The swamp drained slowly down into the river valley, via sparkling creeks and singing waterfalls; the footpath wound back and forth across these rivulets and streams, over bridges old and new, stone and wood, safe and, in some cases, concerningly well worn.
Gove was quiet as she and Miter progressed down out of the dense trees and clouds of mosquitoes, but when the forest opened up finally and she could look out over the valley down into town, she audibly gasped.
“It’s so beautiful up here.”
Miter paused and turned to look as well.
“This does make the climb feel worth it.”
Gove had noticed that his staff wasn’t just for safer swamp travel; here on the steeper path he was putting a fair bit of his weight on it.
“You ever ride one of your muskoxen down to market?”
“They’re terrible in town; it’s too noisy.”
“What use are they, then?”
He gestured to his tunic. “Wool; milk sometimes. They’re great for longer travel.”
Gove mulled this over as they picked their way gingerly across a creaking wooden bridge. Beneath it, the water rippled in the breeze and sparkled in the sunlight, and the only reminder of the swamp was the deep tannin brown colour in the depths of the stream.
As they lost sight of the river town again, weaving back into the hillside on their descent, Miter stopped for a quick breather in the shade.
“I really should do this climb more often than I do.”
He didn’t look particularly out of sorts, but Gove was sweating in the humid heat, and was happy to sit on a rock and roll her pants to her knees. She had a pack full of forage, and dried and smoked meat, and she offered him some jerky. He waved her away.
“Not my favourite.”
“Oh no?” She tilted her head. “Do you think folks in town will want some?”
“Probably; I just stick to fish.”
“I’d be sick of fish in a week.” She tried to chew politely.
Miter gave her a once-over with half a frown.
“Why peccaries? They’re not exactly easy to raise.”
“They’re just what we had around, down south. They’re cranky but I’m used to them, you know?”
“You said you weren’t a herder?”
“Oh no, I mean, they were feral; but they were around.”
He shook his head at her. “That would be the same as me choosing to keep a herd of stagmoose. Extremely foolhardy.”
“Like no one’s ever been trampled by an ox!”
“My muskoxen don’t usually then eat whatever they’ve knocked down.” Gove laughed. “I respect my vicious little pigs!”
She snorted at Miter’s face. “It’s a good thing I didn’t ask you, isn’t it.”
He shook his head and got back on his feet. Gove still wasn’t sure exactly how old he was — certainly young enough that the limp was likely an injury — but old enough to be a bit condescending.
“You remember what I told you about winter supplies?”
She rolled her eyes as they started back down the escarpment. “We had winter down south too; I’ve got it.”