It was pitch-dark in the room. Automatically the boy blinked a few times until his enhanced vision worked. The Exhumyst sat in his chair and stared into space. The heavy curtains kept the moonlight out and all the candles were dead and cold.
‘Sire,’ the boy said gently. For a little while, there was silence.
‘Hardingraud goes to Zihaen,’ his master whispered.
The boy frowned. He was missing something, but he didn’t know what. ‘Zihaen, sire?’ Then he thought he understood. ‘The Owan Abai?’
The Exhumyst laughed softly. ‘Perhaps.’
‘Hasn’t the old mother temple been empty for centuries?’
‘No,’ the Exhumyst said.
A deep silence filled the room and the boy waited.
‘Not empty. There is something deep in the catacombs beneath the temple. Something of inestimable value. If Hardingraud is looking for it, he will have a problem. That temple is a dangerous maze and for those who don’t know the way, it is hardly possible to come out alive. And once you have found what you are looking for…’
All the candles in the room spontaneously started to burn and now the boy saw how his master sat silently shaking with laughter.
For three days, the companions rode in utter solitude through an endless landscape of jagged hills and wild moorland. The weather was sunny and unusually warm. Here and there were fields full of wild roses, filling the air with a sweet, almost intoxicating scent.
The third night, they stopped on the banks of a narrow, icy stream. It was a perfect spot beside the water’s edge, with sufficient tender grass for the horses. After their usual meal of oatmeal pancakes, they went to bed early. Miles upstream, thunder rumbled.
‘Better there than here,’ Bo said with satisfaction, as he pulled the blankets over him. Olle, who lay beside him, mumbled something unintelligible and soon everyone was fast asleep.
A few hours later Damion awoke.
Danger! he thought, without knowing what had woken him. Then he heard the neighing of the horses and in a flash, he was out of bed. He looked through the tent opening and saw the water of the stream almost reaching their camp and rising quickly.
‘Alarm!’ he cried, as he shook Olle and Ghyll. ‘Out! Out! Flood!’ Barefoot, he ran to the tent of the women and stuck his head inside. ‘Wake up! The brook’s overflowing!’
Kerianna was instantly awake. ‘What is it?’
‘The brook’s overflowing,’ Damion repeated. ‘We have to move the camp.’ Then he ran to the third tent.
With a minimum of fuss, everyone began to pack their luggage, while the first water leaked inside.
‘Do my things too,’ Damion called to Olle. ‘I’ll move the horses.’ He knew he had to hurry; the fast rising water was icy cold and he was barefoot. Quickly he picked up all the precious wardstones he could find. The water had washed away nearly half of the magic pyramids and there was little chance he would find them again in the dark. He placed the remaining stones in a grassy spot away from the river and then led Ulanth to the new place. As always the other animals followed their leader and soon all twenty horses and donkeys were re-located. When he returned to the new camp, a welcome fire burned. With a sigh, he stretched his frozen feet to the flames.
‘Not that way,’ Uwella said absently. ‘It’ll give you chilblains. Come here with your feet.’ With hard hands, she rubbed the warmth back into his chilled limbs. ‘Better now?’
Damion nodded. ‘Thank you.’ He looked past the tents at the heavily swollen brook, illuminated by the moon and at least three times as wide as when they went to sleep. ‘How stupid,’ he said. ‘I hadn’t thought of that. I know you should never pitch your tent close to a river. One heavy rainstorm upstream and you have all that extra water in your tent.’
Uwella snorted. ‘Ghyll said exactly the same. Fortunately it all ended well.’
‘We lost half the ward stones for the horses,’ Damion said bitterly. ‘Should something spook them, they’ll run right through the wards.’
‘We’ll look for the ward stones tomorrow,’ the wikke said.
With his chin on his chest, Damion stared into the fire. His body warmed slowly, but not his mood.
When Ghyll returned, his face was unusually tight and he clenched his lips together. He plopped down beside Damion and began chucking stones in the fire. One hit a fiery coal and sparks rained down on his bare feet. Ghyll uttered a curse and brushed the sparks away.
Keri looked at him with raised eyebrows. ‘Are we in a bad mood?’ She looked wet, bedraggled and very pretty, but for once Ghyll didn’t see it. He opened his mouth, and then closed it again.
‘Yes; I’m feeling so stupid.’
‘Are you supposed to be perfect, then?’ his wife said. ‘Is that part of your kingship? We didn’t think of it either, so we’re just as guilty. Done is done and it ended well enough. Nothing to worry about.’
Ghyll and Damion sighed almost simultaneously. Avelore looked shyly at the beastmaster.
‘What have you lost?’
‘Half of my ward stones,’ Damion said. ‘Washed away. Now, the horses can escape if they want to.’
‘Oh,’ the girl said. And a little later: ‘But you can talk to the horses? I man, they feel the stones. Can’t your horse tell you where the wards ended up?’
Damion’s mouth fell open. ‘I never thought of that!’ Then he stormed away into the darkness.
Half an hour later, he came back with a triumphant grin on his face. ‘I found six! The only ones we could reach. It was too dangerous to go into the water; the current is very strong. What a brilliant suggestion, thank you.’
Avelore blushed and looked down at her feet. ‘It was just an idea,’ she said softly.
‘A very good idea! I’ll add these stones to the rest immediately.’
‘Put on your boots first,’ Uwella said.
Damion obediently walked to his tent and came back with his boots on. ‘You face paint is running,’ he told Uwella. Then he kissed her and hurried on to the horse corral.
‘Does it really?’ Uwella asked uncertainly.
‘No,’ Bo said.
‘Why do you have all that face paint on anyway?’ Avelore asked.
‘I am a Gray wikke. We all wear it. But when we get married we remove it, you see?’
‘No,’ Avelore said. ‘Actually, I don’t. Does your god want it?’
‘Arikal? No, it’s a tradition, nothing more.’
The blonde girl looked like she found it strange, but she said nothing more.
Silently they stared at the flames, until Uwella rose. ‘I don’t know what you are planning, but I’m going back to bed. See you tomorrow.’
Ghyll began to rake out the fire and sprinkle water from the bucket over it. When it was empty, he limped to the brook and filled it again. Only when the fire was completely extinguished, and all residues cooled, he did he go to bed.