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.The wisp inside gripped the iron cage and fluttered his wings.His green light brightened, illuminating the trees along the shoreline.Standing waist-deep in the pond, there was little Brand could do but wield the axe.Without thought, he raised the weapon.There was another flash of yellow light and a sound like the clashing of great swords.Brand’s arms were stunned by the impact and he all but dropped the axe.Somehow, he managed to cling to it, or perhaps it clung to him.Brand looked up, sure to see Hob’s maw stooping to devour a foolish river-boy.Instead, he saw the bottom of the lantern had been shorn free from the rest of it, and now the green wisp was free and floating away with the circling crowd of excited females.Roaring with anguish, Hob now followed his own Will-O-Wisp, which led him deeper into the pond.Taking this opportunity to escape, Brand and Telyn splashed their way toward the shoreline.Another roar of anguish came up from Old Hob as he discovered their escape.“Thou hast wronged me!” roared Hob toward their retreating backs.“No goblin shall rest until thy bones simmer in my stewpot! And thee, wench! Thy rhinog offspring shall feed upon their own mother one day hence!”Once they felt they were safely away into the trees, they paused to rest.Their breath came in painful sobs and their hearts and heads hammered with exertion.Brand was the first to speak.“You could have left me, Telyn.I was mad to go back for the axe.”“Wrong on both counts, river-boy,” returned Telyn in a ragged gasp.“We did Old Hob an injury, rather than making him a gift of the axe.”“I did not mean to make more enemies for the Haven.”“He will never be anything other than an enemy.As for leaving you, I couldn’t leave the one who had followed me on my foolish way through all this forsaken swamp!”She came close then, and kissed his sweaty cheek.“As you would not leave me, nor would I leave you, Brand,” she whispered in his ear.She squeezed his arm.A shock of heat ran through him.Her kiss and touch were as powerful in their own way as the cold touch of the axe.Brand looked at the axe.He thought of putting it down on the ground, but could not.The weight of it, when he wasn’t touching it directly, seemed almost too much to bear.Now he understood why Gudrin had carried it tucked away in her knapsack and why it always seemed to burden her.“What scares me is that I know I couldn’t have left it for my life, Telyn.The River help me Telyn, but I do love it so!” said Brand, his voice hushed and shamed.Telyn put her arms around him and hugged him.As she did so, a tiny squeak came from her tunic.“The wisp!” she cried.“I forgot about her!” She produced the wounded creature and stretched her out upon her palm so that her legs dangled over her wrist.She was only barely glimmering with a pale radiance now.Brand felt ashamed to know that he had harmed such a beautiful creature.“Don’t be glum, Brand,” said Telyn, reading his thoughts.“Even if this wisp dies, you freed her and her family from slavery.”Brand nodded.Still, it made his eyes burn to see the wisp hurt.It was like seeing the broken body of a child and a beautiful woman, all at once.“Look!” Telyn hissed to him.He followed her gesture and saw lights glimmering in the trees behind them.“Hob follows us!”Brand knew another thrill of panic.“Could Old Hob have recaptured his wisps so quickly?” he asked in a hushed voice.“We don’t know what powers he might have over them,” replied Telyn.“The lights are approaching, we must flee.”Brand groaned and began stumbling after her.Fleet-footed, she headed into the thickest stand of trees in sight.The only light they had was the glimmering of the axe, but it was enough to see by.Soon, they had lost themselves in a forest of vegetation.Ferns grew here in wild profusion.Giant fronds came up out of the darkness and brushed their faces like giant, caressing feathers.For a moment, the wisps were gone.“Have we lost him?” asked Brand.“I think not, he must know this land far better than we.”“How then can we escape this monster?”“Perhaps if we keep fleeing until dawn, he will concede the chase.Goblins rarely venture forth in the light of day.”Brand groaned aloud.“I’m weary beyond belief, Telyn.I fear I might collapse.Perhaps we should make our stand on a spot of our own choosing before I lose all my strength.”Telyn looked at him in concern.“The sun should rise in two hours, maybe less.”Brand shook his head.He knew in his bones that he couldn’t walk the swamp for two hours more.“I don’t think I can make it.Besides, if he did catch up, we might be trapped in a bad spot, too fatigued to fight.”“You mean too fatigued to wield the axe,” said Telyn.Her face was lined with worry.“In fact, you intend to wield it.Does it call to you, Brand? Does it want you to fight Old Hob?”Brand blinked at her, thinking about it.“Yes, I believe that it does.”“I’m not sure that we should trust it.”“I’m sure that we shouldn’t.”“It seems to want nothing but bloodshed, and tends to see everyone as a potential enemy.Like a man whose only tool is a hammer, it tends to see many nails—” Telyn broke off and pointed over his shoulder.He saw the look of fear in her eyes and fully expected to see Old Hob looming above him as he whirled.Instead, it was the green wisp, the male.He floated over the ferns, lighting them with his soft, green glow.Telyn turned to run in the opposite direction.“Wait!” he cried to her.“They might be herding us into a trap like sheep!”Telyn suddenly veered to the left, having just encountered another wisp, this time a female of the familiar yellow-white shade.Brand crashed through the ferns after her.He now felt convinced that the wisps had encircled them and were herding them into Hob’s waiting arms [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]