storm, in the evening, to finally meet these Canyoners.