They hadn’t gone far when they realized the deception. The wood, which had appeared inconsequential without, was a world of dense foliage, rustlings, and shadows within. Trees loomed miles above their heads. The horses stumbled over roots and tripped through bracken. They couldn’t turn around.
The original path had somehow vanished; when they looked back, they couldn’t tell where they’d been. The distress of the men was obvious. William the Rash looked for the break of light he’d seen. Ondred did his best to maintain a bored expression.
The King’s mount stumbled over a hidden root and went down on one knee. William tumbled to the ground and rose, cursing. Drawing his sword, he began to slash blindly. The ivy, heavy as fabric, fell in a wide swath and exposed a path on the other side.
“By all the gods!” shouted Anjhest.
The men stared.
The King walked through the opening and stamped his foot on the well-packed earth.
“Well, well,” William made no attempt to hide his relief. “This path is so worn it could lead to a privy. Let us hope the birds have had enough privacy to breed.”
“In all likelihood,” observed Ondred, “we will be led straight to the robber’s den.”
“Adventure at last!” Creath, riding up from the rear, brandished his sword wildly. A pair of leather gloves attached to his belt came loose and went sailing through the air, landing in a prickly bush. He did not deign to pick them up, but urged his horse ahead until he was abreast with the King.
The path was broad enough for two and the party set off at a lively pace. After a bit, they halted to rest and water their horses at a small stream. Some time later, they stopped to water them again. It was now well into the afternoon.
“This is a damned long path,” remarked Dinnisee. “I’ll be glad to see the end of it.”
“I agree,” said Gerlatch. “As of this moment, I’d divide my lands to be at home and at table.”
“Silence!” growled the King and would have said more but Creath interrupted with a strangled shout.
“What is it, man?” asked Dinnisee. He looked at Creath, then looked at the direction he was pointing. “Did you see a ghost?”