He was about to loosen the next item, a narrow cylinder, when a white hand flashed across his shoulder and took it.

The hunter stirred as if that touch, rather than Simon’s handling, had reached his dazed brain. His eyes opened, feral eyes, with a gleam of light within their depths such as a beast’s holds in the darkness. And there was that in those eyes which made Simon recoil.

He had met men who were dangerous, men who wanted his death and who would go about the business of securing it with a businesslike dispatch. He had stood face to face with men in whom some trait of character worked upon him until he hated them on sight. But never before had he seen any such emotion as lay at the back of those shining green eyes in the battered face of the hunter.

But Simon realized that those eyes were not turned upon him. The woman stood there, a little crookedly for she favored her injured ankle, turning over in her hands the rod she had stripped from the hunter’s belt.

Almost Simon expected to see in her expression some answer to that burning, corrosive rage with which the wounded man faced her.

She was watching the hunter steadily, without any sign of emotion. The man’s mouth worked, twisted. He raised his head with a tortured, visible effort which racked his whole body and spat at her. Then his head cracked back against the roadway and he lay still as if that last gesture of detestation had drained all his reserves of energy. And in the light of the now dying fire his face went queerly slack, his mouth fell open. Simon did not need to note the end of that laboring rise and fall of the crushed chest to know that he was dead.

“Alizon—” The woman shaped the word carefully, looking to Simon and then to the body. Stopping she indicated the emblem on the dead man’s jacket. “Alizon.”

“Alizon,” Simon echoed as he got to his feet, having no desire to plunder farther.

Now she swung to face the gap through which the road ran on into the river plain.

“Estcarp—” Once more that careful pronouncement of a name, but her finger indicated the river plain. “Estcarp.” She repeated that, but now touched her own breast.

And, as if by that name she had evoked an answer, there was a shrilling pipe from the other side of the gap. No demanding call such as the hunter’s horns had given, but rather a whistling such as a man might make between his teeth as he waited for action. The woman replied with a shouted sentence which was taken up by the wind, echoed from the sides of the rock barrier.

Simon heard the thud of hooves, the jangle of metal against metal. But since his companion faced the gap welcomingly, he was content to wait before going into action. Only his hand closed about the automatic in his pocket and its blunt muzzle pointed to that space between the pinnacles.

They came one at a time, those horsemen. Skimming between the peaks, the first two fanning out, weapons ready. When they sighted the woman they called eagerly; plainly they were friends. The fourth man rode straight ahead to where Simon and the woman waited. His mount was tall, heavy through the barrel as if the animal had been selected to carry weight. But the figure in the high peaked saddle was so short of stature Simon thought him a young boy — until he swung to earth.

In the light of the fire his body glistened, and points of glitter sparkled on helm, belt, throat and wrist. Short he was, but his breadth of shoulder made that lack of height the more apparent, for his arms and chest were those intended for a man a third again his size. He wore armor of some sort with the apparent texture of chain-mail, yet it clothed him so snugly that it might have been wrought of cloth, yielding to every movement of his limbs with the pliability of woven stuff. His helmet was crested with the representation of a bird, wings outstretched. Or was it a real bird charmed to unnatural immobility? For the eyes which glinted in its upheld head appeared to watch Simon with a sullen ferocity. The smooth metal cap on which it perched ended in a kind of scarf of the mail, looped about the wearer’s neck and throat. He tugged at this impatiently as he walked forward, freeing his face from its half veiling. And Simon saw that he had not been so wrong in his first guess after all. The hawk-helmed warrior was young.

Young, yes, but also tough. His attention was divided between the woman and Simon, and he asked her a question as he surveyed Tregarth measuringly. She answered with a rush of words, her hand sketching some sign in the air between Simon and the warrior. Seeing that, the newcomer touched his helm in what was clearly a salute to the outlander. But it was the womap who commanded the situation.

Pointing to the warrior she continued her language lesson: “Koris.”

It could be nothing but a personal name Simon decided quickly. He jerked his thumb at his own chest:

“Tregarth, Simon Tregarth.” He waited for her to name herself.

But she only repeated what he had said. “Tregarth, Simon Tregarth,” as if to set the syllables deep in her mind. When she did not answer otherwise he made his own demand.

“Who?” he pointed straight at her.

The warrior Koris started, his hand going to the sidearm at his belt. And the woman frowned, before her expression became so remote and cold that Simon knew he had blundered badly.

“Sorry,” he spread his hands in gesture which he hoped she would take for apology. In some way he had offended, but it was through ignorance. And the woman must have understood that, for she made some explanation to the young officer, though he did not look at Simon with any great friendliness during the hours which followed.

Koris, showing a deference which did not match the woman’s ragged clothing, but did accord with her air of command, mounted her behind him on the big black horse. Simon rode behind one of the other guardsmen, linking his fingers in the rider’s belt and clinging tight, as they headed back into the river plain at a pace which even the dark of the night did not keep from approaching a gallop.

A long time later Simon lay still in a nest of bed coverings and stared with unseeing eyes up at the curve of the carved wood canopy overhead. Save for those wide open eyes he might have been deemed as suddenly asleep as he had been minutes earlier. But an old talent for passing from sleep into instant alertness had not been lost with his entrance into this new world. And now he was busy sorting out impressions, classifying knowledge, trying to add one fact to another to piece together a concrete picture of what lay about him beyond the confines of the massive bed, the stone walls of the room.

Estcarp was more than the river plain; it was a series of forts, stubborn defensive holds along a road marking a frontier. Forts where they had changed horses, had fed, and then swept on again, driven by some need for haste Simon had not understood. And at last it was a city of round towers, green-gray as the soil in which they were rooted under the pale sun of a new day, towers to guard, a wall to encircle, and then other buildings of a tall, proud-walking race with dark eyes and hair as black as his own, a race with the carriage of rulers and an odd weight of years upon them.

But by the time they had entered that Estcarp Simon had been so bemused by fatigue, so dulled by the demands of his own aching body, that there were only snatches of pictures to be remembered. And overlaying them all the sensation of age, of a past so ancient that the towers and the walls could have been part of the mountain bones of this world. He had walked old cities in Europe, seen roadways which had known the tramp of Roman legions. Yet the alien aura of age resting here was far more overpowering, and Simon fought against it when he marshalled his facts.

He was quartered in the middle pile of the city, a massive stone structure which had both the solemnity of a temple and the safety-promise of a fort. He could just barely remember the squat officer, Koris, bringing him to this room, pointing to the bed. And then — nothing.

Or was it nothing?

Simon’s brows drew together in a faint frown. Koris, this room, the bed — Yet now as he stared up into the mingled pattern of intricate carving arching over him, he found things there which were familiar, oddly familiar, as if the symbols woven back and forth had a meaning which he would unravel at any moment now.

Estcarp — old, old, a country and a city, and a way of life! Simon tensed. How had he known that? Yet it was true, as real as the bed on which his saddle-sore body rested, as the carvings over him. The woman who had been hunted — she was of this race, of Estcarp — just as the dead hunter by the barrier had been of another and hostile people.

The Guardsmen in the frontier posts were all of the same mold, tall, dark, aloof in manner. Only Koris, with his misshapen body, had differed from the men he led. Yet Koris’ orders were obeyed; only the woman who rode behind him had appeared to have more authority.

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