In this book, we follow the adventures of Gerren from his outpost on Lake Rathetear through the Rathe Mountains which have been taken by the Rallosian Army.
Gerren dressed simply. His task would require stealth and speed, for the aviaks reported bands of ogres patrolling the familiar paths through the Rathe Mountains. If Gerren were to break through their lines, he would need to blaze his own trail. And Gerren definitely needed to make his way through — he and fellow Guardsman Ilkalla had been at the Qeynos’ outpost on Lake Rathetear for several months while the Rallosian Army crept closer. Now, the Rallosians were building an enormous barge to carry them across the water.
Ilkalla pressed a dried gnoll’s foot into Gerren’s hand. “For luck,” she said. “I don’t know why, but we’ve always had that in our family; I want you to carry it with you on this journey.” Neither of them said it, but they both knew it was true: the likelihood of his making it through was the equivalent of the aviaks and centaurs holding the Rallosians off. They did not expect to see each other again. After a quick meal, Gerren took a little-traveled way up the face of the slope along the edge of the Lake.
“I can see now why this is travelled so infrequently,” Gerren muttered, pausing for a moment to catch his breath. The rocky mountain face was so steep that in some points, Gerren would need to retrace his steps to consider the options from several angles. Once, a slice of rock upon which he was perched gave way and he slid down quite a distance before being able to stop himself.
Three-quarters of the way up was a cleft in the rocks through which this path passed. The splintered boulders forming the opening folded over on the side facing the Lake, making it impossible to peer around. Gerren knew that if the Rallosians were already on the pathway beyond the rocks, he was doomed. There was no quick escape route. He unsheathed his knife and the gnoll’s foot Ilkalla had given him tumbled out, bouncing off the rocks down the face of the mountain.
“There goes the lucky gnoll’s foot,” Gerren thought, with a smile. Somehow, the idea that the foot of a dead creature could be lucky was amusing. He slipped through the cleft and found the way clear. Tension released in his neck, although he was still wary as he felt his way to another cluster of granite boulders marking another turn in the path.
Hill giants! Gerren leaned back into the boulders, blending himself into the rocks. The Rallosian Army was not the only thing in the Rathe Mountains, but hill giants were not usually found near this forlorn area. Perhaps they, too, had been displaced by the invading ogres. Gerren watched them as they milled around for several minutes before striding off down the narrow, featureless road.
Gerren waited until the sun was directly overhead before moving. There was a stretch of the passage with no easy alternative route — not that the ways he had been traveling had been easy at all. Still, with the sun above he would cast no shadows and might be able to slip undetected across the roadway. Even covered by his superior camouflage, Gerren knew that there were things he could do to make himself even less visible to his enemies.
The roadway was clear and Gerren slipped into the shadows of another clutch of boulders. He paused there to listen for the sounds of pursuit, but there was only silence. That in itself was worrisome, as there were usually birds trilling or insects buzzing. Gerren would even welcome the wuffing sounds of the great bears. “Everything must be hiding from the Rallosians,” he thought, “Perhaps I should get lower to the ground myself.”
Calming himself, Gerren spent a moment recalling the spells of transformation. He remembered amusing Ilkalla on their watches by changing himself into a wolf and padding around, sniffing things. He said a quick prayer for her and the small force by Lake Rathetear, then cast his spell. Energy rippled within him and he shook himself to spread it through to the very tips of his dark fur.
Gerren set off through the rocks, keeping always to the shaded side of the paths. The club that hit him in the back of his head was so quick and brutal that he did not feel a thing as he slumped lifeless to the ground. “Found something for dinner!” yelled the troll that had killed him. The gleeful yelps greeting this cry echoed through the otherwise watchful Rathe Mountains.