At Days End

by Arthur

Chapter 5

Kros and Grega watched as the Priests rushed the cabin. It was time to leave. Both boys took quick shots at the fast running line of seven Priests, hitting only two of them, but they were not sure if they were dead or just wounded. They didn't have time to find out before the Priests were too close for comfort.

Kros turned, and with a smile at Grega, ran for the passage, Grega close on his heels. Once they were both inside the Passage, Kros asked Grega to help him close the hidden trap door. From behind them at the far end of the passage, both boys could hear Danil and Davi talking softly.

When Kros heard the click of the lock, he turned and ran for the far end where the others now stood waiting, it was time once again to find a new home. They had cut the Priests numbers considerably, but there were still enough to follow if they could find the boys' trail.

It took a little time to sort out the packs so everyone could carry what they would need. Without the horses, they had to contend with the extra weight as well as be able to carry their weapons at the ready, although, with the priests now behind themm and hopefully unable to find the hidden door, they had a good chance of making a lot of distance before they were discovered again.

Kros now had to try to remember where the third hidden cabin was. He knew it was a good three days ride from this one, and in the general direction of North, but that was all. The other alternative was to find their own place, but that would have to wait until they tried for the third cabin. It would be a good six or seven days walk without the horses to ride.

For the rest of the day, the boys struggled on. The extra weight of their packs slowed them down considerably, but they kept at it. Distance was now their best tool and they did their best to take advantage of the respite from the chasing Priests.

That night, the boys camped out in a small copse of trees, well away from any track that may be taken by those who roamed the wilds, they now had to be alert for not only Priests but any rogues that may be about. All thought of boy games was put from the minds of Kros and Danil in favour of safety.

For the next five days, the boys worked their way North. At night, long after working their way in the dark to gain extra distance, they slept hidden away in either a copse of trees or in a small defile where they could keep a guard and stay safe from any roving people that may have been a threat to them. They left the overnight camp well before the sun rose, surviving on only a few hours sleep.

On the morning of the sixth day, the boys found themselves on the edge of a wide semi stony desert area. Kros could remember this part from the dead man's description. He now felt a little more sure of his directions to the last cabin. With certain steps, he led the boys into the stony semi desert. If he was correct, they would be able to see the new canyon that held the last cabin by the time they made it to the other side. It would take most of the day to get close, and the rising heat of the sun would slow them a little, their food and water were now getting low and they could not afford to wait much past the morning of the next day.

Kros led them into the barren landscape, their packs now a lot lighter than when they started out. Of the Priests, they had seen no sign, much to Kros's liking, with luck, they would now be forgotten and left in peace.

The next 18 hours were no picnic as the small group forced their way through the soft sands and heat of the day, the last of their limited water was used as the last rays of the sun sank towards the horizon. It was in the first light of the next morning that Kros saw the dark outline of a narrow canyon opening, it appeared to be no more than two men wide.

As the opening was the only one in sight, Kros turned in that direction, all being well, they would find the cabin at the far end of the defile before much longer. The boys quickened their steps at the prospect of a roof over their heads from the heat of the day and a little safety from the hunters.

The almost full noon sun had risen by the time the small group of boys came to the first line of defence of the hidden cabin. It was a high thick stone wall, stretching from wall to wall of the defile, it would have taken a large rock fall or something extraordinary to have built such a huge wall, but the boys were too tired and weary to think of such things, all they wanted was a soft bed and hot food.

Kros led the boys to the left of the stone barrier. Set back into the wall and hidden behind a large leafy bush was a thick wooden gate, it appeared to be made from solid tree trunks, although it was only a little over six feet high and three feet wide, it was still a heavy and solid gate, Kros gestured for Danil to help him with the gate. He pulled on a latch that had a thick rope which went through the poles of the gate, hearing a loud clunking sound from the other side, Kros and Danil began to push with all their strength until the gate groaned and squeaked open enough to let the boys through.

Closing the gate was the same performance, but eventually it was done. Two thick wooden bars were placed into solid slots to stop the gate from being opened by anyone on the other side, and Kros pulled the rope through the hole in the wood, so it could not be used from the other side. For now, the boys were safe. Turning, they saw the outline of the solid stone house on the far side of the round canyon, the ground underfoot was not soft and grassy like the other two places, but beggars could not be choosers. It was safe and that's what counted for now.

As they moved towards the cabin, their weary eyes picked up small signs of rabbits and other wild small game in the dust of the canyon floor, their meat would not be as fancy as venison, but it would be better than nothing. For vegetables, they had to hope there was a good stock in the now familiar cellar system of the other cabins.

This cabin looked very similar to the one they had left in such a hurry, except for the door. In the front of the cabin, there was no sign of any entrance, to the left of the house and built against the side wall was an extra wall the same height as the cabin wall and it sat about five feet out from the side. There was no roof and the three boys could see no use for it. It was not until Kros led them around the edge of it that they saw it concealed the entrance to the cabin.

Once again, the same lock system was used for this cabin as the other two. Kros led them inside and they began to look for something to drink, their thirst had built steadily as the sun rose higher, and they were now in need of a good long drink. This time, there was no carrying of water. At the back wall of the cabin, which was also the wall of the canyon, a small spring dribbled water into a shallow depression in the stone floor that was about six inches deep, it then drained the overflow through a hole that led outside.

It took no time at all for the boys to bury their heads in the shallow pool to drink. Once sated, the next thing was food, and even though they were almost asleep on their feet, they had to eat something before getting some sleep. With all four working as fast as they could, it took only half an hour to have a semblance of a meal, it was not much, but it filled a few holes in their stomachs and was enough for them to feel ready for bed.

The first sounds of awakening boys came as the first dim light of dawn broke over the cliff tops, the boys had slept right through the afternoon and night. With groans and grunts, they moved stiff joints and sore backs. None of them had thought to use either of the beds, but had laid down where they were on the hard floor, they were now paying the price for their laziness.

It was the sound of a rooster crowing that brought Kros fully awake, the thought of eggs, or lacking them, a chicken, cleared his eyes and made water fill his mouth. With pushes and shoves at the still half asleep trio, Kros organised breakfast. Once again, Davi was to set out for firewood for cooking, Kros and Danil would clean up the mess from last night and set the fire as well as check the cellar, while Grega went to look for eggs or hens, in the semi barren canyon, they should not be too hard to find.

Mid morning found the four boys wiping yellow yolk off their chins and watching the black round pot finish cooking the rough bread Kros had made. It would do to sop up the last of the egg and grease on their plates. Loud satisfied belches echoed in the cabin to the accompaniment of loud giggles from all of them. The feeling of safety at last lightening the mood.

For the first time, the boys could hear a strong wind blowing outside, Kros smiled at the thought of the same wind hiding their tracks from any pursuers. He felt reasonably sure that now they had some breathing space, with their tracks covered and the gate well hidden behind the bush, the priests would have a hard time finding them. It was time to take stock of their supplies and check out the rest of the cabin.

After the bread was cooked and the boys had had their fill, they all set about tidying up the cabin and getting rid of the dust that had built up since the last time it had been used. Once the cabin was mostly clean, Kros had the boys take out their weapons and check how much ammunition they had left after the long fight.

Kros knew there were a couple more guns in the cellar, he would have to go and get them and check on what ammunition was here, the .308 was now down to only 30 rounds. His .222 had 45 rounds, the .22 still had plenty and he knew there was a lot more for it in the cabin. Their pistols were all ok. He had the boys start to clean the guns while he went in search of the weapons hidden in the cellar. One of them would be alright for Danil so that Davi could have the .22. With a little more practice, he was sure the younger boy would be able to use it to good effect.

After a light lunch, Kros had Grega go out and set some snares, the chance of fresh meat would be a good change from the meals of the last week or so. As a last resort, they could always catch one of the chickens for dinner.

While this canyon did not have the large growth of trees of the other two, it did have a lot of small scrubby bushes that would provide fire wood but not a lot of cover if they needed it. There was an escape route, but not near the cabin. If they had to get out in a hurry, they would have to make a run for it as the small tunnel was at the far end on the canyon and hidden behind some small scrub bushes.

By late afternoon, the boys were tired and ready for dinner, Grega had snared three rabbits and also collected a few more eggs, Davi had scampered around and collected quite a pile of loose fire wood, Danil and Kros had finished the gun cleaning then set about preparing dinner.

The sleeping arrangements were the same as before, although they strung a rope down the middle of the cabin so each had a little privacy, both Danil and Kros were still too tired for any games, they had a lot of resting to do before they would be back to their old selves, it had been a brutal escape and trek to the new cabin.

The next morning, Kros took the boys back to the entrance wall where he showed them the stones that had been piled up to make rough steps up the back of the thirty foot wall, it led up to the top where, if you were careful, you could look down onto the very narrow defile they had come through, if you were very careful and took your time, you would not be seen from below, the large stones and boulders on the outside were almost impossible to climb, so the barrier was, to the boys' minds, almost impregnable from the outside.

They decided that from tomorrow on, they would have at least one of them up on the wall to keep watch, they would all take turns for two hours at a time, even little Davi wanted to do his bit, Kros told him that as soon as he could shoot the .22 properly he could take part in the guard duties, Davi took it with good grace, but also got a look of determination on his young face.

Kros glanced at the stern look Davi was giving him.

"What is it, Davi?"

"When can I practice with the gun?"

"Well, we have plenty of ammo for the .22 so anytime you like."

"Ok, let's start now then."

Kros laughed and then turned to Grega.

"You want to take him for practice first, I want to show Danil the new gun I have for him and let him practice as well."

"Ok, come on, squirt, let's get your new gun and go practice for a while."

Grega clasped Davi by the shoulder in a brotherly half hug and dragged the smiling boy off towards the cabin, Kros grinned at Danil and they held hands as they went in the same direction.

The new rifle Kros had found for Danil was another .22, but this one was loaded from the side with fifteen rounds and operated by a lever underneath, it also had an extra cylinder on the end of the barrel that made it almost soundless, Kros had Danil practice with it until the other boy felt happy with his performance. By then, even little Davi was getting to be quite accurate with his rifle, although it still was a little heavy for him and he had to rest it on a bench or stone to take some of the weight of his thin arms.

Kros was now happy, all four boys were well armed and had settled into a routine around the cabin. They were starting to relax, and for the first time in a long time, they began to relax and enjoy their little home in the hidden canyon, while in the back of their minds the ever present spectre of the priests still loomed, they now felt a little safer, even the thought of the priests exploding black ball things did not worry them too much now they had the high thick wall between them.

The days settled into a routine; each boy took his turn during the day to keep watch. There had until now been no sign of the priests. the gathering of fresh meat and the replanting of the small garden kept them all busy. Every second or third day, one of the older boys would take Davi for half an hour of rifle practice; he was now good enough that they had little worry about him.

As time passed and the days got shorter, the boys relaxed more and more, there had been no sign of the priests so they were pretty sure they were at last safe, and as the first chill of winter blowing down from the high range of hills to the north came sweeping down, the boys got ready for the long nights in the cabin.

Kros and Danil had noticed that Davi was giving them strange looks some mornings. It was usually after one of their pretty active nights together. It was becoming obvious the smaller boy would have some questions for them soon. Grega had told them they would have to do the explaining as they were the ones having the fun. Both boys only lifted their eye brows and giggled as they both blushed.

It was another two days before Davi built up the courage to ask the boys what they were doing at night when they all went to bed. Grega smiled at the two boys in a knowing look and left the cabin with his hand over his mouth as he tried to cover up the widening smile.

Kros and Danil had finally got to the end of their revelations and the funny look on Davi's face had settled into one of wonder, and as he asked Kros if it hurt him when Danil did that stuff, Grega came running into the cabin yelling loudly for them to come outside quickly. Saved from the question of the over inquisitive boy, all three ran for the door, their rifles clasped tightly in their hands.

Once outside, the boys looked around expecting to see black priests climbing over the far off wall, instead all they saw was Grega doing some sort of dance in the front yard, the overcast sky finally gave them an indication of what he had been yelling about.

Around Grega and now the three others, white flakes of snow were slowly falling, it was the first time that Grega, Danil and Davi had seen snow. For Kros, it was just one more thing to think about. e was sure now that they could stop the look outs, winter was here and the priests would have other things to worry about.

That night the winter came in full force, the fire was built up and boys doubled up on their thick skin blankets, outside, the wind howled and they could feel the harsh chill of the north winds that managed to come in through a crack under the door. Kros was quick to stuff some old clothes under the door and jump back into the warm bed, they didn't know it then but, for the next four days they would be house bound as the snow built up in deep drifts around the house, only the stone wall around the door stopped them from being totally snow bound.

That first snow storm was more of a novelty to the three boys that had not experienced it before. After two weeks of heavy snow and high winds, with fire wood getting harder and harder to find, all four boys began to dislike the winter with a vengeance, playing in the snow was alright for the first day or two but weeks of the damn cold white stuff was now beyond a joke. Fire wood was also now becoming a problem as the small scrub bushes got harder to find.

As the cold really set in and the sky remained heavily overcast, Kros decided to tear down the heavy wood shelves down in the cellar, leaving only the bottom boards to protect their food supply from the ground damp, with careful use the large stack of hewn wood, it looked as though it should last most of the winter.

Fortunately for the boys, after the first two weeks of terrible weather, the daytime skies began to clear and a warming sun shone through most times even though the nights were really cold and crisp but the sky remained clear and the stars shone brighter than ever.

The short days and long nights seemed to go on forever until, finally, Kros noticed the days were starting to get longer and the sun just a little warmer. The long period of winter was also a god send in the form of not having to worry about the priests trying to find them, Kros smiled to himself at the thought of the respite from being harried by the black crows and their minions.

Davi was now a good shot, he had been practicing at every chance he had, when the days were fine. Grega had come up with the idea of cutting down the wood on the stock to lighten it for the smaller boy, he was now able to handle the rifle with a little more ease, Grega had also had Davi lifting small rocks to strengthen his thin arms and build up his narrow chest, the small boy was developing a little muscle and could now handle the rifle with little effort.

As the days grew longer, Kros became more confident that they had given the Priests the slip, all he had to worry about now was finding a new supply of ammunition for their weapons after the long running fight with the Priests last summer, to do this, he would have to take the risk of a long trip back to the man's canyon. For safety, he told the others he would make the trip alone, and along the way, he would try to find some horses for pack animals.

After a few hours of discussions with the others, Kros finally won his way, Grega would be in charge of the new home while he was away. He went to his worn pack and delved deep into it until he found the last of his coins, carefully he counted them out, if he used all the gold and silver he should be able to buy at least one horse and a good supply of ammunition as well as one or two things for their food supply.

Grega decided that they would start to keep a watch again during the daytime, with only three of them, he decided that they would do a four hour shift and then set up some empty tins with stones in them along the top of the wall for the night time when they were asleep.

As the day for Kros to leave grew closer, the last of the snow on the ground had disappeared and the sun was growing stronger. He began to check his pack and make sure he had everything he might need; he took extra ammunition for his pistol and carefully put his coins deep into the pack for safety.

The day for his departure finally arrived. He checked his pack one more time then his rifle and sidearm, the three boys followed him to the gate and, as they opened it for him to pass through, Danil gave him a long tight hug and a small tear began to fall from his eye, his two brothers put their arms around him and held him tightly as Kros smiled at the three and then turned and walked through the partially open gate.

They had worked out that it would take him probably a good two weeks to make it there and back, unless he could find a horse. Without one, he would be limited to what he could carry, so the horse was the first part of his plan, without that, he would make the trip only to get ammunition and hope for the best.

Kros took his time leaving the narrow defile, with a thick piece of scrub tied to his waist to hide his tracks, he worked his way through until he was out in the open, after checking all around as far as he could see to make sure their were no eyes watching him, he untied the bush and followed close to the cliff edge for half and hour so he would leave no direct tracks to be followed, once well clear of the new hiding place, Kros struck out over the barren wastes with a light step and a long stride.

With the faster pace he could set himself now he was alone, Kros was half way across the barren waste by the time the sun hit its highest point, instead of walking through the heat of the day, he took an old piece of brown cloth from his pack, and after half burying himself in the rough ground, pulled it over himself; now he was almost totally concealed from prying eyes as he settled down to sleep through the worst of the heat, with his extra good night vision, he would be able to move during the darkness of night.

For three days Kros moved south. As he got closer to his target, he became more careful. Even though it meant slowing his pace a little, it was not the time to get careless; he still preferred to move during early morning, late evening and through the night. It was on the fourth night he more or less struck it lucky, although it was also dangerous.

He had been moving over the rolling grass lands at a good pace. He would walk for two hundred paces then trot for two hundred; this way he covered the ground very quickly without getting winded or tired. It was a mode of moving he had used before when wanting to cover a long distance. The pack on his back was now a lot lighter as his food was gone and he now just scavenged what he needed as he moved, with the run off from winter he had little trouble finding water.

He had been travelling through the night and it was now close to midnight. As he neared the crest of the next rise, his well trained nose picked up the faint scent of smoke. Immediately, he was on his hands and knees as he crawled slowly up to the top of the rise.

As his head cleared the top of the rise, he saw the faint far off glow of a fire in the distance, it looked no more than a candle light at this distance, but Kros knew better than to take that as a good omen. Taking his rifle from his shoulder, he quickly checked it by feel, after that was done he secured his pack tighter on his back and began the long slow job of working his way towards the far off fire.

Bent over double, he made his way as quickly as he could, safely. Slowly, more scents assailed his nostrils and his sharp ears began to pick up dim sounds, the closer he got, the more he heard and smelt.

It was well after midnight before he was lying on top of the last rise above the camp; below he could just make out the glimmer of the dying embers of the fire, on the ground around the fire he counted the outlines of at least eleven bodies, off to one side and tied to a long rope set on two poles were a large number of horses, all stood as though sleeping on their feet. As yet, he could not see a guard, but he was not going to take it for granted that there was none. The world was too much of a dangerous place to think it would be easy.

Kros lay down on the rise and watched the camp. The long nights of travelling had made it easy for him to stay alert during the dark hours. If he was going to raid the camp for the horses, he would wait until the middle of the early morning hours when most men were at their most vulnerable for that sort of raid.

When he thought it was about three hours after midnight, Kros began to crawl his way towards the encampment. He had marked the position of the guard, the sentry was crouched down close to where the horses were staked out, but he looked as though he was also now sleeping as he hunched down in the crisp cold of early morning. He was shrouded in a thick hide coat and his head was buried deep into the large collar, Kros had been able to ignore the cold from long practice.

Kros was no more than a shadow among shadows as he crawled silently towards the horse line and the half asleep guard. He knew he had little option but to put the guard away without a sound, at first he was going to take only one horse, but as he looked at the tied mounts in the dim light, he changed his plan, if he could get rid of the guard, he could take them all and stop anyone trying to follow him. His plan was simple, get rid of the guard then cut one end of the rope holding the horse line and race to the other end, cut that and mount the last horse, he could then lead them all away on the one rope, if he moved quietly, he could be away before anyone knew he had been there; only the fast dispatch of the guard would make it all possible.

Kros had re-slung his rifle for the long crawl, now as he was less than five feet from the guard, he drew his large knife quietly and got ready for the last few feet, as he began the last move, one of the horses stamped its feet, the guard listlessly lifted his head; seeing nothing, he settled once again nestled into his thick coat, Kros breathed out slowly; he had not even realised he had been holding his breath.

Kros listened, and within seconds, the guard was breathing deeply, he had gone back to sleep, although it was lightly. Kros moved the last few feet then, with the speed and silence of a striking snake, Kros buried his big knife deep into the throat of the guard and held on tightly as the man tried to turn to see who had attacked him. His efforts were useless. He was dead before he could find his attacker.

Kros pulled the knife from the man, as the body fell back onto the dark cold ground, Kros's eyes opened wide, the sight of the red cross on the chest of the man's tunic told him all he needed to know. With his breath now almost at a pant, Kros went to the horse line and cut the end of the rope, feeling the line go slack, some of the horses began to move back from him. Quickly and as silently as he could, Kros made his way to the far end and sliced through that rope, with a last big effort, he sprang up onto the back of the last horse.

At first the horse was a little unsure of its rider, but a soothing hand on its neck soon had the horse calm again, Kros took hold of the rope around the horses neck and gave it a small tug as he kicked his heels into the flanks of the horse. Slowly, at a walking pace, Kros turned his long string of horse to the south, not a sound was heard from the sleeping men as the horses with their new owner walked quietly into the darkness.

If his position was not still dangerous, Kros would have giggled at once again deceiving the black crows. He only hoped they liked to walk. When he was far enough away from the camp that he would no longer be heard, Kros kicked the horse into a trot, the others followed along in a group behind them as they felt the pull on their rope.

When the morning sun rose, he found himself in very familiar territory, with his new horses, he could be at the canyon for his ammunition before dusk, and with all the extra horses, he would be able to do some trading and still keep some for the boys and to carry any supplies he could get. All told, he now had eighteen horses, he would only need six; that gave him a lot to sell off for goods.

There was possibly half an hour of light left as he rode into the canyon. Again, he was met by the large man with the rifle, the first words out of the man's mouth made Kros smile down at him.

"What the hell, boy, did you raid those damn black crows again?"

"Not really, they were sort of sleeping and left them out for me."

"Yeah, I can believe that. Did they also give you all their gold coins?"

"No, for some reason they kept them safe."

"So what do you want this time?"

"I only need six of these. I want to trade the rest off for goods and ammo, you ok with that?"

The man counted the animals now cropping the grass close to the cabin.

"Hmm, twelve of them, eh, well, I know where I can get rid of them easy enough, what did you need?"

"A good stock of ammo for the .308 and the .222, also, I think a good supply of .22 for the boys and some more pistol rounds as well, have you got any spare food stocks?"

"I can let you have a good supply of tinned stuff, there's no labels on them so you get what you're given, the ammo is no problem, I'll tell you what I'll do, for the horses, I'll give you all the ammo you want and one horse loaded with canned stuff, if you want more food stocks you will have to pay in coin."

"Oh, come on, there's twelve horses there, they got to be worth more than that?"

"Not to me, I got to get rid of them without the black crows knowing, and that ain't easy."

"Now come on, we've done a lot of business with each other, how about, all the ammo, one horse with tinned goods and one horse with cured meats and soft goods like flour and sugar, you know I got four mouths to feed?"

"Look, I'll tell you what I'll do, I'll give you all you want but you got to throw in a couple of gold coins for the soft goods, it's a good deal and you know it, boy."

Kros looked at the man with steady eyes, it was a good deal, the horses had cost him nothing and a couple of his gold coins which had also come from the Priests would still leave him with a small bag full of other coins for emergencies, Kros nodded his head in agreement and slid off his horse, after tying the rope to a sapling in the front of the cabin, Kros went inside with the man and began to sort out his newly purchased goods.

As a sign of hospitality, the man let Kros stay the night once all his cargo had been placed near the door for loading first thing in the morning, he'd had to put out another ten coppers for the extra rope he would need to tie on his goods, but it was little enough to pay for his needs, with luck he would be back at the new cabin well within the time he had allowed.

Early the next morning, Kros was quickly loaded; he had distributed his loads between the five horses and would lead them from the sixth, at the pace he would now be able to travel, and by using most of the night as well, he should be back at the canyon in a little over two days.

Kros well knew the stranded Priests would not be able to get mounted for a number of days, as it would be a long walk back to the nearest village where they might obtain new mounts, he was going to make the best of his extra time.

Kros road at a fast trot for most of the day, just before sundown, he stopped for an hour to let the horses rest by a fresh clear stream with plenty of grass, when night fell, he would push on at the best speed he could for most of the night, while he rested, he tried to work out how to not only look after the horses once home, but also how to get them through the bushes that hid the gateway, if he had to, he would tie one of the horses to the large bush hiding the gate and pull it out, it would reveal the gate for others to see, but he was not prepared to lose the horses once home.

Kros rode through the night, stopping only for a one hour break in the early hours of the morning. As he sat while the horses rested, he though how he was going to get to the ravine without leaving a trail behind him, it would mean a detour across the desert wastes and then back tracking along the cliff face where there was solid stone that left no tracks, it would add half a day to his time, but it would be better than having the Priests find his tracks and attacking them.

The time passed until Kros found himself finally on the solid stone underneath the towering cliffs, he had ridden hard and both he and the horses were tired. His red rimmed eyes were searching for the opening into the canyon, the ride across the wastes he had done during the night, so he preserved the horses from the hot scorching sun of the day.

Finally, Kros sighed with relief. His aching back and legs as well as his sore rump would at last get some relief as he spied the narrow opening to the canyon, with his eyes in a squint, he finally got to look up at the top of the wall of rocks as the lead the train of horses through the defile, spying a small figure standing on the top of the wall, Kros knew he had been spotted, the high pitched voice of Davi confirmed his guess as to which of the boys was on watch.

As it happened, Kros and the boys had to remove the bushes hiding the gate, Grega suggested that they could replant it the next day, Kros told him not to bother, they would have to go out again with the horses as soon as they unloaded them. All they had to do now was find somewhere safe to leave them as the canyon had little or no grass and the water supply was limited to what came out of the small spring in the house.

The outflow from the spring had made a small pool outside the cabin and this had caused a small amount of grass to grow that would be enough for the horses for the day but they would have to go on a search for a better place the next day, it was Danil that asked about the escape cave at the far end of the small round canyon.

"I don't know where it leads." Kros told them." I know it goes through the cliff, its only a narrow crack, we should be able to get through but the horses or an adult wouldn't, its very narrow, we may have to crawl for part of it, I suppose it might be a good idea to have a look, there may be something on the other side we can use."

The unloading and unpacking of the horses kept them busy until late in the afternoon. By then, Kros was ready for a long spell in bed, the hard ride home had really wiped him out, once settled on the bed, Kros closed his eyes and knew nothing of the rest of that day or the night, it was not until the sun was high in the morning sky that he could open his eyes. The long days and nights on horseback had given him aches and pains in places he didn't even know he had; for the rest of this day all he wanted to do was rest and recover, the other boys just nodded in understanding and left him alone.

It was late in the afternoon when he heard the boys running back to the cabin, Grega was calling him at the top of his voice, Kros shook his head and smiled as he went outside to watch the boys running from the far end of the canyon, when they got closer, Kros thought that little Davi looked much like a ghost, from the top of his head to the bottoms of his feet, Davi was covered in a fine whitish coating of dust.

Kros waited for the boys to pull up beside him, all three were out of breath and smiling widely while trying to gulp in lungs full of fresh air.

"We found it, we found it." Danil tried to tell him between pants and puffs.

"Found what?"

"The next valley, I went through the crack and we followed, it's a really tight squeeze and you have to crawl for some length, but on the other side is this huge valley, all green grass and tress, there's a small stream with fish in it and everything." Davi told him with excitement in his young voice.

"Hey, that's great for us, but what about the horses, they won't fit through a small crack in the cliff?"

"Well, I thought some of us could go and have a look around, maybe there's an outlet somewhere we can use for them, you gotta see it, there's animals and birds and lots of other things." The excited boy told him.

"Ok, Davi, first thing in the morning three of us will go for a look. One of us has to stay here just in case those Priests I stole the horses from come looking for us."

"I'll stay and watch the cabin." Grega told Kros, "You three go and look around, if you can find an opening into the valley we can take the horses through, maybe if it's a better place than this, we can move everything over there?"

The other three agreed to wait until morning, they would take enough supplies for a full day and have a good look around, they promised to be back before dark and tell Grega everything they saw, that night, it was a happy dinner with lots of chatter and expectations for the next day's events.

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