The three men journeyed without incident for the next fortnight.

Adrian’s new companions proved to be quite the adept travelers, Eldred especially. The man seemed to recognize every rustle and peep from every creature, and could identify the inherent properties of every tree and shrub and creeper they came across. But he moved swiftly and spoke only when speaking was necessary, so that meant silence ruled for most of the day. Adrian tried to engage the brothers in conversation, but his efforts were squashed like a beetle under a boot. The outlaws were entirely devoid of cordiality. Adrian wasn’t like them. He would never be like them.

The roads they traveled were narrow and difficult. Most twisted and snaked along the outskirts of the various mountain hamlets. Foot travelers were rare, and the lack of wagon ruts in the road meant porters were even rarer. They did spot the occasional grog shop or roadside inn, but these places were wisely avoided. Olan huffed and grumbled when his gourd-bottle ran empty of wine, but Eldred ignored the complaints.

The brothers seemed to examine every passerby they saw. Adrian knew what they were thinking—he was no fool. For the life of an outlaw, survival meant always looking for the next victim, always looking at the next possible advantage. Robbing travelers and ransacking merchant wagons was a basic necessity, so naturally the brothers spent time gauging and analyzing their possible targets. They did this with a frightening degree of professionalism, one that was surely honed by years of experience. Adrian sorely lacked such experience. He felt like a child tagging along with a pair of elder siblings, and the more the two brothers began to murmur and whisper secretly to each other, the more Adrian grew irritated and resentful. He couldn’t let this happen. He wouldn’t.

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