Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Hawk and the Castle at the World's End, Chapter 1

"My mother used to tell me when I was a small boy that fairs were the most amazing, wondrous, messy things," the redheaded mercenary said as he stared out of the pavilion, watching the sea of tents and people pass in front of him.

"Your mother was a wise woman, Hawk," said a voice behind him.

"Sometimes, Master Emrys" Hawk said.

He turned to smile at the speaker, who was sitting on a chair like it was a throne. Portly, and dressed in a dignified garment of gray trimmed in red, Emrys looked every bit the merchant, with a well-groomed beard that tapered into a vee, and observant, clear green eyes. Surrounded by a display of fine fabrics still yet unsold, his arm was draped across a length of blue silk. Emrys caressed it with a gloved hand absentmindedly, as if it were a cat.

Hawk crossed mail-clad arms. The metal links rustled. "She was right about the messy, that's for sure. As for other things, like the choice for my father, well, opinions differ."

Emrys laughed. "Well, we'll be out of the mess soon as we can tomorrow. It'll be good to get home for a while. This whole journey was," he said, gesturing to the unsold lengths of cloth piled around him, "not quite what I hoped for."

"Blame the weather. Too much rain," Hawk said.

"Wet fairs do not fill up the purse," Emrys said, agreeing. "Unless you're selling rain cloaks. At least the sun's finally out. We'll get to leave in the dry."

"There's that," Hawk said. He pulled off his leather cap, ran a finger around the brim, and put it back on, pulling his long red braid back in place as he did. "Don't know if this old cap would handle another day's rain."

"I have one I can sell you," Emrys said, smirking. "Even trimmed in black fur. Only cost you two days work."

Hawk snorted and just shook his head. He was saved from further comment when two customers walked into the booth, a tall and agitated man, who clutched his purse nervously, and his stout but excited wife. She smiled at what she saw, and walked up to examine a bolt of green velvet.

"Look at this, Eustace! Wouldn't that be the perfect color for Gwenneth's gown?"

The man clinched his teeth and purse, but nodded.

"I'm going for lunch," Hawk said.

Emrys waved him on with a flip of the wrist as the merchant began his sales pitch. "Ah, I see you are a woman of discriminating taste."

Hawk had heard it all too many times before and tuned the merchant's sales talk out as he walked into the fresh air and past the scarlet banner proclaiming "The House of Emrys: Fine Cloth and Silks."

It was a cool spring day, damp but sunny. The grounds were trampled into a sea of mud, mixed in with all the remains of human activity the last few days, the hay that the fair organizers had laid down trying to make the paths usable, rubbish and dropped bits of who knew what. Hawk picked his way across the walk, avoiding the worst of the muck, and took a seat at a damp but mostly clean bench. Pulling his cloak closer against the damp, he sat down, ignoring the looks of the passers-by who gawked at him as they moved down the path. Merchant house guards, the fighting men who were an essential part of all trading operations, just like merchants themselves, were an unusual spectacle to the locals in this quiet town, sights to be gawked at when the spring fair rolled around, every bit as much a part of the show as the traveling jugglers and musicians.

Instead, he looked up. The sky was a brilliant blue, and for the first time since the trade fair began, there was not a hint of cloud. A bird circled overhead - an eagle maybe, or more likely a hawk. The mercenary admired how it glided, barely moving a feather.

"Are you an omen, I wonder, Brother Hawk, or are you just enjoying the fine weather and waiting for all of us to get off your field, so you can go back to hunting mice again?" he said. "Patience, friend. It won't be much longer. But I can tell you, brother, that you won't be the only one glad when we leave."

He stretched his legs out in front of him, and kicked a clump of mud off the toe of his boot. Not as patient as the hawk, people milled around the gaudy tents decorated with flags and banners that invited them to spend their money - cloth and trinkets from the south, tools and worked metals from the east, soft furs from the north, spices and medicines from everywhere. It was the last day of the trade fair, and the townsmen dressed in their best clothes, had turned out in numbers, hoping for bargains before the merchants all packed up and their town returned to normal for another year.

The merchants, having made their big deals and settled accounts with each other, sat in their booths this last day, happy to oblige the locals in their quest to spend silver and gold. The redheaded man watched the bargain hunters mill by, mildly amused as they stopped in this booth and that, fingering the goods and arguing with the vendors, pinching every coin in their pouches three times before they let one go. Women, dressed in fine linen, or silk if they had it, gave their husbands sultry eyes and sighs and pouts to loosen their purse strings. Sometimes it worked.

A small child, golden-haired and sticky-faced from some concoction the food vendors sold, nearly ran into him where he sat on his bench, but was rescued at the last minute by another armed man, younger, with curled hair and a large, feather-plumed hat.

"Whoa there, little fellow. You don't want to bump into my friend Hawk. He might eat you," the black-haired man said. He rested a gloved hand, garnished with an showy beaded gauntlet, on the boy's shoulder, steering him clear of the bench.

The child's eyes grew big as he looked at his rescuer, with an open smile and bright scarlet cloak, then took Hawk in, armored and armed and stern faced. His eyes lingered a bit on the scar on the sitting man's right cheek, the sword at his side. Hawk smiled, and the little boy's eyes grew even bigger. The young man gave the boy a pat on the backside and he took off running.

"Eat him, eh?" Hawk said as the young man joined him on the bench. "Muirnin, you are an ass. Ought to eat you for keeping me waiting."

"Sorry," Muirnin said. He grinned, a wry smile with just a touch of apology. "I didn't mean to be late. I dropped the message that Emrys sent me with at the smith's right away, but on the way back, I met this woman over by old Deasun's tent, Fina, and she was telling me – "

Hawk snorted, and raised a hand to cut off his companion. "There's always a woman. You know, ever since I rescued you from that hell-hole of a farm I found you at, there's always been a woman. Sometimes I wonder if I made the right decision. You could still be there, working the farm and taking care of my aunt."

The young man shook his head, the hint of a shadow across his face, as if the words brought back an unpleasant memory, then his grin returned. "No, no. I'm sure you did the right thing. After all, I keep you from being bored!"

"But not from being hungry," Hawk said, standing. "Let's go get lunch. I don't know how long it'll be before Emrys's good mood will last and he blows up at us." The redheaded man moved down the aisle, dodging a local man who dashed out of a leather worker's tent. The local scowled as he pushed his way past the two, not watching where he was going. "You know how cranky he gets before we have to break camp."

"Looks like he's not the only one," Muirnin said, turning to watch the unhappy shopper head away from them. "Murghad must be kicking the bargain hunters out already."

"He's not the only one. Emrys just does it with more finesse," Hawk said, tugging on his friend's sleeve.

"You'd think getting away from the mud and stale beer and horse droppings would make him happy," Muirnin said, turning back towards Hawk.

"He gets too seasick for that," Hawk said. "Almost as sick as you."

Muirnin sighed. "You had to remind me," he said, swallowing, and let the older man lead him towards lunch.

Most of the food sellers had set up shop near one side of the fairgrounds, near wood and water. It was easy to find. Hawk merely followed his nose and moved against the flow of people carrying sausages, rolls and other fair treats.

"So, today's the last day," Muirnin said. "What are you going to eat today?"

Hawk stepped over a fallen pickled apple, its shiny surface half-ground into the dirt. "Oh, I suspect another bowl of stew. Moris makes good stew."

Muirnin rolled his eyes. "Be a little adventuresome, old man. That's what you've eaten for lunch every day since we've been here. Me, I'm going to have another one of those meat pies I told you about. You ought to try one."

The path they were following opened up into a wide, open square, surrounded by a dozen or so booths, where cooks hawked their sausages and soups, candies and pasties. The area in the center sported long benches and tables, and a man in garish parti-color robes walked around them, selling cider. Besides the normal mud and hay, the grounds here were littered with sticks and crumbs and bits of broken crockery. A few brave sparrows and a pigeon or two flickered in and out of the tables, finding the risk worth the food. Two of the booths specialized in ale; they had no lack of customers. But the sweet sellers had nearly as many customers standing in their lines.

"You never know what they put in those meat pies," Hawk said. He steered them away from a minstrel playing a bad lute.

"I do," Muirnin said, pointing towards one of the booths. "I've stood there and watched every step Maire takes."

"Somehow," Hawk said, looking at the booth, "that does not surprise me." The booth in question had a line of about five people in front of it. An older woman working the counter, stopped a moment as she looked up, spotted them and waved at the young man. "She makes the best meat pies. Better than any I had back home. I'll buy. You just need to try this."

"Just be quick," Hawk said, and waved his young friend on, watching him as he headed toward Maire's booth, his hat feather bobbing and his scarlet cloak pillowing after him, and shook his head. At least this time, he got out of buying lunch.

An awful sound hit the air, causing the soldier to wince. "I didn't know a lute could make that sound," Hawk said, staring at the minstrel he had tried to avoid, a local boy with pretensions of musical ability. The young man ignored the sound he had coaxed out of his lute but continued to fill the air with an out-of-tune popular song. Two girls, equally willing to ignore the dreadful sound, stared at the young man with dream-filled eyes. Hawk decided the situation and sound was not likely to end in the near future. He needed more distance between them, so he ambled to the other side of the square, where the noise was more tolerable and found a bench that didn't look too dirty or damp.

There was a small crowd gathered here, too, where the seats were sunny and dry, and a storyteller plied her trade while children munching on sausages and rolls watched her with large eyes. A few adults were in the crowd as well, just as caught up in her magic. Her voice was pleasant and had a lilt to it that captured the attention. She was dressed in a colorful confection of red and blue festooned with tassels across her neck and down her arms. Her skin was dusky, and her hair was a brilliant black, tied back with a scarf of red silk, but her eyes were a vivid blue. Brass bands on her wrists and dangles in her ears completed the look - somehow, she reminded Hawk of a rare bird as she squatted on a stool, and the exaggerated movements of her arms made the tassels flutter and flashed the brass on her wrists.

"They tell me," she said, gesturing in broad, graceful motions with her left arm, "that in the far west near the edge of the world where the sea meets the land, a tall castle stands, unmanned by any human soldiers. It is a very special castle. In this castle, there is a magic treasure, a jewel, just waiting for the right hero to find it."

Her name, Hawk knew was Beyza. He had seen her before, she and her husband Doruk, who sold cider while to the thirsty while his wife told her tales. They following the fair circuit, and this wasn't the first time she had turned up at the same fair as Emrys, telling stories and sometimes fortunes.

Beyza held up her hand, examining something invisible held between her finger and thumb. She lifted her hand up to the sky to get a better look, then,with a flourish,flashed the imaginary jewel to the crowd. "So beautiful, this jewel. It has magic that can grant whatever the owner wishes - food, money, power. Anything at all."

Her accent pegged her from somewhere far away, Hawk thought, perhaps from the lands by the great southern sea. For the rosy cheeked and pale children listening to her every word, she was mysterious and exotic.

"But just because there are no human soldiers guarding it doesn't mean there are no guardians at all," Beyza continued. "There are three. The first guardian, who watches as sentry at the first gate is a magical cat."

But for one child, the exotic mystery was shattered. "A cat?" He had been chewing and listening with great gusto until this detail, pausing to pull his meat roll away from his mouth long enough to ask the question. He looked at her with sharp blue eyes; although his knees were muddy, his tunic was well made, in spite of the sauce spatters dripping from the lunch he was eating. No doubt he was the son of one of the local noteworthies, Hawk thought, a steady type of person that even at this young age, was of a mind that did not allow cats to be guardians of treasure.

"Yes, a cat. You don't believe me?" she asked the boy.

He shrugged, and began to eat his lunch again.

"It's not just any cat, you know," Beyza said. "It's a magical cat. Sometimes, it looks as small and gentle as any house cat lazing in the sun, but if it sees a threat to the castle, it grows huge, larger than a lion, larger than that tent over there," she said. "Larger even than the mayor's house in town. Not only is it big, it has claws sharper than steel, with great, sharp, pointed teeth suitable for eating anything, even biting through a soldier's armor. " Beyza pointed at Hawk. "Armor like his."

Eyes in the audience turned to look at Hawk. He sighed, coughed a little into his hand, and gave Beyza a questioning look. She in turn, chuckled.

"Oooo," said the boy, stopping his lunch long enough to look at Hawk, then back at the storyteller. "That's a big cat. What color is it?"

"Calico," the story teller said. "Orange, black and white, with burning orange eyes. Now as I was saying, if anybody comes to take the treasure, they have to get past the magical cat. They say there is a trick to get the cat to leave its post. I wonder what that could be?" She paused, steepling her hands beneath her chin.

Some whispers murmured through the audience.

"Mice?" a girl asked, her voice soft, hesitating.

"Rat!" the boy who questioned said, chewing the last of his meat roll.

"Good guesses." Beyza looked at her audience with a somber face, and brushed a finger across her nose. "Some heroes have tried mice and rats, but their bones lay scattered around the gate."

An older girl, freckle-faced and redheaded, looked up from the small child she was bouncing in her lap. "Catnip," she said with certainty.

The storyteller gave her a large, toothy smile. "Yes, yes, that's the one! It is said that if the hero offers the magical cat catnip at just the right moment, when it is small and curious, the cat will become so intoxicated with the treat that the hero can walk through the gate with no trouble. It must be so, because heroes have come back to tell us!

"But the hero's troubles are not over if he gets past the cat. Once he passes through that gate, he will find a little bridge made of stone, and another gate. Instead of being made of wood like the first gate, it is made of iron. Beyond the bridge the gate is guarded by a giant hound. If he sees an intruder, the hound will begin to bark and cry, and the sound of his barking is loud enough, they say, to make the walls tremble and the trees in the yard to lose their leaves. He jumps and slavers as he barks, and wherever his spittle lands, fire starts to burn on the fallen leaves. The courtyard there by the bridge is full of black cinders."

"How big is he?" asked the same boy.

"Bigger than the mayor's house here at Methilwick. Nearly as big as the church in the center of the town."

"That's big," he replied. "Really big! Bigger than my uncle Ned's dog, and that's the biggest dog I've ever seen. Is he a brown dog?"

"No," the story teller said. "He's jet black. But whether it's from laying in all that soot from his spittle, or because of the color of his hair, nobody has ever gotten close enough to tell." Beyza drew a finger up close to face. Her earrings jingled as she moved. "Ssssh. I will tell you something only the wise are supposed to know. There's a special way for dealing with the dog, too. The hero must have a large, meaty bone with him. Once the dog spots him, he must wave the bone three times in front of the dog's face, which takes much bravery, with all the growling and the burning spittle the dog makes. Then the hero must toss it away as far as he can throw it. If he does this right, the dog will bound after the bone and chew it down before he runs back to the gate. During that brief time, the hero must use that time to dash through the iron gate to enter the final courtyard."

Beyza shook her head and sighed. "But in truth, it doesn't matter if the hero knows about the catnip or the dog. In the final courtyard, guarding a gate of silver, there is no giant cat or dog or other monster that our hero must pass, but a fine apple tree, full of lovely red fruit. Beneath the apple tree, there is a seat of gold, and on that seat a beautiful woman sits. Although she looks meek and fair, barely able to swat a fly, she is a more frightful trial than either the dog or the cat."

"How beautiful is she?" a familiar voice asked. Hawk looked up to see Muirnin returning with two meat pies, one a quarter gone. "And what color is her hair?" he asked, sitting down and handing Hawk the unmarred pie.

"Too beautiful for the likes of you, knave," the story teller said, frowning at Muirnin. "They say her smile can make roses bloom, and her hair is like liquid gold in the soft morning sun."

Hawk rolled his eyes, but accepted the food. It smelled delicious. He could feel the heat from it through the leaf wrapping that half covered it. He experimentally took a bite. The crust was flaky and the filling savory and tender, the meat spiced with pepper and blended with onions and some crispy vegetable he didn't recognize but liked.

"Worth waiting for?" Muirnin asked.

Hawk nodded. He took another bite.

"Yes, she's too beautiful and fair for the likes of any typical knight at arms, or even most heroes," Beyza continued. "Her loveliness makes her more terrible than the magical cat or the hound to those who come looking for the treasure. They expect to fight a dragon, but instead, they find her. She smiles at them, speaks softly, disarming them with a glance, and they forget their quest in the loveliness of her eyes and the sweetness of her smile. The grounds around her are scattered with the bodies of young heroes who came looking to find the treasure, but instead, accepted an apple from the young woman's hand. Biting into it, they lose everything but the look of her smile, and unable to move or look away, they slowly turn into stone. They stay there, frozen at her feet, until the gardener comes by and finds a place in the courtyard for them. I have been told that there are quite a lot of statues there. The pigeons particularly find them pleasant places to rest."

"You definitely don't want to go there, Muirnin," Hawk said."You might be able to figure a way around the cat and the dog, but you'd be a lost soul at the sight of the woman."

Muirnin shuddered at the thought. "I think you're right. Keep me away from there, please?"

Hawk laughed, and finished his meat pie.

"How do we know what's beyond the iron gate if everybody who went there got trapped by the beauty beneath the apple tree?" Beyza asked.

The audience waited for her answer. Some shrugged.

"I'll tell you, then," she said. "Once there was a handsome young knight who had lost everything to the wicked man who was his uncle. His uncle had slain his father, sent his mother away to a convent, and bound on him the obligation not to return until he had secured the treasure at the world's end. He headed out, sorrowful at heart, with nothing but his sword, his horse, and the hawk on his wrist, when suddenly - "

As if on cue, a young woman came running into the eating area. "Help me! He's going to beat me!" she screamed. "I didn't do anything!"

All heads turned. She was not one of the local women. Hawk had seen her before during the fair. Young and slim, dressed in a simple grey gown that servant women wore, her golden hair streamed behind her as she ran across the square. She glanced around, then dashed through the middle of the storyteller's crowd. Beyza neatly saved her collection basket from being stomped before she moved out of the way, but the boy who had asked all the questions lost his final piece of lunch, a skewered piece of candied fruit, as running woman pushed past him and he fell into the dirt. Ignoring the yells of the people she ran past and heedless of the babies who cried as their caretakers scrambled out of the way, the woman headed straight towards Hawk and Muirnin.

"There goes my lunch break," Hawk said. Muirnin ignored him and stood up.

"Master Muirnin! Help! He's after me!" she said, running into his arms.

Hawk did admit she was a pretty little thing, about a head shorter than his younger companion, with bright blue eyes now wet with tears and fear. Her bottom lip trembled and her ample bosom heaved as Muirnin wrapped his arms around her and she worked to catch her breath and find her voice. A few of the women from the storyteller's crowd moved closer.

"Who, Fina? Who wants to hurt you?" Muirnin said gently, running his hands over her long hair and down her back.

"That's Deasun's wench?" Hawk asked, standing as well. He scanned the square. Outside of the people drawn to her outburst, there was nobody in hot pursuit. Nonetheless, he pushed the bench they had been sitting on out of the way, just in case.

Muirnin nodded. "Who's looking for you?" he repeated.

Fina pointed up. Both the fighters, and a number of the people in the storyteller's crowd looked up in the sky, to see a hawk circling overhead. It gave a sudden screech, high pitched, loud, and piercing, and then dived into an open area near where they stood.

With a final cry, much too loud for a bird that size, it landed. There was a bright flash of light, too bright to watch even the midday sun. Hawk turned his head and shielded his eyes, just like everybody else who had come too close did. When he opened them again, he found the bird of prey in front of him was now a man. The man the light revealed was big, over six feet tall, and broad of shoulder and of stomach. His red hair flowed out from underneath a steel cap, and he had a wild beard to match. Chain covered his chest, and a leather belt held both axe and sword. Reaching across his chest, he unsheathed the blade.

"I'll tell you who's looking for her," the hawk-now-man said. "I am. She's mine, the cheating slut."

"Damn, a shapeshifter," Hawk muttered. "That's why a hawk was circling the tents today. So much for my good luck." He started searching in his belt bag for a pouch he kept there.

The women who had come to help slowly backed up to the edge of the square. The freckle-faced girl with the baby screamed and ran towards the exit. Shutters on the food vendors' booths began to slam shut. The children scattered.

The storyteller, holding her stool like she was going to hit the man, pulled on his sleeve. "Curse you, Rolf," Beyza yelled. "You owe me, you jealous oaf. You chased all my business away before I passed the basket. I ought to - "

"Uh, sorry." His bluster, suddenly apologetic, Rolf pulled out a small purse out of his belt, tossed it her way. "See if this will help."

With a jingle of brass, she snatched it out of the air, opened it, and sighed. "Well, it's better than nothing," she said. "I'll leave all of you to your fun." Propping her stool on her shoulder, she walked off to the other end of the square to join her husband.

The shapeshifter watched her walk away and sighed, then turned back to the three standing there. His eyes narrowed.

"You think Rolf is stupid, woman," the shapeshifter said. "Rolf do this, Rolf get me that." His face reddened as his anger returned. "But when Rolf's doing his job, you go do what you want with all the handsome young men. You think when I'm out of sight, I know nothing. But I see everything. You think you can hide your cheating? I was in the air and saw everything you did with that little pretty boy you're wrapped around. You can't lie your way out of this one." He started walking towards the three. "I caught you red-handed."

Emboldened by the two men beside her, Fina turned to the shapeshifter. "You may work for Deasun, too, Rolf, but I don't belong to you!" she said. "So what if I slept with you? I never promised you anything."

The man's big hand dropped his sword and tightened into a fist. "You bitch. Who's always been there when your pretty boys dump you for the whore you are?" He took a step forward, and reached out for her. "None of'em has ever taken care of you like me!"

Knowing he was going to regret this, but steeling himself to do it anyway, Hawk took a deep breath then stepped in front of Muirnin and Fina. "You heard the woman," he said. His left fingers closed around the pouch, and slipped off the cords binding it closed. "You should go."

"It's none of your business. Get back to your cloth merchant. The woman is mine," Rolf said.

"He's not my husband! He's just mad because I didn't let him in my bed last night. I didn't do anything wrong!" she said, stepping to the side so she could face the enraged shapeshifter.

"Running after that brat in armor is nothing?" the man yelled. "I saw you rubbing up against him. What were you thinking this time? Who's gonna pick up the pieces when you spend the night crying because he dropped you flat?"

"At least he knows how to talk to me!" she said, pulling fully away from Muirnin. Both of her hands were in fists. "He doesn't treat me like I'm a piece of furniture, or one of Deasun's rugs!"

Muirnin stepped forward, trying to push Fina behind him. "Sir, I can explain."

"Shut up, pretty boy. You think this is the first time she's done this?" Rolf roared. "She thinks she's gonna find someone to set her up like a princess. That is, until they find out what an untrue bitch she is."

Hawk rolled his eyes, but he thumbed open the pouch in his left hand, then gave the young man a hand signal that meant fall back. This wasn't going to end pretty. . "Sir, she says she is not your woman."

The man shoved Hawk. "What business is it of yours if she is or isn't?" he asked. "And why are you protecting that woman stealer?"

As word of the strife spread through the fairgrounds, a new crowd had begun to filter into the square, curious men and women. Hawk heard someone placing a bet. It wasn't on him, and for some reason, that irritated him. He would have to act quickly, before the fair marshals got brave enough to try to interfere.

"That woman stealer is my kinsman." Hawk stepped towards the shapeshifter. He glanced at Muirnin, who nodded and began moving Fina to the edge of the square. "And the woman says she's not yours. Why don't you just go back to Deasun's tent and get back to whatever it is he pays you to do for him?"

Rolf shoved Hawk once more. "Who's going to make me?"

"You have to do this the hard way, don't you?" Hawk asked. Rolf growled in return. In a fluid movement, he threw the contents of the pouch at the redheaded shapeshifter and drew his sword. The effects were almost instantaneous. The shapeshifter doubled up in great pain.

"Get her out of here, Muirnin! The wolfsbane won't last forever." With a thrust of his boot, he kicked the big man, and the shapeshifter collapsed into a fetal ball. It didn't take Hawk long to use the man's own belt to tie his arms to his chest. The crowd on the edge of the square broke out in noise, a few cheers and some boos. He stood up, nodded to the fair marshals, who moved in to carry the big man off. One unhappy looking man, the man who bet against him, handed a purse to his neighbor.

"You really shouldn't bet against me," Hawk said.

The excitement over, the spectators went their way, and some of the vendors unshuttered their stands.

"Seems kind of unsporting, using wolfsbane that way," the storyteller said as she moved her stool and basket back into position. "Even if he is a fool." Carrying a great leather jug of cider on his back, the storyteller's husband joined her.

"Better than a bloody mess," Hawk said. "And nobody got really hurt. He'll be fine in an hour or so, sooner if they wash him down."

He bent over to brush the mud off his legs where he had knelt.

"I'd watch your backside if I were you," the cider seller said, pouring a cup of his own brew into a mug.

"I can take care of Rolf," Hawk said, tightening his shoe strap. "I'm not worried."

"I mean now," the cider seller said, smiling in an odd, disturbing sort of way. He swallowed a large gulp out of his mug. "Behind you."

"What?" Hawk said. He began to straighten up.

"No, Fina!" Muirnin yelled.

Feet scuffled, and he started to swerve. Before he made it up, he had a glimpse of gray cloth and a shrill but familiar woman's voice yelled at him, "What did you do to Rolf, you monster!"

Suddenly pain exploded in his head. The world around him went black.

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