The mountains led into rocky hills where they escaped the snowdrift and harsh winds. Any rest at that point too near Barsteen would be inviting Stahlg scouts to find them so for the whole night they made their way southward to reach the northern slope into the Valley of Lenore. Careful maneuvering was needed through the gravel pits and cliffs. Oakley persuaded them to not follow the Northern Tine until they were well inside the valley for the Stahlgs were bound to search for them following the river. He had convinced everyone he knew a secret detour which they all accepted rather quickly hoping to find some way out of the crags. Luckily, since the Stahlgs took all their belongings they traveled extremely light.
Throughout the next day they continued through lumps of hills as the rock became smaller and less populous until fields of grass and the bend of the Northern Tine and the scope of the valley could be seen in front of them. When the sun fell to begin their second night of trekking, they finally made camp in a thicket of pinewood.
“These boys are slowing us down,” Oakley said across the campfire from Arthen and Talon with no hint of subtlety. They had caught an elderly elk stumbling alone in the mountains and one of its spindly legs roasted above the fire for their dinner.
“You’re slowing us down,” Booker said. “You’re still wearing most of your armor.”
“So when are we catching onto a boat down the Tines?” Talon said. “We’re going to Ionmur, aren’t we?”
The trio of Booker, Oakley, and Frayne didn’t reply.
“Come now! Really? You did mention that you’re all with Faust.”
“Aye, we’re with him,” Booker said after a moment of silence.
“What are you doing? So we’re planning on killing them tonight then?” Oakley said.
“No. There’s no need in hiding it. I suspect Gleim’s known for a while, even before we mentioned it to the Stahlg queen.”
“The quiet ones are always the first to squeal,” Oakley said, looking menacingly at Arthen.
“I won’t squeal,” Arthen said defiantly.
“Sure you will. You’ll probably tell all the animals in these woods about who we are. Which reminds me–how the hell did you get us out of there?”
“He threatened the bears on the Stahlg queen,” Talon interjected.
“How do you know?” Oakley said.
“He said something–bearish–when they tried to stop us from leaving. Then the bears attacked suddenly. Obviously. Wasn’t a very smart move.”
Arthen felt a little peeved about Talon talking about him like that, especially since Arthen had been the one to free him from his prison.
“You smarter than him, then?” Oakley said.
“Of course I am,” Talon said boastfully. “That’s why you need me in your rebellion.”
Oakley choked a laugh through the eating of his cooked elk. Frayne gave a slight smirk. But Booker gave a frown of acceptance.
“I’ll put in a good word for you, Talon,” Booker said. “As for you too, Gleim,”
Arthen looked puzzled.
“What are you saying?” Oakley said.
“As the head of recruitment for the revolution of Faust and the Broken Spirits, I am always looking for young lads to help with tasks to procure funds for us. If you’re really as smart as you say you are, Talon, then you should thrive well earning money for us in the city of Ionmur. As well for you, Gleim. You have a silvertongue of languages that could prove very useful for us dealing with diverse crowds in the streets.”
“No no no no! This is too much,” Oakley said. “Let’s just slit their throats and wash our hands of this situation.”
“You’re really just going to say that in front of us?” Talon said.
“Look boy.” Oakley rose from his seat and strode over in heavy and earthy steps to stand in front of Talon, his lumbering height casting a shadow that covered the boy’s entire body. “I’ve seen starving boys in the streets gut pregnant women for food. And even if you could fend for yourself, adding another jackal to the packs of devious beastlings your age that run amok would lead the city to and even darker hell than it already is. Cocky one like you would possibly thrive in the underworlds. Better to snuff you out now before you get any ideas or premonitions.”
“We won’t ever being doing that, Oakley,” Booker said calmly.
“I hear your code, Booker. But sometimes you have to clear the weeds before they kill the tree.”
“It’s best to give them a chance to do something better for themselves. This is probably their best shot.”
Oakley continued to look down at the two of them with disgruntled looks. If he still had it, Arthen would presume Oakley’s hand would be wrapped around the hilt of his sword at that moment.
“We don’t have to bring them deep into the fold,” Frayne said. “Let us bring them to the city and hire them out as errand runners, petty cash makers, cleaning boys, what have you. They don’t need to know or be a part of anything.”
“Yeah,” Talon said. “You take me to the city, and I’ll be whatever slave you need me to be.”
Oakley thought for a moment. “Either of you set anything to break my faith in you, I’ll set to break everything that is held inside your scrawny bodies.”
“That’s fair,” Frayne said before Booker could protest. Arthen figured Frayne did this as the only means that the two of them would make it through the night with Oakley around.
“Fine,” Oakley said. He turned to Arthen. “What about you? You don’t seem so eager to come. Probably for the best.”
Arthen considered for a moment the opportunity. Either follow them, essentially becoming a slave to Faust, a man he knew nothing of, and work for the likes of Oakley who would kill him at any sign of distrust. Or leave, find his way out of the wilderness in solitude once again with no true hope of food or survival.
At least in the city he would be somewhat safe with the company.
“Yes,” he said. “I will go. You tell me what to do, and I will follow. All I ask is for food and shelter for both of us to survive.”
“Of course,” Booker said. “You will be in good hands.”
“It’s agreed,” Frayne said.
“Hmph,” grunted Oakley.