He took a deep breath and stood, adjusting the bow on his back. Scrambling around a tree, Ned used it as a foothold and struck upwards. His determination kicked in. Further up, the trees were sparser and intermingled with rocks, so he got more traction with handholds and footholds. And the ground was drier up there. The moon shone through to give greater visibility. Even though mountain climbing was dangerous at night, at least he could now see where to put his hands and feet. The wind rose to a howl and rain clouds swept overhead. After another hour of clambering over rocks and through trees, Ned paused to look up. The vegetation petered out and a craggy ridge dominated his eyeline. It spurred him on.
Leaving the trees, he scrambled on the escarpment and the full brunt of the wind hit him. He shivered, but at least he would reach the top well before daybreak. The night sky glittered with stars and he could see dark clouds travelling at speed. The summit loomed ahead and Ned slowed down. He had been influenced by how the Malaxians moved tactically. Bypassing the crags at the peak, Ned waited. The only noise was the wind beating over the top of the mountain. He moved upwards and reached the clifftop. Sitting down, with his legs over the edge he looked at the wilderness. The moon shone from a darkened blue sky and reflected on the blackness of the lake. Forests hugged the land as far as the eye could see. In the distance, Ned saw the reflection of a river flowing South, toward the Kingdom. It was perilous down there, but the fires exposed the Malaxian positions so any attempt at an ambush would fail.
Looking over, he noticed a ledge below. Ned lowered himself down and dropped, landing on rock. It provided some shelter from the wind. Settling down, he warmed up in his blanket. The boy knew from the map that the Southern part of the lake opened into a waterfall, beyond which was the river he focussed on now. It had taken weeks of detours and diversions, but now he was going to head in the right direction despite the close proximity of his pursuers. He looked at the moonlight skimming across the lake. It was mesmerising and his eyes slowly closed. An animal screeched, followed by howls in the Western forest. Startled awake, he knew wolves were also out there. But the howling seemed some distance away now. He sniffed the night air.