The border with Testror east of Dalgare was quite fortified on both sides, but the lack of natural barriers made a completely secure border impossible, especially where a small group of people was concerned. Douglas had no doubt that if it were profitable mundane smugglers would be crossing the border. Maybe they were already, because though he didn’t care much for exotic spices and perfumes, some did. Especially some of those who had grown used to their presence when Scoubar controlled Dalgare.
The little group of four people followed something like a trail through the wilderness, far away from guard towers. Even if they were looking, they wouldn’t have noticed much. Space itself distorted around the group almost as if they weren’t there. It wasn’t a perfect barrier, but it did its job of concealing four people in a sustainable manner.
It was an odd grouping, Faron and Cletus had different shades of the darker skin more common around Scoubar as well as slightly different lighter skin tones for the other pair. All four were in the fashions of Dalgare, though only Douglas and Sarah could reasonably pass as from there. They had no intention to, however. Those clothes would be the closest styling they had to Testror, and even if it was judged to be authentically from Dalgare it wouldn’t be so strange. The fashions were still popular in the lands controlled by Scoubar, even more so now that they were inaccessible. Closer to the core of the empire they might stand out, but that would actually help explain any oddities in behavior.
Faron cussed as she yanked at a bush that had caught onto her skirt. Unlike the rest of their journey, the natural conversation left Sarah and Douglas at a disadvantage instead of Faron. They were learning the language, but it wasn’t something that could be done over a matter of weeks. Even Faron had some basis for speaking Bryrian before she’d started really learning, even if it was only a little bit. “Why would anyone choose to wear a skirt? They’re terrible,” Faron complained.
“Long flowing clothes are a staple of women in Scoubar, too,” Cletus pointed out.
“And I hate it. It’s terrible. Why can’t people just wear pants?”
“We gave you the choice. You wanted to blend in as much as possible.”
“Nobody told me how terrible it was,” Faron shook her head, “How do women get anything done?”
Cletus shrugged, “You’ve lived in Scoubar. You should know best.”
Faron snorted. “With great difficulty. And this is just another thing holding women back.”
“It’s why we’re here. Sort of.” Cletus shook his head. “How are the two of you holding up?”
Sarah shrugged, doing her best to answer in Scoubarran. “I’m fine.”
Douglas just signed that he was okay. Then to Faron’s skirt. He pantomimed stitching.
Faron bristled. “You think I learned how to sew? I guess we’ll have to find a seamstress to fix it.”
Douglas shook his head, pointing to himself then repeating the action. He couldn’t rely on signing to the two of them, since he’d intentionally not taught them his sign language while they were captives. He did his best to write something in Scoubarran. “I’ll do it later.”
“Oh.” Faron said, deflating slightly. “Thanks.”
When evening dawned they set up camp. They didn’t exactly have a setup that would be good for long term wilderness survival, but it was good enough. Faron seemed most comfortable in rough accommodations.
“It’s kind of a shame we’ll be dumping this,” Faron said. “But it would be strange to have it with us. How much longer do you think, until we enter a city?”
Cletus took a moment to answer her, “At least another day. We don’t want to appear too close to the border. At least we can clean up fairly well.”
Douglas held up the skirt Faron had changed out of- they each had a second set of slightly nicer clothes in addition to their standard traveling outfit. The skirt had a large tear in it. He held it taut so there wouldn’t be unexpected folds and began his magic. The silent magic flowed out of him, runes dancing into the fabric as it knit back together from either side, cannibalizing a small bit of material to seal itself. Nobody would notice after once or twice, but he might eventually have to add additional cloth with the way Faron treated clothes.
“Gmmmn…” Faron grimaced as she watched that.
“What?” Cletus asked. “Got something against other people stitching as well?”
“Just remembering when he stitched a curtain shut around me.” Faron clenched her fist, burn scars covered by comfortable gloves.
“He did that? In battle?”
“Yes,” Faron confirmed. “It can’t have been a strategy he planned ahead of time. He just… thought of it in the moment. He’s got a lot of tricks in his head.” Faron tilted her head, “I think he used a scroll for that one, actually, but he thought of it in the few moments he ran through before I chased after him.”
“You sure you want to talk about all this in front of them?” Cletus asked.
“They already know everything. I was the one who had to run away there.” Faron shrugged, “I’d rather not have to do things this way, but having an annoyingly competent kid like him around should help.”
Faron and Douglas exchanged glares across the campfire. Cletus just shook his head, “I’m glad to see we’re all getting along swimmingly.”
The next day they found themselves on a larger wilderness trail, more like something formerly used by humans than an animal track. It was easier to walk, and their pace increased accordingly. It also meant Faron had fewer chances to get entangled in bushes.
“Should have brought a third set of clothes,” Faron said. “For me, at least. I could carry more.”
“Want to take my pack?” Cletus offered. “I could use a bit less on my shoulders.”
“No. Didn’t you live as a soldier for a while? What’s your issue?”
“It’s not that I can’t do it,” Cletus said, “But I wasn’t marching with the troopers. I rode with officers and stayed in comfortable barracks. But mostly I lived in libraries, wondering if any of my brothers were plotting to kill me.”
“That first part sounds nice. I was fortunate to avoid our brothers the majority of the time, if nothing else. Nobody wanted to be attached to… the group I was part of.” Faron avoided calling herself a mage-hunter in front of two of those she could have reasonably been sent after, had they been somewhere else. Faron stopped and held up a hand. “Wait. Quiet.”
Cletus knew better than to say, ‘What is it?’, but his eyes conveyed the same information.
“Riders coming,” Faron said.
Douglas clapped his hands to get people to look, then gestured off the road. He moved through the tall grass between bushes and trees, stopping about a dozen paces away from the road. Then he set up his magic. He already had a spell that was sufficient for them to not be spotted from a distance, but riders who would be close required something more. Instead of anything complicated with space, it was simpler to just make the group invisible close together. It wasn’t much more difficult than concealing himself and a horse, and everyone held still which made it one step easier.
Scoubarran soldiers came along the road. A small patrol of a half-dozen, but they weren’t simply hurrying past. From the perspective of those waiting beside the road, they were basically standing in the open. The magic didn’t interfere with their vision, so if they couldn’t sense it they might have thought he did nothing at all. Faron had crouched behind a bush, but it wouldn’t conceal her by itself. Douglas didn’t even bother to move behind something.
One of the soldiers turned his head and looked straight at them… then turned to the other side, then back to the road. He was merely being alert of his surroundings, and if he had merely been looking for people hiding he would have had a good chance to spot them. Invisibility wasn’t something eyes were set up to deal with. That was the whole point, after all. There were usually minor flaws that could be picked out, but in that case one had to be trained to look for them, and not just casually riding by.
After the riders were out of hearing in the other direction, Faron grunted. “Pretty good. How did you deal with the shadows? That’s always the hardest part.”
Douglas loved explaining magic. His reading and writing comprehension was also quite high. Scoubarran lettering hadn’t taken him long to get down, but he didn’t know all the words. Even so, he had slate after slate- using Cletus as an intermediary with Bryrian text when he didn’t know words in Scoubarran. It was a slow sort of conversation, since writing while walking wasn’t exactly easy and Douglas didn’t always fully understand Faron’s questions, but it would be good practice for them both. Sarah also took interest in the conversation, and in practicing the language. So the travel continued, uneasy allies bonding over a shared interest a little bit at a time.