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.After a while he stirred and lifted his head."I got your token, and the message from the courier.But I don't think I really quite believed him.When he first spoke and showed me the Dragon it seemed right.I suppose I'd never thought you could really die, like mortal men.but on the way here, riding alone, with nothing to do but think — well, it ceased to be real.I don't know what I pictured; myself ending up again, perhaps, in front of that blocked cave mouth, where we buried you alive." I felt a shiver go through him."Merlin, what has happened? When we left you for dead, sealed in the cave, it was the malady, of course, giving the appearance of death; I realize that now.But afterwards? When you woke, alone and weighed down with your own grave-clothes? God knows, that would be enough to bring another death! What did you do? How survive, locked alone in the hill? How escape? And when? You must have known how sorely I was bereft.Where have you been all this while?""Not so great a while.When I escaped, you were abroad.They told me you had gone toBrittany.So I said nothing, and lodged with Stilicho, my old servant, who keeps the mill near Maridunum, and waited for your return.I'll tell you everything soon — if you will get me that drink of water.""Fool that I am, I was forgetting!" He jumped up and ran to the river.He filled the horn and brought it, then went down on one knee to hold it for me.I shook my head and took it from him."Thank you, but I'm quite steady now.It's nothing.I was not hurt.I am ashamed to have been of so little help.""You gave me all I needed.""Which was not much," I said, half laughing."I could almost feel sorry for those wretches, thinking they had an easy kill, and bringing Arthur himself down on them like a thunderbolt.I did warn them, but who could blame them for not believing me?""You mean to tell me they knew who you were? And still used you like that?""I told you, they didn't believe me.Why should they? Merlin was dead.And the only power I have now is in your name — and they didn't believe that, either.'An old man, unarmed and poor.' " I quoted him, smiling."Why, you didn't know me yourself.Am I so much changed?"He considered me."It's the beard, and, yes, you are quite grey now.But if I had once looked at your eyes." He took the horn from me and got to his feet."Oh, yes, it is you.In all that ever mattered, you are unchanged.Old? Yes, we must all grow old.Age is nothing but the sum of life.And you are alive, and back with me here.By the great God of heaven, I have you back with me.What should I fear now?"He drained the horn, replaced it, and looked around him."I suppose I had better tidy up this mess.Are you really all right now? Could you tend my horse for me? I think he could be watered now."I led the stallion down to the water, and with it the cream cob, which was grazing quietly, and made no attempt to escape me.When they had drunk I tethered them, then got some salve from my pack and doctored the cut on the cob's shoulder.It rolled an eye back at me, and the skin of its shoulder flickered, but it showed no sign of pain.The cut bled still, but sluggishly, and the beast was not walking lame.I loosed the girths of both horses, and left them grazing while I retrieved the scattered contents of my saddlebag.Arthur's way of clearing up the "mess" — three men violently dead — was to haul the bodies by their heels to a decent hiding-place at the forest's edge.The severed head he picked up by the beard and slung it after.He was whistling while he did it, a gay little tune I recognized as one of the soldiers'marching songs, which was frank, not to say over-explicit, about the sexual prowess of their leader.Then he looked around him."The next rain will clear some of the blood away.And even if I had a spade or mattock, I'm damned if I'd spend the time and trouble in digging that carrion in.Let the ravens have them.Meanwhile, we might as well impound their horses; I see they've stopped to graze away up the road there.I'll have to wash the blood off first, or I'll never get near them.You'd better abandon that cloak of yours, it'll never be the same again.Here, you can wear mine.No, I insist.It's an order.Here."He dropped it over the pine log, then went down to the river and washed.While he remounted and went cantering up the road after the other horses, I stripped off my cloak, which was already stiffening with blood, and washed myself, then shook out Arthur's cloak of royal purple, and put it on.My own I rolled up and pitched after the dead men into the undergrowth.Arthur came back at a trot, leading the thieves' horses."Now, where is this inn with the bush of holly?"8The innkeeper's boy was out in the road, watching for me.I suppose he had been posted there to give the goodwife warning of when the "meal fit for the King's court" would be wanted [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]