Young Ostrael of Runchester stood shivering on the curtain wall and reflected on what his



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Strangyeard pursed his lips, as though Simon had uttered a mild blasphemy. "Dead? Praise Usires, no—although he is not well, not well at all."
"May I see him?" Simon slid down to the flags to look for his boots. "Where is he? And how is Marya?"
"Marya?" the priest's expression was puzzled as he watched Simon crawl about the floor. "Ah. Your other companion is fine. You will eventually see her as well, I do not doubt."
The boots were under the writing table. As Simon pulled them on Father Strangyeard reached around and lifted a clean white blouse from the back of the chair.
"Here," he said. "My, you are in a hurry. Would you like to see your friend first, or have something to eat?"
Simon was already tying the front of the shirt closed. "Binabik and Marya, then eat food," he grunted, concentrating. "And Qantaqa, too."
"Hard as times have been of late," the father said in a tone of reproof, "we never eat wolves at Naglimund. I assume you are counting her as a friend."
Looking up, Simon saw that the one-eyed man was making a joke.
"Yes," Simon said, feeling suddenly shy. "A friend."
"Then let us go," the priest said, standing. "I was told to make sure you were well provided for, so the sooner I get food into you, the better I will have fulfilled my commission." He opened the door, admitting another flood of sunshine and noise.
Simon blinked in the strong light, looking up at the high walls of the keep and the vast purple and brown expanse of the Wealdhelm looming above, dwarfing the gray-clad sentries. A congregation of angular stone buildings bulked large at the keep's center, arranged without any of the Hayholt's eccentric beauty, its contrast of styles and eras. The dark smoke-streaked cubes of sandstone, the small lightless windows and heavy doors, looked as if they had been constructed for one purpose only: to keep something out.
Just a stone's throw away, in the midst of the swarming commons yard, a crew of shirtless men were splitting a stack of logs, adding to a pile of timbers already as high as their heads.
"So that's what that chopping was," Simon said, watching the axes flash and fall. "What are they doing?"
Father Strangyeard turned to follow his glance. "Ah. Ah. Building a pyre, they are. Going to burn the Hune—the giant."
"The giant?" It came back in a rush: the snarling, leathery face, the arms of impossible length lashing out at him. "It isn't dead?"
"Oh, quite dead, yes." Strangyeard began walking toward the main buildings. Simon fell in behind, sneaking a last look back at the growing stack of spars. "You see, Simon, some of Josua's men wanted to make a show of it, you understand, cut its head off, mount it on the gate, that sort of thing. The prince said no. He said that it was an evil thing, but it was no animal. They wear clothes of a sort, did you know? Carry clubs, as well, cudgels really. Well, Josua said he'd mount no enemy's head for sport. Said burn it." Strangyeard tugged at his ear. "So, they're going to burn it."
"Tonight?" Simon had to stretch to keep up with the priest's long strides.
"Just as soon as the pyre is finished. Prince Josua doesn't want any more made of it than has to be. I'm sure he'd just as lief bury it in the hills, but the people want to see it dead." Father Strangyeard quickly sketched the sign of the Tree on his breast. "It's the third one come down from the north this month, you see. One of the others killed the bishop's brother. It's all been most unnatural."
Binabik was in a small room off the chapel, which stood in the center courtyard of the main keep buildings. He looked very pale, and smaller than Simon expected, as though some of the substance had drained from him, but his smile was cheerful.
"Friend Simon," he said, sitting up carefully. His small brown torso was swathed in bandages to the collarbone. Simon resisted the urge to pick the little man up and hug him, not wanting to open the healing wounds. Instead he sat on the edge of the pallet and clasped one of Binabik's warm hands.
"I thought you were lost," Simon said, tongue thick in his mouth.
"As I did, when the arrow struck at me," the troll said with a rueful shake of the head. "But apparently nothing of a serious nature was pierced. I have been given good care, and but for a soreness of movement I am nearly new." He turned to the priest. "I walked upon the yard today."
"Good, very good." Father Strangyeard smiled absently, fiddling with the string that held his eye patch in place. "Well, I must be going. I'm sure there are many things you companions wish to discuss." He sidled for the door. "Simon, please use my room as long as you like. I am sharing Brother Eglaf's room for the nonce. He makes terrible noises when he sleeps, but he is a good man to take me in."
Simon thanked him. After a last wish for Binabik's continued return to strength, he went out.
"He is a man of very good mind, Simon," Binabik said as they listened to the priest's footsteps fade down the corridor. "Master of the castle archives, he is. We have already had fine conversing."
"He's a little strange, isn't he? Sort of... distracted?"
Binabik laughed, then winced and coughed. Simon leaned forward, apprehensive, but the troll waved him back. "A moment, only," he said. When he had his breath back, he continued. "Some types of men, Simon, whose minds are very full of thoughts, they are forgetting to speak and act like normal men."
Simon nodded, looking around at the room. It was much like Strangyeard's: spare, small, with whitewashed walls. Instead of the piles of books and parchment, the writing table bore only a copy of the Book of the Aedon, a red ribbon like a slender tongue keeping the place where the last reader had stopped.
'Do you know where Marya is?" he asked.
"No." Binabik looked extremely serious. Simon wondered why. "I expect she gave her message to Josua. Perhaps he sent her back to wherever the princess is, for relaying of a return answer."
"No!" Simon did not like that idea at all. "How could all that have happened so fast?"
"So fast?" Binabik smiled. "This is the morning of the second day we have been in Naglimund."
Simon was astonished. "How can that be?! I just woke up!"
Binabik shook his head, sliding back down into the sheets as he did so. "Not so. You slept through most of yesterday, waking only to take some water, then sleeping again. I would suppose it was the last part of the trip weakening you, on top of your fever from when we rode the river."
"Usires!" He felt as though his body had betrayed him. "And Marya's been sent away?"
Binabik raised a placating hand from beneath the sheets. "I have no such knowledge. That was a guess, only. Just as likely she is here somewhere—perhaps staying with some of the womenfolk, or in the quarter of servants. She is, for all said, a servant."
Simon glowered. Binabik gently took back the hand the boy had tugged free in his agitation. "Be of patience, Simon-friend," the troll said. "You have done a hero's work to be reaching so far. Who knows what may happen next?"
"You are right... I suppose..." He took a deep breath.
"And you have saved my life," Binabik pointed out.
"Is that important?" Simon distractedly patted the small hand and stood up. "You have saved mine as well, several times. Friends are friends."
Binabik smiled, but his eyes showed weariness. "Friends are friends," he agreed. "Speaking of those things, I must sleep again now. There will be important doings in the days ahead. Will you look on Qantaqa, and how she is being kept? Strangyeard was supposed to be fetching her to me, but I am afraid it has slipped from his busy head like down from a"—he plumped his—"a pillow."
"Certainly," Simon said, pulling open the door. "Do you know where she is?"
"Strangyeard said... the stables..." Binabik responded, yawning. Simon let himself out.
As he emerged into the central courtyard, stopping to watch the people passing by, courtiers and servants and clerics, none of them paying him the slightest attention, he was struck by a twofold revelation.
First of all, he had no idea where the stables might be. Second, he was very, very hungry. Father Strangyeard had said something about being sworn to see him provided for, but the priest had wandered off. He was a daft old bird!
Suddenly he saw a familiar face across the courtyard. He had already taken several steps before he remembered the name that went with it.
"Sangfugol!" he called, and the harper stopped, looking around to find who had called him. He saw Simon running toward him and shaded his eyes, continuing to look puzzled even as the youth slid to a stop before him.
"Yes?" he said. He was dressed in a rich doublet of lavender, and his dark hair hung gracefully from beneath a matching feathered cap. Even in his clean clothes, Simon felt shabby standing before the politely-smiling musician. "Do you have some message for me?"
"I'm Simon. You probably don't remember... you spoke to me at the funeral feast at the Hayholt."
Sangfugol stared at him a moment longer, frowning slightly, then his face lightened. "Simon! Aha, of course! The well-spoken bottle boy. I am truly sorry, I didn't recognize you at all. You have grown a great deal."
"I have?"
The harper grinned. "I should say! You certainly didn't have this fuzz on your face when I saw you last." He reached out and cupped Simon's chin. "Or at least I don't remember any."
"Fuzz?" Wonderingly, Simon reached his hand up and felt his cheek. It did seem furry... but soft, like the hair on the back of his arms.
Sangfugol quirked his lips and laughed. "How could you not know? When I first got my mannish beard, I was at my mother's glass every day to see how it was coming in." He raised a hand to his clean-shaven jaw. "Now I am cutting it off with curses every morning, to keep my face soft for the ladies."
Simon felt himself blushing. He must seem such a rustic! "I have been away from looking glasses for a while."
"Hmmm." Sangfugol looked him up and down. "Taller too, if my memory serves. What brings you to Naglimund? Not that I can't guess. There are many here who have fled the Hayholt, my master Prince Josua not the least of them."
"I know," Simon said. He felt the need to say something that would bring him back to some kind of parity with the well-dressed young man. "I helped him escape."
The harper raised an eyebrow. "True? Well, this sounds an interesting tale, indeed! Have you eaten yet? Or would you like to find some wine? I know the hour is early, but truth to tell, I have not yet been to bed... to sleep."
"Food would be splendid," Simon said, "but first I must do something. Can you show me where the stables are?"
Sangfugol smiled. "What now, young hero? Will you ride down to Erchester to bring Pryrates' head to us in a sack?" Simon blushed again but this time with no little pleasure. "Come," the harper said, "stables, then food."
The bent, sour-faced man pitchforking hay seemed suspicious when Simon asked after Qantaqa's whereabouts.
"Here, what do you want with him?" the man asked, then shook his head. "Fair vicious he is. Not right to put him in here. I shouldn't have to, but that's what the prince said. Almost took my hand off, that beast did."
"Well, then," Simon said, "you should be glad to be rid of her. Take me to her."
"That's a devil-beast, I tell you," the man said. They followed his limping progress all the way through the dark stables and out the back door to a muddy yard nestled in the shadow of the wall.
"Bring the cows here for slaughter, sometimes," the man said, pointing to a square pit. "Don't know why the prince brought this one back alive for poor old Lucuman to mind. Should have put a spear right in the evil bastard, like that giant."
Simon gave the bent man a look of disgust, then strode forward to the edge of the pit. A rope staked to the ground at the edge trailed down into the hole. It was knotted around the neck of the wolf, who lay on her side at the pit's muddy bottom.
Simon was shocked. "What have you done to her!?" he shouted, turning on the stablekeeper. Sangfugol, treading the soggy yard more carefully, came up behind.
The old man's suspicion turned to peevishness. "Didn't do nothing," he said resentfully, "Proper devil he is—howled and howled like a fiend. Tried to bite me, too."
"So would I," Simon snapped. "As a matter of fact, I still might. Bring her out of there."
"How, then?" the man asked disquieted. "Just pull on the rope? He's too big by half."
"She, you idiot." Simon was full of rage to see the wolf—his companion of uncounted miles—lying in a dark, runny hole. He leaned over.
"Qantaqa," he called. "Ho, Qantaqa!" She flicked her ears, as though to dislodge a fly, but did not open her eyes. Simon looked around the yard until he saw what he needed: the chopping block, a scarred log stump as big as a man's chest. He wrestled it to the pit while the stableman and the harper looked on in puzzlement.
"Watch now," he called down to the wolf, then rolled the stump over the edge; it thumped into the soft earth only a cubit from the wolf's hind legs. She lifted her head briefly to look, than lay back.
Simon again peered over the edge of the pit, trying to coax Qantaqa up, but she paid him no heed.
"Be careful, for pity's sake," Sangfugol said.
"He's lucky that beast's a-resting now," the other man said, sagely chewing on his thumbnail. "Should of heard him afore, howling and all."
Simon swung his feet over the rim of the hole and slid down, landing in the squelching, slippery mud below.
"What are you doing?!" Sangfugol cried. "Are you mad?"
Simon crouched beside the wolf, and slowly reached his hand forward. She growled at him, but he held his fingers out. Her muddy nose snuffled briefly, then she carefully extended her long tongue and licked the back of his hand. Simon applied himself to scratching her ears, then felt her for cuts or broken bones. None were apparent. He turned and sat the chopping log upright, digging it into the mud beside the pit wall, then went back to Qantaqa. He put his arms around the width of her trunk and coerced her into standing upright.
"He's mad, isn't he?" the sour-faced man half-whispered to Sangfugol.
"Close your mouth," Simon growled, looking at his clean boots and clothing already smeared with mud. "Grab the rope and pull when I say pull. Sangfugol, cut his head off if he dallies."
"Here, now," the man said reproachfully, but clutched the rope. The harper took up a position behind him to help. Simon urged Qantaqa toward the stump, at last persuading her to put her forelegs up on it. Simon lowered his shoulder to her wide, fur-fringed hind-quarters.
"Ready? Haul away!" he cried. The rope went taut. Qantaqa fought it at first, pulling away from the straining men, dropping her considerable weight back on Simon, whose feet were slipping in the ooze. Just as he thought he could feel himself sliding under, to be crushed to death in a mud pit beneath a large wolf, Qantaqa relented and went with the tug of the rope. Simon did slide, then, but had the satisfaction of seeing the wolf scramble kicking over the side of the pit. There was a whoop of surprise and consternation from the stablekeeper and Sangfugol as her yellow-eyed head breached the rim.
Simon used the block himself to climb out. The stable man was cowering in terror before the wolf, who regarded him balefully. Sangfugol, looking more than a little alarmed himself, was cautiously sliding away from her on his rump, for the moment uncaring of the damage to his fine garments.
Simon laughed and helped the harper to his feet. "Come with me," he said. "We will deliver Qantaqa to her friend and master, who you should meet anyway—then perhaps that food we talked of?"
Sangfugol slowly nodded his head. "Now that I have seen Simon, Companion of Wolves, some of the other things are easier to credit. Let us go, by all means."
Qantaqa nudged the prostrate stablekeeper one last time, eliciting a whimper of fright. Simon untied her rope from the stake and they set out across the stable, leaving four pairs of muddy footprints behind them.
While Binabik and Qantaqa had their reunion, moderated by Simon in order to protect the still-weak troll from his mount's dangerous exuberance, Sangfugol slipped off to the kitchens. He returned a short while later with a jar of beer, a goodly quantity of mutton, cheese and bread wrapped in a cloth; he was also—Simon was surprised to see—still wearing the same mud-spattered clothes.
"The south battlement, where we're going, is quite dusty," the harper explained. "I'm damned if I'm going to ruin another doublet."
As they headed for the keep's main gate, and the steep staircase up to the battlements, Simon commented on the great number of people who milled about the commons yard, and the tents and lean-tos that dotted the open spaces.
"Come for refuge, many of them," Sangfugol said. "Most are off the Frostmarch and out of the Greenwade river valley. Some also from Utanyeat who've found Earl Guthwulf's hand a little too heavy, but mostly they're folk who've been driven from their land by weather or bandits. Or other things—like the Hunen." He gestured to the completed pyre as they passed. The woodsmen had gone away; the stack of lumber stood mute and significant as a ruined church.
Atop the battlements they settled down on rough-hewn stone. The sun had scaled high into the sky, beating down past the few remaining clouds. Simon wished he had a hat.
"Either you or someone else has brought good weather with them." Sangfugol opened his doublet to the warmth. "It has been the strangest Maia weather of my memory—snow flurries on the Frostmarch, cold rains down into Utanyeat... hail! We had hail a fortnight ago, icestones big as bird's eggs." He began to unwrap the food as Simon took in the view. Perched as they were atop the high walls of the inner keep, Naglimund was spread at their feet like a blanket.
The castle hunched in a steep-sided hollow in the Wealdhelm Hills like something held in an upturned palm. Below the western battlements, across from where they sat, lay the castle's broad outer wall; beyond that the crooked streets of Naglimund town sloped down to the outwall of the city. Outside the wall lay a nearly limitless expanse of rocky grazing land and low hills.
On the far side, between the eastern battlements and the stark violet wall of the Wealdhelm, was a long, twisting trail down from the crest of the hills. Dotting the slopes on either side of the pathway were a thousand points of blackly gleaming sunlight.
"What are those?" Simon pointed. Sangfugol squinted his eyes, chewing.
"The nails, you mean?"
"What nails? Those long spikes on the hillside are what I'm asking about."
The harper nodded. "The nails. What do you think Naglimund means, anyway? You Hayholt-folk have forgotten your Erkynlandish. 'Nail-fort'—that's what it means. Duke Aeswides put them there when he built Naglimund."
"When was that? And what are they for?" Staring, Simon let the wind take his bread crumbs and swirl them out over the outer bailey.
"Sometime before the Rimmersmen came south, that's all I know," Sangfugol answered. "But he got the steel from Rimmersgard, all those bars. The Dvemings made them," he added significantly, but the name meant nothing to Simon.
"Why, though? It's like an iron garden."
"To keep the Sithi out," Sangfugol declared. "Aeswides was terrified of them, because this was really their land. One of their great cities, I forget the name, was on the far side of the hills here."
"Da'ai Chikiza," Simon said quietly, staring at the thicket of tarnished metal.
"That's right," the harper agreed. "And the Sithi can't stand iron, it's said. Makes them quite ill, even kills them. So Aeswides surrounded his castle with those steel 'nails'—used to be they were all around the front of the keep as well, but with the Sithi gone they just got in the way: made it hard to bring wagons in on market day, things of that sort. So when King John gave this place to Josua—to keep him and his brother apart as much as possible, I suspect—my master took them all down except the ones there on the slopes. I think they amuse him. He likes old things very much, the prince my master."
As they shared the jug of beer, Simon related to the harp player a pared-down version of what had happened to him since they had last met, leaving out some of the more inexplicable things since he had no answer to the questions the harper would surely raise. Sangfugol was impressed, but he was most strongly affected by the tale of Josua's rescue and Morgenes' martyrdom.
"Ah, that villain Elias," he said at last, and Simon was surprised by the look of real anger that clouded the harper's face like a storm. "King John should have strangled that monster at birth, or barring that, at least made him general of the armies and let him harry the Thrithings-men—anything but putting him on the Dragonbone Chair to be a plague to us all!"
"But he is there," Simon said, chewing. "Do you think he will attack us here in Naglimund?"
"Only God and the Devil know," Sangfugol grinned sourly, "and the Devil's hedging his bets. He may not know yet that Josua is here, although that certainly won't last long. This keep is a strong, strong place. We have long-dead Aeswides to thank for that, anyway. All the same, strong or no, I can't imagine Elias standing by for long while Josua builds power here in the north."
"But I thought Prince Josua didn't want to be king," Simon said.
"And he doesn't. But Elias is not the type to understand that. Ambitious men never believe others aren't the same. He's also got Pryrates whispering words of snaky advice in his ear."
"But haven't Josua and the king been enemies for years? Since long before Pryrates came?"
Sangfugol nodded. "There has been no shortage of trouble between them. They loved each other once, were closer than most brothers—or so I'm told by Josua's older retainers. But they fell out, and then Hylissa died."
"Hylissa?" Simon asked.
"Elias' Nabbanai wife. Josua was bringing her to Elias, who was still a prince, at war then for his father in the Thrithings. Their party was waylaid by Thrithings raiders. Josua lost his hand trying to defend Hylissa, but to no avail—the raiders were too many."
Simon let out a long breath, "So that's how it happened!"
"It was the death of any love between them... or so people say."



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