To begin at the beginning, click on Prologue in the Table of Contents, then on Chapter One, etc.


For more than an hour, Taraval descended through thickening stands of larch that gradually became dotted with mountain ash trees, heavily clustered with winged seed pods, and finally with broad-leaved sweet chestnuts, still hung with a few furry catkins. The sun, which had seemed to hover on the horizon longer than usual, plunged suddenly below it, leaving a few wispy clouds tinged briefly with fiery red. Darkness would come on rapidly now, Taraval knew.

As luck would have it, less than a quarter hour later he came to an ash grove and found a small, seeping spring and a bed of fallen leaves that still showed the impression where a deer had slept. He heard a rustle and saw in a nearby thicket a quick flash of orange – the tail brush of a fox. This would be a good place to spend the night, he thought; a place that animals had chosen felt comfortable and safe to him.

A husky breeze sprang up and whipped his tunic. Taraval shivered. Quickly he built a small fire and brewed tea from the spring water and some leaves of wood betony he found growing near the thicket. He warmed himself at the fire, and after a frugal dinner of cheese and dried venison treated himself to another of Felicity’s pastries. Then he pulled out the apples Segway had given him and held out one of them to Tressiter; the horse curled his lips around it and munched away, shaking his head up and down in the way he had that was like a thank you.

Taraval savored his own apple, and as the chill and the stillness deepened he nursed the small, licking flame with dried ash leaf wands. Then, pulling his lute from the leather case Terwilliger had made for it, he began to play and sing a little, more to break the silence that because he felt like singing.

For some reason the tone of the lute was not bell clear and luminous, the way he remembered it sounding. It seemed instead harsh and tight, like a singer’s voice when he’s nervous. Taraval flexed his hands and looked at them. His fingers were stiff from holding Tressiter’s reins all day; that, he told himself, must account for the rough tones he was hearing.

With a shrug he put the lute back in its case next to Tressiter’s saddle. Then he laid out his bedroll on the ash leaves and spent a few minutes currying the horse before he doused the fire and, in the darkness, slipped into his cold bed. He felt a moment of uneasiness and tried to determine what was causing it. Had he heard a sound? No, the strangeness was that there was no sound, not even a comforting night chorus of insects.

Sleep was slow in coming, but when it came at last it was deep and heavy. For that reason, perhaps, Taraval was not awakened by furtive footfalls rustling the ash leaves; did not awaken, in fact, until Tressiter’s shrill neigh shattered the silence and jerked him upright. In the space of a second, though, he was on his feet. In the moonlight he saw the great chestnut horse rear, paw at the air with his front hooves, then set off at a full gallop, a slender white-clad figure clinging fiercely to his neck.

As if in a dream, Taraval saw glimpses of white flash in and out among the trees as Tressiter bolted. He opened his mouth to cry out, but his voice caught in his throat, and the cry he heard was not his own command, but a shriek of fear or joy – or both – from the rider, who desperately gripped Tressiter’s mane while hanging half on and half off the speeding horse.

Saint Agnes, be merciful, but if this kills the thief, it serves him right, Taraval thought, and gave the shrill whistle he always used to call Tressiter. Instantly the horse broke his gallop, head down, and the hapless rider sailed over his head in a blur of white. Taraval raced into the darkness after them. Saint Agnes, or fate, had indeed been merciful, for the rider was sprawled on a bed of soft moss, limp and panting. Slowly, he drew himself together and, trembling, stood up.


The boy stood before him in the moonlight, his shoulders drooping and his face full of shame. “I’m sorry, my lord,” he whispered.

“So you were the one following me.”

Segway nodded sheepishly.

“Well, that was a fool knave thing to do, boy. Where you planning to steal my horse?”

“Oh, no, m’lord,” the boy answered, his eyes round and innocent. “I only wanted to ride him once before you took him away. He is so beautiful and I love him so.”

“But if you just wanted to steal a ride, you had every chance to do it at the castle,” he said. “Why wait and follow me out into the wilderness?”

“I did try to ride him once, my lord,” Segway confessed, his head down and his voice barely audible. “But then I heard the sound of you running toward the stable, so I gave it up and sneaked back to bed.”

“Ah! It was you last night!” Taraval laughed. “And you missed your opportunity then, so you planned to follow me on this quest just for a ride on Tressiter.”

“Oh, my lord, I never would have planned to follow you,” the boy wen ton. “I couldn’t get up my courage until I saw you actually leaving this morning. And then I thought, ‘I may never see Tressiter again, or the young prince, neither,’ and I wanted to have one last look, for my eyes to say goodbye to both of you, and so I followed. At first I was only going to follow a little way, but the way grew longer, and then my heart grew brave and I knew I had to have one ride on Tressiter before I bid him farewell.” He lifted his chin almost defiantly and said, “And so I did.”

Taraval laughed, despite himself. “And very nearly killed yourself in the effort. Here, let’s have a look at you. Are you hurt?”

Segway gingerly moved his arms and legs and winced when he bent his wrist.

“Let me see it,” Taraval said. He probed the boy’s wrist carefully, then said, “It’s not broken – only a sprain, I think. Come, I’ll bind it up for you. You’re lucky it wasn’t far worse.”

Tressiter had calmed down by now and followed them back to the campsite, where he soon busied himself eating grass as if nothing had happened. As Taraval searched through his saddle pack for a strip of cloth to bind Segway’s wrist, he said to the boy, “You couldn’t have kept up with us on foot. Did you steal a horse to follow us?”

“No, m’lord,” the boy replied indignantly. “I rode my own horse.”

“Your own horse? So, that explains the neigh I heard this afternoon.”

“He belonged to my father before he died, and now he belongs to me,” said Segway, pride in his voice, for he knew it was rare for a stable boy to own a horse of his own. “I left him tied up over there,” he added, pointing into the darkness.

“Well, see that he’s fed and bedded down,” Taraval said firmly, “because in the morning you’re riding him back to Ilahee.”

Taraval had found the roll of cloth strips he had packed for just such injuries, and he began winding one around Segway’s hand and wrist in the way his uncle had taught him would hold a joint firm after a sprain. Segway received the binding with head down, seemingly calm, but his breath came heavily.

Suddenly he raised his head and blurted, “Take me with you, m’lord. Please!”

Their eyes met in the moonlight and Taraval saw that Segway’s held the same intensity he had heard that morning in the boy’s voice when he had handed Taraval the two apples.

“I can’t do that, Segway,” he replied. “You’re needed back at the stables.”

No I’m not. Damien can do all the work there. He hardly even noticed wherther I was there or not, and he only let me help him because I begged him to. But you need me, lord Taraval. I can look after Tressiter, and cook your meals, and wash your clothing. You need a squire.”

“A squire?” Taraval laughed. “I am no knight, Segway.”

“If not a squire, a page then.” The boy shifted his eyes away and added shyly, “A page who will be loyal to you always, whatever happens.”

“What about your parents? Do they know where you’ve gone?”

“Dead these two years, of a fever, m’lord.”

“Brothers and sisters? Aunts and uncles?”

“None, m’lord.”

Without speaking, Taraval finished bandaging Segway’s wrist, a frown on his face. A companion would be just another responsibility, he thought – someone who needed taking care of, just as Taraval was taking care of him now – and another mouth to feed, as well. Then he looked at the boy’s earnest face and thought of the day just past, with its swelling silence and emptiness.

“Let me see your horse,” he said finally.

Eagerly, Segway ran off into the darkness and a moment later led out of the shadows what was surely the sorriest-looking horse Taraval had ever seen. Sway-backed and knock-kneed, it looked like a moth-eaten relic of some former age.

Taraval shook his head, trying to keep from laughing. “No, Segway. I’m sorry, for both our sakes, but this horse could never keep up with Tressiter.”

“Please, m’lord,” the boy pleaded. “I know he doesn’t look like much, and he can’t go fast, but he makes a full day’s journey without stopping. We kept up with you today, just out of sight and hearing. Otherwise we wouldn’t be here now,” he added triumphantly.

There was a rustle as a rabbit darted out of the thicket, and the old horse tossed his head and took a few prancing steps, his tail swishing.

“I can’t believe it!” Taraval exclaimed. “It seems there’s a bit of spirit left in this ancient nag, after all.” He walked around the horse, shaking his head. “What do you call him?”

“Festinalentay, m’lord. My father told me it means ‘hasten slowly’.”

“A fitting name,” Taraval said, stroking the old horse’s neck. “Well, Festinalentay, if you are strong enough to carry such a name, you should be strong enough to carry Segway, too. But I hope you’ve got some miles left in you, for prince though I am, I can’t afford Segway his keep, much less a new horse.”

“I can earn my keep, lord Taraval,” Segway said. “You will see. You won’t be sorry you let us come.”

“I hope not. And I hope you won’t be sorry, either, Segway, for I must tell you, I’m not sure exactly where we’re going, and when – or even if – we’ll be coming back.” He looked at the boy gravely as he spoke these words and saw that the look of resolve in Segway’s eyes never wavered. So he pulled his extra blanket from his saddle pack and handed it to the boy.

“Very well, then – but remember, I warned you,” he said. “Now bed the horses down and get some sleep yourself. We must be on our way early tomorrow.”


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