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Copyright 2015 by billwstories
Chapter 19 - Briarwood.
Garreth, Romaric and Kieren remained sprawled out along the bank of the pool they had just crawled out of. Their bodies were still dripping from the water that had accumulated on them during their recent swim in the pool’s inviting embrace. They also weren't ready to get dressed just yet. They were attempting to allow the water time to roll off their skin or evaporate naturally in the fading sunlight, because they were just too weary to dry themselves. They were not only exhausted from their recent watery workout, but also from the slow, treacherous journey that had preceded it. It meant they currently lacked the strength or willpower to do anything more. Slowly, but surely, their bodies began to recuperate and dry, while their spirits gradually became reenergized by thoughts of the wonders that awaited them at Thorold.
Eventually, the trio let their minds return to the present, as one by one they sat up and began to look around. They quickly discovered the warriors had not only exited the pool, but they had also dried, put on their clothing and armor, and were now seated in a circle having a discussion. This didn't seem to concern the boys though and they remained where they were.
“We have slightly less than ten leagues to go to reach our destination,” Doenilio was telling the others, “and we shall resume our journey at first light tomorrow. First, we will have to cross over the Clearwater River and then we’ll travel between the edge of Briarwood and the fringe of the Amber Mountains. Just before we clear the northern end of that woodland, we will come upon a path that leads up into the mountains. We will take that route and follow it the rest of the way, until we reach the rear entrance into Thorold. If all goes well and we make good time, while encountering no delays, then we should arrive at our homeland before the sun sets tomorrow evening.”
“This is truly good news,” replied Alairic, as his face registered the relief he felt knowing they would soon be in a safe place again. “However, I am concerned about something you said earlier about the next obstacle. What is it that you were so worried about that you suggested we stay on this side of the river and wait until morning before proceeding on?”
“I made that suggestion because of Briarwood,” Sedain confessed. “I felt it best that we camp on this side of the river tonight, so we could keep the river between us and that blasted forest.”
“Is it such a big threat that we needed to risk staying here and couldn't continue on until morning?” Hadwin wanted to know. “After all, aren’t the threats we’ve been trying to get away from on this side of the river?”
“Possibly, if that group is still in pursuit and hasn’t given up yet,” Sedain, responded. “However, the threat from Briarwood is more immediate and substantial.”
“In that case,” Rhys stated, “I believe it would be best if this time we knew what possible dangers await us there, before we have to deal with them.”
“Aye,” agreed Turquinine. “Although I hath been regaled with tales of the Murky Marshes before we journeyed hither, I hath always doubted the veracity of such stories. I dismissed the notions of such monstrous beings as being the product of the overwrought imaginations of less than brave travelers. Hath I fathomed the true extent of the threat, I wouldst never hath allowed us to tarry within striking distance of that ungodly place. The feeling still lingers within mine soul that hath I heeded the accounts of the vile beasts that dwelled within its foul waters, then, well then…”
The giant knight suddenly stopped speaking, since he had choked up momentarily and couldn’t utter another word. Seeing this, the others waited patiently until he got his emotions under control again. Once he did so, he continued what he had been trying to say.
“If that beast hath been knownst to me as being, well as being real, then Selvaggio wouldst not hath perished and wouldst still be here in our midst at this very moment.”
“Whether or not that is true, I cannot say,” replied Doenilio. “I’m also not certain that I can prepare you any better for this part of our venture than for the last, my giant friend. I do agree with Sedain though, that we should stay on this side of the river for tonight. I also agree with you that it is best for each of you to know all you can about any such possible dangers before they happen. Since some of this knowledge is only speculative, however, all I can do is give you a general awareness of what perils might lay along our path from this point on.”
The others were grateful Doenilio felt this way, but they were disappointed when he said he wouldn’t be able to give them any specifics. Regardless, they remained attentive and listened carefully as he continued to speak.
“First of all,” Doenilio added, “although we have no plans to enter the forest of Briarwood, I think I should advise you about a few things concerning it. There have been many stories about dwarfs, men and beasts disappearing in that dreaded wood, never to be seen again.”
This comment unnerved some of the companions, as they recalled all of the other perils they had endured over the past few days. Suddenly, they deemed it prudent to heed his words. This warning, in itself, didn’t seem too important, since Doenilio had also stated they didn’t plan to enter Briarwood. That being said, they concluded it would be wise to make a mental note of this admonition and not allow themselves to be drawn into another dangerous situation.
“Although we are not exactly certain as to why such things have occurred,” Doenilio went on, “we can only surmise that there is something about the forest or something within the forest that makes it so. Some have even claimed the forest is bewitched or there may be magical creatures living within its depths.
“The second thing you should know is that once we get to the mountains, which we must enter in order to reach our home, it is imperative we use the utmost vigilance. The farther north we travel in the mountain range, the more you'll need to know about the wildlife that lives there. At times, some of the animals that inhabit the region can be extremely dangerous and could pose a substantial threat to our safety.
“Some of the animals you might encounter are the wolves and large brown bears that roam this portion of the mountain range. On occasion, you may also run across a snow ape that has wandered out of the Citadel Mountain range in search of food. Each of these animals has been known to occasionally attack parties of dwarfs or humans, but usually only when angered, threatened or if they are extremely hungry. All I am asking is that you remain observant for their possible presence, but I also warn you not to provoke them, if you should happen to encounter one.
“The only other thing you should be aware of, although it is still rather early in the year for this type of problem, is that we often have terrible snow storms here in the mountains. They can come upon us without much warning and the conditions can become so bad that you won’t be able to see where you are going. During one of these blizzards, there is the possibility of getting lost, and you could also die from exposure before you find your way out or are rescued. You might even walk out onto a snow bridge and plummet to your death. A snow bridge is a false span that has no solid support to it and will often collapse under the additional weight of a body. This then sends the traveler crashing to the ground below, which is often many meters down.”
Once it was obvious that Doenilio had finished his warnings, he received his first response.
“Thy disclosure tis indeed dire,” Turquinine acknowledged. “Praise be to the gods that thou didst not add a dragon or the Horseman of Death in thy appraisal,” he added, before releasing a nervous laugh.
“I’m just thankful we aren’t planning on going into Briarwood or venturing far enough to the north that we might run across one of those animals,” Rhys added.
“Those animals sometimes also wander close to our homeland, but it doesn’t happen very often.” Doenilio responded. "I just wanted you to be aware of this fact, just in case."
The youths had been some distance away from the others while they had been having this discussion, so they had not overheard the various things that had been said. They did, however, recognize the time had finally come for them to rejoin their companions and take part in whatever it was the warriors were talking about.
Shuddering almost in unison, the boyhood friends began to feel tiny bumps forming all over their skin. It was due to their bodies' reaction to the cool breeze that had suddenly swept across the open ground. While their shivering intensified, the teens also became aware that the sun was slowly making its final descent in the western sky and night would soon engulf them.
“Damn, I’m getting chilled,” Romaric uttered, as he shivered slightly to emphasize this point.
“Me too,” Kieren agreed. “This has been fun, but I think it’s time to put our clothes on and join up with the warriors.”
Garreth and Romaric rapidly agreed with his assessment, so they all went over to their packs. They were just pulling out some clean clothing when Turquinine approached.
“After thou hath put thy garments on, we shall prepare camp. It hath been agreed we wilst stay on this side of the river for the night.”
The teens were pleased when they heard this news, since they didn’t think they could hike another step until they had been able to get some rest. However, they chose not to inquire as to why their protectors thought they should stay where they were. As the Mitikuan left to rejoin the others, the youths wiped the remaining water from their bodies using what little energy they had left in their tired muscles to do so. After another nip of cool, night air inspired them to quicken their efforts, the trio hurriedly slipped into the clothing they had pulled out of their packs.
After they finished attiring themselves in fresh apparel, the teens set about performing their nightly preparations. They raced against the setting sun, as they frantically attempted to lay out their bedding before the final rays of sunlight disappeared. They moved as quickly as their weary bodies would allow and it appeared as if they were carrying out this task more from habit, rather than as the result of any conscious effort. Once they finished, they were ready to rejoin the others.
The warriors had finished their discussion long before the boys had even begun to get dressed. During the time in between, Rhys and Hadwin had decided to use the opportunity to follow the Clearwater River a short distance downstream, to see if they could spear some fish. A little while later, the pair returned with a modest collection of fish and proudly offered them to be used for the evening meal. Everyone was thrilled at the prospect of having something different to eat, so the fishermen set about cleaning their catch. While they were doing this, Alairic and the dwarfs scrounged up enough wood to build a small fire and the boys hurriedly dug a pit to light it in.
In anticipation of this delightful and unexpected change in their diet, the companions all huddled around the pit where the fish were being cooked. This way, not only could they benefit from the warmth the fire provided, since the wind had cooled the temperature significantly, but they could also use their bodies to prevent the firelight from shining out into the dark expanse beyond. When the fish had been thoroughly cooked and were ready to be consumed, the small fire was extinguished. Each person then took his portion of the fare and set about finding a comfortable spot where he could enjoy it.
As always, the boys made sure they stayed close to each other, as they eagerly devoured this rare treat. After the dreary meals they had eaten the previous few days, this delicacy was heartily enjoyed by all. Once they finished, it was easy to see that each of them was struggling against the weariness they had been trying so hard to deny before now.
“Methinks the hour hath arrived,” the giant knight advised them, “when rest must taketh priority. Our bones be much wearied from the travels just ended and peaceful slumber beckoneth us into its sweet rapture. Go now to thy beds and trouble thy minds not with worries of tomorrow. The first watch shalt be mine and Hadwin shalt be posted next, in an hour. Rhys, Alairic, Sedain, Quintain and Doenilio shalt assume the post thereafter. I bid thee a pleasant adieu and take my leave of thee, forthwith, to attend to the watch.”
With that, the warrior moved away from the others and took up a position among the rocks behind them. There, with the aid of the moonlight, he would watch over the camp and surrounding areas, as he used the rocky slope to conceal his presence and protect his back from assault. While Turquinine was settling in, his companions quickly moved to where they had set up their bedding, with the teens located in the center of the group. Soon, they were all asleep and the Mitikuan was reassured that all was well, once he heard the sounds of their gentle breathing.
The evening passed by quickly and quietly. None of the guards observed anything worth mentioning, although it was true that some of them had either seen or heard a stray animal in the distance. The guard on duty never felt any of these incidents was worth raising an alarm over and let them pass. Some of the later guards had also reported hearing noises they could not account for, but that was not entirely unusual. The sounds concerned them slightly at the time, but since nothing ever materialized, they pushed those inconsistencies aside, as they continued their duty.
When the first rays of sunlight began to split the darkness, the final sentry set about waking his fellow travelers. Sluggishly, the recently awakened companions climbed from their bedding, grabbed a hasty bite to eat from their packs and completed their preparations to break camp. The dwarfs were the most excited at this point, because they were looking forward to seeing their families again. The others, however, were filled with anticipation about having a decent meal and being able to sleep in a bed for at least one night.
The party was soon packed and on the move again, but this meant they now had to ford the Clearwater River. They would do this about one hundred paces downstream from where they had swum the previous day. It wasn’t exactly the way any of them wanted to start this leg of their journey, because each of them emerged on the far shore with varying degrees of their bodies drenched from the crossing.
Turquinine, who was by far the tallest member of the party, was wet from the waist down, while the boys were soaked to mid-chest. At the other extreme, the dwarfs’ bedraggled beards were dripping profusely, as their whiskers shed the water it had just absorbed. Once everyone was on the other side, the group paused to dry as much of their bodies and clothing as possible. At the same time, they realized that whatever part of them was still damp would eventually evaporate as they traveled. After a very brief delay, they resumed their journey and the party took the trail leading northward, toward the rear entrance to the dwarf stronghold.
The companions were careful to stay close to the mountains and as far away from the unwelcoming forest as possible. They had been traveling like this for over an hour when Alairic’s keen vision detected a hint of movement on the slopes high above them. To be safe, he quickly signaled the others to stop, crouch down and remain motionless, as they attempted to blend in with the shadows.
They lingered there for nearly twenty minutes, while Alairic strained to discern what had caused the motion he had detected. Try as he might, he could not locate or identify anything on the mountainside, so he decided to write it off as a wild animal wandering in search of food. He knew that a lone animal would not attack a party of this size and, therefore, urged the others to continue on their way.
The companions had barely resumed their journey and hadn’t gone very far when Alairic again spied movement partway up the slopes. The disturbance had possibly been caused by a solitary figure darting from behind one rock and moving to another, just out of arrow’s reach. Again, the elf motioned for the others to halt and they huddled in the shadows to discuss the situation.
“What seeth thou?” Turquinine asked.
“I am not quite sure,” Alairic responded, honestly.
“Are we being followed?” Garreth wondered.
“It’s possible,” Alairic told him, “for I sense something dogging our every move.”
“Maybe we should try to hide for a while,” Romaric offered, “until we know for sure what is out there.”
“No. I don’t believe we should remain here,” Alairic insisted. “If something is out there, then there may be more than just one individual or creature lurking about.”
“Should we send someone up there to see what it is?” Hadwin wondered aloud.
“I don’t think that would be wise either,” Alairic countered, “for we may find ourselves provoking a confrontation we would be better off avoiding. The only other thing we might try would be to attempt to outdistance whatever is there. The problem is, if it is truly stalking us, and considering how far we still have to go, I calculate we would have only a small chance of succeeding at this as well.”
“Methinks a scouting party would be most appropriate,” Turquinine offered, unsolicited. “It be needful for us to ascertain what type of creature shadoweth our every footfall.”
“I think that would be foolhardy,” Quintain interrupted. “With the animal life that roams these heights, we might be sending some of our comrades needlessly to their doom.”
“I agree,” Doenilio stated, adamantly. “We’re better off not provoking or agitating whatever it is.”
The others were beginning to chime in and offer their own viewpoints, when the matter was unequivocally decided for them. Garreth, who had been watching the slopes from behind the cover of one of the warriors, was the first to squeal out a warning. Heeding the elf’s alarm, everyone looked up just in time to see in excess of thirty warriors, dressed entirely in black, hurtling down the mountainside toward them.
The aggressors held their weapons aloft and emitted a blood-curdling cry as they began to charge down the mountainside. It was now obvious these warriors were dressed in the same types of uniforms that had been worn by Sedain’s captors. Seeing the companions had no intention of waiting around to find out why the brigands were here, they had to make a move. This decision was hastened even further when several arrows suddenly struck the ground in front them, since the attackers were still slightly out of range. One of the projectiles, however, whizzed way too close to Kieren’s head and prompted everyone to react.
“Quickly, follow me,” shouted Sedain, as he took off in the direction of the woods.
“Are you sure this is wise?” Rhys panted, when he realized where they were going.
“Would you rather stay here and let them use you for target practice?” the dwarf screamed back. “We must at least use the trees to protect ourselves.”
Hesitantly, the others followed him, as he rushed toward the outer boundary of the forest. Once there, they went just far enough inside to put a tree or two between themselves and their attackers. Sedain felt this would do the trick, without taking them into the depths of the woodland. As they were doing this, each of the companions was questioning if he feared the warriors chasing them or Briarwood more. They didn’t have time to ponder this matter for very long though, since those with bows were far too busy firing arrows in the direction of those stalking them.
“There are too many,” Hadwin acknowledged, as he screamed his comments to those hiding on either side of him. “There’s no way we will be able to stand against them for very long,” he added, as he directed his words toward Rhys, “and we don’t have enough arrows to do this for very long.”
Seeing the enemy rapidly approaching, Rhys quickly realized the Nardinian was correct in his assumption.
“So much for having a choice,” Rhys uttered, while rolling his eyes.
He had said this more to himself than for the others' benefit. A half-cocked sneer was also gradually forming on his lips, as he stared in the direction of their attackers.
“We’re going to have to go deeper,” he screamed out, once he saw the black-clad warriors drawing closer.
“Well, if that’s what we’re going to do, then we’d better get moving,” Alairic agreed, as more arrows struck the trees and ground around them.
Having a new sense of urgency, the entire party turned and fled, pushing deeper into Briarwood. They were now following Rhys and Sedain, who were leading the way. After they had traveled a little farther, Turquinine glanced over his shoulder and then barked out his own warning.
“Make haste! They pursueth us still,” the giant knight urged.
The company sped up slightly, while continuing to dodge the multitude of obstacles in their way, and they kept this up for quite some time. It seemed as if they were constantly changing direction, because the tangled undergrowth blocked their path, but they also continued to sense the enemy nipping at their heels. Finally, Alairic, who had been lagging behind to protect their rear from attack, commanded the others to stop. They eventually paused, but not before finding appropriate cover to hide behind, and then they waited silently to see if their pursuers were nearby. Each of the companions remained like this until they were certain those who had chased them into this maze of trees and briers were nowhere to be seen.
“Alairic,” Kieren wondered, while trying to catch his breath, “was that the same group you saw yesterday morning when we fled from the cave?”
“I’m not certain if it’s the same group,” the elf gasped out, “but it may well have been. If it was though, then they have added reinforcements to their numbers. The party I observed was less than half that size.”
“Well,” began Hadwin, still panting from the exertion, “it is obvious that our handiwork on Sedain’s captors must have been discovered much sooner than we’d hoped. That was definitely a patrol of gnome and Merropite warriors and I would guess they were seeking to avenge the murder of their brethren. I’m sure we have now lost them, but after talking this over with the dwarfs, I am equally certain we are lost in this bloody wood as well.”
“Doenilio warned us not to come in here,” Romaric blurted out without thinking.
Once he realized what he'd said, the elf’s face was radiating a bright red hue. No one else was sure if his coloring was due to the physical exertion he had just endured or because of the emotional concerns he now harbored.
“Although we intended to heed Doenilio’s warning,” Rhys replied, “we would have been in far greater peril if we stayed where we were. No matter the reason we are here, we are now in the unenviable position of being in the one place we wished to avoid.”
“If that was the group from the other morning,” Garreth observed, “then how did they get ahead of us?”
“Like I said,” Alairic replied, “I’m not certain if it was the same group. If it is, then they probably passed by our location while we were underground. You must remember that due to the treacherous footing in that cavern, we didn’t make very good time.”
“That be true,” Turquinine confirmed.
The others also mumbled their agreement with his assessment, before they began to question one another about their next possible move. After a few minutes of this exchange, Kieren interrupted the conversation.
“Does anyone know for certain where in this forest we are or in which direction we are supposed to go to get to Thorold?”
The warriors glanced at each other first, before anyone responded. Seeing no one indicated they had any idea about their current location, the Akiktite stepped forward.
“Due to the many turns we were forced to take when we found our path barred,” Rhys answered, “I believe it makes it nearly impossible to judge.”
As Kieren looked from face to face, he could see each of his companions nod silently in agreement with the Akiktite’s assessment. Although it seemed hopeless, Kieren felt it was his duty to come up with the answer for how they would be able to find their way out of this blasted place. After all, the rest of them were there solely because of him, seeing it was his assignment to complete, not theirs. He was the one who had been given the responsibility of locating the talisman and then using it against Madumda, so it was definitely his responsibility to get them out of this predicament. Possessing a newfound sense of urgency and confidence, the teen set about taking charge of the situation and made the first suggestion.
“I think we should stay here for a short time,” he offered confidently. “That will give us a chance to catch our breath and maybe even eat something. It will also give us time to see if our pursuers are still looking for us.”
“That’s not a bad idea,” Rhys agreed, while giving the teen a sincere look of respect. “I’m sure we are all a bit winded from the chase and I know I could use some nourishment. Just keep your eyes open and your ears peeled for danger.”
The others rapidly agreed with Kieren’s suggestion and began to seek out spots where they could try to get comfortable. They also made certain that whatever location they chose would allow them to remain somewhat hidden, while still being able to continue scanning the surrounding area. Once they all felt certain they were no longer being followed, they retrieved a hasty meal from the traveling supplies in their packs.
While he was doing this, Kieren also spent his time searching the boughs above him, as he sought to locate the sun. He felt its shape and brightness might give him some clue about what direction they needed to take and would indicate how late it might be. Using all of the skills he had learned at home in the Woods of Wildoness, he attempted to come up with anything that would help free them from their current predicament.
Try as he might, nearly all of the sky was blocked out by the crooked and plentiful upper branches of the trees that flourished here. This canopy permitted only a few lonely rays of sunlight to penetrate the gloom. It was barely enough to allow those within the wood to be able to distinguish the difference between day and night or make it possible to move around. Therefore, the only thing Kieren could tell with any certainty was that it was still daytime.
“My friends,” he began, startling some of the others when his voice broke the silence. “I have been considering how we got lost in this timberland maze. I have decided that even with all of the adjustments we had to make to get around the obstacles in our path, we still traveled in basically a westerly direction. Even though we made some course corrections to our left from time to time, I believe we made just as many to the right.
"I feel that if we were to look back at the last areas we covered," he continued, "then we should be able to find a way out of here. Since it would be unwise to use that route again, because our attackers may still be waiting for us, we will try something else. If we trace an east-west line and mark the direction we followed into the forest, we can then use that as a starting point to figure a way to get out of this place.”
After saying this, he looked around, to see if anyone was about to mock his idea or tell him to be quiet. Instead, he saw the others were waiting for him to continue his explanation.
“Before we left the path, the dwarfs advised us we would be taking a north-easterly route to get to Thorold, so this is what I am suggesting. Once we have our east-west line established, we can use that to calculate a north-south line. Once we have those two lines marked out, we can mentally divide in half the angle formed by the northeastern quadrant. This new line will essentially become our escape route. Even if we are incorrect or slightly off in our calculations, by following a straight line it should eventually bring us out of this forest. Then, we can make a new plan to reach our destination.”
Kieren stopped and looked toward his fatigued comrades, as he tried to read their expressions. He was also expecting some sort of response from them, but when none came, he decided to force the issue.
“Do any of you think my idea is worth trying or does someone else have another plan?” he pressed.
“Aye, methinks thy suggestion be well thought out and worth a try,” Turquinine replied.
The giant knight’s response immediately helped to bolster the teen’s confidence. Now that he had Turquinine’s approval, Kieren waited while everyone else considered his idea. After thinking about his suggestion for a few seconds longer, the others also began to see the logic behind his proposal. Before long, each of the others let Kieren know he also agreed with the suggestion, either by nodding his head or giving a quick verbal confirmation.
There was a sincere look of admiration on the faces of the veteran soldiers and a look of total disbelief from Garreth and Romaric. They found it hard to believe that out of the entire company, Kieren had been the one to retain his composure and attack the problem logically, in order to come up with a solution. Of course, he had a slight advantage over the others by having been raised in a woodland area, but Garreth and Romaric had grown up in the same location and they hadn’t come up with such a clever proposal.
In their own way, each of the men-at-arms urged Kieren to take charge of executing the plan, since it was his idea in the first place. The teen was hesitant to do so though, not only because of his youth, but also because he didn’t wish to offend any of the brave warriors that he had come to admire and respect. Kieren was sure that by taking the lead on this venture it would not only make him appear to be conceited and discourteous, but it would also dishonor the ones who had done so much to protect him. With as much humility as he could muster, he respectfully made his protectors aware of his reservations.
“I appreciate that you think I should do this, but I know you are only giving me the honor because I was the one to suggest the idea,” he confessed. “I really think one of you would do a much better job at it than I could. The dwarfs know this area the best, so maybe it should be one of them to lead us.”
Everyone understood why Kieren felt this way, so Rhys took the matter completely out of the lad’s hands.
“I suggest we take a vote then, to see who we should follow,” the Akiktite announced.
This suggestion helped to relieve Kieren tremendously. It took him off the hook and made him grateful for the northerner's assistance. Then, Rhys spoke again.
“I will voice my ballot first. I say Kieren should lead us.”
The young man’s mouth dropped open and he stared at the warrior. Why in the world had Rhys just done this? Kieren was shocked that the Akiktite had nominated him yet again, so he immediately tried to decline. Before he could say anything else though, the others began to chime in.
“Aye, Kieren,” Turquinine agreed.
“Yes, it was Kieren’s idea and he understands the concept best,” Alairic offered, “so he should be the one to lead us.”
“Kieren,” offered Sedain, Quintain and Doenilio, one right after the other.
As soon as everyone else had uttered his name as well, Kieren stood dumbfounded. He couldn’t even manage to get his tongue to work so he could say something, but it didn’t matter. The others had already begun to offer him their support with even more words of encouragement, so he finally relented and went ahead putting his plan into action.
His first move was to establish the route they had traveled to get there, since this would help him get his bearings. Once he was sure he had accurately mentally retraced their steps, he placed Sedain and Quintain at two points along this path, to form his east-west line. Once that was done, he then positioned Garreth and Romaric to form a north-south axis. After these two lines had been established, he asked Doenilio to stand at the point where these two imaginary lines intersected. After doing this, he sent Turquinine out and kept moving him around until he felt the knight was in the proper position to form the correct intersecting angle.
Kieren then asked Rhys to chop a notch into the tree nearest to Doenilio’s position, after which he sent the Akiktite out to mark the tree nearest to the spot Turquinine was now occupying. He took this precaution in case something were to happen and they needed to use these markers as reference points later. This temporarily left Kieren and Doenilio behind, as the remainder of the party moved to where Turquinine now stood. Next, Kieren sent Hadwin out beyond where Turquinine was standing, because he would be the one used to mark the next spot.
Using Doenilio and Turquinine as his guides, Kieren kept moving Hadwin about until he was also properly aligned and then he asked Alairic to notch the tree nearest Hadwin’s location. Now that Turquinine and Hadwin were in place, Kieren and Doenilio moved to where Turquinine stood and began the process over.
As they kept repeating these steps, Alairic continued to scan the area around them. The others assumed he was looking for signs of the warriors that had chased them into the woodland, which was partially true, but he also had another reason for doing this. Something was troubling him, although he couldn’t put his finger on exactly what it was. He hoped that scanning his surroundings might help him figure out what was giving him such a strange, uneasy feeling. No matter how hard he tried, the answer to this conundrum was not readily forthcoming or clearly evident.
The others continued to follow Kieren’s directions, but the process was extremely tedious and took a very long time to complete. For that reason, the day seemed to drag on, because each of the positioning steps took longer to accomplish than any of them had first imagined. This was mostly due to all of the obstacles they had to work around. Noting this fact meant they wouldn’t be getting out of the predicament as quickly as they hoped, which had a resounding negative effect on morale.
As Kieren directed each warrior to the next location, that person not only had to get to the correct spot, but in order to do it he also had to weave around the multitude of encumbrances he encountered along the way. This also made it very difficult for Kieren to guide the individual into position, since he was having trouble following that person’s progress for the same reasons. Kieren was continually forced to shift his body back and forth, so he could see around the various impediments, as he directed the next person to his proper place.
Once that individual’s position was set, someone else would carve a notch in the tree closest to where he was standing, to leave a record of the group’s efforts. They knew these markers might help others; including those that had chased them in here and allow those individuals to follow their progress too, but that was not their primary concern at the moment. What was most important was their ability to get out of Briarwood as quickly as possible. The longer they were in this dreadful place, the less chance they had of escaping from it.
After the next person was in place, Kieren sent another warrior forward, using hand signals to direct him where he wanted him to go. The teen opted to use this method, because he feared the war party might still be looking for them. Kieren was afraid they would be able to use the sound of his voice to discover their location. It may have just been his paranoia ruling his actions, but he felt it best to err on the side of caution.
When it began to grow too dark to see far enough ahead to direct the next person into position, Kieren suggested they leave something to mark the place where the final two people had been standing. Temporarily, he left that pair where they were, while he and the others hustled about scrounging up fieldstones and large pieces of wood, which they then used to stack in place of their friends. They also created a pointer, to indicate the direction they were heading at the time. When they started again in the morning, they would line themselves up with these markers and begin anew. For now, however, they turned their attention to setting up camp. Unfortunately, they were going to have to spend the night in this dreadful woodland.
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