This is a serialized story, Part 1 can be found here
A cold, bright sun dawned again and again on the rarest and most precious of women of the North and of the Far Eastern Isles. Their legs pushed against the dusty, rocky ground and with each step their laughter receded and compressed into hardened will; hard and rough as uncut diamond. When their food ran out and Moon’s rough spear found home in a mountain goat, they wept. When the gloaming struck the mountains with an unfathomably beautiful light, they paused only a moment. And when at last they stumbled into a lonely village, they had only the strength to beg for water before resigning their fate to the benevolence of the gathering villagers. Among the those who came to their aid was one who stood apart; a head taller, and an accent unheard of. She was a daughter of the Keeper of the Castle of Bridges, which stood as a gatehouse on the northwest border of the Empire. She had come to the village on her quest to help all those in need; she was a healer, she was calm, wise and brave. And she listened now as the fugitives poured their weary story out onto the dust of the high mountain pass; they trusted her intuitively. In her wisdom she offered them an amendment to their plan. Go first to the Castle of my father, she suggested, he is no slave of The Emperor and will allow you passage through the border. Then Star may continue to the North, and Moon may find a ship and crew to take her into the East. Relived beyond all reservations to have found a friend at last, they agreed.