explosion of spray. He sank deep under the surface but there was no sign of the bottom. In fact, the river at this point was at least fifteen meters deep. Then, with an enormous sense of relief that he had survived the drop, he began to claw his way back up. His left knee had been twisted and wrenched by the impact with the water, and a lance of pain shot through him as he kicked for the surface. He cried out, swallowed water and remembered too late to keep his mouth shut. His head broke the surface and he gasped for air, coughing and spluttering, swimming sideways to ease the pain in his knee as he stroked weakly for the bank.
On the hillside, the pursuers had stopped as the cloaked figure hurled himself off the bluff. They were familiar with the territory and knew the river lay below. Now they paused, but a voice from above directed them.
“He’s in the river! Cut round the bottom of the hill and head him off!”
Several of the quicker-witted among them saw the gesticulating figure, whom they took to be the scout sent out during the night. He was waving them back and to one side, and they realized the sense of what he was saying. There was no point continuing to the top unless they wanted to jump after their quarry. Back down the hill and round to the riverbank was the quickest way.
“Come on!” shouted a burly dog handler. “Get to the riverbank!”
He gestured for his dogs to lead, and he ran, following them. All it took was one man to start the movement and the others followed. Halt watched with satisfaction as the knot of men plunged back downhill, angling off to the left to reach the riverbank below the bluff.
As the last of them disappeared from view, Halt clicked his fingers twice. Abelard stepped clear of the rocks where they had sheltered through the night. He swung easily up onto his horse’s back. Abelard twisted his head to look accusingly at his master, taking in the greasy woolen jacket that had belonged to Colly.
“I know,” Halt said resignedly. “But his socks were even worse.”
He set Abelard to a lope and they moved quickly down the hill. As they reached the cover of the trees, Halt did a strange thing. Instead of turning east, toward Redmont, he swung Abelard’s head northwest, back to the fishing village. Again, Abelard turned his head to look inquiringly at his master. Halt patted the shaggy mane reassuringly.
“I know. There’s something I need to attend to,” he said, and Abelard tossed his head. So long as his master knew what he was doing, he was content.
Farrell, the leader of the Outsiders group, was having an uncomfortable time trying to calm the villagers. They were openly suspicious that he and his people had played a hand in the unsuccessful raid on the boats. As Farrell tried to reassure them that he knew nothing about the raiders, he could sense their disbelief growing.
Might be time to move on, he thought. He could allay their suspicions for a short time, but in the long run, it would be safer to take what they had gained so far and try their luck elsewhere.
“Wilfred,” he was saying now to the village head man, “I assure you that my people are innocent of any wrongdoing. You know us. We’re just simple religious folk.”
“Funny how all these troubles have started since you ‘simple religious folk’ have turned up, though, isn’t it?” Wilfred said accusingly.
Farrell spread his hands in a gesture of innocence. “Coincidence, my friend. My people and I will pray for you and your village to be protected from further misfortune. I assure you—”
There was the sound of a scuffle outside the entrance to the pavilion that Farrell was using as a headquarters and main center of worship. Then a bearded stranger burst through the entrance. At least, Farrell thought he was a stranger. Then he realized there was something familiar about him.
The newcomer was shorter than average height, dressed in simple brown leggings and boots and a dull green jacket.