作者：残烟一缕 提交日期：2008-6-15 11:54:00 | 分类: | 访问量：3179
Six Silver Sparrows
SIMON stumbled across the commons yard, his thoughts shouting in his head like a great crowd. He wanted to hide. He wanted to run away. He wanted to bellow the terrible truth and laugh, to bring the castlefolk tripping and tumbling out of doors. How sure they were, sure about everything, guessing and gossiping—but they knew nothing! Nothing! Simon wanted to howl and knock things over, but he could not free his heart from the spell of fear cast by Pryrates' carrion-bird eyes. What could be done? Who would help to turn the world right side up again?
Even as Simon ran shamble-jointed across the dusky commons, the doctor's calm, quizzical face appeared in his thoughts, pushing back the priest's deathly countenance and the chained shadow in the dungeon below. Without another conscious thought he fled past the chained, black-painted gate of Hjeldin's Tower and up the stairs to the Chancelry. In mere moments he was through the long hallways and pulling open the door to forbidden Green Angel Tower. So violent was his need to reach the doctor's chambers that had Barnabas the sexton been waiting there to catch him, Simon might have turned to quicksilver in the man's hands. A great wind rushed through him, filling him with wild haste, pushing him on. Before the tower's side door had swung shut behind him he was on the draw-bridge; seconds later he was pounding on Morgenes' door. A pair of Erkynguardsmen looked up incuriously, then went back to their dice.
"Doctor! Doctor! Doctor!" Simon shouted, banging away like a demented cooper. The doctor quickly appeared, feet bare and eyes alarmed.
"Horns of snorting Cryunnos, boy! Are you mad!? Have you eaten bumblebees?!"
Simon pushed past Morgenes without a word of explanation and headed down the corridor. He stood panting before the inner door as the little man came up behind. After a moment of shrewd inspection Morgenes let himself and Simon in.
No sooner had the door closed than Simon began the story of his expedition and its results. The doctor fussed up a small fire and poured a jar of spicy hippocras into a pan to warm. As he worked Morgenes listened, carefully poking an occasional question into Simon's tirade as a man might reach a stick into a bear cage. He shook his head grimly, handing the youth a cup of mulled wine, then sat down with his own cup in a scarred highback chair. He had put slippers on his thin white feet; as he sat cross-legged on the chair cushion, his gray robe rucked up above his bony shins.
"... And I know I shouldn't have touched a magic door, Doctor, I know it, but I did—and it was Josua' I'm sorry, I'm getting things out of order, but I'm sure I saw him! He had a beard, I think, and he looked terrible... but it was him!"
Morgenes sipped his wine and dabbed at his chin-whiskers with a long sleeve. "I believe you, lad," he said. "I wish that I didn't, but it makes an evil kind of sense. It confirms some strange information I received."
"But what will we do?!" Simon almost shouted. "He's dying! Did Elias do that to him? Does the king know?"
"I really can't say—it is certain, however, that Pryrates knows." The doctor put down his wine cup and stood. Behind his head the last of the afternoon sun reddened the narrow windows. "As for what to do, the first thing is for you to go and eat supper."
"Supper?!" Simon choked, spattering hippocras down his tunic. "With Prince Josua...?"
"Yes, boy, that's what I said. Supper. There's nothing we can do right this instant, and I need to think. If you miss your supper, it will just raise a hue and cry—albeit a small one—and it will help to do just what we don't want to do: attract attention. No, go now and eat supper... and between bites, keep your mouth shut, will you?"
Mealtime seemed to pass as slowly as spring thaw. Wedged between loudly chewing scullions, his heart beating double time, Simon resisted the wild impulse to lash out and knock cups and crockery spinning to the rush-strewn floor. The conversation infuriated him with its irrelevance, and the shepherd's pie that Judith had prepared especially for Belthainn Eve was as tasteless and unchewable in his mouth as wood.
Rachel watched his fidgeting with displeasure from her seat at the head of the table. When Simon had sat still as long as he could and leaped up to make his excuses, she followed him to the door.
"I'm sorry, Rachel, I'm in a hurry!" he said, hoping to stave off the lecture she seemed primed to deliver. "Doctor Morgenes has something very important he wants me to help him with. Please?"
For a moment the Dragon looked as though she were going to get that fearful grip on his ear and bring him forcibly back to table, but something in his face or tone caught at her; for a moment she almost smiled.
"All right, boy, just this once—but you thank Judith for that nice bit of pie before you go. She worked on it the whole afternoon."
Simon bolted over to Judith, pitched like a huge tent at her own table. Her plump cheeks colored prettily while he praised her exertions. As he hurried back to the door, Rachel leaned out and captured his sleeve. He stopped and turned, mouth already open to complain, but Rachel only said; "Now just calm yourself and be carefiil, you mooncalf boy. Nothing's so important that you should kill yourself getting there." She patted his arm and released him; he was through the door and gone as she watched.
Simon had pulled on his vest and coat by the time he reached the well. Morgenes had not yet arrived, so he paced impatiently in the deeper shadow of the dining hall until a soft voice at his elbow made him start in surprise.
"Sorry to make you wait, lad. Inch came by, and I had a devilish time convincing him that I didn't need him after all." The doctor pulled his hood forward, hiding his face.
"How did you come up so quietly?" Simon asked, his whisper an imitation of the doctor's.
"I can still get about a little, Simon," the doctor said in an injured tone. "I am old, but not yet moribund."
Simon did not know what "moribund" meant, but he caught the general idea. "Sorry," he whispered.
The two made their way silently down the dining room stairs and into the first storage room, where Morgenes produced a crystal sphere the size of a green apple. When he rubbed it, a small spark flickered into being at the center, gradually brightening until it limned the encircling casks and bundles with soft honey-colored light. Morgenes shrouded the nether half of it in his sleeve and held it before them as they paced carefully through the stacked dry goods.
The hatchway was closed; Simon did not remember whether or not he had shut it himself in his mad dash out. They went down the ladder carefully, Simon leading, Morgenes above him casting about this way and that with the shining glove. Simon pointed out the closet where Pryrates had almost captured him. They passed on, down to the bottom floor.
The lowermost room was as untenanted as before, but the door leading to the stone passageway was shut. Simon was almost positive that he had not done this, and told Morgenes so, but the little man just waved his hand and strode to the wall, finding the spot where the crack had been according to Simon's directions. The doctor rubbed his hand in a circular movement across the wall, muttering something under his breath, but no crevice appeared. After Morgenes had squatted by the wall talking to himself for some time, Simon grew tired of bouncing from one foot to the other and crouched down at the doctor's side.
"Can't you just say some magic and make it open?"
"No!" Morgenes hissed. "A wise man never, I repeat, never uses the Art when he doesn't need to—especially when dealing with another adept, like our Father Pryrates. We might as well sign my name to it."
As Simon sat back on his heels and scowled, the doctor placed his left hand flat in the middle of the area where the door had been; after a moment's light palpation of the surface he hit it smartly with the heel of his right hand. The door popped open, pouring torchlight into the room. The doctor peeked through, then dropped his lamp-crystal into the hem of his voluminous sleeve and pulled out a stitched leather bag.
"Ah, Simon-lad," he chuckled, quietly, "what a thief I would have made. It was not a 'magic door'—only hidden by use of the Art. Come on, now!" They stepped through into the damp stone corridor.
Their footfalls made syrupy echoes as they slipped and stepped down the walkway to the corridor's end and the locked door. After a moment's examination of the lock Morgenes stepped to the peephole and peered inside.
"I think you're right, lad," he hissed. "Nuanni's Shinbonel But I wish you weren't." He returned to the scrutiny of the lock. "Run up to the end of the corridor and keep an ear open, won't you?"
As Simon stood guard, Morgenes fished around in his leather bag, at last extracting a long, needle-thin blade set in a wooden handle. He waved it merrily at Simon.
"Naraxi pig-sticker. Knew it would come in useful one day!"
He tested it against the keyhole; it slid into the aperture with room to spare. He removed it and shook a tiny jar from his bag which he uncorked with his teeth. As Simon watched, fascinated, Morgenes upended the jar and poured a dark, sticky substance onto the needle blade, then quickly poked the tip back into the keyhole; it left glistening traces as it passed into the lock.
Morgenes wiggled the pig-sticker for a moment, then stepped back and counted on his fingers. When he had talked both hands three times each, he grasped the slender handle and twisted. He grimaced and let go.
"Come here, Simon. We need your strong young arms."
At the doctor's direction Simon grasped the strange tool by the butt end and began to twist. For a moment his sweaty palms slipped on the polished wood; he tightened his grip, and after a short interval felt something catch inside the lock. An instant later he heard the bolt slide back. Morgenes nodded his head, and Simon shouldered the door open.
The smoldering rushes in the wall socket threw only faint light. As Simon and the doctor approached they saw the shackled figure at the rear of the cell look up, and his eyes widen slowly, as if in some kind of recognition. His mouth worked, but only a scratchy huff of breath came out. The smell of wet, foul straw was overwhelming.
"Oh... oh... my poor Prince Josua..." Morgenes said. As the doctor gave a quick inspection to Josua's manacles, Simon could only look on, feeling as helpless to affect the rush of events as if he dreamed. The prince was achingly thin, and bearded like a roadsider doomcrier; the parts of his skin that showed through the miserable sacking were covered with red sores.
Morgenes was whispering in Josua Lackhand's ear. He had again produced his bag, and held in his hand a shallow pot, the sort that ladies kept for their lip-paint. Briskly rubbing something from the pot on first one palm, then the other, the little doctor once more looked over Josua's restraints. Both arms were shackled to a massive iron ring in the wall, one manacled about the wrist, the handless other by a cuff about the prince's thin upper arm.
Morgenes finished smearing his hands and passed pot and bag to Simon. "Now be a good lad," he said, "and cover your eyes. I traded a silkbound volume of Plesinnen Myrmenis—the only one north of Perdruin—for this muck. I just hope—Simon, do cover your eyes..."
As the youth raised his hands he saw Morgenes reaching for the ring that bound the prince's chains to the stone. An instant later a flash of light glared pinkly through Simon's meshed fingers, accompanied by a crack like hammer on slate. When the youth looked again Prince Josua lay with his chains in a heap on the floor and Morgenes kneeled beside him, palms smoking. The wall-ring was blackened and twisted like a burnt bannock.
"Faugh!" the doctor gasped, "I hope... I hope I... never have to do that again. Can you pick up the prince, Simon? I am very weak."
Josua rolled stiffly over and looked around. "I... think... I can... walk. Pryrates... gave me something."
"Nonsense." Morgenes took a deep breath and climbed shakily to his feet. "Simon is a strong lad—come on, boy, don't gape! Pick him up!"
After some maneuvering Simon managed to wrap the hanging strands of Josua's chains, still attached at wrist and arm, into a loop around the prince's waist. Then, with Morgenes' assistance, he somehow hoisted Josua up like a pickaback child. He stood and sucked in a great draught of air. For a moment he feared he could not bear up, but with a clumsy hop he moved Josua higher on his back and found that even with the added weight of the chains it was not impossible.
"Wipe that silly smile off your face, Simon," the doctor said, "we still have to get him up the ladder."
Somehow they managed—Simon grunting, almost weeping with the exertion, Josua pulling weakly at the rungs, Morgenes pushing behind and whispering encouragement. It was a long, nightmarish climb, but at last they reached the main storeroom. Morgenes scurried past as Simon leaned against a bale to rest, the prince still clinging to his back.
"Somewhere, somewhere..." Morgenes muttered, pushing his way between the close-stacked goods. When he reached the southern wall of the room, shining his crystal before him, he began to search in earnest.
"What... ?" Simon started to ask, but the doctor silenced him with a gesture. As they watched Morgenes appear and disappear behind piles of barrels, Simon felt a delicate touch on his hair. The prince was patting gently at his head.
"Real. Real!" Josua breathed. Simon felt something wet run down his neck.
"Found if" came Morgenes' hushed but triumphant cry. "Come along!" Simon rose, staggering a little, and carried the prince forward. The doctor was standing beside the blank stone wall, gesturing toward a pyramid of large casks. The lamp-crystal gave him the shadow of a looming giant.
"Found what?" Simon adjusted the prince and stared. "Barrels?"
"Indeed!" the doctor crackled. With a flourish he twisted the round rim of the topmost cask a half-turn. The whole side of the barrel swung open as if it were a door, revealing cavernous darkness beyond.
Simon stared suspiciously. "What's that?"
"A passageway, you foolish boy." Morgenes took his elbow and guided him toward the open-sided barrel, which stood scarcely more than chest-high. "This castle is honeycombed with such secret byways."
With a frown Simon stooped, peering at the black depths beyond. "In there?"
Morgenes nodded. Simon, realizing he could not walk through, got down on his knees to inch inside, the prince riding his back as if he were a festival pony. "I didn't know there were such passages in the storerooms," he said, his voice echoing in the barrel. Morgenes leaned down to guide Josua's head under the low entrance.
"Simon, there are more things you don't know than there are things that I do know. I despair of the imbalance. Now close your mouth and let's hurry."
They were able to stand again on the far side: Morgenes' crystal revealed a long, angled corridor, unremarkable but for a fabulous accumulation of dust.
"Ah, Simon," Morgenes said as they hurried along. "I only wish I had time to show you some of the rooms past which this hallway creeps—some were the chambers of a very great, very beautiful lady. She used this passage to keep her secret assignations." The doctor looked up at Josua, whose face lay against Simon's neck. "Sleeping, now," Morgenes murmured. "All sleeping."
The corridor climbed and dipped, turning one way and another. They passed many doors, some whose locks were rusted shut, some whose handles were as shiny as a new fithing piece. Once they passed a series of small windows; in a brief glance Simon was startled to see the sentries on the western wall, silhouetted against the sky. The clouds were tinted a faint rose where the sun had gone.
We must be above the dining hall, Simon marveled. When did we do all the climbing?
They were stumbling in exhaustion when Morgenes finally stopped. There were no windows in this part of the winding corridor, only tapestries. Morgenes lifted one, revealing gray stone beneath.
"Wrong tapestry," the doctor panted, lifting the next one to reveal a door of rough wood. He laid his ear against it and listened for a moment, then pulled it open.
"Hall of Records." He gestured at the torchlit hallway beyond. "Only a few... hundred paces from my chambers..." When Simon and his passenger had come through, he let the door swing shut behind; it closed with an authoritative bump. Looking back, Simon could not distinguish it from other wooden panels that lined the corridor wall.
There was only one last dash to be made in the open, a relatively rapid sprint from the easternmost door of the archive rooms, across the open commons. As they lurched across the shadowed grass, staying as close to the walls as they could without tripping through the ivy, Simon thought he saw a movement in the shadows of the wall across the yard: something large that shifted slightly as though to watch their passage, a familiar, stoop-shouldered form. But the light was dying fast and he could not be sure—it was only one more black spot moving before his eyes.
He had a stitch in his side that felt as though someone had caught his rib with Ruben's foundry-tongs. Morgenes, who had limped ahead, held the door open. Simon tottered through, carefully put his burden down, then pitched full-length on the cool flagstones, sweaty and breathless. The world spun about him in a giddy dance.
"Here, your Highness, drink this—go on," he heard Morgenes say. After some little while he opened his eyes and lifted himself on one elbow. Josua sat propped against the wall; Morgenes crouched over him holding a brown ceramic jug.
"Better?" the doctor asked.
The prince nodded weakly. "Stronger already. This liquor feels like what Pryrates gave me... but not so bitter. Said that I was weakening too fast... that they needed me tonight."
"Needed you? 1 don't like the sound of that, hot at all." Morgenes brought the jug over to Simon. The drink was busy and sour to the taste, but warming. The doctor peered out the door, then dropped the bolt.
"Tomorrow is Belthainn Day, the first of Maia," he said. "Tonight is... tonight is a very bad night, my prince. Stoning Night, it is called."
Simon felt the doctor's liquor burning pleasantly as it moved down to his stomach. The ache in his joints lessened, as though a twisted length of cloth had been slackened a turn or two. He sat up, feeling dizzy.
"I find it ominous, their 'needing' you on such a night," Morgenes repeated. "I fear worse things even than the imprisoning of the king's brother."
"The imprisoning itself was bad enough for me." A wry grimace stretched Josua's gaunt features, then disappeared. Deep lines of sorrow took its place. "Morgenes," he said a moment later, his voice cracking, "those... those whoreson bastards killed my men. They ambushed us."
“单单是被囚禁，对我来说就已经够糟的了。”一个歪曲的鬼脸儿在Josua憔悴的面容伸展开，随即消失不见了。取之而代的，是深深的悲伤。“Morgenes，”过了一会儿他说，他的声音嘶哑，“那些……那些私 *生 *子们杀了我手下的士兵们，他们伏击了我们。”
The doctor raised his hand as though to grasp the prince's shoulder, then put it awkwardly back down. "I'm sure, my lord, I'm sure. Do you know for certain whether your brother was responsible? Could it have been Pryrates acting alone?"
Josua shook his head wearily. "I don't know. The men who attacked us wore no insignia, and I never saw anyone but the priest once I was brought here... but it is astonishing to consider Pryrates doing such a thing without Elias."
"But why?! Why, damn them? I do not covet power—the reverse, if anything! You know that, Morgenes. Why should they do this?"
"My prince, I am afraid I do not have the answers right this instant, but I must say this goes far toward confirming my suspicions about... other things. About... northern matters. Do you remember hearing of the white foxes?" Morgenes* tone was significant, but the prince only cocked an eyebrow and said nothing. "Well, there is no time to spend talking of my fears at this moment. Our time is short, and we must attend to more immediate matters."
Morgenes helped Simon up from the floor, then went puttering off in search of something. The youth stood looking shyly at Prince Josua, who remained slumped against the wall, eyes closed. The doctor returned with a hammer, its head rounded by much use, and a chisel.
"Strike offJosua's chains, will you, lad? I have a few things left to attend to." He scuttled off again.
"Your Highness?" Simon said quietly, approaching the prince. Josua opened bleary eyes and stared first at the youth, then at the tools he carried. He nodded.
Kneeling at the prince's side he burst the lock on the band that encircled Josua's right arm with a pair of sharp blows. As he moved round to the prince's left, Josua opened his eyes again and laid a restraining hand on Simon's arm.
"Take only the chain from this side, young one." A ghostly smile nickered across his face. "Leave me the shackle to remember my brother by. Leave me his band." He displayed the puckered stump of his right wrist. "We have a sort of tally system, you see."
Simon, suddenly chilled, trembled as he braced Josua*s left forearm against the stone flags. With a single stroke he sliced through the chain, leaving the cuff of blackened iron above the hand.
Morgenes appeared, carrying a bundle of dark clothing. "Come, Josua, we must hurry. It is almost an hour after dark, and who knows when they will go looking for you? I broke my lock-pick off in the door, but that will not long prevent them discovering your absence."
"What will we do?" asked the prince, standing unsteadily on his feet as Simon helped him into the musty peasant gear. "Who in the castle can we trust?"
"Nobody at present—not on such short notice. That is why you must make your way to Naglimund. Only there will you be safe."
"Naglimund..." Josua seemed bemused. "I have dreamed so often of my home there in these horrible months—but no! I must show the people my brother's duplicity. I will find strong arms to aid me!"
"Not here... not now." Morgenes' voice was firm, his bright eyes commanding. "You will find yourself back in a dungeon, and this time you will go quickly to a private beheading. Don't you see? You must get to a strong place where you are safe from treachery before you can press any claim. Many kings have imprisoned and killed their relatives—most got away with it. It takes more than familial infighting to excite the populace."
"Well," said Josua reluctantly, "even if you are correct, how would I escape?" A fit of coughing shook him. "The castle gates... are... are doubtless closed for the night. Should I walk up to the inner gate dressed as a traveling minstrel and try to sing my way out?"
Morgenes smiled. Simon was impressed by the spirit of the grim prince, who an hour before had been chained in a damp cell with no hope of rescue.
"As it happens, you have not caught me unprepared with that question," the doctor said. "Please observe."
He walked to the back of the long chamber, to the corner where Simon had once cried against the rough stone wall. He gestured to the star chart whose connected constellations formed a four-winged bird. With a little bow he swept the chart aside. Behind it lay a great square hole cut into the rock, set with a wooden door.
"As I demonstrated already, Pryrates is not the only one with hidden doors and secret passages." The doctor chuckled. "Father Red-Cape is a newcomer, and has much yet to learn about the castle that has been my home for longer than you two could guess."
Simon was so excited that he could hardly stand still, but Josua's expression was doubtful. "Where does it go, Morgenes?" he asked. "It will do me scant good to escape Elias' dungeon and rack only to find myself in the Hayholt's moat."
"Never fear. This castle is built on a warren of caves and tunnels—not to mention the ruins of the older castle beneath us. The whole maze is so vast that even I do not know the half of it—but I know it well enough to give you safe-passage out. Come with me."
Morgenes led the prince, who went leaning on Simon's arm, over to the chamber-spanning table; there he spread out a rolled parchment whose edges were gray and feathery with age.
"You see," said Morgenes, "I have not been idle while my young friend Simon here was at supper. This is a plan of the catacombs—of necessity only a partial one, but with your route marked. If you follow this carefully, you will find yourself above ground at last in the lich-yard beyond the walls of Erchester. From there I am sure you can find your way to safe haven for the night."
After they had studied the map, Morgenes pulled Josua aside and the two of them engaged in whispered conversation. Simon, feeling more than a little left out, stood and examined the doctor's chart. Morgenes had marked the path with bright red ink; his head swam following the twists and turns.
When the two men finished their discussion, Josua collected the map. "Well, old friend," he said, "if I am to go, then I should go quickly. It would be unwise for another hour to find me still here in the Hayholt, I shall think carefully on these other things you have told me." His gaze swept around the cluttered room. "I only fear what your braves acts might bring down on you."
"There is nothing you can do about that, Josua," Morgenes replied. "And I am not without some defenses of my own, a few feints and tricks I can employ. As soon as Simon told me about finding you, I began to make some preparations. I have long feared that my hand would be forced; it has only been hastened slightly by this. Here, take this torch."
So saying, the little doctor removed a brand from the wall and gave it to the prince, next handing him a sack that hung next to it on a hook.
"I have put some food in here for you, and some more of the curative liquor. It is not much, but you must travel light. Please hurry." He held the star chart up and away from the doorway.
"Send word to me soon as you are safe at Naglimund and I will have more things to tell."
The prince nodded, limping slowly into the corridor mouth. The torch's flame pushed his shadow far down the dark shaft as he turned back.
"I will never forget this, Morgenes," he said. "And you, young man... you have done a brave thing today. I hope it will be the making of your future, someday."
Simon knelt, embarrassed by the emotions he felt. The prince looked so haggard and grim... He felt pride, sorrow, and fear all pulling at him, his thoughts stirred and muddied.
"Fare you well, Josua," Morgenes said, resting a hand on Simon's shoulder. Together they watched the prince's torch recede down the low passageway until it was swallowed by the murk. The doctor pulled the door shut and dropped the hanging back into place.
"Come, Simon," he said then, "we still have much to do. Pryrates is missing his guest this Stoning Night, and I cannot think he will be pleased."
An interval crept by in silence. Simon dangled his feet from his perch on the tabletop, frightened but nevertheless savoring the excitement that charged the room—that now hung over all of the staid old castle. Morgenes fluttered back and forth past him, hurrying from one incomprehensible task to another.
"I did most of this while you were eating, you see, but there are still a few things left, a few unknotted ends."
The little man's explanation enlightened Simon not one whit, but things had been happening fast enough to satisfy even his impatient nature. He nodded and dangled his feet some more.
"Well, I suppose that's all I can do tonight," Morgenes said at last. "You had better wander back and go to bed. Come here early in the morning, perhaps right after you do your chores."
"Chores?" gasped Simon. "Chores? Tomorrow?"
"Certainly," snapped the doctor. "You don't think anything out of the ordinary is going to happen, do you? Do you suppose that the king is going to announce: 'Oh, by the way, my brother escaped from the dungeon last night, so we'll all have a holiday and go look for him,'—you don't think that, do you?"
"... And you would certainly not say: 'Rachel, I can't do my chores because Morgenes and I are plotting treason,'—would you?"
"Of course not...!"
"Good. Then you will do your chores and come back as soon as you can, and then we will assess the situation. This is far more dangerous than you realize, Simon, but I am afraid you are now a part of things, for good or for ill, I had hoped to keep you out of all this..."
"Out of all what? Part of what. Doctor?"
"Never mind, boy. Isn't your plate full enough already? I'll try to explain what I safely can tomorrow, but Stoning Night is not the best occasion to speak of things like..."
Morgenes' words were chopped short by a loud pounding at the outer door. For a moment Simon and the doctor stood staring at one another; after a pause the knocking was repeated.
"Who's there?" Morgenes called, in a voice so calm Simon had to look again at the fear showing on the little man's face.
"Inch," came the reply. Morgenes visibly relaxed.
"Go away," he said. "I told you I didn't need you tonight."
There was a brief silence. "Doctor," Simon whispered, "I think I saw Inch earlier..."
The dull voice came again. "I think I left something... left it in your room. Doctor."
"Come back and get it another time," Morgenes called, and this time the irritation was genuine. "I'm far too busy to be disturbed right now."
Simon tried again. "I think I saw him when I was carrying Jos..."
"Open this door immediately—in the king's name!!"
Simon felt cold despair grip his stomach: this new voice did not belong to Inch.
"By the Lesser Crocodile!" Morgenes swore in soft wonderment, "the cow-eyed dullard has sold us out. I didn't think he had the sense—I will be disturbed no longer!" he shouted then, jumping to the long table and straining to push it in front of the bolted inner door. "I am an old man, and need my rest!" Simon leaped to help, his terror mixed with an inexplicable rush of exhilaration.
A third voice called from the hallway, a cruel, hoarse voice: "Your rest will be a long one indeed, old man." Simon stumbled and nearly fell as his knees buckled beneath him. Pryrates was here.
A hideous crunching noise began to echo through the inner hallway as Simon and the doctor finally slid the heavy table into place. "Axes," said Morgenes, and sprang along the table in search of something.
"Doctor!" Simon hissed, bouncing up and down in fright. The sound of splintering wood reverberated outside. "What can we do?" He whirled to find himself confronted with a scene of madness.
Morgenes was up on his knees on the tabletop, crouching beside an object that Simon recognized after an instant as a birdcage. The doctor had his face pressed close against the slender bars; he was cooing and muttering to the creatures within even as Simon heard the outer door crash down.
"What are you doing!?" Simon gasped. Morgenes hopped down carrying the cage, and trotted across the room to the window. At Simon's yelp he turned to look calmly at the terrified youth, then smiled sadly and shook his head.
"Of course, boy," he said, "I must make provision for you, too, just as I promised your father. How little time we had!" He set the cage down and scuttled back to the table, where he groped about in the clutter even as the chamber door began to rock with the impact of heavy blows. Harsh voices could be heard, and the clatter of men in armor. Morgenes found what he sought, a wooden box, and upended it, dumping some shining golden thing into his palm. He began to move back to the window, then stopped and retrieved also a sheaf of thin parchments from the chaos of the tabletop.
"Take this, will you please?" he said, handing the bundle to Simon as he hurried back to the window. "It's my life of Prester John, and I begrudge Pryrates the pleasure of criticism." Stupefied, Simon took the papers and tucked them into his waistband beneath his shirt. The doctor reached into the cage and removed one of its small inhabitants, cupping it in his hand. It was a tiny, silver-gray sparrow; as Simon watched in numb astonishment the doctor calmly tied the shiny bauble—a ring?—to the sparrow's leg with a bit of twine. A tiny scrap of parchment was bound already to its other leg. "Be strong with this heavy burden," he said quietly, speaking, it seemed, to the little bird.
The blade of an axe crashed through the heavy door just above the bolt. Morgenes bent over and picked a long stick up off the floor and broke the high window, then lifted the sparrow to the sill and let it go. The bird hopped along the frame for a moment, then took wing and disappeared into the evening sky. One by one, the doctor released five more sparrows that way, until the cage stood empty.
A large piece had been bitten from the door's center; Simon could see the angry faces and the flare of torchlight on metal beyond.
The doctor beckoned. "The tunnel, boy, and quickly!" Behind them another ragged chunk of wood tore loose and clattered to the floor. As they sped across the room the doctor handed Simon something small and round.
"Rub this and you will have light, Simon," he said. "It is better than a torch.'* He swept the hanging aside and pulled the door open. "Go on, hurry! Look for the Tan'ja Stairs, then climb!" As Simon entered the corridor mouth the great door sagged on its hinges and collapsed. Morgenes turned.
"But, Doctor!" Simon shouted. "Come with me! We can escape!"
The doctor looked at him and smiled, shaking his head. The table before the doorway was overturned with a smash of glass, and a group of armed men in green and yellow began to push past the wreckage. In the midst of the Erkynguard, crouched like a toad in a garden of swords and axes, was Breyugar, the Lord Constable. In the littered hallway stood the bulky form of Inch; behind him Pryrates' cloak flashed scarlet.
"Stop!" a voice thundered through the room—Simon was still able to marvel, in the midst of all his fear and confusion, that such a sound could come from Morgenes' frail body. The doctor stood now before the Erkynguard, fingers splayed in a strange gesture. The air began to bend and shimmer between the doctor and the startled soldiers. The very substance of nothingness seemed to grow solid as Morgenes' hands danced strange patterns. For a moment the torches outlined the scene before Simon's eyes as if it were frozen on an ancient tapestry.
"Bless you, boy," Morgenes hissed. "Go! Now!" Simon retreated another step down the corridor.
Pryrates pushed past the stunned guards, a blurry red shadow behind the wall of air. One of his hands stabbed forth; a seething, coruscating web of blue sparks marked where it touched the thickening air. Morgenes reeled, and his barrier began to melt like a sheet of ice. The doctor bent and swept up a pair of beakers from a rack on the floor.
"Stop that youth!" Pryrates shouted, and suddenly Simon could see his eyes above the scarlet cloak... cold black eyes, serpentine eyes that seemed to hold him... transfix him...
The shimmering pane of air dissolved. "Take them!" spat Count Breguyar, and the soldiers surged forward. Simon watched in sick fascination, wanting to run but unable to, nothing between him and the Erkynguards' swords but... Morgenes.
"ENKJANNUKHAI SHFIGAO!" The doctor's voice boomed and tolled like a bell made of stone. A wind shrieked through the chamber, flattening and extinguishing the torches. In the center of the maelstrom Morgenes stood, a flask in each outstretched band. In the brief instant of darkness there was a crash, then a flare of incandescence as the glass beakers shattered into flame. In a heartbeat fiery streams were running down the arms of Morgenes' cloak, and then his head was haloed in leaping, crackling tongues of fire. Simon was buffeted by terrible heat as the doctor turned to him once more; Morgenes' face seemed already to shift and change behind the blazing mist that enveloped it.
"Go, my Simon," he breathed, and he was voiced in flame. "It is too late for me. Go to Josua."
As Simon staggered backward in horror, the doctor's frail form leaped with burning radiance. Morgenes wheeled. Taking a few halting steps, he threw himself with outspread arms onto the screeching, quailing guardsmen, who tore at each other in their desperation to escape back through the broken doorway. Hellish flames billowed upward, blackening the groaning roofbeams. The very walls began to shudder. For a brief moment Simon heard the harsh choking voice of Pryrates intertwined with the sounds of Morgenes' final agonies... then there was a great crack of light and an ear-thumping roar. A hot whip of air flung Simon down the passageway, blowing the door shut behind him with a noise like the Hammer of Judgment. Stunned, he heard the grinding, splintering shriek of the roof timbers collapsing. The door shuddered, wedged shut by many thousandweight of scorched oak and stone.
For a long time he lay wracked with sobs, the tears of his eyes sucked away by the heat. At last he crawled to his feet. He found the warm stone wall with his hand and went stumbling down into darkness.