Thorgaut walked a little way into the wood but didn’t find anything of interest. The trail ended in a pile of bushes where the forest closed in and became too dense to continue. So, he turned around and headed back.
He walked back up the trail in the same direction he had come. After a few minutes, Thorgaut figured he had walked back out almost as far as he had into the woods. But he hadn’t yet come back to the edge of the clearing.
The trees became larger and grew closer together here. Thorgaut felt like he was heading even deeper into the woods. He hadn’t even walked that far into the woods. This was weird.
It was the second time today that he felt like he had lost his bearings. Even stranger because this path had only led in one direction. There hadn’t even been any forks in the trail for him to veer off in another direction. One path going into the woods. The only other direction to head was back up the trail and back to the edge of the plains.
Thorgaut looked around trying to get his bearings. There was nothing he could see that gave him any sense of location. For all he knew, he could have been walking in just about any direction.
He looked up and could see a little light in the sky. But here under the trees, it was almost too dark to keep walking. Soon he wouldn’t be able to see where he was going.
It was cold and Thorgaut shivered. It would be best to make a fire while there was still light. He found a place to hunker down for the night between the roots of a large tree. He wanted to have his back against something solid.
He gathered some dead branches that were lying around. He pulled some dead leaves and bramble together as his starter. The flames licked up around the edges of the leaves and started to burn. He scattered some twigs on top of the leaves in a criss-crossed fashion. They were a little damp from the forest floor and let off smoke as they started to heat up. It caused Thorgaut to cough and turn his head to the side
Once those started to burn, he tossed on some larger twigs and small branches. A small fire soon blazed cheerily as Thorgaut warmed his hands and face. He broke several good sized branches and tossed them on as well. They would burn up quickly though, so he needed to cut some good sized logs to bank his fire. That way he could keep it burning through the night.
He found a dead tree that had fallen over and set to work chopping it up. He started on the smaller end as it was closer to the fire and he had more light to see what he was doing. He could chop it faster and toss it on to make the fire bigger. That would give him more light to see by to cut up the rest of the wood he needed.
It was hard work and he was soon sweating from the exertion. After a bit, he stopped to put some of the wood on the fire and warm his hands.
The greedy flames immediately licked up over the edges of the larger logs. The leaped and feasted merrily on the freshly-cut wood as the light flickered over his face. He sat down and leaned back against the tree to relax his weary body for a few minutes. He rested for a bit, and then went back to cut more wood to last him for the rest of the night.
Thorgaut piled the wood up close to where he planned on sleeping. Then he settled down and pulled his coat closer around him to protect himself from the chill. It was the end of summer, and the nights were getting cooler. He was also farther North than he had ever traveled before.
He also longed for the companionship of his friends and sighed. roasted the partridge he had shot earlier and enjoyed a nice warm meal. He drank some water from his canteen. Then he leaned back and relaxed against the tree.
Thorgaut had just started to drift off when there was a loud scream. A woman’s scream. Close.
He jerked awake and sat up. Had he been dreaming? Or was there really a woman around. The flames had died down a bit. He must have slept for at least a little while.
Thorgaut pushed the logs on the fire closer together. The ends had burned and there was space between them. As soon as he pushed them all together again, the flames burst back up in joyful dance once more. Thorgaut picked up a couple more logs and tossed them on top of the fire.
He waited for a bit but didn’t hear anything else. The flames continued to rise and cast their flickering shadows over the trees in an eerie dance.
Thorgaut looked around carefully in all directions. After a minute or so, he decided that it must have been a dream. He realized that he had been holding his breath. He chuckled and let it out with a sigh of relief. He gulped in a long breath of fresh refreshing oxygen.
He walked back over to the tree to settle back down to sleep again. He had just gotten comfortable when he heard the voice again.
“Help! Help me!”
It seemed to be coming back down the trail. Deeper in the woods from the way he had come.
Thorgaut stood up slowly and took a few steps down the path. He didn’t feel like running off down the trail in the dark and getting lost again. But he couldn’t leave a screaming woman out there alone in the dark.
He sighed and looked back at his warm fire. He went back and tossed several more logs on the fire so it would blaze higher. Then he turned and started walking down the trail.
He walked a little way, turning his head to make sure he could still see the fire flickering safely in the distance. After a while though, he reached a point where he couldn’t see the fire any longer between the trees.
Thorgaut stopped and walked back a few paces till he could see the flames again between the trees. Now he was in a dilemma. If he continued on, he could get lost and not be able to find his way back to the fire.
The moon had finally risen. He could see it through the tops of the trees. It didn’t cast enough light for him to continue walking into the dark. It was safer here where he could get back to his fire quickly if needed.
Thorgaut considered the possibility that the screams could be a trap. Someone trying to get him away from the fire and out into the dark. Unable to see, he would be easy prey.
He considered yelling, so she could come to him. But he didn’t like that idea because he didn’t know who she was nor what she needed help from. And if something was attacking her, would know what he was there too.
Thorgaut preferred to keep the element of surprise. But, he knew he couldn’t risk walking deeper into the forest in the dark. So, he decided to yell.
“Hey! Hello? Anyone there?” Thorgaut shouted. “Where are you? What’s going on?”
“Please! Help me!” he heard again. The voice closer this time. It wasn’t far away. Thorgaut took a few steps deeper into the woods.
“I’m over here,” he yelled. “Come this way!”