Benda and Eradus greeted the goleks with joy. Though it had only been a few days since they had parted, there on the Plain of Edeb, it seemed to Benda as though it had been lifetimes. In some sense, it had. Apart from a few lost moments of the storms-at-sea which brought him bodily into and out of that other land, his memory seemed almost fully recovered now. He could recall his full trip to Quatria, and his life before.
Dema and Selef nuzzled Benda and Eradus fondly, and spoke in their soft language, of which Benda had not yet developed comprehension.
“They say their kings have come back to them,” Eradus translated, laughing.
Benda looked at the wise face of the sable golek, Machef, and said to him — quite certain he could understand human speech — “The Old Man above sends his warmest regards.”
Machef bowed his head low, in recognition.
“Come,” a deep voice resounded in Benda’s mind. But no words had been spoken aloud by those present.
“Who?” Benda said. “Where?”
Machef turned his head, indicating the way back they had come. “There is little time,” the voice said.
“You!” said Benda. He looked at Eradus, who was smiling, and seemed unsurprised. Though Benda’s memory had returned, he had never encountered a mindspeaker before. Eradus, evidently, had.
“Let’s go,” Eradus said, mounting Selef. “He’s right. We can talk later.”
Benda, likewise, mounted Dema, and the three goleks set off at a run as the sun rose.
Far above, though they did not see it (Benda felt it, almost as though it were an itching in his mind), a lone eagle watched their progress across the plain, back toward the Arches of Passing. It was the only escape route from the island, and there was no question they would use it to pass back to the mainland of Kremel. From there, the eagle knew, the travelers would have to pass back through his country on their way south. And in that place, his power was greatest. Their capture was all but certain.
When they arrived at the Arch, Machef turned his gaze skyward, but said nothing. Benda sensed the presence, but did not speak either. Eradus and Selef passed back through the Arch first, and Benda with Dema followed close behind. Machef brought up the rear.
When they landed, all of a sudden, there was a flash of great wings which seemed for an instant to cover up the sun. They startled, and Eradus made to draw his sword. But instead of great talons unfurled to strike, they saw the curved neck, stilt legs, and wide wings of a great heron, which landed silently on the water’s edge down below the platform of the Arch. They watched it for a moment, transfixed, as it waded there. It’s head struck down into the water suddenly, and up with it came a tiny fish, which it gobbled without comment.
Machef said, his voice booming softly in their minds, “Any other creature but she would be killed in the Electric River. She alone, with her purity, can wade in it. Let us be off.”
And with a leap, the sable golek left the platform and bounded ahead of the others, taking the lead. Dema bearing Benda followed, with Eradus and Selef in the rear. They ran for many long hours. Not toward the Castle of Edebia, and the Fourth King (who had sent them on the errand to the Cloud Spire in the first place), but into the wooded hills west of there. They traveled, where they could, under the shadow of the trees, trusting that the eyes of the eagle would have a harder time penetrating into that foliage, to track their progress. Where the foliage thinned out, they made hard runs, using trees as relays, and kept always a jagged, unpredictable course.
And still the eagle tracked them silently over-head. When it would lose them in thick growth, its great height and vantage point would again eventually find them. It knew it was only a matter of time.
Goleks, especially when they know that they are being hunted, do not relish being out in the open. Countless generations of domestication have enabled them to overcome — for the most part — their innate fear of being without cover (or their utility to their human partners would be limited). But in the deepest, wildest part of their minds, when true fear or terror struck them, they would always seek out the nearest burrow or cover they could find. Machef, however, was different. On the Isle of Edeb, where his people lived for centuries or perhaps millenia before it collided with the Kremellian peninsula, there were no natural predators. As a result (and partly on account of their size, which significantly exceeded that of their mainland cousins), the sable goleks were remarkably courageous, and Machef — a warrior — especially so.
Throughout their flight, though Dema and Selef grew tired, and at times, the natural edge of their fear crept in close to them, Machef called out to them in the soft language of the goleks, which they all shared, despite their geographically diverse roots. He spoke as if in song, and Benda could sense that when they heard him thus, they were able to put away their fear for a while longer, and pass through their fatigue to run a while longer. Benda knew this, for he too felt the same on hearing it.
Otherwise though, they did not make conversation among themselves. Eradus, who had seemingly fully recovered by now from his excesses of the night before, rode with expertise on the back of Selef. Benda, however, did his best to remain astride, due to his much more limited experience riding goleks. Dema was understanding and gentle though, and never let him fall, always adjusting herself carefully if he were coming close to a tumble. Benda thanked her for this repeatedly, patting and stroking her neck as they flew through the woods and brushlands, and ever deeper into the hills.
It was late in the afternoon before Machef brought them to a halt in a deep, dark copse in the heart of a maze of trees and alleys. They had not seen the sun, or much of the sky for close to an hour, Benda reckoned. Machef inclined his head for them to dismount, and they did so.
Everyone was exhausted, except for perhaps Machef, whom Benda noted, appeared to show no signs of fatigue.
“Machef,” Benda asked. Machef gave him a sharp look, as if to hush him. And Benda continued only in a much lower whisper, “Why?” he said. “Why do you help us so?”
“Raisla,” whispered Eradus, coming close.
Machef nodded, silently.
“To Dema and Selef, we are raisla. As is Machef to them.”
“One family,” spoke Machef, in his deep silent voice, which they heard not with their ears, but in their minds or hearts.
“It is so,” he said. “Now rest. At dark, we go to the Place Below.” And so they ate and drank a little, and napped fitfully under the dark boughs of the trees, and the eagle could not see them, and knew not their precise location, but was certain he would catch them, no matter where they came out into view again, on their way over the mountains and into Holmat.