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datatime: 2022-12-03 23:19:36 Author:UZRthNoV

Who are you? And where are we going?

What do you think, boy? What do you think God'd have us do with sprites an' imps an' devils when we catch 'em? Send'em back to hell with my good chopper, that'll tell you.

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.

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.

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.

Who are you? And where are we going?

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.

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.

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.

Simon wiped his nose on the sleeve of his coarse shirt and hic-coughed. The stranger had moved toward him to examine the pale arrow, which stood from the tree trunk near Simon's head like a stiff ghost-branch.

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

What do you think, boy? What do you think God'd have us do with sprites an' imps an' devils when we catch 'em? Send'em back to hell with my good chopper, that'll tell you.

Simon wiped his nose on the sleeve of his coarse shirt and hic-coughed. The stranger had moved toward him to examine the pale arrow, which stood from the tree trunk near Simon's head like a stiff ghost-branch.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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