Will hardly slept at all that night, so it was hardly surprising that he was awake well before sunrise the next morning. What little sleep he'd managed to snatch amid his turbulent thoughts had been haunted by nightmares of shadowy figures wielding huge swords and a pair of eyes watching him like malevolent golden lanterns. Each and every time he awoke, Will had found himself drenched in cold sweat and shaking like an autumn leaf.

As a result, he just couldn't stop himself from yawning as he left the small house he shared with his mother and started to make his way down to Axbrand's smithy in the valley below. He'd told her where he was going the previous night when he'd returned, saying he was going to help Axbrand run a few errands in the town for a while. Omitting, of course, the part about his Gift.

How do I have a gift anyway? It's not like I'm a magician or nothing. I'm just a farmboy, not anyone special. Am I?

As he wandered through the silent town, Will caught sight of Axbrand standing outside the smithy, holding the reins of two horses in his huge hands. He gave will a small wave with his free hand when he approached and said softly:

"I borrowed these two from Master Luhan last night. They're usually used for carthorses but he said they're alright for riding. They ought to get us there and back well enough."

Silently, Will nodded and took the bridle of one of the horses, a large piebald mare with a wall eye and a pink smudge on her long nose. She was hardly a destrier, but Will decided that it could definately be worse. The last time he'd left the village, on an errand for his mother, he'd had to borrow Doroon's old mule Bek, who had a reputation for kicking. He still had some of the bruises now.

Seeing that Axbrand was alredy mounted, Will scrambled up into the piebald's saddle. Giving her a nudge in the ribs, the two moved off along the narrow track out of the village, towards Bottom Bridge, which gave the place it's name.

As they rode through the early morning mist, Will glanced back over his shoulder, taking one last look at the village that, for most of his life, had encompassed his entire world. Then he turned back to the road again, feeling slightly nervous at the prospect of leaving behind the familiarity of his home. And was it just him, or were they being followed?

No, Will told himself sharply, don't be such a wool-head. There's nothing out here but deer and rabbits and foxes. It's Bottom Bridge for Light's sake, it's hardly the Skathain Border!

But still, he couldn't shake the feeling that they were being followed. And that, whatever it was, it didn't seem friendly.

The End

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