He was travelling in the Mountains of Loathing when it happened. First the sound of hooves on the trail; behind him, not ahead. He drew rein and looked back.
Then the dreaded sound: the rattling of chains. They had found him. There was no time to waste. He spurred his horse on to a fast trot; the soft thumps quickened beneath him.
He turned a boulder and saw the trail like a straight thread leading to a pass. He glanced back: still out of sight. The trot became a full gallop. At the pass the empty trail danced behind him and vanished. He looked ahead again.
The trail wound smoothly for a mile or more; too far, no escape. But then, just before bolting by, he saw it: a pattern in the rocks, a mere furrow; to the right and upwards. He forced the horse away from the trail; they rushed up between the crags.
Just as the trail disappeared from his sight the sounds returned. He stopped, dismounted, and crept back. They were fourteen and two pack horses. At a steady trot they rode past the furrow without a glance.
He saw them vanish and reappear twice before they were gone. The silence was overwhelming; relief engulfed him.
When he regained his senses he heard a soft whinny and looked into the eyes of Ashmane.
He sat up. Never before had anyone escaped them. But had he? He decided to stay overnight. Which way should he choose tomorrow? To follow would be dangerous: they were known to retread a doubtful trail to make sure. To go back might be disastrous: they were known to split up and reunite. His eyes fell upon the crags and the peaks above. Maybe. Tomorrow.
He rose and caressed the large white steed. A long way: three years, always on the move. He wished he could have offered him a better life: wide plains and ease instead of dark roads and flight.
He led him back to the crags and removed the wrappers; they had saved them more than once. Ashmane scraped the gravel as always when he was rid of them. They were almost worn and needed mending.