Byron Thorn stepped in from the cold and stomped the snow from his hooves. He shouldered the door closed against the wind and dark and leaned on it with a sigh.
Byron was small for a satyr of twelve and still had faint white spots in the fur of his two goatish legs. Ice beads rattled in the long hair of his fetlocks. Byron stomped his hooves again and blew hot breath into the hollow of his hands.
At the inner door he cleared a swath on the foggy glass and looked through into the cottage. A fire blazed in the parlor fireplace. Byron stared into the reaching flames. All the cries and cheers of Toboggan Hill echoed in his mind and in the dancing orange glow, Byron saw again the deeds of his day …
* * *
At the west end of the Lore Pavilion, a single huge door with great iron straps stood closed against the morning dark. A smaller door was cut into it. Byron took a key from his breast pocket, went in through the hatchway and a few moments later the great door swung open with a groan.
When he closed it to leave, a trail of snow and sticks and dried pine needles led across the stone floor of the pavilion, through the wooden pillars. It followed the long sloping aisle down among the tiered bench seats to the final steps into the Story Well. At the end of the trail five snowmen stood in a circle around the stone brazier, where the fire of the Midwinter Telling stood ready to light.
Only five, that’s true, but oh, they were big ones.
As Arden, the king’s poet, entered the pavilion with the festival committee, Byron was climbing under the fence into Grubber Dillfarm’s paddock. An hour later he was passing out fistfuls of oats to Dillfarm’s mule team as a reward for hauling the hay sledge to the top of Toboggan Hill.
And it was easy for them to move the outhouse, too, even with a portly royal chamberlain trapped inside. It lurched and toppled when the mules pulled forward and they left it on the Moondance Lawn, sticking out of the snow at an angle.
Inside the jail, Byron heard the bailiff in the kitchen finishing his afternoon snack. Byron set the mead jug up onto the desk and went out to steal the pie from Matron Farlow’s windowsill for a late lunch of his own.
A well-placed rock was all it took to stop the mill wheel at Birch Bow Tavern. When the afternoon crowd was gathered at the back windows, watching the miller and his wife get the wheel free, Byron led the mules in through the front, dumped the oats on the long wooden table and wedged the door shut on his way out.
As evening came, Byron went back to the jail. On the bench inside the lockup he found the bailiff, stretched out and snoring with the mead jug on the floor beside him. Byron pulled the door shut and the lock fell to with a clack. Then he took the keys from the peg on the wall, hid them in the desk drawer and headed for Toboggan Hill.
A grin lit his eyes. Cheers and cries came up from the bottom of the hill and he shot a glance toward the sound. The last race of the day was about to begin. He looked at the hay sledge, still poised where he had left it, fluffed, dried, heaping, leaning toward the hillside, held fast by a taut length of rope.
Now for the signature. The Misrule’s Day of Byron Thorn.
“This is it,” Byron said out loud. “This is the big one.”
He glanced up at the gathering clouds and tossed the match into the hay.
A few straws curled red and a flame sprang up. Byron took the burning clump and went around the sledge, touching off the hay. Then he threw the clump high onto the top and ran to the edge of the trees.
Thirty yards below, at the bottom of a steep drop from the birch grove, was the starting line of the toboggan races. The teams were gathered there, lining up their snowgoing barks, settling into position.
Byron looked back. The flames were bigger and the white trunks of the birch trees nearest the sledge were flickering with orange and shadow.
Two torches flanked the finish line in the near darkness at the bottom of the hill. The banner above it and the tape across it were visible but hard to discern. Fifteen toboggans sat ready.
All along the course the crowd stood waiting. The winners of the day were about to engage. Only one team would leave victorious after the thrill of the championship run. The flames on Byron’s hay sledge grew tall.
A rocket went up trailing a thick red shower of sparks. A moment of silence followed its apex and then it popped, loud and sharp. The crowd erupted. The toboggans were away. Byron ran back into the trees, cut the rope with his paring knife and set his flaming monster loose upon the Midwinter Races.
It reached the lip at the edge of the trees and fell for a moment from his sight. Byron ran after it, shouting and shrieking. He stopped at the tree line to watch. The slick runners of the sledge carried it fast and it outstripped the racers halfway down the hill. The stunned crowd watched it come. Silence took them until someone screamed. The racers threw themselves from the toboggans, rolling and diving as the sledge hurtled roaring among them, throwing light on the fleeing crowd and into the trees that lined the track.
At the bottom of the hill the hay sledge broke the tape. As it passed beneath the banner, the words Midwinter Races flickered into view and then caught fire. The banner itself fell in two flaming strips against the poles that held it and the sledge was dashed upon the hay bales at the far end of the finish circle in a burst of flames and sparks and smoke.
Fire took the bales at once. The sledge lay in burning ruin, smashed to embers on the snow and great tongues of flame climbed into the darkness. Byron watched his festival of fire. The flames flickered in his grinning eyes, but the grin faded even as the snow began to fall.
Far off, the last shrill cry of the fleeing crowd died away. Byron sighed and his shoulders dropped. A frown puckered his brow. The wind beat his face with snowflakes. He drew up his hood, wrapped his cape tight about him, turned and set out for home.
* * *
He stared into the fire. Great shadows wagged and bobbed against the back of the room. Outside, the storm beat against the windows and howled across the roof. The little house creaked and groaned. Byron unclasped his cape and stepped out of it as it fell to the floor. He smoothed the hair out of his eyes and tucked it behind one of his horns. Then he shook the melting snow off his legs and tail and went inside.
Pots clanged in the kitchen and a cupboard door slammed shut. The house smelled of a cake baking and cider warming. Byron held out his hands to the fire for a moment. Then he flopped down into the smaller of two armchairs that faced the hearth.
Through the kitchen door came Darius Thorn, an old satyr with shaggy fetlocks and a pair of half glasses on the end of his nose. He carried a white tablecloth and four silver candlesticks, which he set down on a table by the window. He noticed Byron slouching in the chair and smiled, looking at his grandson over the tops of his glasses.
“Why it’s Lord Misrule himself,” Darius said. “Home from the war?”
Byron glanced at the stone of the chimney above the mantelpiece. A small wooden shield hung there, well beaten. There was a red unicorn painted on it, rampant on a field of darkest black.
“Long day at it?” Darius said.
Byron shrugged. Wind howled across the rooftop, pulling at the fire through the chimney. Rafters creaked and the whole house swayed beneath the storm.
Darius frowned and sat down in the larger armchair. “Anything wrong, Byro?”
“No,” Byron said.
“Well, I might’ve expected more excitement and storytelling,” Darius said. “This being your Misrule’s Day and all. Care to tell me how it’s gone so far?”
Byron sat forward and recounted his day.
Darius nodded and laughed as he listened, shaking his head and smiling. “The hay sledge may’ve been a bit over the top, Byro, but that sounds like a mighty day indeed.”
“I guess so,” Byron said. “But it was supposed to be the best ever.”
“And it isn’t?”
“It’s been good,” Byron said sitting back in his chair. “But it was supposed to be great: the Misrule’s Day of Byron Thorn. After all, when’s the last time a satyr was born on Midwinter’s Eve? Imagine it Gradda: a Misrule Midwinter’s Eve.”
Byron sighed. “And now it’s over.”
“Over?” Darius said. “I’d say it’s just beginning.”
“That’s right. I’d say you’re all warmed up.”
“Warmed up for what?”
“Well, there’s still the Midwinter Fire tonight. Anything can happen on Midwinter’s Eve.”
“If the snow lets up.”
“Oh, it’ll clear, don’t you worry. Misrule magic, Midwinter’s magic. This is no ordinary day.”
Darius rose to fetch his pipe. He stuffed it with leaf and lit it with a flaming stick from the fire. He stood a moment, thinking and puffing as a fragrant cloud of smoke gathered about him in the firelight. He pointed at Byron with the stem of his pipe.
“There’s a magic in the air I’ve never felt or heard tell of, and a full moon to boot. Yes, indeed, Byron, this day of yours is far from over.”
Outside, the storm raged. Within the wind was another sound that froze Byron’s blood. He sat up straight, clutching the arms of his chair. His eyes were wide. “Gradda did you hear that?”
“I did, youngster,” Darius whispered. He raised a hand as he took his seat. “Hush now and listen.”
Through the wail of the storm it came again, the distant howl of a wolf.
Darius nodded his head. “I’ll wager the wolves can feel it, too.”
“Steady, Byro,” Darius said. He gripped his grandson’s arm. “On a night like tonight you can expect the wolves to howl. I’d be more concerned if they were silent.”
“It sounded close,” Byron said, looking at the window.
High up on a hill somewhere, carried by the wind.”
“Will they come inside the Fencewood?” Byron said, sitting forward in his chair.
Darius looked at his grandson and smiled. “I should say not, Byron. The wolves have no desire to fight with the Woodland King. They prefer the peace, same as we do. Why, there was a time we satyrs were more than friendly with the wolves; we used to ride on them like horses.”
“We did,” Darius said, patting Byron’s wrist. “Those were magic times, times like tonight. Keep your mind on the magic, Byron. Don’t let it get away. Now, let’s see about supper, shall we? I’ve got a nice apple cobbler baking and, as this is your Misrule’s Day, you’re entitled to carve the meat.”
Gradda left his seat and went into the kitchen. Byron sat for a moment, listening to the wind. He glanced at the window. In the dancing firelight, through the frosted glass he saw a great grinning wolf with one blue eye looking in at him. Byron gasped and ducked behind the wing of the chair, unable to cry out. When he looked again there was only the icy fog and snow crystals edging the window. Byron blinked. He rubbed his eyes and looked again. Still there was no wolf. Pots clanged in the kitchen. The wind bore down on the little house, but the wolves didn’t call again.
* * *
A tall fire burned on the snowy hilltop. The storm moved away and loomed like a wall of thick gray in the east. Above the clouds the full moon rose, dimming the stars that shone at the top of the sky and in the west. Fiddle music filled the night air, woven with pipes and drums. All the people of Hiding Wood were gathered, dancing in a ring around the fire. Satyrs pranced and centaurs bucked, men and women leaped and twirled. The children screamed and laughed. Great shadows bobbed and fled into the leafless trees that surrounded the hillcrest.
A huge grizzleback bear lurched and lumbered with his mate, bumbling along with the revelers. A beautiful doe and a great antlered buck leaped high, while the old barred owl, the raven and a great many birds flew through the air above the heads of the dancing crowd. Badgers, porcupines, foxes, raccoons, all the smaller animals waddled and bounced and shuffled along with the music.
Through the dancing throng moved the Woodland King. On his head was a wreath of holly and around his neck hung a silver medallion, glittering in the firelight, stamped with the likeness of a rampant unicorn. He was a tall, broad man with a quick step and a merry face. He laughed and clapped his hands and stomped the ground with heavy, fur-shod feet. He danced with every maid and the children gathered around him, reaching to be lifted and turned.
Byron left the dancing to join his friends. They stood by the cider kegs, catching their breath and drinking. Jolik Burrow, a satyr with red fetlocks and polished horns, slapped Byron on the back and handed him a steaming mug.
“Lord Misrule himself,” Jolik said.
Byron nodded and sipped. On the other side of the hill was a band of centaurs, gathered around one large, weathered centaur of great age. He had long gray hair and strange figures painted on his horse-like flanks. Beside him stood a younger centaur, larger than the rest, with a net slung across his shoulder and a long spear in his fist. The old one saw Byron and scowled until Byron turned away.
“My father says all the knights are on their guard,” said Shegwin Reed, a tall human boy. “After that flaming hay sledge.” He lobbed a snowball over the edge of the circling crowd. It struck a pine branch and shook down snow over another group of woodlings.
“Byron Thorn’s day of Misrule,” Jolik said. “Even the king is watching. What are you up to, Byro?”
Nothing,” Byron said. He glanced at the old, painted centaur again. “How can they stand there bare-chested like that in this cold?”
“Ah,” Jolik said with a laugh, “secrecy. The backbone of every caper.”
“Like last year,” said Shegwin, “when you threw flash powder into the paper lamps at Midsummer.”
“Or the year before when you trapped the bailiff in his own pillory,” Jolik said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“I don’t see him anywhere,” Shegwin said. “I wonder if he’s still in the lockup.”
Jolik laughed. “Nobody hates you as much as he does, Byron.”
Shegwin tossed a snowball high and it disappeared across the fire. “How about when he redirected Gladwater Sluice onto the Fiddling Green?”
“During the Vernal Frolics,” Jolik said.
“Always suspected,” Shegwin began.
“Never caught,” Jolik finished.
Byron shook his head and looked at the moon. “All the animals have broken their sleep,” he said. “Haven’t you noticed? Even the old grizzlebacks.”
“Huh?” Shegwin said.
“Is that some kind of clue, Byron?” Jolik said with a frown.
Something is strange tonight,” Byron said.
Shegwin and Jolik looked at each other and shrugged.
“Planning your next glorious feat, Lord Misrule?” said a voice. “You’re not supposed to have help, you know.” A pair of woodlings drew near, still brushing off the snow that Shegwin’s snowball had brought down on them.
“Byron doesn’t need help,” Shegwin said.
“Hello, Gretchen,” Jolik said to the satyress in the approaching pair. “Come to take notes on how a Misrule’s Day should look?”
“I saw you throw that snowball, Jolik,” said Ulwyn Garnet, a slender human boy who sucked in his cheeks when he wasn’t talking.
“No you didn’t,” Jolik said.
“Well, you did,” Ulwyn insisted.
“No I didn’t, Sheg did.”
“You should be more careful,” Ulwyn warned. “Byron’s the only one here with Misrule privileges. I might just tell on you.”
“Surprise, surprise,” Shegwin laughed.
“I know you tied me in the outhouse today, Byron,” Ulwyn said. “And I’ll get you for it.” He sucked in his cheeks.
“Byron looked up at the moon. “Strange magic,” he said. Ulwyn frowned and looked at the moon also.
“Great job, Byro,” Shegwin said, nudging Byron with his elbow.
“How can you side with such nonsense, Shegwin?” Ulwyn demanded. “Your father is a Woodland Knight.”
“And yours isn’t,” Shegwin replied. “I hope that’s not the only difference between us.”
“Misrule’s Day is all nonsense, anyway,” Gretchen declared.
“But you’re a satyr!” Jolik said.
“There are plenty of us who feel the same,” Gretchen said.
Jolik shrugged. “Just because you let your Misrule’s come and go.”
A tall young centress approached the group wearing a thick red cape that draped down along her horse’s body. It was Dindra Thundershod. She looked out at them from the shadows of her hood.
“Hello, Dindra,” Gretchen said.
Dindra ignored her. “Which one of you threw that snowball?”
Ulwyn folded his arms. “They won’t admit it. It shook snow down all over us.”
“Shut up, Ulwyn,” Dindra said. “I’m talking about the one that hit Matron Farlow in the face.”
“It had to be one of these three,” Gretchen said. “Probably Byron. He’s keeping awfully quiet.”
Byron looked back at the fire and sighed.
Dindra swished her tail and frowned at him. “What are you up to, Byron Thorn?”
“Nothing,” Byron said.
Dindra’s frown narrowed to a glare. “You’re never up to nothing.”
“This time I am.”
Dindra shook her head. “Byron, why can’t you just behave yourself?”
“It’s for the good of the people,” Jolik said. He stood tall and stomped his goatish hoof.
“My father watches out for the good of the people, thank you,” Dindra said.
You’re welcome,” Shegwin said with a snort.
Dindra raised an eyebrow. “He’s out patrolling the western fence for wolves right now and you can’t even keep from causing trouble in the wood. Save all that cleverness for something useful, Byron Thorn.”
Byron shrugged and looked at the moon.
There was a tremendous, rumbling horn blast. Three centaurs with shaggy beards were blowing into the mouthpieces of the Kettle Horn. The sound shook snow from the trees and filled every nook and knothole in the wood. The dance around the fire stopped. Everyone went quiet, waiting for the king to speak. A nervous murmur went through the crowd, for as the horn blast faded, from far away in the night came the howling of many wolves.
The king stepped onto a platform and all the creatures gathered around him. He put up his hands and the murmuring stopped. He smiled and waited as the last of the stragglers gathered at the back.
“Don’t be afraid,” the king said. “The wolves are safely far away. They always howl at the sound of the horn. Palter Thundershod is on the watch and the deepest dark of the year is approaching, the time when the sun is farthest away. In a few hours the sun will rise and the new year will be born!”
A great cheer arose from the crowd.
“Today,” said the king, “the moon is full at Midwinter for the first time in a hundred years.”
Another cheer followed.
“And let’s not forget the Lord of Misrule, Byron Thorn, who … eh, celebrates, his Misrule’s Day today.”
A kind of growl mixed with scattered cheers swept through the crowd and heads turned in every direction, searching for Byron. Jolik and Shegwin whooped and hollered. Shegwin took the opportunity to fill Gretchen’s hood with snow.
“Where is Byron?” the king said, craning his neck. “Ah, there you are. We’re all eager to see what you’ve got in store for us tonight, but you’d better hurry, it’s little more than an hour to Deepest Dark.”
Byron looked left and right and at the ground. Jolik slapped him on the back. “And I’m sorry to say,” the king continued, “this will be the last Misrule’s Day in Hiding Wood, indeed in all of Woody Deep. After careful consideration…”
An angry shout from the crowd cut the king short. He lifted an eyebrow and held up his hand.
“After careful consideration I’ve decided to end the practice of Misrule’s Day altogether, with Byron Thorn as the last.”
Byron and Jolik gaped at each other. More angry shouts drowned out the last of the king’s words. Snowballs flew at him from scattered points in the crowd. Satyrs were hissing and calling out. The king folded his arms and waited for quiet.
“The practice has gotten out of hand in recent years,” the king said as he ducked a whistling snowball. “Property has been damaged, reputations tarnished and bodily injury has occurred more than once. What’s more, it’s the common feeling in the wood that it’s all gone on long enough. It’s a fitting end, I think, that Byron should be the last especially after the excitement at the toboggan races today… not that anyone knows who did it. And so,” the king went on, but he stopped and stared beyond the crowd, into the eastern sky.
Byron turned to look. The snowstorm was moving off and the top of the cloudbank was filled with light.
As the clouds receded, the light grew ever brighter and lit the eastern sky with brilliant fire, white and clear. Long, slender rays shot upward from a single spot amid the glow and a gleaming sphere appeared. Byron watched. As the pulsing point of light emerged from the passing clouds it cast a maze of tree shadows across the hilltop. The storm moved on, unveiling against the cold, ancient blackness a small, brilliant sun with a tail like a sword.
“A new star!” someone hissed. “A new star has risen!”
A jostling shove went through the crowd. “What does it mean?” someone called.
Woodren heaved and pushed. A child cried out. The king dispersed his knights to calm the people and waded in to the rescue of the tiny satyrling girl before she was trampled. Panic rose, then Byron stepped forward.
We should follow it!” he cried.
And the crowd went still.
Everyone looked at Byron as though a second head was growing from his neck. Silence fell. The king set the satyr child down and she ran to her mother. He walked up to Byron and looked down at him. A circle formed close around them.
“What did you say, Byron?” the king demanded.
“I’m going to follow it!” Byron said with wide eyes. “Aren’t you?”
“Of course not!” shouted a voice. “And neither are you! Put the idea out of your head!” The crowd parted and the old, weathered centaur approached. Byron glanced at the strange markings on the centaur’s flanks and his stomach trembled. The centaur grinned at him.
“Ravinath,” said the king. “You are not needed here.”
This satyrish madness has gone too far,” said the centaur. “Do not permit this imp to go his way!”
“With respect, Sire,” said a voice. “There’s nothing anyone can do to stop ‘im.” Another murmur passed. Darius Thorn stepped from the crowd, smoking a well-stuffed pipe. “He’s the Lord of Misrule for another hour,” he said. “And if I’m not mistaken, you said Byron was to have his day.”
“He must not!” Ravinath said. He shook his fists and a vein popped out on the side of his head.
“And why not?” Darius said.
Ravinath glared at Darius. He turned his stare on the king, then on Byron, then on the silent, gaping crowd. He nodded. In a loud, low voice, he began to sing.
“Galéthmathud nochrásh mathess
Dona nud gothmôck naress
Drücha thrond paled ôlcharek
Nomágagat do shónanek.”
Ravinath sang the verse three times and then stood there, quiet, eyes closed, fists clenched beside him. Everyone was silent. The fire roared and lapped the stars, rippling the night air with heat. At last the king folded his arms. “What does it mean?” he said.
Ravinath sneered at the king and shook his head. “I will translate for you Sire, since your knowledge fails you:
“When new light on the night sky breaks
forgotten darkness stirs and wakes
venture not upon the land
lest shadow coals to flames be fanned.
That star is a willow o’ the wisp. It will lure the witless to their deaths and so bring ours upon us.”
“Ravinath,” said the king. “You don’t really believe some old rhyme of doom and darkness, do you? And you expect me to as well?”
“Perhaps you are right, Sire,” Ravinath said. “And yet there is the star itself. If this fool goes his way he’ll wake some sleeping thing, no doubt. Why, even the wolves are uneasy. Is that not reason enough?”
“Well now, Ravinath,” Darius said, “you might be right. Something terrible may well come of all this, that’s true. But there’s a rhyme even older than the one you chose, isn’t there?”
Ravinath folded his arms and looked into the fire.
Darius took several long pulls at his pipe. He squinted at Ravinath through the smoke. “Well,” he said, “I remember it, even if you don’t. And I’ll spare everyone the fright of a language they don’t understand.”
Darius cleared his throat and wet his whistle with a sip of cider. Then, in a voice calm and rich, he sang:
“At winter’s deep when long is night
the stars and full-the-moon will dance
around a single shining light,
the clarion call of Silverlance.”
A loud murmur took the crowd. The name of Silverlance was whispered and passed around. Some of the older woodren removed their hats and hoods.
“Silverlance?” Byron said. “Who’s that?”
“A fairytale!” Ravinath said. “There is no Silverlance.”
“Not a fairytale, Ravinath,” said the king. “I remember my lessons well enough to know that. But a legend, surely, born of things that happened long ago.”
Darius nodded. “Yes,” he said. “Silverlance lived long ago. He was the king of us all. There was a war, a legendary war that covered the world. Silverlance went away, but he promised to return. He said we’d know him by his clarion: a white light in the sky. It was Silverlance who gave we satyrs our Misrule’s Day, Sire, the day you took away from us a moment ago. Seems you’ve forgotten the promise you made when you took the throne: to preserve the trust of Silverlance?”
The king clutched his medallion and looked at the ground.
“That was probably the last time any of us heard or spoke that name,” Darius said.
“This is nonsense!” Ravinath shouted. He swished his tail and clenched his fists.
“Goodness leaps for joy at the call of Silverlance,” Darius said. “If that star is his clarion it means he’s set to come back. And I say anyone who doesn’t like it is up to no good.”
The crowd was hushed. All eyes were on Ravinath. He straightened and stepped back a pace. The king stared down at the palms of his hands. He looked up at the star and then at Byron.
There was a great hammering of hooves in the snow and a dozen spear-toting centaurs came charging onto the hilltop. One of them, a very large, muscular fellow, galloped straight up to the king and saluted him. It was Palter Thundershod.
“Sire,” he said. “The wolves have crossed through the Fencewood, maybe a hundred of them, silent. We’ve lost track of a small pack already. Something has them scared, they’re wild with fear.”
The crowd began to disperse. The king shouted them back and calmed them.
“We are well prepared for this, as you know,” he said. “Gather your families together. When that is done send one person to find the knight in charge of your steading. Make yourself known to him so that he may command you. There are many centaurs in Palter’s command still at large, we are quite safe for the moment. Remain calm and face the danger. These are wolves and we have fought them before. Go!”
Fathers and mothers gathered their children. A great din arose as order was struck and a well-laid plan was carried out. When the king was satisfied with the progress, he fixed his eyes on Byron.
“Ravinath,” the king said, still looking down at the Lord of Misrule. “You and Darius stay with me please. You are both old wolf fighters. I have questions. But first, Darius, what does Byron have to do with Silverlance’s return?”
“Legend has it that Silverlance can’t come to us straight away,” Darius said. “We have to go to him. Or someone does.”
King Belden held Byron with his gaze. “Are you saying that star leads to Silverlance?” he said.
Darius shook his head. “No, Sire. I’m just saying there’s a white light in the sky and a youngster with a mind to follow it.”
The king looked up at the star and sighed. He frowned at Byron. “Very well,” he said, “Byron may go and let no one hinder him.”
“This is madness!” Ravinath shouted.
“I will not be bound by fear, Ravinath,” the king said. “At least the tale of Silverlance is one of hope.”
“But Sire…” Ravinath began.
The king put up his hand. “I’m true to my word. Even when it’s slung about me like a rope. Byron is the Lord of Misrule and may do as he pleases. Good luck to you, fellow,” he said to Byron, “if you won’t be turned from folly. I have wolves to think about now. Darius, Ravinath, to me.”
Ravinath followed the king, but turned a heavy brow on Byron. His group of centaurs gathered around the big net-wielding fellow and they glared at Byron also. Darius took Byron by the arm.
“You’ve got to go now, Byro,” he said. “Ravinath’ll be after you when the hour is up, if not before. Get to Gladwater Ravine. Get across and cut the bridge. That could buy you half a day. I can’t help you much but take these.”
Darius handed Byron a large knife in a leather scabbard, together with a felt pouch on a long string, which he slung over Byron’s neck.
“What’s this?” Byron said.
“Darius!” the king shouted.
“Never mind that now,” Darius said. “It was supposed to be for your birthday. Just get to the bridge and don’t stop for anyone. Good luck Byron, come back if you can!”
Byron tried to speak but Darius turned and ran off. The milling crowd pushed past Byron on every side. He turned and set off walking, but soon he was running with all his strength toward the star, toward Gladwater Ravine.