After setting up their bivouac and setting themselves up, Szletko goes to the tent of the Mercenary Captain Marle to register the party for guard duties within the caravan. Szletko notices that the mercenaries that make up the Kingsmen are mostly in their late 30’s at least and all speak with the distinctive twang of Menetia, and on meeting Marle this is borne out as he appears to be a former officer in the Menetian Army, likely an exile after the Autocracy overthrew the Royal Family some 20 years previously. The 2 get on well, with the Altai Nobleman liking the straight talking honest old soldier and Marle glad to have an Altai along who knows the land and the ways of the plains. In the meeting Szletko offers himself and Czerlai to ride further out than the other horsemen (who are all outlanders oddly enough), supplementing and aiding Marles current scout, a savage tribesman called Brudagh (who hails from the Lonely Steppes). Marle approves and so it is done.
In the evening the sentry groups of 2 are decided amongst the party, with the 2 Altai excused due to their daytime scouting commitments. To make up the numbers, Maia offers her towering eunuch bodyguard Gurga to assist, which is an offer well received. Maia also takes her evening meal with the party, with casual conversation between them all about matters ranging from horses to more philosophical matters like love, passion and honour. Cassio cunningly drops some ideas into the conversation that draws Gaston into closer conversation with Maia, possibly starting Gaston on the road to new ideas and opportunities.
Maia also shares a few moments with Cassio as he checks to see what her plans are, and if she thinks it is going well so far. She advises that the next 2 days will be important, and that engaging Gaston in chess (a game he enjoys and that she is reasonably skilled in) will be useful for it is a courtly game in Vardonne with many uses for subtlety and conversation. She also indicates to Cassio that Gastons horse Varriaur is one of the Vardonnais Coursers who in the West are regarded as blessed by Sensu and legend claiming that they can be extremely intelligent.
The first night of guard duty is quiet, with only passing wild herds of deer noted by the sentries. Before dawn, the Altai head off on their scouting duties and the caravan travels on, wending it’s way through the gently swaying long grasses. The Altai encounter a small group of Thunder Lizards (large herbivores), likely wandered down from the Great Range and some gorse with trees amongst the grasses, but nothing more. As the day draws to a close, campfires are lit and evening meals up and down the caravan are prepared. Around the campfire the party, Maia and her 2 servants chat about their day and general conversation, with a horse race proposed for the future, including ordinary horses, Altai Steeds and Varriaur. Gaston is also delighted that Maia asks about his horse, and after some talk offers Maia the chance to ride his splendid mare for a turn on the next day. Some of the party are quite taken with Maias handmaiden Dimi, who would stand out as magnificent if not in the presence of her mistress.
That night, wolf howls are heard over the course of the night, seemingly getting closer as the night wears on. Cassio and Gaston also have a deep conversation about love, passion, honour and duty, with the wily Padihan softening up the Chivaux with regards to hard decisions he might have to make in future. The next morning as the caravan makes its way onwards, Abbas engages the taciturn eunuch and fellow countryman Gurga in conversation, though the eunuch has little conversation in him at that moment. Of further note later on in the day, Szletko and Czerlai come across a terrible sight, that of a herd of almost 30 wild deer recently torn apart by what appears to be pack of almost 60 wolves, judging by the tracks. The Altai know that this is bizarre and unusual behaviour by wolves, both with the amount of prey being slain, the manner of organization indicated and the amount of wolves in the attack. Given the wolf sounds from the night before, the Altai make their report to Marle about this, and the old captain takes their advice, drawing the caravan into a more defensive formation for the night. Brudagh also listens to their advice and decides not to range too far ahead in the morning.
That night, Bucephala and Roeland are on guard duty, and see a strange, tattooed blue man on the outskirts of the camp. Tall, with shamanistic robes, fetishes, rattles and a peculiar head dress (well, one assumes it is a head dress) with 2 horns on it, this figure speaks quietly to them both, advising them that the caravan will be in no danger from the wolves whilst they are in the plains, but after that he cannot help them. The figures response to Bucephalas question as to why he would help them is to enigmatically tap his nose twice and suddenly vanish. They also note that this unusual figure seemed to stand on the tips of the grass blades and that he spoke to them in the language they were most comfortable in. When woken, Szletko advises that this could well have been a visitation from the Horned Man, whom the Altai (along with almost all other Shamanists) revere as the First Shaman and the nearest thing to a Deity that they have. This sobering thought also raises the issue amongst them that what threat is so dire that the Horned Man is roused to take note? Also, will the threat from these odd wolves (whom the party now suspect are not acting naturally) follow them into the suddenly dangerous mountains?
During all this, Szletko has a nagging feeling of something possibly important in the back of his mind, something he may have forgotten that might be pertinent to the current situation. In a day or so, the threats from assassins and Brosengyns with their Killhounds seem somewhat distant compared to this new and unsettling threat…