He knew he needed to move soon; staying in one place would eventually get him caught. Scouting in the area where he'd slept and then below on the stinking battlefield, he made certain he had made the most out of the gear and supplies left behind. He filled up his pack, found a stone for his sword, and an intact spear. He gathered from one of the slain Salasians a thick, brown, hooded cloak big enough to really hide in, if need be. He gathered it all together, packed it up, carried it or wore it, and trudged away from the battle and up the hill.
He was wearing underneath it all the armor he'd bought for himself in Kartum, a breast plate adorned with the red and gold eagle of his country, the chain armor that attached to the breastplate and covered areas of his body that the breastplate did not, and his shield, which hung from his backpack, bearing lacquered likenesses of the ten senators who were the ultimate authority in his land. His helmet he left behind. There was no convenient way to carry it, and if his armor and his wits were not enough to keep him alive out here, then, he figured, the helmet would be unnecessary.
It was hard work, but he left the trail behind and walked carefully. It felt important to him to sacrifice speed for stealth, and he traveled warily. Naturally, though, his thoughts kept him company, and he wondered what to do about the markings on his armor. There was no real way to hide himself; he was too dark skinned and too golden haired for that. Even completely cloaked, one glimpse of his hair would give him away in this land of pale and dark-haired people.
He worried that the armor would be cause for extra grief and he didn't need more trouble than he already was in for but, every time he thought about taking the armor off and substituting some Salasian armor, Arcturas felt sick to his stomach and he could not do it. He would try to keep it covered as much as possible, and if he had to die here, he would die a man of pride and honor. That was all there was to it.
It took time, but he made progress through the trees. He walked slowly and avoided anything that looked like a trail. When he got to the top of the ridge he had been ascending, he stopped to rest.
A break in the trees gave him a view of another valley beyond and the low mountains. They extended along to his right, and then several miles away, turned left until he could look at them opposite him. They continued in that direction as far as he he could see.
One thing Arcturas could not see was much in the way of trails or especially roads, nor did he see any settlements. He expected, at the very least, to see some indication of other soldiers. It seemed unlikely that a force of sixty men would find themselves in such a remote place without reinforcements.
To his left, the ridge rose up higher and got more thickly wooded. There was the faintest of paths that ran along it in both directions. To his right, the path was well-trodden and he could see other paths branching off of it that led down toward the battlefield, but nothing off to the left. Curious and needing a better view of the area, he headed that way.
He walked cautiously up the barely worn trail, aware of the placement of his feet as he moved. Within a hundred feet of the overlook where he'd just been standing, the air began to vibrate quietly but noticeably with a charge. Sorcery was not unknown to him, but it still made him uneasy to see it.
Before long, he began to notice that the little animals of the forest were not running from him as they usually did. Instead, as he passed, they stopped whatever they were doing and watched him, steadily and unblinking, unmoving. Arcturas was deeply unsettled and was feeling the urge to run, but just before he made up his mind to do so, he rounded a curve to see a ramshackle hut up ahead.
It was little more than a tall lean-to with a forked pole holding the end of the roof up. A framework of sticks was mounded over with a three foot thick layer of brush and leaves. For Arcturas, who had been on the march for the last month, it looked quite cozy.
As he stood there, a short, pale man in leathers and furs stepped out of the hut and faced him. The man's eyes were dark and seemed endlessly deep. He stared at Arcturas without particular expression, but his face was not a mask. His eyebrows moved up and down and his lips pursed and flattened, the corners of his mouth rose and fell alternately or together. Motion seemed to meander across his face, moving here and then there. Finally the man smiled and sat cross-legged on the ground returning his attention to a rope he was braiding.