Petra faced Canuut with determination in her expression, doubt in her heart.
“What d’you mean ‘not going?’” exclaimed Canuut.
The travelers had just broken camp after Canuut roused them from a sleep so short it left them groggy. Dawn was still two hours off and the sinking moon illuminated the top third of the eastern palisade.
Petra repeated, “I’m not taking the east trail. I’m going to continue north up the Rull.”
“Child, you’re not thinking straight. Your father went east. Ward’s party too, and those cursed Broks just after, from the signs.”
“That’s the point, Canuut. The Broks are as far ahead now as when we left. Even with a better moon, we’ll not overtake them by following.”
Petra figured Kastra would just have slipped away. But Kastra was a hero, and had usually been right. Petra had often been wrong. She’d give Canuut a chance to talk her out of it.
Otger looked on with surprised eyes and Cort with a deepening frown.
“I know a way across the Drood that no Brok would,” said Canuut. “Anyway, we don’t have to catch them. We have to reach Ward before the Flays do.”
“Grapple said raid camp’s near the head of the Blood Gorge—”
“Ha! Best not ask how you know that.”
“So don’t ask,” snapped Petra. “The east trail keeps too far south. The Rull bends north-east to meet the gorge across the boot of Attica.”
“Across! And what trail is that,” said Canuut, his eyes narrow.
Petra held his gaze. “A trail I know of.”
Canuut snarled, “A trail you’ve walked and know has water and is not snow-bound or river-blocked or buried or besieged—is that the one?”
Petra felt herself getting hot. It was hard to keep her eyes on his, and to keep a quaver out of her voice. “I don’t know those things. I know that father followed it once, and lived. I know it could be five days shorter.”
“Or a dead end. Think you, Ward would have known it, and he went east.”
“He didn’t know about the Broks’ treachery,” said Petra, her voice rising. Then she stopped and took a breath. Canuut was much older, and as hard as the rocks he’d hiked over all his life. No way could she argue him into something he didn’t want to do. She tried another path. “I know I can’t match the Broks for speed, Canuut. Maybe you can, if you go your way. Perhaps one of us will make it through in time.”
Canuut opened his mouth, then shut it again.
“I’m going with Petra,” Otger said into the silence.
“Shut up, Otger,” said Petra, Cort, and Canuut in one voice.
“It’s no good just tagging along like a dog,” added Petra. “You need a plan, right or wrong. Canuut knows his trail, so you’re better off with him.”
Otger’s eyes narrowed and his mouth turned down. Petra remembered that alarming face from their fight. “You don’t know what’s better for me,” he said. “I’m way smarter than a dog, and I know exactly what I’m doing, and I’ve a pretty good idea what you’re doing, too.”
“Well, I don’t,” said Cort. “But I know you’re proposing to break company on the trail, Petra.”
The heat in Petra’s face burned hotter. He was right, and there was only one answer. “You’re talking about kinship law. I’m not your kin, or Otger’s, or even yours, Canuut. I’m broken from the clan, and that means I don’t have to ask.”
They stared at her.
“Oh, that’s just silly,” said Otger. “You were hurt by a traitor. It means nothing except to confirm his treachery.”
Cort balled his fist. “Otger Brok, I’ll smack—”
“Shut up, you,” roared Canuut. “He’s right. Tell me more about this trail.”
Petra rattled off the turns and distances from her memory of the waymap. She couldn’t say all that the waymap told about it, because she didn’t understand it all, and was not yet ready to admit she’d taken it.
“I’m going with Petra too,” said Cort, as though her rendition had persuaded him. “We should try two ways. You go on east, Canuut.”
Canuut glared at Cort with deep distrust. “We’d be fools to go apart. We’re an old man without an arm, a boy without legs, a blade without a purpose, and a girl with more courage than sense. We don’t make one decent trailsman between us.”
The three glared back at him.
“Come on, get moving,” he spat.
They left false signs a short distance up the slope of the eastward trail, then proceeded northward along the flat bottom of the Rull.
The slog was monotonous, silent, and unhappy. The company stopped to rest when the Rull bent eastward, and for a brief time, late morning sunlight reached its floor. Petra was sitting cross-legged on the stump of a column, with the Rites of Passage open on her knee, when Otger approached.
“You have your father’s waymap,” he said, quietly. “You stole it to keep it from Gronnor.”
Petra blinked at him. He was way smarter than a dog. Still, she didn’t want company. She’d already sent his cousin off with a glare.
Otger continued. “About that fight. I never—”
“I don’t feel like talking,” said Petra, looking down at her book. Something gnawed her stomach that wasn’t hunger. Canuut had good reasons to think his way was best, and she had nothing but a hunch. He’d only agreed for her sake. If the path proved impassable, she’d have failed them all.
Otger plowed on. “I have to tell you how it was, or you’ll never trust me.”
She shrugged without looking up. “You’re a Brok.”
“We used to be decent people. At least some were.”
This time Petra said nothing.
“When I hit you that last time, and you fell, I skidded off the rock we were on. I was winded by the fall. You weren’t there when I climbed back up. I circled the rock, but it was too dark to see footprints. It was coming back to me how hard I’d been hitting you—like a nightmare, only getting clearer instead of the other way. I knew I’d hurt you, and I hadn’t meant to, not like that.
“I figured you must have been able to walk after all. So I ran to the gate, then along the fence to the field, then searched back toward the rock. I was so scared I wanted to vomit and I knew I had to tell someone. I was about to tell Sten when you came through the gate.”
Petra closed the book. Despite herself, she believed him. Imagining that he’d left her for dead had helped relieve the anger, but it had never felt like the truth.
“Tegan didn’t leave Ola alone,” she said. “She put her in a second cave at the back.”
“I never thought she’d leave her. Not Tegan. I just knew saying it would get to you. I take back everything I said.”
“Listen, Petra—I’m truly sorry. I never meant to … to do that. Never. I was so angry … the things Uncle said, the things he did, then what you said … I just stopped thinking.” Otger was hunched over. His voice was thick, like he was going to cry.
Petra grinned. The idea of Otger not thinking, going wild with emotion. “Don’t get sappy about it. It was just a fight, and you won. End of it. I don’t expect to win a lot of fistfights with boys. It was dumb of me to let it happen.”
Otger went very red.
Petra found it almost sweet.
He continued, his voice still husky. “Those things I said … afterwards I realized I said them because you wouldn’t be able to back down. It was a trick so I could hurt you. I used your own courage and sense of honor against you.” He swallowed hard. “When he was coaching me for Clash, Gronnor said anything can be a weapon, and anyone. He wanted me to think like him … and it’s happening. That’s what scares me most of all.”
Petra didn’t know what to say. Ward had given her the same advice. Hadn’t she used the Broks, and her own kin, as weapons?
After a moment, she punched Otger gently on the shoulder.
Canuut was checking Mistake’s tack for the second time. It was his way of saying they should get moving.