"Hey there old fella," Arawn ran his hand across the dog’s head. "You gave me quite a scare."
The hound barked and skittered away.
"Down boy, keep it down," Arawn hushed the dog. "You'll bring them here if you make such noise."
It did not understand but barked again. The hound ran over to the wall near the fireplace, opposite of where Arawn had just been hidden. It sat and whined, then put its head down between its paws.
"What's there boy?" Arawn asked, "What do you see?"
The dog just whined and thumped its tail as Arawn spoke. What did it see, he wondered, but first he moved back. Leaning against the wall, the large brick hearth separating him from the dog, Arawn drew his sword. He would not be trapped again with it undrawn.
Arawn sheathed his knife and looked at his swollen feet. They'd begun to bleed again, a toe was bluish black, sometime last night he'd broken it but he couldn't remember when. The left foot had just two long cuts across the soles. He must have hurt it first then leaned on the right to carry him through the woods.
"What a mess," he said to the dog. "And I still have my boots." He shook his head. "Daghdha what a foolish student you have, can't remember to put on boots to walk through a wood at night."
His knife made short work of the rug that had kept him warm during the night. He cut a pair of ragged bandages for his feet, wrapping them tight and careful. The swollen foot would take his weight but only if he walked with care.
Arawn hobbled across the floor, his drawn sword was a burden. He yearned to use it as a crutch, but would not treat it so. There were no sturdy lengths of wood among the debris to use, Arawn stumbled and twisted awkwardly and nearly stabbed the hound as he reached its side.
The dog barked at him and scratched at the wall. Arawn looked where the hound's claws had dug. He leaned his shoulder against the wood and gave it a rap with the pommel of his sword. It gave out a hollow sound, some open space must be here, he thought.
"What is in there?" Arawn said aloud. The dog barked but could tell him nothing else. There was no sign of latch or hinge, he could not even see a line or groove where the wall ended and the door began.
"An axe would be better suited for this work," he told the dog. He brought his sword down along the grain, it took several strikes to make it split, but then a long wedge fell free.
A strong stench assailed him, meat left out to rot. The hound barked and jumped, it struck the wall and sought to put its head into the room beyond.
"Down old fella, down," Arawn pushed it back. He struck the door again and an entire corner dropped away. He must have sprung the lock, it opened at the blow. Inside there was a dark space taller than the cupboard in which he'd hidden but only deeper by a foot or so. A body lay crumpled on the ground, dead, there could be no doubt, and begun to stink.
The hound pushed past him and poked its muzzle against the lifeless form. It whined and lay with head atop the dead man’s legs.
"Come on there," Arawn pulled the dog away. "Let him be."
The body was that of an elderly man. He had a bald head and a long grey-white beard. An arrow stump was still in his chest, Arawn could find no other wound when he dragged him from the hidden space. The man had worn rough hunters’ garb, he had a large dagger at his belt and several pouches too. Arawn hated to rob the dead, but the need to survive left such niceties soon abandoned.
Fishhooks were in one pouch, and line with round lead weights in another. The dagger was thin and curved, no huntsman, this man, but some fisher come to try the river. Arawn saw no sheath for sword, if the man had born some other weapon he had not taken it into hiding with him. A quick check of the hidden space showed only a small wooden box that the body had leaned against and kept from view. Arawn almost laughed when he opened it, proper bandages and herbs, a tinder box, and medicines made from root and bark and wild plants.
Arawn sat upon the floor, the old hound by his side. He'd moved away from the dead man’s body and taken the small wooden chest with him to the hearth. He'd need water to boil some of these dry herbs but he chewed upon a tough and bitter strip of willow bark to soothe his aching head, and with luck to stop the swelling in his foot. He gingerly took the rags from off his feet, they were soaked with blood. There was no water to wash them clean but inside the chest was a large pouch of salt. He bit down upon the bark and rubbed the thick granules along the cuts, they stung and burned like hot coals from a forge. He wrapped his feet, this time in clean white lengths of cloth, then cut the rug again for rags. He would have to fetch some water from the spring and build a fire. Arawn eyed the grisly skeleton impaled on the turning spit. He would take what he had gathered and set his fire outdoors, regardless of the nymph and her pet demon. Let them come, he'd fight them or anything. He would not hide from them again.
Smoke drifted up lazily from the small fire. Arawn sat upon a tree stump and watched the water boil in the pot, he sprinkled in a pouch of herbs taken from the medicine chest he'd found.
"At least they smell good," he said to the hound. The dog had adopted him. It followed close wherever he would go. "Funny thing, old dog, it's not for drinking."
Arawn put his head above the steaming pot. He inhaled the fragrant broth and sneezed. His head was clear at last and his aching feet bound within his boots. He felt refreshed, but weary, his night’s rest had not been half enough.
"Dog, we're going," The hound gave a bark. "I will have to change that noisy habit of yours." Arawn turned and looked toward the lodge. "I wish I could put your master to a proper rest, but fire is the best that I can do."
He took a burning limb from the small fire that he'd lit and hobbled over to the river side of the lodge. The rug he'd slashed apart lay half through an open window. Around it, inside the hall, were piled the shattered fragments of chairs and tables, bits of cloth and firewood from a stack lying unused outside.
The glowing ember was cherry-red as Arawn blew away the ash. He held it to the rug and watched it begin to flame. Once afire he used the stick to push the rug back over the windowsill and onto the gathered tinder. Dark smoke began to stream from the window, then an orange glow. Arawn tossed the stick into the lodge as flames shot through the smoke.
"This fire will bring any searchers for miles around," Arawn told the hound. "Let's get going. Come on, we have a hill to climb. Maybe I can find my pack."
Arawn cut a stout staff from the bole of a young tree. He used t to propel himself along, but frowned at the trail he left behind. "Dog between your paws and my feet we will be as easy to follow as an hob. The bracken will mask us to an untrained eye, but any woodsmen worth their keep will spot our trail like footprints in a field of snow."
The woods were wild and overgrown around the lodge. Arawn led the hound up across the ledge that overlooked the water to their left. It was a steady climb, but not very steep or hard, yet soon the river was far below and the ledge became a cliff. A jutting curve that overhung the path along the riverbank was just ahead.
"Here it is," Arawn said, relieved. He found his pack, a quiver and the dogmanish bow, undisturbed. "Dog I wish that you could carry some of this. The Crowhorns," Arawn mused aloud. "I will need more supplies than these."
He sat on the ledge and looked back downstream. A huge pillar of dark smoke leaned to one side where the wind pushed at it, but he could see no movement in the trees, nothing stirred below.
"Draupnir's mine, maybe they have survived. Hells, what do I know, maybe the lowlands have beaten the monsters back, and Finnian's Keep survived, but no, they at least must have fallen if the hobs and dogmen made it through."
The hound lay beside him and put its head across his knee. Arawn brushed its back and it beat its tail with a rapid thrump upon the ground. "Dog, what should I do, listen to some dream, but I have no better course in mind." Arawn used the staff to stand and gathered up the packs and bow, they weighed him down. "Come then, Dog, it's to Draupnir's first, then... who knows where, maybe Draupnir can tell us more of where to go and what to do."