Chapter 2 - Eastward
The next morning, although it was hard to tell if it really was morning underground, Sis awoke more relaxed than yesterday and found the room already lighted by some candles. Jack, the human, sat on the edge of the bad at the provisionally table, on which the fox saw another candle shining.
"Hmm... Nine out of twenty-five...," the man murmured to himself as he seemed to inspect critically whatever lay in front of him, "could have gone better." He stuck, whatever it was he was busy with, into the pocket of his trousers and in that moment saw the fox awake, "Had a good night?"
"Better than most of my past nights," he answered while stretching his back.
"Ready to head off?" the human asked. He had put shoes and jacket back on already. The fox nodded. "Good."
Jack got up and hung over his bag, then went for one of the boards on the wall and started ripping it out of the cold earth. Behind it lay a hollow space out of which he pulled a backpack and swung it over his shoulders. "Why did you have to hide that thing?" Sis asked.
The human turned to face the fox, "Hallo? Thieves!" he pointed with his outstretched arm towards the door. "By the way," he continued, "in the big room, to the right hand side, is a tunnel. You will position near it and as soon as I'm done with that rat you will go into it and go as fast as possible without hurrying. Got it?"
"Are you planning something?" the fox questioned
"I always have a plan," said Jack as he smiled at the fox and walked out the door.
The tunnel was where he had said and the fox positioned himself under the wooden frame that led into the dark hole, while Jack approached the rat. "We're leaving now," he said in a cold voice. The rat, still smoking his hookah, blew out a cloud of smoke through his nose lifted his hand and rubbed thumb and index finger against each other. "Yeah, yeah, in a moment," the human replied to that and continued, "I was gonna ask, you don't perchance have something for my friend here to cover himself?"
"Sure," the rat said slowly, "that is, if you can pay for it." the rodent had a mischievous smile on his face and blew out another smoke cloud towards Jack.
The human just gave the pocket of his pants a pat and the rat seemed to understand. He nodded to the shepherd dog standing to his side, who disappeared behind a curtain. He returned with a stack of clothes and handed them over to Jack who took a proving look at them, "This will do," he announced and passed the clothes over to Sis.
The fox looked at the garments he was given. A simple pair of brown pants and a white shirt. They were not in the best condition but far better, and much more inconspicuous, than his worn loincloth. This was the first time, that someone actually cared enough about him, to buy him some clothes. Or anything at all.
Jack reached into his pocket and laid a handful of green gemstones on the table in front of the rat. The fox recognized the stones from the necklace Jack had showed him the day before. He was suddenly ripped out of his thoughts when Jack said, "Here ya go," and turned to leave.
Sis immediately turned and went for the tunnel as Jack had told him. The human was directly behind him, "Left," he gave the fox directions as he ushered him faster through the dark tunnels. "Right and the next left again," Jack told the fox as they heard something pushing itself through the very same tunnel they were going. "Uh-oh, you better get moving fox," the human announced behind him and shoved Sis faster through the tight earth pipe.
"Get 'im," Sis recognized the voice of the rat behind them and tried his best to get to an exit as soon as possible.
However, at the end of the way Jack directed to him, was a small ladder and a hole to the surface blocked with a stone slab, similar to the on at the entrance they came in. Sis climbed the ladder and pushed himself against the rock to shove it aside. He used all his strange but the slab was too heavy for him, it didn't move an inch.
Jack entered the first rung of the ladder, "Move aside. You gotta push it up," he said as he put his hands over his head and started pushing at the stone slab. The fox felt the body of the human press against his back while the rock was lifted and the sunlight flooded the dark hole. It took Sis a moment to adjust his eyes to the bright sun after a whole night in darkness underground. "Get out of here already, "the human behind him grumbled.
The fox climbed out of the hole, followed by Jack who covered the hole again with the stone slab, which almost opened like a lid. The hidden entrance to the underground tunnel net lay between two roots of a large tree which tilted slightly over the entry. The strong roots of the tree probably helped to stabilize the hole in the loose forest ground. Meanwhile Jack had put a strong branch, he had taken from behind the tree, between the trunk and the stone slab so it couldn't be opened from inside anymore.
"Oh man," Jack laughed while he got his breath back, "They sure came behind that quicker than I thought."
Sis heard some muffled noises under the stone slab. He wasn't sure whether the human could hear them, but he went ahead anyway, still laughing. "What did they find out?" the fox asked.
"I'll tell you later," Jack answered, "let's get away from here first."
The two of them quickly and quietly walked through the forest until they reached the street that led to the west back into the village and to the east to Eesten. Jack put his backpack down next to a large rock under a tree. They still kept a little distance to the street.
"Do you think they will come after us?" Sis asked throwing a proving look back into the forest, but they weren't followed during the whole time and he still couldn't see or hear anything.
"Ehh," Jack replied waving a hand, "They won't. That rat ate 'nough of my money. Dis's part of the reason why I'm going."
Then Sis repeated his earlier question, "So will you tell me now why they were chasing us?"
Jack fished out one of the green stones out of his pocket and another one from the bag he carried and gave them to the fox. The two gemstones glittered in the early morning sun against his black paw. They looked like regular valuable gemstones. "Were the ones you gave the rat forgeries?" Sis asked while he rolled the stones in his paw.
"No they were genuine emeralds."
"Then why were he after you?" Sis considered this. When the rat was paid with real gemstones why would he be after the human? Well, he thought, after all he's a thief. It wouldn't surprise him if he had stolen something.
"There's a difference between them," the human said and pointed back at the green jewels.
Sis drew them closer to his eyes and inspected the emeralds anew. They were the same size, the same color, they had the same form... "I can't see any distinctions," the fox announced still looking closely at the stones. Maybe it was some fine difference in the pureness between the two stones only a jeweler could tell?
"Here," Jack rummaged again in his bag and got out a small glass lens. He took the emeralds out of the fox' paw and held the lens over the two stones for him to see through. "See the little engraving?" he asked.
Sis looked through the lens, the stones seemed much larger now and he could make out little scratches and irregularities. And on the small rim around the hole for the strings indeed he found fine lines carved into the mineral. They formed a fanciful 'G&N' barely more than a little dot without the lens.
"Greg and Nooben," Jack said and drove the attention of the fox back to him, "It's the initials of the jeweler who made this. And when a piece they made got stolen and appears at some other jeweler, this one can tell by the engravings who made it and by chance that they were stolen. And if that happens..."
"He'll tell the guards and they get you," the fox finished the sentence.
"So," the fox thought, "he came after you, because he couldn't make money out of the stones you gave him?"
Jack nodded, "Yeah. The necklace consisted of 25 emeralds, 16 of those had the jewelers initials on them. That makes nine I can sell safely."
"And what do you do with the rest?"
The human looked at the fox slightly smiling, "Gettin' rid of them before I get to the next town or trading them to stupid rats."
The fox couldn't hide a smirk, "Where are you going now anyway?"
Jack considered that for a moment as if to evaluate whether he could trust it to the fox or not. "Eastward. Over the river and out of Eesgahlom," he said finally and kept his answer vague. "Anyway," he continued and stood up from the rock he was sitting on, "It's time for breakfast. Since you are a sought after, escaped slave I'd suggest you stay here, while I organize something. And meanwhile you could change your clothes. Not that I'd mind you running around half naked, but where we're going this would draw some attention to us. And that's never something good, when you're in my business."
Sis shifted with the stack of clothes he'd hefted under his arm. "Keep an eye on my stuff and don't go anywhere," Jack called to the fox as he headed for the street and towards the direction of the village.