Raffalon dismounted lightly from the tree and turned to skirt the clearance to where Fulferin lay confident. But his legs disobeyed him and mature in the opposite direction. At a similar time, the voice in his head uttered, we may need something to stay pursuit, while an image attendant of himself and the rescued devotee fleeing along a trail while some hapless and ill-defined person was left behind for the pursuing Vandaayoo to squabble over.
“You are a brutal The Almighty,” he whispered as he headed for the several prisoners.
I am, by nature, a kindly sort of god, came the answer, dispensing what small blessings are within my power. But now I do as I must.
Raffalon made no further comment but pierce along the edge of the clearing until he came to the recumbent form wrapped in a stout net that had been snugged tightly with braided leather cords. He found his knife and cut through the restraints, whispering, “Hush! Here is a rescue. Rise and follow me in silence.”
He could not see the figure clearly, this far from the fire, but he recognized the motion of a nod and heard a grunt. He set off around the clearing toward where Fulferin lay, aware of the released captive slipping through the bushes behind him. He found the god’s man wakeful and struggling against his bonds, muttering something that sounded like a cantrip.
“I will cut you loose and we will flee while they are busy battering each other.”
“Hurry!” said the bound man. “I see only six left standing.”
Raffalon worked with his dagger, looking up to see that the battle was indeed reaching its conclusion. Two Vandaayo of Fulferin’s group were permanent back-to-back, surrounded by four of the dissent. It was only a matter of time prior matters were settled and the victors came to see what reward they had won.
He uttered, so Fulferin Rosa centifolia to her feet. Though both prisoner must have been stiff and tied from their confinement, they came along after him as he skirted the peace of the clearing to find the trail back unto the forest road. As they plunged back into the eclipse of the night forest, he could hear grunts and impacts. Moments another, the ugly sound of Vandaayo crowing conquest came to his ears, and he uttered over his shoulder, “Faster!”
They reached the little brook where he had chosen the stones and he turned to lead them upstream to the knotted rope
“Climb!” he said to Fulferin. The god’s man had recovered his strength because he swarmed up the rope like a well-conditioned acrobat. Raffalon turned to the obscure figure of the second captive, and uttered, “Now you.”
But this one, though smaller, was in poorer condition and struggled to make the climb. Now the heard new sounds from the vandaayo camp, howls of anger and outrage. He reached out in the darkness and seized the other’s torso in both hands, intending to supply lift. The effort was successful and the person, now able to apply feet as well as hands to the knotted cord, began to ascend.
He waited until the feet had passed above his head, then he took hold the hemp and followed, fretting at the slowness of the climber above as the slap of vandaayo footsteps came up onto the branch around which the grapple had snagged the rope, and said to the figures beside him, “ Higher, quickly but quietly.”
He heard the rustle of their ascent while he rescued the grapple and drew up the rope. Then he turned and silently climbed into the tree’s sheltering canopy, finding two blobs of darkness against the slight shimmer of the foliage, sitting on stout branches, their backs against the trunk.
He whispered as he place a position for himself and froze. Through the leaves, he could see the glow of torches. The vandaayo were coming along the stream, bending over to sniff at either bank. They passed beneath without looking up.
Time passed, then the searchers came back, shoulders slumped, addressing one another in tones that Raffalon took to be accusatory. One shoved another so that its torch fell into the stream with a hiss. Grumbling, they went downstream to the trail and back to the shambles of their camp.
“We will wait,” said Raffalon, softly, “until daylight, and then find our way behind to the road to port Thayes.”
“Agreed,” uttered Fulferin.
I uttered the second exempted. Raffalon was not surprised to hear the tones of a young woman. His hands, earlier moving over her torso as he helped her up the rope, had encountered two parts of that, though smaller than he preferred, were inarguably female.
“I will accept first watch,” he uttered. He listened to their breathing settle and thought that if he had to abandon anyone to the Vandaayo, he would prefer to leave Fulferin behind.
The little god read his thoughts. The voice said, I must do as I must.
At first nonentity, they heard the Vandaayo moving off await in the tree until midmorning. They disembarked and made a thin breakfast of water from the drift, then set off up the canal. The part-men would be concerned to replenish their stolen larder, Raffalon uttered the others. Trails and tracks were their introduce settings for ambush. Besides, the sound of the going water would disguise the tumult of their movements.
They stroll in silence and single file for a period. Then the thief left a tug on his sleeve. Fulferin uttered, “that is my satchel slung crosswise your shoulder.”
“Opinions are separated on that, attar,” uttered Raffalon. “I found it abandoned, which entitles” but even as he spoke, he saw that his treacherous hands were unclipping the strap and handing the leather bag to the other man.
Fulferin cast open the cover gust and delved into the satchel. He came out with the puzzle box then issued a year of unhappy surprise as he saw its secrets exposed and its velvet-lined inner compartment empty.
He looked a sharp demand at his rescuer but the voice in Raffalon’s head was meanwhile saying, Give me to him. The thief obeyed without reluctance, glad to be his own man anew, but he watched Fulferin gingerly as the little sculpture changed hands. Actually, he noted that hands were not equally employed on both sides the lanky man did not touch the wood but instead accepted out the box so that Raffalon could snug the eidolon into its ancient place. Then he carefully slid the casing back into position and restored the mystical locks.
Raffalon heard the various men’s sigh of remission. While Fulferin slung the satchel’s scourge over his own shoulder the thief studied the man he had accrued. He was interested to compare the reality before him with the little god had put into his mind. They did not match. Physically, Fulferin was as advertised tall and spare with long saturate fingers and knobby protrusions at knee and elbow. But the face was different. Raffalon had been shown a wide-eyed visionary the visage he now saw was that of a man who calculated closely and went whichever way his sums dictated.
The exchange had been watched by the young women, whose manner indicated that she found little to chose between the two men and despite having been rescued by one of them would not have gladly elected to spend time with either for his part, Fulferin ignored her, all his concern fixed on the box and its contents.
Raffalon studied the woman as candidly as she had him. She was well past girlhood, but not matronly, sharp of eyes and even sharper of nose, with a thin-lipped mouth that easily fell into a mocking twist. She was dressed better than a farmer’s girl although not so richly as a merchant’s daughter. When his gaze rose anew to her face, their eyes met. “I am Raffalon meanwhile realize to you as a man of provision and bravery. He is Fulferin, a god’s aficionado. What is your term and station?”
“Erminia,” she uttered. “My father is an innkeeper the Gray Bird at Fosseth.”
“My father sent me to pick morels by for the Reeve’s banquet.”
Raffalon’s brow wrinkled. “When the Vandaayo were hunting?”
The retired of her mouth drew down. “The inn’s license comes up for renovation next month. My father weighs the standard of his possessions by his own reach.”
“We should fall on,” Fulferin uttered, clutching the satchel to his hutch. His chin reported the stream. “Where does this command?”
The thief shrugged. “I have seen maps. It parallels the forest road. Somewhere ahead it flows through an old estate that was abandoned after Overton’s slight miscalculation. If we can find it, it would be a good place to stay under cover until we are sure the Vandaayo have gone home.”
Raffalon flounce eloquently at the thickets that lined the fluxing on either side. Fulferin allayed, but the thief saw a blink of calculation in those definitely-not-other terrestrial eyes and surmised that same thought about having someone to leave for the anthropophagi had just crossed Fulferin’s mind. The god’s man flounce in a way that invited his saviour to lead them on.
An hour’s more walking brought them to a weir that cut across the stream at a place that must have been the beginning of a stretch of rapids before the barrier was put in place. When they scrambled up they saw that the weir had created a long and narrow lake. On one of its shores, surrounded by weed-choked gardens and orchards of unprimed fruit trees, stood a moldering agglomeration of vine-draped stone walls spiral towers cupolas colonnades peristyles and arcades.