Chapter Two

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"Remind me," said Tarke as she sat down on a boulder and shrugged her shoulders out from the straps of her pack, "why have we just spent the past month travelling to 'some unknown place north-east of Dakesht'?"

Nemeth grinned at her. "Because Jevann and Sherath, between them, felt compelled to do so?" he answered.

Sherath walked back to join them. – I don't take any of Jevann's 'compulsions' lightly, he said with a smile. Particularly not this one.

– We've shared dreams on this one, said Jevann, catching up and dumping his pack down next to Tarke's. There is a need to be here, and it has something to do with the dreams. Don't ask me what, he added, sitting down.

Louka settled herself between Jevann's feet, using him as a backrest. "I picked up echoes from a dream of yours, last night," she said, squinting sideways up at Jevann. "It woke me, so I just listened in. You were right about 'sharing' the dreams with Sherath. You were both dreaming exactly the same thing."

You were eavesdropping on my dreams? asked Jevann, ruffling her hair.

­"Yup," she answered, grinning.

"And mine, Jevann," Sherath added. "Are no-one's dreams their own these days?"

"Not when they wake me up like they did last night," retorted Louka. "It sent the hairs up right along my back."

We need to set up camp before we can talk this one through, said Sherath quietly, assessing the smaller Children's state of sleepiness.

Tarke looked around. ­– You've been pushing us all a bit harder than usual, for you, she said. Do we have a deadline?

– We don't know, said Jevann.

But we might have, added Sherath.

***

Thunder rumbled in the distance; smoke still rose from what had been a village. From the edge of the woodland Nemeth scanned the valley. There was no sign of life other than the wildlife. There was no sign of life in the village either – the place reeked of death and pain. Amongst the smouldering remains of the roundhouses lay blackened lumps. Lumps with twig-like arms curled. Nemeth looked back along the badger-trail he had been following, catching Sherath's eye where they had halted the smaller Children.

Keep them back there, Sherath, said Nemeth quietly. I'm going to go down to check this out.

With care, Nemeth, said Sherath. Though their noses have already told them what's down there.

Nemeth grinned – a wry grin. – And am I not always careful?

– No, not unfailingly so. Sherath's amusement sang along the mind-link. Whoever did this may not yet have gone far, he added. Remember we need you.

Nemeth grinned back. – I've no intention of getting myself killed. He cast Awareness throughout the valley, sensing only the fleeting touch of the smallest creatures, the slow Presence of the trees, a brief awareness of himself from a deer hind on the farther side and from rabbits who paused briefly in their grazing as his mind touched theirs. In the sky a falcon, to the west a vixen with cubs.... but no Men.

They've gone. May Dominn curse them for this.

He moved out from the shadow of the trees, swiftly crossing the open space before the village.

He stood before the largest roundhouse, laying a hand on what remained of the burned thatching, listening, feeling for echoes.

His lips tightened into a thin line and his eyes narrowed as he left the shrine. Children had been put to the sword; grain stores burned. He walked around the farthest house.

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