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Marc finally learns the true nature behind Nathel's betrayal. The kingdom is in turmoil, being brought to the breaking point by a ruthless enemy. With his family lost and his friends scattered beyond reach, Marc must search deep inside himself and find the strength to save those he loves and the kingdom from the onslaught of the Drenthen horde.
Ilay face down in the snow.
Iwas not sure how long I had been there, but I had no desire to move.I felt, deep in my soul, that if I could stay there for just a littlewhile longer all would be well. I had no reason to get up nowhere togo just yet, and so here I could stay. This dream I had, so real itbordered on outrageous, seemed over, and I was left to my slumber.
Thechill was claiming my fingers and feet. Creeping in slowly, I shovedthis discomfort aside. Best to have the cold take over all of myjoints and limbs. The numbness was welcome. Just to sleep. . .justfor a short while longer would be all I needed. Then I could get up.
Somethingmoved in the snow beneath me. There was a moan, softly at first, andat the sound of her voice, however faint and fragile, memories of hercame rushing back. I was thankful she still lived. It was Chay. Shehad fallen taking me with her. I did not let go. Just a moment ago wewere slipping into the cave, Nathel's body, and Rouke.
Rollingto the side I shook my head clear and looked at her. I lowered downwith my ear to her breast and when I felt her breathe softly I gave asilent thanks.
Bloodran from a wound in her head and was lost in the tangle of her undonebraid. After all these months her hair was still white except nearher scalp. Now it blended in with the snow almost perfectly and wasdifficult to tell where one ended and one began. Other than this oneinjury she seemed well. She had survived the fall.
"Chay?Chay?" I whispered her name while shaking her gently by theshoulders to wake her. She moaned again and was still. Her nose wasalready beginning to turn red in the winter night air.
Irose up on my hands and knees and I looked about. We were just on theshoreline and now... I did not yell out. It was on the tip of mytongue to yell for Rouke, but I stopped as I drew my breath. It wasquite obvious we were nowhere near the Kear forest or the ocean.
Fromthe edge of the hill-top where we lay the ground sloped downward. Thevalley below could not be seen for the number of trees. We would haveto travel in that direction soon. Twilight had given in to acloudless, starlit nightfall.
WhyNathel had done this I was unsure. Was it by accident the gate hadformed on the floor of the cave or did he have some darkerintentions?
We'vebeen betrayed. Thethought made me pause. No, he would not intentionally harm us. Hewas a friend, an ally. Like others he was a mentor to me, a shoulderto lean on when things got tough.
Thegate he created sent us somewhere in the kingdom for our protection.Rouke was probably harmed and all because of me. No, I had to believethat he had our best interest in mind and would not do something thatwould directly harm Chay and I.
Iused a sapling for support to help me stand. On my feet, oursurroundings still looked as bleak as ever. My knees trembled and Iforced them still.
Theleather cord was tangled around my arm. I shrugged it off letting thebags of gold coins fall where they may. If we ever found a settlementI could always get a horse and return for them. It would be too heavya burden to take with me now. If we were going to make it through thenight I knew I had to save all of my strength for the hours ahead.The gold only would slow us down and the added weight may mean thedifference if we lived or died.