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It happened despite the best efforts of the herder at the front of the line,
who darted around the fretting beasts, barely keeping a foothold himself, to
try to calm the rogue steer. He grabbed at the yolk of the beast and heaved
with all his strength to try to keep it on the track. The beast reared as far
as its bounds would allow, the hoof catching the herder in the groin and
causing him to double up in pain, losing his grip and falling off the path.
Jak was the nearest, and it was as well, for the albino hunter was the best
equipped to deal with the immediate problem. Clambering swiftly through the
undergrowth, he stopped briefly to check that the fallen Pilatan herder was
alive. The man had saved himself by grabbing at a laurel bush and was in agony
but safe from falling further. He could be dealt with later. The most
immediate problem was for Jak to calm the steer before it charged the whole
herd off the path. If they hit uneven ground and more than one should stumble,
there was every chance that they would hurtle themselves to their doom.
The beast was still rearing, but had not as of yet made a strong break, the
combined force of the stubborn cattle around it preventing the break it would
wish. But its companions were becoming agitated and would soon try to get away
from the disruption, which would only cause further confusion.
Ignoring the rearing hooves of the steer, Jak ducked under so that he came up
between the front of the agitated beast and the flicking tail and stamping
hooves of the creature to its front. It didn't give the albino youth a lot of
space in which to safely move, but he stoically ignored the beast to his rear
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and looked the rogue steer fully
in the face. He could feel its hot breath, erratic and fetid, on his face. Its
teeth were bared, and its eyes wild and glassy with fear.
Smiling grimly to himself, Jak ducked to one side of the creature, his fingers
probing the tough, corded muscle of its neck. He found the area he wanted and
pressed hard, his fingers moving in a small circle until they found the exact
spot. He pinched and the beast momentarily blacked out and stumbled before
recovering, this time in a much more sedate mood.
Jak moved among the other cattle, calming them, before leading them down the
incline, stopping to send Krysty after the injured Pilatan herdsman.
Once the cattle and the injured man had been recovered and taken to the base
of the slope, it meant that the Pilatan caravan had reached their target in
one piece. And just in time. The heavens opened in the deepening twilight.
"Better find a place to camp, and quick,"
Mildred said to Markos and Sineta. "Let the livestock calm down and get some
rest before we begin the real trek." And pray to God nothing else happened
between now and then, she added to
herself.
THE PILATAN CAMP had been struck a few miles farther into the interior, using
the shelter of a wooded area not unlike one of those found on their island.
This had been Mildred's suggestion to Markos, which he had seized upon,
understanding her point that it would be simple to set up sec patrols in an
environment similar to the one they had recently left behind.
A fire was set and camp was made while the sec boss deputed a sec patrol and
sentry posts to be established at the four compass points, covering the
community while they took a much needed rest.
The forest gave them shelter and increased the ambient heat at ground level,
making it less imperative to build a large fire. The smaller blaze was
shielded to stop the glow illuminating the area and giving away their
position.
"It shouldn't matter too much," Markos told
Sineta, "as the nearest ville's some good few miles away. But we're not sure
what kind of predators may be lurking in the darkness. So a patrol and four
compass point posts to check in with should keep us covered. I believe we may
be able to rest
easy tonight."
"I wish I could believe that so easily," Krysty muttered to Ryan, keeping her [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]