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At Days End

by Arthur

Chapter 3

The boys worked hard until late in the day. After collecting the water, Grega took an old axe from behind the door and began to chop up the larger pieces of wood that Danil had found, Kros and little Davi worked away inside until the cabin started to look half way decent and clean. The beds were freshly made and the stone floor was swept clean.

Kros sent little Davi outside to play while he set about cleaning their weapons and making sure there was ample ammunition close by; next he set the fire ready and then looked under the back bench to make sure the long thick candles were also ready on their wooden bases for the coming night.

As the first chill of night began to make itself known to the boys, Kros lit the fire and dropped the shutters; after lighting the two thick candles, he then got the last of the deer meat and began to set about making a thick soup for their dinner. He had collected vegetables from the garden at the side of the cabin, as he had no salt, he used the reddish brown powder from the small bag that had fixed the dogs, he was careful not to use too much, as the boys would not be used to it.

It had been a long day and all the boys were tired and ready for bed, all they needed now was a full belly and they would sleep the clock around, Kros soon had their wish fulfilled and was dishing out the thick soup into four metal bowls, the boys sat two to a side at the table and started to eat. Kros watched their faces as they tasted the strange powder for the first time. He laughed as he watched the three boys run for the water bucket.

"What the hell is that hot stuff?" Grega asked when he could speak without tears.

"Don't know its name, it's a small fruit thing that grows on a bush in the trees, looks a bit like a little boy's fingers, when its green, it's not very strong but when it gets red then it's like fire in your mouth, I got no salt so used that."

"Next time use less, my belly feels like it's on fire, but at the same time, it tastes strangely good."

"We got no salt till I go out to another town so you better get used to it."

"Why don't you have salt here, I would have thought it would be the first thing you would buy?"

"Why you think I was coming to your village, but you boys changed all that with upsetting the Priests and making things hard."

"Sorry, so where is the closest village for you to get salt?"

"Only one I can go to now is about three days fast run away, I'll rest up here for a few days, then go get some, you boys stay here till I get back."

"But that means I will have to do more than the five days I promised." Danil said.

"Nope, I keep my word, today is your first day, we work things here for the next four days and your contract is finished, I'll go for the salt later, the days will count as part of our contract, if you want to stay, then fine, but if you want to go, well it's up to you."

Danil looked at Kros and the sincerity on his young face told them all the truth of the matter; he was a boy who kept his word, that was plainly obvious now. The three brothers looked at Kros and smiled. It was a fair deal and the teen would keep his end of the bargain. They all set about the hot soup once again, only this time, they were ready for the very hot burst of fire in their mouths; each had a very large metal cup of water close by just in case.

Once their supper had been finished, Kros told Danil to wash up while the others got ready for bed. Nothing needed to be said as to where Danil would be sleeping. Kros stripped naked as he was wont to do in this cabin, and with a sigh, he got into one of the large beds and watched as Danil did his work. Tonight, Kros had no intention of playing boy games as they were all too tired from the long day. Tomorrow night would be another matter.

As Danil did his work, Kros watched Grega and little Davi strip and slide under the thick animal pelts. He was not surprised to hear their breathing settle into a steady rhythm as the hard day caught up to them. They were well into their sleep before a naked Danil joined Kros in bed. Kros leaned forward and wrapped his slender arms around Danil's warm body and fell instantly to sleep with the boy in his arms. As he drifted off he had a feeling of contentment. It was nice to have someone share his bed for a change.

It was still dark and an early morning chill was in the air. Kros had woken with the feeling of something hard and plump pushing against his warm belly, lowering his hand he felt the heat of Danil fill his hand. Kros almost broke out into a smile as he yawned and squeezed the plump piece of meat. It stiffened a little more and Kros stroked it slowly. He was in one of those moods and the time seemed right.

Spitting on his free hand, Kros buried his fingers in his rear to place a little more moisture to go along with the natural sweat of being in a warm bed, rolling over he placed the now hard plumpness close to his hole and pushed backward. As the thick crown pierced his sphincter, Kros heard a low growl from behind him and then felt two short jabs at his rear. In no time at all, that thick plumpness was making its way inside him. He sighed with pleasure as he felt the soft tickle of sparse pubic hair brush his butt. From then on, it was only a matter for nature to take its course as Danil rolled him onto his stomach and settled down to his morning time work, with alacrity.

Kros could not stop the loud moan from escaping his lips as Danil worked with gusto. The slap, slap of moist skin on skin filled the small cabin and their moans soon had them completely oblivious to anything around them. They failed to see Grega lift his head and frown as he covered little Davi's ears with the thick animal skin and then turned back over and tried to drift off once again. Even though the sound of the two boys was hard to put aside, his own hand went where any boy's hand would go at a time like this. It turned out to be a close run race between him and Danil as they both groaned loudly at the same time. The last thing Grega heard was a satisfied sigh from the two boys in the other bed before he once again drifted off.

Kros awoke just as the sun sent a sliver of light through the large window shutters at the front of the cabin, he could still feel the sticky residue of his early morning jaunt with Danil. He smiled as he got out of the bed and looked down at Danil who was still fast asleep, his thin mouth slightly open but a more relaxed look on his young face. Kros scratched himself then headed for the door. He needed to wash away the night's fun and his butt felt very full and ready to explode. Kros took off running towards the long drop at the side of the cabin.

When he returned, Kros saw that the two older boys were just stretching and opening their eyes. He walked naked over to his bed and looked down into the sparkling eyes of Danil.

"You gonna get up now? We got to get that skin finished and we need some food," Kros said to Danil.

Danil looked up at Kros and nodded his head as he lifted the soft skins from his body. His slender figure slipped from the bed and Danil started to look around for his few clothes, Kros turned his back and slipped on his pair of small shorts as he heard Grega gently awaken Davi, he also noticed the Grega had a slight frown on his face when he looked at Kros.

Kros shrugged his shoulders and got some flour out of a large bag under the bench, next he sent Danil out to find some eggs from the few chickens that were in a fenced off area a little distance from the cabin. As he mixed the batter for pancakes, Kros looked at Grega, watching him as he worked.

"You could get the fire going." Kros said.

Grega nodded his head and turned to make sure Davi was up and about. He then told his little brother to come with him and help him with the fire. The little boy smiled at being given the chance to be helpful to his big brother. There was now only the three of them and he needed his two brothers around him for safety. As yet, Grega was not totally sure of Kros, although he did like the teen, but it was still too early to tell if he was going to be a good man towards Davi.

When the pancakes were all cooked, Kros took a solid piece of fat that hung on a wire, from the side of the fire place, he then rubbed it in the pan until there was a thin veneer covering the bottom of the pan, just then Danil returned with five eggs, Kros broke the eggs into the pan and stirred them around until he had something resembling a thick omelette, once it was cooked, he divided the pancakes and eggs into four tin plates and set them on the table, while the kettle over the fire heated water for coffee. The beans he had ground by hand as the eggs cooked.

To the burgeoning smell of fresh coffee, the four boys sat and ate their breakfast; the lack of salt was noticeable, but nothing was said by any of them. Kros knew he would have to go and get some, the village he would go to was about three days fast walk or steady trot away, but now, with the horse, he could do the whole trip in two days, he would leave soon after breakfast and leave the three boys to settle in.

Kros found it amusing to watch the scrunched up face of Davi as the little boy took his first taste of coffee as the four sat outside in the rising and warming sun. He then told the others what he had in mind, they could look around the valley and then decide if they wanted to stay with him for a while or leave and make their own way in the new world. It took only a minute for the boys to decide to stay for a while longer. Kros then told them he would leave to get some salt, but would be back in two days.

When the coffee was finished, Kros told Danil to clean up while he went to get the horse. He would leave shortly, the boys were to close the large gate behind him and wait until he knocked three times on it on his return to be let back in. He told them not to open the gate for anyone unless they heard his three knocks, they were safe behind the gate and also had the extra weapons, just in case.

As mid morning approached, Kros took the boys and showed them the hidden root cellar. First he moved aside the heavy table and the bench in front of it. Next, by lifting one of the thin pieces of slate from the floor, he revealed a dark hole with four wooden steps leading down. With a candle in his hands, Kros led the way. What the boys saw surprised them, neatly stacked on stone shelves were a multitude of different vegetables, some looked a little old, but Kros told them they were for seed, from the low roof hung two legs of smoked pork and one rear haunch of smoked venison, Kros took down one of the pork legs and pushed it into an old flour sack, he would use it to trade for salt, although he would take a few coins with him as well, just in case the pork was not enough.

Returning to the upstairs, he told the boys what to do while he was away. He would be back as soon as he could, but in the meantime, he wanted them to go around the valley so they were familiar with it all; they would soon find the garden, the smoke house and they already knew where the few chickens were kept. Kros pointed to some wire snares hanging on the wall and told Grega to set them, they could have some fresh meat as there were plenty of rabbits and wild turkeys around the valley.

Kros stopped once he got through the gate, to make sure they closed it tightly behind him, leading the horse, he made it outside once again then led the horse down the narrow trail. At the base, he mounted and turned southward; there was no way he was going in the direction of the previous trip out.

Kros had to use his coins to buy a pair of old saddle bags to carry the four large heavy blocks of salt, he had decided at the last moment to also purchase some more of the sugar blocks, they were only half the size of the salt blocks and cost him three silver coins, this had been one of the most expensive shopping trips he had ever taken, but he thought it would be fun for the boys to have the extra. Kros began his return trip with a lighter heart, for some reason he felt happy to be going back to see the three boys once again.

Kros had travelled throughout the night so that he would be back to the valley before midday. As he came up over the last major hill top before home, he saw a large group of what looked like Priests; there had to be nearly twenty of them and they looked to be searching for something. Kros took no chances and jumped off the horse before he was seen.

With a few sharp tugs on the reins, Kros managed to get the horse to lie down just under the hill top; he then went to his belly and squirmed his way up until he could see the large group on the flats below him. Two or three Priests he didn't worry about, but twenty of them was another story. As he watched them, he could see they were definitely trying to track something or someone. Kros stayed still as he watched; this did not feel good.

Kros watched from his hiding place what were they after? Surely they would not have tried to follow his small group all this way. He looked again at the long straight line of riders; the appearance of four dogs further out from the line of Priests told him another story. perhaps they had not given up on catching him and the boys; true he had killed a number of them, but there was always more of them, so why would they bother with a small group of boys? Kros was now very puzzled. He continued to watch the long line. They were spread across the flat with about ten yards between each rider, the dogs far out in front had their noses to the ground as they all worked their way towards the cliff face where Kros's narrow track went up, he was cut off and could only wait it out and see what they would do.

Kros went over his weapons, his .22 had eleven shots, his shot gun had two and his little hideaway had two, so he was out gunned, he couldn't hope to take on such a large well armed force; each rider carried a large rifle and around their waists hung a pistol, these Priests were armed for bear, or boy. Kros could only shake his head and hope they did not find the hidden entrance to the valley although he knew that the narrow trail up to the entrance was solid stone and would show no prints, there was little he could do now but wait it out and hope they all lost the trail and moved on. Kros settled down to wait.

Kros continued to watch and wait, as the long line of black clothed Priests moved down the valley getting ever closer to the start of the small trail that led up to the mouth of his cave. Kros moved with them but hidden behind the low rolling ridge, keeping himself and his horse well down from the sky line.

As the time moved on towards nightfall, Kros moved up closer to the line of dark dots until he could make out individual riders, they were all the usual Priests except for the two dog handlers, and then he caught sight of the three men at the centre of the line and his blood ran cold. There was little that Kros was ever afraid of, but what he now saw could almost turn him to stone, for at the centre of the long spread out line of Priests rode three members of the Knights of the Rose Croix or, as they were called by the common people, the Butchers of the Bloody Cross.

These so called 'Knights of the Red Cross' were the Priests that carried out the torture and killing of the Inquisition. Once in their hands, your days were numbered and the number was very short. These Priests were renowned for their vicious nature, even if you were to confess to some vague sin or other, they would still kill you in the name of repentance, as a means of washing away your sins.

They were distinguishable from other Priests by their distinctive dress; unlike the others, they did not wear the long flowing black robes, but instead wore black trousers and shirt with a solid white collar. Along with this, they wore black combat boots and a type of green jerkin that had the solid red cross on the front and back. They never travelled alone and there were always at least three of them together. They were also very heavily armed.

Kros shuddered again as he watched the three at the centre. Those three figures he had to avoid at all cost. In the back of his mind he also wondered why they would send these three after him and the boys. It seemed a little like over-kill for four small boys. However, Kros had no intention of falling into their hands. He did not have a death wish.

Kros watched as the line at last came to the base of the trail leading up to his hideaway. It was now late in the afternoon and it looked as though the large group had had enough for the day. At the bottom of the trail was a large overhang of stone; he watched as the three Knights stopped their horses under the overhang and the others of the large hunting party began to settle around them.

It took no time at all and the beginnings of the small camp was taking shape. At the centre were the first signs of a large fire being built. The three Knights had the favoured place under the overhang and seemed to settle down and let the other Priests do all the work. The two dog handlers were on the outside of the central circle of Priests. They were not of the order and so were relegated to the outside.

Kros now had a problem. With the dogs so close to the trail, he would not be able to get there in the dark without disturbing them and letting the whole camp know he was there. As the sun sank lower, Kros put on his thinking cap, there had to be a way to get past them and into the safety of the small hidden valley.

It took a few minutes before a small smile broke out on Kros's lips. He now had a plan; with this in mind, Kros crawled back down the rise and jumped onto the horse. Turning to the far off woods, he set the horse to walk softly, and when far enough from the new camp not to be heard, he put the horse into a fast canter, it would take only fifteen minutes to reach the woods. He only hoped he would get lucky and find what he wanted quickly, he wanted to be ready to mount the pass before the next sunrise.

It was only minutes before dark when Kros got his chance. His shot was sure and the small deer dropped in its tracks, having the horse lay down so he could throw the carcass over its back, Kros was soon remounted and making his way back towards the camp site. He still had work to do and it was almost completely dark, with only the first quarter of the moon for light. Although with his exceptional eye sight, he would have little trouble.

An hour later, and with the aid of the brightening moon, Kros had the small deer skinned, and its hide cut into four large pieces. Making a slice between the leg bone and the rear tendon, he fed his old rope through and tied a tight knot. He would drag the carcass with ease from the back of the horse, with the four pieces of hide he folded them in half then used them to make a rough boot for the horse' four legs, after tying them tightly and checking to make sure the horse was comfortable, Kros crawled back up to the top of the rise and looked down at the now established camp.

The four dogs were on the very outside of the circle, their owners sitting around a small fire of their own, the larger group of Priests sat around another larger fire, with the three Knights sitting under the overhang, their backs to the mountainside, they would be blind to the darkness outside the firelight. Kros smiled as he watched them all getting ready to settle down for the night.

Returning to the horse, Kros took up the rope and rode the horse at a quick walking pace along the bottom of the ridge until he was a good two hundred yards north of the camp, using the horse to pull the carcass up to the top of the ridge, he then freed the rope and rolled the bloody carcass down onto the flats below. Soon the evening breeze would start up and the dogs would get the scent of fresh meat. Kros descended quickly and headed southward at a fast walk, leading the horse by its reins.

Well south of the camp, Kros listened with all his might, he wanted to catch the sound of the dogs when they smelt the fresh meat waiting for them. It took only until Kros felt the faint brush of the evening breeze on his cheeks for the dogs to get the scent. The pull of the bloody meat was too much for the dogs, and with snarls and barks, they refused to listen to their owners and started for the carcass away in the dark.

The disturbance of the dogs had the camp in an uproar for a little while, but once the handlers saw that they were only after a fresh kill, they left them to it; they saw no reason to tell the Priests what it was that had got the dogs all noisy. It also never occurred to the handlers where the kill came from. They left the dogs to eat after cutting off a little of the deer meat for themselves, why waste good meat on dogs.

Kros stayed hidden while the camp settled down once again. The Priests ignored the dog handlers, since they were to far below the station of the Priests to bother with. Kros waited until the midnight, when all of the camp was well and truly asleep. The Priests had such confidence in their position in society that they posted no guards in the camp.

With the soundless movement of a feral animal, Kros led his booted horse towards the narrow trail that led back to his valley. At the base of the trail, he once again spread the reddish coarse powder behind the horse and himself as they made their way upward in total silence. The hide boots making the horse' hooves as silent as the grave.

An hour later, and Kros was pulling on the thick rope that opened the brush gateway. As he bent down and pulled until the gate was wide enough for the horse to fit through, he stood up and looked into the dark black hole of a gun barrel, it was with a sigh of relief when he heard Grega's soft voice in the darkness.

"Where have you been? we got worried when you didn't show up at midday like you said. I've been waiting out here all afternoon."

"There's no time for talk, now. Take the horse into the valley while I close the gate, I'll be right behind you. Go, now."

Grega took the reins of the horse and led it silently away towards the depths of the cave while Kros closed up the large bush that covered the entrance. Once closed, he took the end of the rope and tied it tightly to an outcrop of rock before turning to enter the cave and follow Grega and the horse back to the valley.

Kros caught up with Grega at the heavy gate. Once they were all through, the two boys worked at the handle until the gate was tightly closed. Kros then pointed out two thick logs lying on the ground at each end of the closed gate.

"Take that one and jam it into the wall, then push the other end up against the end of the gate, it will act as a lock."

"Why all this work?" Grega asked.

"We have visitors, and not the kind that are friendly. If I have to guess, I would say by tomorrow midday they will be knocking on this door, and we don't have much time to get ready."

"Who are they, are they more Rogues?"

"Worse than Rogues, Priests, not ordinary Priests, but those Butchers of the Bloody Cross; you know they won't give up easy."

"Knights of the Rose Croix, what are they doing here, why would they be after us?"

"I suppose at least two dead Priests would be enough excuse. Now let's get back to the cabin; we have a lot to do and we won't be getting much sleep tonight."

The two boys ran through the dark with the horse trotting behind them silently, still with his now worn boots on. Once at the cabin, Kros woke Danil and little Davi, they were not happy about having their sleep disturbed, but Kros did not have time to be nice about it, even though Davi got a small tear in his eye and Grega had to settle him down with soft words and a pat on the back.

Kros gave them the saddle bags with the salt and sugar blocks in it; he also handed over his own back pack as he took up the reins of the horse.

"Get that stuff inside, I'm going to take the horse as far back up the valley as I can, and tie him up so they don't find him. We may need him before this is all over. Danil, take Davi and go to where the chickens are. There has to be a lot more eggs hidden in the straw that Davi didn't find, get them all and bring them back. Leave the gate open so the chickens can get out. we don't want them caught by those Priests and eaten. Grega, open the root cellar and start putting everything that moves down into it, except for extra ammunition, some basic food stuffs and the two thickest bed pelts. I'll be back before you have finished."

Kros led the horse away into the dark; he had the perfect place to hide it from the eyes of the Priests, and it would have ample water and grass to keep it happy. Once well up the valley and close beside the feeder stream, Kros tied the new rope to the halter and let the horse go about its business while he turned back to the cabin and took off at a fast trot. He had a lot to do before they would be ready.

As Danil and Davi re-appeared with the eggs they had found hidden in the straw, Kros made it back to the cabin. Once inside, he took the large bowl from the bench and poured a large quantity of flour into it, adding to that, he put some lard, and then, using a rough stone, he scraped some salt off one of the blocks into it as well then added water and began mixing it all with his hands.

Grega was cleaning the weapons and selecting extra ammunition from the large stock on the shelf. Kros set Danil to fill a small pot with water and putting all the eggs into it and placing it on a hook over the now renewed fire. When Kros was finished with the large dish of dough, he tipped it out onto the bench and cut it in two, then in two again, so he had four equal lumps. He then set about kneading the dough until he had four round lumps sitting on the bench.

Kros went to the shelf under the bench and pulled out two cast iron cooking pots with flat lids, he placed one lump of dough in each one and placed them into the hot coals of the fire, using a small spade he heaped hot coals over the top to help with the cooking, next he went into the cellar and got the smoked leg of pork and set about cutting off lots of thick slices.

An hour later, and the eggs were all boiled hard. the two cooking pots were scraped clean of the coals on top and opened to reveal two hot loaves of course bread. Kros tipped them out and replaced them with the other two lumps of fresh dough and set them to cook in the same manner, the smell of fresh bread filled the small cabin as the boys worked on. They now had only hours before sunrise and Kros wanted to be out of the cabin before it was too high in the sky.

As they waited for the last of the bread to cook, the four boys sighed as they gave a last check to everything they would need, in an old flour sack were the boiled eggs, the two loaves of bread and the many thick slices of smoked pork, all the weapons were lined up with extra boxes of ammunition stacked beside them, Kros looked around the cabin, everything that could be saved and moved was now down in the cellar, Kros told Grega to replace the slate and pull the table back over it. If the Priests broke in, they would find nothing to take, it was time to sort out the weapons.

"Grega, you take the big pistol and the rifle you got from the Rogue. How many bullets have you got for it?"

"There were five in it and the Rogue had ten more in his pocket, there was also one box on the shelf that looks as though it will fit."

"Danil, you take my .22 you should be able to fire it, take five boxes of bullets and my belt, I'll take the shotgun and the lever rifle; it's a bit big for me, but I can lay it on a rock to fire it. Now, Grega, you can take the sack of food and the two rolled pelts. Danil, you can take my pack with the extra bullets and cooking pan, I'll carry the three water skins and the last two bread."

Kros stopped as he heard a faint sniffle from Davi.

"What's the matter, Davi?" Kros asked the snuffling boy.

"You don't want me; it's not fair, just cause I'm little you don't want me."

The three older boys looked at each other in bafflement, what was the little boy going on about? Grega asked Davi what he was meaning.

"You all've got things to do, and I don't have nothing. You don't want me cause I'm young and too little."

The three older boys could still not see what Davi meant until suddenly a light went on in Danil's head.

"He thinks we don't want him because he has nothing to carry and no weapons, all he wants to do is be a part of our group, isn't that right, Davi?"

Davi looked at his older brother and an almost embarrassed small smile broke out on his face.

"Yep, just cause I'm small and not old like you, you think I can't do things, I want to help, too."

The three boys laughed at the innocence of the smaller boy. It was Kros that came to the rescue.

"I was saving your part till last, Davi, I can't carry all of the water and the last bread alone, you will have to carry one of the water skins. It's very heavy and we need a real strong boy to carry it. Also, how many years have you got now?"


"Well, you are really lucky, eight is the exact right age to have your first gun. Now I'm going to give you one of mine, it's very special to me, so you have to really look after it and not lose it, ok?"

Davi nodded his head and his smile got wider as Kros took out the small hideaway from his pocket, he removed the two bullets and then sat down so he could explain it all to Davi, he went through the lessons of not pointing it at Kros or his brothers, even in play. Next he showed him how the two bullets went in and how to cock the small hammer, he had Davi blank fire it a number of times until the little boy looked comfortable doing it, next, he gave Davi four bullets and told him to put them in his pocket, he was not to put them in the gun unless he had to use it on some bad men, Davi took in everything with a very serious look on his young face, until he carefully placed the small gun in one pocket and the four stubby bullets in the other, the smile on his tired face almost lit up the room as he saw the proud look on his brothers' faces.

The three boys heard the loud crow of the rooster from far back in the trees as the first faint blush of the rising sun coloured the sky, using the last flour sack, Kros put the two still hot loaves of bread inside along with the pot for boiling water for their coffee.

Walking outside the cabin, all of the boys were loaded up. Kros set about locking the cabin up as best he could, then turned to Grega.

"See at the far end of the valley where the trees go up in a point, just below the top of the trees is another small cave? it's about twenty feet up the side of the wall and has a rope ladder leading up to it. We have to get up there, then pull the ladder up, they won't find us there, and even if they do, we can defend it for ages, we better start moving; those Butchers won't want to wait for long to find us."

The boys set off fast for the base of the high cliffs at the bottom of the valley. When they were about half way there, they suddenly heard the quietness of the valley disturbed by loud thumping coming from the direction of the gate, their pace quickened. Kros had told them that the gate could not be taken down easily, and that with the metal skin on the outside, it could not be burnt down, so they should be fairly safe. Moving to the cave was just insurance.

The boys were almost at the top of the tree line when they heard it, the loud booming sound echoed through the valley and shook the ground, none of them had the faintest idea of what had caused it but, it did make them push hard for the last few yards to the bottom of the cliff where they could now easily see the rope ladder hanging over a ledge, now it was time for the hard job of getting everything up there to safety.

Kros told Davi to put the water skin on the ground as he would have to go up with Grega to help pull everything up on the rope, the little boy looked as though he was relieved to get rid of the dead weight, but he smiled at being told he was to help his big brother. He was the first up the rope ladder and climbed it as though he had been doing it all his short life. Grega was close behind with the new rope from Kros's pack. Once at the top, he lowered the rope and the hard work of getting everything up began, from behind them down the valley, they could just barely hear the sound of horses hooves as the Priests came through the shattered gateway. The boys moved faster until finally, Kros and Danil took their turn climbing the ladder and then pulling it up after themselves.

Down below, the Priests had made it to the cabin, it was noticeable that there was now only one dog with them, once again, Kros's powder had done its work, the dog was a large brown one with long legs and a shaggy skin, it had long floppy jowls and even longer floppy ears, its nose was close to the ground as the large group stopped outside the now empty cabin.

From his kneeling position, high up on the ledge outside the cave, Kros could just see through the tree tops to the cabin, he watched as the three Butchers got off their horses and strode arrogantly towards the door of the cabin, they did not even try to open the door but instead started to kick at it with their heavy boots. It took a little while, but they eventually had the door crashing to the ground and they stormed into the small cabin with guns in their hands.

Kros kept low as he watched what was going on, it was then he saw something that made his blood cool instantly. From this height, he could plainly see their own foot prints in the new morning dew, if the Priests took the time to look around, they were going to know where the boys were or in which direction they had gone, Kros sighed, it was now all in the hands of some deity or other. He was only assured by the fact that once they entered the woods their trail would be hard to find. Only the single dog could now track them and he had no red powder left to get rid of that one.

Kros left his perch and went into the cave to see that the boys were getting everything settled, if they were traced up here, they could be in for a long wait, he was now thankful that he had spent so much time carrying up the fire wood over the last two years, they had a large stack at the back of the cave, there was also a small underground spring that fed into the cave although it only yielded enough water each day to fill one skin.

The back of the cave had a narrow fissure leading upwards and the faintest sliver of blue sky could be seen at the far end if it. This would carry the smoke of the fire out of the cave and so not smoke them out when they wanted to cook or get warm.

Grega had laid out the two thick pelts for their beds, and was watching Danil get a fire ready, little Davi was sitting alertly at the entrance of the cave with the little gun in his hand with two bullets ready in the other, Kros smiled at the small boy as he sat on guard, the serious look on Davi's face told him that no one was going to get past if he had anything to do about it, Kros patted Davi on the head as he walked into the cave, he really needed some rest, it had been a long and sleepless two days, he asked Grega to set a guard so each of them could get some sleep while they waited for the Priests to leave, they could not be reached up here but they could take no chances with Blood Knights around.

Kros was awakened by a gentle nudge on his shoulder by Grega, as was his habit, Kros was instantly alert and looked up at the eyes of Grega for some indication of what was needed, Grega twisted his head in the direction of the cave mouth, Kros then became aware of a warmth against his back, looking behind him he saw the small curled up body of Davi lightly snoring as he snuggled up to Kros for warmth, Kros smiled and carefully got up without waking the smaller tired boy.

Following Grega to the cave mouth, Kros followed the boys pointing finger, Kros felt a deep frown come over his face as he saw the mass of Priests evidently following their trail in the dew covered grass, behind the group of Priests Kros could see thick smoke coming from the windows and door of the cabin, the Priests had set fire to their home, deep in his belly, Kros felt the stirring of anger build.

Kros turned to Grega with a thunderous look on his face, in a quiet and deadly voice, Kros told Grega.

"Those black crows will pay for that, every last one of them including those Blood Priests."

"What can we do now; it looks like they have found our trail?"

"We stay here, we have enough food and water too outlast them if we have too, they can't get us up here without losing a lot of men, even then they will have too much trouble getting up here, we stay and if we have to we fight, knowing those Blood Priests, that's what we will have too do."

"How will they find us though, once in the woods there won't be any trail like down on the open grass?"

"They still have one dog left, there is one way though but it's dangerous and needs some good timing."

"What is it, we have to do something."

"Simple, I go down and kill the last dog."

"But if they see you then you're done and their rifles are better than your little .22."

"Look at the sun; if I go quickly the sun will be in their eyes, they will hear the shot but not be able to see me in the trees, the rising sun will blind them for a few seconds, if I run like hell back here and you and Danil have the rope ready to just pull me up as fast as you can, they won't know where to go, for now the dog is the their best friend, without it they will just have to stumble around and hope to get lucky."

"Can you get back fast enough; if they see you they will start shooting in all directions?"

"I have to go now, there's not much time to get the sun right, I know every inch of these woods, they won't see or hear me, drop the rope over the side now while I get the small rifle, you can tell Danil what to do while I'm gone but be ready to pull as hard as you can when I get back to the rope."

Grega just nodded and watched as Kros ran for the cave to get the small .22 rifle, he was back in seconds and before Grega could say one word was sliding down the rope, seconds later he had disappeared into the trees, Grega called softly for Danil and then explained to him what was happening, the two boys took up a position at the rope and waited, their breaths seemed to be held in their throats as they waited for Kros to return.

As Kros came to the edge of the woods, he almost smiled, he had come to the exact place he wanted to be, he was about 45 degrees to the left of the dog and his handler and slightly up hill as well as being down wind, the dog was about one hundred yards ahead of the Priests and the handler was another ten yards behind holding the long lead to stop the dog from running off.

The dog had its noise to the ground following the fresh scent of the boys, Kros settled beside a large tree that almost completely hid him from sight, he lined up the dog at seventy five yards and waited as, with his other eye, he watched the sun touch the top of the first line of Priests, they were the three Knights, the rest of the Priests followed in threes so they would be blocked from seeing where he shot came from.

Kros waited until the dog was fifty yards away and, just as the first bright rays of the morning sun hit the eyes of the lead Priests, he fired, Kros didn't wait too watch the effect of his shot, he knew it was good even before it hit the dog, by that time he was already scuttling backwards and rising to his feet to speed off to the waiting rope.

The three Knights of the Rose Croix heard the light shot but were temporarily blinded by the sun rise, the dog handler could not take in what had happened, his dog just stopped then gave a sort of shake of its head then its long legs seemed to collapse under it, he then saw its head hit the ground and the rest of the dogs body seemed to just fold into the ground, it took the handler seconds to realise that the red stuff pumping from his dogs head was in fact blood.

As the realisation that his dog had been shot finally penetrated his brain, the handler stopped and fell to the ground beside the still body, he was suddenly overcome with a deep remorse as he realised he had lost all four of his dogs to these renegades, as the Priests rode up fast to where he was holding the dead dogs head in his arms, all he could think of was getting out of this place, he no longer had anything left to give this hunt, his sorrow built as his hands became warm with the last of the hot blood and the tears flowed unhindered, he ignored the Priests demands for the position of the shooter.

The Priests tried to look around for the culprit but the sun had blinded them so efficiently that none of them saw the muzzle flash or any indication of smoke, they were now in all intents and purposes, completely blind, where the boys had gone was surely into the trees but in there they would be open targets for any sniper that the boys had, it was not going to be an easy hunt from now on but they had a job to do for the Inquisition and they would go on until they found the sinners or die trying.

Kros felt as though he was flying as Grega and Danil pulled strongly on the rope and raised the light weight of Kros easily up to the ledge, once there the three boys looked out through the tree tops, the confusion caused by Kros was easily evident by the way the mounted Priests were milling around, they could just make out the kneeling figure of the handler as he held the dark shape of the dogs body, for some reason all three boys felt a sadness for the dog, it had only been doing what it was trained for and did not ask to be put in the place it had been in, the onus once again came down on the Priests and the three boys were more determined than ever to see them pay.

Danil took over the guard as Grega and Kros went back into the cave, little Davi was still curled up in one of the pelts softly snoring as though he had not a worry in the world, Grega pushed Kros towards the pelt bed, the boy had been asleep only an hour or so before being awakened and Grega still felt strong enough to stay awake for a few hours yet.

Kros lay down in the pelt and was instantly asleep once again, the sudden violent events of the morning were already forgotten, it was in the past and something that had to be done for their own safety, Kros had no qualms about his act, it was a necessity so it was over and done with.

When next he awoke, Kros could tell it was close to midday, Davi had disappeared and he could see both Danil and Grega curled up in the other pelt bed, Kros jumped to his feet after a good stretch and went in search of the little guy, he found Davi lying at the very edge of the ledge with his head showing just over the edge, in his hand he held the little gun with the four bullets close by his side neatly lined up in a row, Kros smiled at the sight of the little guy, he was taking his duty very seriously.

Kros crawled up beside Davi and gave him a pat on the head.

"I bet you are the best guard we've got Davi, I think when we get rid of those Blood Priests I should go and buy you a special gun of your own so that I can have my lucky one back."

Davi twisted his head, his eyes were wide open and a smile went from ear to ear as he took in the words of Kros.

"Really, my own gun, just for me?" he whispered to Kros.

"Really, the best guard should have his own gun and I know just where to find one for you when this is all over."

Davi pulled back from the edge a little and then turned and hugged Kros as best he could while lying down; Kros again patted him on the head then said.

"You've really done a big guys job here this morning, now it's my turn so you go and get some more rest, when one of the others gets up we will have some food, ok?"

Davi nodded and then pushed himself well back from the edge before standing up and going back into the cave, Kros took over the watch, from the sounds coming from far below, it looked as though the Priests were searching all through the woods, any chance of them being found up here in the cave was practically nil now they no longer had the dog to lead them, the cave was invisible from the ground and unless they made some small mistake, Kros and the boys would be safe.

An hour later and Danil appeared silently by his side, Kros smiled at him and scooted back until he could stand without being seen from below, it was time to eat, with the narrow vent at the back of the cave they would not send any smells or smoke down to the Priests so they could at least have a nice hot meal, Kros re-stoked the fire into life and set the pan on to heat, next, when the pan was good and hot and a small amount of lard had been added, Kros put in four thick cuts of smoked pork.

While the pork was cooking, Kros took out four of the boiled eggs and then set about putting water on to boil for coffee, slicing three thick pieces off one of the loaves of rough bread, Kros set them close to the hot coals to heat up and lightly toast, twenty minutes later and the food was ready, Grega and Davi had woken at the sound and smell of food being cooked and were ready as Kros put the cooked Pork on top of the toasted bread and passed them out along with an egg each, as he waited for the water to boil for coffee, Kros took the last bread and meat out for Danil as he sat on guard.

When he returned to the cave, Kros saw the water was boiling and added the coffee beans he had ground earlier, taking the pot off the fire he set it aside to brew, occasionally tapping the pot to settle the grounds, as all three of them finished the last of their meal, Kros poured the now ready coffee, it would be good to have a hot drink and they had a long way to go before they would be rid of the Priests.

For two days the boys watched the Priests search the valley, they stayed well hidden as they watched, Kros was the one to notice that the Priests always went back close to the burnt cabin to spend the night time hours, their horses were staked out to feed about fifty yards from the camp.

The boys were well aware that the Priests knew they were in the valley somewhere but, as yet, they had not found out where. The boys settled down to make plans for their escape, hopefully on the next night when the Priests should be not only tired from their hunting but also a little bored with spending three days with no results.

On the third day, as they watched the Priests begin their search of the far end of the valley, the boys put the last of their escape plan together, Kros would use his skills to get to the horses, they already had one of their own and now only needed two more although Davi insisted he wanted one of his own, Grega finally got him to understand that the horses were too big for him to control in the dark of night.

Danil would take Davi close to the destroyed gateway and wait for the other two, Grega would crawl into the house and get what he could from the hidden cellar then close it up again, he would meet the others at the gate if all went well.

Both Grega and Kros had noticed that the Priests only mounted one guard at night and that the late guard would often fall asleep in the early hours of the morning, it was at this time they would make their bid for freedom.

As the sun sank on the third day, the boys checked their weapons and secured what little they had left from their stores, Grega took all the empty flour bags to refill while Danil carried the back pack with the extra ammunition, Kros would only take his shot gun and knife, his job was to be as silent as he could be and try to release all the horses while stealing two more.

Everything went exactly as planned for a change. Grega secured a lot of the food stuffs and managed to get to the gate before Kros appeared, he was slowly and quietly leading all the horses at a slow silent walk. Wwhen the morning came, the Priests would be on foot and the boys would be far away and heading towards the second of the hidden valleys prepared by the man Kros had killed two years before.

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