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At Days End

by Arthur

Chapter 2

It was still dark when Kros opened his eyes. He had to get the boys moving as soon as they had eaten, with a little shove on the nearest shoulder, he rose and went to his clothes, most were nearly dry, so he replaced a clean tee shirt, this one was pale green, his blue plaid and of course, recovered his leather jacket from where he had used it for a pillow. Once his weapons and pack were donned, he was ready to move.

After giving out some of his thinning supply of dried meat and making sure the boys had drunk their fill of water, he put the halter back on the horse and led it to where the boys waited, once little Davi and the slightly larger Danil were sitting up on the horse, Grega said.

"I can run with you, it will be easier on the horse if he only has to carry those two light weights."

"No you get on the horse; you will only slow us down."

"But I can run as fast as you."

"Maybe, but ya can't run as far as I can, at speed, now get up there, so we don't waste no more time."

Grega thought it better not to argue with the teen, it was better to follow his orders and argue it all out later, Grega jumped onto the back of the horse, he was barely seated before Kros led off at his previous fast loping run, the horse dutifully following his lead. Kros had once again looped the reins over his shoulder instead of holding them in his hands, those he needed to be free to carry his .22 rifle, the area they were going into would give him many opportunities for meat and he did not want a good shot to be lost by having to put down the reins.

They made good time over the stony ground leaving very few tracks for the others to follow, although Kros knew they could not get rid of all the traces they left behind, especially the horse, they would just have to try to outdistance their chasers.

They had been moving for more than three hours and were now going through some light woods. The ground underneath them was soft and made for silent going, the sudden crack of the small rifle in Kros's hands made the other three jump, a cough and squeal in some nearby bushes told their own story.

Kros removed the reins and tossed them to the waiting hands of Danil, he then went into the large bush, within seconds there was another softer squeal and the bushes shivered as something tried to move deeper, suddenly the moving stopped and the next thing they saw Kros dragging a small deer from the bushes, when he got next to the horse, he signalled Grega to jump down and help him throw the small deer up on the back of the horse, he would dress it out later, for now they did not have the time to waste.

The four boys were soon on their way again. Kros led them eastward with his long loping ground eating stride. They moved fast for the rest of the day, the only stop was for Kros to gut the deer and then they moved on again, he wanted to be at the beginning of the woods before dark, they were a thin dark line below the high range of hills in front of them, Kros knew that once there, it would be almost impossible for the chasers to catch them, he also had a little trick up his sleeve to put them off the trail.

It was almost fully dark when they came upon a deep wash that was hidden from sight until you were fully upon it, Kros led the horse along the bank until he came to a narrow track leading down into the wash, moving further along the bottom of the dry stream bed he came to a place that had the look of a camp site, the remains of an old fire could still be seen under the overhanging bank.

Kros told the boys to get down, he then detailed Danil to start getting firewood while he sent Grega further along to where a shallow pool of fresh water could be found, for himself he set about skinning and cutting up the small deer, the head, once severed from the torso was put aside and out of the reach of the fire.

Kros worked smoothly and from long practice, after making the initial cuts in the skin to free it from the four legs and finished cutting it along the belly line, he then turned it on one side and began to punch it with his small hands as he pulled mightily with the other, smoothly the skin began to peel off the carcase with ease, it was also clear of any meat or fat, by this time Danil had returned with a large arm load of dead wood for the fire. He stood with mouth agape as he watched the ease with which Kros removed the deer skin.

This was a totally new way of skinning; usually it was just flayed from the carcase and thrown aside for the dogs. This way it would be clean and could be used for something else without having to scrape for days to rid it of left over fat and meat. Danil could only shake his head in wonder as he watched Kros work away.

Grega returned shortly with their only water skin filled with fresh water. Little Davi had set about playing under the overhang that the temporary camp had been made in. Danil tore his eyes away from the sweating back of Kros and began to set the fire. He would need the flint from Kros to start it going, tonight they would again have fresh meat.

It was fully dark by the time Kros was finished, but by the light of the now roaring fire, he finished cutting up the carcase. The two long back steaks were cut up and fed onto long sticks to be placed over the flames, the two rear haunches were set on thicker sticks to cook overnight, Kros then set Grega the task of cutting the rest of the small deer into long thin strips and to hang them close to the fire so they would dry and smoke, Kros then carried the severed head to the edge of the camp and tied the small antlers with some of the old rope from his sleeping bag, he now had a length of new rope for that purpose.

After securing the head, he lifted it up onto a high boulder set in the side of the wash; he had another use for it in the morning and did not want some wild animal to take it during the night, by two hours past sundown, they had their small camp ready. The meat was cooked and the boys were feasting as they watched the rest slowly cooking over the heavily smouldering fire. Kros had added some green wood to the fire to get more smoke. He was not worried about their followers, as it was dark and they would not be travelling, nor would they be able to see the smoke of the fire. Kros settled back to enjoy his morning's kill.

When they had all eaten their fill, Kros told Danil to sleep with him in his old sleeping bag, Grega and Davi would sleep under the soft warm skin of the freshly killed deer, Kros saw the look on Danil's face and shook his head, he was still too tired for any boy play, they had one more day to go before they would be safely out of reach of the priests that followed them.

When the sun rose in the morning, Kros detailed the day for the other three boys, most of the meat that had been over the smoking fire was now cooked enough that it would not rot in the daytime heat, the three boys would carry it on the horse while Kros went in a different direction.

He told Danil and Grega to take the horse and ride until they got up out of the wash and turn to the left; they would drag a large clump of scrub bush behind them to cover their tracks, they had to ride until they came to a single large boulder sitting out on the plain all by itself. Once there, they were to wait for him to catch up, which could take until later that night or early the next morning. They were not to leave the boulder and had to sleep without a fire until he got there, once they fully understood, Kros sent them away with his pack and the stubby shot gun, the rifle he slung over his back and began to prepare for his own little game of cat and mouse with the chasers.

Kros recovered the deer's head and climbed the opposite side of the wash; once there, he took a small leather bag from his pocket. Tipping the reddish brown powder into his palm, he spread it over the ground in the direction the three boys and the horse had gone. Once done, he took hold of the rope with the deer's head tied to it and began to trot away in the opposite direction from that of the boys, leaving a faint trail of drying blood on the ground as well as the heavy scent of a fresh kill, he well knew which direction the two dogs would go after they got a good nose full of the powder he had left behind.

Kros continued on his trotting run until he was deep in the tree line, he had been on the move for over two hours and was now ready to leave the well worn and dirty head of the deer for the dogs, after spreading a little more of the reddish powder over the ground as he moved backwards until he came to a likely tree, wiping his hands on his jacket, he jumped high and caught the first branch then swung his legs up until he was sitting comfortably above the ground and looking down at his efforts.

With a last look at his handiwork, Kros stood up on the thick limb and began to work his way higher, he had no intention of being anywhere near this place when the chasers arrived. To escape, he would use the highway in the trees, as in this new woodland, the large trees were close enough together for him to make good time back towards where the boys should be waiting for him, he was confident that he could travel through the night and find them if needed.

Kros was high in a large redwood tree when he caught the first signs of the followers, they were in a tight group with the two large brown dogs out in front. Although to Kros's eyes, it looked like the dogs were having trouble following the scent of the deer, he smiled to himself at his smartness of the trick he had learnt a long time ago.

Kros stayed as still as a rock, high up in the tree. He would be almost invisible to those on the ground, but be able to follow them at all times while never having to set foot on the ground. Kros almost laughed out loud as he watched the two dogs come up on the deer's head, from then on it was a lost cause for the ten priests, the dogs would not leave the fresh deer's head for anything, combined with very sore and tender noses from the powder, the dogs just did not want to go any further much to the anger of the priests.

On the ground below him, Kros could hear the priests arguing about what they should do, the dogs could no longer find or follow a trail, it was as if they had lost all sense of smell and had little joy in tracking anymore, the dog owner was also not happy, somehow the fleeing fugitives had disabled his dogs, they would never be the same again.

The priests finally came to a decision, they would use the other man to track the hunted, that was until they found he had no track to follow, the couple of faint foot prints near the deer's head disappeared into thin air only feet away from the head, it was another disappointment, they had no leads to the whereabouts of the killers of two priests.

Kros watched as the message finally sunk into the Priests' heads, he barely smiled as he watched them turn back with a resigned look on their faces and begin the long and arduous trip back to their small hamlet, Kros stayed high in the tree until the ten men had completely disappeared, he could follow their progress easily from his high point and he watched them until it was almost dark. In the last faint glow of the dying sun, he shinnied down the large tree and took off at a steady trot towards where he had told the boys to wait for him.

It was an hour before dawn when he saw the boulder and another five minutes before he saw the three boys, Danil was curled up with Davi in his sleeping bag, his pack was under Danil's head as a pillow, Grega sat with his back against the boulder and the short shot gun in his slack hands as he snored quietly in sleep, Kros smiled at the sight of the guard fast asleep, he would not have been much protection for the other two.

Kros moved silently up to Grega and took the gun out of his hands before the boy could open his eyes. He then kneeled down close and slapped Grega hard on the cheek then jumped back out of the way of the startled boy as he tried to focus his eyes on the sudden attacker, Kros pushed the shot gun into Grega's face and then said.

"If I was bad, you and your brothers would be dead. If you're the guard you stay awake all the time."

Grega could only look at the young teen with surprise on his face, he had been caught flat footed and had no excuse, his face reddened and he just lowered his head in shame, he had let his brothers down and it was only luck that it was Kros and not someone looking for easy pickings.

Kros was now tired, it had been a long day and night for him and he was ready for a long sleep, with little ceremony, he went to the sleeping bag and gave Danil a light kick to wake him up, when the two sleeping boys had their eyes open, Kros said.

"I need some sleep, those Priests have given up, so now is the time for me to get some rest. Grega, you have to get that skin laid out, take some water from the skin and start to rub it into the deer skin to soften it, if it dries too much, it will be good for nothing, Danil, you and your little brother go out and find some firewood, there's plenty here abouts, get a fire going and cook some meat for us while I get some sleep, wake me when the sun is at midday, we have a lot to do before we start off again, we are about one day from full safety, but for now we should be ok.

After this long speech, Kros curled up in his sleeping bag, his .22 rifle in the bag with him, the shot gun in one hand and, hidden under the bag in his left hand, the sturdy little hand gun. Kros's eyes closed instantly and the others could already hear the soft steady breathing as he slept.

When he awoke just as the sun was at its highest in the sky, Kros could smell fresh cooked meat, Davi was playing with some stones in an age old game of Bones, Danil was helping Grega as they knelt over the deer skin and worked a little water into it; quickly, Kros scanned around their camp, all looked safe and he gave himself a good stretch just like a cat would do, it was one of the things he had learnt from his observation of the wild animals.

Rising from his sleeping bag he went straight to the fire without saying a word to anyone, cutting a large chunk of meat off the now well cooked hindquarter that was to the side of the smouldering fire, Kros sat and watched the two older boys working.

"Gather some of the fire ash and start to rub it in deep, we have no salt so it will cure the hide for now, you are going to need it for a blanket at night from now on, it's going to get colder as we move up into the hills." Kros told the two boys.

Much to Kros' surprise, young Davi came over to him with a smile on his face, without saying a word, the little boy sat down so his butt was against Kros's knees as he leaned back against Kros's chest as he ate, Davi lifted and turned his head so he was looking up at Kros.

"Thank you for saving us; can I have some meat, too?"

Kros almost laughed at the small boy, it was almost as if giving Kros a thank you meant Davi was entitled to some more food, Kros tousled his brown hair, cut off a slice of the deer meat and gave it to the smiling boy. Davi quickly went about eating as his eyes glinted in the midday sun.

After they had been working for over an hour on the skin, Kros told them to take a break and let the ash and water work its own way into the skin while they got some food, the four boys sat around the low smouldering fire as the sun began to sink into the west, Grega and Danil went to work on the skin one more time and now found it to be softer and more easy to work with, it would make a good blanket for Davi and Grega, there was little doubt as to where Danil would be sleeping.

Kros had decided to stay where they were for the night; not only they, but the horse as well, needed the rest. They had been on the run for days, and even though it was only another day or day and a half to safety, Kros felt it was better to rest now than get caught out by being too tired, he told the boys what he had decided and then looked for a soft place to sleep after he signalled Danil to join him.

As he lay in the sleeping bag with Danil behind him, Kros watched Grega pile a few more large logs onto the fire so it would burn most of the night and then curl up under the deer skin with Davi wrapped tightly in his arms, Kros knew that his own cat like senses would soon detect any intruders during the night so did not worry about putting out a guard.

As the first light of dawn broke over the eastern sky, Kros was up and about getting everything ready for their day's travel. As the boys fed themselves, Kros scaled the large boulder to look behind them to make sure they were not being followed. It turned out to be either a good idea or a bad one, depending on how one looked at it.

As the dawn lightened, Kros thought he saw movement far behind them, squatting down, he waited until there was a little more light, what he saw gave him pause, in the distance and tracking along their old trail were the dim figures of five people, they were not the priests, he was sure of that, that left only one thing, Rogues; the last thing he wanted to see, even though he knew there were plenty of them about in the wilds.

Kros stayed low as he slipped back off the boulder and down to where the three boys waited for him, the camp was clear and they were ready to move on, Danil and Davi were already up on the horse and Grega stood at its head, waiting for Kros to join them. As soon as Kros got to them, he took the reins and helped Grega remount then started off with his usual loping run, the horse trailing along almost at a canter.

Kros had given the shotgun to Grega so he could make use of his rifle if he had to. Grega could defend the other two boys if it came to that. Kros was well aware that the Rogues behind them were just as capable of chasing them at the same speed Kros was able to make. He had to get well into the looming hills before them. Once there, he had a good chance to either hiding from them or using a cave that he knew of for defence.

Rogues were not ones to spend a lot of time trying to fight with others, they would gladly take any easy mark, but one that fought back and could do some harm to them was another matter, Kros was one of those matters; the two scars on his back had been the result of a run in with Rogues two years ago when he was only twelve. It was also only the second time he had killed a man with a knife, as it happened, he still had the knife, it once belonged to the man he had killed.

Kros kept up the fast pace, and the three boys bouncing on the back of the horse found it hard to ease the pain in their butts, but they knew Kros must have a good reason for the faster pace, by this time, they had full confidence in his ability to keep them safe.

The hours passed, and soon they were at the base of the high hills of the central divide, with hardly a pause, Kros led them upwards and then along the top of the first ridge, as they came to the brow of the ridge, Kros looked back, he could just make out the faintest of dots far behind them, the Rogues had lost a little ground, this would give him time to get to the cave he was aiming for. It would only be another half hour.

Kros led the small group along a deep ravine, the sides of which towered over them by a good fifty metres, it was narrow and only wide enough for two people side by side, the horse just made it through the tightest parts, at the end of the ravine, the three boys saw the mouth of the cave, they were now in a dead end, but there was no way for anyone to get to them without being seen. Kros led them into the cave mouth and then knelt down to catch his breath. He had been on the run for over four hours, as well as the climb up the ridge.

Once he had his breath back, Kros sent Grega out with the second knife to cut as much long grass for the horse as the boy could carry, the bottom of the ravine was well overgrown with course grasses and a thin stream ran down its length, for fresh water.

After Grega had left, Kros asked Danil to light a fire with some of the dead wood inside and at the mouth of the cave, with a small fire going, Kros sat and checked his weapons, little Davi was trying to help Danil with the wood, soon Danil had a fire going and some of the meat was put close enough to cook slowly.

Kros stood and then led the tired horse outside to drink, once done, Kros then took him back inside, he had too much meat on his bones for the Rogues not to want to kill it and Kros had found it handy to have the animal along with them, not only for carrying the three boys at his pace but also for carrying the extra weight of the meat which would have had to be left behind had they not had the horse.

An hour later, and they had all been fed and were now resting, it was then that Kros told Grega and Danil about their new followers, after talking it over with the two boys, they sat Davi well back in the cave in case there were shots fired, he then gave the shot gun to Grega and told Danil to strap on the large pistol that Grega had been wearing, Kros kept his .22 rifle, his little hide-away gun was still in his pocket.

For the next four hours, they watched their back trail, it was only an hour until dark when they heard the men coming down the ravine, they seemed to be making little effort to hide themselves as they came toward the cave, when the first Rogue came around the last bend, Kros put the small rifle to his shoulder and fired off a single shot, it was followed by a loud yell and the Rogue stumbled as his leg went out from under him, the soft sound of the small rifle almost hidden by his loud shout.

Kros watched as the other four stumbled over the Rogue on the ground who was by now holding his damaged knee and yelling every filthy swear word he could think of, Kros watched as another of the Rogues stood up and looked towards the cave mouth where he eventually made out the dim figures in the shadow of the cave.

"Who the boy fuk are you; why did ya shoot?" The Rogue yelled loudly towards Kros.

"Why ya chasing us?" Kros yelled back.

"We wasn't chasin ya, we was just coming this way is all."

"Cow shit, ya was following us, now ya know we can get ya, ya can take him and get out, I hear ya anytime soon and the rest of ya gets it as well."

Although the Rogue could easily tell that the voice belonged to a young man he also knew that the young one hiding in the cave could shoot straight, to their way of thinking, it was a no win situation, better to leave them and find something easier to take, with a lot of swearing, the men helped the injured Rogue to his feet and they staggered away, leaving the boys alone in their cave.

Kros told the other boys that from now until the morning they would have to take turns on guard, he told them most Rogues were cowards, but you could never be too sure, he also looked darkly at Grega when he said they would have to guard the sleeping boys tonight, Grega understood the look and even blushed a little, he would not sleep on guard tonight.

It was first light and the four boys in the cave were already making their final checks before leaving the protection of the cave, while there had been little disturbance from the Rogues of last night, Kros had little doubt that they had not entirely left the boys alone, he would still have to be on full alert as they made their way back down the ravine and turned towards the waiting high hills and safety, or as safe as one can be in these troubled times.

The quiet trip back along the ravine seemed peaceful, there was no sign of the Rogues and they made good time to the entrance, Kros was about to step out and lead the others to the trail that led to the top of the next ridge when his inbuilt alarm system went off again, with the speed of a feral cat he stepped back and ducked behind a boulder as, just where his head had been, a shower of dirt and small stones erupted from the ravine wall, the heavy booming sound of the rifle coming a fraction of a second later.

Kros gestured for the others to stay back and get down behind cover as he snaked his way on his belly to the edge of the boulder and carefully glanced around in the direction he thought the shot had come from, he was not surprised to see the five Rogues stand up from their place of ambush, their heavy rifle being able to out-distance his smaller .22, Kros now knew he was not in a good position except for defence, he could not get to them and they could not get to him, stalemate.

Kros looked back at the other boys as they hid behind another large boulder, his only main advantage over the Rogues was the need for water, he now controlled the only water for more than half a days walk, as the sun rose over the ridge and revealed a clear blue sky, Kros smiled, it was going to be a long hot day and the Rogues would need to drink sooner or later whereas he had water and plenty of food, if needed they could stay here for a number of days, the Rogues did not have that luxury.

Kros decided to try to find out what they wanted, as if he didn't already know, three young teens and a little boy were a temptation to any Rogue gang.

"What ya want?" Kros called out loud enough for the watchers to hear.

"Ya shot the boss man, we want one of the boys for us ta use."

"Which one?"

"The little one, he be good for years and easy to teach his place."

Kros looked behind him at the startled faces of the two older brothers, did they really think he was contemplating giving up the little one; Kros almost smiled to himself at the look on the boys' faces.

"Nah, he's no good for nothing, what about me or one of the others?"

"Too old, we want a youngun."

"Not gonna happen, one of us older ones will come to you but not the little one or you can sit out there in the sun for a few days, we got plenty of food and water in here, you got nothing."

Kros could almost hear the mumbling as the Rogues discussed the proposition, he knew eventually they would cut their losses and accept one of the older ones, he was going to make sure he was the one that went out, Kros waited patiently, the longer they sat in the rising heat of the morning sun, the more their minds would turn to agreeing to his offer.

Kros stayed hidden and just relaxed as he waited for the Rogues to make the first move, the other three boys stayed where they were but with worried looks on their faces, like the Rogues, they did not have any idea who they were dealing with, the conundrum that was Kros would soon be revealed to both parties.

Just before the midday heat fully came into effect, Kros heard the first words from the hiding Rogues, by the sound of the man's voice he was getting very thirsty, Kros smiled as he listened to the croaking sound when the Rogue yelled out for him.

"OK, we take an older one, which one you gonna send out ta us?"

"Them is useless, I can do everything, I'll leave my guns here and come out unarmed and go with you, we leave them to go find their own place."

"We still likes the little one, you want to come then he comes, too."

Kros looked around behind him at the faces of the three brothers, there was a fear there that caused the very air to fill with tension, he could almost see what they were thinking, Kros smiled at them and then turned back to his negotiations.

"Nah, he's no good for nothing, I'll come and do everything for ya."

"Ya got boy hair yet?"


There continued a further discussion among the hiding Rogues, Kros knew fairly well that they would agree, in their present position they could not really argue as he held all the food and water.

"Ok, you come but bring water for us and some food and no guns, take off ya shirt and things, you can carry them in your hands, ya can keep ya pants on for now, we'll get them off tonight."

A deep sounding chuckle sounded from behind the rocks where the Rogues were, Kros looked at the boys behind him and signalled for Danil to come to him, Kros waited until the other boy was beside him.

"Gimme your long pants and then get me the water skin, when I go out there, I want you to give my guns to your brother, you keep my pack on and guard it, I'll be back in no time."

As he was speaking, Kros was also stripping off his little shorts and shirts, he gave his leather jacket to Danil, along with the rest of his things with the pack. Slipping the longer pants up his legs he first slipped his long knife into his boot then covered it over with the pant leg, he was now bare-chested and anyone looking could see he was supposedly unarmed.

Kros sent Danil back behind cover as he looked warily around the boulder that had been his cover, to make sure he was not going to be just shot out of hand by the Rogues, he tried to keep a neutral look on his young features as he stood upright with his arms outspread so the Rogues could see he was not armed.

When he heard a yell from the Rogue leader, he stepped well clear of the boulder and began a nervous walk towards the waiting men, only the water skin filled one hand as he stumbled slightly on a loose stone, he straightened up and continued his short walk.

When Kros came up close to the five men he saw they had only the one rifle, the rest of their arms were a roughly made cross bow and they each had an old knife at their waist, this may be easier than he had thought it would be. Kros walked up to the Rogue holding the large rifle.

"You the boss man? What ya want me ta do?"

Kros still held his hands out from his side, the tempting water skin hanging from his fingers; he almost smiled as he saw all five sets of eyes turn to the skin.

As they watched the skin in the boy's hand, none saw the subtle movement of the boys feet as he got ready to move with speed. Kros lowered the water skin and stepped close to the leader with the rifle, as the skin lowered past the Rogues face, there was a sudden muffled thump and the leader's face exploded in blood and gore, as the other four tried to work out what had happened.

Kros dropped the now holed water bag and revealed the small two barrelled gun, with consummate ease, he turned on the next man who had been standing close to the leader. Kros's reactions were far too fast for the stunned man.

Kros turned on the man with the cross bow. He looked as though he had turned to stone as he watched his boss man fall with most of his face missing. when the heavy .44 calibre bullet from the little hideaway gun hit him in the mouth and entered his brain, the bowman just crumpled to his knees, the other three rogues could make nothing of it at all. They just stood there stunned as Kros went for his ankle and came up with his large hunting knife, another Rogue was dead with a gush of blood from his opened stomach before the last two could react to the sudden assault by a young boy that should have been easy to intimidate by their own larger size.

With a glance at eachother, the remaining two Rogues joined forces, they were not going to be easy pickings for some little shit like this one. Drawing their knives, they circled the young teen as he stood trying to watch them both, he had speed and youth on his side, but he was not sure how he could deal with the two men at the same time, a sudden booming sound helped him make his mind up.

A shaking voice called from behind Kros.

"Drop your knives and sit down."

Kros recognised the unsteady sound of Danil's voice; he turned and looked at his saviour, Danil stood with the big pistol in his two hands, a small wisp of blue smoke emanating from the shaking barrel, behind Danil, Grega was stooping down to pick up the larger rifle of the leader, where the bullet had gone Kros had no idea, but it did not hit anything even remotely close to the three combatants, the two remaining Rogues quickly dropped their knives at the sight of the large smoking gun in the boy's hands.

Kros smiled at Danil and stooped to replace his knife in his boot where he had hidden it, from his right hand pants pocket he took the small two barrelled gun, ejecting the two empty casings, he walked over to Danil and reached into a small pocket of the pack, withdrawing two new bullets, he reloaded the little gun and put it back in his pocket.

The weight of the big pistol had dragged Danil's hands down but by now, Grega had the large rifle in his hands and was keeping a close watch on the two Rogues sitting on the ground.

"What are we going to do with these two?" Grega asked Kros.

"Leave them out here naked, so the sun can cook them a bit, strip them of everything including the dead ones. They may have something we can use."

Grega just nodded his head. At his age, he was faster to understand the new rules of the wilds, it was Danil that still found it hard to understand what was what, Kros walked over to the two Rogues as they sat on the ground watching intently as the boys stripped the dead of everything they had.

Kros stopped in front of them, he now had the vicious looking double barrelled shot gun in his hands, the Rogues did not like the look of those two barrels pointed right at their faces.

"Strip." Kros told the startled Rogues, with little option but to obey, the men soon sat naked on the bare ground, Kros took the coil of rope he had also taken from his pack, with a few well practiced slices, he had four lengths of rope, Kros then called Grega over to take the shot gun and cover the two men while he tied them up tightly.

Once the men were tied up and lying naked in the sun, Kros took back his possessions and replaced his borrowed pants with his little shorts. He now felt comfortable. He had always wondered why others would want to wear the long pants and cover their legs; not only was there more to wash, but they felt very uncomfortable to him.

As before, Kros led the three boys mounted on the horse at a steady trot, behind them, the loud yells and pleas of the naked Rogues slowly faded with distance until there was no sound from them.

After leaving the ravine, Kros turned to the North, after over an hour of a steady pace, Kros came to the wide and high entrance to a canyon, he turned into it with the horse and other boys close behind, by this time, Kros was carrying only his two weapons, his pack was now being carried by Danil while Grega kept a tight hold on Davi as the three bounced up and down on the horse's back. Kros still maintained a hold on the reins as he led them deeper into the ever growing canyon, its sides getting taller and taller the deeper they went.

The three boys had no idea how far they had gone when Kros stopped and told them to dismount, to their left was a very narrow track leading upwards, it would be just wide enough for the horse but not the boys on its back, once they were on foot, Kros led the way up the track at a slow pace, he kept one eye on the horse to make sure it would not balk at the narrow trail.

They were not quite a fourth of the way to the top when Kros stopped at a point slightly wider than the rest of the trail, there was a flat area and, close to the canyon wall was a tall boulder which had a large dry bush at one side, Kros dropped the reins on the path while the three boys looked on.

Next Kros went to the bush and knelt down as though looking for something, after a minute, he stood back up with a thick rope in his hands, leaning back he pulled on the rope and, much to the boys' surprise, the bush started to move away from the huge boulder to slowly reveal a hidden cave mouth beyond.

Once the bush was far enough away from the boulder for the horse to walk through, Kros motioned for the boys to take the lead with the horse and just keep walking into the cave, they would see the grey light of the end of the cave once they were about halfway through, he would follow them after he had replaced the bush.

Grega led the horse and his two brothers into the dark confines of the cave, as he stepped clear of the entrance, he started to see the faint glimmer of grey light far ahead, Grega kept walking slowly towards the distant light source, the sounds of the horses hooves echoed in the emptiness around them, there was also the faintest sound of water dripping from somewhere in the darkness. Grega walked on.

Slowly they came closer to the distant light, it was now a lot brighter and they could all see sunshine and what looked like open spaces beyond the exit of the cave, Grega gave a slight shiver as he came into the full light of the sun, behind him, the echo of the horse's hooves died as they all stepped out into a wondrous park like valley.

As the three boys stood and looked at the scene below them, Kros appeared from behind, a shimmer of sweat on his brow told of his exertions in closing the entrance again.

"How did you find this place?" Grega asked Kros.

"The man I got the gun from brought me here for the five days I was his bum boy, he has two more like it in other places; wait, you'll see when we get to the cabin, but right now, you have to help me close the door."

"The door, what door?"

Kros turned and pointed to the side of the exit, leaning against the canyon wall and held upright by a thick post dug into the ground was what looked like split logs stacked one on top of the other with a cross brace holding them together like a wooden wall on its side, Grega looked more closely and could just make out some sort of rippled metal sheets fixed to the other side, at their feet was another thick rope that went to the opposite side and was wrapped around what looked like an old wheel rim from some type of vehicle, it was fixed to the stone sides of the canyon with the thick bar running through the centre and driven into the solid rock wall, on the outer rim it had a large wooden handle.

Kros handed his guns to Danil while Grega placed little Davi down on his own feet, the two boys then took hold of the long wooden handle and began to turn it slowly. It was far heavier than Grega would have thought, but the scraping sound of the strange door told him they were being successful.

It took a lot of energy to finally get the large thick log door closed, it was now braced between two thick logs buried in the ground, for anyone attempting to break through, it would be almost impossible, for now, and for the first time since their escape, the three brothers felt safe, there was only the matter of finding a nice warm place to stay in, Kros led them forward and down into the bottom of the hidden valley, there was no need to lead the horse as it had smelt fresh grass and water and was already picking its way to the bottom on its own, the boys followed along behind, their mouths agape at what they saw. For Kros, of course, it was all familiar and so he only watched where he was placing his feet.

When the small group got to the bottom, they could see the horse already with its head down and its jaws working on the clean fresh grass, Kros lifted his arm and pointed towards the far wall of the little valley, Grega could almost make out a small cabin nestled hard in against the back wall, it was no palace, in fact it was not even as good as the small home they had had to leave behind, but after what they had been through the last six days, it looked very inviting and above all else, Safe.

Kros led them on towards the small rough cabin, around the valley the canyon arched upwards, it was so high that it was a natural barrier, there was no other way in or out of the valley except by the cave mouth, Grega was suddenly startled by a running sound and, at the very edge of his vision, he saw a large rabbit scampering away from their path, as they moved silently over the green grass, Grega also thought he heard the faint cough of a deer in the thick trees at one end of the small valley, they would have plenty of meat while they stayed here.

Kros led them up to the cabin, at first glance it seem a little derelict but on closer inspection, it was only how the cabin had been put together with bits and pieces, the main thing Grega saw was that the roof was solid and sound, they would not be getting wet under that roof, it was thick pieces of slate stone laid over thick wooden rafters, the back wall was the wall of the canyon, the two sides were a mixture of slate and split logs and, except for the single doorway that was positioned to one side of centre with a long window covered by another wooden shutter, the front wall was much the same, there was also a small window cut into the logs on the two sides and covered with shutters that could be pulled up with rope to let the light in, the door was made of heavy split logs. It would not be knocked down easily.

Grega inspected the work on the cabin, it was rough but it would be almost impossible for anyone trying to get in un-invited, and with all the slate work it would be impossible to burn out anyone inside, it was a perfect safe haven, Kros pulled on a short length of cord and the front door swung open, he led the boys into the dark cool air of the long closed cabin, there was a thin layer of dust over everything, it had not been lived in for some time, in the dim light the three boys could not make out anything inside.

Kros went and opened the two side shutters, next he opened the long shutter covering the front window. Suddenly, bright sunlight filled the small cabin and the three new boys could now see what they had, Grega stood still as he looked around, he watched as Kros went back to the door and began to hang his guns on some conveniently placed wooden pegs, he saw Kros gesture for them to do the same.

When they stepped back, there were the two rifles, the small stubby shotgun and the two pistols along with the old rough cross bow. Above the door on two more pegs, was another rifle with a lever action, they now had quite the little arsenal, this made the three brothers feel even more safe. Also on the wall opposite the weapons pegs was a roughly drawn map on a deer skin, Grega would have to look into that later.

They now had a solid roof over their heads and enough weapons to defend themselves with, for the first time in six days they felt themselves fully relax, the fear of the last days leaving them shaking all over, Kros seemed totally unconcerned, for him, it was just another day of surviving, but now he had some benefits.

The interior of the small cabin was not as rough as the outside; on the back wall was a large cut niche for a fireplace, with a thin pipe leading outside to take the smoke away; it had an open wire frame over where the fire would be, to hold any pots or pans, to the left of the fireplace was a wooden bench, underneath it had shelves with pots and pans along with tin plates and a box with knives and forks, it had a large metal dish set into it for a wash basin.

Under each of the two windows were rough made beds wide enough for two people at a time, they were also just at the right height for someone to use for benches when trying to defend the cabin. The rest of the cabin floor was filled with a rough wood table with a bench on one side and two stools on the other. There was a single large rocking chair that was crudely made and was strung with thick strips of tanned leather for springs, below the long window at the front was another roughly made cabinet that seemed to be filled with boxes of ammunition for the guns, Kros pointed to the chair and then himself, it was obvious to the others that he was claiming it as his own, they didn't argue.

"Where is the man that built this, won't he come back and throw us out?" Grega asked Kros.

"Nope, he won't be back; that map on the wall shows his other two places, they're not as good as this one, but are ok if you need safety in a hurry."

"How do you know he won't be back, no one leaves a great hiding place like this and all the things he did to make it, he would not leave it for nothing."

"I told you I was his bum boy for five days; at the end of the five days he didn't want to pay me, so I killed him while he was sleeping. He always fell asleep after doing it to me, and he was a mean bastard, hurt me a lot he did, so it's all fair, he's buried under the garden out back, same as he did to other boys when he finished with them."

The three brothers could only stare at Kros as the short tale unfolded. There was little to no emotion in the young teen's voice as he related what he had done to the man; as far as Kros was concerned, this cabin and the other two were now his. It was the way of the world that they now lived in.

"Danil, go get some wood for a fire, there's plenty of deadfall in the trees, Grega, take the bucket under the bench and get some fresh water, there's a spring just off to the left, Davi and I are going to get some of the dust out of here and make the beds ready."

The two older boys just stood and looked at Kros for a second then turned and left to do as they were asked, after all, it was his house, Kros and little Davi started to take the thick animal pelts off the two beds and take them outside to shake any dust off, it would be close on dark by the time everything was once again ready for them to move in.

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