When Tob awoke the next morning on the pallet of leaves upon which he had nestled down to sleep the night before, Benda was nowhere to be seen. Assuming his new companion had gone off to heed the call of nature, Tob waited patiently for some time, grooming himself in the sunlight, absorbing its rays. Until, after more than ample time had pased, Tob began to consider the possibility that Benda was not coming back. Himself weary of the road, and all alone, this thought filled him with sadness.
Rather than brood on it though, he set out at once scurrying for traces of footprints left by Benda in his passing. It was one of the arts which Lam, in his kindness, had taught Tob in their time together. Tob was far from a master tracker, but he struck upon the trail rather easily, for Benda by all accounts was no master of evasion. And what’s more, Tob knew the general direction which Benda was most likely headed, towards his home in the fishing villages of Cannaxus, still far to the south. He did not understand, however, why Benda had departed without so much as a word. He felt certain this had been an oversight, and something must have caused Benda to wander off without farewell. He felt it was his responsibility to go to the aid of his new friend.
Tob himself was neither large nor swift. His little rootlet legs carried him as quickly along as they could. Though the trail was clear, his stride was short – he knew much shorter than a man’s. And try as he might, the heat of the sun bore down on him as he crossed the great open plains of Holmat, and he became weary. So much so that he eventually sat down, and though he did not mean to, he fell asleep.
In his slumber, a dream came to him. He stood as on a high hill, overlooking a vast plain. In the distance, the rays of the sun sparkled on the surface of the sea, and he heard far off the sound of gulls crying. The scene shifted and the sky grew dark with storm clouds coming from the east over the mountains. And he saw riders crossing down from the mountains on strange long-legged beasts which he did not recognize, with long iron spears, and red shields and banners. They bore the ensign of the Citadel, the First Kingdom of Kremel. Though a stranger to these parts, he knew it well enough.
In his vision, the sky opened, and from the storm clouds descended a bird of prey of treacherously large size. In its talons, it bore a great silver fish, which wriggled yet with life and struggled to break free. In the tumult, the bird lost its grip, and the great fish tumbled through the air, the bird diving after it to retrieve it. But it was no use, for the fish fell faster, and in Tob’s vision landed with a splash in a great lake, and dove deep below the surface, where the bird could not follow. It wheeled back up into the sky, and disappeared. Meanwhile, the mounted knights under the red banner of the Citadel crossed the great plain, and rode up to the far shore of that same great lake, and halted, looking out across its waters.
Tob awoke with a start. The day had fallen into afternoon, and his hat had slipped down, covering most of his many little eyes. He pushed it back into position, and sat up, blinking in the sun. He knew this place, knew of it, anyway – this lake. He had heard songs about it sung by the animals who lived along the Great River, down which he had traveled into this land. It was called Squamat in the tongues of men, after the ancient tribe who settled and fished along its shores since time immemorial. They were said to live in stilt houses out on the water to protect themselves from plains marauders of neighboring hostile tribes. It was there, Tob supposed, he would find Benda. Though he understood – perhaps transmitted to him through the secret wiles of far off Makkarin, that he was not the only one looking – and that he must make haste.
He closed his eyes then, and reached his rootlets down into the ground. Falling lightly and easily into trance, he sensed and sent out vibrations into the soil, and called upon the powers below the earth. His call fanned out among the networks of interlinked roots, worms, insects, and critters who lived in darkness, passing from creature to creature. It was a call of great need, and it was heeded by the listeners, for little though Tob’s size was, great was the power bestowed on him.
From far off, a gurjuk, a great swift sloping beast of these plains, a scavenger who still lived honest and free under the Old Ways was roused. Namelessly, wordlessly, it followed the summons of the soil, tracing it back towards Tob’s location, stranded in a sea of grass. Tob saw the beast slope out of the distance like a mirage at first, and then become steadily clearer and nearer, until it stood before him, towering over him, looking down with its great grey eyes with an indication of recognition. It knelt down and lowered its shaggy head before Tob with great respect, who reached up and caressed it once softly with his rootlets, before accepting the offer, and climbing up the beast’s snout and face, up over its crown and ears. He settled in in the long hair of its neck, and twisted his rootlets there to grab hold. And with a great leap, the beast streaked off over the plain toward the south.