"You are seeing," Binabik interrupted himself, "Sedda did not want her children to have mortalness and be dying, as the birds and the beasts of the fields. They were her all and onlyness... "Sedda is mourning
Lone and betrayed
Vengeance she plots
Takes her bright jewels
Kikkasut's love gift
Weaves them together. Mountain-top lofty
Dark Sedda climbs
She spreads on night's sky
A trap for her husband
Thief of her children..." Binabik trilled a melody for a while, wagging his head slowly from side to side. At last he put the flute down. "It is a song of strenuous length, Simon, but it speaks of most important things. It goes on to tell of the children Lingit and Yana, and their choosing between the Death of the Moon and the Death of the Bird—the moon, you are seeing, dies, but then has return as itself. The birds die, but leave their egged young to survive them. Yana, we trolls think, chose the way of the Moon-death, and was being the matriarch—a word meaning grandmother—the matriarch of the Sithi. The mortals, myself and yourself, Simon-friend, are of the descent of Lingit. But it is a long, very long song... would you like to be hearing more some time?" Simon made no reply. The song of the moon and the gentle brush of night's feathered wing had sent him swiftly down to sleep.
19 The Blood of Saint Hoderund IT SEEMED that every time Simon opened his mouth to speak, or even to breathe deeply, it was immediately filled with leaves. No matter how often he bobbed and ducked, he could not avoid the branches that seemed to grab for his face like the greedy hands of children. "Binabik!" he wailed, "why can't we go back to the road? I'm being torn to pieces!" "Do not complain so much. We will soon be returning toward the road." It was infuriating to watch the tiny troll threading his way between the tangling twigs and branches. Easy for him to say "don't complain!" The denser the forest got the more slippery Binabik seemed to become, slithering gracefully through the thick, clutching underbrush while Simon crashed on behind. Even Qantaqa bounded lightly along, leaving barely a ripple in the foliage behind her. Simon felt as though half of Oldheart must be clinging to him in the form of broken twigs and scratching thorns. "But why are we doing this? Surely it wouldn't take any longer to follow the road around the edge of the forest than it's taking me to burrow through it inch by inch!?" Binabik whistled for the wolf, who was momentarily out of sight. She soon loped back into view, and as the troll waited for Simon to catch up he ruffled the thick collar of fur around her neck. "You are most correct, Simon,'* he said as the youth dragged up. "It is just as good time we might be making the longer way about. But," he held up a stubby, admonitory finger, "there are other considerations." Simon knew he was supposed to ask. He didn't, but stood panting beside the small man and inspected the most recent of his lacerations. When the troll realized Simon would not rise to the bait, he smiled. " 'Why?', you are asking curiously? What 'considerations'? The answer is being all around, up every tree and beneath all rocks. Feel! Smell!" Simon stared miserably around him. All he could see were trees. And brambles. And even more trees. He groaned. "No, no, is it no senses you have left at all?" Binabik cried. "What manner of teachings did you have in that lumpish stone anthill, that... castle!?" Simon looked up, "I never said I lived in a castle." "It is having great obviousness in all your actions." Binabik turned quickly around to face the barely-visible deer trail they had been following. "You see," he said in a dramatic voice, "the land is a book that you should be reading. Every small thing,"—a cocky grin—"is having a story to tell. Trees, leafs, mosses and stones, all have written on them things of wonderful interest ...." "Oh, Elysia, no," Simon moaned and sank to the ground, dropping his head forward to rest on his knees. "Please don't read me the book of the forest right this moment, Binabik. My feet ache and my head hurts." Binabik leaned forward until his round face was inches from Simon's. After a moment's scrutiny of the youth's bramble-matted hair the troll straightened up again. "I suppose we may quietly rest," he said, trying to hide his disappointment. "I will tell you of these things in a later moment." "Thank you," Simon mumbled into his knees. Simon avoided the task of hunting for supper that night by the simple expedient of falling asleep the moment they made camp. Binabik only shrugged, took a long draught from his water bag and a similar one from his wineskin, then made a short walking tour of the area, Qantaqa sniffing sentry at his side. After an undistinguished but filling meal of dried meat, he cast the knucklebones to the accompaniment of Simon's deep breathing. On the first pass he turned up Wingless Bird, Fish-Spear, and The Shadowed Path. Unsettled, he closed his eyes and hummed a tuneless tune for a while as the sound of night-insects slowly rose about him. When he threw again, the first two had changed to Torch at the Cave-Mouth and Balking Ram, but The Shadowed Path turned up again, the bones propped against each other like the leavings of some fastidious carnivore. Not the sort to follow the bones to hasty decisions—his master had taught him too well—Binabik nonetheless slept, when he finally could, with his staff and bag cradled close. ^ When Simon awakened, the troll presented him with a satisfying meal of roasted eggs—quail, he said—some berries, and even the pale orange buds of a flowering tree, which proved quite edible and rather sweet in an odd, chewy way. The morning's walking also went considerably easier then the previous day's: the country was gradually becoming more open, the trees more distantly spaced. The troll had been rather quiet all morning. Simon felt sure that his disinterest in Binabik's woodlore was the reason. As they were coming down a long, gentle slope, the sun high in its morning climb, he felt driven to say something. "Binabik, do you want to tell me about the book of the forest today?" His companion smiled, but it was a smaller, tighter grin than Simon was used to seeing. "Of course, friend Simon, but I am afraid I have given you a wrong thinking. You see, when I am speaking of the land as a book, I am not suggesting you should be reading it to improve your spiritual well-feeling, like a religious tome—although paying attention to your surroundings for that reason is certainly possible. No, I am speaking of it more as a book of physic, something one learns for the sake of health." It is truly amazing, Simon thought, how easy it is for this little fallow to confuse me. And without trying/ Aloud, he said, "Health? Book of physic?" Binabik's face took on a sudden look of seriousness. "For your living or dying, Simon. You are not in your home, now. You are not in my home, although I am undoubtedly being an easier guest than you here. Even the Sithi, for all the ages they have watched the sun as it is rolling around and around the skies, even they do not claim Aldheorte as theirs." Binabik stopped, and laid his hand on Simon's wrist, then squeezed. "This place where we stand, this great forest, is the oldest place. That is why it is called, as your people say, Aldheorte; it is always the old heart of Osten Ard. Even these trees of younger age," he poked with his stick on all sides, "were pitting themselves against flooding, wind, and fire before your great King John was first drawing baby-breath on the Warinsten Island." Simon looked around, blinking, "Others," Binabik continued, "others there are, some that I have seen, whose roots are growing into the very rock of Time; older they are than all the kingdoms of Man and Sithi that were thrown up in glory and were then crumbling in obscurity." Binabik squeezed his wrist again, and Simon, looking down the slope into the vast bowl of trees, felt suddenly small: infinitesimal, like an insect crawling up the sheer side of a cloud-lancing mountain. "Why... why are you saying these things to me?" he asked at last, sucking breath and fighting back something that felt like tears. "Because," said Binabik, reaching up and patting his arm, "because you must not think that the forest, the wide world, is anything like the alleyways and such of Erchester. You must watch, and you must be thinking and thinking." A moment later the troll was off again. Simon stumbled after him. What had brought all this on? Now the crowding trees seemed a hostile, whispering throng. He felt like he had been slapped. "Wait!" he called. "Thinking about what?" But Binabik did not slow down or turn. "Come now," he called over his shoulder. His voice was even but curt. "We must be making better time. With luck we will reach the Knock before darkness is falling." He whistled for Qantaqa. "Please, Simon," he said. And those were his last words for the morning. ^ "There!" Binabik finally broke his silence. The pair stood atop a ridge, the treetops a humped blanket of green below. "The Knock." Two more strands of trees were stair-stepped below them, and beyond these a sloping ocean of grass stretched out to the hills, which stood profiled by the afternoon sun. "That is Wealdhelm, or at least its foothills." The troll pointed with his staff. The shadowed, silhouetted hills, rounded like the backs of sleeping animals, seemed only a stone's toss away across the expanse of green. "How far are they... the hills?" Simon asked. "And how did we get so high up? I don't remember climbing." "Climbing we did not do, Simon. The Knock is a dipping-down place, sunken low like someone has been pushing at it. If you could be looking backward," he waved back up the ridge, "you would see that where we now stand, we are a little lower than the Erchester Plain. And, to give your second question answering, the hills are being quite some far ways, but your sight is deceiving you to make them close. In truth, we had better be at climbing if we wish to make my stopping-place with sun still on us." The troll trotted a few paces along the ridge. "Simon," he said, and as he turned the boy could see some of the tightness had left his jaw and mouth, "I must tell you that even though those Wealdhelm Hills are babies only compared to my Mintahoq, still to be near high places again will be... like wine." Suddenly childlike again, Simon thought, watching Binabik's short legs carrying him rapidly down the slope between the trees... No, he thought then, not childlike, that's just the size, but young, very young. How old is he, anyway? The troll was in fact becoming smaller and smaller even as he watched. Simon cursed mildly and hurried after him. They went fairly quickly down the broad and well-forested ridges, even though actual climbing was necessary in some places. Simon was not at all surprised by the dexterity which Binabik could exercise—leaping softly as a feather, kicking up less dust than a squirrel, showing a sureness of foot that Simon was sure the rams of Qanuc themselves would not scorn. Binabik's nimbleness did not surprise him, but his own did. He was recovering a little from his earlier deprivations, it seemed, and a few good meals had gone far toward restoring the Simon who had once been known around the Hayholt as "the ghost-boy,"—the fearless scaler-of-towers and tumbler-off-of-walls. While no match for his mountain-bom companion, he nevertheless felt he made a good account of himself. It was Qantaqa who had a few problems, not because she was not surefooted, but instead because of the few steep downward climbs—childishly easy with handholds—that were too far to jump. Faced with these situations she growled a little, sounding more annoyed than upset, and trotted off to find some longer way down, rejoining them usually within a short time. When they finally found a winding deer track down the last hummock, the afternoon sun had fallen below the middle of the sky, warm on their necks and bright in their faces, A tepid breeze rifled the leaves but failed to dry the sweat on their brows. Simon's cloak, tied around his waist, made him as middle-heavy as if he had eaten a large meal. To his surprise, when they at last reached the upper slopes of the meadow—the beginnings of the Knock—Binabik elected to bear northeast, hugging the line of the forest, rather than striking out directly across the whispering, gently undulating ocean of grass. "But the Wealdhelm Road is on the other side of the hills!" Simon said. "It would be so much faster to..." Binabik held up a stubby paw, and Simon lapsed into sullen silence. "There is faster, Simon-friend, and then there is being faster," he said, and the cheerful knowingness of his tone almost—but not quite—incited Simon to say something mocking and childish, but temporarily satisfying. When he had carefully shut his already opened mouth, Binabik continued. "Do you see, I thought it might be nice—beaniceness?... a nicety?—to take some respite tonight in a place where you may be sleeping in a bed, and eating at a table. What are you thinking about that, hmmm?" All his resentment boiled away at that, like a steam from beneath a raised pot lid. "A bed? Are we going to an inn?" Recalling Shem's story of the Pookah and the Three Wishes, Simon knew how a person felt seeing his first wish made real... until he abruptly remembered the Erkynguard, and the hanged thief. "Not an inn." Binabik laughed at Simon's eagerness. "But just as good it is—no, it is a better thing. It is a place where you are being fed, and rested, and no one is asking who you are or where you come from." He pointed out across the Knock, toward where the far side of the forest bowed back around until its perimeter at last ended at the base of the Wealdhelm's foothills. "Across there, it is, although it cannot be seen from where we are standing. Come now." But why can't we walk straight down across the Knock? Simon wondered. It's as though Binabik doesn't want to be so out in the open, so... exposed. The troll had indeed taken the northeasterly path, skirting the wide meadow to travel in Aldheorte's shadow. And what did he mean about a place where no one asks... whatever all that was...? Is he hiding, too? "Slow down, Binabik!" he called. At intervals Qantaqa's white rump bobbed up from the grass, like a seagull floating on the choppy Kynslagh. "Slow down!" he called again, hurrying now. The wind caught at his words and gently carried them away up the rippling slope behind him. When Simon had drawn abreast of him at last, the sun on both of their backs, Binabik reached up and patted his elbow. "Earlier I was being very sharp, very abrupt with you. It was not my place to so speak. Apologies." He squinted up at the youth, then turned his eyes ahead to where Qantaqa's tail was waving above the swaying grass, now here, now there, the banner of a tiny but swiftly moving army. "There is nothing..." Simon began, but Binabik interrupted. "Please, please, friend Simon," he said, a note of embarrassment clear in his voice, "it was not being my place. Say no more." He lifted both hands up by his ears and waggled them in a strange gesture. "Rather, let me tell you something of where we go—Saint Hoderund's of the Knock." "What is that?" "It is the place we will stay. Many times I have been there myself. It is a retreating place—a 'monastery' as you Aedonites say. They are kind to travelers." This was enough for Simon. Immediately visions of long, high halls, roasting meat, and clean pallets swarmed through his head—a delirium of comforts. He began to walk faster, accelerating almost to a trot. "Running is not needed," Binabik admonished him. "It will be waiting there still, regardless." He cast a look back at the sun, still several hours above the western horizon. "Do you want me to tell you of Saint Hoderund's? Or are you knowing already?" "Tell me," Simon replied. "I know about such places. Someone I know stayed at the abbey in Stanshire once." "Well, this is an abbey of speciamess. It has a history." Simon raised his eyebrows, willing to listen. "A song there is," Binabik said, "the Lay of Saint Hoderund. It is much more popular in the south than it is in the north—north, by which I am saying Rimmersgard, not Yiqanuc my home—and it is obvious why. Are you knowing anything about the battle of Ach Samrath?" "That's where the northerners, the Rimmersmen, beat the Hernystirmen and the Sithi." "Oho? Then it was some educating you received after all? Yes, Simon-friend, it was Ach Samrath that saw the Sithi and Hernystir armies driven from the field by Fingil Redhand. But there were other, earlier battles, and one of them was here." He spread his hand to encompass the waving field beside them. "This land was differently named, then. The Sithi, who were, I suppose, those who knew it best, called it Ereb Irigu—Western Gate, that means." "Who named it the Knock? It's a funny name." "I do not know with certainty. Myself, I am thinking that the Rimmersmen's name for the battle is the root. This place they called Du Knokkegard—the Boneyard." Simon looked back across the rustling grass, watching as row after row bowed in turn beneath the footsteps of the wind. "Boneyard?" he asked, and a chill of premonition ran through him. The wind is always moving out here, he thought. Restless—like it's looking for something lost... "Boneyard, yes. There were many underestimations made on both sides for that battle. These grasses are growing above the graves of many thousands of men." Thousands, like the Itch-yard. Another city of the dead beneath the feet of the living. Do they know? he suddenly wondered. Do they hear us and hate us for... for being in the sun? Or are they happier being through with it all? I remember when Shem and Ruben had to put down old Rim the plow horse. Just before Ruben and the Bear's mallet had fallen, Rim had looked up at Simon—eyes mild but knowing, Simon had thought. Knowing, and yet not caring. Did King John feel that way at last, old as he was? Ready to go to sleep, like old Rim? "And it is a song any harper south of the Frostmarch will sing," Binabik said. Simon shook his head and tried to concentrate, but the sighing of the grass, the drawn whisper of wind, was loud in his ears. "I, and you may be thanking me for it, will sing no song," Binabik continued, "but about Saint Hoderund I should explain, since it is to his house, as it were, we are going." Boy, troll, and wolf reached the easternmost end of the Knock and turned again, left sides to the sun. As they waded through the high grass Binabik pulled off his jacket of hide and knotted the sleeves about his waist. The shirt that he wore beneath was white wool, loose-woven and baggy. "Hoderund," he began, "was a Rimmersman by birth who, after many experiences, became converted to the Aedonite religion. Eventually he was by the church made a priest. "As it is said, no single stitch is interesting until the cloak has fallen apart. We would not have a care what Hoderund did, I am quite sure, had not King Fingil Redhand and his Rimmersmen crossed the Greenwade River and for the first time moved themselves into the lands of the Sithi. "This, as with most tales of importance, is too long for describing in an hour of walking. I will avoid those explainings and tell this: the Northmen had driven all before them, winning for themselves several battles in their southern movement. The Hernystiri, under their Prince Sinnach, decided to meet the Rimmersmen here," Binabik again waved an all encompassing hand across the breadth of the sun-tipped prairie, "to put a stop to their onslaught for all and once. "All people and Sithi were fleeing from the Knock, fearing to be crushed between two armies—all were fleeing but Hoderund. Battle, it is seeming, draws priests like it does flies, and Hoderund it drew. He went to Fingil Redhand in his tent and then was begging that king to withdraw, so by sparing the thousands of lives that would be lost. He preached, in his—if I may say—silliness and bravery to Fingil, telling him of the words ofUsires Aedon to take your enemy to breast and make him brother. "Fingil, it is not surprising, thought him a madman, and was much disgusted to be hearing such words from a fellow Rimmersman... Oho, is that smoke?" Catching Simon by surprise with the change of subject—Binabik's narrative had lulled him into a sort of sunstruck, walking dream—the troll pointed up the far side of the Knock. Indeed, from behind a series of gentle hills, the farthest of which looked to bear the marks of cultivation, a thin tendril of smoke was rising. "Supper, I am thinking," Binabik grinned. Simon's mouth fell open in anticipatory longing. This time the troll quickened his steps as well. They turned back toward the sun as the forest's dark edge curved around. "As told," the troll resumed, "Fingil was finding Hoderund's new Aedonite ideas most offensive. He commanded the priest be executed, but a merciful soldier instead let him go. "But go away Hoderund did not do. When the two armies met at last, he rushed out onto the battlefield, between directly the Hernystiri and Rimmersgarders, brandishing his Tree and calling down on to them all the peace of Usires God. Caught between two angry pagan armies, he was quickly killed very dead. "So," Binabik waved his stick, beating down a high tussock of grass, "a story whose philosophy is difficult, hmmm? At least for we Qanuc, who prefer both being what you call pagan, and being what I call alive. The Lector in Nabban, however, called Hoderund a martyr, and in the early days of Erkynland named this place a church and abbey for the Order Hoderundian." "Was it a terrible battle?" Simon asked. "The Rimmersgard men called this place Boneyard. The later battle at Ach Samrath was perhaps bloodier, but there was treachery there. Here at the Knock it was breast to breast, sword on sword, and blood running like the streams of first thaw." The sun, sliding low in the sky, beat full in their faces. The afternoon breeze, which had sprung up in earnest, bent the long grasses and tossed the hovering insects so that they danced in the air, tiny flashes of golden light. Qantaqa came charging back through the field, obliterating in her approach the sawing, hissing music of stem on stem. As they began to trudge up a long incline she circled them, waggling her wide head in the air and yipping excitedly. Simon shielded his eyes, but could see nothing beyond the rise but the treetops of the forest's edge. He turned to ask Binabik if they were almost there, but the troll was staring down as he walked, brows knit in concentration, paying no heed to Simon or the capering wolf.