Lugh had not slept, but he felt refreshed after his night under the stars. I wonder if Oatie will be there when I get back. I wonder if she’s stolen what I have of value and gone? Lugh wasn’t very concerned about that possibility. There’s no way she could carry it all, besides I could run her to ground in half a day anyway, he thought as he slipped silently through the young trees toward the campsite.
There was no sign of Oatie save the remains of a neat hearth and his backpack, packed and sitting with breakfast atop it and his other things neatly arranged. Ah see? All is forgiven. Still, Lugh sniffed the biscuit before taking a bite. No need to risk a poisoning with carelessness. But it was as he suspected, perfectly safe and delicious.
Lugh could not help whistling a little tune as he shouldered his pack, and followed the path he and Oatie had been traveling. He took the precaution of looking for sign that she had indeed continued ahead and there on the path he saw her tread, here a scuff where she turned back to see if he followed, there a careless step in a low moist spot at the edge of the path. Lugh was well satisfied that Oatie was apologizing in her own way and making it impossible for him to miss her trail. Good and good, I’ll just let her stew for awhile and close the distance in the afternoon when she will be missing me most, he thought to himself.
The day was warm, too warm, thought Lugh and his pack heavy, too heavy, she’s put all the pots in my pack so I guess I’m paying for my breakfast anyhow, Lugh fumed. Yet again he tied his bow atop the pack instead of carrying it along with his belted short, leaf-bladed, sword. Having his hands free let him ease the strain on his shoulders.
Then, when he was thinking far more of a stopping for a break than of catching Oatie, he saw her, rounding the next ridge. He stepped off the trail into the undergrowth and watched as she gazed back the way she had come. Looking for me, no doubt, and only a few minutes ahead now. When Oatie turned back to her way and walked out of sight Lugh redoubled his pace to close the distance, perhaps she’ll have lunch too, when I catch her, he thought.
Soon he was puffing and sweating under the weight of the pack and the climb to the turn around the ridge where he’d seen Oatie not an hour before. His legs ached as did his back and he all but groaned his relief as he topped the rise and looked down into the vale below. And there she is, and stopped in the shade too. I needn’t have hurried, she’s given up the chase as it is, thought Lugh.
Below, he saw Oatie, fiddling with her pack. Where she kneeled seemed heavily wooded and so an odd place for her to do her Norfolk sphere planting, but she had her sling in hand. Likely she just needs an excuse to let me catch her, Lugh surmised. He started to move into the undergrowth the better to watch and go unseen.
Oatie began to whirl her sling and only then did Lugh see dark figures begin to rise from the undergrowth to his right and down the hill. She released and there was a howl from one of the creatures separating from the woods and bramble. Oatie bent and snatched up another stone. There, laid over the top of her piled stones, Lugh noticed her copper dagger spear, fixed and ready.
Lugh dumped his pack and tore into it to free himself of the burden and retrieve the things he needed. Long training for hunting and war made stringing his bow a matter of a moment. He shrugged his quiver loosely over a shoulder and drew out an arrow even as he glided down the hill toward attack directed at his friend. He watched as Oatie released another bullet from her sling to smack loudly into one of the foe. The thing didn’t even howl as it crumpled and fell to the ground, that’s my girl, thought Lugh. He took aim at the fur covered back of of one of the monsters and released. Confident of his skill, he was already reaching for another arrow as the first shaft sped toward its target.