He knew that they'd save him for the dragon.
Murt felt an icy bite at the back of his neck. Nothing more than the breath of an early winter, he told himself.
After leaving Kuurlok, Fewla had guided Murt and Dennis through a short path in the Cave of Whispers that brought them near to the Forest of Wrin.
From there, it would only be another day's hike to return to the Gellring Foothills.
After leaving the caves, Fewla headed West to return to her clan in the Viaria Highlands.
She, Murt, and Dennis said their goodbyes, and although Murt did not possess the power of magical foresight, he felt as though it would be the last time they saw the faun.
Now Murt and Dennis found themselves trekking through the Forest of Wrin in the opposite direction that they'd been walking only a few days before.
Dennis was pointing out all the trees and rocks that he remembered from the last time they were here, and Murt was trying really hard to be interested.
Dennis's tiresome jabbering was a welcome distraction from the guilt swirling around Murt's troubled mind.
Although they carried no stolen merchandise or smuggled goods, they still walked through the cover of the Forest.
Like Murt, they'd be recognized by passing wardens if they stuck to the major paths. Leaves rained from their branches and danced in the gusting wind.
Ahead of Murt, Dennis crunched his way through the woods like a happy puppy. Murt was once again deep in thought when the sound of a crash grabbed his attention.
He looked ahead just in time to see Dennis falling through the leaves as if he were being swallowed by the forest itself.
"Ahh! Oof!" he screamed and oofed.
"Dennis!" Murt yelled as he ran after the sell sword.
He should have approached with more caution because when he tried to stop himself short of the hole in the earth, he slipped on the leaves and fell in with as well.
He and Dennis found themselves in a deep hole approximately one-Dennis in diameter (1.4 Murts).
After collecting themselves, Murt and Dennis worked together to try to climb free, but even with Dennis standing on Murt's shoulders they couldn't reach the top of the trap.
It was exactly one Dennis, one Murt, and one Goom in depth. It was ironic by customary usage of the word, but not by definition.
Murt took out his spell book to see if he could find anything about levitation or ladders, and although he found what he was looking for, the spells were beyond his capabilities.
On top of that, he'd crushed several of his magical resources in the fall.
He'd broken a vial of worm milk, two of wizard's hazel, and he spilled a pouch of dragon shavings that sizzled into the dirt at their feet. The stench of spilled magic filled the air.
Murt cursed his luck and threw down his spell book in shame. Even in his state of anger, he couldn't help but think that Goom would never have let this happen.
Goom would have noticed the trap, or he'd have a plan to get them out of the predicament. Now, Murt was stuck in a hole with Dennis, and they had no plan to speak of.
He was so lost in thought that he didn't stop to ask himself who'd dug the trap and for what purpose, but those unasked questions would soon be answered.
From above them came the sounds swishing leaves. Murt and Dennis looked up to see a band of Wood Imps gathered about the circumference of the hole.
"What be your business in our forest, outlaws?" asked one of the imps with a voice much too deep for the body from which it came.
The imp pointed a baby-sized finger down at Murt and Dennis.
"We're passing through on our way to the foothills," Murt replied in a voice thick with frustration.
"And you're passing through the kingdom of Yilmelk? Not without a toll, outlaw." The little green beastie smiled with pointy, yellowed teeth.
He had long, floppy ears like those of a fox, but they drooped from the sides of his head. His forehead was large and punctuated by two pointy horns about the size of acorns.
He, like the rest of his gang, wore a simple brown tunic slung across one shoulder and wrapped around the middle with twine.
Unlike the others, he carried a staff and wore a sort of diadem made from briar and accented with bits of stone and rodent bones. He was the king - King Yilmelk of the Wrinwood Imps.
"What's the toll, Yilmelk?" Murt asked directly. The Wrinwood Imps, like their kin in the southern forests, were mostly harmless, but they were devious little swindlers.
They were always up to some sort of trickery.
They'd frighten quarry from hunters' sights, drop ticks from tree tops onto unsuspecting travelers, and swap out raisins for deer poop in your trail mix.
Now, they had Murt and Dennis right where they wanted them, and Murt knew that the cost of their freedom would be steep.
Yilmelk took in a sharp, deep breath through his giant pointy nose. "Is that dragon shavings I smell? I could make great use of a sack of shavings."
"I've spilled them," Goom shouted up at the imp. "Just give me a damn riddle."
The imps loved nothing more than perplexing their victims with riddles. Murt wasn't much of a riddler himself - that was more Goom's forte - but they didn't have much of a choice.
Murt was already short on supplies, and he couldn't afford to lose more. Dennis had absolutely nothing of value.
"Oh! It's a riddle you're wanting?" asked the King of the Wrinwood Imps.
"A riddle! A riddle!" came the chorus of imps around him.
"Yes! Now give us the riddle and be done with it," Goom shouted back.
"I'll give you the riddle, and you'll have but one guess. If you answer correctly, you'll go free, but if your answer is wrong, I'll take a vial of jezebel root."
He took in another breath through his nose, capturing the fragrance of the root in his wide nostrils.
He delivered the riddle: "He gnashes on boulders, drinks vigor from rain. Sleepless he rolls in bed where he's lain. He runs through forest, through mountain and plain, and cannot be caught so long as you strain."
"A bear!" Dennis shouted before Murt even had a chance to think.
"A bear?" a perturbed Murt asked Dennis. "How does a bear gnash boulders? And how are they sleepless in bed? You can catch a bear! With a bear trap, Dennis."
By this point, the imps were all laughing hysterically. Dennis had used the only guess, and what a dumb guess it was.
"Ha ha, this is almost better than a vial of jezebel root!" the king cackled. "But it's not better, and I'll be having that vial now."
Murt threw the magical root up to Yilmelk, and Yilmelk threw down a rope. Dennis and Murt climbed free from the hole.
They brushed the dirt and leaves from their clothes and continued East toward the Gellring Foothills.
"Watch out for bears!" one of the imps yelled after them.
"Here, here, take this boulder with you in case he's hungry!" another yelled from atop a stone.
"You owe me that jezebel root," Murt said to Dennis.
"Well, what is the right answer if you're so smart?" Dennis asked.
"I don't know," he replied. He made a mental note to ask his brother when he saw him again.