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Valley of the Lost

The companions have faced many terrors with strength and courage. Now they are about to meet dark mysteries that strength and courage alone cannot defeat. If they fail, their quest will be lost, and they will remain forever trapped in the swirling mists of The Valley of the Lost.

Jasmine tossed her head as if to shake away unwelcome thoughts, and turned her attention to the goats by the bridge. "We will have to move slowly, so as not to startle the beasts," she said. "If they make a sound, all is lost."

"They must be used to people." Lief stared at the goats, at the small horns gleaming, the long, smooth hair. "But we should show ourselves to them now, while the moon shines. We will frighten them if we come at them in the dark."

He took a single step forward, then stopped abruptly, his eyes widening. One of the goats — there was something wrong with one of the goats! Its body seemed to be rippling, billowing outward like a ballooning sail.

Lief blinked rapidly. What trick of the moonlight was this? Now that he looked again, the goat was exactly as before. Yet — he felt Barda grip his arm, saw another of the goats quiver and alter, head stretching upward, body shuddering, before returning to its normal shape. Then he knew. He had just seen what Dain had called the Tremor.

"Ols!" he breathed. "They are not goats at all, but Ols!" His stomach turned over as he realized how nearly they had walked into the midst of the herd, all unsuspecting. How nearly they had met their deaths.

"They are guarding the bridge." Barda gritted his teeth in frustration. "What will we do?"

"One of us must lead them away, so that the other two can slip across," said Jasmine. "I will—"

Barda shook his head firmly. "There are far too many of them for that trick to work, Jasmine. Some will give chase, some will stay. And now I come to think of it, there were many water birds roosting on the other side of the bridge when I passed it on my way to the coast. More Ols, no doubt, though I did not realize it at the time. And surely they will be there still."

"Then we must go on," muttered Lief. "Move around the bridge, so that the Ols do not see us. Find another way across the river, further upstream."

"But there is no other way!" hissed Jasmine. "I cannot swim, you know that. And even if I could, the killer worms—"

"We cannot swim, but there are such things as boats," Barda broke in calmly. "We have money to pay for a crossing. Or we will make a raft. Anything would be better than fighting twenty Ols."

As silently as they had come, they crept away from the river and continued upstream, making a wide arc around the bridge. Now and then, through gaps in the trees, they caught glimpses of the goats still waiting, unmoving, in the moonlight.