As the companions set out in the direction of the Sisters Pass, they again came to the dry waterhole. Though the difference was subtle, it had nevertheless changed. It was no longer filled with dust, but a slightly moist sand now seemed to line its bottom. As they came closer, a few beetles scurried to hiding places along its edges.
As they rode Seymour began to snack upon some of the dried fish which had been in the camel-packs. The small silvery fish were coated in a thin crust of crystalised salt, preserving them well, but making for a thirst-making meal.
“Why are these so salty?” he asked absent-mindedly.
Wil just couldn’t help herself. “They are fish, Sey. They come from the ocean.”
“Oh,” he said, after thinking about it for a minute. “That explains a lot.”
Wilberta smiled to herself with some measure of self-satisfaction. It wasn’t that she hadn’t come to care for the huge man, it was just that it was too easy at times.
By late afternoon they approached the oasis. It was still littered with the remains of the creatures poisoned by its tainted waters, but the waters themselves seemed just a little clearer than they had remembered. The grey trees, too seemed to have taken on a hint of green. It was by no means a transformation, nor would they risk the waters, but something had changed.
They rode for another hour to distance themselves from the place; and while the disappearance of the mist from around the temple, and the hints of life at the watering points had promise for a brighter future in the area, it did not mean it had no immediate negative impact on the party. As they set camp for the night there was the distinct sound of the bane of all campers: the buzz of mosquitoes. It would indeed be a long night.
About two in the morning, Breena was awakened by the sensation of movement across her legs. She whispered an incantation, then said “Illuminate” and as the area around her tent lit up, a snake could be seen sideling from beneath her canvas.
“Sorry, everybody,” she apologised. “Just had a little scare.”
The morning proved no better, for as they were preparing to break camp Maya let out a shriek. She was just about to slide on her shoes, when she detected the form of a small white scorpion. She shook it free from her footwear and mashed it with a nearby water jug. “I detest scorpions,” she bitterly announced.
At last they were ready to make a start, and none would be displeased at leaving this particular bivouac behind them. Groggy and with more than their fair share of insect bites they headed for the well at the watchtowers.
Seymour on more than one occasion dismounted and ran an axe handle under his jerkin to scratch at the whelps on his back. Wilberta despite her efforts to ignore his distress was overcome by compassion.
She rode ahead to Breena and asked if she had anything that might help him.
“Try this,” the healer said handing her a small vile of foul-smelling oil.
Wil then slowed to allow Seymour to overtake her.
“Big Brother,” she said kindly. “Let’s see to those itches, okay?”
A few minutes later, Seymour let out a sigh of relief. Then giving her an affectionate hug, said “Thank you, Little Wil. Love you too.”
The words had an unexpected effect on Wilberta. She couldn’t for the life of her say why, but they made her happy. She mounted her horse fighting back a tear, and spurred her mare forwards.