Ned continued through the forest until daybreak. In the half-light, he hunched down by a gorse bush and ate the last of the supplies Krea had given him. And he took in some water. He had been on the move for more than a day and a night without a proper break. Weariness was setting in. Ned sat on some grass and looked at the glistening dew. But he could only afford a brief stop as he had to get to his father before Kroll. And the boy was nearly there.
As the sun rose above the trees to his left, Ned walked over a final stretch of heathland and made it into the forest of oak, holly, silver birch and fir trees. This was his territory. He knew this wood like the back of his hand. It was his old stomping ground. He stopped by a silver birch with almost completely white bark. Its pointed, green leaves rustled in the breeze. Then he saw some tracks he recognised. They were the boots of friendly soldiers. This reinforced the dangers ahead as bandits, Malaxian units and the King’s army were all in the vicinity. And in the depths of the forest would be his father and the rest of his family.
He walked for hours through the trees keeping an eye on a pathway below. It was deserted. Maybe the dangers in the Foijen had made it a no-go area for travellers. He came to a stream and the flow of a mini-waterfall. The gentle trickle of water swirled into a pool. It had been so long since he had been there. It reminded him of days when he was young. He traversed around a woodland slope and then over the brow of a hill. Ned spotted an unnatural shape and dropped to the ground. His heart thumped as he noticed something strapped to a branch. The boy moved forward slowly. A piece of slate had some words painted in white lettering.
RAGGED WOOD – KEEP OUT
Ned smiled. He was on the brink of making it home.