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 that his bag of coins had slipped from his belt and sunk to the bottom of the river. Risgan’s lips betrayed a cry of sad grief. He watched his craft bubble under—also the last hope of any quick escape from the Pontific’s realm . . .
The sounds of crickets were fading; slowly the crick-crick gave way to birdsong as the moon slipped away and the sky became a shroud turning a hazy mauve-grey. The Lune mountains shimmered to the west, a fairy blue of colour while far north lay the low Mazgul 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-veiled Zanzuria where, over open country Risgan had traversed in utter darkness. Yet he must get to the other side of the cursed river! Bounty hunters would be on to him soon. 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, which were both horned and shaggy.
Risgan stifled a curse. He flung himself to the ground. The relic-hunter fingered the club at his belt. He dared not move. How had the patrol happened on him so quickly? He winced with anger. Vostas again? The relic-retriever twisted lips into a disgusted grimace. Only the trader knew his haunts that intimately, being a fellow retriever at a time in the past. 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 small animal, as seemingly insignificant as a basilhoon chirp from the nearby woods.
Risgan twitched in joy. He inched his way along the wet ground, hoping to elude detection and to find better cover from the dampness that permeated his bones. He managed to conceal himself in some shrubs while the group was occupied; a stressful scuttle got his dripping hide behind some boulders that angled down at the river’s shore.