15.) “It is the Mirror God’s will, Lady Favory.”
She sat at a small fire away from the rest of us. Ironically, on the far side of the main fire, Viccare had also started his own campfire.
I used her title to soften her resistance to my words. “Unlike the Crucified God, the Mirror God seems to be paying attention.”
“Viccare means nothing to me,” she said coldly. “He is already suffering. That is enough.”
I didn’t believe her, but decided not to argue.
That morning we’d sent Benene off with her laden pack mules. The blue cloak hung loosely about the little woman and she appeared dazed and vulnerable, but with the golden bell hanging around her neck I did not fear for her safety. I’d never heard of a female Blue Pilgrim, but apparently that was Man’s stricture not the Mirror God’s.
We spent the day steadily climbing the foothills, which were tall enough to obscure the Shield Mountains beyond. The path became nearly invisible but Marston, riding his mule, Spittooth ahead of me, seemed to know where it led so I followed him.
It was slow going with most of the wagons, but surprisingly—possibly because it was so light compared to the others—the applecart handled the slopes readily.
I ordered the heavier laden wagons to discard any supplies not completely necessary. Halfway up one particularly steep hill, I heard someone climb into back of the cart. I looked behind me to see Viccare slumped against the wooden crates. He glared at me as if challenging me to object. I shrugged.
As we reached the top of the hill, Viccare cried out. “What have you got in the crate?”
I turned around as the boy reached for the largest of the crates, his fingers inadvertently slipping through the slates. He yelped, pulling back his hand. “It bit me!”
“Leave it alone,” I said.
Even from were I sat I could see the row of bite marks, welling blood.
“What manner of creature are you carrying?”
At that moment, the side of the crate fell open and Seed crawled out. He seemed to grow in size as he emerged, his long knobby legs and arms untangled, his black hair wild and tousled.
I was surprised to see him. There were tall forests on both sides of the trail, but I suppose even Seed needed to rest once in a while.
He reached out with long fingers and grabbed Viccare’s hand. The pilgrim was too surprised to react. Seed leaned down and licked the wound.
“Hey, stop that!” Viccare shouted. Then he fell silent and stared down at his now unblemished hand. He leaned back and stared at Seed as if seeing him for the first time. “They who are cursed, shall also be blessed,” he said.
Seed smiled broadly and said, “They who are foolish, shall also be wise.”
The defrocked pilgrim looked as if he was trying to decide whether to be insulted or flattered.
“Viccare, meet Seed. I’m not sure what he is or why he’s along, but there it is…”
“The Mirror God has chosen,” Viccare said, finally. “It is not for me to judge.” He reached out tentatively to touch Seed, who dodged him and scrambled into the seat beside me, leaning against my leg, looking around excitedly. I felt an unfamiliar feeling come over me. It was as if the boy was my son.
From that moment on, Seed stayed at my side, sometimes upright, sometimes scrambling on all fours. Once, when someone dropped a heavy sack with a loud thud, he seemed to vanish, moving so fast he was a blur, until looking down at me from a high branch of the nearest tree. When he saw that it was safe, he scrambled head first down the trunk, and resumed his presence by my side as if nothing had happened. Despite the shocked looks, no one said anything.
Until that night as I sat at Favory’s campfire, Seed crouched at my feet.
“Who’s your new friend?” she asked, throwing a log into the fire.
“This is Seed. He sort of asked to come along, though I doubt I could have stopped him.”
“He knows of Moregone?”
“I believe that is where Seed comes from,” I said. “I…I’m not sure but I may be the reason he left.”
Favory gave me a sharp look. “I always liked you, Evard, because you seemed to know what was going on. Now I’m beginning to wonder.”
“Me too, my dear. Me too.”
“If I were devout, I might believe that the Mirror God chose all of us for this journey….the bastard.” She glanced over toward Viccare’s fire.
The defrocked pilgrim sat away from us, his back tense as if he knew we were talking about him.
“If he was chosen by the Mirror God, it would be best you leave him alone.”
She shrugged, as if it was unimportant—and I suddenly had an image of Viccare hanging upside down with hooks in his heels.
* * *
We hadn’t gone far the next morning before Marston stopped, got off of Splittooth and knelt down, cocking his head as if trying to get an angle of light that would reveal the road forward. From my perspective, it looked as if we were completely surrounded by trees.
Suddenly, Seed got up from my side, jumped on top of the baseboard and leaped, landing on Splittooth’s back end. The mule turned its head, but didn’t spook. Marston looked up at Seed with the same exact expression as the mule.
Seed stood upright on the saddle and pointed in a different direction than Marston had been contemplating. Marston turned, looked surprised, and nodded. Seed leaped back to my wagon, clearing a dozen feet with a single bound.
We hadn’t gone far before Tomber’s sign appeared on a tree trunk. The road suddenly became wide and clearly marked by wagon tracks. Apparently, we’d wandered off the road sometime before.
Marston rode back to my side. He gave Seed a dubious look, then said in a low voice. “We are being watched.”
Seed stood up and moved to the side of the cart, then leapt into the branches of the nearest tree. We kept going forward as if unaware that we had watchers. Behind me was the usual joking and yelling back and forth between wagons. Marston rode forward again, and perhaps only I could have perceived that his back was a little straighter, his hand was a little closer to his bow, than usual.
A few minutes later, Seed dropped from an overhanging tree, landing adroitly in the back of the cart.
“They come from the villager of Inhut,” he said. “I overheard them talking. I would not trust them, master.”
From what Tomber had told me, there were not enough inhabitants of Inhut to take us on—except through stealth or treachery. I debated whether to raise the alarm.
Before I could decide, we surmounted a final ridge and emerged onto a small plateau. There in the middle of the flat was a small village, houses clustered close, smoke coming from the chimneys. I turned to Seed, intending to suggest that he take cover, but he was already gone.
A delegation of citizens waited near the entrance to the narrow street that led down the middle of the village. One figure stood head and shoulders above the others. Tomber raised his hand in greeting, and with that casual gesture, I relaxed. Whatever the denizens of Inhut were planning, it wasn’t today.