It was full day light when the rat re-entered the building, glancing suspiciously at Hastrog and Dode before checking his comrade. The two exchanged a low-pitched conversation with many glances and cut-short gestures at Dode and Hastrog. After a moment the unhurt rat opened a satchel and removed a parcel wrapped in cloth; unwrapping it he broke a flat oval loaf of bread into four and holding one quarter held it out first to Hastrog, then to Dode. Both held out their hands for a piece and in return Dode handed over one of his water bottles.
All four went outside to eat and perform their ablutions; Dode noted that the rats held their bread up to the sun for a moment before eagerly eating it, clutched in both hands. Once they had all finished Dode tried to communicate to Hastrog that he was going on to try to find the trail of the raiders. Hastrog seemed to understand and indicated he would go too, pointing in the same direction as Dode had and nodding vigorously. Dode then
caught the rats' attention and made the same set of mimes; they too seemed to understand and pointed in that direction, squeaking and making a series of gestures Dode could not follow.
The party set out and luck was with them. Their path took them across the route the raiders and captives had followed, again littered with filth and dropped items of clothing. They followed the trail for the rest of the day. Dode noticed that Hastrog was walking well, his sore leg having apparently healed, and that the rat who had been stunned in the fight with the dune-bugs appeared little the worse although the other occasionally fussed over him, squeaking solicitously and prodding him.
Late in the day the trail dropped down a gentle slope to a broad river which swept from north to south through the brown landscape. There was a pier roughly built from rocks and gathered materials and the trail ended there. There was no boat to be seen, no shipping on the river, and no sign of the trail resuming at the other side of the river.
Dode was downcast. He sat by the river for a long time. Rising he went to the rats, and tried to convey that he had no idea what to do next. He pointed to himself; pointed upriver; shrugged; pointed downriver; shrugged. The rats stared then jabbered together. One then pointed to himself then the other, then at Dode, then bumped his clenched fist fiercely on his own chest. Dode took that to be that they would go with him; he smiled and held out his hand, but the rats recoiled so he withdrew the hand and bowed instead. Going to Hastrog he performed the same pantomime. He was even more surprised at Hastrog's reaction. Hastrog pointed to himself then to Dode and then knelt in the sand, bowing his head for a second. Dode, touched, held out his hand and Hastrog, rising, touched it briefly with his fat-fingered hand.
The little group agreed a sentry rota again, all four now taking a turn, and those meant to be resting huddled uncomfortably in an overhang cut in the sandy cliffs beside the river.
The following day Dode led the party south, downstream. They filled their water bottles from the river, and shared what little food they had. Dode had reasoned that if the raiders had embarked at the pier they would most likely drift downstream rather than struggle upstream against the current. They kept a close watch on the river, but not a single vessel was seen. Towards night the river was clearly rising and tree-trunks and other debris began to appear, moving down the river much faster than any of the group could have run. When his turn to rest came Dode lay awake, feeling numb, and gradually a realisation crept into his mind. The raiders, and the captives from his village, were beyond his reach. He would never see them again; all trace of the village and of his previous life were gone. A crushing feeling of grief strangely combined with a feeling of relief filled Big Dode and eventually he slept.