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


By this time they had reached the main road, which followed the route of the slow, meandering river that snaked through the well-tended farmlands. They passed several apple orchards, the trees hung with ripening fruit, and here and there they saw thatched cottages, and peasants hoeing in the fields. High in the sky above this idyllic setting a hawk wheeled. Suddenly it swooped to earth, snatching up a young rabbit in its talons. Segway watched, his blue eyes wide, as the hawk flew off with its prey, and Taraval thought grimly of the warning they had just been given.

At first they passed only a few other travelers, but traffic on the road gradually grew heavier, mainly farmers in homespun on their way to market, their carts and handbarrows loaded with produce. Now the road fairly hugged the river, and they watched bobbing coracles and an occasional barge being pooled up or downstream. Soon they came to the source and destination of this activity – the village of Landshut, tucked into a bend on the opposite side of the river. In its center, as the old man had told them, they could see a small but thriving marketplace.

Taraval and Segway crossed over the bridge into the village and joined the groups of farmers and tradesmen milling about the market. They dismounted and walked their horses past mounds of pumpkins, apples, pears, turnips, and bins of what and barley.

“Look, master Taraval! I’ve never seen so much food!”

Compared even to Trent this marketplace was modest, but Taraval reminded himself that Segway had never been to Trent. And he knew the boy’s interest in the food was of a practical nature – the morsels of grouse and handful of hazelnuts that morning had served only to whet his sizable appetite.

“We can eat later,” Taraval said. “First I want to check the leather merchants to see what kind of goods and prices we’ll find here. And then we must look for an inn.” Segway was learning to master his feelings – only his pursed lips revealed his disappointment on hearing that food was not to be their first order of business.

As they started their round of the marketplace, Taraval slipped his leather purse from the thong at his belt and tucked it well inside his shirt. Seeing the action, Segway looked around nervously, wondering who among the sober-looking farmers and tradesmen seemed a possible thief.

A quick survey of the booths revealed peddlers of knives and copper pots and cotton cloth; of leather boots, belts, gloves, aprons and vests; but none selling the items they sought. After traversing the marketplace twice, Taraval stopped to look over the wares of a huge blond-bearded craftsman tooling a leather belt.

“Have none of you any waterskins or packs?” he asked.

The man gave him a long look, his bushy eyebrows raised and head cocked to one side.

“That’s Philip Carbold you’d be wanting,” he said after a lengthy pause.

When after a moment the man had volunteered no more information, Traaval asked politely, “And where would I find this Philip Carbold?”

The man shrugged and help up the belt he was making. “If it’s craftsmanship you’re after, my belts are a better buy than anything Philip makes.” When he spoke the name, he lingered on it, and to Taraval it seemed that his voice was tinged with scorn. The man leaned forward to give the potential customer a closer view of the belt in his hand. “This one, see, has a dragon carved into it, and a pure silver buckle,” he said, leering at Taraval. “Just the right thing for a young knave like yourself.”

“It’s fine work,” Taraval said firmly, “but I am in need of a waterskin and pack, not a belt.” As he spoke he squared his shoulders and rested one hand ever so lightly on the hilt of his sword. The gesture was subtle but effective.

The craftsman looked him over, taking in the lute slung across his shoulder and noting this time that his clothing, though worn, bore the mark of royalty. When he spoke again his tone was more respectful but his eyes were hard.

“You will find Philip in that booth across the way,” he said, “but I know not when. If you will tell me your name and where you can b e found, I will let him know you inquired after him and he will seek you out.”

“Tell him that Taraval of Ilahee would like to see his wares,” Taraval replied. “As for lodging, we have none yet. Is there an inn you would vouch for as honest and clean, where a traveling minstrel might find work?”

The craftsman again appraised the lute and the worn clothing, and raised an eyebrow, as if to say, Ah, royalty on hard times. Then he replied, “There are several taverns, but The Hanged Man at the end of yonder street is the only inn, so it matters little whether I can vouch for it or not. But whether it’s inns you’re dealing with, or leather merchants,” he added, “I’d advise you to keep an eye on your purse.”

These words sent a chill through Taraval – it was twice in little more than an hour that he had heard them. Hiseyes met the craftsman’s and he could swear that the fleeting look he glimpsed there was one of fear – but of whom?

“What is your name?” Taraval asked.

“Thomas,” said the craftsman.

“Well, Thomas, I thank you for the warning,” Taraval said. The man responded only with a nod and turned back to his work, his eyes hidden beneath bristling blond eyebrows.

“Come, Segway,” said Taraval, “if the Hanged Man is the only inn, then like it or not it’s where we must stay.”


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