Originally this sheath, holding a weapon too long to be carried at a man’s belt, must have been worn high on the back. The great length of a two-handed sword would have made it difficult to draw, so the scabbard was open partway down one edge, allowing for the angle required by the normal human length of arm.
The man was thoughtfully studying Coinspinner’s fit in this container. “Good enough. Yes, good enough. I’ll need some straps, or cords, to tie it on. Shouldn’t be too hard to find. Not with a little luck.” He smiled privately.
“It does look like a good fit,” Adrian offered cautiously.
“I’ll tell you what it really looks like. It looks like I’m carrying another sort of weapon altogether, doesn’t it?” And the man who called himself Marland, sounding more and more pleased with himself, suddenly laughed.
But Amelia wasn’t looking especially pleased. By now she had found the softest place in the dry dust under the ruined abutment, and now she was attempting to find a comfortable position in which to settle herself there. Adrian thought that she looked utterly weary. She lay down in the dust without flinching, like one of the very poor, or like an animal. Or, perhaps, like someone who had grown accustomed to being in prison.
Marland, turning to her to say something about his Sword, instead fell silent and stood for a moment contemplating her, rubbing his jaw. Then he shifted his gaze suddenly to Adrian. “Hey, Mudrat? Now you’ve got the fire going, how about you taking a little walk, and see if you can scare up something to cook?”
Adrian glanced at the world beyond the open archway. “All right.” The rain still poured down, but the hail seemed to have stopped. He saw what looked like an opportunity. “Would it be all right if I borrowed your Sword? I don’t have a knife or-”
“I just thought it would be a handy tool if I-”
“Forget the damned Sword. Just remember what I said about it before. Now take a walk.”
Well, it had been worth a try. “All right. Maybe I can scare up some food.”
“That’s great, kid.” Marland relaxed again. “Take your time, there’s no hurry.” And he turned his attention back to the woman.
The Prince walked past the upside-down canoe, and out into the rain. Now that the hail had stopped, neither rain nor air felt cold, and in his near nakedness he was indifferent to getting wet. Hailstones still lay here and there, making chilly little piles under his feet, and melting drifts of ice.
He was still standing only a few meters outside the artificial cave, wondering whether to explore upstream or down, or inland, when he heard a murmur of voices from the shelter he had just left. The voices were followed by a soft laugh from the woman, and that in turn by silence. Adrian felt a faint rush of blood to his face as he realized the most likely reason for the man’s wanting to get rid of him for a time.
The Prince wasn’t worried about his two passengers running off while he was gone; they did need food, and they couldn’t handle the canoe. Of course with the help of Coinspinner the man could probably handle any boat he wanted to; but maybe he didn’t realize that yet.
The man and woman weren’t the only hungry ones. The Prince turned his steps downstream along the riverbank. He was wondering whether with a little carefully chosen dowsing magic he might uncover some turtle eggs, or maybe even catch a turtle. In one of the upland rivers with which he was familiar, this kind of mud bank would be an ideal place to look for turtles, but of course things could be different here.
There were snakes and lizards also to be considered- and there indeed was a king-sized snake, coiled upon a log just at the water’s edge. Adrian had no idea whether that unfamiliar serpent might be poisonous; if so, of course it could still be good to eat. Magic might help him capture it, but he felt reluctant to use magic if it could be avoided.
Magic cost energy, and it left traces in the world. And if Wood was still looking for him, the more traces of his art he left around, the easier that seeker’s task would be.
Deciding to come back for the snake if nothing easier showed up, the boy moved on downstream. He had not gone far when a whiff of wood smoke in the rainy air caught his attention. It might be smoke from his own fire, but- yes, this was another fire, cooking something.
The sun was beginning to break out now, the rainfall spattering slowly to a halt. Adrian turned inland, climbing quietly. Lances of sunlight striking at the little piles of hailstones made them steam.
On top of the first small hill, in a clearing surrounded by a little grove of trees, sat a middle-sized, middle-aged man wearing traveler’s, perhaps pilgrim’s, gray. He looked as dry as if no rain had ever fallen on him at all, and he was cooking something, pale-looking meat, on a spit over a small fire. Whatever it was smelted very good.
And lying comfortably near the man’s feet was a familiar bulk of gray fur. The huge dog raised its head now, looking in Adrian’s direction, and emitted a soft whine.
Adrian paused just beyond the ring of trees, looking things over cautiously. The little pile of offal discarded near the fire contained what looked like snakeskin, and yes, there on the ground was the serpent’s neatly severed and bloody head, jaws gaping, fangs sunk helplessly into a stick of wood.
Then the man looked up at Adrian, and the Prince forgot all about the snake, and even, for the moment, about the dog.
“Hello,” said the gray-eyed man, quite unsurprised. His sleeves had been rolled up somewhat for the work of butchery and cooking, revealing powerful and hairy forearms.
“Hello,” said Adrian. The dog got to its feet and came to meet him, and he scratched it abstractedly behind the ears.
“You may,” said the man, “have caught a glimpse of me once or twice before in the course of your brief existence.
But I don’t suppose you’ve ever had a really good look. I’m-”
And at this moment the boy felt quite certain of what two words were coming next. He was not exactly right.
“-your grandfather. I’m sure you’ve heard something about the circumstances of your father’s birth?”
“Yes, sir, I have.” Then Adrian hesitated. “But you don’t. . . you don’t look …”
“I don’t look quite old enough to be your grandfather?”
“No, I suppose I don’t. Are you frightened of me?”
The Prince wanted to deny it. But under the gaze of those gray eyes he found it hard to say anything that was not true. “A little bit,” he admitted at last.
“Good! Good, that’s about the right attitude. You’re not so frightened that you couldn’t come to like me, I hope?”
Surprisingly those last words had sounded almost wistful. There was another pause, during which Adrian found himself moving, as if unconsciously, a little closer to the man. “I don’t think so, sir,” he said at last. “But I don’t know you yet.”
“I know you pretty well, though. So that’s all right. All in good time.” By now the boy was standing quite close to the man, and Adrian’s grandfather, the Emperor, put out a strong but gentle hand and took him firmly by the chin and cheek, and turned his head a little back and forth, looking him over carefully. The inspection took only a moment, and then Adrian was released.
“When you see your father again,” the Emperor said, “tell him that I am well pleased by what I see in you. So far. By the way, I’m very pleased that you didn’t try to steal the Sword from the woodcutter.”
“Yes, sir, thank you. It didn’t seem right. Uh, Grandfather?”
“This dog. Did you know that he was . . .” The Prince gestured vaguely.
“With you for a time? Yes, I knew that.” The Emperor reached out to thump the beast’s ribs, and got a tail wag in return. “I even know his name.”
“He’s your dog, then? What is his name?”
“In a manner of speaking I suppose he’s mine. More mine than anyone else’s, perhaps. His name is Draffut.”
“Sir? Oh, you mean he’s named after-the god.”
“No, I don’t mean that at all.” The grandfatherly eyes looked stern for a moment. “I mean that he once walked six meters tall on his hind legs, and had two hands, and spoke as clearly as you or I. People called him ‘god,’ but I think he never claimed that title for himself.”
Adrian was goggling, gazing speechlessly from man to beast and back again.