Once they were out of sight of Dale, Gwilym and Grainne held a hasty discussion. “The roads are no longer safe,” said Gwilym. “That Dale might tell him which way we went after all. He is scared of the knight. We have to hope we have at least a day before Palomides hears where we are. By then, we need to be off these main roads and traveling along open country to
Glastonbury. We should be
safe once we arrive there.”
“These carts won’t be much good in the open country. Too many hills, valleys and rivers. Do you know the country here?” asked Grainne.
“I know the main roads. They cut through forests on our way here. I don’t know if there are secondary tracks through them.”
“I know the forests. If you can get us to the forests, I can keep us safe,” said Grainne.
A few hours later they saw a track leading off the main road that showed promise of being more than just a farmer’s drive. They took this and then began an odyssey of tracking their way back and forth across the countryside, through farms and hamlets, around rivers and forests, up and down hills, fording small streams, backtracking around the occasional steep valleys but always heading generally west.
Whenever they approached a settlement or even a farm, Gwilym would hide under covers in the back of the cart. His face was on the coin and he didn’t want to attract attention to their group. The sight of a beautiful woman alone in a cart attracted different attention and Bleddyn would sometimes have to stand and draw his bow to discourage the lewd advances.
They traveled this way for a week, making slow progress toward their destination. Then they reached the edge of a great forest, one that was known to all as a dangerous place, pierced by only one Roman road from east to west and another from north to south. There were other trails reputed to be stalked by bandits. It would take two days to pass through the forest using the main roads. People spent the night at the crossroads where there was a small settlement and a contingent of the king’s soldiers. This was the place Gwilym had stayed on his trip from Huish to Airmyn.
“Palomides may wait for us there,” said Gwilym to Grainne.
“That’s good,” said Grainne.
“Then we can take the Roman road almost to the crossroads, skirt around it and return to the road later.”
Gwilym thought about this and but was concerned about the logic. “But that’s only if he knows we must come this way. He doesn’t know our destination. No. Thinking about it more, I think he’ll place some trusted henchman there while he continues patrolling the roads to find us.”
“No-one has seen you since Edithvale. How will he find us?”
“At Edithvale they saw who I was traveling with. He’ll be spreading the word about you, the boys and the two carts. He probably went down the road that Dale pointed until he reached a settlement and asked there. He would have found out we didn’t come through. Then he would have gone back to the fork and done the same thing down the other road. We didn’t pass through any settlement before we went off the road. If he’s a good tracker he would have gone back to the fork and started making circles on his horse, stopping at every farm and asking about us. Eventually he would have come to places that had seen us and figured out our direction.”
“Where is he now then?”
Gwilym thought hard for a while in silence. “He may have figured out by now which direction we are traveling and that we must pass through this forest. The forest is the neck of the bottle. We either go through it on the road or around it. It will be easy for him to post a few sentries at some points around it looking for us to skirt it and one at the crossroads to catch us there. He hates to stand still so he will be patrolling the roads and outskirts.”
“Then we are in danger here. We can only be safe taking one of the old tracks through it.”
“That’s dangerous. They’re a haven for bandits.”
Grainne pointed at the trees. “That’s an oak forest. I can protect us there.”
“Do you know any paths wide enough for these carts?”
Grainne looked at the carts. “With a little work, probably. Follow me, Bleddyn!” she yelled behind her and crossed the last bit of open field and plunged the horses into the dark.
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