The road out of Kelky ran due South, crested a low hill, then meandered in a southeasterly direction. Once the boys passed the hill they were alone. Not many travelers left Kelky to head South. After ten minutes leading the donkey down the dirt road Aemmon broke the silence.
“I’m glad we finally left. I expected father to make us do chores all day.” muttered Aemmon.
“If he had his way, he would.” said Kael. “We just needed to keep working on him.”
He glanced at his brother.
“You seem to be getting more comfortable with the idea of this trip. Am I correct?” asked Kael.
“Comfortable? No.” replied Aemmon. “Resigned to it? Yes.”
They continued on in silence for several hours until Kael held up his hand.
“Did you hear that?” asked Kael.
“No, what?” replied Aemmon.
“I heard some thunder in the distance. Might be my imagination, but we really don’t need to get caught in a thunderstorm this afternoon. We should try to quicken our pace.”
The boys walked quickly and the donkey followed. The sky remained clear and sunny for another half hour, but then a dark, brooding cloud appeared on the Northeastern horizon. Soon the wind picked up, and Kael knew the storm moved their way. The Nagur appeared several leagues ahead when the first, fat raindrops splattered on the dry and dusty path. The pair hurried South. Within minutes a true downpour began and the young men were soaked.
At first, the storm was a nuisance. Kael found it difficult to keep his eyes on the path as the swirling wind slapped sheets of rain into his face. His cloak blew open and with his free hand he fought to keep it tightly wrapped about his body.
Aemmon fared no better. The large lad struggled to keep rainwater from pouring down his neck and smoothed his matted blond curls from his eyes.
Battle-ax occasionally fought their progress and the donkey froze when a particularly loud thunderclap ripped the air.
The path flowed like a small tributary of the gullies in the surrounding landscape. Each footstep sank deeper and deeper into the muddy trail and their footing became unsteady. The pair made poor progress. A flash and a roar filled their senses and a lone oak to their east stood split and smoldering from the force of a lightning bolt.
“We’ve got to find someplace to get out of this storm for a while!” yelled Kael over the howl of the wind.
The boy was worried about how much time they wasted, but fighting through the storm became useless.
“How about there?” pointed Aemmon.
About a hundred yards ahead and nearly two dozen to the West stood a small grove of trees. Kael nodded agreement and led Battle-ax down the road. When they came close to the grove, they left the road and scrambled through the rain swollen gullies toward the temporary shelter. Slipping and straining, they made their way. Finally, Kael clawed his way up the remaining mud wall and coaxed the donkey behind him.
Aemmon grasped the branches of a thistle, pulled himself up, then tumbled backward as the bush uprooted. His right foot became lodged in the gnarled roots of a stunted oak he used for footing.
Kael was tying the donkey to a tree when he heard Aemmon shout. He hurried back to the edge of the gully to find his brother dangling down the eight foot wall. Aemmon’s boot was locked in the oak’s roots.
Kael winced at the sight of Aemmon’s leg twisted in the wrong direction. He slid down the muddy wall and grabbed his brother by the shoulders. They struggled with Aemmon’s weight for a few moments before Kael managed to lift his brother high enough to release the boot from the tree roots. The pair tumbled into the gully with Aemmon howling in pain.
“Are you all right!” shouted Kael over the wind and rain.
“Of course I’m not all right!” growled Aemmon through clenched teeth. “ My leg ...... it hurts.”
Kael moved over and pulled his brother’s hands from the injured knee. He rolled up the pant leg and inspected the injury. Aemmon’s knee was swollen and discolored.
“Well, this isn’t the best place to wait out the storm front!” shouted Kael. “We’ve got to get you up this hill and under cover!”
Kael stood and grabbed his brother’s hand, helping Aemmon to his feet. Twenty yards South, the gully’s walls stood less steep. Kael scrambled up and over the edge and held his hand down to assist his brother. After considerable effort and grumbling, Aemmon reached the top. Kael supported his brother as they made their way back to the grove. Aemmon was quickly propped against a tree trunk.
“How does it feel?” asked Kael pointing to the injured knee.
“Awful.” replied Aemmon. “What are we going to do now?”
“Well, you can’t go on. I see no point in trying to continue. That knee cancelled our journey, and this storm put an end to our return home.”
Kael stood and approached the donkey. He retrieved a thick woolen blanket from a pack. Kael spread one end of the blanket over Aemmon then ducked underneath and huddled next to his brother. Aemmon flashed a weak smile then pulled the blanket further over his head to keep the rain at bay.
They sat in the limited shelter of the grove for nearly half an hour. The wind blew fiercely and the rain poured. Water drowned the ground about them and soaked their clothes.
“You know,” said Aemmon. “A little distance into the woods we may find shelter and firewood. We might be able to dry off. I could easily get that far if it guaranteed a warm shirt and a dry spot to sleep.”
Lightning flashed through the sky and thunder rumbled the earth. The downpour doubled its intensity.
“Well, this coming from the man who didn’t want to set foot in the Nagur.” shouted Kael over the roar.
“Some things are more pressing than others.” grimaced Aemmon in return.
Kael rose and walked over to Battle-ax. He strapped some of the donkey’s load on his own back and cleared a spot for Aemmon. The injured man struggled over and onto the donkey. In minutes the little group traversed back to the road. The swirling wind whipped rain into their faces and stung their cheeks. After thirty minutes of slow travel, they reached the edge of the Nagur. Kael stole a glance back at his brother who winced with every step Battle-ax made.
Kael led the donkey past the trees and into the woods. The rain immediately diminished as the surrounding forest and its thick canopy encased the travelers. The wood held the musty odor of decaying vegetation. All around them huge moss covered oaks and elms towered under a sky of dark greens and blacks. Kael couldn’t find a single hole in the darkness to see the sky above. The Nagur was a world unto itself. Its own sky, boundaries and life.
The brothers found a large elm, recently fallen, just off the edge of the path. Kael helped Aemmon from the donkey’s back to a spot against the trunk of the fallen tree. He then set about to make camp. The boy cleared an area for them to sleep, dug a fire pit, unloaded Battle-ax and tied Aemmon’s leg in a splint. Kael then collected enough dead wood to feed a fire for the remainder of the day and night. Aemmon scanned the dark forest as Kael prepared to strike his flint at the kindling.
“Jasper said fire was acceptable as long as you didn’t lay an ax to the trees.” said Kael.
He lit the wood and soon a hot blaze roared in the fire pit. Aemmon settled in against the elm and wrapped the blanket tightly around his big frame. Kael hung some of their wetter things on a line near the fire then retrieved a blanket of his own and settled in next to Aemmon.
They sat in silence watching the steam rise from their soggy clothes. Kael looked to Aemmon and the bigger brother offered a weak smile. Kael returned it with a wide grin then rummaged through his pack for the food Cefiz provided.
“Kael,” said Aemmon, “I’m truly sorry I ruined the trip for you.”
“Aemmon, you didn’t ruin the trip. It was this storm coming out of nowhere. Don’t fret over it.” said Kael as he handed his brother a loaf.
“Ironic, eh? I kept hoping you would change your mind about going to Luxlor. I didn’t want to travel to these woods. I was ... I didn’t want to face this trip. Now we’re here and it doesn’t really bother me. I guess you need to go ahead and do something to overcome the fear of it.” replied Aemmon as he took a bite of bread.
“Well, you certainly have gone and ‘done it’.” laughed Kael, nodding towards Aemmon’s leg.
“I did at that.” laughed Aemmon through a mouthful of food. “What a fool I am.”
Kael gave his brother a playful punch to the shoulder then turned and surveyed the campsite.
“We set up a good camp. Plenty of firewood. Plenty of food. We might as well stay here for the remainder of the day, and leave for home first thing in the morning. That storm sounds like it hasn’t died down.” Kael said gazing up into the trees.
“Uh, Kael.” said Aemmon hesitantly, “There is still plenty of time to reach Luxlor with speed and luck on your side.”
Kael turned back to his brother.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Aemmon.” he said, “You can’t possibly travel to Luxlor. The journey home will be tough enough.”
“I don’t intend on going to Luxlor. Although it would be a nice place to see. I meant, you could make it there.”
“And leave you here all alone. I wouldn’t think of it. Besides, that donkey is too slow. It would be nightfall by the time I got there and the markets would be closed. It’s pointless.”
“Why take Battle-ax?” asked Aemmon, “What is the most important thing we are after on this trip?”
“The medicines father needs for the town.” said Kael, “Also he really wanted the Elven rope.”
“Do you need Battle-ax to carry a couple of lines of rope and a few pouches of medicine?”
“No” said Kael “I brought her in order to bring back some carvings, food and any other items that drew our eye.”
“So, you don’t need her. We are stuck here until tomorrow anyway. Father will be disappointed and a touch wary about sending us a second time. Finally, I am not a child who needs you to stay here and watch me. To tell you the truth, even with an injured leg I can protect myself a good deal better than you. So do me a favor. Give me peace and quiet and go to Luxlor. I’ll wait here until you return and we’ll say nothing to Sarge about any of this. That way, he has his rope and medicines and everybody is happy.” explained Aemmon.
“You’re actually making some sense.” smiled Kael.
”I don’t hear you saying ‘no’.“ grinned Aemmon in return. “I know how much you wanted this, Kael. I don’t want to be the reason you miss it. Please go.”
Kael stared at Aemmon for a long time. Finally, he shook his head and smiled.
“I will.” said Kael, ”But take my bow. Keep it close by with your broadsword. You should be able to keep any wolves away with the arrows and the fire. Don’t let it die down.”
“Wolves won’t be a problem. We’re not in the lean months yet. Don’t worry about me, Kael.” said Aemmon.
“Let me get some more wood for you, and then I’ll be off.” said Kael.
Kael piled extra wood on the fire, replenished the stack at his brother’s feet and shook Aemmon’s hand.
“It’ll seem like only moments have passed by the time I return.” said Kael as he gathered his belongings and headed down the path.
“Take care of yourself!” Aemmon called into the darkness of the forest.