As he squirmed through a clump of drunken farmers arguing the merits of late-season shearing, he nearly tripped over a dark figure huddled against the wall beneath the inn's swinging sign. A round pink face with small dark eyes turned up to stare at him. Simon mumbled noises of apology, and was moving on when he remembered. "I know you!" he said to the crouching figure; the dark eyes widened as if in alarm. "You're the friar I met in the Main Row! Brother... Brother Cadrach?" Cadrach, who for a brief moment had looked as though he might scramble away on hands and knees, narrowed his eyes to stare in turn. "Don't you remember me?" he said excitedly. The sight of a familiar face was as heady as wine. "My name is Simon." A couple of the farmers turned to look blearily and incuriously in their direction, and he felt a stab of fright, remembering that he was a fugitive. "My name is Simon," he repeated in a softer voice. A look of recognition, and something else, passed over the monk's plump face. "Simon! Ah, of course, boy! What brings you, then, up from the great Erchester to dismal little Flett?" With the aid of a long stick that had been leaning against the wall beside him, Cadrach climbed to his feet. "Well..." Simon was nonplussed. Yes, what have you been doing, you idiot, that you should strike up conversation with near-strangers. Think, stupid! Morgenes tried to tell you that this was no game. "I have been on an errand... for some people at the castle..." "And you decided to take the small bit of money left to you and stop at the famous Dragon and Fisherman," Cadrach made a wry face, "and have a bit of something to eat," Before Simon could correct him, or decide if he wanted to, the monk continued. "What you should be after, then, is taking your supper with me, and let me pay your count—no, no, lad, I insist! It is only a fairness, after the kindly ways you showed to a stranger." Simon could not utter a word before Brother Cadrach had his arm, pulling him into the public room. A few faces turned as they entered, but no one's eyes lingered. The room was long and low-ceilinged, lined along both walls with tables and benches so wine-stained, hacked, and carved-upon that they seemed held together only by the dried gravy and suet with which they were so generously splattered. At the end nearest the door a roaring fire burned in a wide stone fireplace. A sooty, sweating peasant lad was turning a joint of beef on a spit; he winced as the dripping fat made the flames sizzle. To Simon it all suddenly looked and smelled like heaven. Cadrach dragged him to a spot along the back wall; the tabletop was so cracked and pitted that it hurt to rest his skinned elbows on its surface. The monk took the seat across from him, leaning back against the wall and extending his legs down the length of the bench. Instead of the sandals that Simon would have expected, the friar wore ragged boots, splitting from weather and hard use. "Innkeeper! Where are you, worthy publican?!" Cadrach called. A pair of beetle-browed, blue-jawed locals that Simon would have sworn were twins looked over from the opposite table with annoyance written in every facial furrow. After a little wait the owner appeared, a barrel-chested, bearded man with a deep scar across his nose and upper lip. "Ah, there you are," said Cadrach. "Bless you, my son, and bring us each a mug of your best ale. Then, will you be so good as to carve us off some of that joint—that, and two trenchers of bread to sop with. Thanks to you, laddie." The owner frowned at Cadrach's words, but nodded his head curtly and walked away. As he left, Simon heard him grumble: "... Hernystiri buggerer..." The ale came soon, and then the meat, then more ale. At first Simon ate like a starving dog, but after easing his initial, desperate hunger, and looking about the room to make sure no one was paying them undue attention, he slowed his pace and began to attend to Brother Cadrach's meandering conversation. The Hernystirman was a wonderful storyteller, despite the burr of his accent that sometimes made him a little difficult to understand. Simon was vastly amused by the tale of the harper Ithineg and his long, long night, despite being a bit shocked to hear such a story told by a man of the cloth. He laughed so hard at the adventures of Red Hathrayhinn and the Sithi woman Finaju that he sprayed ale over his already stained shirt. They had lingered a long while; the inn was half-empty when the bearded innkeeper finished filling their mugs for the fourth time. Cadrach, with broad gesticulation, was telling Simon of a fight he had once witnessed on the docks of Ansis Pelippe in Perdmin. Two monks, he explained, had cudgeled each other into near-unconsciousness during an argument about whether or not the Lord Usires had magically freed a man from a pig-spell on the island of Grenamman. Just at the most exciting point—brother Cadrach was waving his arms so enthusiastically in the description that Simon feared he would fall off the bench—the tavemkeeper thumped an ale jug loudly down in the middle of the table. Cadrach, caught in mid-exclamation, looked up- "Yes, my good sir?" he asked, cocking a bushy brow. "And how can we be helping you?" The innkeeper stood with arms folded, a look of suspicion pinching his face. "I've let you stand credit so far 'cause you're a man of the faith, father," he said, "but I must be closing up soon." "Is that all that's afflicting you?" A smiled raced across Cadrach's round face. "We'll be right over to reckon up with you, good fellow, What was your name, then?" "Freawaru." "Well, never fear then, goodman Freawaru. Let the lad and me be finishing these noggins and then we'll let you get your sleep." Freawaru nodded in his beard, more or less satisfied, and stumped off to yell at the turnspit boy. Cadrach emptied his mug with a long and noisy swallow, then turned his grin on Simon. "Drink up, now, lad. We must not keep the man waiting. I am of the Granisian order, you know, and have a feeling for the poor fellow. Among other things, good Saint Granis is the patron of innkeepers and drunkards—a natural enough pairing!" Simon chuckled and drained his cup, but as he put it down a finger of memory tugged at him. Hadn't Cadrach told him when they first met in Erchester that he was of some other order? Something with a "v"? Vilderivan? The monk was fishing about the pockets of his robe with a look of great concentration on his face, so Simon let the question pass. After a moment Cadrach pulled out a leather purse and dropped it on the table; it made no sound—no clink, no jingle. Cadrach's shining forehead wrinkled in a look of concern, and he held the purse up to his ear and slowly shook it. There was still no sound. Simon stared. "Ah, laddie, laddie," said the friar mournfully, "will you look at that now? I stopped to help a poor beggar-man today—carried him down to the water I did, and washed his bleeding feet—and look what he has done to repay my kindness." Cadrach turned the purse over so that Simon could see the gaping hole slit across the bottom. "Can you wonder why I sometimes fear for this wicked world, young Simon? I helped the man, and, why, he must have robbed me even as I was carrying him." The monk heaved a great sigh. "Well, lad, I'm afraid I'll have to prevail on your human kindness and Aedonite charity to lend me the money that we are owing here—I can soon pay you back, never fear. Teh, tch," he clucked, waving the slit wallet at the gape-eyed Simon, "oh, but this world is sick with sin." Simon heard Cadrach's words only vaguely, a babble of sounds in his ale-muddled head. He was looking not at the hole, but at the seagull worked on the leather in heavy blue thread. The pleasant drunkenness of a minute before had turned heavy and sour. After a moment he raised his stare until his eyes met Brother Cadrach's. The ale and the warmth of the commons room had flushed Simon's cheeks and ears, but now he felt a tide of blood that was hotter still mounting up from his fast-beating heart. "That's... my... purse!" he said. Cadrach blinked like an undenned badger. "What, lad?" he asked apprehensively, sliding slowly away from the wall to the middle of the bench. "I'm afraid I was not hearing you well." "That... purse... is mine." Simon felt all the hurt, all the frustration of losing it come welling up—Judith's disappointed face, Doctor Morgenes' sad surprise—and the shocked sickness of trust betrayed. All the red hairs on his neck stood up like boar's bristles. "Thief!" he shouted suddenly, and lunged, but Cadrach had seen it coming: the little monk was off the bench and skittering backward up the length of the inn toward the door. "Now wait, boy, it's a mistake you're making!" he shouted, but if he really thought so, he did not seem to have much faith in his ability to convince Simon. Without pausing for a moment he grabbed his stick and sprang out the doorway. Simon was after him at a sprint, but was barely through the doorjamb when he felt himself grappled around the waist by a pair of bearlike arms. A moment later he was up off the floor, breath pressed out, legs helplessly dangling. "Now what do you think you're doing, hey?" Freawaru grunted in his ear. Turning in the doorway, he flipped Simon back into the fire-painted commons room. Simon landed on the wet floor and lay gasping for a moment. "It's the monk!" he groaned at last. "He stole my purse! Don't let him get away!" Freawaru poked his head briefly outside the door. "Well, if that's true he's long gone, that one—but how do I know this isn't all pan of the plan, hey? How do I know that you two don't play this monk-and-catamite trick in every inn between here and Utanyeat?" A couple of late drinkers laughed behind him. "Get up, boy," he said, grasping Simon's arm and yanking him roughly onto his feet. "I'm going to see if Deorhelm or Godstan has heard of you pair before. He hustled Simon out the door and around the side of the building, holding his arm prisoned in a firm grip. The moonlight picked out the stable's roof of pallid thatch, and the first tree-sentinels of the forest a stone-throw away. "I don't know why you didn't just ask for work, you donkey," Freawaru growled as he propelled the stumbling youth before him. "With my Heanfax just quit I could have used a good-sized young fellow like you. Bloody foolishness—and just you keep your mouth shut." Alongside the stable was a small cottage, standing out but still connected to the main body of the inn. Freawaru banged his fist on the door. "Deorhelm!" he called. "Are you up? Come look at this lad and tell me if you've seen him before." The sound of footsteps could be heard within. "S'bloody Tree, is that you, Freawaru?" a voice grumbled. "We have to be on the road at cockcrow." The door swung open. The room behind was lit by several candles. "Lucky for you we were dicing, and not abed yet," said the man who'd opened the door. "What is it?" Simon's eyes went wide, and his heart exploded into horrified pounding. This man, and the one polishing his sword on one of the bed sheets, wore the green livery of Elias' Erkynguard' "This young ruffian and thief of a..." Freawaru had just time to say, when Simon turned and butted his head into the innkeeper's stomach. The bearded man went down with a startled outrush of breath. Simon sprang over his kicking legs and headed for the shelter of the forest; in a few leaping steps he had disappeared. The two soldiers gazed after him in mute surprise. On the ground in front of the candlelit doorway Freawaru the tavernkeeper cursed and rolled and kicked and cursed.
16 The White Arrow "IT'S NOT FAIR?' Simon sobbed for perhaps the hundredth time, fisting the wet ground. Leaves stuck to his reddened knuckles; he did not feel the least bit warmer. "Not fair!" he murmured, curling back into a ball. The sun had been up for an hour, but the thin light brought no heat, Simon shivered and wept. And it wasn't fair—it wasn't at all. What had he done that he should be lying damp, miserable and homeless in the Aldheorte forest while others were asleep in warm beds, or just risen to bread and milk and dry clothes? Why should he be hunted and chased like some filthy animal? He had tried to do what was right, to help his friend and the prince, and it had made of him a starveling outcast. But Morgenes got far worse, didn't he? a part of him pointed out contemptuously. The poor doctor would probably shift places with you gladly. Even that, though, was beside the point: Doctor Morgenes at least had possessed some idea of what was involved, of what might happen, He himself had been, he thought disgustedly, as innocent and stupid as a mouse who goes out of doors to play tag with the cat. Why does God hate me so? Simon wondered, sniffling. How could Usires Aedon, who the priest said watched over everyone, have left him to suffer and die in the wilderness like this? He burst out in fresh weeping. Rubbing his eyes some time later, he wondered how long he had been lying there staring at nothing. He pulled himself up, moving away from the sheltering tree to shake the life back into his hands and feet. He returned to the tree long enough to empty his bladder, then stalked sullenly down to the tiny stream to drink. The merciless ache in his knees, back, and neck rebuked him with every step. Damn everyone to Hell. And damn the bloody forest. And God, too, for that matter. He looked up fearfully from his chill handful of water, but his silent blasphemy went unpunished. When he had finished he moved upstream a short distance to a place where the stream eddied out into a pool, and the turbulent waters were smoothed. As he crouched, staring at his tear-rippled reflection, he felt a resistance at his waist that made it difficult to bend over without steadying himself with his hands. The doctor's manuscript! he remembered. He half-stood, pulling the warm, flexible mass out from between pants and shirt-front. His belt had smashed a crease the length of the whole bundle. He had carried them so long that the pages were molded to the curve of his belly like a piece of armor; in his hand they lay bowed like a wind-breasted sail. The top page was smeared and caked with dirt, but Simon recognized the doctor's small, intricate script: he had been wearing the thin armor ofMorgenes' words. He felt a sudden fierce pang like hunger, and put the papers gently aside, returning his gaze to the pool. It took a moment to separate his own reflection from the bands and blotches of shadow cast on the water's surface. The light was behind him; his image was largely silhouette, a dark figure with only the suggestion of features along the illuminated temple, cheek, and jaw. Twisting his head to catch the sun, he looked from the corner of his eye to see a hunted animal mirrored in the water, its ear tilted as though listening for pursuit, hair a tangled hedge of tufts, neck angled in a way that spoke not of civilization, but of watchfulness and fear. He quickly gathered up the manuscript and walked up the stream bank. I'm completely alone. No one will take care of me ever again. Not that anyone ever did. He thought he could feel his heart breaking within his chest. After searching for a few minutes he found a patch of sunlight, and settled down to dry his tears and think. It seemed obvious, as he listened to the echoing speech of birds in the otherwise soundless forest, that he must find warmer clothes if he was going to spend nights out of doors—and that he would certainly have to do until he got farther away from the Hayholt. He also needed to decide where he was going. He began to leaf absently through Morgenes' papers, each one dense with words. Words—how could anyone think of so many words at one time, let alone write them down? It made his brain hurt just thinking about it. And what good were they, he thought, his lip trembling with bitterness, when you were cold, and hungry… or when Pryrates was at your door? He pulled two pages apart. The bottom one tore, and he felt as though he had unwittingly insulted a friend. He stared at it for a moment, solemnly tracing the familiar calligraphy with a scratched finger, then held it up to catch the light, squinting his eyes to read. "... It is strange, then, to think how those who wrote the songs and stories that entertained John's glittering court made of him, in an effort to construct him larger than life. less than he truly was." Reading it through the first time, puzzling it word by word, he could make nothing of it; but as he read it again the cadences of Morgenes' speech came out. He almost smiled, forgetting for a moment his horrible situation. It still made little sense to him, but he recognized the voice of his friend. "Consider for example," it continued, "his coming to Erkynland out of the island of Warinsten. The balladeers would have it that God summoned him to slay the dragon Shurakai; that he touched shore at Grenefod with his sword Bright-Nail in hand, his mind set only on this great task. "While it is possible that a benevolent God called him to free the land from the fearsome beast, it remains to be explained why God allowed said dragon to lay waste to the country for long years before raising up its nemesis. And of course, those who knew him in those days remembered that he left Warinsten a swordless farmer's son, and reached our shores in the same condition; nor did he even think on the Red Worm until he had the better part of a year in our Erkynland..." It was vastly comforting to hear Morgenes' voice again, even if it was only in his own head, but he was puzzled by the passage. Was Morgenes trying to say that Prester John had not killed the Red Dragon, or only that he had not been chosen by God to do so? If he hadn't been chosen by the Lord Usires in heaven, how had he killed the arch-beast? Didn't the people of Erkynland say he was the king anointed by God? As he sat thinking, a cold wind kited down through the trees and raised gooseflesh on his arms. Aedon curse it, I must find a cloak, or something warm to wear, he thought. And decide where I am going, instead of sitting here mooning like a half-wit over old writings. It seemed obvious now that his plan of the previous day—that of covering himself with a shallow layer of anonymity, becoming a turnspit or a scrubber at some rural hostel—was an impossible notion. Whether the two guardsmen he had escaped would have known him was not the issue: if they hadn't recognized him, someone eventually would. He felt sure that Elias' soldiers were already beating the countryside for him: he was not just a runaway servant, he was a criminal, a terrible criminal. Several deaths had already been paid out over the issue of Josua's escape; there would be no mercy for Simon if he fell into the hands of the Erkynguard. How could he escape? Where would he go? He felt the panic rising again, and tried to suppress it. Morgenes' dying wish had been that he follow Josua to Naglimund. It seemed now that was the only useful course. If the prince had made good his escape, surely he would welcome Simon. If not, then doubtless Josua's liegemen would trade sanctuary for news of their lord. Still, it was a dismally long way to Naglimund; Simon knew the route and distance only by repute, but no one would call it short. If he continued to follow the Old Forest Road west, eventually it would cross the Wealdhelm Road, which ran northward along the base of the hills from which it took its name. If he could find the Wealdhelm way, he would at least be headed in the right direction. With a strip torn from the hem of his shirt he bound the papers up, rolling them into a cylinder and wrapping the cloth around it, tying it with a careful twist of the ends. He noticed that he had neglected a page; it lay to one side, and as he picked it up he saw that it was the one his own sweat had smeared. In the blur of ruined letters one sentence had escaped; the words leaped out at him. "... If he was touched by divinity, it was most evident in his nings and goings, in his finding the correct place to be at the most suitable time, and profiting thereby..." It was not exactly a fortune-telling or a prophecy, but it strengthend him a little, and hardened his resolve. Northward it would be lorthward to Naglimund. A prickly, painful, miserable day's journey in the lee of the Old Forest Road was salvaged in part by a fortuitous discovery. As he "tilted through the brush, skirting the occasional cottage that crouched within hailing distance of the road, he caught a glimpse through the chink in the forest cover of a treasure beyond price: someone's untended washing. As he crept toward the tree, whose branches were festooned with damp clothes and one rank, sodden blanket, he kept his eye on the shabby, bramble-thatched cabin that stood a few paces away. His heart beat swiftly as he-pulled down a wool cloak so heavy with moisture that he staggered when it slid free into his arms. No alarm was raised from the cottage; in fact, no one seemed to be about anywhere. For some reason this made him feel even worse about the theft. As he scrambled back into the tan-trees with his burden, he saw again in his mind's eye a crude den sign bumping against an unbreathing chest. ^ The thing of it was, Simon quickly realized, living the outlaw life was nothing at all like the stories of Jack Mundwode the Bandit that Shem had told him. In his imaginings Aldheorte Forest had been a sort of endless high hall with a floor of smooth turf and tall tree-trunk pillars propping a distant ceiling of leaves and blue sky, an airy paviUion where knights like Sir Tallistro of Perdruin or the great Camaris rode prancing chargers and delivered ensorcelled ladies from hideous fates. Stranded in an uncompliant, almost malevolent reality, Simon found that the trees of the forest fringe huddled close together, branches intertwining like slip-knotted snakes. The undergrowth itself was an obstacle, an endless humped field of brambles and fallen trunks that lay nearly invisible beneath moss and moldering leaves. In those first days, when he occasionally found himself in a clearing and could walk unencumbered for a short while, the sound of his own footfalls drumming on the loose-packed soil made him feel exposed. He caught himself hurrying across the dells in the slanting sunlight, praying for the security of the undergrowth again. This failure of nerve so infuriated him that he forced himself to cross these clearings slowly. Sometimes he even sang brave songs, listening to the echo as though the sound of his voice quailing and dying in the muffling trees was the most natural thing in the world, but once he had regained the brambles he could seldom remember what he had sung. Although memories of his life at the Hayholt still filled his head, they had become wisps of remembrance that seemed increasingly distant and unreal, replaced by a growing fog of anger and bitterness and despair. His home and happiness had been stolen from him. Life at the Hayholt had been a grand and easeful thing: the people kind, the accommodations wonderfully comfortable. Now, he crashed through the tortuous forest hour after bleak hour, awash in misery and self-pity. He felt his old Simon-self vanishing away, and more and more of his waking thought revolving around only two things: moving forward and eating.