Twirling one last enjoyable time about a branch, Hanuman dropped from the trees to kneel before his lord, white-pelted head low. “Spies, noble Sugriva?”
“There! In the valley below!” The vanara king pointed through mountain-clear air, where Hanuman could just make out three figures working their way down from the lower pass onto Rishyamukha’s challenging slopes.
“Hmm.” Shading his eyes, Hanuman studied the three. “They are dressed as pious hunters, but their bearing is noble-”
“They carry war-arrows! And swords!” Sugriva shook himself, brown fur bristling. “Surely Vali has tired of being barred from me by the curse, and hired hunters to slay me like a beast!”
“Hunters,” Hanuman observed, “rarely have the right to bear swords.” Truly, he could sympathize with his king, who had been hounded across the earth by a brother mad to see his blood spilled. But at times he thought Sugriva took sane caution a bit too far. “I shall hide myself and look upon them, and see what they are about.”
Although hiding, Hanuman realized as he drew nearer, might be a bit trickier than he’d originally thought. Hunters would have been easy enough to hide from; they sought scent, tracks, and movement, and so long as he gave them none of those, he was safe.
These three were different. They weren’t hunting, not the way their gaze tracked ground and skies. They were searching. And that meant they were looking for anything out of place, moving or not.
Hanuman froze statue-still in his tree, as the dark-eyed lady who wasn’t carrying a bow pointed-
To the tiny sapling a few yards away from his tree. Interesting.
“A galli tree.” The male archer let out a slow breath. “Are you sure it’s from one of Sita’s seeds?”
The lady – the earth mage, Hanuman realized, as the sapling reached out leaves to brush her fingertips – smiled, sad but hopeful. “I’m sure, love. My brother’s magic knows me.”
The man nodded, stepping forward to touch the red-edged green leaves himself. “At least we know we’re going the right way… Rama?”
Rama? Hanuman thought in disbelief, hearing a name out of new legends. No, it must be a coincidence. Though who would choose the same name for their daughter as King Dasaratha’s demon-slaying heir-
The woman’s blue eyes were cold as a mountain sky. “We’re being watched.”