A town has a festival every year in the dead of winter. The festival of birds. The towns folk dress in feathery robes and beaked masks and dance and frolic in the belief that the changes of the seasons are controlled by the presence of birds. According to tradition, the festival tricks Spring into coming early because the birds have returned.
A rather large armed group slowly walks the road. Unless you get to see what they transport, you could think it is a caravan with expensive goods, or the soldiers escort someone important. But this is a prisoner transport, on the way to mines, criminals on their way for punishment.
The soldiers may be willing to talk, the captain will have a few questions on you and the road, but they will keep distance, and part soon.