The thick trousers that sat between Jonrah and his armour acted as a cushion, buffering the shock as Jonrah landed awkwardly on the saddle of the horse below. He lurched forward as he landed, knocking the wind out of himself, and obviously startling the horse, which reared up onto its hind legs, letting out a terrifying cry of shock.
Jonrah blinked back tears of agony and grabbed a hold of the reins, desperately trying to slip his feet into the stirrups before the horse bolted off with Jonrah holding on for dear life.
Shouts from behind spurred the horse on, and as it returned its front legs to the ground, it broke into a trot for several paces, before suddenly charging into a gallop, letting dust billow all around, leaving the patrol behind.
But without even looking round to see, Jonrah knew that the four out of five who could ride their horses would be hot on his tail. To confirm his prediction, he turned around, and through the dust was able to see two already mounted and giving chase, and another two hopping on their own horses, a woman giving another a space on the back of her own horse.
Jonrah gave a mighty kick to the side of the horse, speeding it up, widening the gap between the hunters and the hunted. Trees flew past to his left, blurring into a sea of green and brown, and as Jonrah thought over what he could do to loose his followers, he looked back to see the enemy closing in on him.
Focusing his vision on one of the riders – specifically the two women who shared the single horse – Jonrah spotted the passenger stringing her crossbow. It was the same woman who had shot at him before as he was hanging from the branches, and he knew too well that she was a fairly good shot. Now that there were no obstacles for her bolts, there was a great likelihood that either Jonrah or the beast which was lending him its legs would suffer a bolt-hole some time soon.
In a snap decision that Jonrah subconsciously knew he’d come to regret, he turned sharply to the left, pulling hard on the reins, directing the stolen horse into the forest. Maybe he could loose them in there. He would be slow, but it would certainly be easier to hide from them.
The horse reared once more, before obeying Jonrah’s orders, obviously sensing the desperation that surrounded them. Without any need for further encouragement, the horse turned into the forest, only just avoiding the first of what was going to be a very accurate shot from a crossbow, and as the horse weaved of its own accord between the trees, oblivious to the safety of his rider, Jonrah felt sharp twigs swipe against him, as if he were dodging the long arms of The Eden itself.
As the trees grew closer together, Jonrah realised the difficulty that his steed was having whilst navigating randomly through the maze of wood. Pulling on the reins to slow the horse, which was only cantering now, they came to an abrupt halt, but Jonrah’s experience kept him fairly well-placed on the centre of the saddle.
The only sounds were those of nature. A wind rustling the leaves, the snap of a twig as a badger or some other creature hunted its prey, the monotonous coo of a wood-pigeon. No footsteps. No shouts. No followers were audible or visible.
Quietly dismounting from his new faithful companion, Jonrah was surprised that such a loyal creature could change allegiances so hastily. Thankful nonetheless, Jonrah stroked the horse’s long face, looking into the dark brown eyes, which seemed to understand the situation as well as Jonrah himself did.
Trusting the steed to remain put, Jonrah climbed back onto the saddle, using it as a stepping stone to a branch of an overhead tree, quickly scaling the branches to the top, so as to see his surroundings and determine whether or not it was safe to continue his quest.
To the far right, Jonrah spotted two horses, without riders, standing alone at the edge of the forest. One hundred metres of dense woodland stood between Jonrah and the horses, but whether or not the riders remained in the forest was a different question.
Listening intently once more, Jonrah could not hear anything, only the familiar sounds of his tranquil surroundings. Deciding he was safe for now, he took a moment to familiarise himself with the area.
Raggen Pass was coming up on the left, probably ten miles away, and would have no doubt taken him the rest of the day on foot. But with his new partner, he could be there within the hour.
The jagged rocks protruded from the ground, and stood not as high as the towers of The Eden, but were by far more intimidating. A good day would be necessary to traverse the labyrinth, but unless there was another way around, Gurden and Jodar could not be that far ahead. As far as Jonrah hoped or knew, Gurden was without a horse. He could well have retrieved one from a tower, but Jonrah kept his hopes up by telling himself that they were less than a day ahead.
A quiet shout from the distance attracted Jonrah’s attention to the horses, where he saw one man and two women mount their horses, swearing loudly. Turning around, they headed back to their own tower, obviously having given up hope on finding the man that had several times eluded their efforts to be captured.
A small cloud of dust swirled from the earth, climbing towards the sky, and as Jonrah looked hopefully, he saw the two other male riders appear from the dust, having left the forest. Speeding off behind their comrades, Jonrah knew he was safe here in the forest.
They would expect him to continue his journey, and probably hoped that he would be spotted by their eagles by nightfall. But Jonrah was one step ahead. They would not search the forest again unless he was not spotted tonight.
Jonrah took advantage of what he hoped was their plan, and descended the tree, intending to set up camp and sleep through the night – the first proper sleep since his journey had begun.