14.) In the morning, my encounter with the Toad King seemed a dream. It was not until I asked Marston and he confirmed meeting Horense that I believed it.
Myths and legends coming to life!
Of course I knew there were legends about me as well—the Eternal Wanderer, I was called. But of course, other than my long life, there is nothing remarkable about me. I knew the myths to be but myths.
But if reality is so hard to determine, how can memories be reliable? If every memory is part of a story then how are we to know the truth? Or does the story become the truth because that is all that is remembered?
If Moregone is forgotten, will it have ever existed? Does it matter?
These and other such imponderable thoughts filled my mind as the hours passed.
It rained most of the next day, but we stayed dry beneath the broad branches of the pine tree, repairing our gear, gathering fodder, mending clothing, and resting.
At dinner that night, Marston plopped down next to me and gave me a measuring look. “Have you deciphered all the riddles, discovered the ancient truths, and solved the eternal dilemmas?”
“What’s that?” I realized that I’d been staring into the fire…for who knew how long? My own voice sounded sluggish, half asleep.
“Finally, you respond to a question!”
“Does it not bother you that the Mirror God can erase the past?”
Marston shrugged. “They who forget, shall also remember.”
“How convenient that the Mirror God asks that of us. It is the Oath that has always made the least sense to me. Why does he not want us to remember?”
“As much as I respect you, Evard Just, I’m not sure that I believe that. But even if it is true, there is not much I can do about it.”
“Oh, it’s true…” my voice trailed off.
“You’ve been in a mood all day. The journey over the mountains will need all our wits.”
“If it can be done at all. What if the legends are true—what if they can only be crossed on the back of a dragon?”
“Then how did you get here, Evard?”
That was just it. I didn’t remember a thing about the trip, only that I believed it had occurred. “What if I made it all up in my mind? What if it didn’t happen?”
He snorted. “I for one have no doubt that you are a stranger to these lands...and getting stranger all the time.”
I stared into the fire.
What if, despite my long life, I have forgotten most of it? Isn’t that just another way of dying?
“There you go, drifting off again,” Marston brought me back, his voice was sharp, intrusive. “It would be good if you were back among the living when we leave tomorrow.”
“I’ll be ready,” I said. But for a brief, bewildering moment I forgot why we were there and where we were going. “Don’t worry, I’ll be there.”
* * *
“NOooooooo!” A scream split the darkness.
I was on my feet in an instant. I’d chosen to sleep by the fire, fully clothed, secure in the shelter of the tree. For a moment I couldn’t figure out where the scream was coming from; it seemed to echo around the tree until it doubled back on itself, seeming to stretch on forever.
Then one of the tents shook and a naked man emerged, his hands toward the skies in supplication. After a long deep shuddering breath, the scream rose into the sky a second time. He looked like he’d been struck by lightning, blond hair darting skyward, blue eyes splintering like broken ice.
I couldn’t figure out who the figure was at first, then realized that it was the Blue Pilgrim. His member was fully erect despite his terror. Moments after he emerged, Favory also emerged from the tent, equally naked.
Viccare fell to his knees sobbing, as the other men and women of the expedition surrounded him.
This was to have been Vicarre’s last night with the caravan before continuing on by himself, following the Prince’s Road to the Thirteen Principality and fulfilling his quest. I’d ordered two pack mules to be loaded with supplies since I felt responsible for the loss of his wagon.
Tonight was also, apparently, the culmination of Favory’s long seduction of the boy. As far as I knew, they had not slept together until now. No doubt the approaching parting had been the final push.
Favory disappeared into the tent for a moment, emerging with a blue cloak. But instead of draping herself in the garment, she threw it over Vicarre’s shoulder, then stood with her hand on his shoulder, looking concerned. She seemed unaware that she was naked and that every man and woman of the expedition was staring at her.
The pilgrim stood up, looking around as if aware of where he was for the first time. The cloak fell off his shoulders, catching on his still tumescent member. He looked down in surprise, then his face turned red. He pulled the cloak off and wrapped it around his shoulder again.
Favory stepped to his side and whispered in his ear, but because of the silence, we all heard her.
“What is it, my dear? What has happened?”
He turned, suddenly enraged, and pushed her away roughly. “Get away from me, whore. It is because of you the Mirror God has abandoned me!”
“What do you mean?” Favory said. She looked as though she’d been slapped, and for the first time appeared to be aware of her condition. One arm went over her breast, with the other she held a hand over the Y of her legs.
“I am to abandon my holy quest and accompany you to Moregone,” he said to me. He turned and glared at those who surrounded him. “Which of you is Benene?”
A young woman, one of the cooks that Toug had brought with him, tentatively raised her hand.
Viccare marched over to her, reaching into the pocket of his garment, drawing out the golden bell. It rang piercingly, a far louder sound than such a small bell should have made.
“You are to complete the pilgrimage,” he said, holding the bell out to her.
Now that I had a chance to examine her, I realized that the woman was not young as I first thought, simply small and demure. “I don’t understand,” she said. “I am a follower of the Crucified God.”
Viccare stepped back in horror, shivering, and closed his eyes. Then he became very still, and it was clear to everyone that he was communing with an unseen presence. Viccare opened his blue eyes, which were now as calm as a mountain lake. “They who are cursed, shall also be blessed. It is as the Mirror God wills. Will you do it?”
“I…” she started.
“The Thirteenth Prince needs these supplies,” he said. “The Mirror God asks it as a favor.”
“I will do so, if it is needed,” she said.
He took off his cloak, no longer appearing self-conscious, and gave it to the small woman. He marched to his tent and ducked into the entrance. Moments later, Favory’s clothing came flying out, landing in the dirt.
I’d never seen Favory look embarrassed. But even as I—and everyone else—watched, her humiliation turned to rage. She grabbed the clothing off the ground and marched stiff legged to her own tent and disappeared within.
Viccare will be lucky to survive the journey, I thought. He is no longer protected by the Mirror God’s Covenant.
Dawn was beginning to break, and without a word, we started breaking camp for the long crossing ahead.