Had it been any other night, they would have died.
Not badly, for the forest would do this much honor to their exchange of blood, but their deaths had been quite certain from the moment they had ridden past haunted Llewenmere into the trees. One man alone had walked in Pendaran and come out alive since Maugrim, whom the powers called Sathain, had been bound. All others had died, badly, screaming before the end. Pity was not a thing the Wood could feel.
Any other night. But away south of them in another wood, this was Paul Schafer’s third night on the Summer Tree.
Even as the three intruders were being delicately separated from each other, the focus of Pendaran was torn utterly away from them by something impossible and humbling, even for the ancient, nameless powers of the Wood.
A red moon rose in the sky.
In the forest it was as if a fire had started. Every power and spirit of the wild magic, of tree and flower or beast, even the dark, oldest ones that seldom woke and that all the others feared, the powers of night and the dancing ones of dawn, those of music and those who moved in deadly silence, all of them began a mad rush away, away, to the sacred grove, for they had to be there before that moon was high enough to shed her light upon the glade.
Dave heard the whispering of the leaves stop. It frightened him, everything did now. But then there came a swift sense of release, as if he were no longer being watched. In the next instant he felt a great sweep, as of wind but not wind, as something rushed over him, through him, hurtling away to the north.
Understanding nothing, only that the Wood seemed to be simply a wood now, the trees merely trees, Dave turned to the east, and he saw the full moon resting, red and stupefying, atop the highest trees.
Such was the nature of the Mother’s power that even Dave Martyniuk, alone and lost, unspeakably far from home and a world he somewhat comprehended, could look upon that moon and take heart from it. Even Dave could see it for an answer to the challenge of the Mountain.
Not release, only an answer, for that red moon meant war as much as anything ever could. It meant blood and war, but not a hopeless conflict now, not with Dana’s intercession overhead, higher than even Rangat’s fires could be made to climb.
All this was inchoate, confused, struggling for some inner articulation in Dave that never quite came together; the sense was there, though, the intuitive awareness that the Lord of the Dark might be free, but he would not be unopposed. It was thus with most of those across Fionavar who saw that symbol in the heavens: the Mother works, has always worked, along the tracings of the blood so that we know things of her we do not realize we know. In very great awe, hope stirring in his heart, Dave looked into the eastern sky, and the thought that came to him with absolute incongruity was that his father would have liked to see this thing.
For three days Tabor had not opened his eyes. When the Mountain unleashed its terror, he only stirred on his bed and murmured words that his mother, watching, could not understand. She adjusted the cloth on his forehead and the blankets over him, unable to do more.
She had to leave him for a while after that, for Ivor had given orders, swift and controlled, to quell the panic caused by the laughter riding on the wind. They were starting east for Celidon at first light tomorrow. They were too alone here, too exposed, under the very palm, it seemed, of the hand that hung above Rangat.
Even through the loud tumult of preparation, with the camp a barely contained whirlwind of chaos, Tabor slept.
Nor did the rising of a red full moon on new moon night cause him to wake, though all the tribe stopped what they were doing, wonder shining in their eyes, to see it swing up above the Plain.
“This gives us time,” Gereint said, when Ivor snatched a minute to talk with him. The work continued at night, by the strange moonlight. “He will not move quickly now, I think.”
“Nor will we,” Ivor said. “It is going to take us time to get there. I want us out by dawn.”
“I’ll be ready,” the old shaman said. “Just put me on a horse and point it the right way.”
Ivor felt a surge of affection for Gereint. The shaman had been white-haired and wrinkled for so long he seemed to be timeless. He wasn’t, though, and the rapid journey of the coming days would be a hardship for him.
As so often, Gereint seemed to read his mind. “I never thought,” he said, very low, “I would live so long. Those who died before this day may be the fortunate ones.”
“Maybe so,” Ivor said soberly. “There will be war.”
“And have we any Revors or Colans, any Ra-Termaines or Seithrs among us? Have we Amairgen or Lisen?” Gereint asked painfully.
“We shall have to find them,” Ivor said simply. He laid a hand on the shaman’s shoulder. “I must go. Tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow. But see to Tabor.”
Ivor had planned to supervise the last stages of the wagon loading, but instead he detailed Cechtar to that and went to sit quietly by his son.
Two hours later Tabor woke, though not truly. He rose up from his bed, but Ivor checked his cry of joy, for he saw that his son was wrapped in a waking trance, and it was known to be dangerous to disturb such a thing.
Tabor dressed, quickly and in silence, and left the house. Outside the camp was finally still, asleep in troubled anticipation of grey dawn. The moon was very high, almost overhead.
It was, in fact, now high enough. West of them a dance of light was beginning in the clearing of the sacred grove, while the gathered powers of Pendaran watched.
Walking very quickly, Tabor went around to the stockade, found his horse, and mounted. Lifting the gate, he rode out and began to gallop west.
Ivor, running to his own horse, leaped astride, bareback, and followed. Alone on the Plain, father and son rode towards the Great Wood, and Ivor, watching the straight back and easy riding of his youngest child, felt his heart grow sore.
Tabor had gone far indeed. It seemed he had farther yet to go. The Weaver shelter him, Ivor prayed, looking north to the now quiescent glory of Rangat.
More than an hour they rode, ghosts on the night plain, before the massive presence of Pendaran loomed ahead of them, and then Ivor prayed again: Let him not go into it. Let it not be there, for I love him.
Does that count for anything, he wondered; striving to master the deep fear the Wood always aroused in him.
It seemed that it might, for Tabor stopped his horse fifty yards from the trees and sat quietly, watching the dark forest. Ivor halted some distance behind. He felt a longing to call his son’s name, to call him back from wherever he had gone, was going.
He did not. Instead, when Tabor, murmuring something his father could not hear, slipped from his mount and walked into the forest, Ivor did the bravest deed of all his days, and followed. No call of any god could make Ivor dan Banor let his son walk tranced into Pendaran Wood alone.
And thus did it come to pass that father and both sons entered into the Great Wood that night.
Tabor did not go far. The trees were thin yet at the edge of the forest, and the red moon lit their path with a strangely befitting light. None of this, Ivor thought, belonged to the daylight world. It was very quiet. Too quiet, he realized, for there was a breeze, he could feel it on his skin, and yet it made no sound among the leaves. The hair rose up on the back of Ivor’s neck. Fighting for calm in the enchanted silence, he saw Tabor suddenly stop ten paces ahead, holding himself very still. And a moment later Ivor saw a glory step from the trees to stand before his son.
Westward was the sea, she had known that, though but newly born. So east she had walked from the birthing place she shared with Lisen—though that she did not know—and as she passed among the gathered powers, seen and unseen, a murmur like the forest’s answer to the sea had risen up and fallen like a wave in the Wood.
Very lightly she went, knowing no other way to tread the earth, and on either side the creatures of the forest did her homage, for she was Dana’s, and a gift in time of war, and so was much more than beautiful.
And as she traveled, there came a face into the eye of her mind—how, she knew not, nor would ever—but from the time that was before she was, a face appeared to her, nut-brown, very young, with dark unruly hair, and eyes she needed to look into. Besides, and more than anything, this one knew her name. So here and there her path turned as she sought, all unknowing, delicate and cloaked in majesty, a certain place within the trees.
Then she was there and he was there before her, waiting, a welcome in those eyes, and a final acceptance of what she was, all of her, both edges of the gift.
She felt his mind in hers like a caress, and nudged him back as if with her horn. Only each other, at the last, she thought, her first such thought. Whence had it come?
I knew, his mind answered her. There will be war.
For this was I birthed, she replied, aware of a sudden of what lay sheathed within the light, light grace of her form. It frightened her.
He saw this and came nearer. She was the color of the risen moon, but the horn that brushed the grass when she lowered her head for his touch was silver.
My name? she asked.
Imraith-Nimphais, he told her, and she felt power burst within her like a star.
Joyously she asked, Would you fly?
She felt him hesitate.
I would not let you fall,she told him, a little hurt.
She felt his laughter then. Oh, I know, bright one, he said, but if we fly you may be seen and our time is not yet come.
She tossed her head impatiently, her mane rippling. The trees were thinner here, she could see the stars, the moon. She wanted them. There is no one to see but one man, she told him. The sky was calling her.
My father, he said. I love him.
Then so will I, she answered, but now I would fty. Come!
And within her then he said, I will,and moved to mount astride her back. He was no weight at all; she was very strong and would be stronger yet. She bore him past the other, older man, and because Tabor loved him, she lowered her horn to him as they went by.
Then they were clear of the trees, and there was open grass and oh, the sky, all the sky above. For the first time she released her wings and they rose in a rush of joy to greet the stars and the moon whose child she was. She could feel his mind within hers, the exulting of his heart, for they were bound forever, and she knew that they were glorious, wheeling across the wide night sky, Imraith-Nimphais and the Rider who knew her name.
When the chestnut unicorn his son rode lowered her head to him as they passed, Ivor could not keep the tears from his eyes. He always cried too easily, Leith used to scold, but this, surely this transcendency…?
And then, turning to follow them, he saw it become even more, for the unicorn took flight. Ivor lost all track of time then, seeing Tabor and the creature of his fast go soaring across the night. He could almost share the joy they felt in the discovery of flight, and he felt blessed in his heart. He had walked into Pendaran and come out alive to see this creature of the Goddess bear his son like a comet above the Plain.
He was too much a Chieftain and too wise to forget that there was a darkness coming. Even this creature, this gift, could not be an easy thing, not colored as she was like the moon, like blood. Nor would Tabor ever be the same, he knew. But these sorrows were for the daylight—tonight he could let his heart fly with the two of them, the two young ones at play in the wind between him and the stars. Ivor laughed, as he had not in years, like a child.
After an unknown time they came down gently, not far from where he stood. He saw his son lay his head against that of the unicorn, beside the silver shining of its horn. Then Tabor stepped back, and the creature turned, moving with terrible grace, and went back into the darkness of the Wood.
When Tabor turned to him, his eyes were his own again. Wordlessly, for there were no words, Ivor held out his arms and his youngest child ran into them.
“You saw?” Tabor asked finally, his head against his father’s chest.
“I did. You were glorious.”
Tabor straightened, his eyes reclaiming their dance, their youth. “She bowed to you! I didn’t ask. I just said you were my father and I loved you, so she said she would love you, too, and she bowed.”
Ivor’s heart was full of light. “Come,” he said gruffly, “it is time to go home. Your mother will be weeping with anxiety.”
“Mother?” Tabor asked in a tone so comical Ivor had to laugh. They mounted and rode back, slowly now, and together, over their Plain. On this eve of war a curious peace seemed to descend upon Ivor. Here was his land, the land of his people for so long that the years lost meaning. From Andarien to Brennin, from the mountains to Pendaran, all the grass was theirs. The Plain was the Dalrei, and they, it. He let that knowledge flow through him like a chord of music, sustaining and enduring.
It would have to endure in the days to come, he knew, the full power of the Dark coming down. And he also knew that it might not. Tomorrow, Ivor thought, I will worry tomorrow; and riding in peace over the prairie beside his son, he came back to the camp and saw Leith waiting for them by the western gate.
Seeing her, Tabor slipped from his horse and ran into her arms. Ivor willed his eyes to stay dry as he watched. Sentimental fool, he castigated himself; she was right. When Leith, still holding the boy, looked a question up at him he nodded as briskly as he could.
“To bed, young man,” she said firmly. “We’re riding in a few hours. You need sleep.”
“Oh, Mother,” Tabor complained, “I’ve done nothing but sleep for the—”
“Bed!” Leith said, in a voice all her children knew.
“Yes, Mother,” labor replied, with such pure happiness that even Leith smiled watching him go into the camp. Fourteen, Ivor thought, regardless of everything. Absolutely regardless.
He looked down at his wife. She met the look in silence. It was, he realized, their first moment alone since the Mountain. “It was all right?” she asked.
“It was. It is something very bright.”
“I don’t think I want to know, just yet.” He nodded, seeing once more, discovering it anew, how beautiful she was.
“Why did you marry me?” he asked impulsively. She shrugged. “You asked.” Laughing, he dismounted, and with each of them leading a horse, his and Tabor’s, they went back into the camp. They put the animals in the stockade and turned home.
At the doorway Ivor looked up for the last time at that moon, low now in the west, over where Pendaran was.
“I lied,” Leith said quietly. “I married you because no other man I know or can imagine could have made my heart leap so when he asked.”
He turned from the moon to her. “The sun rises in your eyes,” he said. The formal proposal. “It always, always has, my love.”
He kissed her. She was sweet and fragrant in his arms, and she could kindle his desire so…
“The sun rises in three hours,” she said, disengaging. “Come to bed.”
“Indeed,” said Ivor.
“To sleep,” she said, warningly.
“I am not,” Ivor said, “fourteen years old. Nor am I tired.”
She looked at him sternly a moment, then the smile lit her face as from within.
“Good,” said Leith, his wife. “Neither am I.” She took his hand and drew him inside.
Dave had no idea where he was, nor, beyond a vague notion of heading south, where to go. There weren’t likely to be signposts in Pendaran Wood indicating the mileage to Paras Derval.
On the other hand, he was absolutely certain that if Tore and Levon were alive, they’d be looking for him, so the best course seemed to be to stay put and call out at intervals. This raised the possibility of other things answering, but there wasn’t a lot he could do about that.
Remembering Tore’s comments on the “babies” in Faelinn Grove, he sat down against a tree on the upwind side of a clearing, where he could see anything coming across, with a chance of hearing or smelling something approaching from behind. He then proceeded to negate this bit of concealment by shouting Levon’s name several times at the top of his voice.
He looked around afterwards, but there was nothing stirring. Indeed, as the echoes of his cry faded, Dave became deeply aware of the silence of the forest. That wild rush, as of wind, seemed to have carried everything with it. He appeared to be very much alone.
But not quite. “You make it,” a deep voice sounded, from almost directly beneath him, “very hard for honest folk to sleep.”
Leaping violently to his feet, Dave raised his axe and watched apprehensively as a large fallen tree trunk was rolled aside to reveal a series of steps leading down, and a figure emerging to look up at him.
A long way up. The creature he’d awakened resembled a portly gnome more than anything else. A very long white beard offset a bald crown and rested comfortably on a formidable paunch. The figure wore some sort of loose, hooded robe, and the whole ensemble stood not much more than four feet high.
“Could you trouble yourself,” the bass voice continued, “to summon this Levon person from some other locality?”
Checking a bizarre impulse to apologize, and another to swing first and query later, Dave raised the axe to shoulder height and growled, “Who are you?”
Disconcertingly, the little man laughed. “Names already? Six days with the Dalrei should have taught you to go slower with a question like that. Call me Flidais, if you like, and put that down.”
The axe, a live thing suddenly, leaped from Dave’s hands and fell on the grass. Flidais hadn’t even moved. His mouth open, Dave stared at the little man. “I am testy when awakened,” Flidais said mildly. “And you should know better than to bring an axe in here. I’d leave it there if I were you.”
Dave found his voice. “Not unless you take it from me,” he rasped. “It was a gift from Ivor dan Banor of the Dalrei and I want it.”
“Ah,” said Flidais. “Ivor.” As if that explained a good deal. Dave had a sense, one that always irritated him, that he was being mocked. On the other hand, he didn’t seem in a position to do much about it.
Controlling his temper, he said, “If you know Ivor, you know Levon. He’s in here somewhere, too. We were ambushed by svart alfar and escaped into the forest. Can you help me?”
“I am pied for protection, dappled for deception,” Flidais replied with sublime inconsequentiality. “How do you know I’m not in league with those svarts?”
Once more Dave forced himself to be calm. “I don’t,” he said, “but I need help, and you’re the only thing around, whoever you are.”
“Now that, at least, is true,” Flidais nodded sagely. “All the others have gone north to the grove, or,” he amended judiciously, “south to the grove if they were north of it to start with.”
Cuckoo, Dave thought. I have found a certifiable loon. Wonderful, just wonderful.
“I have been the blade of a sword,” Flidais confided, confirming the hypothesis. “I have been a star at night, an eagle, a stag in another wood than this. I have been in your world and died, twice; I have been a harp and a harper both.”
In spite of himself Dave was drawn into it. In the red-tinted shadows of the forest, there was an eerie power to the chant.
“I know,” Flidais intoned, “how many worlds there are, and I know the skylore that Amairgen learned. I have seen the moon from undersea, and I heard the great dog howl last night. I know the answer to all the riddles there are, save one, and a dead man guards that gateway in your world, Davor of the Axe, Dave Martyniuk.”
Against his will, Dave asked, “What riddle is that?” He hated this sort of thing. God, did he hate it.
“Ah,” said Flidais, tilting his head. “Would you come to salmon knowledge so easily? Be careful or you will burn your tongue. I have told you a thing already, forget it not, though the white-haired one will know. Beware the boar, beware the swan, the salt sea bore her body on.”
Adrift in a sea of his own, Dave grabbed for a floating spar. “Lisen’s body?” he asked.
Flidais stopped and regarded him. There was a slight sound in the trees. “Good,” Flidais said at last. “Very good. For that you may keep the axe. Come down and I will give you food and drink.”
At the mention of food, Dave became overwhelmingly aware that he was ravenous. With a sense of having accomplished something, though by luck as much as anything else, he followed Flidais down the crumbling earthen stairs.
At the bottom there opened out a catacomb of chambers, shaped of earth and threaded through twisting tree roots. Twice he banged his head before following his small host into a comfortable room with a rough table and stools around it. There was a cheery light, though from no discernible source.
“I have been a tree,” Flidais said, almost as if answering a question. “I know the earthroot’s deepest name.”
“Avarlith?” Dave hazarded, greatly daring.
“Not that,” Flidais replied, “but good, good.” He seemed to be in a genial mood now as he puttered about domestically.
Feeling curiously heartened, Dave pushed a little. “I came here with Loren Silvercloak and four others. I got separated from them. Levon and lore were taking me to Paras Derval, then there was that explosion and we got ambushed.”
Flidais looked aggrieved. “I know all that,” he said, a little petulantly. “There shall be a shaking of the Mountain.”
“Well, there was,” Dave said, taking a pull at the drink Flidais offered. Having done which, he pitched forward on the table, quite unconscious.
Flidais regarded him a long time, a speculative look in his eye. He no longer seemed quite so genial, and certainly not mad. After a while, the air registered the presence he’d been awaiting.
“Gently,” he said. “This is one of my homes, and tonight you owe me.”
“Very well.” She muted a little the shining from within her. “Is it born?”
“Even now,” he replied. “They will return soon.”
“It is well,” she said, satisfied. “I am here now and was here at Lisen’s birth. Where were you?” Her smile was capricious, unsettling.
“Elsewhere,” he admitted, as if she had scored a point. “I was Taliesen. I have been a salmon.”
“I know,” she said. Her presence filled the room as if a star were underground. Despite his request, it was still hard to look upon her face. “The one riddle,” she said. “Would you know the answer?”
He was very old and extremely wise, and he was half a god himself, but this was the deepest longing of his soul. “Goddess,” he said, a helpless streaming of hope within him, “I would.”
“So would I,” she said cruelly. “If you find the summoning name, do not fail to tell me. And,” said Ceinwen, letting a blinding light well up from within her so that he closed his eyes in pain and dread, “speak not ever to me again of what I owe. I owe nothing, ever, but what has been promised, and if I promise, it is not a debt, but a gift. Never forget.”
He was on his knees. The brightness was overpowering. “I have known,” Flidais said, a trembling in his deep voice, “the shining of the Huntress in the Wood.”
It was an apology; she took it for such. “It is well,” she said for the second time, muting her presence once more, so that he might look upon her countenance. “I go now,” she said. “This one I will take. You did well to summon me, for I have laid claim to him.”
“Why, goddess?” Flidais asked softly, looking at the sprawled form of Dave Martyniuk.
Her smile was secret and immortal. “It pleases me,” she said. But just before she vanished with the man, Ceinwen spoke again, so low it was almost not a sound. “Hear me, forest one: if I learn what name calls the Warrior, I will tell it thee. A promise.”
Stricken silent, he knelt again on his earthen floor. It was, had always been, his heart’s desire. When he looked up he was alone.
They woke, all three of them, on soft grass in the morning light. The horses grazed nearby. They were on the very fringes of the forest; southward a road ran from east to west, and beyond it lay low hills. One farmhouse could be seen past the road, and overhead birds sang as if it were the newest morning of the world. Which it was.
In more ways than the obvious, after the cataclysms that the night had known. Such powers had moved across the face of Fionavar as had not been gathered since the worlds were spun and the Weaver named the gods. Iorweth Founder had not endured that blast of Rangat, seen that hand in the sky, nor had Conary known such thunder in M"ornirwood, or the white power of the mist that exploded up from the Summer Tree, through the body of the sacrifice. Neither Revor nor Amairgen had ever seen a moon like the one that had sailed that night, nor had the Baelrath blazed so in answer on any other hand in the long telling of its tale. And no man but Ivor dan Banor had ever seen Imraith-Nimphais bear her Rider across the glitter of the stars.
Given such a gathering, a concatenation of powers such that the worlds might never be the same, how small a miracle might it be said to be that Dave awoke with his friends in the freshness of that morning on the southern edge of Pendaran, with the high road from North Keep to Rhoden running past, and a horn lying by his side.
A small miracle, in the light of all that had shaken the day and night before, but that which grants life where death was seen as certain can never be inconsequential, or even less than wondrous, to those who are the objects of its intercession.
So the three of them rose up, in awe and great joy, and told their stories to each other while morning’s bird-song spun and warbled overhead.
For Tore, there had been a blinding flash, with a shape behind it, apprehended but not seen, then darkness until this place. Levon had heard music all around him, strong and summoning, a wild cry of invocation as of a hunt passing overhead, then it had changed, so gradually he could not tell how or when, but there came a moment when it was so very sad and restful he had to sleep—to wake with his new brothers on the grass, Brennin spread before them in a mild sunlight.
“Hey, you two!” cried Dave exuberantly. “Will you look at this?” He held up the carved horn, ivory-colored, with workmanship in gold and silver, and runes engraved along the curve of it. In a spirit of euphoria and delight, he set the horn to his lips and blew.
It was a rash, precipitate act, but one that could cause no harm, for Ceinwen had intended him to have this and to learn the thing they all learned as that shining note burst into the morning.
She had presumed, for this treasure was not truly hers to bestow. They were to blow the horn and learn the first property of it, then ride forth from the place where it had lain so long. That was how she had intended it to be, but it is a part of the design of the Tapestry that not even a goddess may shape exactly what she wills, and Ceinwen had reckoned without Levon dan Ivor.
The sound was Light. They knew it, all three of them, as soon as Dave blew the horn. It was bright and clean and carrying, and Dave understood, even as he took it from his lips to gaze in wonder at what he held, that no agent of the Dark could ever hear that sound. In his heart this came to him, and it was a true knowing, for such was the first property of that horn.
“Come on,” said Tore, as the golden echoes died away. “We’re still in the Wood. Let’s move.” Obediently Dave turned to mount his horse, still dazzled by the sound he had made.
“Hold!” said Levon.
There were perhaps five men in Fionavar who might have known the second power of that gift, and none in any other world. But one of the five was Gereint, the shaman of the third tribe of the Dalrei, who had knowledge of many lost things, and who had been the teacher of Levon dan Ivor.
She had not known or intended this, but not even a goddess can know all things. She had intended a small gift. What happened was otherwise, and not small. For a moment the Weaver’s hands were still at his Loom, then Levon said:
“There should be a forked tree here.”
And a thread came back with his words into the Tapestry of all the worlds, one that had been lost a very long time.
It was Tore who found it. An enormous ash had been split by lightning—they could have no glimmering how long ago—and its trunk lay forked now, at about the height of a man.
In silence, Levon walked over, Dave beside him, to where Tore was standing. Dave could see a muscle jumping in his face. Then Levon spoke again:
“And now the rock.”
Standing together the three of them looked through the wishbone fork of the ash. Dave had the angle. “There,” he said, pointing.
Levon looked, and a great wonder was in his eyes. There was indeed a rock set flush into a low mound at the edge of the Wood. “Do you know,” he said in a hushed whisper, “that we have found the Cave of the Sleepers.”
“I don’t understand,” said Tore.
“The Wild Hunt,” Levon replied. Dave felt a prickling at the back of his neck. “The wildest magic that ever was lies in that place asleep.” The strain in Levon’s usually unruffled voice was so great it cracked. “Owein’s Horn is what you just blew, Davor. If we could ever find the flame, they would ride again. Oh, by all the gods!”
“Tell me,” Dave pleaded; he, too, was whispering.
For a moment Levon was silent; then, as they stared at the rock through the gap in the ash, he began to chant:
The flame will wake from sleep
The Kings the horn will call,
But though they answer from the deep
You may never hold in thrall
Those who ride from Owein’s Keep
With a child before them all.
“The Wild Hunt,” Levon repeated as the sound of his chanting died away. “I have not words to tell how far beyond the three of us this is.” And he would say no more.
They rode then from that place, from the great stone and the torn tree with the horn slung at Dave’s side. They crossed the road, and by tacit agreement rode in such a way as to be seen by no men until they should come to Silvercloak and the High King.
All morning they rode, through hilly farmland, and at intervals a fine rain fell. It was badly needed, they could see, for the land was dry.
It was shortly after midday that they crested a series of ascending ridges running to the southeast, and saw, gleaming below them, a lake set like a jewel within the encircling hills. It was very beautiful, and they stopped a moment to take it in. There was a small farmhouse by the water, more a cottage really, with a yard and a barn behind it.
Riding slowly down, they would have passed by, as they had all the other farms, except that as they descended, an old, white-haired woman came out in back of the cottage to gaze at them.
Looking at her as they approached, Dave saw that she was not, in fact, so old after all. She made a gesture of her hand to her mouth that he seemed, inexplicably, to know.
Then she was running towards them over the grass, and with an explosion of joy in his heart, Dave leaped, shouting, from his horse, and ran and ran and ran until Kimberly was in his arms.