“Well,” said the count slowly, “it hasn’t actually done anything. A little girl said she saw it late yesterday afternoon, heading east, up toward the high plateau. If she was right, we may not see it again. But I don’t like it. It’s not right for strange unnatural creatures to roam around the land of men.”

“Don’t call it unnatural,” I said absently. “Magic is a perfectly natural force. But I do agree with you on the key point,” I continued more forcibly. “I don’t like it either. Great horned rabbits don’t belong here. I’ve never heard of one before, and if I had I would have expected it to be thousands of miles north of here, up in the land of dragons and wild magic. Modern wizardry usually tries to keep such creatures there.”

“I hope you don’t mind,” said the count, again apologetic, “but since I wasn’t sure if you’d be able to come right away-”

“Yes?” I prompted when he hesitated.

“At the same time as I sent you a message, I also sent one to the duchess. I thought perhaps she could help us hunt the horned rabbit.” The duchess, whose castle was about five miles from the old count’s, was a noted huntress. “She sent a message back that she would be here tomorrow. I’d hoped she and her huntsmen could find its trail, and track it up onto the plateau, or wherever it’s gone.”

Joachim had said nothing so far, but he suddenly put in, with a look toward me, “I’m going to the high plateau tomorrow myself.”

“Good,” I said. “We’ll go together. While you talk to the hermit, I’ll search for this magical horned rabbit there. A wood nymph’s grove might even attract it. At the same time the duchess and her hunters can be looking for its trail down here. Between all of us, we should catch it.”


In the early morning, the high plateau was half hidden by mist, but the sun rising behind it gave the rows of trees against the sky a halo of light. When the count’s stable boy led our horses into the courtyard, I saw at once that he had switched the harnesses. The rangy bay Joachim had been riding had the correct saddle, but its bridle had bells, whereas my old white mare had no bells.

Joachim did not actually become angry; he never did. “I’m a priest and a representative of the cathedral,” he said. “I can’t go visit a hermit while riding a horse with bells,” and he proceeded to lengthen the stirrups on my mare.

“Wait a minute, Father, I can change the bridles,” said the mortified stable boy.

“It’s not your fault,” the chaplain said quietly. “I have no time to wait, but think no more of it.” His long legs reaching well below the mare’s belly, he rode out through the gates, while I scrambled up on the bay, hastily tugged up the stirrups, and hurried to catch him.

We rode in silence, through a woods where dark pines stood tall on either hand, then slowly up and out of the pines as the road ascended toward the plateau. Our horses were breathing hard when we emerged at the top.

Joachim pulled the mare over to the side to rest and sat stroking her mane. Here the wind blew across pastures thick with wild flowers. A mile away, I could see a group of brown and white cows and a stone barn, but otherwise we seemed to have the plateau to ourselves. In the bright sun and air, it did not seem the place for a great horned rabbit.

It also did not seem a place to be quarreling with the chaplain. “We’ll want to rest the horses for a few minutes anyway,” I said. “Why don’t we change the harnesses now?”

He turned his dark eyes on me, then unexpectedly smiled, a genuine smile that worked its way up from his mouth to his cheekbones and eyebrows. “You’re right,” he said. “I’m being both silly and stubborn.” He swung down off the mare. “I wanted to arrive early at the hermitage, but fifteen minutes isn’t going to make any difference. Let’s give the horses a rest, and I can tell you what we’re likely to find.”

Whether the chaplain felt he needed a wizard’s protection against the horned rabbit, or he was worried about the wood nymph, I was pleased he might still want the company of someone who didn’t appreciate moral issues.

But he hesitated for a moment before beginning. “As you may know,” he said at last, “there is a deep limestone valley cut into this plateau. The hermitage is located in a grove at the upper end, where the valley’s river is born. I visited it once when I first came to Yurt, before you became royal wizard. The hermitage is also a shrine, sacred to the memory of Saint Eusebius.” He paused for a long look at me. “Did you ever hear of Saint Eusebius of Yurt?”

I shook my head. Wizards don’t learn very much about saints.

“I know you,” he said slowly, “so I feel I should warn you. There’s a special relic of the saint at the shrine, and the hermit will not appreciate it if you laugh at the relic.”

“But why should I laugh at a relic?” I protested.

“Because,” he answered, almost reluctantly, “because it’s the saint’s big toe.” He had turned away, but for a moment I half imagined he might find this funny himself.

“The saint’s big toe? But what happened to the rest of the saint?”

“Eusebius was eaten by a dragon,” said Joachim, looking at me as soberly as if it had never occurred to him that a saint’s toe could be amusing.

“When was this?” I was amazed that I had never heard the story.

“It must be,” he hesitated as though calculating, “a good fifteen hundred years ago, long before the kingdom of Yurt or the rest of the western kingdoms even existed, back in the latter days of the Empire.” That explained why I had never heard of Saint Eusebius; I had never been strong on history, especially ancient history.

The morning sun shone on our heads, and what looked like a hawk soared high above. It was hard to believe in either saints or dragons-or, for that matter, in great horned rabbits-on a lovely June day like this.

“Saint Eusebius himself was living in the grove, then,” Joachim continued. “He lived alone, spending his days in devotion and contemplation. But when a dragon appeared up on the plateau and started eating the people’s flocks, he felt he had to do something.”

“He should have called on a wizard,” I provided. “I know there were wizards, even back then.”

Other than giving me a quick look, he paid no attention to my interruption. “Saint Eusebius took his crucifix and went to face the dragon, to command it in the name of Christ to leave the area.”

“But Joachim, you know that wouldn’t work. It might work with a demon, but dragons aren’t inherently evil, just magic.”

It was harder this time for him to ignore my interruption, but he managed. “Inspired by the devil, the dragon began to eat the holy man. But a desperate group of peasants had banded together, armed with spears and meat hooks. When the dragon tried to swallow the saint, it miraculously began to gag and choke on him. While the dragon was thus occupied, the peasants burst out of hiding and attacked it. One of them got in a lucky stroke with a meat hook and pierced the dragon’s throat at the one spot where it was vulnerable.”

He paused, as though the horror of it were almost too much. “But they were too late to save Saint Eusebius. All that remained of him was his left big toe.”

I felt rather proud that I did not even smile. “And so they preserved the relic at the hermitage where he had lived,” I said, “and subsequent generations of hermits have succeeded Eusebius there ever since. Is that it? But what do you have to investigate now?”

“Saint Eusebius was always a rather, well, difficult-if holy-man, even while he was alive. Now, fifteen hundred years after his death, some say he’s a difficult saint.”

“What do you mean, difficult?”

“Well,” said Joachim after an almost imperceptible pause, “here’s an example. A lady, a very lovely and vain one, went to his shrine to pray for help in overcoming her faults. The saint began with her vanity, by putting a giant wart on her nose.”

I could see the problem. What was the church supposed to do when the forces of good turned out to be a real pain?

Joachim hurried on without waiting for a response. “His, uh, difficult nature is why the bishop sent me here. Certain priests, in a church two hundred miles from here, have written to the bishop. They say that Eusebius appeared to them in a vision, saying that he was ‘fed up’ with having his relics at this shrine, and that he wanted

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