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He dogpaddled fiercely in the cold murk. His craft listed in a foot of water, with him sputtering to keep his lips from the infested waters. He stepped hastily onto the shore, a patchwork of grasses and driftwood, pawing himself clean and wiping his mouth, nose and ears. He only realized at the last minute his bag of coins had slipped from his belt, sunk to the bottom of the river. Risgan’s lips betrayed a sad cry. He watched his craft bubble under . . . also the last hope of any quick escape from the Pontific’s realm . . .

The sounds of crickets were deafening; slowly the crick-crick gave way to birdsong as the moon slipped away and the sky was just a shroud turning a hazy mauve-grey. The Lune mountains shimmered in the west, a fairy blue of sombre colour while far north lay low forest, olive-green and fox-brown, cut by the purling river which shifted lazily in random patterns. To the south, grey clouds covered the horizon, the way back toward ill-beset Zanzuria where, over open country Risgan had traversed in utter darkness. Yet he must get to the other side of the cursed river to flee irksome bounty hunters. There lay the Mazgul forests . . . a respite . . . while here in open country he was no more than a sitting duck to the Pontific’s scouts, men-at-arms and network of spies.

A shiver of apprehension slithered up his spine.

The thump of a patrol came from nearby—three armed soldiers cantering on low-lying where-backs, horned and shaggy.

Risgan stifled a curse. He flung himself to the ground. He fingered the club at his belt. He dared not move. How had the patrol happened on him so quickly? Vostas again? The relic-retriever twisted lips into a disgusted grimace. Only the trader knew his haunts that intimately, being a fellow retriever at one time. Risgan’s teeth were on edge. He clutched at the sodden wish bone in his pocket and wished the menace to disappear. Oddly, the bone grew warm in his hand. The party suddenly turned away, apparently distracted by a movement, as seemingly insignificant as a small basilhoon chirp from the nearby woods.

Risgan twitched in joy. He inched his way along the wet ground, hoping to find better cover from the dampness that permeated his bones. He managed to conceal himself temporarily in some shrubs while the group was occupied; a stressful scuttle got his dripping hide behind some boulders angled down at the river’s edge.

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