The whistle was long and sharp, sliding upwards before dropping abruptly. Silence answered it, so it sounded again, with the same result. The man responsible for the noise sighed and wiped at his lips, a nervous habit. He still wasn’t used to creeping about in the dark, for all he should have been. Wolf, on the other hand, was a natural at it. Then again, being a dog, it came with the territory. And the beast had once again managed to outpace him by some distance. Must have found someplace civilised though, if he was keeping quiet. That, or he was out of hearing range. Either way, he’d be along sometime, sooner or later. Probably later if he was too far away to hear the whistle, and his feet were tired. So… He’d wait for him right where he was. No point approaching strangers in the middle of the night, and if there weren’t sturdy roofs nearby, then he may as well find a tree to sleep under. Cialdan did just that after a moment’s pause to look around. The weather seemed as likely to turn chill as to turn wet, and the ground was strewn more with rock than soil. It would make for unpleasant weather and a lumpy bed, but he tried his best anyway, choosing shelter over the risk of sap on his clothes when he found a heavily boughed pine and crawled under its branches to curl up on the fallen needles beneath. His stomach was empty, he could feel it complaining about that, but it was too dark to be fiddling around in his bag. Not that he didn’t already know what was in it, nothing that would bite, thankfully, but there were a few small pieces that might fall out and be left unnoticed if he wasn’t careful. Besides, he’d gone hungry before, a night without wasn’t going to kill him, though it might make his rations last longer before he had to rely on Wolf for dinner. He didn’t trust the kindness of strangers. Not in the lowlands here. Dangerous enough skirting the edges, if he was caught here and found out, they’d probably kill him just as soon as feed him. Either way, he wouldn’t make it back home. But this was as much his land as theirs. More, really, since they’d taken it by force and he’d not wanted to give it up. So, he might have been skulking, and he might have been risking his hide, but it was his own hide to risk, and he couldn’t work the magic he needed to if he didn’t know the place he was trying to effect. Worth the sacrifice. Wrapping his cloak around him, Cialdan set his back against the trunk and used his pack as an impromptu pillow. He had to shift it around a bit before he’d moved most of the hard lumps away from his head, but it wasn’t perfect. It never was. For all his years of travelling, he’d never once found a bed more comfortable than his own straw mattress. Maybe he just forgot about its lumps while he was away from it… He was just settling into a doze, drifting further towards sleep when snuffling and scuffling stirred his wariness awake and he reached a slow hand towards the knife he’d rather stupidly left in his boot, where it was little use to him unless he could reach it. But he needn’t have bothered. The warm body that wriggled itself in between his arms was no threat. Though its breath stank, and he pushed the dog away with a grimace. The end result had him hugging Wolf’s rump, which wasn’t much better, but at least the enthusiastic beast had stopped wagging his tail as soon as he was settled, and Cialdan could go back to drifting. His fingers absently sliding down the sturdy back to dig themselves into the coarse fur around the dog’s neck. Better than a warm blanket, the dog’s presence let him relax and he was asleep within minutes, trusting that it would alert him to anything strange or dangerous approaching. Tomorrow… Tomorrow they could keep going together, find where Wolf had been, figure out where to go from there. After breakfast… The light was still spreading, creeping after shadows, when he stirred awake and stretched stiffly. Wolf had moved away sometime in the night and was chewing at his paws while he waited. Now and again he lifted his head to glance, not at his master, but at the pack beneath his head, where the food was. He knew what he wanted, he did. Cialdan huffed at him, but sat up and started to arrange their breakfast anyway. With the sun up, it was time to be moving. He tossed the meat to Wolf and chewed on a roll stuffed with sausage and cheese as he used his free hand to brush the needles off his clothes and worry at the sap he’d known would find its way onto his cloak. When he was satisfied he was needle free, he swung the bag over his shoulder and set out again, in a westerly direction. He didn’t follow any road, and wouldn’t even if the way was rough elsewhere. Strangers walked on roads, and he had no plans on meeting any, if he could help it. He didn’t want strangers to have faces, or names. The morning mists of late autumn curled around his feet as he went through the trees, and they quickly swallowed Wolf’s grey form. The dog didn’t know where he was going, but then, neither did he, really. So, they moved slowly but surely, Wolf covering more ground than Cialdan, until late morning found the dog bounding back to its master playing with a bit of wood. Curious, he called him over and took the stick from his mouth only to find that it had been worked by hands, shaped and carved. So, there were people about. Of course, the lowlanders seemed numerous enough that you couldn’t go far without running into one or another of their settlements, but he’d thought he was close enough to the border to avoid any town large enough to have craftsmen. Either he was losing his sense of direction, or they’d moved closer than anyone else had thought. Frowning, he waved the strut in front of Wolf’s muzzle. “Where away, boy? Let’s go.” Whether or not he could make use of this settlement, he at least needed to mark its place and size for his future explorations, so as to avoid any trouble. And note any changes between now and whenever he returned. It was always good to know how bold your enemy was growing. If they wanted to take any more land… With a bark that was more breath than sound, Wolf spun at the command and led Cialdan a ways off the course he’d set. The trees thinned as they went, the dog patiently stopping every few yards to let its master catch up and then springing away again. The mist, however, clung to the soil with a greater tenacity than he’d come to expect of the sodden air. The sun was up, no clouds in sight, but it struggled to disperse the mist. It tried to tug at his ankles and hid stones that turned underfoot, the weather was ever against him. Still, eventually, he made out a stone wall in front of him, just as Wolf leapt over it and vanished. Tumbled in, he found when he reached it. Not a field barrier, but a toppled house wall. The roof had rotted away, and the stones were starting to grow moss. But not much. He didn’t need to look farther to know what Wolf had found him. The low folk didn’t make walls out of stone. They used brick and mortar. Or wood. This was an old homestead of an Erre family. Abandoned when the war was lost, or, more likely, while it was still being fought. He sat on the wall, leaning against a section still more upright than not, and whistled Wolf back to him before tossing the stick. Without any evidence, he couldn’t have said if it was time or the people of Regalia who’d turned the house into a ruin. With no one to visit it, there’d been no one to look after it either, to change the roofing when it started rotting, to block the cracks or close the door against the weather. He and Wolf stayed there through noon towards evening, as he half-heartedly tried to set as much right as he could. There was no real point to the work, they’d not be staying, but he couldn’t help wanting to at least clear away some of the vegetation and make use of the hearth one last time before the house vanished into the grove. Old traditions were hard to let go.