作者：残烟一缕 提交日期：2008-7-17 14:33:00 | 分类: | 访问量：1921
WHEN SIMON at last looked up to the source of the new voice, his tearful eyes widened in surprise. A child was walking toward him.
No, not a child, but a man so small that the top of his black-haired head would probably not reach much higher than Simon's navel. His face did have something of the childish about it: the narrow eyes and wide mouth both stretched toward the cheekbones in an expression of simple good humor.
"This is not a good place for crying," the stranger said. He turned from kneeling Simon to briefly survey the fallen cotsman. "It is also my feeling that it will not accomplish much—at least for this dead fellow."
Simon wiped his nose on the sleeve of his coarse shirt and hic-coughed. The stranger had moved toward him to examine the pale arrow, which stood from the tree trunk near Simon's head like a stiff ghost-branch.
"You should take this," the little man said, and again his mouth widened in a froggy smile, baring for an instant a palisade of yellow teeth.
He was not a dwarf, like the fools and tumblers Simon had seen at court and in the Main Row of Erchester—although big-chested, he seemed otherwise well-proportioned. His clothes looked much like a Rimmersman's; jacket and leggings of some thick animal hide stitched with sinew, a fur collar turned up below his round face. A large skin bag hung bulging from a shoulder strap, and he held a walking stick that looked to be carved from some long, slender bone.
"Please excuse my suggestions, but you should be taking this arrow. It is a Sithi White Arrow, and it is very precious. It signifies a debt, and the Sithi are conscientious folk."
"Who... are you?" Simon asked around another hiccough. He was wrung out, beaten flat like a shirt pounded dry on a rock. If this little man had come out of the trees snarling and waving a knife, he did not think he could have reacted any differently.
"Me?" the stranger asked, pausing as though giving the question much thought. "A traveler like yourself. I will be happy to explain more things at a later time, but now we should go. This fellow," he indicated the woodsman with a sweep of his stick, "will reliably not become more alive, but he may have friends or family who will be unsettled to find him so extremely dead. Please. Take the White Arrow and come with me."
Mistrustful and wary, Simon nevertheless found himself rising to his feet. It was too much effort to not trust, for the moment; he no longer had the strength to stay on guard—a part of him wanted only to lie down and quietly die. He levered the arrow loose from the tree. The tiny man was already on the march, climbing back up the hillside above the cottage. The little house crouched as silently and tidily as if nothing had happened.
"But..." Simon gasped as he scrambled up after the stranger, who moved with surprising quickness, "... but what about the cottage? I am... I am so hungry... and there might be food..."
The small man turned on the hillcrest to stare down at the struggling youth. "I am very shocked!" he said. "First you make him dead, then you wish to rob his larder. I fear I have fallen in with a desperate outlaw!" He turned and continued into the close-knit trees.
The far side of the crest was a long, gradual downslope. Simon's limping strides finally brought him abreast of the stranger; in a few moments he had caught his breath.
"Who are you? And where are we going?"
The strange little man did not look up, but kept his eyes moving from tree to tree, as though looking for some landmark in the unremitting sameness of the deep woods. After twenty silent paces he turned his eyes up to Simon's and pulled his stretchy smile.
"My name is Binbiniqegabenik, "he said. "but around the cookfire I am called Binabik. I hope you will honor me by using the shorter version of friendship."
"I... I will. Where are you from?" He hiccoughed again.
"I am of the troll-folk of Yiqanuc," Binabik replied. "High Yiqanuc in the snowing and blowing northern mountains. And you are?"
He stared suspiciously for a moment before answering. "Simon. Simon of the... of Erchester." This was all happening rather quickly, he thought... like a marketplace meeting, but in the middle of a forest after a bizarre slaying. Holy Usires, did his head hurt! And his stomach, too. "Where... where are we going?"
"To my camp. But first I must find my mount... or rather, she must find me. Please, do not be startled."
So saying, Binabik put two fingers in his wide mouth and blew a long, trilling note. After a moment he did it again. "Remember, do not be startled or anxious."
Before he could ponder the troll's words there was a crackle like wildfire in the underbrush. A moment later a huge wolf burst into the clearing, bounding past a shocked Simon to leap like a shaggy thunderbolt onto little Binabik, who tumbled end over end beneath his growling attacker.
Although a deep unease was fighting to make itself known in the back of his thought—where was the troll going? To get confederates? Fellow bandits?—still Simon could not muster the effort to watch Binabik leave. His eyes were again fixed on the wavering names, the tongues like the petals of some shimmering flower... a fire-poppy quivering in a warm summer wind….
He awakened from a great cloudy emptiness to find the gray wolf's massive head lying across his thighs. Binabik crouched over the fire, fussing at some project. Simon felt there was something slightly wrong about having a wolf in one's lap, but could not find the proper puppet strings in his mind to do anything about it... it didn't seem truly important, anyway.
The next time he woke, Binabik was shooing Quantaqa from his lap to offer him a large cup of something warm.
"It is cool enough now for drinking," the troll said, and helped Simon raise the vessel to his lips. The broth was musky and delicious, tangy as the smell of autumn leaves. He drank it all; it seemed he could feel it flowing directly into his veins, the molten blood of the forest, warming and filling him with the secret strength of trees. Binabik gave him a second cupful and he drank that, too. A dense, leaden clutch of worry at the juncture of his neck and shoulders melted away, swept aside by the rush of good feelings. A new airiness coursed through him, bringing with it a paradoxical heaviness, a warm, diffuse drowsiness. As he slipped away he heard his own cradled heartbeat, muffled though it was in the tickling wool of exhaustion.
Simon was almost certain that when he came to Binabik's camp it had been at least an hour short of sunset, but when he opened his eyes again the forest glade was bright with new-smithied morning. As he blinked he felt the last strands of dream pulling free—a bird...?
A bright-eyed bird in a sun-catching golden collar... an old, strong bird whose eyes were full of the wisdom of high places and broad vision... from his chitinous claw hung a beautiful, rainbow-shimmering fish...
Simon shivered, pulling his heavy cloak nearer about him. As he stared up at the overarching trees, their budding spring leaves picked out by the sun in emerald filigree, he heard a moaning sound and rolled over on his side to look.
Binabik sat cross-legged beside the firepit, swaying gently from side to side. Before him an assortment of odd, pale shapes were spread on a flat rock—bones. The troll was making the unusual noise—was he singing? Simon stared for a moment, but could not puzzle out what the little man might be doing. What a strange world!
"Good morning," he said at last. Binabik jumped guiltily.
"Ah! It is friend Simon!" The troll grinned over his shoulder and quickly swept the objects into his open skin bag, then stood up and hastened to Simon's side. "How are you now feeling?" he asked, bending over to place a small, rough hand on Simon's forehead. "You must have needed a great sleep."
"I did." Simon moved closer to the small fire. "What's that... that smell?"
"A pair of wood pigeons who have stopped to dine with us this morning," Binabik smiled, pointing out two leaf-wrapped bundles in the coals at the edge of the campfire. "Keeping their company are some berries and nuts recently gathered. I would have been waking you up soon to help entertain them all. They are very good-tasting, I think. Oh, a moment please." Binabik walked back to his skin bag, drawing forth two thin packages.
"Here." He handed them across. "Your arrow, and something else,"—that was Morgenes' papers—"you had placed them in your belt, and I feared they would be broken when you were sleeping."
Suspicion flared in Simon's breast. The idea of someone handling the doctor's writings while he slept made him covetous, distrustful. He snatched the proffered bundle from the troll's hand and replaced it in his belt. The little man's cheerful look changed to one of dismay. Simon felt ashamed—although one couldn't be too careful—and took the arrow, which had been wound in thin cloth, more gently.
"Thank you," he said stiffly. Binabik's expression was still that of a man whose kindness had been scorned. Guilty and confused, Simon unwrapped the arrow. Although he had not yet had a chance to study it closely, at the moment he was most concerned with finding something to do with his hands and eyes.
The arrow was not painted, as Simon had assumed: rather it was carved from some wood as white as birch bark, and fletched with snow-white feathers. Only the arrowhead, carved from some milky blue stone, had any color. Simon hefted it, weighing its surprising lightness against its amazing flexibility and solidity, and the memory of the day before came back in a rush. He knew he could never forget the feline eyes and disturbingly swift movements of the Sitha. All the stories that Morgenes had told were true.
All along the shaft of the arrow slender whorls, curlicues, and dots were pressed into the wood with infinite care. "It's all thick with carvings," Simon mused aloud.
"They are very important things," the troll replied, and shyly reached out his hand. "Please, if I may?" Simon felt another wash of guilt and quickly handed him the arrow. Binabik tilted it back and forth, catching the sunlight and firelight just so. "This is an old-fellow." He squinted his narrow eyes until the dark pupils disappeared altogether. "It has been around for quite some long time. You are the holder now of a quite-honorable thing, Simon: the White Arrow is not given in lightness. It seems that this one was affletched in Tamet'ai, a Sithi stronghold long since gone below the blue ice east of my homeland."
"How do you know all that?" Simon asked. "Can you read those letters?"
"Some. And there are things an eye that is trained can see."
Simon took it back, handling it with a good deal more care than before. "But what should I do with it? You said it was payment for a debt?"
"No, friend. It is a mark of a debt that is owing. And what you should be doing is to keep it safe. If it has nothing else to be, it will be a beautiful thing to look on."
A thin mist still clung to the clearing and forest floor beyond. Simon propped the arrow point-downward against the log and slid closer to the fire. Binabik pulled the pigeons from the embers, pincering with a pair of sticks; he put one bundle down on the warm rock before Simon's knees.
"Remove the folded leaves," the troll instructed, "then wait for a short passing-time so the bird will slightly cool." It was very difficult to obey the last, but somehow Simon managed.
"How did you get these?" he asked at one point, mouth full and fingers sticky with grease.
"Later I will show you," the troll replied.
Binabik was picking his teeth with a bowed rib bone. Simon leaned back against the log and belched contentedly.
"Mother Elysia, that was wonderful." He sighed, feeling for the first time in a long while that the world was not an entirely hostile place. "A little food in your stomach changes everything."
"I am glad your cure was so simple for effecting," the troll smiled around the slender bone.
Simon patted his middle. "I don't care about anything right this moment." His elbow brushed the arrow, which began to topple. As he caught it and straightened it a flicker of memory came to him. "I don't even feel bad anymore about... about that man yesterday."
Binabik turned his brown eyes to Simon. Although he continued to probe his teeth, his forehead creased above the bridge of his nose. "You do not feel bad about him being dead, or about making him dead?"
"I don't understand," said Simon. "What do you mean? What's the difference?"
"There is as much difference as between a big rock and a little, little bug—but I shall leave the pondering to you."
"But..." Simon was confused again. "Well, but... he was a bad man."
"Hmmmm..." Binabik nodded his head, but the gesture carried no suggestion of agreement. "This world is certainly filling itself with bad men, of that there can be no doubts."
"He would have killed the Sitha-man!"
"That is also a truth."
Simon stared sullenly at the plundered heap of bird bones piled before him on the rock. "I don't understand. What do you want me to tell you?"
"Where it is that you are going to." The troll tossed his toothpick into the fire and stood up. He was so small!
"What?" Simon stared suspiciously as the import of the little man's words caught up at last.
"I wish to know where you are going, so that perhaps we can be traveling together for a while." Binabik spoke slowly and patiently, as though to a beloved but stupid old dog. "I think that perhaps the sun is too young in the sky for the other questions to be troubled with. We trolls say: 'Make Philosophy your evening guest, but do not let her stay the night.* Now, if my question is not of a too-much inquiring nature, where do you go to?"
Simon rose, knees stiff as unoiled hinges. Again he felt doubt. Could the little man's curiosity really be as innocent as it seemed? He had made the mistake of trusting at least once already, with that damnable monk. But what choice did he have? He did not have to tell the troll everything, and it was certainly preferable to have a companion versed in woodcraft. The little man seemed to know just what to do, and suddenly Simon longed to have someone to rely on again.
"I am going north," he said, and then took a calculated risk. "To Naglimund." He watched the troll carefully. "And yourself?"
Binabik was packing his few implements into his shoulder bag. "Ultimately, I expect to be traveling far north," he replied without looking up. "It seems that we have a coincidence of paths." Now he raised his dark eyes. "How strange that you should be traveling toward the Naglimund, which stronghold's name I have heard much in recent weeks." His lips quirked in a tiny, secret smile.
"You have?" Simon had picked up the White Arrow, and tried to look studiously unconcerned as he pondered how to carry it. "Where?"
"Time there will be for talking as we take to the road." The troll grinned, a full, friendly yellow grin. "I must call Qantaqa, who is without doubt spreading horror and despair among the rodents of this vicinity. Feel yourself welcome to empty your bladder now, so that we may swiftly walk."
Simon had to hold the White Arrow between clenched teeth as he followed Binabik's advice.