Stumbling through the undergrowth, pursued rapaciously, rapidly tiring as he searched for Drakon; for a moment Borysko almost thought he had slipped back three days, and was once again at the beginning of this wretched adventure. Only the presence of Madame de Silva persuaded him this was not so. She was always there, guiding him, supporting him while he cursed his weakness, cursed his shaking limbs and light-headedness, and swore revenge on the Vagari witch who had done this to him.
It was almost dusk when they finally felt they had escaped. Pausing in a clearing, ears straining for any sound of pursuit, they stood rigid-but all they heard were the night-noises of the forest, and the mournful sighing of the wind in the branches.
"They have given up," Madame de Silva said softly. Borysko collapsed against a tree, utterly exhausted and hating it. Nyssa gave him an unreadable look.
"You need rest," she told him gently. "This has been too much for you; if you don't sleep, you will be doing the executioner's job for him."
"I know," the warrior admitted, with a heavy sigh. The Assessor knelt down by him.
"It must be difficult for you to lose your fitness. But you must get used to it. You must keep going, or there'll be a rope around your neck before too long. And think of Drakon and the beargirl. They need you."
"How? What use am I to them now, when I'm so weak?"
Madame de Silva smiled; it was tired and strained, but it was a more genuine expression than he had ever seen her wear before.
"Drakon was distraught when he thought you were dead. I've never seen him so upset. I believe he's fond of you, Borysko."
Borysko blinked a couple of times, surprised. He'd always assumed that the boy resented him.
"Well...I guess I'm a bit fond of him too," he admitted ruefully. Madame de Silva patted his hand.
"I'm glad to hear it. You're a likeable man, Borysko. Underneath it all. I do believe I'm becoming rather fond of you too."
The warrior gaped at her as she rose to her feet and began to gather branches for a fire.
"Please," she said, over her shoulder. "Call me Nyssa."
A while later, as they huddled around a campfire that flickered sullenly in the darkness, Borysko looked up and stared into the forest, frowning. Nyssa de Silva looked at him.
"What is it?"
"I can hear something..."
"No...it's stranger than that..."
He scratched his head, and shrugged, glancing at his companion who looked equally puzzled.
"It sounds like someone laughing."