As soon as Lotye was equipped and they were both off the Calinda, Jeneyeru asserted the control of the expedition he had requested of Captain Lafitte.
“Captain,” he said, “how many are coming with us, and what arms will they carry? We need eyes to the front and rear. Not only will we be crossing the path of the fallen dragons, but this territory is infested with bandits as well as other unreliable parties. Instruct your people to mind their step in this forest.”
Although he had jumped lightly and easily from the ship and spoke with a firm, clear voice, someone watching closely would have seen him wince as he landed and might notice a grim tightness in his face. Those who spent much of their lives at sea, on ships full of moving and breakable parts, tended not only to be agile but also used to working through painful injuries. As refined and urbane as he might be, Jeneyeru Nightwise was still a Wave Rover of the House of Ereon as well as a wizard of one of the darker schools. He was not about to let the minor inconveniences of having been bullwhipped by a snapped line and shocked with a full-body aura disruption stop him now, nor was he going to complain of, much less exhibit, his physical weakness among people he did not trust.
The restorative potion he’d drunk helped, but the shakes had not yet faded from his nerves and muscles, and his extremities were still numbed and his senses dulled. A hot searing line burned through his clothing where the rope had lashed him. He would have been better advised to stay with the airship and rest, allow the aura lines of his body to recover, but there was no time for that — no more time than there was to leave his elder brother, and the Box of Nothing Jeneyeru knew he carried, out in the wilderness.
So he hid his condition under quick and efficient movements and, looking trim and energetic in the red and green huntsman’s suit, he called to the expeditionary team. “Come along, gentlemen, let us make good use of the day.”
He found a trail in a crevice down the side of the rocky outcropping, picked his way down and set off into the forest. With the Staff of Ghosts as a walking stick and making sure Lotye was near enough to hear soft words, he tried to set a brisk pace. The footing was rough, but descending below the tree line made the way more of a rapid descent down natural steps than a climb. He was able to walk stably only by force of will, and a wizard’s will being stronger than most, he set his towards detaching himself from the chills in his bones and the burn in his blood and making his feet find the ground along the bramble-choked and snow-slicked path that wanted to slide his boots from under him and yank him this way and that by his coat tails, all in the direction roughly pointed by Beau Bergeron.
The way ahead would be cold and raining for a another hour or two, and then merely cold. First a bit down, off the high slope on which the Calinda had landed, then along a ridge and down again to where they’d lost Peino. Along the way, particularly when they got clear of the storm of Manawydden’s curse, the many eyes of the forest would be upon them, flitting from branch to branch and shrub to shrub as they made their way until Mr. Thimble came rushing and tumbling through the air, back to his master with something to report.
— — —
For his part, Peino Starhand of the House of Ereon was having a similar time of it, though the land had eased for him considerably, as he was considerably further down.
Like his brother, he had also fallen into an almost hypnotic state of ignoring his injuries. The shoulder had subsided to a dull throb, and the rest of his hurts had achieved that wooden stiffness that hardly counts as pain until one stops to rest. The ribs, however, were troubling him. Every deep breath was a stab as of a dagger, and every twist of his torso a slash as of a sword. He knew he was moving more and more slowly. At this rate, he’d be lucky to see the temple of Flidais before dark, but that only made it seem more urgent that he see it and whatever help or healers might be in attendance.
As he made his way into the valley, then along the river, keeping well in amongst the trees for cover, the eyes of the forest of Raurugia were on him as well. And he was aware of them scuttling and hurrying and hiding just beyond his sight like birds or fluttery leaves. Their wordless, hidden company added to his urgency and kept him going.