We rose before dawn, hoping to cross the river before any enemies passing nearby could see us. I’d like to say that we battled man-eating monsters, but that would be a lie. In actuality, nothing interesting happened. The water never rose above my mount’s knees. Never once did my horse falter and no one fell into the water.
Just as the sun’s rays broke over the tops of the tall trees to our east, we entered the forests of Hagg. The trees were so tall that it hurt the neck to look at the tops, and they were so wide that it would take ten men holding hands to encircle just one trunk.
We passed areas where entire sections of trees had been cut down. I was sad to see that, for these trees were hundreds of years old. Not in my lifetime would another tree grow as tall or as wide. On the other hand, it meant we were close to civilization and nearly out of the realm of orcs and wargs.
Around noon, after an easy ride in the shade we came to the River Siln. To take advantage of clean water and to rest ourselves and our horses, Little John demanded we rest. He wasn’t just thinking of the horses, but as we all knew, himself, for he hated horses, like all hobbits. One time he explained that it felt as if he was riding on the back of a relative. I understood what he meant for hobbits were covered in a dense fur much like a horse’s, and their course hair on their heads was like the swishy tail of my stallion.
Athor gathered tinder and got a small fire going, while Doughty captured two hares by lying in wait amongst a likely looking group of bushes. Without the benefit of snares, he enticed them with tempting bits of grasses he had plucked. The hares approached without fear. After all, when Athor lay on the ground, his eyes were level with those of a hare. When the first was within reach, he grabbed it, twisted its neck and stuffed it in his bag. He did the same when a second, obviously not knowing what had happened to the first, hopped up for a snack of fresh grass.
Using my wizard skills I lit the fire and before long we had a tasty meal.
After eating I walked into the river in order to finally rid myself of the filth that coated my body, but when the water was shin-high, Doughty hollered, “Get out of there!”
Like a petulant child I stood there, determined to have that bath. Until I felt something brush against the back of my leg. I bent to see what it was, fortunately, for at that exact moment, an arrow swished past, narrowly missing my right arm.
“Got him,” Little John said. “I got me a croc. Always wanted one of them.”
When I looked behind down there was a tiny dead crocodile, lying half out of the water with an arrow piercing its left eye. While my heart ached for the dead reptile, my head was very glad that it hadn’t taken a bite of me.
Athor pulled out his arrow and slung the crocodile over his back. He got a cloth out of a saddlebag, stretched it out on the beach and rolled the crocodile until it was tightly wrapped. He threw it over the back of his saddle and tied it down.
“Thanks for saving my life,” I said. “So, how do we cross if there are crocs?”
“Open your eyes, dope,” grumbled Little John. He pointed a ways downstream where stood a large raft, held in place by two long ropes that ran from one side of the river to the other.
We led our horses onto the bobbing raft, which was not easy as they were terrified of the up and down movement. Doughty’s bucked and snorted, upsetting Little John’s. When Athor’s horse heard the screams of Little John’s, she backed into mine, knocking us both off the raft and onto the beach. Only when Doughty got his stallion calmed down, did Athor’s stop thrashing about and Little John’s stood as calmly as a tub of lukewarm water. I finally got my horse on the raft, the last one to board.
We took turns pulling on the ropes and holding the horses. The ropes burned our hands and sizzled our arm muscles. My chest felt like it was going to pop open.
Holding the horses wasn’t easy, either. You had to keep the reins for one in your left hand and for another in your right. The horses stayed jittery the entire journey.