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datatime: 2022-12-06 22:44:43 Author:YNxEvLYb

Who are you? Simon asked around another hiccough. He was wrung out, beaten flat like a shirt pounded dry on a rock. If this little man had come out of the trees snarling and waving a knife, he did not think he could have reacted any differently.

What he's not is no natural creature, that's sure Get away from here, stranger. You're in my bit o' garden, as it were, an' you got no call to be. I know what these creatures are a-gettin' up to. The woodsman contemptuously turned his back on Simon and moved toward the Sitha, axe raised as though to split timber. This timber, though, suddenly heaved, became a struggling, kicking, snarling beast fighting for its life. The cotsman's first blow went awry, grazing the bony cheek and digging a jagged furrow down the arm of the strange, shiny garment. A ribbon of all too human-looking blood dribbled down the slender jaw and neck. The man advanced again.

You should take this, the little man said, and again his mouth widened in a froggy smile, baring for an instant a palisade of yellow teeth.

Simon could not stand the cruel spectacle any longer. Setting free the howl that had been coiling itself within him through all the interminable, terrifying days of his exile, he sprang forward, crossing the tiny clearing in a bound to bring the rock down on the back of the cotsman's head. A dull smack reverberated through the trees; the man seemed to go boneless in an instant. He pitched heavily forward onto his knees and then his face, a surge of red welling up through his matted hair. Staring down at the bloody wreckage, Simon felt his insides heave; he fell to his knees retching, bringing up nothing but a sour strand of spittle. He pressed his dizzy head against the damp ground and felt the forest sway and rock about him.

Oh, Daughter of the Mountains, the strange new voice said. This does not seem good.

When he was able, he stood and turned to the Sithi-man, who again dangled quietly in the noose. The snaky tunic was laced with streamers of blood, and the feral eyes were dimmed, as though some internal curtain had rolled down to block the light within. As haltingly as a sleepwalker, Simon picked up the fallen axe and traced the taut rope up from the prisoner to where it wrapped around a high limb of the tree-a limb too high to reach. Simon, too numb for fear, worked the nicked blade-edge against the knot behind the Sitha's back. The Fair One winced as the noose pulled tighter, but made no sound.

My trap the woodsman grinned. My damned trap-and there he be, too. Turning his back on Simon the man looked the dangling Sitha over coolly. I promised I'd stop their sneakinand spyin' and sourin' the milk, that I did. He reached out a hand and pushed the prisoner's shoulder, swinging him helplessly back and forth in a slow arc. The Sitha hissed, but it was an impotent sound. The woodsman laughed.

Who are you? Simon asked around another hiccough. He was wrung out, beaten flat like a shirt pounded dry on a rock. If this little man had come out of the trees snarling and waving a knife, he did not think he could have reacted any differently.

Simon looked down at the pitted axe-blade. I'm I'm just a traveler I heard a noise here in the trees He waved his hand toward the odd tableau. I found him here, in in this trap.

Stop Neither combatant gave him even a flicker of notice. The woodsman now stood at arm's length, swiping at his swirling target, landing only glancing blows but continuing to draw blood. The Sitha's thin chest was heaving like a bellows; he was weakening quickly.

Please excuse my suggestions, but you should be taking this arrow. It is a Sithi White Arrow, and it is very precious. It signifies a debt, and the Sithi are conscientious folk.

Please excuse my suggestions, but you should be taking this arrow. It is a Sithi White Arrow, and it is very precious. It signifies a debt, and the Sithi are conscientious folk.

Who are you? Simon asked around another hiccough. He was wrung out, beaten flat like a shirt pounded dry on a rock. If this little man had come out of the trees snarling and waving a knife, he did not think he could have reacted any differently.

The far side of the crest was a long, gradual downslope. Simon's limping strides finally brought him abreast of the stranger; in a few moments he had caught his breath.

No, not a child, but a man so small that the top of his black-haired head would probably not reach much higher than Simon's navel. His face did have something of the childish about it: the narrow eyes and wide mouth both stretched toward the cheekbones in an expression of simple good humor.

Simon dropped down to his sore knees, looking for something to stop this ghastly struggle, to halt the man's grunting and cursing, and the scratchy snarl of the beleaguered prisoner that punished his ears. Groping, he found the bow, but it was even lighter than it had looked, as though strung on marsh reed. An instant later his hand closed on a half-buried rock. He heaved, and it broke free from the clinging soil. He held it over his head.

This is not a good place for crying, the stranger said. He turned from kneeling Simon to briefly survey the fallen cotsman. It is also my feeling that it will not accomplish much-at least for this dead fellow.

But Simon gasped as he scrambled up after the stranger, who moved with surprising quickness, but what about the cottage? I am I am so hungry and there might be food

Oh, Daughter of the Mountains, the strange new voice said. This does not seem good.

Mistrustful and wary, Simon nevertheless found himself rising to his feet. It was too much effort to not trust, for the moment; he no longer had the strength to stay on guard-a part of him wanted only to lie down and quietly die. He levered the arrow loose from the tree. The tiny man was already on the march, climbing back up the hillside above the cottage. The little house crouched as silently and tidily as if nothing had happened.

After the strangest and most terrible fortnight of his life, and after a particularly bizarre day, it should not have surprised Simon to hear a new and unfamiliar voice speaking to him from the darkness beyond the trees, a voice that was not the Sitha's, and certainly did not come from the woodsman, who lay like a felled tree. Go ahead to take it, the voice said. The arrow. Take it. It is yours.

The spotted sunlight had not finished rippling on the leaves where he had passed when Simon heard a buzz like an angry insect and felt a shadow flit across his face. An arrow stood out from a tree trunk beside him, quivering gradually back into visibility less than an arm's length from his head. He stared at it dully, wondering when the next one would strike him. It was a white arrow, shaft and feathers alike bright as a gull's wing. He waited for its inevitable successor. None came. That stand of trees was silent and motionless.

This is not a good place for crying, the stranger said. He turned from kneeling Simon to briefly survey the fallen cotsman. It is also my feeling that it will not accomplish much-at least for this dead fellow.

He was not a dwarf, like the fools and tumblers Simon had seen at court and in the Main Row of Erchester-although big-chested, he seemed otherwise well-proportioned. His clothes looked much like a Rimmersman's; jacket and leggings of some thick animal hide stitched with sinew, a fur collar turned up below his round face. A large skin bag hung bulging from a shoulder strap, and he held a walking stick that looked to be carved from some long, slender bone.

The far side of the crest was a long, gradual downslope. Simon's limping strides finally brought him abreast of the stranger; in a few moments he had caught his breath.

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