Paign was in a foul mood as he walked across the valley to Anders’s farm. He hitched his daypack a little higher on his left shoulder to better distribute the weight of his gear, which included extra layers of warm clothes, enough food and water for the afternoon—and night, if it came to it—and his bow and quiver. His sword was strapped to his belt and swung off his right hip. Tromping through the fresh snow, he replayed in his mind the intense conversation from two days earlier, when Freida told them about discovering the legendary Cave of Parting. Still convinced it was a wild goose chase that Anders had committed him to, he grumbled while he trudged along, looking at the ground and dragging his boots through the snow. At the last moment, he looked up, just in time to slow himself enough to not crash through the Knutsons’ gate.
Cursing under his breath, he carefully opened the gate and paused to admire Anders’s farmhouse. It included the four-color pattern common to the farmhouses around the Highlands. But these colors were more vibrant than most, with a deeper green, richer burgundy and lighter yellows. The paint still looked fresh and bright, giving the house a sense of springtime warmth even in the winter gloom. Admiring the farm was bittersweet for Paign, since it was his father, Roald, who had painted it a little over two years ago, before he was called into the battle from which he didn’t return. Paign’s mother had asked her husband to help Mrs. Knutson with her farm, and he had done so willingly. He was that kind of man, and he’d enjoyed spending time with his nephew, Anders. He also knew that Knute Knutson would have done the same for his family, had the tables been turned.
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