The sunlight blinded Abi as she stepped out of the shelter of the forest. This close to the river the trees grew tall, with thick straight trunks that led to a dense canopy where the branches overlapped.
Their bark was a deep brown, and even where the canopy was thinner, and the leaves glowed green in the sunlight, they provided enough protection from the sun that she had kept cool on her long walk from Hulna.
She lifted a hand to shade her eyes and shifted her pack on her shoulder. The trees gave way to long grass that led to what should have been the high bank of the river, but it seemed the river had risen as high as the rumours said.
The roar of the river could be heard from far away, when on previous journeys it had been little more than a whisper. Instead it blocked out the sounds of the birds in the trees, and the scrape of her shoes on the loose dry earth of the path.
Anyone could have crept up on her and she wouldn’t have known it until it was too late.
A quick look over her shoulder confirmed the path behind was still empty, but she was starting to doubt this had been the wisest course of action.
But she was committed now. There was very little point in turning back, so she headed towards the bridge.
This river was the widest around for many days travel, and acted as a natural border between her home country of Ghanda and their neighbours of Cahan. The great stone bridge that connected the banks was made before a time when either country existed.
No one knew it’s history and no one claimed to own it, but there it stood. It required no upkeep on the part of her village, which was good because they had their hands full farming and running off bandits.
It was made with large stone blocks that were a dark grey and nothing like the sun bleached stone that had been used to build some of Ghanda’s more sturdy structures. Everything else had been made with wood because it was the most readily available material, but it didn’t last as long as stone unless it was god blessed, which was rare.
The bridge itself was barely above the water and there was no way a boat could make it under anymore. It was causing problems further into Ghanda where trade was stalled because they couldn’t send anything down the river.
This bridge was the last one left that allowed people to cross the great river. All the others had been destroyed by time and lack of upkeep.
The stone blocks had to have come down from the mountains, either that or there was a hidden mine somewhere. She crushed the urge to go exploring and tried to focus on the task that brought her here.
Her village needed help, probably the rest of Ghanda as well, and she was going to Cahan to plead their case. They spoke basically the same language and had been allies for centuries. The Cahan villages should care and want to help as much as her village would for them.
As she approached the river the ground became softer and her shoes squelched in the soft earth. The banks had already burst then, which was strange for this time of year, usually that only happened for a short time in early spring when the snow melted in the mountains.
At the moment there was a struggle to water the crops as the sun dried up the land everywhere else. It seemed all the water had migrated here from the other streams and smaller rivers.
The sound of footsteps on stone caught her attention, and she looked up to find a group of people, led by a man in priest’s robes, coming over the arc of the bridge.
This wasn’t that strange, because Cahan had their own religions that she knew very little about, but what she couldn’t ignore was the bound person in their midst.
She recognised him as Grus, one of the farm hands on a farm close to Hulna, and she couldn’t imagine him ever doing anything to get himself in trouble. He was always following the rules and disappearing once the trouble makers started their mischief.
It was a lesson she had wished she’d learned sooner, because while others managed to avoid being caught, Abi was always caught. She had a reputation for trouble that had followed her into adulthood and nothing good she did seemed to shake it.
They stopped on the highest point of the bridge and stood around while the priest began his sermon, bringing a black leather book out of his red robes and flipping to a marked page.
She had a horrible feeling she knew what was happening here, and she couldn’t quite believe it. There was no other reason they would bind someone and conduct a religious ceremony on a bridge.
They were going to sacrifice him to the gods by drowning him in the river.
“Let him go.” Abi shouted.