Kugarr squatted beside him. He talked so softly that only Djarret understood him. “The men don’t want to eat dried meat no more, sir. Perhaps we should have a break and send out two more hunters.”
“You know the rules, Kugarr. Duty comes before physical well-being. As long as we still got more dried meat than the emergency ration, my hands are bound.”
Kugarr bowed his head. Behind him, Djarret could see the other men who had made themselves comfortable in the soft moss under the trees. A little further in, two shadows darted through the woods toward them.
Djarret immediately recognized them. He put his hand on Kugarrs shoulder. “Perhaps Servan and Jagumet were luckier this time. Look, they are back already.” He got up and waited for his hunters. Both sank to their knees in front of him.
Servan spoke first. “Forgive us, sir. Again, we come empty handed. It is as if we are under a witch’s spell.”
Jagumet agreed. “I am one of the best hunters of my people, and we find traces of many animals since we entered these woods. Nevertheless, we don’t even manage to see an animal.”
“Unicorns,” said the magician who sat beside a nearby tree. “If this is a unicorn’s wood, it explains everything.”
Djarret snapped at the magician. “You will only talk, if asked. Is that clear?”
The magician nodded. “Then, you don’t want to know about the army gathering at the edge of the forest?”
With one stride, Djarret stood next to him. He grabbed him by the arms and pulled him up. “Don’t twist the words in my mouth, parasite. I know people like you, and I have very little patience with them.” Satisfied, he registered that this time the magician was afraid. His arrogant self-assurance had given way to an expression of horror. It took Djarret a while to understand that the magician was no longer aware of him. The old man hung limp in his hands and looked right through him. He started to speak with a strange voice.
- “Five hundred, just,
but they can win,
with help from dragon, unicorn and magic stone.
With Djarret’s mind set,
ample blood will flow
and many a woman will stay alone at home.”
Djarret recognized his brother’s voice at once. Kervaal, he follows me! He let go of the magician who fell to the ground like a wet sack of flour. Djarret looked at Kugarr and ordered, “Get the men to sharpen their weapons. We’ve got work to do.” He turned to his hunters. “Servan and Jagumet, you will go to the edge of the forest and watch the approaching army.” He leant down to his magician who just regained consciousness. “You will never, ever again copy the voice of my brother, or I will kill you.”
The magician seemed confused. “Your brother?”
Djarret ignored his objection. “During the fight, you will use all your strength to protect my men.” He turned away from the magician and went to Kugarr to discuss tactics. He turned round after some steps and said to the magician, “Beware if we do not find an army waiting for us at the edge of the forest.”
One hour later, Servan led them to a place near the edge of the forest. Jagumet already waited for them. He bowed to Djarret and reported.
“At present, three hundred men are waiting, sir. But from their talk I learned that two hundred more follow at half day’s distance. A dragon helps them to transport people and material, but they don’t seem to have magicians or witches.”
Djarret’s eyes narrowed and he twisted his mouth into a crooked grin. “We can easily handle five hundred if they cannot use magic.” He turned to his magician. “Make sure that the dragon cannot attack us, and while you’re at it, try to find out which fighter carries Korosadja.
The magician nodded, and Djarret waved his warriors to follow him. He watched the enemy’s army through the leaves of the bushes that grew on the edge of the forest.
What a miserable heap. They wouldn’t be a match for us if they were twice as many.