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


Hastily they remounted and forged northward once more. Segway tried to renew his pleasantries with Lisa, but she was distracted, and he noticed that she kept glancing back over her shoulder with an anxious face, as if she expected to see the fat-bellied tracker hard upon them. Soon her fearfulness affected him, too, and when they passed a thicket a sudden screech and a frenzy of wing flapping made him start, his heart beating wildly.

“It’s only a grouse we flushed from its cover,” Taraval assured him.

Segway smiled weakly, but as they went on he found himself imagining every noise to be faint hoof beats behind them. All attempts at conversation ceased as they pushed ahead, concentrating on conserving energy and warmth while they covered as much ground as possible.

Again they rode well past midnight, until a biting wind sprang up. Then, cold and exhausted, they huddled the rest of the night in the V formed by two fallen logs, the only kind of shelter they could find. No more snow fell, butr the wind crept through their meager blankets like prowling fingers, so Taraval spread his rabbitskin-lined cape over the three of them. It kept them warm enough during the night, but after they arose in the morning he noted that Segway’s teeth chattered between bluish lips, and the boy wrapped his blanket twice around him.

“If we keep up at the rate we’ve been going, we should be in Urbanket by late afternoon,” Lisa said, blowing on her fingers to warm them. “My aunt and uncle will have a fire for us.”

With this encouragement added to their lingering fear of being pursued, they set off immediately, without taking time for a fire or breakfast. Lisa doled out chunks of bread and cheese for them to eat along the way and they passed the nearly empty waterskin between them as they rode. The sun, primrose pale in a bleached blue sky, shed so little warmth that Taraval for the first time wore his cape during the day, and Lisa and Segway kept their blankets tightly clasped about them.

By mid-afternoon they reached a fork in the trail. “The left branch leads back to the main road,” said Lisa. “The right fork goes to Urbanek.”

Instead of turning off at the fork, she led them on another furlong till they came to a trickling stream that crossed the trail. Again she had them cover their tracks as well as they could, and then they walked the horses down the middle of the streambed for another furlong before angling back to the trail that led to Urbanek.

An hour later Lisa halted them. “The trail continues around this hill, but my Aunt Elizabeth and Uncle Eldred live in that cottage on the crest of it,” she said, pointing. “From there it’s straight downhill to the village.”

They turned off on a bridle path, and when they were halfway up the hill the door of the cottage flew open and a small, grey-haired woman rushed out exuberantly, shouting Lisa’s name. The women greeted one another with hugs and kisses, then Lisa introduced Taraval and Segway and they were invited into the cottage. There, as Lisa had predicted, a crackling fire on the hearth welcomed them.

Lisa’s aunt and uncle, delighted that there niece had come, soon had tea bubbling on the fire and served them slabs of bread with freshly churned butter. When Lisa told them of her friends’ plight and asked abou the fair, her uncle exclaimed to Taraval, “You’re in luck, young sir! Today is the last day of the fair. It closes at sundown, but you may still be able to find a few things you need. Whatever is left will be at a good price.”

Only an hour remained before the sun would set, so as soon as Taraval had finished his tea he thanked his hosts and set off for the fair, with the lute slung over his shoulder and Lisa and Segway following close behind.


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