The company set off several minutes later, following the road as it wound down the other side of the hill and re-entered the woods. It snaked back and forth through the trees and very slowly they became aware that had leveled out and was climbing again.
At last, as evening was drawing near, they left the fringes of the trees and saw before them a long sward of grass with the road running through it. On the other side, in the far distance, the road began it's ascent into the mountains they had been traveling steadily toward. They rode on in silence for several more minutes until they reached a small stream that bubbled merrily across the road and Dale called a halt.
"Alright," he declared, his voice tired. "This is far enough. I don't want to tackle those mountains in the dark. We'll camp here."
They dismounted and lead their horses off to the side of the road, setting up camp beside the stream. The forest was several minutes ride behind them but there were a few trees growing nearby and they managed to find enough dead wood under them to get a decent fire going. The crickets filled the air with a symphony chirps as darkness arrived and the air above the grass for as far as they could see came to life with tiny lights flitting erratically around. Faran watched them for several minutes then glanced at Kheri.
"What are those?" he asked, looking back at the lights.
"Fireflies," Kheri replied, looking up from sharpening his dagger. "Hundreds of fireflies."
Faran watched the lights in fascination for a few more seconds then glanced at Kheri. "What are fireflies?" he asked curiously.
Kheri stared at him for a moment. "You've never seen a firefly?" he asked in disbelief.
Faran shook his head. "No," he replied innocently. "What are they"
"Dale?" Kheri asked by way of response.
Dale glanced around at the bits of light flickering through the darkness, and grinned, then nodded his head. "Just don't go very far," he responded.
"We'll stay close," Kheri agreed and got to his feet. "Come on," he told Faran, pulling on his arm. "Let's take a walk."
Faran got up and followed Kheri down the stream into the darkness, still staring at the lights.
"He's lived a very sheltered life," Dale explained in answer to the question on
Aerline's face as they watched the boys walking into the darkness. "Being the son of the Baron is evidently not a ticket to much of anything at all."
Some feet away, hidden in the darkness and silence, several sets of eyes also observed the fireflies. The lights held no interest for them however, it was the horses that drew their attention.
"You think we can take 'em?" a low voice growled a whispered question.
"Yeah," came the answer. "No trouble at all."
"Quiet, both of you," a third voice snarled, it's tone low and full of malice. "They're not asleep yet."
"I'm tired of waiting," the first voice complained. "Let's take 'em now. There's only three of 'em."
"The other two aren't gone for good you dolt!" the second voice responded and a low 'whap!' sounded through the air.
"Shut up!" the third voice demanded.