The following day Star checked the general health of the donkey, then led it to base of the left hand Sister. She then gave it a good smack, and it bolted off in the direction of the hills.
In the meantime the others prepared for the journey. It was a cold morning, and their breath clouds stood out in the new day’s light. They were soon at the point where the Ralulee warning posts stood, and from there they were well aware of the immediate risks of the road.
It didn’t take them long to arrive at the pit trap in the road. It was wide open now, but there was again a disturbing development. It had seemingly been reset after Thilda had tripped it on their outward journey, for now the bloated carcass of a horse lay impaled in the bottom of the pit. It was still bridled and saddled, though there was no sign of a rider or of any saddlebags.
As they began to climb higher up the slopes, it became obvious that the snow caps on the surrounding mountains were larger than when they had passed by only a brief time before. Both Maya and Breena began to have uneasy feelings as they approached the sheltering place with the “Dwarf” warning. It seemed just as deserted as it had been, but there was definitely something ill afoot.
As they ascended, the road again deteriorated into what might be best described as a path. Shortly after noon they came to a place where the trail descended into a place where bases of four hill converged. A little rill cut between hills, running from east to west, and their path carried them across its flow. Suddenly, as they were just entering the stream, their way was obstructed by over a dozen men cresting the next hills. A man of about forty, wearing the robes typical of a journeying conjurer, then stepped into the trail above them. An owl stood perched on his left shoulder, and the array of men accompanying him were of the desperate looking sort.
The magician called out, “Let’s not make this any more difficult than we have to. I know you have the map, and by the look of those packs, you have had some success with it.” As he spoke, a second, younger conjurer joined him at his side.
Seymour immediately dismounted and assumed a defensive posture. He nodded his head in the direction of the stream bed’s upward course and shouted, “Go!” to the others. Gwendolyn, Thilda, Wil, and Breena instantly complied in hope of at least gaining a better position. Maya and Star, however, began to dismount to assist the big warrior. Maya handed her reins to the passing Wil and said, “Take our mounts.”
Star too had handed her beast to Wil, and as she turned to face their assailants she caught sight of a flash from the corner of her eye. The younger wizard had drawn a wand and thrown a fire ball in her direction. She instinctively covered her face with her hands. As she did the orb of fire seemed drawn directly towards the gilded gauntlets. The blast struck them and then ricocheted back at an angle striking one of the magician’s own retainers.
Maya responded in kind, launching a perfectly aimed flame at the junior conjurer. He worded a protective spell in time to prevent his incineration, but not soon enough to avoid being knocked from his feet.
Breena could be heard to say “Shield,” just as a bolt of bluish lightning struck an invisible dome surrounding the fleeing companions, illuminating it with an incandescent glow.
While these initial exchanges took place more culprits appeared on the rise behind the senior magician. Two of these minions rushed in at Seymour, who with a rather matter of fact motion removed the man’s head from his shoulders with a single blow, and Star having recovered from her shock, stepped forwards to take the legs out from under the other man with her curved sword.
As Gwendolyn’s group struggled up the rill, they found that that route of escape had been anticipated. Two additional men stood atop the embankment on their right side. The first shot a crossbow bolt which embedded itself in the rolled up tent on the flank of Gwendolyn’s horse. Before the second man could shoot, however, he was struck in the throat by one of Thilda’s arrows. The first man frantically tried to reload, but he too felt the impact of one of her shafts.
Seymour, Maya, and Star now began to back towards the protection of the stream bed the others had retreated to. They were cut off, however, by a surge of another ten of the villain’s henchmen. The trio were forced to turn their backs to the downstream course, and to make a fighting withdrawal in the opposite direction of their friends.
The early magical exchanges had weakened Maya, and by the middle of the battle she had been reduced to spells of a more defensive nature. As she slowed to cast one of these protective spells, one of the wizard’s men bounded into the rill and grabbed her by the cape. She struck out at him with her twisted blade catching him across the thigh. She then undid her neck clasp in order to make her escape, leaving the wounded villain still clutching the fleece-lined garment.
The wizard’s band suffered greatly for their pursuits. Seymour’s trio killed eight in all, and wounded a similar number. Thilda dispatched six in her rearguard action for Gwendolyn’s contingent, as well. The young wizard had been injured sufficiently to remove him from any additional role in the fray, and the older magician after several lengthy exchanges with Maya, decided to call it a day. He and a mere handful of wounded followers retreated.
The battle and pursuit had taken several hours, and the two groups of friends were now miles apart from each other. This was further complicated by Seymour’s band being now on foot. By the time they returned to the site of the initial confrontation, snow had begun to fall. Night would fall soon as well.
Gwendolyn halted her party about three miles upstream once it was clear that they were no longer being pursued. The weather had turned all the more cold, and the stream now was frozen except for occasional areas of faster moving water. Thilda wanted to go back downstream to find out what had happened to the others. She was overruled, however.
“They know which was we went,” Gwendolyn said. “And, we don’t know what is waiting for us down there. We will stay here until morning to see if they catch up.”
As night fell the snow became more intense. Both parties tried to find protection from the elements, but it was especially difficult for the trio who were now without as much as a blanket.