Before long Arnol was riding on the back of the centaur. All around them the other beast-people were on the move. Their speed was astounding. Below them the ground rushed by as the centaurs galloped, the fauns ran and the harpies flew through the woods.

At last they slowed to a halt as the trees and vegetation began to grow thicker around them. “This is the edge of our territory,” the centaur told Arnol. “We have never been beyond this point, and we know nothing of the lands beyond our borders. We must stay here and watch over ours. I wish you good luck and good speed. If you find those you seek and return to our land again, we will speed you back across.”

Arnol expressed his gratitude and continued on his way. Once again the fear that he would be too late returned, driving him forward as fast as he could go. But this time he knew that pushing himself past his limit would help no one, so he paced himself and tried to rest when he needed to.

One of these times, as he halted to catch his breath, he looked back in the direction he had come to see one of the black beasts sniffing at his trail. There were others close behind. They must have tracked him all the way through the forest, following the tracks of the beast-people. Quickly Arnol hurried off through the trees, but the beasts caught sight or sound of him and charged his way. Arnol looked around frantically for a way of escape. Then suddenly he heard an excited shout from a nearby branch. “I found you! Heeheehee! I win! I win hide’n’seek!”

The tree-elves gathered above Arnol, chattering and laughing excitedly. “Help me,” he pleaded with them. “Beasts are trying to eat me!”

Right then a beast came out from behind a bush, only to stop in its tracks as a huge hard pine cone struck it on the snout. The elves laughed and threw more pine cones, as others helped Arnol up into the lower branches. The beast finally had to retreat due to the shower of missiles.

“Thank you for saving me,” Arnol said, “but I can’t stay. My people are in trouble. I have to find help. They’ll die without me!”

To his surprise the elves willingly let him go. “You taught us fun game. You go away and hide again, and we’ll find you. Now we’ll play with beasts, and keep them from eating you!”

Arnol crawled away through the trees as the elves kept the beasts busy. When he felt he was far enough away, he climbed down to the ground and began the last stretch of his journey to the city of the Immortals.


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