The sighting of the riders on the plain put a new urgency in their step. With Tome leading the way, the companions hurried along the path crossed until it crossed a made-up road running East to West. Tome told Arthur that this was the road they must follow.
“How long will it take us to get to Camaaloth Port?”, asked Arthur.
“At least two days, which means another night out in the open. We must be on the lookout for food as we travel for even with what Ganieda gave us, we will run out before we reach the town.
“What about those riders. What will happen if they catch us?”
“Then it will be the worst for them.” Tome grasped the hilt of his sword meaningfully, and Arthur felt a little better. He had already seen what Tome could do with that weapon. Perhaps things would be all right after all.
Throughout the morning, they continued hiking without rest. Wolf ranged either side of the trail, running this way and that as each vagrant scent caught his attention. However, as Arthur noted with some pleasure, the cub was always careful to keep his two human friends in his sight.
As the day wore, Arthur took to picking up loose sticks and throwing them for the young wolf to chase after. He never seemed to tire of the game and each time came bounding back with the stick between his jaws, before dropping it at the boy’s feet, bouncing up and down eager for Arthur to throw it again.
Soon after mid-day, they came to a small stream flowing gently down from a small hill to their left. Tome called a halt, and it was a relieved Arthur that who threw himself don to the ground to rest his legs. He was a good walker and had often gone on long hikes with his Mum and Dad over the small hills near the farm. Then though, he had been wearing stout walking boots specially made for the terrain rather than his old trainers. Now his feet were hurting, and as he pulled off his socks to bathe his feet in the chilly waters, he could see red blisters were erupting on his soles. Tome inspected them with a shake of his head.
“This will never do,” he said. If we don’t do something about the sores, you won’t be able to walk ten steps by evening. Wait here.”
Tome moved out of sight, following the stream back uphill. Every so often, he bent to examine the rough undergrowth by the water’s edge. He was obviously looking for something but what it was Arthur couldn’t guess. Once Tome had disappeared, Arthur stretched out, cooling his toes in the chilly water while enjoying the warmth of the noon-day sun on the rest of his soon. Before long, he was fast asleep.
The next thing he knew, he was awake, and Tome was shaking him vigorously.
“Wake up,” said Tome urgently. “We must go and quickly. There are fire and lights in the sky to the East behind us. I fear that the riders have reached Ganieda’s cave and even now she and her friends battle to buy us time.
“But what about Ganieda? Shouldn’t we go back and help her?”
Tome shook his head. “No, boy. Ganieda knows what she is doing, and she is immensely powerful in her own way. She is a white witch and bound by her vows to do no harm to any living being, so she won’t harm our pursuers. She looks only to delay them. But don’t worry. Unless they have wizards with them, they will not be able to harm her. Even if they do have magical support, she will simply fade away before they can come too close.”
Having reassured Arthur that Ganieda would be safe, Tome set about tending the boy’s feet. First, he took some large dock-like leaves from his pack, wet them in the stream and squeezed the juice on the blisters. Next, he wrapped the boy’s feet in the leaves and packed fine mud from the stream bed over the soles of each foot before instructing Arthur to put his socks and trainers back on.
Arthur did so, and when he stood up, he was surprised that his feet no longer hurt. In fact, they felt good as new. He asked Tome about the leaves.
“They are called Skin-Calm,” replied the man. Ganieda showed me how to find and use them once when my own feet blistered after a long day’s walk. Wait an hour or two, and you will find them as good as new boots.”
Arthur said that his feet already felt good as new and then at once regretted his words as Tome said that in that case, he wouldn’t mind jogging for a while.
All that afternoon and well into the evening, they alternated between jogging and walking with Tome only grudgingly, allowing a few minutes every hour or two. By the time they stopped, darkness was already falling when Tome eventually declared a halt for the day.
Arthur fell to his knees, exhausted and panting heavily. Even Wolf……. Within minutes he as asleep too tired to stay awake even for his supper.
Tome gently carried his sleeping form to a spot near the fire that he had made while the boy slept. There was a look of pride on his face as he brushed the loose hair off the boy’s forehead.
“Well done,” he whispered. “You have gone further this day than many a strong man could have managed. And all without a word of complaint. I think you might indeed have the heart and courage for this mission that Ganieda has set us. Whatever it may bring. Sleep now and recover your strength for I sense that you will need it on the ‘morrow.”
After making his own supper and collecting enough wood for the fire, Tome sat down with his back to a small tree and prepared to keep watch.
A few hours after midnight, he was dozing when a warning growl from Wolf alerted him to danger. He looked up to see the cub standing up, looking intently towards some bushes at the edge of the camp.
Moving slowly, he picked up a rock, before rising and stretching out his arms as if straightening a sore back. Then, without warning, he spun swiftly around and threw the rock with all his strength at the bushes. He heard a slap as the missile found the mark and then a high-pitched scream as a large black bat-like creature flew up from the greenery. In one movement, Tome drew his sword and leapt high, trying to cut the bat down, but it was already too high air and flying swiftly away towards the east.
Tome cursed and sheathing his sword bent down to wake Arthur.
“Wha…what is it? Not dawn already, surely?”
“No, worse luck. Our enemies sent a scout to find us. Wolf spotted it, but it got away before I could kill it. Now it will return to our enemies to report our position, and they will know where we are. We must go…Now!