his present trouble as well and fittingly as he wore
his clothes. He was a tall and broad-shouldered
young man, with blue-gray eyes, and a light, short
beard that until a few days ago had been neatly
trimmed. The longbow slung across his back looked
eminently functional, but at the moment there
were only three arrows left in the quiver that rode
The young man had fallen into a kind of pattern
in his movement. This took the form of a trot, a
pause to look back over one shoulder, another
scramble, a quick walk, and then a look back over
the other shoulder without pausing.
According to the best calculation he could make,
which he knew might very easily be wrong, he still
had one more active enemy behind him than he had
arrows. Of course the only way to make absolutely
sure of the enemy’s numbers would be to let them
catch him. They might very well do that anyway.
They were still mounted, and would easily have
overtaken him long ago, except that his own
ambushes set over the past twenty kilometers had
instilled some degree of caution in the survivors.
These high plains made a good place for ambush,
deceptively open-looking but cut by ravines and
studded with windcarved hills and giant boulders
that looked as if some god had scattered them play-
By this time, having had twenty kilometers in
which to think it over, the young man had no real
doubt as to who his pursuers were. They had to be
agents of the Blue Temple. Any merely military
skirmish, he thought, would have been broken off
long before this. Any ordinary patrol from the Dark
King’s army would have been content to return to
camp and report a victory, or else proceed with
whatever other business they were supposed to be
about. They would not have continued to risk their
skins in the pursuit of one survivor, not one as
demonstrably dangerous as himself, and not
through this dangerous terrain.
No, they knew who they were after. They knew
what he had done, four years ago. And undoubtedly
they were under contract to the Blue Temple to
bring back his head.
The young man was finding time in his spare
moments, such as they were, to wonder if they were
also closing in on Ben, his friend and his companion
of four years ago. Or if perhaps they had already
found him. But he was not in a position right now to
do anything for Ben.
The youth’s flight had brought him to the edge of
yet another ravine, this one cutting directly across
his path. To the left of where the young man halted
on the brink, the groove in the earth deepened rap-
idly, turning into a real canyon that wound its way
off to the east, there presumably to join at some
point a larger canyon that he had already caught
sight of from time to time. In the other direction, to
the young man’s right, the ravine grew progres-
sively shallower; if he intended to cross it, he
should head that way.
From where he was standing now, the country on
the other side of the ravine looked if anything flat-
ter than the plain he had been crossing, which of
course ought to give a greater advantage to the
mounted men. If he did not cross, he would go down
into the ravine and follow it along. He could see
that as it deepened some shelter appeared along its
bottom, provided by rough free-standing rock for-
mations and by the winding walls themselves. If he
went that way he would be going downhill, and for
that reason might be able to go faster.
It was the need for water that made his choice a
certainty. The big canyon ought to be no more than
a few kilometers away at most, and very probably it
had water at its bottom.
He was down in the bottom of the ravine, making
good time along its deepening trench, before one of
his over-the-shoulder looks afforded him another
glimpse of the men who were coming after him.
Three heads were gazing down over the rocky rim,
some distance to his rear. It looked as if they had
been expecting him to cross the ravine, not follow
it, and had therefore angled their own course a little
toward its shallower end. He had therefore gained a
little distance on them. The question now was, how
would they pursue from here? They might all fol-
low him down into the ravine. Or one of them might
follow him along the rim, ready to roll down rocks
on him when a good chance came. Or, one man
might cross completely, so they could follow him
along both walls and down the middle too.
He had doubts that they were going to divide
their small remaining force.
Time would tell. He was now committed, any-
way, to following the ravine. Much depended on
what sort of concealment he could find.
So far, things were looking as good as could be
expected. What had been a fairly simple trench at
the point where he entered it was rapidly widening
and deepening into a complex, steep-sided canyon.
Presently, coming to a place where the canyon bent
sharply, the young man decided to set up another
ambush, behind a convenient outcropping of rock,
Lying motionless on stovelike rock, watching small
lizards watch him through the vibrating air, he had
to fight down the all-too-rational fear that this time
his enemies had outguessed him, and a couple of
them were really following him along on the high
rims. At any moment now, the head of one of them
ought to appear in his field of vision, just about
there. From which vantage point it would of course
be no trick at all to roll down a deadly barrage of
rocks. If they were lucky his head would still be rec-
ognizable when they came down to collect it.
Enough of that.
It was a definite relief when the three men came
into sight again, all trailing him directly along the
bottom of the canyon. They were walking their
mounts now, having to watch their footing care-
fully on the uneven rock. As their quarry had hoped,
at this spot they had no more than half their visual
attention to spare in looking out for ambush.
The young man waiting for them already had an
arrow nocked. And now he started to draw it,
slowly taking up the bowstring’s tension. He real-
ized that at the last instant, he’d have to raise him-
self up into full view to get the shot off properly.
The moment came and he lifted his upper body.
The bow twanged in his hands, as if the arrow had
made its own decision. The shot was good, but the
man who was its target, as if warned by some subtle
magic, begun to turn his body away just as the shot
was made. The arrow missed. The enemy, alarmed,
were all ducking for cover.
The marksman did not delay to see what they
might be going to do next. Already he was on his
feet and running, scrambling, on down the canyon.
Only two arrows left in his quiver now, and still he
was not absolutely sure that there were no more
than three men in pursuit.
He hurdled a small boulder, and kept on running.
At least he’d slowed his pursuers down again, made
them move more cautiously. And that ought to let
him gain a little distance.
And now, suddenly, unexpectedly, he had good
luck in sight. As he rounded a new curve of the can-
yon there sprang into view ahead of him a view into
the bigger cross-canyon that this one joined. Ahead
he saw a narrow slice of swift gray water, with a
luxuriant border of foliage, startlingly green, all
framed in stark gray rock.
A little farther, and he would have not only water
and concealment, but a choice of ways to turn,
upstream or down. The young man urged his tired
body into a faster run.
In his imagination he was already tasting the
cold water. Then the tree-tall dragon emerged from
the fringe of house-high ferns and other growth that
marked the entrance to the bigger canyon. As the
young man stumbled to a halt the beast was looking
directly at him. Its massive jaw was working, but
only lightly, tentatively, as if in this heat it might be
reluctant to summon up the energy for a hard bite
or even a full roar.
The young man was already so close to the
dragon when he saw it that he could do nothing but
freeze in his tracks. He knew that any attempt at a
quick retreat would be virtually certain to bring on
a full charge, and he would have no hope of