Crawling toward the grassy verge of the river, Ned got as far as he dared. Stepping over some moss-covered rocks, he slipped into the water and drifted downstream. Opposite the encampment, he saw the fire and dark shapes of sitting men. Harsh voices rose above the trickling water. The river took him away until all signs of the Malaxians were no more. Ned meandered along with the flow of the water for a long time afterwards. Eventually, he swam for the riverbank and hauled himself out. The soldiers were way to the North now, but he had to be careful. If his trail was picked up, they would hunt him down. He could not afford to be in that position again.
Looking at the edge of the forest, he noticed a massive branch had severed mostly away from a huge oak tree. It was still attached to the trunk, but the near end came down at an angle into the river. Ned could leave no tracks so he leant over and put all his weight on the branch. On hands and knees, he moved along the bark and into the forest. Gaining height, he made it to the tree trunk. Grabbing some smaller branches, he moved his hands along and lowered himself to the ground. He jumped into some tall fern and made it back into the trees without leaving a trail. He went away from the river into the darkness.
Ned walked all night, guided by the moonlight breaking through the branches. He used a mixture of furtiveness and speed on the crinkling forest carpet. Walking down a gully and toward a stream, he recognised this part of the woods. Even in this dim light, he knew the area. It was the Northern edge of the Foijen. Ned had to be even more cautious now as outlaws could be anywhere. His eyes and ears had become highly-tuned to the wilderness. An owl hooted close by. Blustery wind rushed through branches above. As the boy walked, he looked around and listened.