FICTION / FANTASY /GODS
Now, the gods are gone, the Swords are scattered, Wayfinder, the Sword of Wisdom, turns up in the hut of one Valdemar, a simple (or is he?) grower of grapes.
This strong yet gentle young giant is in want of a wife.
It is the property of Wayfinder to lead its wielder where the wielder wants to go -- thus Valdemar asks for guidance to the one who is most fit to share his life.
But the Sword of Wisdom leads him to the Lady Yambu -- a vigorous sixty-year-old, at least in appearance! Once known as the Silver Queen, the Lady Yambu is on a pilgrimage of her own, accompanied by Prince Zoltan, and has no desire to spend her declining years in a vineyard.
And yet Wayfinder will not let Valdemar leave the Lady . . .
Meanwhile, at the headquarters of the Blue Temple, where vast amounts of the world's wealth are stored, the evil macrowizard Wood and his gorgeous sidekick, Tigris, have an interview with the Chairman . . .
Doughty, aging Ben of Purkinje wakes in a barn to discover himself surrounded by hostile armed men . . .
In Sarykam, Prince Mark scans the dawn skies eagerly for a winged messenger: How is the hunt for Woundhealer, the sword of mercy, progressing? It is the only hope for the grievously injured Princess Kristin . . .
But Wayfinder has a way of complicating all quests in which it becomes involved . . .
---In addition to the best selling Books of Swords and Books of Lost Swords, Fred Saberhagen is the author of BERSERKER'S PLANET and the other enormously popular Berserker ® books, and the chilling adventures, including A QUESTION OF TIME, of the gentleman known as Dracula.
Fred Saberhagen lives in Albuquerque, NM.
--From paper edition coverblurb.
His huge, work-roughened hands shaking with excitement, young Valdemar turned up the sleeves of his farmer's shirt. Squatting on the earth floor of his solitary little house, peering intently by firelight and fading daylight, he reached for the long, heavy bundle that lay near the fire and began very gradually to undo its wrappings of gray cloth. The bundle was neatly made, tied with strong cord. As Valdemar worked to undo the knots, he did his best to keep himself from thinking of what he might expect to find within. He told himself he had no right to expect anything at all. But it was as if he wished to shield himself from an enormous disappointment . . .
The wrappings loosened and began to fall away. As soon as an area of unrelieved blackness came into view, unmistakably part of the hilt of an edged weapon, the young man's fingers at once ceased to move. Like many other people, he had a snesitivity to the presence of powerful magic, and he was already beginning to realize just what kind of weapon he had been given.
Valdemar thought that he could feel the blood drain from his face. Leaning his enormous weight back on his heels, he did his unpracticed best to formulate a prayer to beneficent Ardneh.
Whatever prayer he at last managed to say went up in silence. Outside, spring wind howled fiercely, shoving against the rough stone walls of his lonely hut, rattling the crude, ill-fitting door, spattering rain through the hole in the roof that served as chimney, so that the small fire, fueled mostly by last year's dried vines, hissed as if in pain.
He had a serious mystery to contemplate.
An unknown visitor, working alone in pursuit of some unguessable purpose, and come and gone before Valdemar had been able to catch more than a glimpse of him--or her--had just made the young grape-grower a present of one of the Twelve Swords. The recipient felt overwhelmed by the discovery. And yet--even in that tremendous moment when Valdemar first glimpsed and began to recognize the ebon hilt, he found himself thinking that he ought to be more surprised at the nature of this gift than he really was.
He had the strange feeling that with some part of his mind he had always known, had never doubted, that something like this--something truly great--was fated to happen to him sooner or later.
Well, here it was. And whatever unconscious anticipation might be keeping him from being properly astonished, he was certainly beginning to be afraid.
Scant minutes ago, the unexpected shadow and the drab, silent image of the mysterious caller had moved almost simultaneously, and with a swiftness almost magical, past the door of Valdemar's isolated dwelling, interrupting the young man in the midst of preparing his evening meal. The door had been left slightly ajar for more light, and to let the smoke-hole draw.
Until that moment, Valdemar had had no suspicion that any other human being was anywhere within a couple of kilometers. By the time he had jumped up and run outdoors, the figure of his anonymous visitor was already almost out of sight in mist and rain. Valdemar caught only a single glimpse of a human shape, so muffled in gray garments that it might have been either man or woman.
The gigantic youth started in pursuit, swiftly bounding up one, two, three of the narrow cultivated terraces that rose above his little hut. But by the time he had reached the third terrace, his caller had already disappeared into the wet twilight shrouding the domesticated vines, the scant wild bushes, and the granite outcroppings of the lonely mountainside.
Shouting for his vanished visitor to stop, Valdemar continued the chase a little farther, almost to the boundary of his cultivated land, but without success. Returning to his hut a couple of minutes later, the young man picked up the bundle which had been so mysteriously deposited at his door. He paused to reassure himself that at least it was not alive (he had heard stories of babies being left at the doors of lonely huts) and carried it in by the fire. After closing the ill-fitting door again, and shaking his garments dry as best he could, Valdemar hesitantly commenced the process of unwrapping his present--which came, moments later, to a shocked halt.
Though he was scarcely past the age of twenty, and for most of the past year had dwelt in this lonely place, Valdemar could not claim complete innocence or ignorance regarding the affairs of the great world.
Like every other thinking person, he knew something of the history of the Twelve Swords, magical weapons created almost forty years ago by the gods themselves. Valdemar knew also that two of the Swords had been destroyed not long after they were made. This black hilt partially visible before him, if it were genuine, might belong to any of the remaining Ten. And though like most people he had never seen, much less handled, any of the Twelve, Valdemar could not doubt the authenticity of this one. A heavy elegance of magic flowed into his fingertips the instant they brushed against it; and to magic he was not a total stranger.
It was common knowledge in the world that four Swords--Shieldbreaker, Dragonslicer, Stonecutter, and Sightblinder--had for some years been gathered in the royal armory of Tasavalta, under control of that realm's powerful and unfortunate Prince Mark. Among the six others now lost to public knowledge were the two Valdemar considered the most abominable of the god-forged weapons, Soulcutter and the Mindsword.
No one, as he understood the case, could ever be sure of the whereabouts of Coinspinner, a tricky blade given to randomly moving itself about. Nor was there any way to guess the whereabouts of Farslayer, Wayfinder, or Woundhealer. That last was the only one of the surviving ten that Valdemar would have rejoiced to find in his own possession.
Crouching in his windswept, earth-floored hut, alone with his mysterious gift, the youth hesitated for a long time before continuing the process of unwrapping. His irresolution was grounded in the fact that he feared certain of the gods' Swords more than others, and at this point it was still at least theoretically possible for him to refuse the knowledge of which one he had been given. At this point he would still be able, if he chose, to tie up the gray cloth again, carry the whole still-mysterious bundle back out into the rain, and drop it, lose it, deep in some rocky crevice among the nearby crags, in such an inaccessible hole that it would be possible to hope that no one else would ever discover the presence of the thing of power, or be able to come near it.
For what seemed to Valdemar a long time he sat there on his heels. The wind battering at his door seemed to mock his fearful hesitancy, while outside the clouded daylight slowly faded. Still, enough light remained inside the hut, around his dying fire, that he should be able to see whatever white mark might be emblazoned on the Sword's hilt, when his next tug at the gray cloth should reveal it.
The most hideous possibility had already occurred to Valdemar, and held him back. Most to be feared was the absence of any white symbol at all--that would mean fate had put into his hands Soulcutter, the Tyrant's Blade.
The young giant's eyes closed briefly. His strong, almost-handsome face was troubled. Awkwardly he uttered words aloud: "Ardneh, let it not be that one. I do not want the responsibility of trying to hide that demon's blade. Or of trying to destroy it." He understood full well that breaking any Sword, or otherwise rendering it ineffective, would be far beyond his powers.
"Therefore let it be any of them, except Soulcutter, or . . . "
Valdemar's prayer stumbled to a halt, as he realized that for him the second most fearful of the Blades would probably not, after all, be that called the Mindsword. Given that one, he could simply refrain from drawing it; for him, he thought, the power to bend others to his will would pose no great temptation. Farslayer would be far more likely to be his downfall. There were certain people in the world, oppressors of humanity, for whom--though he had never met them--the youth felt a dislike that threatened always to spill over into personal hatred; and if the life of one of those persons, wherever they might be, should be so helplessly delivered into his hands, Valdemar feared his own latent capacity for violence.
Yes, it would be better if he got rid of this unknown Sword at once, not tempting himself by looking for the symbol which it must bear upon the hilt . . .
Valdemar's hands quivered but they did not move. Because he might, for all he knew, be holding Woundhealer, the Sword of Mercy. That glorious possibility was enough to eliminate any chance that the mysterious gift was going to be put down into a crevice in the rocks before he had identified it.
After minutes of immobility, the youth with a sudden jerk stripped back the gray cloth completely from the black hilt.
A small white arrow-symbol, pointing upward to the pommel, leapt into view. Neither the best nor the worst of possibilities had been realized. The weapon in Valdemar's hands was Wayfinder. The Sword of Wisdom, it was also called--Ardneh grant it bring him that!
Valdemar breathed somewhat more easily. Toward Wayfinder he felt timidity and awe, but no overwhelming fear. Gently he peeled away the remaining wrappings, exposing a plain leather sheath. Without pausing for further thought, he clasped the hilt and drew forth a Sword's full meter of incomparable double-edged blade. The faint light of fading day and dying fire gleamed softly on steel smoother and sharper than any human armorer had ever crafted, at least since the lost civilization of the Old World. Beneath the surface of the metal a lovely mottled pattern was perceptible.
Valdemar ran a tremulous finger along the flat side of the tremendous blade. No, despite his youth, he was no stranger to the touch of magic. But he had never in his life felt anything the like of this.
A happy thought struck suddenly. Some of the new strain and worry vanished from his youthful face.
"Powers who rule this Sword," he said, self-consciously--then paused for a deep breath, and started over. "Powers of this Sword, whoever or whatever you may be--I understand that giving guidance is your function. Guide me, therefore--guide me to the person--to her--to the woman I have--I have almost despaired of ever finding. The one who is most fit, most suitable, to share my life."
Though he was utterly alone, the young man could feel his cheeks warming. Frowning suddenly, he quickly amended: "Let all be done in accordance with the will of Ardneh."
Having concluded this awkward speech, Valdemar arose, gripping the black hilt firmly in both of his great hands, fingers overlapping. Tentatively he moved the great blade in a horizontal circle. One direction alone, almost straight east, set the Sword's tip quivering. The youth's nerves thrilled with the surge of magic. He cried out, wordlessly. For just a moment the movement had become so violent that the weapon almost leaped free of his grip.
On a warm spring afternoon, seven days after the day when Valdemar had unwrapped the Sword, and more than a hundred kilometers distant from his hut, two pilgrims were making their way across a heavily wooded hillside that formed one flank of a deep ravine.
The first of these gray-clad travelers was a woman, apparently about sixty years of age, but still vigorous and hearty. There was nothing feeble in the way she moved across the steep slope, among the thickly-spaced, narrow trunks. Her silver hair was long, but bound up closely. The strains of a long life showed in the woman's face, but no burden that seemed too much for her present determination. Like many other female pilgrims or other travelers, she wore boots, trousers and a loose jacket, and was armed for self-defense with a short ordinary sword.
The crowded treetrunks made it all but impossible for two to travel side by side. The woman's companion, who walked three or four paces behind her and carried a similarly serviceable but somewhat more impressive weapon at his belt, was a man in his early twenties, sturdily built, of average size. The young man's appearance, like the woman's, suggested both the weariness of long travel and a remaining capacity to deal with formidable difficulties.
The woman halted suddenly. She frowned and squinted at the sun, which shone brightly from beyond the medium thickness of the canopy of the tall trees' small spring leaves. Then she inspected the terrain, as well as she could from her position in the midst of a forest.
"This hill curves round," she announced to her fellow traveler at last. "And I see no end to the curve ahead. It carries us farther and farther to the east."
"And that, my lady, is not the direction in which we want to go," the young man responded. "Well, then. Shall we try climbing to the top of the ridge again? Or going down into the ravine?"
The lady sighed. "Zoltan, we are well and truly lost. No reason to think the bottom of this ravine will be more hospitable than any of the others we've struggled through during the past two days." In those dark gorges, the unbiquitous thin-trunked trees had grown more closely and ever more closely together, until it became impossible for adult humans to force a passage anywhere between them. An army of men with axes would have earned their pay clearing a road.
"And no reason either," replied Zoltan, "to suppose that the leather-wings are going to let us alone this time if we come out of the trees up on the hilltop." He rubbed at his left arm, which was still bandaged--though fortunately not disabled--from their last encounter with flying reptiles, two days ago.
"I suppose we might risk trying the hilltop just before sunset," the woman said thoughtfully. "If we were lucky to be able to see far enough to get our bearings in the countryside--" She broke off abruptly, holding herself motionless. Above the high canopy of leaves a silent, broad-winged shadow drifted; that of a half-intelligent enemy, cruel-clawed and implacably hostile.
When the wind-borne reptile had drifted out of sight and hearing, Zoltan spoke again, his voice cautiously low. "Anyway, we're soon going to need water." Each was carrying a single small canteen. "We'll have to go down into the ravines for that, of course. This one may be dry, but the next--" He fell silent at the woman's imperious gesture. Her face had just now abruptly turned away from him, and she was listening intently for the repetition of a small sound just detected from ahead.
In a moment Zoltan, looking over his companion's shoulder, could see a tall human shape, garbed in dull colors, moving among the dun-colored trunks, still fifty meters off, approaching along the hillside at their level.
Both travelers watched in ready silence, hands on swordhilts. The single figure approaching seemed to be making no effort at stealth. In both hands the towering, broad-shouldered man, clad in what appeared to be a farmer's rough shirt and trousers and woolen vest, gripped a long-bladed sword (And Zoltan, watching, felt the hair stir on the back of his neck. This could be a Sword indeed!) with which he steadily swept the air before him.
The stranger continued moving along the slope directly toward the pilgrim pair, though as yet he had given no indication that he was aware of their presence.
Zoltan, staring at the approaching figure with a look of intense, frowning concentration, whispered: "Is that--?"
"Shh. We'll see."
Amid the forest of dun trunks the seeker so superbly armed had approached within ten meters of the two motionless travelers in dull gray before he saw them. When that happened he stopped in his tracks, startled, while continuing for a moment to hold the Sword leveled in their direction. Then, looking somewhat flustered, he grounded the bright point.
For a long moment all three remained silent.
At last the young farmer--for so his clothing made him appear to be--said: "Greetings." His voice was soft, but the pair who heard him got the impression that it was held that way only by a conscious effort. "Greetings, in Ardneh's name." He was peering closely at Yambu, and appeared to be trying to conceal growing disappointment and confusion.
"And to you," replied the lady. "May you find peace and truth." Zoltan at her elbow murmured similar sentiments.
"My object is entirely peaceful," the other assured them, gesturing with an enormous hand. He seemed now to be recovering from his initial shock, whatever might have been its cause. He was a head taller than most men, and of massive build, his body carrying a minimum of fat. His clothing, particularly his boots, gave evidence of an extended journey. He carried pack and canteen, as any traveler most likely would. A long, plain, leather sheath belted at his waist, of a size to hold his Sword, looked vaguely as if it should belong to someone else.
He added: "I am called Valdemar."
"I am Yambu," the woman told him simply. "This is Zoltan, who has chosen to travel with me. We are both pilgrims, of a sort."
The young farmer nodded and smiled, acknowledging the information. His hair was dark and curly, his blue eyes mild, flanking an interestingly bent nose. The more one looked at him, the bigger and stronger he appeared.
"Yambu," he repeated. "Yes, ma'am." His eyes moved on. "And you are Zoltan." Then some memory visibly caught at Valdemar, so that his gaze back to the silver-haired woman. "An unusual name, ma'am." he remarked.
"Mine? Oh yes. And an unusual weapon that you are carrying today, young sir."
Perhaps Valdemar flushed slightly; in his weathered face it was hard to be sure. "Lady, in my hands I hope this Sword is something other than a weapon. It has guided me here--to you. Your pardon, lady, if I aim the blade at you again; I promise you I mean no harm."
Taking care to remain at a distance well out of thrusting range, Valdemar lifted his Sword's point again. All three could see distinctly how the fine blade quivered when it was leveled straight toward Yambu.
The lady did not seem much surprised. "And what desire of yours," she asked, "does Wayfinder expect me to satisfy?"
This time there was no doubt that Valdemar was blushing. "I see you know this Sword's name. So I suppose you know what it is. That should--that ought to--make it easier for me to explain. As I said, my goal is peaceful. I . . ."
"I am a farmer, lady. Actually I have a vineyard, which I have left untended. And I am looking for a wife."
There was a pause.
"Ah," said Yambu at last. A thin smile curved her lips. "And you confided this wish to the Sword of Wisdom?"
"And the Sword has brought you to me."
"And I am not quite the bride you have been imagining. Well, rest easy in your mind, young man. Were you to make me a proposal of marriage, I would not accept it."
"Yes ma'am," repeated Valdemar. He looked partly relieved and partly chagrined.
"We must discuss this," said the lady, "but just now my companion and I face problems of greater urgency. Have you experienced any particular difficulty along the way, in the last day or two of your journey?"
Valdemar blinked at her. "Difficulty? No. What sort of difficulty? Oh, do you mean bandits?" The young giant smiled faintly. "I never worry much about that sort of thing. And if there were any who saw me, no doubt they kept clear when they saw how I was armed."
Zoltan cleared his throat. "No trouble in finding your way through this forest, perhaps? Or in dealing with flying reptiles?"
Valdemar looked up, concerned; at the moment the sky was free of drifting shadows. "No trouble finding my way; I simply walked the way Wayfinder told me to go. And no reptiles of any kind; I've never seen one that could fly."
"Any kind of trouble?"
"None. Well, several times, for no good cause that I could see, the Sword counseled me to change direction. And once, when I saw no reason not to move on, it kept me walking in a tight circle for a hour, so in effect I was held in one location. But nothing that I would call trouble. Why?"
"^Then would you now ask your Sword," put in Yambu gently, "to put aside for the moment the matter of your bride-to-be, and lead us all three safely out of this damned wildwood?"
Openmouthed, Valdemar gazed at her for a long moment. Then he nodded.
Less than an hour later all three travelers were resting comfortably at the bottom of another ravine, where a spring of clear water bubbled gently out of a crevice between rocks, and the trees grew just closely enough together to keep all sizable airborne creatures at a safe distance. Yambu and Zoltan had already satisfied their thirst at the spring, and were now refilling their canteens. Valdemar meanwhile had sheathed his elegant weapon and was bringing out generous portions of dried meat and hard bread from his pack.
Far upslope, too far to be of immediate concern, an ominous, silent shadow drifted overhead, above the canopy of leaves; drifted and came back and went away again, as if it were no longer certain of where its prey must be.
"Those creatures hunt us, young man," said Yambu, almost in a whisper. "Leather-wings--and sometimes worse names than that. You say you have never seen them before?"
"I know them only by reputation." The youthful giant looked vaguely horrified, and at the same time fascinated. But not particularly afraid. "Why do they hunt you?"
"I believe they are in the service of some much more formidable enemy. Serving as his scouts. Then, too, it is my belief that any of the Twelve Swords tends to draw trouble to itself. And that one you are carrying in particular."
"And yet I have asked this Sword only to help me find a bride. And now to guide all three of us to safety." Valdemar seemed more disappointed, and gently puzzled, than he was alarmed by Yambu's reading of their situation.
"You've heard the Song of Swords? You remember how the verse about this one goes?" Zoltan asked him, and without waiting for an answer proceeded to recite in a low voice:
"--but adds unto their risk," Valdemar concluded. "Yes, I've heard that song since I was a child. Never thinking . . . "
The gigantic youth shook his head, letting the matter drop. Then he looked at the silver-haired woman again. His gaze was somewhat timid, but resolute. "I can remember hearing, long ago," he remarked, "of a lady named Yambu, who was once known as the Silver Queen."
She who bore that name ignored the invitation to discuss her past. Having finished filling her canteen, she sat at ease on a mossy bank beside the spring.
"Zoltan and I thank you for your help, young man," she said graciously. "Where will you ask your Sword to point you next? And may I ask you just where and how Wayfinder came into your possession?"
Valdemar looked up and around at the treetops. "I still seek a wife," he declared stubbornly. "Why this Sword has led me to you, lady, I confess I do not understand."
"There may be an easy explanation. When the object sought is otherwise impossible, or very difficult, to obtain directly, Wayfinder leads its master first to the necessary means to bring the goal within reach. You may be sure the Sword of Wisdom is not suggesting that you propose marriage to me, who could be your grandmother. At least let us hope not. Sword or no, that would be far from wise. Besides, I have no wish to spend my last years growing grapes."
"Why, then, has Wayfinder brought me to you?"
Yambu could only shake her head. "It would seem that, somehow--I do not know how--I can help you to achieve your goal."
Valdemar sighed. More to himself than to the others he murmured: "I will now repeat my first request. I want this Sword to lead me to the woman, of all the women on earth, who will be the perfect, the ideal wife for me. Nothing more and nothing less."
And he drew Wayfinder from its sheath and held it out again in his great hands.
Once more the point reacted, quivering, only when it was aimed precisely at the lady.
Without comment the young giant re-sheathed the Sword of Wisdom at his waist. Giving up the puzzle for the moment, he recounted to his new companions the story of his enigmatic visitor, seven days past, and the puzzling gift.
Valdemar concluded with a question. "Has either of you any idea who my strange caller might have been? It was someone who wore gray, even as you do. That's all I could really see."
Zoltan and Yambu looked at each other. Zoltan only shrugged. The lady said: "A number of ideas; but no reason to take any of them seriously."
Her young companion nodded his agreement. "Certainly it was neither of us, if you are thinking that. A week ago we were nowhere near the region where you say you live. As for wearing gray, uncountable thousands of folk do that. Your own garments have acquired something of that tinge from travel."
The bigger young man nodded ruefully. "Then can either of you guess why this Sword should have led me to you?"
Zoltan only shook his head.
"I think," Yambu told Valdemar, "you will have to be patient if you want an answer to that question. It may be that the answer will never become clear, even if you do find your wife."
Valdemar took thought, running long fingers through dark curly hair. A sparse beard was beginning to come out on his youthful cheeks. Then almost shyly he inquired: "Might it have anything to do with the fact that . . . as I said before, a lady with your name was once the Silver Queen. But I had thought . . ."
Yambu nodded impatiently. "Very well, my history is no great secret. That was once my title. But I don't know why my past, good or bad, should have anything much to do with a young man who raises grapes and seeks a bride. You would have expected the Silver Queen to be a somewhat younger woman? Hold Soulcutter in your hands, my friend, throughout a day of battle, and you will be fortunate indeed if you do not look worse than I do."
Now young Valdemar indeed looked somewhat awed. "I apologize, my lady, for what must seem unwarranted curiosity."
"No apology is necessary."
The peasant-looking youth frowned for a while at the weapon hanging from his belt. Then at last he said: "Perhaps I must take the Sword's bringing me to you to mean that I should stay with you until it tells me otherwise. Perhaps it even means that I should turn over Wayfinder and its powers to you."
Yambu was frowning too.
Impulsively Valdemar said: "Let us try that!" In a moment he had unbelted his Sword, and was gallantly proffering the black hilt in her direction, the sheathed blade balanced flat across his forearm.
Quietly she responded: "I do not know that you have hit on the right interpretation, young man. But . . . on the other hand, why should I fear this Sword?"
Her lips moved again, almost silently. Only Zoltan, who was close beside her, could hear her add in a very low whisper: "Yet I do."
A moment later, she was reaching out to firmly grasp Wayfinder's hilt.
Having accepted the weapon, and drawn it from its sheath, Yambu stood up straight, her voice becoming a little louder. "It is a long time since I have felt the power of any Sword in my hands. Well, Sword of Wisdom, here you are, and here am I. If you can read my heart, show me the way which I must go to satisfy it."
The strong arms of the Silver Queen held out the blade in a two-handed grip, then swept it around the horizon, as if in unconscious imitation of Valdemar's first gesticulation with the weapon, seven days ago.
In her hands, Wayfinder's keen point quivered at one point of the compass only--almost straight east.
Yambu let the tip of the heavy blade sag to the earth. She said to Valdemar: "I am favored with a definite reply. Now, do you want me to give you this weapon back?"
To the surprise of both the others, the giant youth put both his hands behind him, as if to make things difficult for anyone who meant to thrust the black hilt back into his possession. He said: "My lady, I wonder . . . "
"Might the Sword's response to me mean that I am to stay with you, at least for a time? Travel with you?"
Yambu thought about it. "It brought you all this way to me. I suppose it might mean something of the sort," she conceded at length, as if reluctantly.
"And just now, in your hands, Wayfinder pointed east. Do you know what lies in that direction?"
Yambu smiled. "Half of the world," she said.
Zoltan, with his head tipped back, was leaning alternately to right and left, trying to peer upward through the canopy of leaves. He said: "Some days ago, we two were discussing the question of our destination, the true object of our pilgrimage, in philosophical terms. Then we began to be hunted. Being hunted limits one's time for philosophical discussion. In the process of trying to escape from reptiles we became lost. Valdemar, you've helped us now to temporary safety. But as a practical matter, I must say that our next goal, whether east or west, ought to be some place of greater security. Somewhere completely out of the ken of those whose creatures stalk and harry us."
Valdemar looked from one to the other of his new companions, trying to assess the situation. There was no doubting the reality of those drifting shadows that kept reappearing no very great distance up the hill.
"And who might your enemies be?" he asked with concern.
"There are a number of possibilities," said Yambu drily. Again she took up the Sword in both hands. "But let us not become obsessed with safety. We are going east."