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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

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.

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.

What what are you going to do with him?

The small man turned on the hillcrest to stare down at the struggling youth. I am very shocked He turned and continued into the close-knit trees.

Me? the stranger asked, pausing as though giving the question much thought. A traveler like yourself. I will be happy to explain more things at a later time, but now we should go. This fellow, he indicated the woodsman with a sweep of his stick, will reliably not become more alive, but he may have friends or family who will be unsettled to find him so extremely dead. Please. Take the White Arrow and come with me.

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.

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.

After a long moment of scraping and rubbing, the slippery knot parted. The Sitha fell to the ground, legs buckling, and tumbled forward onto the motionless woodsman. He rolled away from the mute hulk immediately, as though burned, and began gathering up his scattered arrows. Holding them like a clutch of long-stemmed flowers, he picked up his bow in the other hand and paused to stare at Simon. His cold eyes glinted, stopping the words in Simon's mouth. For an instant the Sitha, injuries forgotten or ignored, stood poised and tense as a startled deer; then he was gone, a flash of brown and green that vanished into the trees, leaving Simon gape-jawed and deserted.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

Me? the stranger asked, pausing as though giving the question much thought. A traveler like yourself. I will be happy to explain more things at a later time, but now we should go. This fellow, he indicated the woodsman with a sweep of his stick, will reliably not become more alive, but he may have friends or family who will be unsettled to find him so extremely dead. Please. Take the White Arrow and come with me.

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.

Simon should not have been surprised, but he was. He dropped helplessly to the ground and began to cry-great choking sobs of exhaustion and confusion and total despair.

After a long moment of scraping and rubbing, the slippery knot parted. The Sitha fell to the ground, legs buckling, and tumbled forward onto the motionless woodsman. He rolled away from the mute hulk immediately, as though burned, and began gathering up his scattered arrows. Holding them like a clutch of long-stemmed flowers, he picked up his bow in the other hand and paused to stare at Simon. His cold eyes glinted, stopping the words in Simon's mouth. For an instant the Sitha, injuries forgotten or ignored, stood poised and tense as a startled deer; then he was gone, a flash of brown and green that vanished into the trees, leaving Simon gape-jawed and deserted.

After a long moment of scraping and rubbing, the slippery knot parted. The Sitha fell to the ground, legs buckling, and tumbled forward onto the motionless woodsman. He rolled away from the mute hulk immediately, as though burned, and began gathering up his scattered arrows. Holding them like a clutch of long-stemmed flowers, he picked up his bow in the other hand and paused to stare at Simon. His cold eyes glinted, stopping the words in Simon's mouth. For an instant the Sitha, injuries forgotten or ignored, stood poised and tense as a startled deer; then he was gone, a flash of brown and green that vanished into the trees, leaving Simon gape-jawed and deserted.

After a long moment of scraping and rubbing, the slippery knot parted. The Sitha fell to the ground, legs buckling, and tumbled forward onto the motionless woodsman. He rolled away from the mute hulk immediately, as though burned, and began gathering up his scattered arrows. Holding them like a clutch of long-stemmed flowers, he picked up his bow in the other hand and paused to stare at Simon. His cold eyes glinted, stopping the words in Simon's mouth. For an instant the Sitha, injuries forgotten or ignored, stood poised and tense as a startled deer; then he was gone, a flash of brown and green that vanished into the trees, leaving Simon gape-jawed and deserted.

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.

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

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