Ankit over the Orphan’s Pass

Book Cover - Ankit over the Orphan's Pass - A figure holding a club stands facing a road into the mountains, 2 moons in the sky.

Recommended: If you haven’t done so, read Ankit and the Uncle of Refuge and Ankit and the Champions first.

Part 1: The Low Villages

In the shallow pool at Ankit’s feet, a school of tiny brown fish swam about. He shifted his weight, causing them to dart away into shadowed waters. From his hiding place in the culvert under the bridge, he had been monitoring the road into Laslow Village for several hours. His boots and trousers were soaked through and the evening chill was penetrating what was left of the day’s warmth.

“It’s the same for everyone Halen.” A Village Guard explained while he searched an old lady’s motor carriage and trailer.

“But what’s it all about? I don’t have the time for you to be checking my veg’. It’s every morning and each eve’ that I pass by here!”

“I’ve already said. The Protectors from the city came into the Low villages last week, on the trail of fugitives. We’ve been keeping watch on the bridges and gates for them.”

“What’s that got to do with us?”

The Guard sighed, “I’m done.” He closed the lid of her trailer. “On your way.”

“I don’t have the time for this!” she added in frustration as she jumped back into the motor carriage.

“She’s not wrong,” a second Guard spoke as he walked back from opening the boom gate for the carriage.

“Not you too.”

Having spent much of the last week laying low in the wilds, Ankit had decided that the time had come for him to make his way into the Low Gates. First, he needed some supplies, and that meant a visit to a village was in order. The night before, on approach to Laslow, he had seen that there was an unusual amount of activity on the road. The Village Guard had set up checkpoints and were searching every vehicle and passerby. 

He had spent so little of his life outside of the city, but he’d crossed paths with enough Lowlanders to know that there was no love lost for Refuge and its Protectors. The Village Guard were little more than keepers of the peace, locking up drunks, settling disputes between neighbours, and tracking down livestock thieves. Ankit had never heard of them assisting the Protectors in this way. Refuge, and the Baroness, really didn’t want Ankit and Uncle slipping through their fingers. 

“So what’s the deal anyway? Why are we helping them?” The second Guard asked the first.

“As I said—” the first Guard sighed again, “—some fugitives on the loose.”

“Can’t just be anyone, not for all this. Must be an absolute monster!”

“All I know is that there was some incident in the city, loads of kids killed. They haven’t been able to find the bastards inside the walls, so… here we are.”

“Kids hey?” the second Guard’s voice trailed off. “Awful.”

Ankit stayed crouched in silence for a long while with his eyes closed. The damp climbed up his dark trousers, bringing the chill with it. All he owned he carried with him; his light pack slung across his back, and his club tucked into its sheath below, but still an unbearable weight dragged at him from the shallows. Opening his eyes, he looked down at his reflection, only to find Kirto’s pale, dead face staring back at him. He closed them again, but he could still see her.

All this was for him–well, for Uncle first–but he had allowed himself to get caught up in it all. He couldn’t—wouldn’t—blame Kirto for it. It had smelled off from the start, but the Coin had sucked him in. That nobody apart from him knew Uncle’s fate was just a painful reminder of the circumstances in which he now found himself.

He couldn’t risk the villages now, and he needed to cross the Low Gates as soon as possible. The Protector’s reach ended there. In the Meetlands, he would have a chance at a fresh start. He just needed to survive the crossing, and for that he needed a warm coat, or something that could serve as one, and some food.

A large village in a Lowland valley surrounded by fields and hills, smoke rising from stacks,
Laslow Village

The food was the simple part. Ankit had grown up having to both fend for and feed himself. For him, that had typically meant either theft or scavenging, the latter his preference. As a last resort, he’d developed a knack for dispatching small critters like birds, rats, badgers, even the occasional fox. The foxes were the hardest for him. Deep down, he felt some sort of kinship with them. They were survivors, like him.

He dropped silently from the edge of the culvert pipe onto a rock below. Before long, he was out of sight and headed towards a nearby forest where he’d camped the night before. As he walked, he pulled a small Y-shaped piece of wood from a pocket in his pack. Its base fit snugly into the palm of his hand. Having unwound a rubber band from his belt, he wrapped each end into notches cut into the tips of the fork. Attached to the band’s midpoint was a small leather pouch.

He stretched the band back a few times to warm it up and began scanning the dirt for appropriately sized pebbles. Spotting two or three, he took potshots at a nearby tree in quick succession. He could still hit a mark about the size of his palm from ten to twenty metres away.

After a little more target practice and having collected a pocketful of suitable ammunition, Ankit wandered over to a nearby field of wild wheat and grass. Over the last week, he’d noticed that a variety of pretty-looking, and delightfully stupid birds seemed to thrive there. He’d start with them and then look for other critters in the forest if needed.

He was walking down a lightly trodden trail between the field and forest when he heard rustling. Pausing, he searched around, spotting an area in the grass that was reacting differently to the gentle undulations of its surrounds. Something was walking there. With little more movement than was necessary, Ankit pulled a pebble from his pocket and loaded it into the pouch of his catapult. The movement tracked towards the path and he took aim at the area where he expected the animal to exit.

A bright silver fox appeared, nosing around for scents. When it turned to face Ankit’s direction and spotted him, it froze. The two stared each other down for what felt like minutes before Ankit dropped his aim and lowered his arms to his sides. The fox relaxed instantly, turned and made a chirpy call back towards the field before darting over the trail and into the forest. Following behind him came two pups and a smaller adult in a streak of silver.

Just a few hours later, Ankit had set up camp at the entrance of a shallow cave in the forest. His bedroll laid out next to a small fire, he watched as a couple of cleaned and spatchcocked game birds roasted away. More fowl, a couple of field mice, and a nicely sized vole smoked away over the coals, wrapped in dry leaves. He’d have a good meal tonight, keep some freshly cooked meat for a few days and then ration the smoked stuff for another week. 

Now for the hard part, some warm clothing. A good, thick coat would probably be all he needed. That would be tomorrow’s problem.

Exhausted, it occurred to him he’d barely allowed himself over two or three hours’ sleep since he’d left Refuge. Maybe he could afford one long rest before getting to it? Laying back, he looked up and his eyes widened. 

A vivid show of lights was playing out above his head. The glossy-damp rock and dirt of the cave glowed in vibrant blue-green and purple hues. Waves of light radiated across the ceiling of the cave and down the walls. In some places, it was more vivid than others. At those points, it was as if small colonies of some microscopic life massed. Ankit had never in his life seen anything like it.

The spiralling patterns flowed between points and seemed to show a particular interest in the flickering of his campfire. It was all so calming. He felt at peace for the first time in longer than he cared to remember. His eyelids grew heavy, and he didn’t bother to resist as they fell slowly closed. 

Yes. One good night’s sleep.

Continued on Page 2 with Part 2: The High-Way Raiders