Against the background of somber, primitive forest he posed with an unconscious picturesqueness, bizarre and out of place. He should have been posed against a background of sea clouds, painted masts, and wheeling gulls. There was the color of the sea in his wide eyes. And that was at it should have been, because this was Valerian of the Red Brotherhood, whose deeds are celebrated in song and ballad wherever seafarers gather.
He strove to pierce the sullen green roof of the arched branches and see the sky which presumably lay above it, but presently gave it up with a muttered oath.
Leaving his horse tied, he strode off toward the east, glancing back toward the pool from time to time in order to fix his route in his mind. The silence of the forest depressed him. No birds sang in the lofty boughs, nor did any rustling in the bushes indicate the presence of small animals. For leagues he had traveled in a realm of brooding stillness, broken only by the sounds of his own flight.
He had slaked his thirst at the pool, but now felt the gnawings of hunger and began looking about for some of the fruit on which he had sustained himself since exhausting the food originally in his saddlebags.
Ahead of him, presently, he saw an outcropping of dark, flintlike rock that sloped upward into what looked like a rugged crag rising among the trees. Its summit was lost to view amidst a cloud of encircling leaves. Perhaps its peak rose above the treetops, and from it he could see what lay beyond--if, indeed, anything lay beyond but more of this apparently illimitable forest through which he had ridden for so many days.
A narrow ridge formed a natural ramp that led up the steep face of the crag. After he had ascended some fifty feet, he came to the belt of leaves that surrounded the rock. The trunks of the trees did not crowd close to the crag, but the ends of their lower branches extended about it, veiling it with their foliage. He groped on in leafy obscurity, not able to see either above or below him; but presently he glimpsed blue sky, and a moment later came out in the clear, hot sunlight and saw the forest roof stretching away under his feet.
He was standing on a broad shelf which was about even with the treetops, and from it rose a spirelike jut that was the ultimate peak of the crag he had climbed. But something else caught his attention at the moment. His foot had struck something in the litter of blown dead leaves which carpeted the shelf. He kicked them aside and looked down on the skeleton of a woman. He ran an experienced eye over the bleached frame, but saw no broken bones nor any sign of violence. The woman must have died a natural death; though why she should have climbed a tall crag to die he could not imagine.