The following day, once it becomes clear that the weather will not improve, and once what remains of the pig is salvaged (Bjorg is no better a cook than Alden), Kesha and his big friend set out in pursuit of the four companions who left earlier in the day. Since they are on foot, they press on after dark, but find it tough going in the dense woods, and tire quickly. The following day, they run into the same scruffy characters their companions met earlier, but, not wishing to fall behind, they have the briefest of chats, and learn only that their companions proceeded south. The next day, the pair locate a giant turnip in the woods. Not seeing anyone around, Bjorg pulls it out of the ground, and brings it along, but Kesha worries that the turnip's owner will come after them. At night, he uses magic to raise the earth in an attempt to protect them from any trouble, as well as from the rain.
At the end of the third day, the two have still not caught up with their companions, but they do find the Kochmak campsite, left roughly 10 days ago. They proceed deeper into the woods, but have grown tired of maintaining their pace - even Bjorg finds the weight he is carrying oppressive. The rain has made the forest floor into a mud pit, and it is very slow going. The region seems devoid of people, though Kesha does see some lights off in the distance this night and the next. The second time around, he decides to investigate, and discovers a homestead in the midst of the woods. He knocks on the gate until someone answers. The man speaks an unfamiliar tongue, and Kesha attempts to communicate with him by creating an image of his companions on a piece of cowhide. The man is frightened, and runs off, but soon, an armed Kochmak rider appears from inside a building in the compound. Kesha attempts to charm the man, unsuccessfully, and then is fortunate to be able to flee and hide, until the Kochmak ceases his pursuit. After dawn breaks, the rider, along with another, appears with two others near Bjorg and Kesha's campsite. After Bjorg rouses himself, they seem to be a bit taken aback, but one rider fires warning shots at a tree, and orders the travelers to leave (in the Noriki tongue).
Left with no aid and no information, and beset by more bad weather, the two travelers make the best guess they can about which direction to head. There have been no signs of the Kochmak raiding party or of their companions for several days. Another Kochmak rider passes them, apparently wanting to know about the settlement they passed, so they send him on his way. The pig has been eaten, but there is still the turnip which should last for a while. Bjorg also succeeds in killing a deer in the old-fashioned way (rock to the head). The pair roast it on the fire, while trying to warm up from the rain (Kesha uses his magic toward this endeavor as well).
The deer, however, proves the pair's downfall. On the third day after leaving the Kochmak campsite, they attract a pack of wolves. The wolves follow them for a while, trying to snatch the roasted deer carcass from the volot. Four of the wolves come at the volot, and though he swats at a couple with his oslop, he does not manage to bring any down. One of the wolves bites him hard on the foot, and the big man falls, dropping his prey. A wolf snatches it, and takes off. Kesha, after healing the big man, uses magic to give chase, but his sling, and his attempts to shock the wolves prove ineffective - the road has taken its toll. Bjorg is having a hard time finding his feet after being healed, and Kesha has moved a ways away while chasing the pack. Two wolves confront the chud, and the lead wolf delivers a vicious bite to his abdomen, as the world fades to black...
|You shoudda just let us go with that deer...|
* * *
The main group takes a full-day's rest trying to recover from the harrowing encounter with the rusalka the previous night. The companions manage to fashion a canopy from the rain and to start a fire. Lokan and Fedor hunt down some hares, while the others catch several fish in the stream, giving the party sufficient food for the next several days. The following day, they set out, with horses and cow in tow, trying to push south. It's a slow slog through the mud and the rain, but two days later, Yuri discovers the Kochmak camp, indicating that the party has managed to find their way back to the raider's trail.
The following day, the bad weather finally ends, though the woods are thick here, there are no dwellings in sight, and the ground is still wet with mud. But hearts are lifted, as progress is made, and in three days time, the four sight a large river through the trees - presumably, the Udena. Soon, they see small fishing settlements along the bank. Curious as to who lives there, and interested in taking an opportunity in trying to sell their ill-gotten cow, Yuri and Lokan decide to investigate. Alden, on account of his recent escapades, is not invited, but left on a hilltop outside the village, with Fedor to watch over him, and keep him out of trouble.
The two companions enter through the main gate, and are immediately confronted with a gaggle of local children. They are clearly not Noriki, judging by their appearance and dress, and they are none too happy about seeing Noriki here. They say a few mean things about infidels in broken Noriki, and make fun of the companions' cow, saying it looks sickly and thin, and that no one will buy it. Yuri and Lokan make their way toward the village center, where the local shrine is located. Here, they meet the village headman, Erken, who seems happy to see them, and invites them in for a meal. He explains that the town of Udyn is actually very close by, and reveals that a large group of raiders, as well as captives, did pass by here about 10 days ago. Erken relates that his people belong to the Bahite faith, but says that those espousing different creeds live peacefully in Udyn - there is in fact a Gaalite quarter. Yuri offers that when he was young, a Bahite traveler named Hassan Abu Hakim came to Vladykino, and gifted him his oud, as well as fantastic stories about the wide world. Yuri takes the opportunity to regale his hosts with several songs from his homeland on the oud, while Lokan decides he likes koumiss - the local delicacy made of fermented mare's milk, and attempts to engage the hosts in a drinking contest. The host's friends drift into dinner, while Erken, gladdened by the atmosphere, offers the pair 30 altyn to buy their cow. Yuri recalls that this is less than a ruble, and Erken admits they can get a better price in town.
After the fourth toast, and Yuri's second song, the other guests politely take their leave, and Yuri and Lokan are offered places to sleep in the loft. After the lights go down, and the household falls asleep, Lokan slips out, and goes to find his companions on the hilltop, and sneaks them into the village. Inside Erken's house, the two uninvited guests manage to waken the hosts as they try to eat the remains of supper. Erken is a bit confused about the extra guests, and the following morning, begs off from breaking fast with the party. But the quartet leaves the village unmolested, and soon, sight Udyn - a city of tall stone spires and colorful domes rising before them on a hilltop overlooking the river...
|Finally here! Hmmm... why only a wooden wall?|