Chapter Nineteen - The Price You Pay

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THE GENTLE BREEZE THAT BLEW ALONG THE SHORELINE was welcome after the oppressive heat of the jungle. George knelt by the lakes edge and used his hands to cup some of the cool clear water onto his face and neck, washing away the sweat and grime of their journey.

Except for the heat and the constant buzz of stinging insects, they had made it through the rainforest without further mishap.

When questioned George found neither Malin Thrax nor Valen Altard knew much about the Wildland they found themselves travelling through. The Spellcaster explained that very few explorers returned to tell stories of life in this part of the Elven lands. The ones that had come back—and there were very few—told of an inhospitable land inhabited by all manner of strange creatures, most of which were capable of killing you in seconds.

Malin called a halt when they broke free of the jungle. They used the time to grab some rest and eat a little of the food that remained. Cadoc took the wolves to the water's edge. Where they drank and splashed about, glad to be free of rider and saddle even for a short while. He then fed them the last of their meat supply.

George sat and watched Stryker twist and turn among the wolf pack. The huge dog snatched at the chunks of meat, at the same time avoiding the snapping jaws of his larger brothers.

Although George doubted they would harm him he decided to call the dog away. Stryker stopped and bound towards him skidding to a halt in a shower of sand and pebbles.

George stood and brushed himself down. He sighed and reached out scratching the dog between the ears.

'Come on,' he whispered.

They walked back to where the others sat around a small fire they had built to heat some water.

'What's the plan?' he asked.

Malin Thrax stood, threw the dregs of his Elven tea on the fire. 'We will use the shoreline to skirt the lake - hopefully, it will be safer than travelling through the forest - that should bring us closer to the towers.'

George gazed out across the lake to where the Towers of Mais Anar reached skywards.

'And how long do you think it will take us?'

He was aware that the time he had allowed himself to complete the quest was growing short. This was the morning of his third day in the Elven lands. Given the strange time difference, he would probably have two more days before he needed to be back home.

'If we go now, and do not run into any more difficulties we should reach them before the sun begins its journey towards night,' Malin told him.

George guessed that would be late afternoon back in the real world. 'Well, I'm ready when you are,' he said.

They gathered their supplies, saddled the wolves and were soon on their way.

Once again Malin led the way. They kept close to the water's edge, as far away from the tree line as possible. Even so, more than once did they hear the screams of shadowy beasts crashing among the trees. Not that they did not keep a wary eye on the lake. Its crystal clear waters, sparkling in the morning sunshine, were broken - on several occasions - by large serpentine creatures chasing smaller prey up from the depths.

George rode alongside Meriol. To pass the time they told each other stories of their lives in their respective worlds. The Princess seemed to enjoy his highly embellished tales of his life at school. She laughed and said one day she would like to experience his way of life. He knew it was impossible of course. She was just too different in fit into his world. Humans, for the most part, were unable to get along with their own kind, so he doubted reintroducing them to the Elves was a good idea.

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