A steely expression swept over Ned’s face. The heather was thinning out to scrubland and Kroll brought his column of soldiers to a run. Within hours, they were on the edge of hills and interconnecting valleys. Rather than going over the top, Kroll led them on a level bearing to avoid gaining or losing too much height. Ned surprised himself by keeping up, even with the extra weight. But he was weary before even the sun rose to its highest. They kept going and sweat trickled down his ruddy skin. The boy’s chest heaved with the effort, but somehow he pushed on as a pigheaded determination set in.
By late afternoon, they slowed to a walk and Ned noticed how dishevelled the soldiers looked. The man in front of Ned lurched to one side and fell to his knees. The boy walked alongside and helped the soldier back to his feet. The man’s eyes fixed on Ned and he nodded a silent acknowledgement. It was dusk before they rested. Blackened clouds ruled the sky. Kroll had called a halt for the night and two soldiers went hunting for food. Ned took the bag from his back and collapsed to the ground. He was feeling light-headed with the onset of physical exhaustion.
It looked as if this could be their only night in the hills because forests cloaked the land ahead. Ned was trussed to a rock and saw some soldiers return with a deer carcass. They would eat well that night. The smell of roasting meat wafted across to Ned, but he was too far away from the fire to get warm. The air was icy and an all-consuming blackness took the land. Lightning struck above the forest as a downpour settled in. Kroll gave Ned a blanket and food. The boy huddled up and ate in the miserable night. Wolves howled in the distance.