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


When Taraval woke at sunup, he found that Segway had already brewed tea over a small fire, saddled the horses, and picked a handful of wild raspberries to supplement their scant morning meal. Perhaps having a page would be a boon after all, he thought as he washed his face and hands at the little spring.

After a quick breakfast he checked the boy’s wrist and was relieved to see that the swelling was down and there wasn’t much bruising. He reloaded his saddle pack, and when Segway insisted on carrying the blanket he had used, Taraval looked at Festinalentay doubtfully, for the old horse would be slow enough even without an additional burden. But when he saw from Segway’s expression that it was a matter of honor to the boy, he reluctantly consented.

He strapped the lute case to his saddle and from the pouch at his belt pulled out the series of maps Terwilliger had drawn for him. Segway watched a frown deepen on Taraval’s face as he pored over the rough sketches with their descriptive notes.

“What is it, lord Taraval?”

“Well, I think we’re about here,” Taraval said, marking the spot with a bit of charcoal from the campfire. “But it looks as if we’re several days’ journey from the next sure watering place, and we’ve only one waterskin between us.”

The boy scuffed his boot in the dirt. “I’m sorry, my lord. If I’d known I’d be coming all this way, I’d have brought one.”

Taraval sighed. “We’ll just have to buy one when we come to a town,” he said. “I should have brought two, anyway. I’m afraid both of us have a great deal to learn about traveling.”

Segway peered over Taraval’s shoulder to follow the line he traced with his finger on the map. “Where are we going, m’lord?”

“North, Segway – to the city of Crenera.” He pointed to a large dot at the top of one of the maps. “According to my uncle, it’s a two-month trip even without stopping. I don’t know how we can look for ravenwood trees along the way and still get there in two months, but somehow we have to, because that’s all the traveling weather we’ll have before winter sets it.”

“But if the snows start before we get to Crenera, we can just stop in another town, can’t we?”

Taraval shook his head. “We have to make it to Crenera, Segway. Uncle Terwilliger has heard it’s the only city big enough for a minstrel to earn his keep all winter.”

He looked again at Festinalentay and the worry crease in his forehead deepened. But all he said was, “Water is our main concern now.” Then he pointed to a jagged figure drawn on the first map. “This is our goal for today – this great rock that juts out over the trail. We should reach it before sundown. There may be a little water there – a spring seeps from the mountainside below it, but travelers have said it’s usually dry by this time of year. There’s another possibility, though. See where the trail forks just past the rock? The westerly branch follows a stream bed which may have a pool that hasn’t dried up yet.”

He refolded the maps and slipped them back into his leather pouch, then filled the waterskin at the little spring. “Drink your fill now, and be sure Festinalentay does, too. We may have a long way to go before we find more.”

They watered the horses and started out, but they had ridden scarcely a furlong when they were startled by an unusual sound.

“What’s that noise, lord Taraval? It sounds like humming.” The sound rapidly grew louder and more insistent. “I think it’s coming from the lute!”

Taraval jerked his head around to look behind him. “The lute?”

“Yes, m’lord. One of the straps is loose and the whole case is quivering.”

Taraval dismounted and examined first the lute case and then the lute itself, turning it first one way and then the other. When he found nothing amiss he shrugged and put the lute back in its case, this time carefully securing both straps to keep the casae from bouncing against Tressiter’s flanks.

“My cousin Damien told me your lute is made from the wood of the very last tandaril tree,” Segway said as they started on their way again.

“The last one? Aye, that’s very likely true,” Taraval sighed. “You know, there are legends that tandaril wood is so resonant that any vibration can set it to singing. Maybe that’s what happened just now. But it puzzles me – that humming sound is not what I would have expected from it.”

They traveled on, the trail wounding through woods and grassy meadowlands dotted with ash groves, but with no sign of ravenwood trees – or water. With his thirst recently satisfied, however, Segway was soon forgetful of the water problem and full of questions about every unfamiliar plant he saw.

“What’s that flower, m’lord?” he asked, pointing to a clump of rosebay willow herb edging the trail. Friar Biophilus had trained Taraval well in plants and their lore, so he answered Segway’s questions amiably at first. Soon, however, he learned that his answers only sparked the boy’s curiosity and more questions. As Segway chattered on and on, Taraval’s patience wore thinner. Finally, when the boy pointed to some familiar blue-flowering flax, Taraval merely shrugged and shook his head. Twice more he made the same response before the boy, too, fell silent. Well, Taraval thought, maybe that will keep him quiet until lunch, at least.

The autumn sun grew warm on their shoulders, and at midday they stopped in a meadow to eat a lunch of cheese and dried venison in the sparse shade of an ash tree. Now that he had an extra mouth to feed, Taraval thought, he would have to start shooting game sooner than he had planned. That prospect weighed heavy on him, for although he was resigned to the necessity of hunting, he always regretted having to kill animals.

They sat on the ground, leaning against tree trunks as the sun bent down upon them. Soon sweat strung their skin. “I’m awfully thirsty, lord Taraval,” Segway said, his eyes on the waterskin. Taraval took one deep swallow from the bag and handed it to the boy, who made a point of drinking no more than his master.

After lunch they both dozed for a few minutes in the simmering sun, but shortly they were awakened by a sharp drumming sound. Taraval sat upright with a start and scanned the meadow, his hand on his sword’s hilt. There was a moment’s silence and then the sound came again, louder than before.

“Oh, there he is,” said Segway, pointing upward. “It’s only a woodpecker. He’s drumming up in the ash tree. See him?”

Taraval watched the woodpecker wind its spiral way up the tree, using its stiff tail for balance.

“It’s different form the green woodpeckers I’ve seen in Ilahee,” Segway said. “This one has a grey head with less red on it. And it drums a lot more. There was a woodpecker in the tree outside my window in Ilahee that woke me every morning…”

Segway prattled on about woodpeckers and the other birds of Ilahee, his face alight with pleasure in having a listener. But as the boy’s enthusiasm waxed, Taraval’s own waned. Would yesterday’s silence now be replaced by Segway’s endless questions and chatter? Having a page, he was beginning to see, was a mixed blessing.


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