The day had steadily become overcast and Dar was finally forced to begin searching for a place to stop and keep dry. Thankfully, they had reached an area in the Downs that Ruh was familiar with and it didn’t take too long to find a nice, warm cavern where they could wait out the storm. Silently, the two men went about their accustomed duties, Dar foraged for firewood while Tao gathered as many fruits and nuts as he could. On his third trip out, as he collected a pouchful of berries, Tao felt the rains begin and, gathering together his bounty, he began to head back to shelter. Stumbling to a stop just inside the cavern mouth, Tao shook the raindrops from his hair and face.
Stepping further into their shelter, he set his berries with the previous foods he had gathered and turned to watch as Dar efficiently built a fire. Resting against the back wall of the cavern was enough wood to last them during the storm that had begun to rage outside. Glancing around, Tao watched as Ruh curled into a ball near the mouth of the cavern while Sharak found himself a rocky ledge to perch on. Frowning, Tao cast his eyes about in an effort to find the ferrets. Unable to see them in the dim light of the fire, Tao turned to Dar, "Where are the little ‘rats’? Please tell me they haven’t gotten into the food."
Smiling over at his worried friend, Dar shook his head and pointed at Ruh. "Kodo and Podo are with him for warmth. They won’t bother the food, I promise."
Satisfied with the Beastmaster’s promise, Tao joined him beside the fire. "Do you want something to eat, Dar? We didn’t have a chance to eat the morning meal."
Settling back against the wall of the cavern, Dar nodded his head. "Would you mind? We should eat some of the berries that won’t last long."
"What? You expect me to go and get them for you? What am I, your servant?" With some good-natured grumbling, Tao rose to fetch their morning meal only to be pulled to a stop when Dar grabbed him.
"Do you really feel as if I’m treating you as a servant?"
The worry in his voice convinced Tao that Dar was serious and he rushed to reassure him. "No, Dar. I have never felt like a servant with you. I’m sorry I even joked about it. Please, I didn’t mean to upset you."
Tao’s sincerity rang in every word and Dar relaxed. "I’m sorry too, Tao. I should have realized that you were only joking."
Smiling at each other, the two friends took a moment just to reaffirm their bond before Dar stood up and walked over to the fruits and nuts that Tao had gathered. Picking up some berries, he returned to the fire. "Here. Have some food."
Tao accepted the berries that Dar handed to him with thanks and began to munch. Soon, a comfortable peace filled the cavern as both men ate and conversed quietly while listening to the rain falling outside their warm and dry shelter.
A light-haired man stood staring out the window of his warm hut at the falling rain. The hut was silent but for the sounds of rain hitting its roof and the coughing of the young girl lying in the corner on a bed. The man turned often to keep an eye on the young girl but seemed engrossed in the falling rain. Some time passed and the girl had slipped into an easy rest, no longer troubled by coughs, when a dark-haired man quietly entered into the back room of the two-roomed hut.
"How is she doing, Edan?" The soft whisper reached the girl’s father, who turned away from the window to stare at the newcomer for a moment in silence.
Sighing, he walked over to where his daughter lay sleeping. "I don’t know. She was coughing until she fell into a deep sleep. Do you have any new ideas of what plagues her, Mosi?"
The despair in his voice touched Mosi and he felt useless as he shook his head. "No. I still don’t know what is causing her sickness. Don’t worry, Edan. I won’t give up until I have found a cure for Sima."
Edan closed his eyes at Mosi’s words and remained standing beside his daughter’s bedside as Mosi left the hut. He was still standing there when the wind died down and the rains began to abate.