In the Foothills

A few minutes later, they were off again, galloping away towards the black silhouettes of the mountains, which rose menacingly from the lowlands like a row of jagged teeth, the tops of the tallest ones biting into the thick, dark clouds above.  They didn't seem to grow nearer while Reymu was watching them, but whenever he averted his eyes for a brief moment and then looked back, they looked much larger and much closer.

        Within the space of an hour or two, they had left the flat bottom of the valley and reached the foothills.  Their progress slowed then as the horse was required to climb and descent slope after slope, each one higher than the last, and by the time they stopped once more, Reymu felt as if they had been riding forever.

        Scarlet set up camp at the base of the tallest mountain, beside an empty riverbed.  Again she built a fire from nothing and procured food from an equally mysterious source.

        "Now we sleep," she stated once they had finished their supper.  "My steed shall keep watch."

        The black mare whinnied, a sound almost like a chuckle, and seemed to wink.  Her eyes were yellow, and they glowed.

        But Reymu couldn't sleep.  Not immediately.  He sat by the fire for a while, running his fingers along the starstone in his pocket and surveying the area around their campsite.  He couldn't see far, but he could tell that they were in what had once been a forest.  The rotting skeletons of trees jutted up from the soil around them.  It was an eerie place, made all the more so by the thought that it had once been beautiful, and it made him uncomfortable.  He did not wish to close his eyes in such a place. 

       Eventually, though, his exhaustion overcame him, and he could not sit upright any longer.  But a peculiar thing happened just as he dozed off.  Right before his eyelids dropped shut, he could have sworn he saw the old sheep-man standing in the shadows just within the reach of the firelight, watching them with a slight smile on his face.

        When he next awoke, Scarlet was preparing their breakfast, and the old man with the ram horns was gone.  Reymu considered telling the sorceress about what he had seen, but now that he was fully awake, it occurred to him that he had probably been dreaming, so he said nothing on the subject.

        "How much longer until we reach the goblins?" he asked instead.

        "Their city sits at the top of this mountain, just above the pass leading to Corbhe Belan.  If the road is clear, we should reach it by day's end.  If not..."

        "If not?"

        "If not, we shall see.  It all depends upon the circumstances."

The End

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