Wordcount: 633 words
Fate, Destiny, and Other Annoyances
In the end the two horses opted to take the road on the far side of the river rather than riding on the barge itself. Wendy was acutely aware of the absence for the first day, having gotten used to the constant sound of horses on their earlier journeys. Even though the unicorn had so far proved less useful than his deus ex machina appearances in earlier stories, she wished he was closer just in case anything did go wrong.
Riley wasn’t much better, spending a good deal of her time trying to catch sight of the piebald smudge that was the Black. Thankfully she only did it when she wasn’t assigned to watch the shores, so the other searchers didn’t complain. Or at least they did it where Wendy couldn’t hear them. Out of the group Gray was the only one who seemed comfortable sending half their party out of sight. Wendy had a suspicion it had more to do with the man’s dislike of Moony than his confidence in their ability to fight.
Looking for bodies was boring work, and the searchers took short shifts at each watchpoint, keeping the seven of them constantly swapping positions. The general consensus was that they wouldn’t find much of anything, but no one could agree if that was because the men had been eaten whole or because they’d stolen the herd and gone off to play pirates. As she listened Wendy discovered the pirates idea was just wishful thinking on the part of those who had been friends with the missing rivermen. None of the three missing people were actually suspected of being dishonest, but it never hurt to hope.
The second day they found the remains of one of the river gators wedged into an old logjam. One of the rivermen braved the stench of six-day old reptile to hack off the portion of shell with the barge’s branding on it. After a short sand polish to remove the grime it was confirmed the carcass belonged to the wrecked barge. The two other search barges were altered with a series of horn blasts and the search intensified.
Wendy tried not to dwell on the torso-sized half-circle chucks missing from the gator’s shell, but the whole mood of the boat took a turn for the paranoid. Prior to the find most of the searchers had been convinced it was simply brigands or some other man-made disaster that had taken out the barge and it’s crew. Now there were half-whispered discussions about sea monsters, river demons, and other disturbing creatures. She tried to focus on the fact that this was the first attack in ten years, but it didn’t help much. Stories were always about the things that never happened; the one in a million appearances of creatures meant only to provide the heroes with something to battle.
She wasn’t about to tell the rest of the searches about random encounter tables, but she made sure that Gray was aware of the danger. It only took one worried look, and he became Riley’s shadow. Wendy wondered if they could ask to be put off the barge, but she wasn’t sure if that would save them. It hadn’t saved the folks in the caravan.
But Moony had been so adamant that this wasn’t part of the story. Whatever had attacked the barge was unrelated, unimportant in theory. Only the attack on the caravan hadn’t been part of the story either. Someone else was out there trying to shape the flow, force them onto a path, and neither Gray nor Moony had seemed to think that was a good thing.
They only had two more days on the river before they reached Five Sheep, so Wendy focused on watching the water, waiting for the unexpected to happen.