The creature’s teeth, when Adrian dared turn back a dark lip to obtain a good look at them, were truly formidable. And the eyes, large and brown, were somehow suggestive of intelligence.
Once or twice during this intrusive examination the animal again raised its head and howled. The sound was softer now, but still undoubtedly the same howl that Adrian had been hearing all the way from the City’s border.
Having completed this preliminary inspection, Adrian sat down again on the edge of a rock. The dog, tail wagging, came closer, to rest its huge head and massive forepaws on the boy’s leg. It crouched there looking up at him as if it hoped to be able to communicate.
He suddenly felt much less alone than he had at any time since his separation from Trilby.
“Why have you followed me all this distance, fellow? And what am I supposed to call you? No collar, no name. But you don’t act wild. So, I think that you must have a name.” And Adrian scratched the beast gently behind the ears.
It raised its great head slightly, obviously enjoying the treatment. It panted, dog-fashion, tongue lolling out. More than ever it seemed to want to talk to Adrian.
The first requirement was to get the canoe down the remainder of the hill, so that it could be launched in a moment if the apes returned. When Adrian had accomplished that, he seated himself to rest on another stone, as comfortably as possible, and called the dog to him again. Then he summoned up such probing powers as he could manage on short notice, and as seemed to him appropriate. Taking his new companion’s head between his hands, he set himself to looking into those very canine eyes, trying to see what might be behind them.
A few moments later, the apprentice magician was forced to blink and look away. Strange memories indeed were crashing and reverberating inside this animal’s skull -of that much he was already sure. Undoglike memories, that seemed to have to do with power, among other things . . . Adrian could not be sure what kind of power was indicated, but certainly something more than mere physical ability. The vague perception had vanished almost as soon as he had tried to pin it down.
Then the boy momentarily held his breath, as he was struck by a new idea. Could this creature before him conceivably be a human being, one who had been trapped in some great shape-changing enchantment? He had heard of such things, but only as dim possibilities. He had never come close to encountering a case before.
But after thinking the idea over, and applying certain magical tests, Adrian felt sure that such was not the explanation. This being now crouching before him with lolling tongue and watchful eyes had never been human in the past, and certainly was not human now.
The Prince stroked the animal’s head again. Its generous tail wagged slowly.
“Then were you once the pet or the tool of some great wizard or enchantress? That would explain much that is strange about you, dog. Though I don’t see how it would explain how you come to be here now.”
The animal only panted, gazing at Adrian steadily. It seemed that any further effort to find an explanation was going to have to wait.
“We’d better get moving again, downstream. You’re coming with me, aren’t you? Of course you are. There’s no way I can force you, but I sure hope you’re willing.”
As soon as Adrian stood up, the dog got to its feet too, as if anxious not to be left behind. He spoke to it words of soft encouragement, still slightly worried that it might change its mind.
“I’ll get the canoe in the water first, then we’ll move downstream a little, away from these falls. I saw smoke, which means a village down there, and it stands to reason this whole river can’t be deserted. So I’m going to need some clothes, a minimum anyway-I think I can fix that. And nothing like the clothes I was wearing when I left school-someone might be looking for those.” Grasping his own hair, he pulled some of the longer strands in front of his eyes and studied them thoughtfully. Accumulated dirt, along with some side-effect of his tanning magic, had caused a definite darkening. He could probably pass as belonging to one of the riverside villages, for example that of the head-collectors.
And maybe, Adrian thought suddenly, he and his new companion would be able to work out some kind of cooperative hunting agreement. He wasn’t exactly starving, but for some days now he’d been looking forward keenly to his next full meal.
When he had the canoe in the water again, at a cautious distance downstream from the tumult at the foot of the falls, the dog appeared to understand at once what he wanted it to do next. It jumped into the small craft first, landing as lightly as possible and balancing neatly amidships, while Adrian standing thigh-deep in the water held the vessel steady. Then the dog lay quietly, with its considerable weight distributed along the centerline, while he got in.
Adrian picked up the paddle and shoved off.
“You know what a Sword is, boy? No, how could you. But they’re very important, and there’s one of them not far ahead-I can smell it there even if you can’t-and we’re going to try to get our hands on it. Our paws, maybe?
“Now that I’ve got someone who’ll listen to me, and I can tell you’re listening by the way you move your-”
The Prince leaned forward, reaching out with gentle fingers. Hadn’t it been the dog’s right ear that was torn by the ape’s teeth? No? the left one, then
Neither ear showed the slightest trace of ever having been injured.
AT dawn of the day following the one on which he’d found the Sword, Talgai the Woodcutter was once more traveling a forest trail on foot, though this time without the company of his faithful load beast. He was making his way sadly and steadily toward the large town of Smim, where, as he had been told, his only brother was being held in jail, awaiting execution.
Talgai’s newly acquired lucky Sword, still wrapped in its piece of ragged canvas and at the moment carried balanced on his left shoulder, was coming with him. On his back the woodcutter bore a small pack, containing a few items of spare clothing and some food. Talgai’s wife, always sympathetic when she heard any tale of woe, had included several of her famous oatcakes, in an effort to do what little she could for the condemned man.
The journey might have been accomplished more swiftly and easily by water, since Talgai’s hut and the town of Smim were both on the same river. But he had decided to leave his boat at home, in case his wife should need it; and anyway the road to town was reasonably safe. Particularly so, he thought, for a man carrying such a lucky Sword. With Coinspinner in hand, Talgai doubted not that he would be able to reach the town on foot, in plenty of time.
Should he fail to make good time, he could always travel by night as well as by day; but Talgai doubted that matters would come to that. As he hiked, he reflected on the bad and unhappy life led by his brother Buvrai-as far as Talgai knew, Buvrai had been in trouble almost continually since he was a boy. Not that Talgai knew much about the details of his brother’s life, particularly in recent years. Nor did he wish to know more of the sad story than he did. It seemed too late to do anything about it now.
Talgai judged that he was making good time throughout the day, and as darkness approached, he found a convenient spot and stopped to rest. He dined frugally on a portion of the food he had brought with him, not forgetting to save the oatcakes for the prisoner, and augmenting his own dinner with some roadside berries. Then he wrapped himself in the cloak that his wife had insisted he bring along, and slept in the grass not far from the side of the road. This was nothing particularly unusual in the woodcutter’s life, and he slept well.
Next morning he was up at dawn and off again.
During his first day’s hike he had encountered several people along the way, the numbers very gradually increasing as the road broadened and the town grew nearer. But on this second day, having started on his way so early, he again had the road to himself for a time.
For a long time now he had been out of sight of the river, but now both river and road were curving in such a way as to make them run close together. Talgai took the first good chance to wash his hands and face, and get a drink. Just as he was straightening up from the water, someone nearby made a slight, throat-clearing noise.