Kroll led his men. It was the first time Ned had seen him in some time. Big Nose was second in line. They halted on their side of the waterfall. Kroll stood by the cusp of the falling waters. He looked right, toward the swollen river forcing its way through the land. Then the leader glanced North over the lake. He seemed to scan the mountain top and along the woodland from where Ned had just come. Kroll snorted and looked straight across the waterfall to where Ned was hiding. The boy remained deathly still, but stared straight back through the wolf teeth and foliage. The great warrior sniffed the air and squinted his eyes for a long time in Ned’s direction.
“The boy is out there. And he is emboldened,” Kroll grunted.
“But he’s just a boy,” Big Nose said.
“Do not underestimate him… that boy doesn’t know fear,” Kroll replied.
The predators had lost their prey. Kroll turned to the South and the riverbank below. One by one the soldiers followed Kroll. They were close enough for Ned to make out their features. He recognised many from the death march. They moved over some boulders and Ned counted as they went by. Fifteen soldiers. As the last man jumped down off the rocks, the detachment gathered and ran in formation along the river’s edge.
Ned knew what he was up against now. He faced impossible odds. But they were no longer following his trail. The soldiers headed toward the Foijen even though they did not know where he was. Ned thought about whether they intended to set a trap for him along the way. He would have to remain vigilant at all times. No fire from now on. It was one boy against fifteen battle-hardened soldiers. Ned took a deep breath and closed his eyes. For a brief moment, he welled up. But he was tougher now. And he would be heading toward the territory he had grown up in. Gritting his teeth, he resolved to get past the Malaxians and strike for the Foijen.