A noise rose above the flow of the river. It was sharp and abrupt. He crouched down and moved carefully into the trees. Staying still, another noise. Ned lay down flat on the forest floor. The Malaxians were here. He crawled forward and stopped to listen. A hacking cough broke through the air. Creeping further in, he heard muffled voices. In the dense foliage, he moved quiet and slow. Little by little, he closed the distance. The ground was soft and he had the skill to move with no noise.
Gruff voices broke through the darkness. Ned crawled through the fern. He spotted a faint glow in the trees. A campfire. He was careful and all movement was steady. He used the shadows as cover and peered into the confined clearing. Malaxian warriors were sitting around a fire. From where he was, Ned could not see them all. There were three others. Not Malaxian, but bandits. They were talking to Kroll. One had a high pitched voice.
“I tell you… he killed my brother and two others.”
“Where?” Kroll demanded.
“To the North of the village. On the track overlooked by hills on both sides.”
“About a day’s march from here?” Kroll asked.
“Y… yes. No more than that. He keeps on cutting our numbers down. The man’s a maniac. He has to be stopped.”
“We’ll kill the swordsman… but you must keep the pressure on at the border. It has to remain unsafe!”
Ned flinched. Kroll and his men had been hunting him. But now they were after his father. He was a fine swordsman, but could not fight against so many Malaxian warriors. Surprise was on their side. And the rest of his family were vulnerable. Things were coming to a head.