Aquila:Rhine River Patrol - Refuge
|This article is from the Nova Roma publication "Aquila".|
|Rhine River Patrol - Refuge|
|Rhine River Patrol Story Index.|
As he moved down the mountain the trees got taller and taller until he was well within a lush full leafed forest. It was more open here between the forest trees and he was able to move steadily forward. The night was at last fleeting from the world around him. A false dawn shown on the far-away horizon, even though the deep forest shadows still hid him from prying eyes. With the beginning dawn came bird song and he could hear the chirping of squirrels warning the other forest animals of his passage. He hoped that his walking did not disturb the wildlife to the extent that it would be detectable by anyone on his trail. Within the hour he found a faint game trail which angled down the mountain to the lower slopes, and he siezed upon this easier mode of travel immediately. As he moved along this trail he fumbled, with one hand, in the stolen pouch to see what it contained, and as he had hoped, there was food there. The pouch yielded two small boiled eggs, somewhat the worse for their adventures, a stale crust of bread and a few olives wrapped in a cloth. He ate the two eggs immediately hoping that the food would give him back some small part of his past strength. The water bottle had a strong and bitter wine, little better than vinegar. He rested on a rock hard by the trail and ate part of the crust and half of the olives, saving the remainder for a later meal. He drank sparingly from the bottle and refreshed himself somewhat. He felt much better for the food, and once again directed his footsteps down the mountain.
The clay-like mud on his arm and hand had dried somewhat into a kind of flaky bandage, and the bleeding had stopped if not the pain. He was careful to continually check his back trail. He knew that eventually his trackers would find the archer, and then the game trail. He could not hide, but simply stay ahead until he found some kind of refuge or hiding place, where he might lay up and rest, such as he had stumbled onto higher up the mountain.. On two occasions he swept the trail behind him with downed tree limbs and once he left the trail and walked for nearly a quarter of a league along a fairly new rock fall which paralleled the game trail at one point, leaving little evidence of his passing. However, he well knew that these poor efforts would not long deceive an experienced tracker. He must find some way to break the trail permanently, and the only way to do that, that he was aware of was to utilize moving water as a way of hiding his escape route. The foliage around him was now quite lush as compared with the dry appearance of acacia higher up the mountain. This was an indication of a plentiful supply of ground water, and he began to listen carefully for the sound of running water, as he followed the game trail across the mountain slope and ever downward toward the lowland forest below.
Despite his determination, the period between his rests was growing shorter, and the rest periods ever longer. He simply could not keep up this pace with his wounds as they were. His arm and hand were a mass of pain and he was limping badly as well. He was dizzy from the exertion and the lack of any quantity of food or wine. About half-way down the mountain side he came upon a narrow track through the forest. It was a "skid-road" for skidding large trees / logs down the slope to a lower level where they could be cut into lumber or fire-wood. Wooden rollers, and broken limbs, lay all along the track as mute testimony to it's use. There were deep gouges in the ground here from the logs and also many human tracks from those who worked the timbers to a lower level. Here too, were the tracks of the beasts of burden that hauled the logs when the rollers did not work well. Marcus immediately took advantage of the tracks and directed his path among them hoping to mix his trail with the mass of tracks already on the ground.
He turned downslope to follow the skid -road even though he realized that his pursuers would assume that was the way he would go. The way became immediately easier, and the steepness of the skid-road provided a faster way off the mountain. From the number of man and animal tracks here, he would be looking for a wood-cutters camp and maybe even a charcoal-burner. There was more chance for help down the mountain than to climb back up the steepening slope, so he would have to take his chances. Ahead of him he could see a trickle of water on the track below, reflecting in a very early morning shaft of sunlight. He stopped and listened carefully and was rewarded with the very slight murmur of moving water, not loud, but nearby. Hoping for some kind of luck, he left the road and just a few paces into the brush he found a small spring. The spring came out from under an old rockslide and formed a large quiet pool at the bottom of the slide, on a flat table of land. Probably the same flat land that stopped the rock slide in it's mad rush down the mountain many years ago.. Above the slide was a long deep scar on the side of the mountain where the slide had originated. Some of the large boulders at the pool's edge had a generous growth of lichen on them indicating that the slide was an old one. The pool was probably fifty paces or so across, and the far side of the pool was hidden by a heavy stand of high very fluffy-topped green reeds. Jutting out of the pool was an old tree which had apparently been pushed over about half way by the rocks as they came down the mountain. The base of the trunk and roots of the tree were buried under the rock slide at the edge of the pool, and the tree leaned out over the pool, and rested on another high rock outcropping on the far side. Obviously the tree had been pushed over by the impact of the rockslide. The tree was still living and some the upper branches had turned their growth to the sunlight, using the old tree as a source of their sustenance and in so doing, making a kind of cradle on the far side of the tree trunk. Heavy lower branches were driven into the bottom of the pool and served to stabilize the tree in it's place. Marcus considered this spot carefully, and decided that it was worth the risk, with a few precautions that he would be capable of making. He had to rest, and here was a refuge that was nearly perfect.
He drank long and deep from the spring, and found the water to be clear and cold. Fully as good at this moment of time as any fine wine, he supposed. He drank his fill, and taking care to leave small indications of his passage he climbed the rock fall just above the tree and moved around the pond to the reed bed that spanned the far edge of the pool from where he had taken his drink.. He moved into the water leaving his footprints in the mud, in the shallows of the pool, pointing downstream right up to the reed bed. He carefully broke off several large hollow reeds just under the water struggling to do so with the limited efforts of only one working hand. Finally finishing this activity, and carrying the reeds under his good arm he carefully stepped out upon the nearest rock rinsing his feet carefully of the clinging mud, he backtracked over the clean rocks careful to leave no sign of his passage to the tree trunk. Here he shifted his load of reeds to under his wounded arm with a resulting twinge of pain. Then with some difficulty, using his good arm, he carefully climbed the tree, with his bundle of reeds, until he was directly over the pool at it's deepest part. It was here that the twisted limbs provided a place where he could curl up and get some rest. He was invisible behind the screening shield of the tree trunk, upright limbs and the heavy foliage. Sitting down, he deposited the reeds between the upright limbs, and with the sword-knife he haggled off a long section of hollow reed from one of the stalks. The portion of the reeds he used to make a place to lay down on, and the remainder he used to cover himself as he lay down on the supporting limbs. The effect was quite good in that the green reeds melded with the tree's green foliage. ff need be, he could always have the option of slipping off the tree and into the water quietly and still remain hidden within the pool breathing through the reed. It was the best he could for himself, Marcus thought as he lay back on his hastily created bed.
His belly full of water and some small amount of food, and totally exhausted from his efforts to date, he settled into the niche along the tree trunk and after tying himself, the sword-knife, his arrows and the reed section to a stout limb with the pouch strap, he fell immediately into a deep sleep.