They had little in the way of packing. The road had long been their home with a staple diet of dried meat, rye bread and cheese. Sometimes stopping in hamlet villages, Rikka befriended the people with the pretense of being a gentle herb nurse and midwife. This always worked well, the poor relied much on charity and kindness. Rikka lured them, Fedros murdered them, using the skill of mind possession, their Master consumed their innocent souls by capturing the strand of life as it left the dead body. He had a particular delight for the young, these were of sweeter and stronger essence.

Rikka guessed it would take two moonwakes to get to the nearest village at the base of the mid-mountain range. With only a sad old bony mule to carry their meagre rations, they set off. Neither of them attempted to ride the mule through the rocky hills, it was as cantankerous as the old woman. That was probably why they had both accepted it. Any creature with a mean streak was considered an ally.

Descending the bleak rocky slopes, they passed by deeply shadowed gloomy caves cutting into the hillsides. All three, weary with aches and pains, silently agreed to stop and make camp in a small damp enclave. A busy bubbling brook trickled out its contents from a hidden fissure in the solid ground.

With an early start at the next moonwake, they should arrive at the deep valley that cuts down the centre of two large barren mountain sides, where the loose grey slates always threaten to landslide. Centuries ago, icy rivers had flowed down these valleys and giant rocks transferred like rolling pebbles from the upper regions. Some had moved from even further back in history when the lands had experienced violent volcanic eruptions. The huge boulders scattered on the valley floor would hide them well and shade them from the burning sun.

On the second moonwake, their final camp was settled between the strange neat rows of oddly shaped giant boulders. The immense rocks appeared as giant tables whereby an upper top-heavy flat stone strangely balanced on a long thin stone leg. The worn out leg must have suffered constantly at the grating and grinding of swirling bits of stinging gravel, eating away at the under portion.

The bubbling brook they had encountered earlier had now formed itself into a small stream gushing quickly by, creating a white frothy surface. Close by on a yellowed grassy embankment wild goats bleated at their presence and ran, scattering themselves then rejoining into a small herd as protection from the intruders. The mule brayed at the noisy bleating of the goats. Fedros grudgingly fed the animal a small bag of oats. Rikka lit a small cooking fire by the stream and began to boil water.

‘Fedros,’ she hollered, ‘take the net and catch us fish fer supper. I’m fed up with trying to make meals of salted pork.’

‘We could always have a bit of mule meat,’ Fedros retorted, preferring to kill the animal than bothering to wade through the water for a slimy fish. ‘We have no use of him any longer.’

‘I do believe yer serious ye lazy, idle oaf.’ Rikka’s patience wore thin. ‘I want fish. Go. Maybe I’ll cook your hide instead. There’s plenty of fat on ye to last me a year.’

‘All right, I’m going,’ he mumbled, not really intent on eating mule anyway but only seeking to stir up his mother’s temper. He did quite fancy a bit of fish but he did not, however, wish to do anything that she asked without first causing her some grief. ‘Fish, it will be.’

After the fish supper, they settled to sleep. They would arrive at the first village on the next moonwake.

It was blazingly hot when they arrived at the village of Sabdros to find the residents hanging brightly coloured cloth decorations on trees and in windows, with the laughter and merriment of a joyous occasion.

The large village boasted three inns. Most of the visiting pig farmers would stay with kinfolk so the inns were not full. Rikka entered the opened doorway of a crooked slate built inn whilst Fedros led the mule to an adjoining stable.

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