Chapter 4: Westward Borne

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“We must need go further in to where the stream is more shallow and agreeable,” offered Hildora.  To this, all agreed and set off north following the path of the stream.  This proved some relief from their toil, for the trees that had grown about the stream had been smaller and fewer in number so that there was wide space to walk unencumbered.  The only hindrance was the water for the stream, like the great river, had spilled over its banks and flooded the land.  Nevertheless, the party made its way safely enough.

“If I am not mistaken,” said Beomund, “this stream may cross one of the roads to Fothmorn.  If we can reach it, twould save us much time and effort in the going, provided that the way is not barred by fallen trees and the like.”

The party’s hopes rose at this prospect and all found it an agreeable course of action.  The thought of finding a clearer path lightened everyone’s spirited and they all began to quicken their pace.

Ere nightfall, they came to the road, even as Beomund had said and found it for the most part clear of debris.  Beomund and his father again constructed a lean-to, which once more proved ill suited for the rain.

“Twould not be such a poor shelter if there were aught of needle or leaf left for our purposes,” said Eomund.  Then turning his gaze eastward, he said, “The fire clearly is dead, father.  Shall we not just return to the Fielding and find what we may there?”

As he spoke thus the sun set in the west and his father’s face was hidden by the shadows, but Eomund heard his words, “I have little hope in what we might find there.  Moreover, that was the quest of Harthorne, and he has not returned. We know not what fate he has met.  I will offer you thus; we will remain here for the day tomorrow. Perhaps, harthorne will have thought to come this way.”

Eomund dropped the argument and accepted his father’s terms knowing that the matter would not be pressed.  Examining the road both east and west, Eomund found no sign of horse or rider.  Harthorne had not come this way, if they remained on the morrow, they might rejoin with him should he attempt passage to Fothmorn via the road.  If Harthorne indeed made it to the Fielding, this would be the closest road for him to take if he did not return to the Fjording first.

Some time after dusk, the rain ceased and the clouds scattered.  The moon peeked from behind the clouds now and again, flashing the occasional light upon the road.  The wet places glistened and looked like wells of ink in the night.

They were able to get a fire burning and all took comfort in its warmth.  They were able to sleep more soundly, and again, no watch was kept.  But sleep was restless, especially for Eomund.  His dreams were filled with terrors.  He dreamt first of the battle with the ogres. He saw the light of their torches in their eyes as they massed against him.  Slay them as he might, their numbers grew unabated and he could not stand against them.

He fell and the ogres descended on him, burning him with their fiery brands.  He woke with a start.  Immediately, his father was beside him.  

“What is it, boy? Does a nightmare trouble you?”

“Aye, a dream of fire and wrath.”

“Then it is best that you are awake, for lo,” he said pointing eastward down the road, “a fire comes. Let us hope that wrath does not accompany it.”

Even as Beomund said, Eomund looked and saw in the distance the light of a fire.  He could see that it was the light of a torch and it was making haste down the road toward them.  It was moving too fast to be a man on foot, and soon realized that it must be a rider.

“Harthorne!” exclaimed Beomund, voicing Eomund’s thought, “is that you, friend?”

“Ho!” came a familiar voice, “tis luck I caught you here and not drowned among the ruins!”

Soon Harthorne was upon them.  In the light of the torch, they could see the flashing of his teeth as he smiled.  Dismounting his horse he approached them and greeted them heartily. Then turning to all, “Alas, the Fielding lies in full ruin.  All that we held there is now ash and ruin.  A few things I recovered from the ruin, but they are likely of little consolation.”

With this he offered some scant possessions that had not been completely ruined in the fire. A jade comb of Hildora’s that was now scorched and missing teeth,.  All were grateful for Harthorne’s effort and the fact that he was safe and now returned to them.

“What now is the plan?” he inquired.

To which Beomund said, “To Fothmorn.  We will rest the night here and set out in the morning.”

With that, the women retired to bed. Beomund instructed Eomound to do the same, as he and Harthonre turned to talk in private.  Eomound watched them from where he lay by the road.  They stood a ways apart from the group down the road near Harthorne’s horse.  They spoke in hushed but hurried tones.  Eomound could not make out what they were saying, but he could tell that his father was upset by what Harthorne was saying.

After a time, both the men came to the camp and no more was said that night.

With the morning, the sun rose to a cloudless sky and all were grateful to be relieved of the rain at last.  As the day progressed the air warmed and the rain soaked ground began to dry, though much of the road was still bogged down in places and the group yet had many instances of fallen trees across the road with which to contend.

Around noon day, the party took lunch upon an outcropping of rocks by the road.  There were provisions enough for all, but they ate still sparingly.

Beomund stood up and declared, “With any luck, we should make it to Fothmorn ere nightfall.”

“Then let us set out,” said Harthorne.  And with that they continued on their way.

The way proved more difficult than Beomund had hoped. Not long after they struck out again, they came to a place where the road was flooded. they tried crossing on horseback, but the horses became mired up and they were forced to go around through a mess of fallen and tangled trees.  This took up a great deal of time and energy so that all were ready to take another rest.

They strayed by the road side for a time before striking out again west.  The rest of the journey proved less problematic, save for an occasional tree or puddle that required circumnavigating.

The sun began to set in the west as the reached the edge of the great forest.  The land opened up before them into a wide plain running north and south for many leagues.  The land was flat, gently and gradually sloping toward the sea shore roughly a mile west.

“I think it is safe to ride,” offered Beomund, “but go carefully.  For though the fire has not ravaged this part of the Ridderwold, the rains may have made the ground treacherous in places.”

With that, Eomund sprang onto the back of Lithos and was off like a shot.  Lithos galloped on for a space, then turning, slowed to a trot.  Eomund leaned back in the saddle, stretching his arms over his head.  Looking up, he could see the first light of the stars emerging as the last band of sunlight disappeared over the horizon.  Eomund could just see Halsin wheeling in the sky above him as Lithos cantered in a wide circle.

Harthorne laughed and mounting his horse joined Eomund.  Riding up beside Eomund, he said, “It is good to be yet living and free, my friend.  We have suffered much toil and loss, but we have not lost ourselves or our spirit.”   With that, the rest of the party each mounted their horses and rode off toward the sliver of light that was Fothmorn.

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