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


Taraval and Segway took turns standing watch during the night, until their exhaustion and the fast-dipping temperature drove them to find what warmth they could curled back to back in a corner of their roofless shelter. In the morning they were surprised to find a light dusting of snow on their blankets.

“Snow so soon bodes for an early winter,” Lisa remarked, and her words chilled Taraval even more than the frosty morning.

They rose stiff and cold, shaking off the snow and rubbing their hands together to warm them. Taraval started a fire with a small pile of twigs while Segway, shivering even with his blanket wrapped around him, gathered enough firewood to brew a pot of tea and thaw out their hands and feet. Lisa, clutching her shawl, portioned out a bit of dried venison, bread, and apples from the package she had brought.

“I packed only enough food to last until we get to Urbanket, where my kin live,” she said. “Then you’ll have to buy more.”

“Will we be able to get it there?” Taraval asked. “We also need another waterskin and pack, and a warm cape for Segway.” With the sudden change in the weather, he knew it was urgent to get warmer clothing for the boy.

“You can probably buy some food directly from the farmers,” Lisa replied, “but I don’t know about the other things. Unless…” Her forehead creased in thought. “I recall Urbanek has a three-day fair sometime in the fall, but I’m not sure when. It may be over already.”

“Well, it’s a lean chance,” said Taraval, “but let’s hope for a little luck.”

They resumed their journey as soon as they finished breakfast. The trail they traveled was well off the main road, but even so Taraval wanted to put as much distance as possible between them and Landshut before Philip Carbold and his knavish friends before they could make pursuit.

Where the trail was wide enough for two to ride abreast, Segway fell in alongside Taraval, just far enough behind that he was side by side with Lisa, and the two of them soon began to chat amiably. This kept Segway happy and pleased Taraval as well; the boy’s aimless chatter didn’t annoy him so much when he didn’t have to reply or pay attention to it.

By noon a feeble sun had melted the powdering of snow from the ground and spread enough warmth that Segway shrugged off the blanket he had kept wrapped about him all morning. Not until mid-afternoon did Taraval feel they had enough of a head start to stop for lunch. He reined up in a small clearing in an ash grove. A few late-blooming spikes of dapples foxglove and rosebay willow still decorated the little meadow.

“What causes those circles, m’lord?” Segway asked, pointing to several rings trodden around the ash trees.

“They’re made by roe deer, when the buck chases the doe around the trees,” Taraval replied.

“Why in the world does he do that?” Segway asked, scratching his head in bafflement.

Lisa interjected an answer. “Why, to propose marriage to her, of course.” The tone of her voice was grave, but a smile quivered on her lips.

“Really?” Segway said. “I didn’t know deer got married.”

Lisa let out a light, tinkling laugh and Segway blushed crimson, suddenly aware that she was teasing him.

They settled down under a chestnut tree for a lunch of bread and cheese and small sips of water from their one waterskin, but Segway sat a little apart from them, still embarrassed at having displayed his innocence and gullibility in front of the girl. After finishing her meal, Lisa took pity on him.

“Look, Segway,” she said, picking up something from under the tree. “What’s that?”

She handed him the spiny husk of a fallen chestnut. He grinned, pleased that he could answer her question – it was one he had asked Taraval on the first day of their journey – and he launched into an explanation he hoped would impress her. Taraval leaned back against the chestnut tree, smiling as he listened to the boy repeat, word for word, the answer he had given him.

Suddenly there came a rustling from the bushes nearby, accompanied by a duet of snuffling and snorting noises. Taraval motioned the other two to silence. The sounds continued, and after a moment he began to respond with some noises of his own – loud chirping followed by a whistling sound. The snuffling and rustling stopped, then the bushes parted and two strange-looking animals ambled out. Broad and flat and covered with short spines, they looked like walking pincushions with small round ears and bright black eyes. Fearlessly they approached Taraval and each in turn touched his hand, curiously but gently, with its pointed snout.

“I’ve never seen their like,” said Segway in amazement. “What are they, m’lord?”

“They’re hedgehogs,” Taraval replied with a grin.

Lisa stared at Taraval as the hedgehogs continued to sniff at his hand.

“Where did you learn to do that, minstrel?” she asked in wide-eyed awe. She had seen his lute performance mesmerize the patrons at the inn,a nd this new feat convinced her he was truly a wizard.

“My uncle taught me many animal calls,” he replied, “but he says there is something more to it, that it’s a knack I inherited from his side of the family, through my mother.” He paused, then added, “Perhaps it’s like the talent for carving Segway inherited.”

As he had hoped, this information diverted the girl’s attention from himself to Segway. “You can carve, Segway? I’d love to see what you do.”

Blushing again, but this time with pleasure, Segway pulled one of his horse carvings out of his pocket to show her, and his blush deepened at her exclamations of praise.

“Would you carve something for me?” she asked. “Perhaps a hedgehog?”

The boy looked dubiously at the hedgehogs’ coats forested with short spines. “Well,” he said, “this is one animal I don’t think I can carve. But I have an idea.”

He picked up a small chunk of wood, pulled out his carving knife, and quickly whittled a smooth round body with a point at one end for a snout. Then he took the spiny chestnut husk Lisa had handed him and stretched it over the piece. “There,” he said. “A smooth hedgehog with a removable coat. See?”

Lisa clapped her hands and laughed, delighted with the boy’s ingenuity. Beaming under her approval, Segway gave her the piece and quickly carved and outyfitted two more to make her a family of miniature hedgehogs. She thanked him and admired her little menagerie awhile longer, comparing them with the real hedgehogs, which were exploring the meadow. Then the live ones, with more whuffling and snuffling noises, ambled back into the bushes. Lisa tucked the carved ones away in her pocket and turned her attention again to Taraval.

“I’m surprised that Thomas would get involved in one of Philip’s wicked schemes,” she said. “He sometimes goes along with Philip – out of fear, I believe – but an ambush is something I wouldn’t have expected of him.”

“Thomas Carbold?” Taraval replied, puzzled. “No, he wasn’t one of the Philip’s accomplices. There was a tall, thin fellow with red hair, and a fat-bellied one missing a finger.”

Lisa sat bolt upright, her face pale. “Oh, not Joseph!” she exclaimed. Suddenly she was the vision of anxiety, wringing her hands as she hurriedly explained. “The fat one is Joseph Pyncheon, and he is like a hound when it comes to tracking. He knows every trail around her, including this one. Oh, minstrel, we must make haste. This trail is slow; we shouldn’t have wasted all this time! By now Philip has probably sent Martin, the red-haired one, ahead to the next town to cut you off. And Joseph has no doubt found the tracks Segway and I tried to rub out. If only I’d asked you last night who Philip’s villainous partners were!”


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