The Dark Times; Part 19
Aituár was leaning as far out of the hole as she dared, when Wotan's booming voice was heard above her.
'Here, take my hand!'
Astonished, Aituár looked up. Right above the hole was the top of the cliff, and Wotan was lying down on his stomach, leaning over the edge with his arm stretched out towards her.
Before climbing up herself, Aituár handed Déomarr to Wotan, who lifted the dragonling up and placed him a safe distance from the edge. With Wotans help Aituár clambered up the cliff easily enough. Looking around, she could see heath stretching out all around her.
'Mhm' grunted Wotan, 'we can see for miles – unfortunately, so can our enemies. We had better get going!'
They began wandering along the edge of the cliff, with Wotan constantly squinting in all directions, with one hand shielding his eyes from the sun. At one point, he stopped and looked straight up into the air. Staring hard, Aituár thought she could see two tiny black dots circling hig above them. It must be Wotan's two ravens – but why didn't they land?
'Probably being watched' muttered Wotan, as if he had been reading her mind.
They started walking faster, and Aituár almost had to run to keep up with Wotan. In the near distance they could now see a compact mass of trees which they were approaching fast. When they eventually reached the edge of the forest, Aituár was relieved to finally find shade from the sun, because it was a very warm and sunny day. Carefully they proceeded, treading carefully, trying to make as little noise as possible.
All of a sudden, Wotan's black birds showed up out of nowhere, making Aituár jump back in surprise. The two ravens settled down on Wotan's shoulders and began making odd little noises – it seemed they had a lot to tell. Meanwhile Aituár was looking anxiously at the forest surrounding them, having a feeling of being watched.
'We seem to have lost the soldiers,' Wotan said finally 'but there seems to be something or someone else following us – and me does not like it!'
He scowled so furiously that Aituár took a step back, with the mental image of Wotan slamming his fist down on a table – that is, if there had been a table.
'Should we not get going then?' Aituár said worriedly, as Wotan was just standing there, deep in thought. With a sweeping gesture he sent the ravens flying, before turning to Aituár.
'Climb up on my back – we might still have a chance, but we need to hurry!'
Aituár did as she was told without hesitating, pressing Déomarr in a tight grip against her chest. And off they went!
Wotan ran like the wind, over stock and stone, crashing through the shrubbery like a mad rhino, narrowly avoiding branches and tree trunks, sure on his feet as ever. Aituár held on for dear life, having a rather uncomfortable and bumpy ride. They were going faster than any human could possibly run, but then she had long suspected that Wotan was no mere ordinary human.
Eventually Wotan slowed down – not even he could keep on running for ever. He kept moving, walking briskly, until Aituár could see a hut ahead of them, with a light shining inside. Now Wotan stopped, looking around as if searching for something.
'Can I climb down now?' asked Aituár, who was beginning to feel a bit stiff. Instead of answering Wotan took a few steps, scanning the ground until finally stopping next to a hole in the ground. It looked as if had been the home of some small animal.
'Hide in here while me checks who is in the hut' said Wotan, indicating the hole.
Aituár slid down from his back and knelt by the hole, peering inside. It was not a very deep hole, but it seemed to be big enough for her to crawl into. Once she was inside, Wotan covered the hole with twigs and dry grass before leaving.
There was not much space, and Aituár was trying to make herself a bit more comfortable when she heard something moving nearby, and she stiffened. Could it be Wotan? No, it was too soon. She held her breath and listened intently, trying to decide on what to do. She knew that she would probably be safe if she stayed where she was, but there was something alarming about that sound, something vaguely familiar that made her want to run, run for her life.
Suddenly Aituár felt her neck hairs stand on end. Next thing she knew, the dreaded ice-cold darkness oozed into her mind.
'Oh no – it must be the dark horseman1!' she thought, and tried to crawl further into the hole, but her limbs were beginning to feel oddly heavy and numb. She could feel Déomarr wriggling out of her grip, growling and snarling so hard that his whole body was vibrating.
A glint of sunshine through the twigs covering the hole made the dragonling's scales glimmer in all the colours of the rainbow. Dimly Aituár wondered if he would grow up to be a flying, fire-breathing red dragon – or a green dragon who could swim under water? She was beginning to feel as if it did not really matter, as if nothing mattered anymore, and never would. Odd – she thought she could see a unicorn – but surely she must be hallucinating? What would a unicorn be doing in the middle of a forest?
Then she lost consciousness.
Is that really a unicorn?
If so, will it be able to protect Aituár from the dark horseman?
Will Déomarr be able to help?
Or will the dark forces finally get their hands on her?