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


Taraval jerked his sword from its sheath and parried a blow from the horseman in blac, who drew back to make another charge on him. “Segway! Run! Go back!” Taraval cried.

“I’ll help, m’lord!” Segway yelled back. “I’ll get rocks!”

Rocks! He’s daft, thought Taraval as Segway turned and spurred Festinalentay toward a rockpile near the crevice they had come through, but the other two horsemen were upon him instantly. Festinalentay reared in a cloud of dust, and Taraval saw the boy slide off the old horse’s back.

But he had no chance to help his charge, for the masked horseman’s sword was descending on him again; he dug his heels into Tressiter and swerved, so that the blow glanced off his saddle. The extraordinary horse was his one advantage, so sensitive to his slightest touch that he could maneuver circles around his attackers.

He parried another blow from his opponent, then metal clanged as they locked swords. Their forearms were pinned together and Taraval’s leg was crushed against his assailant’s as the sweating horses strained against one another. He heard the heaving of his own breath, for the man was powerfully strong. Feeling the iron-like sinews of the leg and the gauntleted arm locked against him, he realized he had no chance in a battle of strength against this man. He felt his arm weakening and heard his opponent growl, “I’ve got you now.”

For the first time in his young life, an image of his own death flashed into Taraval’s mind. He had a momentary vision of his body and Segway’s lying on the ground, with vultures circling over them. But at the same instant he was startled to hear an urgent voice in his ear, whispering, “Fly back! Fly!”

Desperately, Taraval jerked back and spun Tressiter away. The movement was so abrupt that his opponent, whose entire weight had been thrust against him, lost his balance and fell heavily form his horse. A feeling of power and elation spread through Taraval. The wisdom of that unfamiliar voice had saved him. Could Featherbroom actually speak?

In that instant the other two riders pressed in on him – he had a glimpse of tawny red hair on one, and a bulging belly on the other. The big-bellied man lunged at him, but he was slow and awkward and Taraval easily dodged the thrust. The red-haired one was faster and more adept, and their swords rang, clashing together in a barrage of strokes. When his opponent raised his weapon high to deal a mortal blow, Taraval smashed the blade with his own in an upward thrust that sent red-hair’s sword spinning into the air. Now the big-bellied assailant drove forward again. Taraval whirled Tressiter about, dodging a sword thrust, and with a well-timed jab drew blood from the ambusher’s thigh with the tip of his sword.

With the red-haired attacker retrieving his weapon and the fat one distracted by his gushing wound, Taraval had a moment to check on Segway. The boy still lay sprawled on the ground where he had fallen, with Festinalentay standing nearby. Was he unconscious from the fall, or had he been wounded? A stony dread crept into Taraval’s mind – could the boy be dead? Please, let him be alive, he prayed.

By now his original attacker had remounted, and he and the red-haired one charged Taraval from opposite directions. Red Hair was closer, and instead of retreating Taraval galloped toward him head on. The unexpected move caused his assailant’s horse to rear, and as Red Hair pulled the reins taut to control his mount, Taraval neatly slashed the reins with his sword. He whirled about to deal with the other horseman, but not before catching the look of astonishment of Red Hair’s face as he tumbled backwards off his horse.

The masked horseman in black lunged at him. Taraval heard the sound of cloth ripping and felt a brief but searing pain along his forearm. He danced Tressiter out of reach and grabbed his arm as a thin line of red oozed through his sleeve. But the wound wasn’t deep, and as his assailant bore down on him again, Taraval met him blow for blow, their sword blades glittering in the sun. The villain tried to lock swords with him again, but Taraval backed off whenever he was in danger of being pinned.

In the balance, though, he knew his agility was no match for his opponent’s greater strength. Soon he was flushed and panting, and he knew he would have to gain an advantage before the masked man bore down on him again. His chance came when the big-bellied one galloped into the fray just as the swordsman in black was poised to deliver a stroke. Taraval pivoted Tressiter around behind Big Belly, who dodged just in time to miss being struck down by the blow intended for Taraval.

Taraval prepared to take them on again, but the three bandits drew back for a conference. Red Hair had tied his reins back together, but his left arm hung oddly and Taraval realized he must have injured it in his fall. Too bad it wasn’t his sword arm, he thought bitterly.

After a moment, two of the bandits circled away in opposite directions. Taraval saw they were taking position to surround him and knew that, if they cornered him, his single sword stood no chance against their three.

With his sleeve he wiped beads of perspiration from his forehead, then he balanced his sword on his knees and rubbed his sweaty hands on his tunic to dry them. By this time the ambushers had posted themselves in a triangle around him and the masked swordsman held up his hand. Taraval tried to reach for the hilt of his sword but was astonished to find that his hand would not obey his will.

Instead, moved by an irresistible force, it went to the lute case, unfastened it, and pulled out the lute. Then his fingers, of their own accord, began to mime the notes of a familiar song about Ilahee. At the same moment the lute started to vibrate with an insistent murmur and he heard a rippling cascade of notes, like wind chimes – the same sound he had heard in his uncle’s workshop the day he found the tandaril trunk in the carved chest, and again when he first saw the lute Terwilliger had made from it. Was Featherbroom promising to help him? Could he trust her after the treachery she had shown in front of the crowd?

“Play!” said a voice in his mind – the same voice that had whispered “Fly!” – and now he knew that it was indded Featherbroom guiding him.

At a signal from the lead horseman, the ambushers started their charge. “I’ve got to believe in you, Featherbroom,” Tarval murmured. Quickly he sheathed his sword and, as his assailants spurred their horses toward him, began to sing at the top of his lungs and play the song his fingers had been readied for. On seeing Taraval face them with the lute instead of a sword in his hands, the big-bellied horseman let out a shout of laughter. Taraval played louder yet, the lilting strains of his song filling the amphitheater and echoing back from its cup-like walls.

As waves of music filled his head, time seemd to slow down and a strange sluggishness stole over him, but still the charging horsemen bore down, unfazed. As if in a dream, he heard the pounding of the horses’ hooves, then saw the black-masked horseman raise his sword, saw sunlight glint off the blade poised over his head before its inescapable downward stroke.

Had Featherbroom’s magic failed, or was she playing some ill-humored and tragic trick on him? Desperately he tried once more to reach for his sword, but again his hands might as well have belonged to someone else, for they ignored his command and continued to play the lute.

A thousand pinpoints of light scintillated from the death-dealing blade in the split second before its fatal slash, and for an instant that was like eternity the flashing sword seemed to hover in mid-stroke. Dear Saint Agnes, Taraval thought, Segway and I shall both die in this strange land, and Ilahee is doomed.

Then, astonishingly, the sword stopped short, as if it had struck an invisible wall. The hand that held it went slack, and the weapon dropped heavily to the ground. The ambushers’ horses, checked in the fury of their gallop, neighed in confusion and began to mill about, grazing on the dry grass. As if in an underwater dream, Taraval saw the two unmasked attackers begin to smile, and then to laugh, but he heard no sound from their lips. A warm, tingling sensation spread over his body, and he wanted to laugh, too, in the joy of victory.

In his trancelike state, he saws the msked horseman, belly shaking, throw back his head and emit peals of silent laughter. Then the man threw off his gauntlets and ripped off his mask, revealing a face that seemed familiar to Taraval but which he did not immediately recognize the music had so altered its usually sullen features.

Only gradually did the unshaven cheeks, heavy brows, and hairy hands with their thick fingers take on an identity for him, and he saw that the man intent on killing him was Philip Carbold.


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