作者：残烟一缕 提交日期：2008-6-13 19:32:00 | 分类: | 访问量：5846
An Unexpected Guest
MIDDLING afternoon on the last day of Avrel, Simon was sunk in the stable's dark hayloft, comfortably adrift in a scratchy yellow sea, only his head above the dusty billows. The haydust sparkled down past the wide window as he listened to his own measured breath.
He had just come down from the shadowed gallery of the chapel, where the monks had been singing the noon rites. The clean, sculpted tones of their solemn prayers had touched him in a way that the chapel, and the dry doings within its tapestried walls, seldom did—each note so carefully held and then lovingly released, like a woodcarver putting delicate toy boats into a stream. The singing voices had wrapped his secret heart in a sweet, cold net of silver; the tender resignation of its strands still clutched him. It had been such a strange sensation: for a moment he had felt himself all feathers and racing heartbeat—a frightened bird cupped in the hands of God.
He had run down the gallery steps, feeling suddenly unworthy of such solicitousness and delicacy—he was too clumsy, too foolish. It seemed that he might, with his chapped scullion's hands, somehow mishandle the beautiful music, as a child might unwittingly trample a butterfly.
Now, in the hayloft, his heart began to slow. He buried himself deep in the musty, whispering straw, and with his eyes closed listened to the gentle snorting of the horses in their stalls below. He thought he could feel the almost insensible touch of the dust motes as they drifted down onto his face in the still, drowsy darkness.
He might have dozed—he couldn't be sure—but the next thing Simon noticed was the sudden, sharp sound of voices below him. Rolling over, he swam through the tickling straw to the loft's edge, until he could see down to the stable below.
There were three: Shem Horsegroom, Ruben the Bear, and a little man that Simon thought might be Towser, the old jester—he couldn't be sure because this one wore no motley, and had a hat that covered much of his face. They had all come in through the stable doors like a trio of comic fools; Ruben the Bear swung a jug from a fist as broad as a leg of spring lamb. All three were drunk as birds in a berry-bush, and Towser—if it was he—was singing an old tune:
"Jack take a maid
Up on the cheery hill
Sing a way-o, hey-o
Ruben handed the jug to the little man. The weight over-balanced him in midchorus so that he staggered a step and then tumbled over, his hat flying off. It was indeed Towser; as he rolled to a stop Simon could see his seamed, purse-mouthed face begin to wrinkle up at his eyes, as though he would cry like a baby. Instead he began to laugh helplessly, leaning against the wall with the jug between his knees. His two companions tromped unsteadily over to join him. They sat all in a row, like magpies on a fence.
Simon was wondering if he should announce himself; he didn't know Towser well, but he had always been friendly with Shem and Ruben. After a moment's consideration he decided against it. It was more fun watching them unsuspected—perhaps he would be able to think of a trick to play! He made himself comfortable, secret and silent in the high loft.
"By Saint Muirfath and the Archangel," Towser said with a sigh after a few sodden moments had passed, "I had sore need of this!" He ran his forefinger around the lip of the jug, then put the finger in his mouth.
Shem Horsegroom reached to him across the smith's broad stomach and took the jug for a swallow. He wiped his lips with the back of a leathery hand. "Whur will ye go, then?" he asked the jester. Towser vented a sigh. The life suddenly seemed to drain out of the little drinking party; all stared glumly at the floor.
"I have some kinfolk—distant kinfolk—in Grenefod, at the river's mouth. Mayhap I will go there, although I doubt they'll be too happy with another mouth to feed. Mayhap I will go north to Naglimund."
"But Josua is gone," said Ruben, and belched.
"Aye, goon away," added Shem.
Towser closed his eyes and bumped his head back against the rough wood of the paddock door. "But Josua's people still hold Naglimund, and they will have sympathies for someone chased out of his home by Elias' churls—even more sympathy now, when people say that Elias has murdered poor Prince Josua."
"But other'uns say that Joosua has turn traitor," Shem offered, rubbing his chin sleepily.
"Pfagh." The little jester spat. In the loft above, Simon, too, felt the warmth of the spring afternoon, the drowsy, dragging weight of it. It lent the conversation below an air of unimportance, of distance—murder and treachery seemed the names of faraway places.
During the long pause which followed, Simon felt his eyelids creeping inexorably downward...
"Mayhap it been not sich a wise thing t'do, brother Towser..."—Shem was speaking now, skinny old Shem, as gaunt and weathered as something hung in a smokehouse—"... baitin' the king, I mean. Did ye need to sing sich a goadin' song?"
"Hah!" Towser scratched his nose busily. "My western ancestors, they were true bards, not limping old tumblers like me. They would have sung him a song to curl his ears up rightly! They say that the poet Eoin-ec-Cluias once made an anger-song so mighty that all the golden bees of the Grianspog descended on the chieftain Gormlibata and stung him to death... that was a song!" The old jester leaned his head back once more against the stable wall. "The king!? God's teeth, I cannot stand even to call him such. I was with his sainted father man and boy—there was a king you could call a king! This one is no better than a brigand... not half the man that his... father John was... ."
Towser's voice wavered sleepily. Shem Horsegroom's head slowly fell forward onto his breast. Ruben's eyes were open, but it was as though he looked into the darkest spaces between the rafters. Beside him Towser stirred once more.
"Did I tell you," the old man abruptly said, "did I tell you about the king's sword? King John's sword—Bright-Nail? He gave it to me, you know, saying: 'Towser, only you can pass this to my son Elias. Only you... !" A tear winked on the jester's furrowed cheek. " 'Take my son to the throne room and give him Bright-Nail,' he told me—and I did! I brought it to him the night his dear father died... put it in his hand just the way his father told me to... and he dropped it! Dropped it!" Towser's voice rose in anger. "The sword that his father carried into more battles than a brachet has fleas! I could scarce believe such clumsiness, such... disrespect! Are you listening, Shem? Ruben?" Beside him the smith grunted.
“我跟你们说了没有，”这老人突然说，“我跟你们说过国王的剑没有？John国王的剑——辉煌指甲之剑？他把这剑交给了我，你们知道，他说：‘Towser，只有你能把这把剑交给我的儿子 Elias。只有你……！’”小丑满是皱纹的脸上，一滴泪在闪烁。“‘把我的儿子带到王宫大殿，把辉煌指甲之剑交给他，’他告诉我——而我也照做了！我在他亲爱的父亲去世的那天晚上，把剑交给了他……按照他父亲所说的，把剑放在他的手中……而他却把剑扔在了地上！扔在了地上！”Towser抬高了声音，充满了愤怒。“那把剑，他的父亲曾无数次佩带到战场上，次数比一只猎犬身上的跳蚤还要多！我简直不能相信Elias那样的笨拙，那样的……不敬！你们两个听我说话没有，Shem？ Ruben？”挨着他，smith嘴里咕哝着。
"Hist! I was horrified, of course. I picked it up and wiped it with the linen wrappings and gave it to him; this time he took it with two hands. 'It twisted,' he said, like an idiot. Now as he held it again the strangest look passed over his face, like... like..." The jester trailed off. Simon was afraid he had fallen asleep, but apparently the little man was merely thinking, in a slow, wine-addled way.
"The look on his face," Towser resumed, "was like a child caught doing something very, very wicked—that was it exactly! Exactly! He turned pale, and his mouth went all slack—and he handed it back to me! 'Bury this with my father,' he said, 'It is his sword; he should have it with him.'—'But he wanted it given to you, my lord!' I said... but would he listen? Would he? No. "This is a new age, old man,' he told me, 'we do not need to dote on these relics of the past.' Can you imagine the thundering gall of such a man!?"
Towser searched around with his hand until he found the jug and lifted it up for a long drink. Both his companions now had closed their eyes and were breathing hoarsely, but the little old man paid no notice, lost in indignant reverie.
"And then he would not even do his poor dead father the courtesy of... placing it in the grave himself. Wouldn't... wouldn't even touch it! Made his younger brother do it! Made Josua..." Towser's bald head nodded. "You'd have thought it burned him... to see him hand it back... so swift... damned puppy..." Towser's head bobbed once more, sank to his breast, and did not come up again.
As Simon came quietly down the hayloft ladder, the three men were already snoring like old dogs before a fireplace. He crept past them on his toe-tips, kindly halting to stopper the jug lest one of them knock it over with a sleep-flung arm. He moved out into the slanting sunlight on the commons.
So many strange things have happened this year, he thought as he sat dropping pebbles into the well in the center of the commons yard. Drought and sickness, the prince disappeared, people burned and killed in Falshire... But somehow none of it seemed very serious.
Everything happens to someone else, Simon decided, half-glad, half-regretful. Everything happens to strangers.
She was curled up in the window seat, staring down through the delicately etched panes at something below. She did not look up when he entered, although the scuff of his boots on the flagstones announced him clearly; he stood for a moment in the doorway, arms folded across his breast, but still she did not turn. He strode forward and then stopped, looking over her shoulder.
There was nothing to see in the commons but a kitchen boy sitting on the rim of the stone cistern, a long-legged, shock-haired youth in a stained smock. The yard was otherwise empty of anything but sheep, dirty bundles of wool searching the dark ground for patches of new grass.
"What is wrong?" he asked, laying a broad hand on her shoulder. "Do you hate me now, that you should stalk away without a word?"
She shook her head, briefly netting a stripe of sunlight in her hair. Her hand stole up to his and grasped it with cool fingers.
"No," she said, still staring at the deserted acre below. "But I hate the things I see around me." He leaned forward, but she quickly pulled her hand free and lifted it to her face, as if to shade it from the afternoon sun.
"What things?" he asked, a measure of exasperation creeping into his voice. "Would you rather be back in Meremund, living in that drafty prison of a place my father gave me, with the smell of fish poisoning the air of even the highest balconies?" He reached down and cupped her chin, turning it with firm gentleness until he could see her angry, tearful eyes.
"Yes!" she said, and pushed his hand away, but now she held his gaze. "Yes, I would. You can smell the wind there, too, and you can see the ocean."
"Oh, God, girl, the ocean? You are mistress of the known world and yet you cry because you can't see the damnable water? Look! Look there!" He pointed out past the Hayholt's walls. "What, then. is the Kynslagh?"
She looked back with scom. "That is a bay, a king's bay, which waits passively for the king to boat on it, or swim in it. No king owns the sea."
"Ah." He dropped onto a hassock, his long legs splayed to either side. "And the thought behind this all, I suppose, is that you are prisoned here too, eh? What nonsense! I know why you are upset."
She turned fully away from the window, her eyes intent. "You do?" she asked, and beneath the scom fluttered a tiny breath of hope. "Tell me why, then. Father."
Elias laughed. "Because you are about to be married. It is not surprising at all!" He slid nearer. "Ah, Miri, there's nothing to be afraid of. Fengbald is a swaggerer, but he's young and still foolish. With a woman's patient hand at work he'll learn manners soon enough. And if he doesn't—well, it would show him a fool indeed were he to mistreat the king's daughter."
Miriamele's face hardened into a look of resignation. "You don't understand." Her tone was flat as a tax collector's. "Fengbald is of no more interest to me than a rock, or a shoe. It's you who I care about—and it's you who has something to fear. Why do you show off for them? Why do you mock and threaten old men?"
"Mock and threaten?!" For a moment Elias' broad face curled into an ugly snarl. "That old whoreson sings a song that as much as accuses me of doing away with my brother, and you say I mocked him?" The king stood up suddenly, giving the hassock an angry push with his foot that sent it spinning across the floor. "What do I have to fear?" he asked suddenly.
"If you don't know, Father—you who spend so much time around that red snake Pryrates and his deviltry—if you can't feel what's happening..."
"What in Aedon's name are you saying?" the king demanded. "What do you know?" He struck his hand against his thigh with a crack. "Nothing! Pryrates is my able servant—he will do for me what no one else can."
"He is a monster and a necromancer!" the princess shouted. "You are becoming his tool, Father! What has happened to you? You have changed!" Miriamele made an anguished sound, trying to bury her face in her long blue veil, then leaped up to dash past on velvet-slippered feet into her bedchamber. A moment later she had pushed the heavy door closed behind her.
"Damn all children!" Elias swore. "Girl!" he shouted, striding to the door, "you understand nothing! You know nothing about what the king is called on to do. And you have no right to be disobedient. I have no son! I have no heir! There are ambitious men all around me, and I need Pengbald. You will not thwart me!"
He stood for a long moment, but there was no reply. He struck the heel of his hand against the door and the timbers shuddered.
"Miriamele! Open the door!" Only silence answered him. "Daughter," he said at last, leaning his head forward until it touched the unyielding wood, "only bear me a grandson, and I will give you Meremund. I will see that Fengbald does not hinder your going. You may spend the rest of your life staring at the ocean." He brought up his hand and wiped something from his face. "I do not like to look at the ocean myself... it makes me think of your mother."
One more time he struck the door. The echo bloomed and died. "I love you, Miri..." the king said softly.
The turret at the corner of the western wall had taken the first bite out of the afternoon sun. Another pebble rattled down the cistern, following a hundred of its fellows into oblivion.
I’m hungry, Simon decided.
It would not be a bad idea, he reflected, to wander over to the pantry and beg something to eat from Judith. The evening meal would not be served for at least an hour, and he was uncomfortably aware that he hadn't had a bite since early morning. The one problem was that Rachel and her crew were cleaning out the long refectory hallway and chambers alongside the dining hall, the latest battle in Rachel's strenuous spring campaign. It would certainly be better, if possible, to circumvent the Dragon and any words she might have to offer on the subject of begging food before supper.
After a moment's consideration, during which time he sent three more stones tick-tack-ticking down the well, Simon decided it would be safer to go under the Dragon than around her. The refectory hall took up the entire length of the upper story along the seawall of the castle's central keep; it would take a very long time to go all the way around by the Chancelry to come at the kitchens on the far side. No, the storage rooms were the only route.
He took a chance on a quick dash from the commons yard across the western portico of the refectory, and made it through unobserved. A whiff of soapy water and the distant slosh of mops hastened his steps as he ducked into the darkened lower floor, and the rooms of stored goods that took up most of the area below the dining halls.
Since this floor was a good six or seven ells below the top of the Inner Bailey walls, only the faintest gleam of reflected light made its way in through the windows. The deep shadows reassured Simon. Because of many combustibles, torches were almost never brought down to these rooms—there was little chance he would be discovered.
In the large central chamber great piles of iron-banded casks and butts were stacked to the ceiling, a murky landscape of rounded towers, and close-hemmed passages. Anything might be stored in these barrels: dried vegetables, cheeses, bolts of fabric from years long past, even suits of armor like shining fish in casks of midnight-dark oil. The temptation to open some and see what treasures lay hidden privily inside was very strong, but Simon had no prybar to unlid the heavy, tight-nailed barrels—neither did he dare make too much noise with the Dragon and her legions dusting and polishing away just above like the charwomen of the damned.
Midway across the long, shadowed room, threading his way between barrel-towers that leaned like cathedral buttressess, Simon nearly fell down a hole into darkness.
Dancing back in heart-thumping surprise, he quickly saw that rather than a mere hole it was a hatchway that gaped in the floor before him, its door flung open and back. With care he could step around it, despite the narrowness of the path... but why was it open? Obviously, heavy hatch-doors did not swing open unaided. Doubtless one of the housekeepers had brought something up from a storeroom farther below, and been unable to both manage the burden and close the door.
With only an instant's hesitation, Simon scrambled down the ladder into the hatchway. Who could say what strange, exciting things might be hiding in the room below?
The space beneath was darker than the room above, and at first he could see nothing at all. His groping foot encountered something below him; as he gingerly lowered his weight it took on the solidity of familiar board flooring. When he took the other foot off the ladder, however, it met no resistance at all—only his tight grip on the ladder-rung kept him from toppling off balance. There was still open space immediately below the ladder—another hatchway to a floor even further below. He maneuvered his swinging foot until it found the lip of the lower hatch, then moved off onto the security of this middle room's floor.
The hatch-door above him was a gray square in the wall of darkness. By its faint light he saw with disappointment that this area was little more than a closet: the roof was far lower than that of the upper room, and the walls extended back only a few arm's lengths from where he stood. This small room was crowded to the rafters with barrels and sacks, with only a small aisle that reached back to the far wall separating the leaning dry goods.
As he surveyed the closet with disinterest a board creaked somewhere, and he heard the measured sound of footsteps in the blackness below him.
Oh, God's Pain, who's that?! And what have I done now?
How stupid of him not to think that the hatchway might be open because someone was still down in the rooms below! He had done it again! Silently cursing himself for an idiot, he slid into the narrow aisle between the packed goods. The footfalls below approached the ladder. Simon wedged himself back off the aisle into a space between two musty plaincloth sacks that smelled and felt like they might be full of old linen. Realizing that he would still be visible to anyone who stepped away from the hatch and into the pathway, he sank into a half-crouch, resting his weight carefully on an oak-ribbed trunk. The steps halted, and the ladder began to creak as someone climbed up. He held his breath. He had no idea why he was suddenly so frightened; if he was caught it would only mean more punishment, more of Rachel's hard looks and peppery remarks—why then did he feel like a rabbit scented by hounds?
The sound of climbing continued, and for the moment it seemed that whoever it was would continue up to the large room above... until the steady creaking stopped. The silence sang in Simon's ears. There was a creak, then another—but he realized with a heavy feeling in his stomach that the noises were coming back down. A muffled bump as the unseen figure stepped off the ladder onto the floor of the closet, and again there was silence, but this time the very stillness seemed to throb. The slow tread moved closer down the slender aisle, until it halted directly across from Simon's hastily-chosen hiding place. In the dim light he could see pointed black boots, almost close enough to touch; above hung the black-trimmed hem of a scarlet robe. It was Pryrates.
Simon crouched back among the dry goods and prayed that Aedon would stop his heart, which seemed to be beating like thunder. He felt his gaze drawn upward against his will until he stared out between the sagging shoulders of the sacks that hid him. Through the narrow gap he could see the alchemist's bleak face; for a moment it seemed Pryrates looked right at him, and he nearly squealed in terror. An instant later he saw it was not so: the red priest's shadow-shrouded eyes were focused on the wall above Simon's head. He was listening.
Pryrates' lips had not moved, but Simon heard the voice as plainly as if it had whispered in his ear.
Come out. Now.
The voice was firm but reasonable. Simon found himself ashamed at his conduct: there was nothing to fear; it was childish foolishness to crouch here in the dark when he could stand up and reveal himself, admit the little joke he had played... but still...
Where are you? Show yourself.
Just as the calm voice in his ear had finally convinced him that nothing would be simpler than to stand and speak—he was reaching for the sacks to help himself up—Pryrates' black eyes swept for a scant moment across the dark crack through which Simon peered, and the glancing touch killed any thought of rising as a sudden frost shrivels a rose blossom. Pryrates' gaze touched Simon's hidden eyes and a door opened in the boy's heart; the shadow of destruction filled that doorway.
This was death—Simon knew it. He felt the cold crumble of grave soil beneath his scraping fingers, the weight of dark, moist earth in his mouth and eyes. There were no more words now, no dispassionate voice in his head, only a pull—an untouchable something that was dragging him forward by fractions of inches. A worm of ice clasped itself around his heart as he fought—this was death waiting... his death. If he made a sound, the merest tremble or gasp, he would never see the sun again. He shut his eyes so tightly that his temples ached; he locked teeth and tongue against the straining need for breath. The silence hissed and pounded. The pull strengthened. Simon felt as though he were sinking slowly down into the crushing depths of the sea.
A sudden yowl was followed by Pryrates' startled curse. The intangible, throttling grip was gone; Simon's eyes popped open in time to see a sleek gray shape skitter past, leap over Pryrates' boots and streak to the hatchway, where it bounded down into darkness. The priest's surprised laughter scraped out, echoing dully in the cluttered room.
After a pause of half a dozen heartbeats, the-black boots turned away and moved back up the aisle. In a moment, Simon heard the ladder-thongs squeaking. He continued to sit rigidly, his breathing shallow, all of his senses alarmed. Chill sweat was running into his eyes, but he did not lift his hand to wipe it away—not yet.
At last, after many minutes had passed and the ladder-sounds had faded, Simon rose from the sheltering sacks, balancing on weak, trembling legs. Praise Usires and bless that little gray scattercat! But what to do? He had heard the upper hatchway close, and the sound of booted footfalls on the floor overhead, but that did not mean that Pryrates had gone very far. It would be a risk even to lift the heavy door and look; if the priest were still in the storeroom the chances were good that he would hear. How could he get out?
He knew he should just stay where he was, waiting in the dark. Even if the alchemist were in the upper room now, eventually he must finish his business and depart. This seemed by far the safest plan—but part of Simon's nature rebelled. It was one thing to be frightened—and Pryrates frightened him witless—it was another thing to spend the whole evening locked in a dark closet, and suffer the attendant punishments, when the priest was almost certainly on his way back to his eyrie in Hjeldin's Tower.
Besides, I don't think he really could have made me come out... could he? Likely I was just scared nearly to death... .
The memory of the broken-backed dog rose in his mind. He gagged and spent long moments breathing deeply.
And what of the cat who had saved him from being caught—caught: the image of Pryrates' pit-black eyes would not leave him: they were no fear-fantasy. Where had the cat gone? If it had jumped down to the lower floor it was doubtless trapped, and would never find its way back without Simon's assistance. That was a debt of honor.
As he moved quietly forward he could see a dim glow from the doorway in the floor. Was there a torch lit down there? Or perhaps there was some other way out, a doorway opening into one of the lower baileys?
After a few moments of listening silently at the open hatchway, making sure that no one would surprise him this time, Simon stepped cautiously onto the ladder and began to climb down. A breath of cold air ruffled his tunic and goosebumped his arms; he bit the inside of his lip and hesitated, then continued.
Instead of being halted by another landing directly below, Simon's careful descent continued for some moments. At first the only light rose from below him, as though he were climbing down some sort of bottleneck. At last the illumination became more general, and soon after that his downward-groping exploration met with resistance. He touched wood with his toes to one side of the ladder: he had found the floor. Stepping down he saw that there was no further passage-way below, that the bottom rung of the ladder rested here. The only source of light in the chamber—and with the topmost hatchway now closed, the only source of illumination at all—was a strange, glowing rectangle that shone against the far wall, a misty door painted on the wall in fitful yellowish light.
Simon superstitiously made the sign of the Tree as he looked around. The rest of the room contained only a broken quintain and a few other pieces of discarded jousting furniture. Although the room's elongated shadows left many corners obscure, Simon could see nothing that would interest a man like Pryrates. He moved toward the gleaming design on the wall with hands extended, five-fingered silhouettes outlined in amber. The glowing rectangle flared suddenly, then quickly faded, dropping a shroud of absolute black over all.
Simon was alone in darkness. There was no sound except for that of his own blood booming in his ears like a distant ocean. He took a cautious step forward; the sound of his shoe scraping the floor filled the emptiness for a moment. He took another step, and then one more: his outstretched fingers felt cold stone... and something else: strange, faint lines of warmth. He slumped to his knees beside the wall.
Now I know what's it's like to be at the bottom of a well. I only hope no one starts pitching stones down at me.
As he sat, pondering what he should do next, he heard a faint whisper of movement. Something struck him in the chest, and he gave a shout of surprise. At his cry the touch was gone, but it returned a moment later. Something was butting gently at his tunic... and purring.
"Cat!" he whispered.
You saved me, you know. Simon rubbed at the invisible shape. Slow down, there. It's hard to tell which end is which when you squirm around so. That's right, you saved me, and I'm going to get you out of this hole you've gotten into.
"Of course, I've gotten myself into the same hole," Simon said aloud. He picked the furry shape up and lifted it into his tunic. The cat's purring took a deeper note as it settled itself against his warm stomach. "I know what that glowing thing was," he whispered. "A door. A magic door."
It was also Pryrates' magic door, and Morgenes would skin him for even going near it, but Simon felt a certain stubborn indignation: this was his castle too, after all, and the storage rooms did not belong to any upstart priest, no matter how fearsome. In any case, if he went back up the ladder and Pryrates was still there... well, even Simon's returning pride did not permit him to delude himself about what would happen then. So, it was sit at the bottom of a pitch-black well all evening, or...
He flattened his palm on the wall, sliding it across the chill stones until he found the streaks of warmth again. He traced them with his fingers and found they corresponded roughly with the rectangular shape he had first seen. Laying his hands flat in the middle he pushed, but met only the stolid resistance of unmortared stone. He pushed again, as hard as he could; the cat stirred uneasily beneath his shirt. Again nothing happened. As he leaned panting against the spot, he felt even the warm spots growing chill beneath his hands. A sudden vision of Pryrates—the priest waiting in the dark overhead like a spider, a grin stretching his bony face—sent Simon's heart a-pounding.
"Oh, Elysia Mother of God, open!" he murmured hopelessly, fear-sweat making his palms slippery. "Open!"
The stone became suddenly warm, then hot, forcing Simon to lean away. A thin golden line formed on the wall before him, running like a stream of molten metal along the horizontal until both ends dropped down and then ran back together. The door was there, shimmering, and Simon had only to lift his hand and touch it with a finger for the lines to grow brighter; actual cracks became visible, running the length of the silhouette. He placed his fingers carefully in one edge and pulled; a stone door swung silently outward, spilling light into the room.
It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the wash of brilliance. Behind the door a stone corridor sloped away and disappeared around a corner, carved directly into the rough rock of the castle. A torch bumed brightly in a sconce just inside; it was this that had dazzled him so. He climbed to his feet, the cat a comfortable weight inside his shirt.
Would Pryrates have left a torch burning if he didn't plan to return? And what was this strange passageway? Simon recalled Morgenes saying something of old Sithi ruins beneath the castle. This was certainly old stonework, but crude and raw, completely unlike the polished delicacy of Green Angel Tower. He resolved to make a quick inspection: if the corridor led nowhere, he would have to climb the ladder after all.
The coarse stone walls of the tunnel were damp. As Simon padded down the walkway he could hear a dull booming sound through the very rock.
I must be below the level of the Kynslagh. No wonder the stones, even the air, everything is so damp. As if to punctuate this thought, he felt water coming in at the seams of his shoes.
Now the corridor turned again, continuing its downward slope. The dimming light from the entranceway torch was supplemented by some new source. As he turned one last corner he came onto a leveled, widened floor that ended some ten paces away in a wall of craggy granite. Another torch guttered in its bracket there.
Two dark holes loomed in the wall at his left; at the end just beyond them was what looked to be another door, seated almost flush with the corridor's end. Water splashed near his shoe-tops as he moved forward.
The first two spaces seemed to have once been chambers of some kind—cells, most likely—but now splintered doors hung lazily off their hinges; the flickering torchlight revealed nothing inside but shadows. A damp odor of decay hung in these untenanted holes, and he quickly passed them by to stand before the door at the end. The hidden cat pricked him with gentle claws as he examined the blank, heavy timbers in the wavering light. What might lie beyond? Another rotting chamber, or a corridor leading still farther into the sea-bitten stone? Or was it perhaps Pryrates' secret treasure room, concealed from all spying eyes... well, most spying eyes...?
Midway up the door was fixed a plate of metal: Simon could not tell if it was a latch or a peephole cover. When he tried it the rusty metal did not budge, and he came away with red flecks covering his fingers. Casting about, he saw a bit of broken hinge lying beside the open doorway to his left. He picked it up and pried at the metal until, with a begrudging squeak, the plate tilted upward on a rust-and-salt-stiffened hinge. After a quick look up the corridor and a moment of silence listening for footfalls, he leaned forward and put his eye to the hole in the door.
To his great surprise there was a handful of rushes burning in a wall bracket in the chamber, but any heady and terrifying thought of having found Pryrates1 secret hoard-room was quickly dashed by the dank, straw-covered floor and bare walls. There was something at the back of the chamber, though... some dark bundle of shadow.
A clanking noise pulled Simon around in surprise. Fear washed through him as he looked frantically about, expecting any moment to hear the thump of black boots in the corridor. The noise came again; Simon realized with astonishment that it sounded from the chamber beyond the door. Putting his eye cautiously back to the hole, he stared into the shadows.
Something was moving at the back wall, a dark shape, and as it slowly swayed to one side the harsh, metallic sound echoed again in the small space. The shadow-shape raised its head.
Choking, Simon jumped back from the spy-hole as though slapped across the face. In a whirling moment he felt the firm earth totter beneath him, felt that he had turned over something familiar to find crawling corruption beneath....
The chained thing that had stared out at him—the thing with the haunted eyes—was Prince Josua.