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


Moments later, Taraval felt the spell of the music lifting. The three villains appeared to be still hopeless with laughter under Featherbroom’s influence, but whether this had been so for hours or minutes, he had no idea. Quickly he relieved them of their swords and unbuckled Red Hair’s scabbard, then he hastened to his fallen companion and dismounted to examine the boy. He knelt and touched Segway’s hand; to his relief, it was warm.


The boy’s lips moved and Taraval bent closer.

“I’ll help, my lord. I’ll get rocks,” Segway whispered, his eyes still closed.

Bemused by the boy’s earnest inentions, Taraval glanced back over his shoulder at the three men who had lain in wait for them. Red Hair and Big Belly were still laughing uncontrollably, as if they were drunk, but Carbold’s features were growing more sober, and Taraval began to worry that the spell might not hold him much longer.

He put his arm under Segway’s shoulders. “Segway, can you get up?”

The boy’s eyes opened. “Master Taraval,” he said hoarsely. “What happened?”

“You fell off Festinalentay. Are you hurt?”

The boy rubbed his head. “Not much, Ouch, my head is sore.”

“You must have hit it when you fell. Are you dizzy?”

“A little. But I think I can stand up now.”

“Good. We must get away from here before these knaves come back to their senses.”

Taraval helped the boy to his feet. Segway clung to him unsteadily for a moment, his mouth hanging open at seeing the bandits lost in their private world of hilarity.

“M’lord, what did you do to them?”

“It wasn’t me, Segway, it was Featherbroom. She’s saved us again.”

“It’s just the way it was at the inn. And that’s Philip Carbold! Was he trying to steal the lute?”

“I’d be willing to wager on it. Btu we haven’t time to talk now. We must get them off their horses. Do you feel strong enough to help me tie them up?”

“I think so, my lord. The dizziness is passing.”

Taraval took a length of rope from Tressiter’s saddlebag, and with much tugging and pulling the two of them finally slid Philip Carbold from his mount. He hit the ground with a thud and Taraval was afraid for a moment that the impact would jar him back to full consciousness. But after muttering a few unintelligible words, Carbold lapsed back into a glassy-eyed rapture, and Taraval quickly bound his hands behind him. The other two were easier; the red-haired one, in fact, had already slid to the ground. Taraval sat the two of them and Carbold back-to-back in a circle, and after binding them separately, wrapped the rest of the rope around all three and tied it securely. Then he led their horses to the entrance of the clearing and with a slap on the rump sent each of them off toward Landshut.

“There. I hope the call of the feedbag will keep them from coming back here. Get Festinalentay, Segway. We’ve no time to lose.”

“Are we going to look for the ravenwood tree?” Segway asked.

“Of course. The spot the woodcutter described is very near here.”

“But Master Taraval, what if that was part of the trap?”

“Well, obviously the woodcutter told these villains we’d be coming through here,” Taraval replied. “But he might have been telling the truth about the tree. Anyway, we have to find out.”

They remounted and rode out of the natural amphitheater. After they had descended the rocky trail to level ground again, Taraval stopped long enough o give Segway the best of the bandits’ swords and the scabbard; he hid the other two in heavy brush a few paces from the trail.

Segway looked at the sword in awe. “But I don’t know how to use it, m’lord,” he said.

“I’ll start teaching you as soon as we’re on the trail again. I’ll feel better when you know how to defend yourself.”

“Oh, yes, my lord,” the boy answered, eyes wide with excitement. After a moment he said, “Philip Carbold and his friends are going to be awfully angry when they wake up.”

“I know. That’s why we’ve got to find the ravenwood tree and get back through the rocks before then.”

“We have to go back through there?”

“There’s no other way back to Landshut, Segway, and we have to return to the inn long enough to pick up our belongings. Whether we continue north from there or start back to Ilahee depends on what we find a few minutes from now.”

Though his voice was steady, Taraval could feel his pulse pounding, for if the woodcutter had told the truth, they might be within minutes of finding the object of their quest. As for Segway, already simmering with anticipation for learning sword fighting and dread of encountering the murderous bandits again, the prospect of finding a ravenwood tree added little to his excitement. Taraval was glad that, for whatever reason, the boy was quiet the last mile of the ride.

Soon they reached the valley Ansel the woodcutter had described. A stream wound through it, bordered by alder and willow trees, and here and there grew oaks and birches, but at first they saw nothing that looked like a ravenwood. Taraval had nearly given up hope when he spied a familiar-looking outline near a grove at the far end of the little valley. His heart racing, he spurred Tressiter to a gallop. As he neared the tree he saw that the leaves outlined against the sky were indeed fan-shaped.

“Segway!” he shouted. “Come quickly! I’ve found it!”

He leaped off Tressiter and ran to the tree, so beautiful against the blue of the afternoon sky. Laughing, he grasped a low-hanging branch and buried his face in the thick foliage. A live ravenwood tree! Ilahee could start new groves from its seeds and cuttings He had saved his kingdom, and he wouldn’t have to marry haughty Princess Gretchen, after all.

Then he stopped short. He stared up into the tree for a long moment and then reached up and broke off a branch.

By this time, Segway had picked up on Taraval’s enthusiasm and was giggling with the joy of their success as he came trotting up on Festinalentay, the old horse heaving with his unaccustomed effort to catch up with Tressiter. But seeing Taraval with his head bowed and shoulders sagging, the boy grew silent. He knew that something was terribly wrong.


Post a Comment

<< Home