8.) The last member of our expedition joined us after we were well underway on our journey north.
Most other travellers prudently stepped off the road as such a large and well-armed party passed. As we crossed the border into the Sixth Principality, I told my arms men to keep their eyes open, for this realm was the most lawless of all the principalities.
I heard the tinkle of the golden bell before I saw the Blue Pilgrim.
His was a modest pilgrimage, a single wagon, barely large enough to sleep in, painted a light blue color. Small mirrors dangled from the corniced top, representing the Mirror God. His single golden bell hung over the driver’s seat.
The pilgrim was also modestly attired. Over the years I’d seen grand caravans, with hordes of followers escorting that year’s pilgrim to the very borders of the Thirteenth Principality. Other years, it was but a single traveler, on foot, begging for shelter and food along the way.
Few who were asked refused.
So this Blue Pilgrim was somewhere in the middle of these two extremes.
He turned and gave us a wide smile as we approached, not the least concerned. No one had attacked a pilgrim in over two hundred years. I came across the village that had desecrated the pilgrimage not long after it happened. The coalmine beneath the abandoned village was still burning as a warning to all who would dishonor the Mirror God.
In my experience, those who were chosen for the once every two-year pilgrimage were either the most devious of the initiates or so pure and good that they could not be denied. Most often it was the former, rather than the latter. The older monks were not the best judges of character, especially since most of them had once been chosen themselves because of their guile.
I looked for falsehood in the pilgrim’s eyes—the smile could indicate either possibility.
He was a handsome lad—long blonde hair and blue eyes and a strong chin. Healthy and strong, which could indicate he was either pampered or honed by hard work, again it was hard to tell.
Favory (she dropped the dubious title of “lady” when on excursions) rode to my side. She made most everyone else ride a mule, while she herself was mounted on a magnificent red stallion. I was driving the “apple cart,” as the others called it, as I had every day since leaving the Fifth Principality. So far I had seen no sign of the Boy in the Tree, though once or twice I thought I heard one of the boxes in back rattle.
Thick forests arose on both sides of the Prince’s Road, so I suspected that Seed was accompanying our caravan from a distance.
“Ask the pilgrim to join us,” she said. “It wouldn’t hurt to have the protection of the golden bell.”
“I suppose him being so handsome is just a coincidence.”
She looked over at me mildly, not bothering to protest. She never dressed down for these journeys, her only concession wearing trousers instead of long dresses, but still wearing make-up, her hair styled. She never seemed to get dirty or sweaty. Though she never showed any other signs of magical ability, for this reason I suspected it of her.
The Blue Pilgrims were not required to be chaste, though anything that distracted from their mission was discouraged. However, since the women of the principalities took this as a challenge, few pilgrims reached their end of their journey still virgins.
“He could at least accompany us as far as the Tenth Principality,” Favory insisted.
I saw no harm in it, so I pulled the applecart to the side of the road. The mules obeyed for once, with Favory nearby. I made my offer to the pilgrim, who introduced himself as Viccary.
“They who are far, shall also be near,” he answered, quoting one of the thirteen Oaths of the Covenant. “I shall be glad for the company.”
The boy was a puzzle. I couldn’t make out if he was wholesomely sincere or cynically accommodating. I supposed it didn’t matter.
“We shall be traveling north for a while,” I said. “But we will at some point we will turn toward the Shield Mountains. It is our intention to cross the mountains and circle around to the Eleventh Principality.”
“The Eleventh Principality?” he asked, screwing up his face as if trying to remember it.
“Moregone,” I said.
“Moregone,” he repeated as if he still couldn’t quite grasp it. “You are traveling to Moregone?”
“By way of the Shield Mountains.”
“I don’t understand,” he said. “Why do you not take the Prince’s Road?”
“Moregone is no longer accessible by normal routes,” I said.
He sat for a time silent, as if he was regretting that he’d agreed to accompany us. He pointedly did not ask about our detour, and I suspected he’d already forgotten it. Then he said, “They who are foolish, shall also be wise.”
I wondered if I should take offense, but let it pass. At that moment, Favory rode up in her red stallion. Viccary’s eyes widened at the sight of her, and for a moment I saw her as the boy must have seen her, a halo of sunlight in her hair, her skin shining health, her blue eyes smiling.
I almost fell in love with her myself. They who are innocent, shall also see the truth. I shook off the disorienting feeling, remembered Tomber hanging upside down in a dank prison with hooks in his heels, all because he had dared flirt with another woman in Favory’s presence.
“May I join you?” Favory asked the young man.
It occurred to me that I should try to save the poor pilgrim.
“They who are weak, shall also be strong.”
It will be a test and lesson, I decided.
“Yes…please,” he answered.
Favory gave me a knowing smile, and tied the red stallion to the back of the blue cart.