It had begun to rain heavily as they left the Green Gorge. The river they were following became a torrent by mid-afternoon and they began to fret about having to cross it. They were still too miserable to grumble much and the journey was mostly in silence. Toward evening the rain lessened and the clouds became less solid. They were looking for a place to camp for the night.
"No mounds," said Graphen," especially if we want a fire. And I need afire. But I’m not taking any chances that they are enchanted mounds holding sleeping horsemen."
They eventually found a copse of trees that gave some shelter from the wind. It fitted the criteria. Some shelter. Not a mound. Defensible from enemies and they could light a fire and have some hot food.
Egil had managed to shoot two rabbits even though his bow sting was damp and his spare had been used to tie some equipment to the sulking Stove. Darkon had found some root vegetables near their camp site. They all had the opinion things were looking better all round. No magical beings annoying their peace. Warm food that tasted not too bad and a mug of heated brandy that really increased the spirits. The rain had ceased and they were able to change from wet clothes into damp ones.
They set watches and nothing much happened until the third watch. The new moon rose as the night approached morning. Darkon initially noticed the moon’s Corona was different. It might have been because there was dust in the air but the light of the moon seemed to flare every so often. He watched it intently for a while and even tried just using peripheral vision but he was still unsure if it was just his faulty perception or reality. As the light increased in the fake dawn and just before actual sun rise the moon's corona flared red, then orange, then yellow before giving way to the sun's brightness.
"Did we do that?" he wondered, "then subconsciously corrected himself. "Did Egil do that?" Darkon had long since decided he would not accept responsibility for the release of the Red Horsemen, nor the increase in moon magic. He was musing over events when he noticed a faint flicker through the trees. A kind of glowing path that led straight to the top of the hill. It was only there for a moment, the last vestiges of moonlight before the sun hit the trees. Was that the 'Old Straight Path'?' Memories of fireside stories of his youth about people following the Straight Path and never being seen again. He shivered but not from cold.
When the others awoke he said nothing for now. They packed their gear and headed off having eaten the cold remnants of last night’s stew. The path they had been following continued by the river which remained impassable due to the rains. None of them knew how they would be able to cross it to get to their destination. The better weather, full bellies and reasonably dry clothing increased their spirits and by lunchtime they were grumbling at each other again.
Darkon then told them about the moon's corona and the moon flares just at dawn but neither of the other two had any idea what it meant.
"I was going to study magic when l was younger, said Graphen," but l had difficulty reading and just could never make the right movement to form letters for writing. They eventually asked me to leave the school, very politely, by ejecting me from the school into the local duck pond and threatening to turn me into a frog!”
The others laughed at Graphen’s description of his flight through the air and landing on some annoyed ducks.
"Did you actually learn any magic, Graphen?", asked Egil
"No, l just couldn't get the hang of it," replied Graphen," even a simple cantrip like creating a flame was too difficult. I once set fire to the dorm when I was practicing."
They laughed as Grafton recounted his brief career as a magic student and the various mishaps in casting spells.
"It might be useful to be able to set fire to something really big though" said Darkon
"My problem is I have no control over what I do. Sometimes it’s a raging bonfire, sometimes it’s a pinprick. I just never understood the concept of the site.” Graphen replied apologetically.
The day wore on and the sun came out warming the air. Little biting insects started to annoy them and Egil, in particular, became a target and favourite feasting ground. The sun evaporated the moisture from the rain and there was an increase in humidity. Despite the biting insects, the rapidly increasing humidity and the fact they all smelt of stale sweat they began to enjoy themselves. They took it in turns to tell stories of their deeds and mishaps. Egil was recounting a particularly amusing story about a baker, some pies and a flock of starlings when they turned a sharp corner, came out of the trees and upon a bridge over the river. In the middle of the bridge was what looked like a golden goblet. All three just stared at it without saying a word.
Stove remembered Darkon saying something about the Fatman warning not to touch the Golden Cup, He hoped that Darkon remembered too.
"We're rich!" shouted Egil and moved forward without much caution to retrieve the Cup.