"That's my problem." He hoped he could come up with a solution when the time came. He stuffed the strip of cloth into Jeriah's mouth and cut another to tie over it. "But it'll be harder for me if I have to worry about you. You understand, Regg? You won't stay around and try to help me?"
The boy shook his head. "I'm not as silly as Onny. I understand. I'll see you outside." And he vanished.
Jeriah stirred, moaning behind the gag. Tobin grabbed his brother's arms and lashed his wrists with the cord he'd brought for this purpose, though he'd prayed it wouldn't be necessary. But now he was glad it had happened. He'd rather fight Jeriah honestly than fog his mind with spells. He tied his brother's ankles, rolled him over, and flinched at the pain and betrayal in his eyes.
"I'm sorry, Jeri, I'm so sorry." He touched his brother's face, and Jeriah cringed as if he'd burned him. "Oh, Bright Ones, don't. I'm not crazy, Jeri, I'm doing this because . . . because . . ." The impossibility of explaining washed over him. If he had time and freedom and Jeriah's trust, he could have made his brother understand, but he had none of those things. "I'm sorry, Jeri. I know what it looks like, dishonor, betrayal, and maybe it is, but sometimes ..." A wry smile twisted his lips. "Sometimes honor doesn't get it done. Forgive me."
"He may," said Master Lazur's quiet voice behind him. "But I doubt if I will."
Tobin rose and turned, slowly. The priest's gaze was as cold and steady as the crossbow pointed at Tobin's heart.
Tobin had to swallow before he could speak. "I wasn'ta""
"Spare me the protests, boy. I'll learn all I need with a truth spell. It will be interesting to discover the source of this girl's fascination. I know you're too sensible to throw your life away for a pretty face."
The face that appeared in the doorway behind the priest's back didn't look pretty, even though she'd washed away the dried blooda"it was grim and wary as an a.s.sa.s.sin's. Tobin had never been so glad to see anyone in his life.
The Hedgewitch THE KNIGHT's EYES WIDENED. She glared at him fiercely and he looked hastily back at the priest, who hadn't turned around, Bright Ones be praised.
"It isn't her at all," said the knight, his quiet, intense voice designed to hold attention. Good lad. Keep it up.
Jeriah stared at her, wide eyed above the gag, but he didn't make a sound, and she thanked him with a nod as she crept forward.
The crossbow was the problem. If she hit the priest on the head as she'd planned, and his finger tightened on the trigger, he could hardly miss. .h.i.tting the knight. But if she used her first blow to knock the crossbow up, the priest would have time to shout, and one yelp was all it would take to bring the guards to kill them all.
The knight asked Lazur why Regg's spell failed when they entered the tent, and Makenna marked his warninga"though with this cursed net clinging to her arm, it hardly mattered. The knight braced himself as she drew neara"nothing obvious, just a small shift in posture, but she knew she'd best move before that sharp-eyed priest noticed it, too. Now!
She stepped forward and kicked the bow up. Even as the bolt whizzed harmlessly overhead, the knight sprang, his hands closing around the priest's throat before he could do more than gasp.
The momentum of the knight's leap carried them both down, with the knight on top. She grabbed the priest's hands, pinning them so he couldn't break the knight's grip or gouge at his eyes. He was already turning purple, his face contorting. She felt a moment's fear that her champion would weaken, but one glance at his grim face a.s.sured her. A moment later the priest's straining muscles went limp.
"You gag, I'll tie." His shaking voice contrasted oddly with the brisk commands. "And don't forget to put that net around him. How did you get it?"
"Erebus. That's how he was hurt, going back for it."
He worked rapidly and efficiently and she followed his example, tearing strips from her shirt for the priest's gag, just as he had. "How long will this one stay unconscious?"
"Not very long. And you can make a lot of noise through a gag. We'd better get out of here fast," he said.
She yanked the final knot tight. "Then maybe you'd better finish what you started?"
There were some humans, perhaps even most, who should be spareda"but Makenna wasn't sure this man was one of them. The net seemed eager to leave her arm, curling around the priest's limp body like a cat. At least he wouldn't be freeing himself with spells when he woke.
"Don't push it, hedgewitch." The knight glared at her with the eyes of a man who was rapidly reaching his limit, and she was too experienced a commander not to recognize it.
"As you will," she said soothingly. Then a thought struck her. "How did you know I'd go for the bow instead of hitting him over the head?"
"I didn't. Grab those cursed books, will you?" He pulled a large bag from the pouch on his belt and tossed it to her.
Her fingers lingered on the spines, stroking them despite the need for haste. Here was true magic, complex, codified, complete. This was what her mother had wanted for her.
"Hurry, will you!"
She stuffed the last of the books into the bag. But instead of coming to help her, he went to Jeriah, who sat in silence, watching. She saw him search for words.
"I love you," he said finally, and pulled his brother into his arms, kissing his head. "Tell Mother I love her. Tell Father ... tell Father it was the right thing to do." He let Jeriah go and stepped out of the tent ahead of her, pulling his cloak around him.
She glanced back and met Jeriah's tear-bright eyes.
"I'll watch out for him," she promised. "And you'd better keep an eye on that one." She jerked her head at the motionless priest. "It's a trap, you know, thinking all the right's on your side, and none on the other. A trap of the mind, more vicious than steel spikes. Heavier than chains. And he's in so deep, he'll never even see it. Bright One's grace, I swear, I pity him. Win or lose." Was there a flicker of understanding in the boy's eyes? Makenna couldn't be sure. She pulled up her hood and followed her ally into the night.
He was waiting for her, trying to look confident as he scanned the quiet camp. "Do you have a plan for getting us out of here?" He took her arm, leading her in the direction of the horse lines. How long had it been since a human had touched her, in friendship?
"I was hoping you'd have one," she said.
"This is no time to develop a sense of humor. What about the goblins?"
"I told Cogswhallop to get the lot of them to the gap in the wall, and wait for us. I'll try to cast the spell when we get there, though I still don't thinka""
He came to a stop and stared at her. "You sent them on ahead? You said you thought I couldn't do it!"
"I still don't." She took his arm and pulled him along. "But if by some miracle we bring this off, having the goblins scattered from one end of the wood to the other would be like having a cow with a full udder and no pail. Shh! Don't laugh like that. Someone'll recognize you and we haven't the time."
"Then you'll all be leaving as soon as you cast the spell." He sounded thoughtful. Wistful? "I wisha""
m.u.f.fled shouting came from the tent behind them, and several late-awake guards started cautiously in that direction.
The knight grabbed her hand and ran for the line where the horses were tethered. Makenna flung herself at the nearest beast, but when she put her foot in the stirrup and started to step up, the saddle rolled off the horse's back and fell on top of her. She sat on the ground and looked up at the knight, who was gazing blankly at the limp bridle that had fallen off the horse's head when he grabbed it. Then she understood and began to laugh, full, free, and joyous, and no thought of danger could stop the sound. Goblins! How she loved them.
The knight cursed, dragged her to her feet, and tossed her up to the horse's back.
"The books," she gasped. He thrust them into her arms, yanked the reins from the useless bridle, wrapped one around her mount's neck, and handed her the ends.
He took the other rein for himself, pulled off the other horse's saddle with one quick jerk, and leapt to the beast's broad back, compact and easy as a house cat leaping to a window sill. He kicked his horse to a gallop, and Makenna followed.
She wasn't trained to ride bareback as the knight was. She dropped the rein and wrapped both hands in the horse's mane, the awkward bag of books clutched in front of her. She was glad her beast followed his, for as they rode through the seething settlement she had no thought to spare for its guidance.
Freed livestock darted, bawling, hither and thither, with the owners in pursuit. Half a dozen flapping chickens, followed by a man with no boots on, made her mount shy, and she wobbled dangerously on its slippery back.
The alarm bell started ringing, and the confusion intensified as some ran for the church and others looked for weapons that were unaccountably missing. She pa.s.sed a tent that bulged and bellowed furiously and laughed again when she saw that its flaps had been sewn shut.
Other horses appeared, running unbridled through the chaos with goblins clinging to their broad backs, two or three or four to an animal. For a moment Miggy rode beside her with Regg hanging on to his belt, his face alight with pride and terror. "I did it," he cried. "I was in command! I'm the one that did it!"
When they reached the perimeter the guards leapt for them and fell flat. Someone had tied their bootlaces together. Makenna was still laughing when they reached the road and set off toward the wall, galloping into the darkness after the knight.
The Knight TOBIN STOOD ON THE WALL, looking back down the road into the woods. They'd come all the way by road, hoping Master Lazur would a.s.sume they'd leave it and waste lots of time searching for tracksa"after he'd reduced the chaos to order, caught some horses, and st.i.tched the tack back together! A reminiscent grin lit Tobin's face, in spite of his tension, for it had been gloriously funny. How she had laughed at it all.
He looked down at the girl as she scrambled over the rocks around the gap in the wall to set yet another careful rune. Some of the runes glowed faintly in the gray predawn and some were dark. He'd asked her why some glowed and some didn't, and she'd snarled that she hadn't any idea and then demanded the Otherworld stone as an "essential object," whatever that was. Since she seemed to need it, he was glad he'd forgotten to give it back to Master Lazura"and even more glad the hiding charms would keep the priest from scrying it.
He wrapped his arms around himself to fight the chilly air, his eyes wandering over the sea of small dark forms crowded around the gap. There were thousands of goblins, of every sort he'd ever seen and a few he thought he hadn't, but he couldn't be sure, for they milled about in the dimness, searching for friends and loved ones.
Cogswhallop had dashed up when they first arrived and reported that all who were willing to go were here, which was the best he could do in a day and a night. Tobin was about to ask about the unwilling, but Makenna simply nodded, and the goblin dashed off again before he'd had a chance.
Tobin looked down the road again and prayed with all his heart that those who were here would be able to escape. Makenna spoke softly a word he'd never heard. She was standing in the center of the gap, reading aloud from one of the books piled at her feet. He fought down a surge of impatience. It was a new spell and she was working at a level, and with powers, she'd never used beforea"and any mistake would kill all who followed her. She had every reason to have taken almost two hours about it, and maybe she should have taken longer.
A small part of Tobin's mind had been following Master Lazur's imagined progress. It would take time to restore order and get men organized and mounted. But he'd never underestimated the priest, and now he watched the road with increasing tension, for he knew they'd be here soon. He hoped that the goblins and the girl would be gone when they came.
He wished with all his heart that he could go with them.
It had first crossed his mind when they rode away with the books, and he realized with astonishment that they'd succeeded. Until then he'd thought only of making the escape possible. Once it was possible, he had suddenly realized that they'd all be leaving. Without him.
It was ridiculous, he thought angrily, that people he'd only known a few weeks (and for most of that time as enemies!) should have a stronger grip on his heart than his own family and friends.
But as they warred, quarreled, and finally strove together, he'd caught glimpses of a girl who was neither hedgewitch nor commander, but simply herself. They weren't even friends, not really, but he'd seen enough of this girl to know she was someone he wanted to befriend. And the goblins he simply loved. He couldn't imagine the world without them.
He looked down again. She'd shut her eyes and was chanting now. The book had fallen to her feet. He hoped she was getting it right.
He had duties in this world, he reminded himself. The humans, his people, were about to engage in a desperate fight for their very survival. And he now understood Jeriah's desire to change the government, for his own eyes had been opened to the need for reform. But that was the work of a lifetime, and he wasn't sure he had the strength to endure a lifetime of fighting to change a people whom he had seen perhaps too clearly.
He closed his eyes for a weary instant, blocking out the vision of a future of duty and service, of trying to reshape something he no longer cared about.
But he loved his family. He'd promised Jeriah he'd come back. Even if he couldn't return openly, that oath still bound him.
He opened his eyes and saw mounted men with torches charging down the road. They'd be here in minutes! Wild visions of blocking the road with his body and commanding them to halt filled his mind. But they were more likely to ride right over him than to stop at his command, and his dead body would make a poor roadblock. Could he draw them away, as Makenna had when they attacked the village? He needed a horse!
He spun about and stopped, staring in frozen wonder. The ragged gap in the wall's gray stones held a shimmering sheet of radiance. The light came, not from her, but from the air around her, and her face was joyous and serene as he had never seen it. He'd forgotten she was beautiful.
Goblins streamed toward her, a moving river of bodies, and when they entered the wall of light they vanished. They moved so much faster than humansa"the crowd of thousands was more than half gone. Tobin climbed down.
From the ground, he could sec into the lighta"there were trees beyond it, and a meadow. But they were young trees, not the dense, ancient forest of the Goblin Wood, and a mountain rose in the distance where no mountain stood in his world.
Standing there, with her people flooding past and the light shimmering around her, she looked every inch a sorceress, and also a stranger, and the thought of her as a stranger left something cut and bleeding inside him.
I can't go with you.
Then she opened her eyes, and the mockery in them made her familiar again. "Coming, are they?"
"Uh, yes, but they won't be here for a few minutes. You did it. And in time, too."
"Didn't think I could, did you?"
"You were the one who thought that." The stream of bodies was lessening, and she reached down and began to gather up the books, stuffing them back into the scrip bag.
"What are you going to do with those books?"
"Take 'em with me, of course."
The mockery in her eyes deepened, but there was a gentleness in them, which was new to her. "He's taken enough from me. I don't mind robbing him. Are you coming, lordling?"
"My duty is here. My family. My people. Though I'm an outlaw now."
She snorted. "Don't let that worry you. Just tell them some tale about how you slew the fearsome sorceress and all her goblins. Say you made me fumble a spell or some such thing, and we all disappeared in a blast of light."
"They'd never believe that."
"Why not? We'll all be gone. They'll have to accept it, sooner or later. Master Lazur's a practical sort, he'll forgive you once he's sure we're really gone. You'll be a hero again. If you were a priest, they'd likely make you a saint!"
I can't go with you. My parents. Jeriah.
The last small bodies darted past her. He could see them in the meadow, laughing, cheering. The sun was rising there, too. He heard hoofbeats pounding nearer.
Makenna heard them, too; she looked at him and smiled. "Lordling . . . Tobin, thank you."
In her smile he saw the loneliness of all her life to comea"a life where, for all the friendship around her, she would hear no human voices, and her own humanity would slip away and be lost. She turned and walked into the Otherworld, and the shimmering portal began to fade.
I am supposed to be the good son. . . .
"Ah, dung," said Tobin. He followed her.
COGSWHALLOP CROUCHED BENEATH THE WALL, Watching the stamping hooves outside his hideout. The hole was too small for humans to enter, so the foolish great ones ignored it.
Natter crouched at the back of the cave, weeping silently, Nuffet asleep in her arms. Daroo knelt beside him, staring out and listening to the sweet steel jingle of the bits.
He'd had a ghastly time getting everyone to the wall. Even though he knew he was best fitted to organize the journey, it had galled him to leave that fool Miggy in charge of rescuing the gen'ral. At least she'd arrived unhurt and in time. He had thankfully handed over command and dashed off to where he'd left his own small family, but Daroo had gone hunting for his friend Regg, and Natter had taken the little one and gone in search of him, and by the time he'd finally gotten them together again the shimmering gate had disappeared and the humans were almost upon them.