Hero

by Ron Sanders SMASHWORDS EDITION Copyright 2011 by Ron Sanders o!er art by the a"thor (Glade, World, Master, Boy, Hero)

Glade
There is a g#a ier$ Its b#"e tong"e%s tip &"st tastes a 'ro(en gorge$ There is a gorge) its *a##s shattered by o#d+ a on e,green thing that) in dying) birthed a tho"sand a hing 'iss"res$ It *or-s its &agged *ay do*nhi##) ro"nd ragged ri'ts and dri'ts "nti# it o.es "pon a #itt#e 'rosted *ood$ There is a *ood) an is#and #o -ed in i e$ Into this *ood the gorge des ends$ It *anders and it *ends+ it bra-es and a## b"t ends o"tside a #earing *et *ith s"n$ And there) 'or-ing) its bent and bro-en ar.s e.bra e a strange) en hanted g#ade$ There is a g#ade$ And in this g#ade the b#a - bears s#eep) tho"gh so -eyes #eap 'at bet*een 'a##s$ Here the 'ie#d .o"se dra*s no shado*) the eag#e see-s no prey+ they spend their *hi#e aressed by rays) and ha# yon days are they$ Here rabbit and roe .ay #inger+ no #onger need they '#ee$ /or in this ti.e#ess) taint#ess spa e) the Wi#d has eased to be$ 0O"tside the g#ade are shado* and prey) are i e and na-ed death$ There b#ood .ay r"n 'ree#y$ There the eag#e) that thief) is a righteo"s sa!age) a nob#e 'iend$ 1"t on e in the g#ade he is do!e) and has no taste 'or b#ood) r"nning 'ree#y or other*ise2$ And in this g#ade there nests a poo#3 a da((#ing) b#"e and si#!er &e*e#+ pro'o"nd#y deep) pristine#y #ear$ A## *ho sip 'ind so#a e here) 'or this is the eye o' 1eing$ They #ap in pea e) ass".ing b#ear) not -no*ing it is seeing$ And e!er th"s this poo# sha## peer3 a si#ent seer) re'#e ting on $ $ $ a## that is) and a## beyond$ 0O"tside the g#ade there #ies a *or#d *here ri!ers e!er r"n) *here ghast#y a#!es in rando. 'i#e re!i#e a bitter s"n$ East) the day is born in .ist$ West she dies3 her rest) the deep$ And North4North the earth #ies ."te$ Wind gna*s her hide) *ind *ra -s her drea.s$ Wind s rea.s #i-e a '#"te in her *hite) *hite s#eep2$ And in the g#ade are ta##) state#y grasses) s"nning rapt#y) spinning #ore$ Roots render the rhyth.s) b#ades bend *itho"t bree(e) as signa#s as end 'ro. the g#ade%s tender '#oor$ 0In this *ise the g#ade *ea!es its *ord) airs its !ie*s$ A## the g#ade%s '#ora are bearers o' ne*s2$ They do not *ither *ith 'a##) 'or in the g#ade there is no 'a##$ They do not bind or *i#t or bro*n4they gesture) spreading the .ood) the .ind+ on!eying) indeed) the !ery so"# o' the g#ade$ As e!er they ha!e) as they sha## e!er.ore$ 1ees do not h". here+ they sing$ They 'atten the drea.$ Me##o* and ro"nd are the ti.bres they so"nd) s*eet is the ."si they bring$ 1irds do not sing here4they play$ They arry the the.e$ D"# et

and *ar. are the strains they per'or.$ 5i'ted ."si ians are they$ 0A## in the g#ade are !irt"osi$ They *ere born to reate$ Me#ody) har.ony) and o"nterpoint are innate2$ No* the per'or.an e is #i!e#y and bright) no* '"##) no* a#.ost sti##$ /or) tho"gh a## in the g#ade .ay #ean to the #ight) they ."st bend to the .aestro%s 'ee#$ And yet $ $ $ there *as a day) #ong ago in a drea.) *hen this ongoing op"s *as torn$ And on that day 0so the #"##aby goes2 the *ind bro"ght a s rea.) and Dissonan e *as born$ There *as a noise$ Moose tensed) their o''ee eyes narro*ed) their patient bro*s reased$ 1ees .a"#ed the te.po) birds #ost their p#a e$ The grass stood ere t) a## b#ades pointing east$ There *as a rash) and a shrie-) and a na-ed) b#eeding beast b"rst stin-ing thro"gh the 'ern) 'e## st".b#ing on its 'a e$ Moose s attered3 unheard of$ Sheep bra*#ed) geese b"rst o"t o' rhy.e$ The sy.phony) 'ore!er endea!ored to soar s"b#i.e) '#"ttered) p#"nged) and) 'or a## o' a .eas"re) eased$ The poo# *as appa##ed $ $ $ *hat .anner br"te4*hat -ind o' .onster *as this6 /"r#ess '#an- to 'ore#i.b) its hide obs "red by b#ood$ As 'or its 'a e $ $ $ it had no 'a e+ on#y a look3 o' sho - 'ro(en in ti.e) o' horror in a.ber$ A deep) *e##ing ri't ran te.p#e to hin) ha#!ing the 'a e) a!ing it in $ $ $ s" h a grie!o"s *o"nd $ $ $ the poo# *at hed it stagger) on t*o #egs and 'o"r) thrashing abo"t ti## it a.e to a rise$ There it #abored 'or air) *iped the b#ood 'ro. its eyes) #ashed at i##"sion) #oo-ed *i#d#y ro"nd4 beho#ding the poo#) the beast t".b#ed do*n$ And there this *ret h p#"nged his thirst) dran- his 'i##) 'e## ba - on his ha"n hes$ The poo# be a.e sti##$ The t*o traded stares$ The g#ass read his 'eat"res3 that d"rab#e eye pondered the *re -age and probed the debris$ Re!o#ted) the poo# so"ght the s" or o' s-y$ 1"t that thing re.ained4that 'a e $ $ $ in a## reation $ $ $ s"re#y there o"#d be $ $ $ no other reat"re so "g#y as he$ And he ga(ed in the g#ass$ 1eneath the s"r'a e *ere $ $ $ i.ages $ $ $ s*i..ing in "rrents o' shado* and #ight$ He sa* ha#',shapes and 'rag.ents $ $ $ hideo"s .en) e7oti beasts $ $ $ sa* b#"e *or#ds o' *ater) sa* *hite *or#ds o' i e $ $ $ it *as a## so !ag"e and "nrea#4yet so.eho* strange#y 'a.i#iar$ Deeper he peered) b"t) as his .ang#ed 'a e neared) the s"n s.ote the poo# and the shapes disappeared$ The br"te pa*ed the gro"nd and) drea.ing he%d dro*ned) shoo- his head sharp#y and s#o*#y #oo-ed ro"nd3 There *ere star#ings at ar.%s,#ength) trans'i7ed *ith s"spense) their tai# 'eathers tre.b#ing) their dar- eyes intense$ /antai#s and ti.ber *o#!es) stepping in syn ) pa"sed 'or a sni'' and stooped 'or a drin-$ 1ees) piro"etting) thre* #ight in his eyes$ Sei(ing the .o.ent) the poo# pressed its ho#d$ And the g#ade re!o#!ed$ The thing *at hed it spin4sa* the 'erns% greedy 'ingers rea h ro"nd and #ose in) sa* the ta## grass rise high in an e.era#d sheen) s*aying to rhyth.s 'ro. so.e*here obs ene$ This p#a e *as .adness+ he str"gg#ed to stand) b"t) *ea- as he *as) -ee#ed o!er o#d$ And the g#ade hea!ed a sigh) and the ta## grass re #ined4in "rio"s patterns on e rendered in *hi.$ /ar o'' in th"nder the hard *or#d rep#ied) as i ed pines e7p#oded and s rea.ed on the bree(e$ Do*n bore the s"n) a hi## &"st behind$ The poo#) gro*n b#ood,red) 'ended 'rost 'ro. its ri.$ Detai#s disso#!ed in the on o.ing tide$ The poo# be a.e b#a -$ Night seeped thro"gh the trees$ No* '#ora 'o"nd s#".ber *hi#e) p"#sing be#o*) the poo# *as in'"sed *ith a so't r"by g#o*$ Soon birds bearing bee h #ea!es) and need#es o' pine) dropped hi. a spread and ret"rned to the #i.b$ 1"t breath 'ro. the North b#e* their b#an-et aside$ The *ind gre* in earnest+ the air see.ed to 'ree(e$ And the *o#' and the she,bear) o' ontrary .ind) abhorring their tas- approa hed) #oo-ing gri.$ They sni''ed hi. 'or .eas"re) then) #oathing his hide) gro*#ed their disp#eas"re and dropped to their -nees$ A## night these g#". attendants #ay against his 8"a-ing 'or.$ The rising .oon dre* drea.s in gray$

In ti.e the .an gre* *ar.$ Morning s*ept thro"gh the g#ade in one broad stro-e o' the .aster%s br"sh) dapp#ing the 'o#iage *ith a.ber and rose$ The poo# *as ro"sed by the s*eet pass o' #ight$ He opened his eye and the g#ade a.e a#i!e3 into the *hir#poo# o' #i'e a tho"sand o#ors s*a.) hasing the s attering eddies o' night$ The .agi o' .orning began$ 1#"ebird and go#d'in h des ended in rings) pri.aries #ashing *ith robin and &ay$ Do##ops o' s"n) repe##ed by their *ings) spattered ane* on the pa#ette o' day$ 1an-ing as one) the h"es str" a*ay$ There *as a ro*d$ And in this ro*d that reat"re sat) its hin on its hest) its rear pointing *est$ Its 'orepa*s #ay #i'e#ess) "pt"rned and o"t,pressed$ 9o.it and b#ood .essed its ."((#e and breast$ Died o!ernight$ Or perhaps on#y do(ed $ $ $ tendri# by tendri#) #a* by #a*) the ro*d de o.pressed3 the ring s#o*#y #osed$ And the stranger ried o"t and shi'ted his seat$ His eyes so"ght his 'eet4rounding the arches, and topping the toes, the tall grass was questing$ The #itt#e br"te 'ro(e$ And the 'a"na too- pa"se) and the '#ora *ent s#a -$ :ea!es 'o##o*ed ta#ons) ste.s 'o##o*ed #a*s$ Hoo!es tro.ped on pa*s as the ro*d dri'ted ba -$ Not a breath ta-en$ Not a .o!e .ade$ Sti##ness) #i-e 'og) en!e#oped the g#ade$ And the grass t"gged his 'eet) and the sea o' &ade sp#ayed4#e't hand and right) the s#ender sha'ts reared$ 5aining .o.ent".) b#ade 'o##o*ed b#ade$ The green 'ie#d *as torn ti## a deep s*ath appeared$ The s*ath h"rt#ed *est) re'#e ting the s"n$ A h"ndred yards distant it died$ On e .ore the grass stood) its tips spreading *ide$ The s*ath) born again) repeated its r"n$ ;#ain *as the .essage) and #ear#y on!eyed$ Sti## the ne* o.er ga*-ed $ $ $ a*-*ard se onds ens"ed$ The ta## b#ades *ere s*ayed by the p"#se o' the g#ade$ 1"t the s*ath *as not rene*ed$ So.ething tiny bo"n ed by$ He !ent"red a pee-) bare#y ro##ing an eye$ A ho o#ate sparro*) *ith pin'eathers b#a -) popped past an an-#e and pa"sed to #oo- ba -$ The bird o -ed its head) ro -ed in p#a e) hopped ahead$ It '#"ttered$ It 'rea-ed$ It g#ared and stopped dead$ Then) !e7ed to its #i.it) it b"rst into '#ight$ The sitting thing stared ti## it passed o"t o' sight$ No* a bree(e bent his ba -) pi -ed hi. ha#' o'' his stern$ The *ind) done its best) gre* '#"stered at #ast$ It trai#ed to the *est) thri##ing #i#ies as it passed$ It *o"nd ro"nd the *i##o*s and didn%t ret"rn$ And the 'a"na repaired to the #i!e oa-%s shade$ A strange -ind o' st"por 'e## o!er the g#ade$ /ro. deep in the *ood a.e a shape thro"gh the trees4a pronghorn) perhaps) or an e#- s*i't and s"re$ 1"t "p #i.ped a .oose) a '#yport *ith '"r) #o* in the be##y and *ide at the -nees$ Wi(ened he *as) s ar e#y ab#e to see$ Neither !ision) nor !igor) nor !e#!et had he$ He hobb#ed abreast) then #ay do*n or died) his nose 'a ing *est) his tai# '#"ng aside$ The br"te .ere#y g#a(ed4b"t the g#ade *as "n'a(ed3 The #ong sha'ts resh"''#ed) a tense .o.ent passed) and the o.ino"s shado*s o' badgers *ere ast$ Three #e't their ho#es) as i' to atta -$ They peda#ed #i-e .o#es and the stranger &".ped ba -$ He st".b#ed) 'e## '#ai#ing) and) -i -ing his g"ide) thre* o"t his ar.s and t".b#ed astride$ /irst he stepped on his tai#) then he stepped on his pride$ The .oose be##o*ed t*i e and shoo- side to side) *hi#e the #itt#e pest #"ng to his high) ho.e#y hide$ And the snar#ing .oose rose to his -nees by degrees$ He ree#ed #i-e a dr"n- do*n the path o' the bree(e$ Together they #"r hed thro"gh a brea- in the trees$ And a## .orning #ong) and on thro"gh the day) both beggar and bearer *o"#d b" -#e and s*ay$ The .oose #ost his te.per) b"t ne!er his *ay$

And the *ind b#e* the s"n to its deep r"by rest) *hi#e the s r"b) in obeisan e) in #ined to the *est$ Their s#o* ta''y shado* in s"n'a## *o"#d see. to s#ip ro"nd the ro -s #i-e a sna-e in a drea.$ And the s"n be a.e a bea on) and the "nderbr"sh a strea.$ The *ide earth too- their *eight in stride) and the *ind na.ed hi. Hero$

World
When the s"n *as #o* the o#d .oose began to st".b#e$ They had o.e "pon a s*i't ri!er #ined *ith st"nted pines) and here the .oose #i.ped to a ha#t) e7pe ting a so.e*hat gra e'"# dis.o"nt$ 1"t Hero) by no* d"g in #i-e a ti -) *asn%t abo"t to #et go$ The .oose bent his -nees "nti# his &oints ob&e ted$ He shi..ied) b" -ed) and *ith a s"dden *hir# sent his rider '#ying$ Hero s raped hi.se#' o"t o' the dirt and #oo-ed "p 'or#orn#y$ The an ient .oose) his good eye gone bad) g#ared a #ong .in"te be'ore hobb#ing o''+ his bony r".p ro -ing *ith dignity) his s ragg#y tai# 'ighting o'' i.aginary '#ies$ Hero .anaged a 'e* steps and dropped to his -nees) staring in disbe#ie' as the .oose disappeared bet*een pines$ And he re.ained on his -nees 'or the #ongest ti.e) gaping) *aiting 'or the .oose4*aiting 'or anything to sho*$ At #ast a r" -"s to his #e't snapped hi. o"t o' it$ His head rat heted ro"nd) an in h per not h$ /i'teen 'eet o'' the ban-) three s rea.ing g"##s *ere 'ighting o!er a rapids,tossed sa#.on$ Hero *as instant#y 'a.ished$ He *obb#ed to his 'eet and st".b#ed t*i e *ading o"t) on#y regaining his ba#an e by #eaning against the "rrent and rapid#y *hee#ing his ar.s$ The g"##s ba -ed o'' shrie-ing as he stepped in s#o*,.otion thro"gh the r"shing *ater$ Hero s#ipped *hi#e #"nging at the s#apping 'ish) ra -ed an an-#e on the ro -s) and hopped aro"nd ho*#ing *ith the agony$ One 'oot *as as good as none in the 'ast *ater$ He *ent right "nder$ 1e'ore he -ne* it he *as being s*ept do*nri!er$ This *as g#a ia# .e#t*ater) so o#d he 8"i -#y be a.e hypother.i $ He s*a##o*ed a .o"th'"# and s"r'a ed 'ighting 'or #i'e+ too disoriented to right hi.se#' in the *ater) too n".b to rea#i(e his *a!ing ar. had been stri-ing so.ething so#id$ That so#id so.ething t"rned o"t to be a s*ir#ing #".p o' rotted bir hes tang#ed "p in s r"b$ Hero e.bra ed one o' the tr"n-s as the .ass s#a..ed against ro -s) -i -ed his 'eet *i#d#y) and so.eho* ha"#ed hi.se#' aboard$ The ra't ri o heted ro - to ro - "nti# the repeated i.pa ts sent it spinning$ 5iddy 'ro. the *hir#ing and soa-ing) Hero #"ng 'ree(ing to the trees) ret hing ontin"o"s#y *hi#e the ri!er roared in his ears$ Thro"gh spray and tears he sa* on#y art*hee#ing 'rag.ents o' the *or#d$ 1"t then the ri!er *as *idening) its '"ry dissipating$ The ra't *as approa hing the sea$ Hero gasped as the see.ing#y bo"nd#ess ;a i'i s*a##o*ed the broad red be##y o' the s"n$ And *hi#e he sp"n he *as treated to a panora.i ) breathta-ing i.age3 the great indigo o ean *ith its s#o* tra''i o' dri't*ood and i e) !oi ed,o!er by the dis.a# a##s o' 'oraging g"##s and terns) and rhyth.i a##y bro-en by inter.ittent g#i.pses o' the ri!er%s ro -y ban-s gro*ing 'arther and 'arther apart$ Whir#ing as it *ent) the disintegrating ra't *as ta-en by the sea$ At the <=th ;ara##e# in *inter) the ;a i'i oast p#ays host to n".ber#ess '#oes and .inor bergs orphaned 'ro. the 1ering and Ch"- hi$ Hero r"ised into a *atery grid#o - on an i e,g#a(ed bir h boat) one bit o' '#otsa. a.ong the rest$ The o#d *o"#dn%t #et hi. .o!e) *o"#dn%t #et hi. breathe) *o"#dn%t #et hi. thin-$ He #ay s"pine) 'eet rossed and hands #asped) terri'ied that to b"dge *as to ro##$ An i e patina gre* o!er the tang#ed trees #i-e a *hite '"ng"s3 the gro*th soon *ebbed his 'ingers and toes+ it spe -#ed his hest and thighs) g#a(ed his hair and 'a e) dan ed and disintegrated *ith his breath%s tapering p#".es$

/#oes and 'ro(en,o!er debris tended to gro"p *ith passing o##isions+ Hero%s .arried bir hes bit by bit a r"ed a .ost#y,s"b.erged tang#e o' tr"n-s and bran hes) a## be o.ing 'ast in a reeping i e e.ent$ Night a.e on &"st as reso#"te#y) "nti# #and *as on#y a '#at b#a - .e.ory$ The ra't .o!ed si#ent#y o!er the deep) sti## a epting the o asiona# gent#e o##ision$ And the '#oes be a.e thi -er and *ider in a 'ree(ing do#dr".s+ soon the pro7i.ate sea *as a## a bro-en 'ie#d o' pa -ed i e) bobbing in'initesi.a##y *ith the p#anet%s p"#se$ :ong strands o' ghost#y 'og a.e striding o!er the torn i e 'ie#d$ They #eaned this *ay and that) their .o"rners% s-irts tearing and pat hing and #eaning ane*$ The ghosts *ere there to sea# it3 their #o -ed 'ingers and gray diaphano"s *ings 8"i -#y be a.e a *ho##y opa8"e des ending shro"d) its bo"ndaries #ost in the so"ghing *ind$ Co##isions a.e #ess and #ess$ Dar-ness and si#en e) brea hing so.e pre!io"s#y i.per.eab#e barrier) grad"a##y too- "p residen e in the dying .an%s .arro*$ /ro. Hero%s !ery enter bro-e a *ea#itt#e ry o' re'"sa#) o' denia#) as .ind ."stered 'ra.e 'or one desperate s"rge at 'reedo.$ His s-in) 'ro(en to the ra't) pee#ed right o'' the '#esh be#o*) and at that his '#agging so"# s" ".bed$ Hero%s s.ashed head ar hed ba - and his 'a e ontorted 'right'"##y *hi#e the #itt#e #a.p '#"ttered and pa#ed *ithin$ A ra" o"s hor"s s#o*#y b"t s"re#y *or-ed its *ay thro"gh the .ist$ It *as a 'e* h"ndred yards o''4a tiny) terri'ied bar-ing) gro*ing in #arity as it gre* in !o#".e and "rgen y$ It *as a so"nd bea on+ Hero strained eager#y) and *hen 'or one e7 r" iating .in"te it *as "t o'' by a #arge passing body he *as ertain death had #ai.ed hi.$ Then it *as ba -) and his p"#se *as 8"i -ening$ In a bit there a.e a hea!ing so"nd3 so.ething *as .o!ing his *ay do*n a *ide trib"tary bet*een '#oes$ Hero o"#d hear a gasping and snorting) a o.panied by a hard s#apping and sp#ashing$ The so"nds !anished) and a 'e* se onds #ater the ra't *as ro -ed 'ro. be#o*$ A sp"ttering ."((#e b#e* sa#t in his eyes$ A o#d s#i.y '#ipper '#apped a ross his hest and s#apped abo"t his 'a e$ Whis-ers ra-ed his dead hee-$ The '"r sea# bar-ed t*i e) dire t#y in his ear$ A .o.ent #ater it had s#ipped ba - be#o* the s"r'a e$ Hero #istened to the sp#ashing so"nd retreating *hen e it a.e$ The sea# s*a. o'' perhaps a h"ndred 'eet) stopped) and began bar-ing hysteri a##y$ /ro. ." h 'arther o'' a.e a hai# o' ans*ering bar-s$ The sea# s*a. ba - to Hero%s ra't ir #ing and a##ing) #o"der and .ore p#ainti!e#y *ith ea h ir "it) *hi#e the ans*erers approa hed en .asse$ No* a sa##o* bea. o"#d be seen "tting the 'og$ In a .in"te se!era# .ore sho*ed a#ong a p#ane ya*ing *ith so.e h"ge) bare#y dis ernib#e ob&e t%s rhyth.i a##y generated *a!es$ A herd o' northern '"r sea#s b"rst into sight) bar-ing .ad#y) beating thro"gh the i e$ They on!erged on Hero%s ra't) rea##y be##o*ing no*$ Those odd ye##o* bea.s a.e in p"rs"it) and soon the bea.s *ere #ose eno"gh to eeri#y i##".inate a giganti *ood !esse# parting the i e$ The sea#s bar-ed 'ero io"s#y$ Whene!er the !esse# #eaned a*ay) those nearest Hero%s ra't *o"#d abso#"te#y ho*#+ it *as a ba##s,o"t o.."nity ha##enge$ The 'og deepened) ondensed) rysta##i(ed4and then the #ight o' a do(en #anterns *as p#aying o!er a #o*) #isting night.are$ Hero heard the sho"ts o' .en$ 1"t rather than s atter) the *aterborne sea#s p"##ed onto the i e and redo"b#ed their din) so.e e!en 'ighting their *ay onto Hero%s ra't$ The sea#ers h"r#ed harpoons as they #a.bered do*n rope #adders$ When these .en rea hed the i e the sea#s snapped and gnashed .ad#y) re'"sing to be dis#odged$ The sea#ers #ost a## o.pos"re *ith the thri## o' the h"nt$ Wie#ding #"bs) spears) and hat hets4so.eti.es "sing iron b#"dgeons or any o#d "tensi# handed do*n4they r"shed s-"##s) dragged ar asses) and hoo-ed ani.a#s sti## sp"rting and b#eating$ C#inging tho"gh he *as) Hero *as '#abbergasted by the *ay the s#ipping and s a.pering .en *ent abo"t their b"t hery) ha -ing and s.ashing .ore *ith passion than *ith pre ision$ 1"t not one sea# atte.pted to '#ee$ Thro"gho"t the arnage they bar-ed a## the #o"der) as tho"gh egging on their s#ayers4 ar ass by ar ass they dre* the sea#ers to Hero%s i e,#o -ed ra't$ It *as a## so ha(y and .a abre$ Hero%s eyes ro##ed ba -) and the ne7t thing he -ne* he *as sitting h"n hed on the !esse#%s sopping de -$ T*o .en *ere r"bbing his #i.bs *hi#e another po"red *ar.

*ater do*n his ba -$ He #oo-ed aro"nd in sho -$ The !ery notion o' a boat ontaining .ore than one or t*o indi!id"a#s4a sort o' '#oating tribe4*as *ay beyond his -en+ so to see it) to ha!e it o.e #oo.ing o"t o' nothingness) *as an e7perien e a#.ost s"pernat"ra#$ He re.e.bered so.e o' those '"r, o!ered .en 'or e,'eeding hi. .o"th'"#s o' ha#ib"t and sea# 'at) and he re a##ed a s.a## gro"p standing aro"nd hi. sho"ting *ords that .ade no sense$ A'ter that he had a !ery !i!id .e.ory o' their angry #itt#e hie' repeated#y p"n hing hi. *hi#e sho"ting one angry #itt#e *ord o!er and o!er and o!er$ Hero o"#dn%t .a-e o"t his in8"isitor%s 'a e) 'or the #arge 'eather,#ined hood 8"ite eng"#'ed the .an%s head) yet he o"#d see those 8"i - eyes '#ash as they a"ght the oi# #a.ps% #ight$ /ina##y this .an stopped bo7ing Hero%s ear$ He stared hard$ In these re.aining de ades o' the tenth ent"ry it *as '"##y *ithin his po*er to ad.inister as he sa* 'it3 he o"#d ha!e ordered Hero%s i..ediate e7e "tion and not a .an o' his re* *o"#d ha!e ob&e ted$ He hesitated on#y be a"se there *asn%t a hint o' resistan e in his prisoner%s pin hed and 'rightened eyes$ He #eaned 'or*ard and st"died the *o"nd that a## b"t sp#it Hero%s 'a e in t*o) then gr"nted) raised his right ar.) and yan-ed do*n its sea# hide s#ee!e$ Atta hed to the st".p o' his 'orear. *as a pri.iti!e prosthesis) onsisting o' a thi - oa- ap strapped to the ar. *ith #engths o' g"t) and) ha..ered s8"are#y into the enter o' that ap) a broad) r"e##y hoo-ed b#ade hise#ed 'ro. a nar*ha#%s t"s-$ He he#d this *eapon in 'ront o' Hero%s eyes) tra ed the s a#p%s deep diagona# ri't) and on e .ore de.anded the apti!e%s identity$ Hero then !ag"e#y re.e.bered being dragged a#ong the ti#ting de and thro*n into the ship%s tiny ho#d$ He retained a strong .enta# i.age o' #anding in a p#a e o' ."sty odors and dan- pro&e tions$ There *as a so't s "''#ing in the dar-ness) and present#y a b#ind and e7 eeding#y o#d *o.an 'e#t her *ay to his side) .".b#ing as she approa hed$ Her spee h *as o.prised not o' *ords+ it *as rather a r"nning gibberish o' ooing !o*e#s and #" -ing onsonants$ The o#d *o.an *as as .ad as her ir ".stan es+ si - *ith sea and so#it"de) bede!i#ed by age and on'ine.ent$ She sat ross,#egged and patted her *ithered pa#.s "p his ar. "nti# she a.e to his 'a e$ Her strange .".b#ing so#i#o8"y rose and 'e## in pit h as her bony 'ingers dainti#y e7p#ored the ne*#y,opened *o"nd$ Hero #et his head 'a## ba - in her #ap$ The e.a iated tarant"#as o' her hands s "rried thro"gh the 'i#th and tiny bodies "nti# they a.e "pon an o#d otter pe#t bag that he#d her se rets$ The *o.an #oosened the bag%s ord and e7tra ted an assort.ent o' herbs) sni''ing ea h in s" ession$ She then s ooped a hand'"# o' b#"bber 'ro. a bo*# .ade o' a pre!io"s o "pant%s s-"##) -neaded the se#e ted herbs into the b#"bber) and o..en ed gent#y .assaging the *o"nd) #" -ing and ooing *hi#e the b#a - rats *at hed and *aited$ /or nine #ong days Hero re.ained in that o#d) stin-ing o.part.ent) ro -ing ba - and 'orth bet*een #i'e and death$ The o#d *o.an ne!er ga!e "p on hi.$ She #"ng to hi. d"ring his sei("res$ She r"bbed his #i.bs !igoro"s#y *hen his b#ood press"re 'e##$ She gathered !ario"s a "."#ated s-ins and) "sing *o!en strands o' her o*n #ong hair) se*ed hi. a ."#ti#ayered) body,#ength *raparo"nd *ith ar. s#ee!es and !ery deep po -ets) *or-ing by to" h *ith a need#e 'or.ed o' a od%s rib$ 1y this sa.e .ethod she *as ab#e to 'ashion a pair o' sn"g,'itting .o asins$ The o#d *o.an .ade hi. eat+ she .asti ated the od and ha#ib"t their -eepers pit hed into the ho#d) then sho!ed the res"#ts do*n his throat *ith a #ong gnar#y 'ore'inger$ She a##ed into his s rea.ing night.ares) ta#-ing hi. o"t o' s#eep and ba - into their 'o"# #itt#e rea#ity$ Together they #o*ed in the dar-) *hi#e the -ee# groaned a#ong and the *a!es beat ti.e$ At the end o' those dar- nine days his strength *as restored) b"t not his .ind$ On e again he *as ta-en on de -$ The !esse# had rea hed a hain o' re.ote *ind,s*ept is#ets) ro -y and tree#ess) na-ed e7 ept 'or pat hy arpets o' hardy grass$ These is#ets stret hed 'ar to the *est) shro"ded in .ist$ The ship *as .a-ing 'or the s.a##est+ &"st a hip on the sea$ When they rea hed depth 'or an horage Hero *as h"st#ed into a ro*boat and #o*ered o!er the side$ He #oo-ed "p) sa* t*o .en #i.bing do*n by rope$ These .en positioned the.se#!es at the oars and s#o*#y ro*ed to*ard the is#et$ Hero) seated bet*een

the.) 'e#t #i-e a .an being #ed to his e7e "tion$ He sn" - a pee-$ The ro*ers% heads *ere #o*ered and their 'eat"res o.p#ete#y obs "red by the hea!y 'eathered hoods+ they had a## the so.berness o' pa##bearers$ Not a *ord passed bet*een the. as they rigid#y p"##ed at their oars+ the on#y so"nd *as the dip and p"r# o' *ood in *ater$ Hero #oo-ed a*ay$ Against his *i##) he 'o"nd his eyes dra*n to that ro -y is#et *aiting in the 'og$ There *as not a bird) not a sea #ion) not a shr"b$ It *as #oneso.e beyond i.agination$ On e they *ere #anded one o' the .en "sed the point o' a spear to prod Hero ashore$ Whi#e his o.panion steadied the boat) he re.o!ed a s-in sa - '"## o' ha#','ro(en ha#ib"t) 'o##o*ed by a 'e* ar.#oads o' pre io"s tinder$ These arti #es he tossed at Hero%s 'eet$ He res".ed his p#a e at the oars and) *itho"t #oo-ing ba -) "sed the b#"nt end o' his spear to sho!e o''$ Hero stared in disbe#ie'$ He *at hed the boat .o!ing a*ay) *at hed the .en #i.bing their ropes) *at hed the boat being ha"#ed aboard$ As the .ysterio"s !esse# re eded he sa* a n".ber o' those si#ent .en standing at the stern) sto#id#y ret"rning his stare$ Their hooded 'or.s gre* s.a##er and s.a##er) 'ina##y be o.ing indistin t$ The !esse# *as s*a##o*ed by 'og$ He #oo-ed aro"nd) at a deso#ate *or#d o' ro - and dri'ting i e$ In the s"n#ess poo#s at his 'eet a 'e* p"rp#ish) '#a id sea ane.ones *ere *a!ing in a si -#y phosphores en e) and a#ong the ro -s ran a tattered 8"i#t o' *i#d grass and #i hen$ It *as the end o' the *or#d$ He began to pa e in his an7iety) on#y to r".p#e) bit by bit) inside his '"rs$ At #ast he &"st sat *ith his 'a e b"ried in his ar.s and *ept$ When he o"#d *eep no .ore he raised his head and opened his red) s*o##en eyes$ There *ere g"##s a## aro"nd hi.) staring #i-e stat"ary in a .ad.an%s garden$ Standing in their .idst *ere a"-s and p"''ins and ."rres) abso#"te#y spe##bo"nd) "nab#e to #ean a*ay$ The si#en e *as bro-en on#y by a *i#d) 'it'"##y p"rsing *ind4a *ind that see.ed) eeri#y) on the !erge o' prod" ing sy##ab#es$ And on that *ind a '#o - o' terns *as rising s#o*#y) a## its beady eyes 'i7ed on the #one sitting .an$ The terns *at hed as he tre.b#ed) and #eered as he s*ooned$ Then) beating as one) they thre* ba - their *ings and b#e* into the s"n$ There *as a b#a(e$ 1ehind that b#a(e a pair o' b#a -) b"g,#i-e eyes .et his and i..ediate#y *ithdre*$ A ta## .an stood abr"pt#y) dra*ing spar-s$ The A#e"t gathered his '"rs and peered 8"eer#y into the i y ;a i'i ) his raggy pro'i#e .erging sea.#ess#y *ith a &".b#e o' ro -s sho*ing &"st beyond his sho"#der$ The .an *as !ery ta##) #oser to se!en 'eet than to si7) and thin a#.ost to e.a iation$ He *as a#so a ."te$ Soon eno"gh he *o"#d disp#ay a ta#ent 'or o.."ni ation thro"gh g"tt"ra#s) b"t no* his body #ang"age spo-e #o"der than *ords$ It to#d the shi!ering stranger that he *as not on#y dis#i-ed4he *as 'eared$ The A#e"t -i##ed the 'ire and re.o!ed the hides he%d pi#ed on the s#eeping .an$ The is#ander prod" ed a bone a*# and strategi a##y pier ed a aribo" hide) draped the hide o!er the o#d *o.an%s handi*or-) and ran a ord o' tight#y *o!en tendons ross*ise thro"gh his .ade ho#es) -notting it at the botto. to reate a -ind o' #oa-$ He then heaped *ood) 'ish) and re.aining hides into Hero%s ar.s and #ed hi. to a tiny o!e *here his #ong s-in anoe #ay in the grass$ This *as not the one,.an kayak "sed by his peop#e 'or ent"ries) b"t an a t"a# anoe .ode#ed on the gra e'"# !esse#s he%d obser!ed "nder the ontro# o' northern oasta# tribes.en$ A'ter dragging this anoe into the *ater he per hed Hero in the 'ore) p#a ed the argo in the .idd#e) and stepped into the rear #i-e a ga"nt '"rry spider$ The A#e"t d"g o"t a padd#e and began p"##ing *ith s.ooth stro-es o' s"rprising ."s "#arity) his b#a - eyes trained on his 8"iet o.panion%s ba -$ So began their #ong is#and,hopping &o"rney$ They stepped the hain one stone at a ti.e) #i!ing o'' the sea$ 1"t ." h as the A#e"t dis#i-ed Hero%s !apid o.pany) it *as not in the is#ander%s nat"re to pro eed e7peditio"s#y+ his peop#e) re.ote as they *ere) had #earned to o"nt not in days b"t in

generations$ So the A#e"t too- his ti.e$ He sho*ed his d"## passenger ho* to b"i#d she#ters o' s-in and g"t) and d"ring bad *eather the t*o *o"#d sit on an is#and in "tter si#en e *hi#e rain ha..ered on their stret hed sea#,intestine *indo*$ And one !ery #ear night the is#ander pointed o"t onste##ations and atte.pted to de.onstrate) "sing broad gest"res) &"st ho* the brighter hea!en#y bodies *ere) not so oin identa##y) in per'e t a#ign.ent *ith the A#e"tians$ Hero 'o##o*ed his g"ide%s gest"res as a pet 'o##o*s its .aster%s .o!e.ents and) #i-e a pet) soon be a.e bored$ The A#e"t did not gro* '#"stered$ He gre* e!er .ore *ary3 behind that granite) *eather,beaten e7terior s8"ir.ed a !ery pri.iti!e i.agination$ And the is#ander) s"perstitio"s as he *as) *as a#.ost ertain Hero o"#d read his .ind$ So one ti.e) and one ti.e on#y) he tested his s"spi ion *ith a searing ga(e to the ba - o' Hero%s bo*ed and #isting head$ A'ter a #ong .in"te o' !igoro"s tho"ght,pro&e tion he shi'ted his ga(e aside$ The br"te appeared to 'ee# this shi't) and too gent#y t"rned his head$ And both sa* the o ean brearhyth.) and *at hed as otters and sea #ions s"r'a ed) obser!ed their progress) and s#ipped *itho"t tre.or beneath the *a!es$ In spring the 'ogs #i'ted$ The gri.ness ga!e *ay to serenity3 on the is#ets grass gre* #"sh#y) *i#d'#o*ers #eapt on the as"a# eye$ A genero"s s"n b"ttered the dapp#ing sea$ And the ba - o' the is#ander%s ne - it hed3 he t"rned to see a '#o - o' ar ti terns as"a##y tra -ing the. "nder a gorgeo"s) *hite,p#".ed s-y$ As the day progressed the terns a.e dri'ting abo!e and r"ised a bit$ They s#o*#y p"##ed ahead$ The A#e"t s8"inted against the #ight3 ne!er had he obser!ed these birds to p"rs"e a *ester#y .igratory pattern$ The terns *ere distrib"ting the.se#!es into a ro"gh *edge shape) ." h #i-e geese on the *ing$ /or a ti.e the A#e"t #et the '#o - be his g"ide$ Then) to test his stars) he s"bt#y dire ted his anoe north$ At on e the *edge disintegrated$ Not "nti# he had #o*ered his eyes and p"##ed p"rpose'"##y to the *est did the disr"pted pattern reassert itse#'$ He peered "p ti.id#y$ The *edge *as no* in the shape o' a per'e t arro*head$ >"st so *ere the 'ates o' .ariners and a!iators ine7tri ab#y ent*ined$ At night) on e the A#e"t had #anded his anoe "pon the nearest pear#) the terns *o"#d #ight in a 8"iet ir #e and re.ain "nti# s"nrise$ As the A#e"t and Hero too- to sea) the '#o - *o"#d grad"a##y 'or. that sa.e a"thoritati!e pattern$ In ti.e the A#e"t padd#ed his o.panion #ear to the *estern.ost is#ands o' the A#e"tian hain$ His peop#e had d*e#t) e!en here) a tho"sand years and .ore) b"t no onte.porary is#ander -ne* 'or ertain *hat #ay beyond$ :egend to#d o' an enor.o"s #and .ass 'ore!er gripped by o#d) *here a r"e# peop#e *ay#aid inno ent sea'arers 'or barbari sa ri'i ia# rites$ So here the A#e"t pa"sed$ 1"t e!en as he !a i##ated he noti ed the terns *ere !eering so"th$ I' the A#e"t had been ab#e to "rse a#o"d he *o"#d ha!e been !o i'ero"s$ He *as being o.pe##ed to 'o##o* an e!en #ess desirab#e o"rse4that o' the "n-no*n open o ean$ No* he #oo-ed "pon his passenger%s h"n hed ba - not *ith 'ear b"t *ith #oathing$ He too- a deep breath) ro##ed his sho"#ders) and de'iant#y ontin"ed *est$ The *edge bro-e "p i..ediate#y$ The terns ir #ed and p#"nged) ir #ed and p#"nged$ So.ething h"ge bro-e s"r'a e behind the.) b"t the A#e"t *as *ay too 'rayed to t"rn$ He #o*ered his head) a beaten .an) and began padd#ing so"th$ :itt#e by #itt#e the birds ret"rned to 'or.ation$ The tiny anoe had no b"siness going "p against the .ighty ;a i'i $ It *o"#d soon ha!e been s*a##o*ed and s.ashed had not the terns !eered as one *hene!er the o.ing sea appeared too ro"gh$ On e he%d #ost his bearings the A#e"t 'o##o*ed their .o!e.ents re#igio"s#y) and soon the sea%s bo"nty a## b"t #eapt in the anoe) and the days began to *ar.$ It see.ed he *as 'ore!er at hing the 'inest "rrents+ pra ti a##y s#iding do*n a orridor entire#y 'ree o' peri#$ In this .anner he *as ab#e to sa'e#y na!igate *aters no s" h ra't had .astered be'ore$ They *ere no* pro eeding so"th by so"th*est$ The going be a.e easier by the day) and the sea hea!ier *ith od$ The *eather ontin"ed to *ar.$ At night the A#e"t dri'ted o.'ortab#y) b"t a #i'eti.e o' *ariness .ade hi. *a-e o'' and on$ ;a##id in .oon#ight) he%d s#o*#y rise to 'ind Hero

sitting rapt#y "nder the stars$ And he%d see) not so 'ar ahead) a #arge dar- body neat#y p#eating the o ean%s p#ane$ The shape *o"#d pre ede the. a *hi#e) on#y to !anish *itho"t a ripp#e$ A## this strangeness had the A#e"t *ho##y &a -ed) tho"gh he too- pains to .aintain his poise$ To a##ay his 'ear he -ept a '#at b#a - stone p#anted s8"are#y bet*een the.$ It *as his o#dest treas"re+ an oddity he%d ta-en o'' the body o' a .a"#ed T#ingit *o.an *hen he *as a hi#d$ Who she *as) and ho* she%d o.e by the stone) *ere .ysteries 'ar beyond hi.) 'or no s" h pie e had e!er been -no*n to A#e"t or In"-$ The stone *as s.ooth and had been *or-ed per'e t#y ro"nd$ There *ere '#e -s o' bright ye##o* s attered abo"t its d"## b#a - 'a e$ :ong ago so.eone had et hed a 8"aint and #".sy r"ne on that '#at b#a - s"r'a e$ It *as the r"de) "ni!ersa# sy.bo# 'or s"n3 a broad ir #e s"rro"nded by se!era# rays$ When the stone *as r"bbed against a pe#t it had the "rio"s property o' gro*ing 8"ite *ar. and bright in the r"ne%s groo!es) *hi#e the s"r'a e re.ained oo# and d"##$ This stone) both 'riend and o!er#ord) had a#*ays ?spo-en to hi.$@ It a"sed hi. to be o.e rest#ess *hen it *as ti.e to .o!e) and a##o*ed hi. to re#a7 *hen a destination had been rea hed$ In this *ay he%d o.e to the 'a.i#iar is#et and dis o!ered the "n ons io"s #itt#e .an$ >"st so3 the stone) he *as s"re) *as responsib#e 'or .a-ing hi. ?'ee# bad@ as he *at hed the stranger shi!er) and ?'ee# better@ on e he%d b"i#t hi. a *ar.ing 'ire 'ro. the s.a## pi#e o' tinder he%d 'o"nd nearby$ 1y no*) ho*e!er) the A#e"t *as '"##y disen hanted *ith his stone) and deep#y regretted ha!ing done its .ysterio"s bidding$ Ne!er be'ore had he been so #ong 'ro. sight o' #and) and ne!er be'ore had he 'e#t so !ery) !ery s.a##$ The "ni.agined i..ensity o' the ;a i'i *as rea##y beginning to &ang#e his &e*e#s *hen) a'ter a## their *hi#e at sea) a gray) sed" ti!e ha(e bro-e the hori(on$ They had rea hed another hain o' is#ands3 the dar- and s.o-y A"ri#s$ Here a o#d "rrent -ept the #i.ate oo# and 'oggy) and the hi##) a#ong *ith the pre!a#en e o' otter and sea#) he#ped .a-e the A#e"t 'ee# a#.ost at ho.e$ 1"t this hain ga!e hi. the reeps+ he -ne* he *as a trespasser so.e*here so.eho* sa red$ There *as a #oo.ing 8"a#ity to the is#and .o"ntains that .ade hi. e7traordinari#y a*are o' his transien e) his pettiness) his p"niness$ He gre* .ore and .ore a"tio"s) sure their progress *as being .onitored$ And he o"#d ha!e s*orn he sa* shapes padding persistent#y bet*een the trees$ The big is#ands *at hed breath#ess#y3 a## a#ong the ro -y #i''s tho"sands o' a"-#ets and p"''ins 'o##o*ed the anoe in dead si#en e) their heads s#o*#y t"rning as one) their o"nt#ess tiny eyes peering red#y thro"gh the 'og$ As the days passed) the A#e"t%s dis ontent *as .ani'ested in ti s and sighs4*hen the s"n 'e##) the .o"ntains see.ed to rise right o"t o' the sea) as tho"gh to p#" - hi.$ E!ery day he *o"#d ringe *hen the red ri. began to disappear behind those b#a - !o# ani s"..its$ 1"t the .o"ntains) in a## their dignity) *o"#d a#*ays re'"se to a -no*#edge so .ee- a stranger) and ret"rn their eyes to sea$ The A#e"t *o"#d hang his head and ti.id#y padd#e by$ Then 'or se!era# days he p"##ed his *eary anoe *est4thro"gh a strait parting t*o .ighty is#ands not part o' the hain) and then e into a sea that *as a *ar.) enti ing bath$ Spring had o.e to the East Asian oasta# *aters) and the Ain") a#one and in gro"ps) *ere !ent"ring deeper in sear h o' in reasing bo"nty$ The A#e"t) absorbed in his tho"ghts o' s*eet #i.ate and bitter 'ate) *as "na*are they%d been spotted$ This 'irst .eeting bet*een strangers o' di''erent *or#ds *as a brie' and a*-*ard one$ A #one Ain" 'isher.an) seeing the A#e"t o.e padd#ing o"t o' the "n-no*n) dropped his net and t"rned to stone$ The A#e"t) 'or his part) instin ti!e#y 'ro(e *ith his body t"rned ha#',a*ay to .a-e the #eanest target possib#e$ Their stares #o -ed$ Ne!er had the A#e"t seen a 'a e so hea!i#y bearded) and ne!er hair so 'air$ The Ain" sho"ted at the top o' his #"ngs$ Other 'ishers appeared to the east) e''e ti!e#y "tting o'' the ;a i'i $ The A#e"t aressed his stone and #oo-ed to the s-y$ 1"t the *edge had !anished$ He p"t do*n his head and padd#ed 'or a## he *as *orth$ 1y the ti.e they *ere in sight o' shore the sea *as ridd#ed *ith *ater ra't$ No* a train o' s.a## boats ast o'' 'ro. the .ain#and) and a n".ber o' t*o,.an ora #e,#i-e t"bs sho*ed in the battered s-in anoe%s *a-e) their inhabitants a##ing ba - and 'orth in astonish.ent at the sight o' these

dar-) sa!age ne* o.ers$ 1"t the p"rs"ing #itt#e oasta# .en) banging e7 ited#y on the sides o' their boats) *ere not Ain"$ They had !ery straight b#a - hair) pro.inent hee-bones) and strange#y s#anted eyes$ And their spee h) odd#y .ar!e#o"s as it *as) *as a rapid series o' oos) hirps) and bar-s$ Their boats 'or.ed a se.i, ir #e aro"nd the anoe) 'or ing the A#e"t to approa h the .ain#and$ The #itt#e .en began banging their boats .ania a##y) *ith .ore &oining in as they neared shore$ A bit 'arther so"th *as a nat"ra# harbor s*ar.ing *ith 'ishing !esse#s o' e!ery des ription$ As the anoe *as 'or ed into this harbor) peop#e a#ong the ro -y oast began banging *hate!er they o"#d get their hands on) "nti# the air *as 'i##ed *ith their #"nati per "ssion$ Hero s.i#ed at the tiny bro*n .en r"nning a#ong a #i'' o!er#oo-ing the harbor$ He #a"ghed) hoarse#y) as heads popped o"t o' boats) and rea-ed to his 'eet in .i.i ry$ Their anoe *as s8"ee(ed bet*een a hain o' t"bs and the shore) and as it s#o*ed the te.po and 'ero ity o' the banging de reased a ording#y$ The anoe a.e to a ha#t) and the banging and sho"ting stopped$ The 'irst North A.eri an to set 'oot on Asian soi# stepped sha-i#y onto the ro -s$ There 'o##o*ed the pro'o"ndest si#en e i.aginab#e$ And a se ond #ater it *as as i' a da. had b"rst$ H"ndreds o' hysteri a#) ya..ering !oi es er"pted 'ro. h"ndreds o' hysteri a#) #inging .en and *o.en$ Hero *as sp"n and &ost#ed$ He *as handed a#ong$ He sa* their asto"nded) pin hed #itt#e 'a es$ The s"n) p"#sing bet*een their heads as he *as t"rned) repeated#y stabbed his eyes$ He heard an e7 ited o"tb"rst and 'ranti sp#ashing *hi h o"#d on#y ha!e been the A#e"t%s end) and then he *as so.eho* #i.ping a#ongside a pri.iti!e 'ishing !i##age) b#ind#y 'o##o*ing a narro* dirt path that h"gged the #i''%s base$ The *ar. spring s"n a"ght the d"st as he sha.b#ed$ Hero ro"nded a bend and stopped$ 1e'ore hi. stood ha#' a do(en gaping hi#dren) too 'as inated to r"n$ There *as a hatter and s "''#e behind hi.$ He s#o*#y t"rned to see that he *as no* in the .idst o' a s.a## ro*d o' these hi#dren) and that .ore *ere r"nning "p *ith ries o' a.a(e.ent$ A stone str" - his sho"#der$ As he t"rned ba - another g#an ed o'' his hest$ A .o.ent #ater he *as being pe#ted 'ro. a## sides) and the gigg#es and gasps had be o.e so.ething *i#d#y "nrea#$ He dropped to his -nees in a hai# o' pebb#es) o!ered his head *ith his ar.s and s#ithered "p the path on his be##y$ A ne* !oi e bro-e in+ an o#der) a"thoritati!e !oi e$ The hi#dren s a.pered o'' s8"ea#ing as Hero) sha-en to his 'eet) 'o"nd hi.se#' staring in the 'a e o' a di.in"ti!e) sho"ting) in o.prehensib#e o#d .an$ The o#d .an thre* his ar. aro"nd Hero%s *aist and) &abbering a## the *ay) #ed hi. to a se ondary path "t into the #i''%s so't ye##o* 'a e$ This path s#oped gent#y "p*ard o!er the *a!es$ Together they pi -ed their *ay to a p#a e .aybe ha#'*ay "p) *here the #i''%s 'a e *as honey o.bed *ith nat"ra# a# o!es and d"g,o"t a!es$ Most o' these spa es *ere "sed as one,.an she#ters+ a 'e*) "t deeper in the earth) as 'a.i#y hi!es$ Strange gabbing peop#e s#id o"t o' these ho#es #i-e *or.s) rea hing) b"t the #itt#e o#d .an) *ho *as e!ident#y a #itt#e o#d .an o' so.e .eans) e.bra ed his 'ind possessi!e#y and sho"ted the. ba - inside$ The path began to broaden and #i.b) and soon they%d rea hed the top3 this *as the "ps a#e end o' the neighborhood$ Hero *as #ed to a ho!e# nest#ed a.id do(ens o' si.i#ar ho!e#s) a## s attered aro"nd a dainty strea. *ending bet*een pat hes o' st"nted !egetation$ The o#d .an%s p#a e *as basi a##y a one,roo. h"t 'ashioned o' earth and sa#!aged boat h"##s) *ith a s#ender side,yard s"rro"nded by dry) d"sty hedges$ 1"t inside it *as #ean and tidy) *ith ri e paper partitioning and) b"i#t into the 'ar earthen *a##) a .iniat"re stone 'irep#a e$ The o#d .an sat his g"est in the e7a t enter o' the roo.$ There he 'ed hi. s raps 'ro. his bo*#) "sing #ong sti -s to p#" o"t bits o' 'ish and #".ps o' tiny) star hy *hite pe##ets$ He st"died the br"te #ose#y$ He *at hed hi. he*) *a#-ed ro"nd and ro"nd hi.$ He po-ed here$ He pin hed there$ And that night he #it a 'ire on his r"shed,she## hearth$

Hero) '"## b"t on'"sed) "r#ed "p on a .at and s8"in hed his body to a p#a e *here the gossip o' '#a.es o"#d rea h hi.$ Nearby) at his de#i ate *i -er tab#e) the o#d .an sat in se.i,dar-ness) i##".inated on#y 'ro. the *aist do*n$ 1"t his eyes *ere a#i!e$ They spat and darted as they re'#e ted the 'ire%s #ight) and) *hen at #ast they had beg"n to sp"tter) his s rat hy #itt#e !oi e a.e pattering o"t o' the dar-) ."ttering so.ething !i#e and odd#y .od"#ated) so.eti.es in a *hisper) so.eti.es in a gathering snar#$ Hero) 'eigning s#".ber) e!er and again a"ght the o.ino"s '#ash o' those pier ing s#anted eyes$ 1"t the roo. *as o(y) and the 'ire *ar.) and the p#ay o' #ight and shado* -i -ed s#eep in his eyes$ In the .orning he *o-e on his 'a e in the o#d .an%s side,yard) his head po"nding) a r"sty iron #a.p 'astened se "re#y aro"nd his ne -$ The #a.p *as atta hed to the o"ter #in- o' a r"de three,'oot hain) and the #in- at the other end o' this hain *as atta hed to a #ong sta-e dri!en into a bed o' so#id ro -$ The hain and sta-e) #i-e the #a.p) *ere ha..ered o' #o a# iron$ The #a.p *as too tight 'or o.'ortab#e s*a##o*ing) and the hain too short to .a-e standing possib#e$ Hero o"#d) ho*e!er) spread o"t on his hest and stret h an ar. to a #o* ro* o' hedges$ 1y parting the tang#ed "ndergro*th he had a #i.ited !ie* o' the 'ishing !i##age) and o' the harbor beyond$ As the days passed he *as ab#e to t*ea- hi.se#' a !ie* spa e that *as dis ernib#e on#y 'ro. his pe "#iar !antage$ He a o.p#ished this by gent#y brea-ing s.a## bran hes strategi a##y) then g"iding their interr"pted gro*th *ith the "t.ost tenderness$ It *as his se ret garden$ He had abso#"te#y no .e.ory4none *hatsoe!er4o' being sta-ed here$ Ob!io"s#y the o#d .an o"#dn%t ha!e set this "p o!ernight$ Hero%s .ind prodded ti.id#y $ $ $ ho* .any others had been hained to this spot) and *hy6 1"t o!er the s"bse8"ent *ee-s and .onths he *ent beyond aring$ E!ery day *as the sa.e3 &"st a'ter da*n the o#d .an *o"#d stor. into the tiny side,yard s*inging his reed *hip *i#d#y$ The #ashings *ere sa!age and re#ent#ess$ The o#d .an) e7 ept 'or his eyes) *as ."te$ On#y his *hip need spea-$ And the snap o' his reed had b"t one .essage3 *hen yo" see this *hip yo" go down) and yo" go do*n immediately$ The na-ed sa!age) s arred head to 'oot) #earned to go prostrate on the .o.ent$ E!en so) his -eeper o"#d not resist the te.ptation to ind"#ge in the o asiona# good o#d) a##,o"t '#ogging$ And a'ter ea h session he *o"#d toss his prisoner a !i#e .ess o' dead 'ish and garbage$ Hero #i!ed #i-e this 'or .any .onths) #ost in a on'"sed *or#d o' pain and anti ipation$ ;er!erse#y) he a.e to #oo- 'or*ard to the bite o' his .aster%s *hip) 'or) *hether he *hipped hi. in passion or &"st 'or sport) the o#d .an *as a#*ays s"re to .a-e it persona#$ It see.ed their re#ationship .ight go on 'ore!er$ 1"t one day there *as a great o..otion in the s#eepy #itt#e 'ishing !i##age$ Hero parted the bra.b#es and behe#d a s.a## train o' ob#ong oa hes at rest near the harbor$ :arge o7en yo-ed in pairs #o##ed bet*een the arriages) i.."ne to the #a.or aro"nd the.$ There *ere dar- shaggy horses and o#or'"##y dressed 1a trian a.e#s$ The horses and a.e#s *ere tethered in the rear) b"t *ere o asiona##y paraded aro"nd the arriages by #itt#e .en *ie#ding #ong painted ba.boo po#es$ The *ho#e a''air *as e7oti and .es.eri(ing) gypsyish and pro'ane$ Hero *at hed a## day in a.a(e.ent) in'e ted by the h"bb"b) tho"gh he *as tota##y .ysti'ied by the ro*d%s 'as ination on the arriages% 'ar side$ And #ate that a'ternoon he sa* his .aster o.e *a#-ing o"t o' the ro*d *ith another .an$ The t*o *ere ta#-ing heated#y$ The stranger *as shorter and broader than his .aster) *ith #ong stringy hair and #ong stringy .o"sta hes$ He sa* the. #i.bing the path) sa* the. ra*# inside a ho#e #ashing '"rio"s#y$ They *ere #ost 'ro. !ie* 'or a .in"te) then popped "p big as #i'e$ Hero g#o*ed as they approa hed$ He "r#ed "p eager#y$

The o#d .an and stranger a.e into the narro* side,yard sti## arg"ing$ The o#d .an grabbed Hero by the hair and t*isted "nti# he *as 'a ing the ne* o.er$ The stranger had oi#y) poro"s s-in) and a sharp b"t gra!e o"ntenan e$ His high#y s#anted eyes *ere bright and rest#ess$ He st"died Hero%s ."ti#ated 'a e *ith -een interest be'ore borro*ing the o#d .an%s reed to obser!e the rea tion$ When Hero instant#y "r#ed at his 'eet he gr"nted and ret"rned the reed$ The stranger p"##ed o"t so.ething shiny and he'ted it in his hand$ He then raised his other hand *hi#e onsidering Hero) as tho"gh *eighing hi. too$ The o#d .an%s eyes g#inted) and 'or an instant his e7pression be a.e grotes8"e#y ser!i#e$ The stranger and o#d .an 'a ed ea h other$ They nodded "rt#y) in "nison$ The stranger dropped the shiny thing into the o#d .an%s #osing hand$ The o#d .an *hipped Hero 'ranti a##y be'ore ta-ing a s.a## a7 to the hain$ A 'e* hard b#o*s sp#it a #in-) the bro-en #in- *as bent ba - by the too#%s sha't) and the prisoner *as at #ast re#eased$ The o#d .an handed the stranger a short rope o' he.p$ The stranger bo*ed deep#y$ He then tied an end o' the rope thro"gh one o' the #a.p%s re.aining #in-s and began dragging Hero a#ong$ Hero%s hands so"ght his .aster%s) b"t the o#d .an -i -ed and "rsed hi. a## the *ay to the path$ The three st".b#ed sing#e,'i#e to the botto.$ The o#d .an *a!ed his ar.s and sho"ted hysteri a##y) trotting behind "nti# he ran o"t o' breath$ 1"t he got in a 'ina# -i - and) be'ore he a.e to a gasping ha#t) .anaged to #ash Hero on e 'or o#d ti.e%s sa-e) and to spit on hi. t*i e 'or #" -$ There *ere 'i!e arriages+ a #ong one in the enter hit hed to 'o"r o7en) and t*o s.a##er oa hes in the 'ront and rear *ith a pair o' o7en on ea h$ The arriages *ere o#d and battered) b"i#t o' sp#itting *ood s#ats and r"sted iron bra es$ 9ario"s hides) spare *hee#s) and a h"ndred odds and ends *ere tied to the sides and roo's$ Hero%s ne* .aster) "sing hi. as a ra.) sho!ed hi. thro"gh the ro*d to the #ong arriage$ He ha"#ed hi. "p the sing#e *ooden step and *at hed the ro*d%s rea tion$ Chi#dren hid behind .others) .others hissed and &eered) .en spat in that s.ashed) disg"sting 'a e$ Satis'ied) Hero%s .aster t*isted the rope tighter and dragged hi. thro"gh the hide '#ap that ser!ed as the arriage%s rear *a##$ A strange r" -"s began at their entran e$ Inside the arriage *ere b"#-y shapes and 8"ir-y .o!e.ents) b"t the i..ediate and o!er*he#.ing i.pression *as one o' "nbe#ie!ab#e sten h$ Hero) instant#y o!ered *ith '#ies) *as -i -ed and sho!ed do*n a 'oot,*ide ais#e$ The arriage%s *a##s *ere ridd#ed *ith b#a - '#e -s o' o#d dried b#ood) the '#oor oated *ith standing "rine) a !ariety o' s.a## ar asses) and so.e #inging) inde'inab#e s#i.e$ 1"t the #i!ing ontents o' this he## *ere so horri'ying) and so "ne7pe ted) that Hero at on e dropped to his -nees$ Obser!ing this) .aster grabbed a *hip 'ro. the *a## and #ashed hi. a#ong the '#oor$ A n".ber o' ba.boo ages #ined either side o' the arriage) ea h 'o"r 'eet high) 'o"r 'eet *ide) and three 'eet deep$ In the 'irst age to their #e't a 8"adr"p#e a.p"tee dang#ed in a #eather harness in a #o"d o' '#ies) &ea#o"s#y gna*ing a hi -en ar ass ba#an ed on his be##y$ The se ond age he#d a .an *ho had been b"rned o!er ninety per ent o' his body) and the third a .idd#e,aged *o.an *ith no eyes or tong"e) her head sha!ed$ The ne7t age ho"sed a '"##y gro*n b#a - #eopard) its bright eyes 'i7ed on the horri'ied ne* o.er$ Then an e.pty age) and 'ina##y a age ontaining a de.ented .an *hose #ong ye##o* nai#s *ere b"si#y ra-ing a 'a e deep#y s arred and b#eeding$ The 'irst age against the opposite *a## he#d t*o gir#s ro##ing in their o*n e7 re.ent$ Sia.ese t*ins "nab#e to part) they had de!e#oped their o*n .ethod o' #o o.otion3 they no* e7e "ted a three, 8"arters art*hee# in Hero%s dire tion) their .ang#ed) se!ere#y bitten hands atte.pting to rea h hi. thro"gh the bars$ In the age ne7t to theirs a na-ed d*ar' g#o*ered .ena ing#y) his eyes 'o##o*ing o#d#y as Hero%s .aster sho!ed hi. do*n the narro* ais#e) o asiona##y pa"sing to #ash at a age$ The hissing and ho*#ing in reased as ea h prisoner behe#d the ne* neighbor$

The third age he#d an intense#y si - ad"#t 1ornean s"n bear) so on'ined it *as entire#y "nab#e to .o!e$ Its hide *as a pat h*or- o' s ragg#y '"r and grayish s-in) g#istening *ith odd er"ptions$ It ro##ed its s"n-en eyes in Hero%s dire tion) its ."((#e t*it hing 'eeb#y$ The ne7t age ontained a .an *ho *as 'right'"##y diseased$ 1road '"nga# pat hes o!ered his 'a e and #i.bs) ter.inating in *a7y 'o#ds that dang#ed #i-e a rooster%s *att#es$ We##ing sores spotted his na-ed hest and ba -$ His eyes *ere b"gged and sa##o*) his #o*er #ip drooped be#o* his hin$ He bar-ed *et#y at Hero%s passing #egs$ The se ond,to,#ast age ho"sed a rare) o.p#ete#y hair#ess Chinese a#bino) and the #ast age a !ery ta##) s-e#eta# *o.an$ The a#bino banged his head repeated#y against his age *hi#e snapping at Hero$ The *o.an hissed and oi#ed #i-e a sna-e) her spine ar hing a.a(ing#y$ Master ha"#ed Hero to the e.pty age on his #e't) s*"ng its door open *ith his 'oot) and 'or ed hi. to his -nees by p"shing do*n *ith a## his *eight$ He -i -ed and p"n hed "nti# Hero had been s8"ee(ed inside) then s#a..ed sh"t and se "red the *ide ba.boo door$ Master in hed his *ay ba - do*n the arriage) ha..ering the b"tt o' his *hip on ea h age as he passed$ There *as a g#i.pse o' day#ight as he #i'ted the '#ap$ On e he%d departed) the arriage gre* eeri#y si#ent$ Hero a"tio"s#y t"rned his head$ :ess than a 'oot a*ay) the b#a - #eopard *as 'ro(en in p#a e) one pa* *a!ing hypnoti a##y in his 'a e$ The ani.a#%s 'angs *ere bared) its ears straight ba -) its eyes g#istening$ Hero t"rned e!er so s#o*#y) "nti# he *as #oo-ing into the eyes o' the de.ented .an in the 'ina# age$ The .an o -ed his head 8"i((i a##y and s rea.ed 'or a## he *as *orth$ At on e the arriage er"pted$ The 'rea-s shrie-ed and s rabb#ed) the #eopard sp"n in p#a e$ Dire t#y a ross the ais#e) the a#bino h"r#ed hi.se#' against the bars o' his age$ He batted his 'a e *ith his 'ists) then thre* ba - his head and &"st ho*#ed and ho*#ed and ho*#ed$ The sna-e *o.an "r#ed e!en tighter) her #ong e.a iated #egs ent*ined behind her head$ Hero sat *ith breath he#d) abso#"te#y si#ent) abso#"te#y .otion#ess$ He !ery) !ery s#o*#y #osed his eyes$ :ater that night the '#ap *as '#"ng high$ The .enagerie a.e a#i!e as .aster) eeri#y i##".inated by .oon#ight) s#o*#y .ade his *ay do*n the ais#e arrying a s-in sa - oo(ing b#ood$ He stopped at ea h age to toss in a dying hi -en and a hand'"# o' s.e#t$ When he rea hed Hero%s age he #oo-ed do*n tho"ght'"##y$ He e7tra ted a 8"i!ering hi -en and he#d it abo!e the age so that b#ood dripped on the br"te%s deep#y p#eated 'orehead$ Hero #o*ered his eyes$ Master%s 'a e dar-ened$ He s.ashed the bird against the age) o!er and o!er) his eyes s rea.ing$ /ina##y he hissed and disp#ayed the #i.p hi -en high o!er the a#bino%s head$ The a#bino ye#ped and -i -ed) thr"sting his hand "p bet*een the bars and &er-ing ba - to #i - a*ay the b#ood ro##ing do*n his 'orear.$ Master eyed Hero o#d#y 'or a .o.ent) then pointed#y dropped the hi -en into the a#bino%s sear hing hands$ Master hissed again$ He s#o*#y .ade his *ay o"t$ Soon there *as a o..otion o"tside$ The arriage ro -ed a bit be'ore sett#ing$ Hero) t"rning in his age to pee- thro"gh a ri't in the *ood) sa* horses being "rged 'or*ard and heard .en sho"ting$ The arriage ro -ed again$ He #oo-ed "p and sa* the gibbo"s .oon s"spended in .ist$ /or &"st a se ond so.ething *edge,shaped "t a ross its so't *hite 'a e$ 1"t then the o7en *ere gr"nting) the *hee#s had been 'reed) and the horses dra*n abreast$ His .aster%s #ash spat #e't and right) and the sho* pro eeded $ $ $ west$

Master

She *as !ery ro"nd and !ery s.a##) *ith !ery short) !ery shaggy b#a - hair$ Her ar.s bore the s ars o' n".ero"s bites 'ro. beast and .an) and aro"nd her ne - ran #ong *hea#s 'ro. a parti "#ar#y sa!age o*ner$ Hero) ha!ing spent the better part o' the .orning *at hing .aster stor. in and o"t o' a strange s rea.ing ho"se) *as no* *at hing hi. drag the #itt#e ro"nd *o.an thro"gh the dirt$ /or a *hi#e he #istened to the song o' his .aster%s #ash) *aiting 'or the *o.an to brea-$ 1"t there *as ne!er a *hi.per$ It had been a di''i "#t transa tion 'or .aster) and an a#together di''i "#t .orning$ /or ho"rs he had pa ed "p and do*n the .ain arriage) a#ternate#y ."r."ring a''e tionate#y into) and #ashing at) ea h age he !isited$ The s"n bear) #ong dead and st"''ed) had been ta-en o"tside 'or barter$ It had soon been ret"rned$ Master had #ingered o!er Hero%s age 'or a good *hi#e) staring riti a##y$ He%d beg"n sho"ting) and three o' his .en had b"rst in thro"gh the '#ap) "n#at hed the de.ented .an%s age) and dragged hi. o"t by the 'eet 'or trade) .aster persona##y sto.ping on the de.ented .an%s s rabb#ing hands$ And no* .aster *as -i -ing and sho!ing the #itt#e *o.an do*n the ais#e *hi#e his .en restrained her by the hair and throat$ Bpon .aster%s o..and these .en stripped her na-ed and began pin hing and s#apping$ They .ade threatening 'a es and .o -ing noises) then *ent at her *ith the hands again *hi#e .aster #a"ghed greasi#y and the 'rea-s sat right "p in their ages$ The *o.an #oo-ed as tho"gh she%d 'ainted3 her ar.s *ere #a7) her eyes ro##ed "p$ Her *ho#e 'a e see.ed to p"rse) and her body) head to toe) began to r"n b#"e$ Her 'ingers 8"i!ered and #a*ed3 the *o.an *as se#',asphy7iating$ Master 'air#y #eaped *ith de#ight *hi#e the ages ro -ed and ho*#ed$ He had the .en s#ap her a*a-e and st"'' her into the !a ated age ne7t to Hero%s$ Master then #oo-ed in eager#y) one to the other) his hands ba##ed into 'ists$ The *o.an b"ried her odd ro"nd 'a e in her hands *hi#e s8"ee(ing herse#' into her age%s deepest orner$ Hero ga(ed indi''erent#y and *ent ba - to his peepho#e$ Master e7p#oded$ He s.a -ed and -i -ed the ages o!er and o!er) s*ore "p and do*n) ran the sha't o' his *hip ba - and 'orth against the hea!y ba.boo bars$ E!ent"a##y he a#.ed so.e*hat$ He stared o#d#y at Hero) .ade a sissy s.i#e) and spat right in his eyes$ A tense .in"te passed$ Master s#o*#y .ade his *ay o"tside$ Hero a"to.ati a##y re#a7ed$ A ross the ais#e the a#bino thr"st his 'a e bet*een his age%s bars to sni'' the ne* o.er$ The #eopard) bobbing rhyth.i a##y) e.itted a high,pit hed s8"ea# that grad"a##y des ended to a steadi#y throbbing gro*#$ Hero #oo-ed the stranger o!er$ On e she%d #o*ered her hands he sa* that her eyes *ere rossed and her &a* s#a -) her 'a e as ro"nd as the '"## .oon$ He #oo-ed #oser$ There *ere s ars a## o!er her throat and ar.s3 p#ain#y) the s.a## ro"nd *o.an had been treated !ery bad#y$ Hero instin ti!e#y s#id a 'oot bet*een the bars$ The *o.an ried o"t and s r"n hed e!en deeper) *hi#e a ross the ais#e the a#bino 8"i -#y e7tended an ar.$ Witho"t -no*ing *hy) Hero t"rned on hi.$ The a#bino '#in hed) and his eyes tore into Hero%s$ An instant #ater he *as grinning *i#d#y$ Hero *ent ba - to his peepho#e$ Ne7t .orning .aster and t*o o' his .en dis.ant#ed the ba.boo *a##s separating Hero%s and the *o.an%s ages) then "sed broad #eather bands to bind the 'ra.es) .a-ing a sing#e age o' the t*o$ One o' the .en opened Hero%s door) *or.ed in) and tore o'' his 'i#thy hides$ He *rigg#ed ba o"t *ith the rags$ The door *as se "red$ The .en h"n hed aro"nd the #ong age e7pe tant#y$ The na-ed o"p#e ba -ed a*ay) instant#y e7asperating their .aster$ He sho"ted) #ashed '"rio"s#y) sta.ped and s rea.ed+ &abbed a bro-en sha't bet*een the bars *ith .a#e!o#ent intent) *hir#ed and h"r#ed the sha't at nothing$ The arriage%s in.ates *ent o"t o' their .inds$ At .aster%s be##o*ed o..and a .an s "rried o"tside) ret"rning *ith a #ong rope o' *o!en #eather strands$ Master opened the age and) "sing his 'oot) pinned Hero and his ne* .ate in an a*-*ard e.bra e *hi#e his .en bo"nd the. together$

Again .aster and his .en bent o!er the #ong age to *at h$ 1oth 'o"ght to p"## a*ay+ *hen Hero rea#i(ed his predi a.ent he .ade a desperate atte.pt to rea h his peepho#e$ The .en) .isreading his str"gg#es) babb#ed and heered) b"t .aster thre* "p his hands$ He then) thro"gh gest"re) ordered his .en to drape a n".ber o' hides o!er the #ong age$ On e the hides *ere in p#a e he !ery 8"iet#y bent to one -nee and p#a ed an ear against the age$ A'ter a *hi#e he s*ore and rose to his 'eet$ He -i -ed the age and stor.ed o"t) #ashing the ho*#ing in.ates as he *ent$ In the se.i,dar-ness the .an and *o.an 8"it 'ighting their bonds$ A ."''#ed patter began on the hide, o!ered roo'$ Rain) as a#*ays) had a a#.ing e''e t on the arriage%s o "pants) a"sing the 'rea-s and beasts to s#ip) one by one) into #ethargy or s#".ber$ Bnder s" h a spe##) the attain.ent o' .aster%s goa# *as ine!itab#e$ It *as a o"p#ing both inno ent and !i#e) *itho"t passion or e#ebration$ O asiona##y the 'rea-s *o"#d s"r'a e) register their e7 ite.ent by shrie-ing) sha-ing their ages) or other*ise #a.oring $ $ $ b"t !ery 8"i -#y the air *o"#d sti'#e the.) *eighing their heads and on'"sing their i.p"#ses$ The at.osphere be a.e hea!ier by the .in"te) and the dar-ness gre* '"##er$ And) *hen night ro##ed o!er the arriages) the rain a.e in sheets$ Master #eaned o!er the age) s#ipped his gnar#ed hand bet*een the bars) and s#o*#y r"bbed the *o.an%s be##y in a o"nter, #o -*ise .otion) his sinister 'eat"res so't in the and#e%s #ight$ M"r."ring and ooing) he to#d) in nonsensi a# *hispers) o' a #o!ing#y se "re and i.possib#y prospero"s '"t"re$ Ho* #arge and pro.ising that be##y had be o.eC And ho* *ise *as he) the "nning and aggressi!e .aster) in his 'ar,rea hing b"siness de isions$ He t"rned his a''e tion to the .otion#ess br"te+ stro-ed the batt#e'ie#d o' its 'a e) tossed in another #i(ard$ Master r"bbed his pa#.s together$ /ro. no* on it *as e7tra #i(ards dai#y) 'or both the *o.an and her .ate$ He re.ar-ed) *ith on#y passing interest) his star p#ayer%s ontin"ing indi''eren e$ They didn%t need ea h other$ There%d been .onths o' sho*s on the road no*) bro-en on#y re ent#y by this sensib#e re&oining o' the .ates at on eption$ Hero%s horrib#e dis'ig"re.ent *as "n8"estionab#y the top dra*+ he *as a g"aranteed ro*d p#easer at e!ery stop$ So no* .aster #oo-ed hi. straight in the eyes and s.i#ed$ He he#d the ree-ing and#e high$ The arriage *as abso#"te#y si#ent$ Master s.i#ed again$ He rose to his 'eet and tiptoed a*ay$ Hero *at hed hi. retreat "nti# the '#ap had 'a##en$ He ret"rned to his peepho#e) sa* .aster ro"nd the rear o' the arriage and s#o*#y r"n h by$ /or a ti.e he o"#d see nothing b"t the ha#',shapes o' &"nipers bathed in star#ight$ /ina##y there *as a tentati!e .o!e.ent to his right and a #arge shape a.e to obstr" t his !ie*$ The horse stood 'or a .in"te in pro'i#e$ It s#o*#y bro"ght its head to rest against the arriage) app#ying its eye to the peepho#e$ Hero 'ro(e$ The t*o re.ained 'i7ed) eyeba## to eyeba##) *hi#e a bree(e p#ayed odd t"nes on the o"ter *a##%s hanging parapherna#ia$ The horse%s big dar- eye ro##ed ner!o"s#y$ A #ong .o.ent passed$ S#o*#y the horse ba -ed o''$ It stood "n ertain#y 'or a *hi#e) staring at the peepho#e$ Then it 8"iet#y .o!ed a*ay$ Master #i'ted the hides one by one) #e't hand and right) as he s#o*#y .ade his *ay do*n the ais#e$ Into ea h age he de#i!ered a persona#i(ed *arning in passing4a gro*#) a hiss) a bar-4b"t he *as 8"i -#y #osing ontro#$ Ani.a# e#e tri ity hops ot hed the arriage) age to age) 'ront to rear and ba - again$ Master stood ond" ti!e in the '#o*$ M" h .ore o' this e7 ite.ent) he 'eared) o"#d serio"s#y agitate the *o.an4*ith gra!e onse8"en es 'or .aster$ She *as sp#ayed on her ba -) in

#abor%s throes) her an-#es and *rists bo"nd to the #ong age$ Hero had been re.o!ed to gi!e her roo.) and no* sat h"n hed atop the sna-e *o.an%s age) t*o .en ho#ding hi. by the throat and #egs$ Master gnashed and snar#ed) #istening to the *o.an s rea.) *at hing her st"pid ro"nd head bo"n e ba - and 'orth$ He knew itC He%d been s" -ered) hood*in-ed) s a..ed4ripped o'' #i-e a o..on r"be$ The *o.an *as too retarded to hand#e e!en so.ething as nat"ra# as birthing$ Sti## $ $ $ it *as too #ate to se ond,g"ess hi.se#'4a## these .onths he%d been patient4he%d been s"pporti!e and !igi#ant and no* he o"#d not) he *o"#d not) be denied$ He #ashed one o' the .en to a##e!iate his tension$ 1"t the *o.an *as !ery s#o*#y) !ery dra.ati a##y ar hing her spine$ Master *iped the s*eat 'ro. his eyes$ When the bars *ere p#eating her big ro"nd be##y her sho"#ders dr"..ed on the '#oor and her #egs began to -i - *i#d#y$ Master s rea.ed one !ery o#or'"# e7p#eti!e$ A ra(or si#en e toothe arriage+ not a body .o!ed or breathed$ At #ast t*o .en tiptoed ro"nd their p"rp#ing .aster and #eaned into the age$ One obedient#y thr"st a 'oot bet*een the bars$ He p"shed hard on her right -nee *hi#e "sing a hand to grip the #e't -nee) spreading her #egs *ide$ The other .an dre* a broad #eather strap bet*een her teeth$ He #i'ted her head) p"##ed the strap behind her ne -) and -notted it to .a-e a gag$ He then prod" ed a s-in sa -) *hi h *as yan-ed o!er the *o.an%s 'a e$ The .an #oo-ed "p an7io"s#y$ Master #i -ed his #ips and nodded$ The .an .ade a 'ist and 'ranti a##y p"n hed the *o.an%s 'a e "nti# her ."''#ed s rea.s eased$ She .oaned gent#y thro"gho"t her ontra tions$ The .an bro"ght a and#e in tight$ Master bent onto one -nee and too- a deep breath$ As he raised his hand the and#e%s #ight bo"n ed o'' his -ni'e%s hipped and s ored e#e!en,in h b#ade$ Master "rsed and rea hed do*n are'"##y$ He '#i -ed his *rist t*i e and the .enagerie *ent .ad$ The hi#d *as a tre.endo"s disappoint.ent$ Master had eager#y anti ipated an in'ant retarded and de'or.ed+ so.ething e.bra ing the best 8"a#ities o' its parents$ He had e!en designed a spe ia# age that o"#d be e7panded by degrees as the spa*n de!e#oped$ There a#so re.ained the tanta#i(ing option o' a 'a.i#y disp#ay) tho"gh s" h an "nderta-ing *o"#d re8"ire the e!ent"a# onstr" tion o' an e!en #arger str" t"re than the age its parents no* shared$ Master ang"ished o!er the #ogisti s) -no*ing it *o"#d brea- his heart to ha!e to "t the throat o' one o' his &e*e#s $ $ $ &"st to .a-e roo. 'or a gro*ing hi#d$ Nights he *o"#d s#o*#y pa e the arriage *ith a## the possessi!eness o' a &ea#o"s s"itor) one hand .ane"!ering a sp"ttering and#e) the other tender#y rapping the b"tt o' his *hip on ea h !isited age$ 1"t the boy *as a '#a*#ess spe i.en+ a bea"ti'"#) "nde.anding baby$ /ro. the .o.ent .aster had angri#y tossed the p#a enta he had 'e#t heated) e!en betrayed$ He gri.a ed as it pea eab#y too- to its .other%s breast) despite the s"rro"nding horrors$ Master hated it) i..ediate#y and entire#y$ The da.ned thing *as so do i#e it *as a#.ost har.ing$ He p"##ed o"t his -ni'e and *as &"st rea hing do*n *hen an o!er*he#.ing sense o' dread shoo- hi. #i-e a rat in the &a*s o' a .asti''$ S*eat po"red 'ro. his bro* and do*n his s8"at) pigtai#ed nape$ He -ne* he *o"#d #i!e to regret it) b"t he de ided to not "t the hi#d%s throat right a*ay$ It *as the oddest 'ee#ing$ His -ni'e hand had tre.b#ed 'or the 'irst ti.e in his #i'e) and he had 'o"nd hi.se#' .o.entari#y onte.p#ating right and wrong at the o"tset o' a per'e t#y si.p#e and o..onp#a e pro ed"re$ That *as it) then$ His b"siness instin ts *ere #etting hi. -no* there *as a good) a#beit .ysterio"s) reason to #et the s*eet baby #i!e$ Master #e't the arriage an7io"s#y) ."ttering in his a.bi!a#en e$ The boy gre* to e.body his *orst e7pe tations$ Not on#y *as it a poor#y oriented hi#d) #inging to its 'ather rather than its .aster a#.ost 'ro. the .o.ent it had been *eaned) b"t it soon pro!ed a #o"sy dra* *ith the patrons$ Those *ho paid to !ie* the hi#d dang#ing in its spe ia# age ine!itab#y departed "nsatis'ied) so.e !o a#i(ing) strange#y) an a "te sense o' shame$ So on e again .aster entered the arriage *ith his -ni'e hand steady) and on e again he e7ited tre.b#ing) his heart in

his throat and his so"# in a *hir#$ He *hipped the d*ar' sa!age#y be'ore #ea!ing$ What p#a e ons ien e in the .ind o' a b"siness.an6 Soon as the boy o"#d *a#- .aster p"t hi. to *or- 'et hing and 'eeding$ 1"t the brat *as s#oth'"# in his hores) pre'erring to hang aro"nd his 'a.i#y%s age *hi#e staring *ist'"##y at his 'ather$ /or their part) the parents *ere *ho##y disinterested+ Hero ga(ing 'or ho"rs o"t his peepho#e *hi#e the .other #o##ed) perpet"a##y i##$ So.eti.es the *o.an%s ondition ri#ed .aster to no end$ She o"#d teeter at death%s door 'or .onths at a ti.e) her body hanging h"es to the 'as ination o' "sto.ers) on#y to bo"n e ba - *ith a hardiness that *as o' interest to no one$ 1"t at the pea- o' her per'or.an es the b#"e #ady o"#d rea##y ho#d a ro*d$ Master b"i#t a *ho#e o"tdoors e7tra!agan(a aro"nd her) s#o*#y stripping her na-ed be'ore a"dien es) then #etting the d*ar' and a#bino ta-e her *hi#e the #eopard strained against a gai#y 'estooned hain$ Master ir "#ated his .en thro"gh the ro*ds to en o"rage his patrons% "#t,#i-e beha!ior o' breath,ho#ding and 'ainting$ No getting aro"nd it3 the "sto.ers *ere ra(y abo"t her4on .aster%s 1a trian !ang"ard their o#or'"# robes sho"ted her approa hing 'a.e$ And Hero *as a#*ays pop"#ar$ Many *ere the nights *hen .aster) pa ing the peri.eter) *ondered &"st *hat de!i#ry o"#d ha!e prod" ed the #o!e#y boy$ O!era##) Hero re.ained his .aster%s 'a!orite on eit and hottest property$ ;art o' the #itt#e br"te%s appea# *as) o' o"rse) his e7oti ness$ And ertain#y the "g#iness arising 'ro. his de'or.ity *as o.pe##ing $ $ $ b"t there *as a deta hedness abo"t hi. that 'as inated e!ery paying indi!id"a#$ Whether they stoned hi. or spat in his 'a e he re.ained "n'#appab#e) staring thro"gh the "sto.ers as tho"gh they didn%t e7ist$ Tho"gh .any *o"#d #ea!e "neasy) .aster noted *ith satis'a tion that they a#.ost in!ariab#y ret"rned$ The boy soon e!in ed an a.a(ing a''inity 'or ani.a#s$ No .atter ho* agitated a horse or o7 be a.e) the hi#d o"#d pa i'y it *ith one hand on a #o*ered bro*$ This *as a so"r e o' end#ess 'as ination 'or the re*$ Wagers *ere .ade$ The boy *as pitted against o7en *hipped into a 'ren(y$ 1"t they *o"#d not har. hi.3 they *o"#d rather prostrate the.se#!es and ta-e the #ash$ Master tried to *or- this -na - into a !iab#e a t) b"t his patrons &"st *eren%t b"ying$ They *anted 'rea-s$ When the #ad *as a .ere 'i!e years o#d .aster had hi. trained in the periphera# art o' the pi -po -et$ The boy *or-ed *e## a#one) and had a## the .a-ings o' a 'ine #itt#e '#i.'#a. artist$ Master sighed) his hroni night.ares a thing o' the past$ As e!er) his b"siness instin ts *ere g"iding hi. *e##$ Then #ate one a'ternoon he 'o"nd the boy s8"atting o"tside his parents% age$ The boy had done the "nthin-ab#e3 he had deposited his day%s pi -ings at the 'eet o' his 'ather instead o' bringing the booty to .aster$ Master '#e* into a rage and raised his *hip to gi!e the #itt#e traitor the #ashing he deser!ed$ 1"t be'ore he o"#d de#i!er a sing#e stro-e his other hand shot to his hest and he staggered against the a#bino%s age$ He b#in-ed do*n at the boy) *ho regarded hi. steadi#y *hi#e s ooping the p#"nder into a #itt#e pi#e$ /ro. that day on the boy p#a ed *hate!er he o"#d get his hands on at his 'ather%s 'eet$ As ti.e passed he be a.e e!er .ore adroit at thie!ery) gro*ing into a yo"ngster both ad.ired and despised by .aster and his re*+ ad.ired be a"se the't *as a in h 'or hi.) despised be a"se they *ere a## that ." h #ighter in their possessions$ No*) 'or se!en years the strange #itt#e train had bo"n ed a#ong) so.eti.es a.ping o"tside !i##ages 'or .onths) o asiona##y pa"sing on onne ting roads$ The sho* tra!ersed the heart o' Man h"ria) s-irted the 5obi in the north) and so e!ent"a##y rossed a#.ost the entire *idth o' Mongo#ia be'ore pro eeding north to the on'#"en e o' the Ri!ers Denisey and Ob%$ M" h si#!er had o.e to his o''er) ." h 'a.e to his na.e) b"t .aster no* sat #oo-ing o!er a !ast) "n.apped Siberian *i#derness$ The .ost#y no.adi hara ters they%d been en o"ntering spo-e in tong"es "n'a.i#iar e!en to his persona# !a#et,trans#ator,a o"ntant) and the tone o' these no.ads had been "n.ista-ab#y hosti#e$

Master h"dd#ed s"r#i#y "nder a anopy o' sopping hides$ Night *as 'a##ing hard d"ring a .er i#ess rain) the *ind *as pi -ing "p) and his s"pp#ies oa h *as bogged in a gro*ing sea o' ."d$ At that .o.ent he a epted the *ho#e end,o',the,#ine on ept) and -ne* he *asn%t going any*here b"t back$ And *hen he got ba - he was going to shine$ He &".ped 'ro. the oa h$ The earth too- his *eight 'or a heartbeat) and then he *as s#iding 'or*ard on pa#.s and toes$ He did a be##y '#op into a rain,'i##ed depression and h"rned to his hands and -nees *ith the de!i# in his eyes$ Wa##o*ing in ."d and bi#e) .aster sto.ped to the s"pp#ies oa h and -i -ed *i#d#y at the st" rear *hee#s$ So.e*here bet*een -i -s he si.p#y snapped$ Master bro-e 'or his *hip$ One .in"te he *as b#ind#y #ashing his .en) the ne7t he%d s" ".bed to a .ind#ess) .o"nting 'ero ity3 he thrashed abo"t #i-e a berser-er+ *hipping the beasts) the oa h) the !ery night$ His .en *ere s ar e#y ab#e to .o!e in a## that ."d) b"t their dread o' his sa!agery -ept the. hopping$ They gathered as one and sho!ed the oa h re -#ess#y) s#ipping and sho"ting$ A .in"te #ater) three #ay sp#ayed "nder'oot) b"t the .ired *hee# had been 'reed$ Thro"gho"t a## this the o7en s*ayed ner!o"s#y) *hi#e the horses so't#y tra.ped their hoo!es in p#a e$ Master had his .en t"rn the o7en abo"t "nti# the ri -ety train *as pointing dead east$ He he -ed the hit hes) then persona##y app#ied his #ash$ The o7en didn%t b"dge$ Master s*ore and *iped the rain 'ro. his eyes$ He had the horses hit hed ahead o' the o7en) b"t they *ere e!en #ess ob#iging$ Master '#e* into a terri'ying rage) and his .en) 'earing 'or their #i!es) ran #ibera##y *ith the #ash$ The s*aying o' o7en pi -ed "p "nti# the entire train o' arriages *as ro -ing$ Det the o7en o"#d not) "nder any a.o"nt o' prodding) be o.pe##ed to ta-e a 'or*ard step$ Master #oo-ed aro"nd in e7asperation$ The night had gone .ad$ The horses *ere 'ighting their hit hes) the o7en *ere *a#-ing on 'ire$ He "rsed the rain and the ."d and #ashed a## the harder) *hi#e his .en) see-ing to p#ease) 'ranti a##y *hipped the horses$ At #ast the horses and both #ead o7en bro-e their hit hes and bo#ted *est$ The .en instant#y e.bra ed the rear o7en in a be#ated atte.pt at .o##i'i ation) b"t the hit hes shattered and the o7en stor.ed o''$ The re.aining horses *ent into 'ren(ies) -i -ing at e!erything and nothing$ Inside the #ong arriage a## *as haos$ The a#bino *as neighing and s rea.ing) the aging #eopard spinning in its age$ Hero stared o"t his peepho#e) a.a(ed at the b#"r o' 'ig"res st".b#ing by in the rain$ A pair o' #opping b#o*s ratt#ed the opposite *a##$ A s#at ra -ed$ The *a## re ei!ed a tre.endo"s sho - and a h"ge se tion b#e* in*ard as a thrashing) hysteri a# .are b"rst into the arriage in a !ei# o' rain$ The horse *ent .ad) -i##ing the a#bino and sna-e *o.an in a '#"rry o' hoo!es$ She 'e## hard on the 'ar *a##) r"shing the ages$ The #eopard shot into the air #i-e a ro -et) s#ashed at the .are%s throat and !anished in the rain$ The horse reared abo!e the 'a.i#y age and *as &"st o.ing do*n 'or an ob#iterating -i - o' hoo!es *hen so.ething .ade her 'ree(e$ Her eyes #o -ed *ith Hero%s) and then her orbs *ere ro##ing *i#d#y in their so -ets$ She -i -ed at the air and 'e## ba -*ard) s.ashing the age%s side$ The .are a.e do*n hard on her #e't '#an-) *hir#ed "pright) and #eaped o"tside$ /or a #ong .in"te the 'a.i#y sat in the r"bb#e *ith rain bo.barding their eyes$ Nothing in their years o' apti!ity had prepared the. 'or s" h a sit"ation$ 1"t by the end o' that .in"te the son had ta-en '"## o..and$ He ro##ed onto his ba -) bra ed hi.se#') and sho!ed his parents o"t *ith his 'eet$ He then topp#ed thro"gh the brea h and they a## 'e## abo"t in the ."d and rain$ To the *est) the .are stared ba - strange#y as she sp#ashed into the night$ The boy *edged hi.se#' bet*een his parents) thre* his ar.s aro"nd the.) and p"shed *ith a## his .ight$ They e.bra ed and their bodies 'o"nd a o..on enter o' gra!ity$ /".b#ing dr"n-en#y) the 'a.i#y staggered a#ong in the *a-e o' the .are$ The boy *as the nat"ra# #eader$

Master%s inno ent,#oo-ing #itt#e e7,st"dent o"#d 8"i -#y assess and e7p#oit a#.ost any indi!id"a# or sit"ation$ He did the 'oraging and the 'ig"ring) s#ept *ith one eye open and one hand #osed$ He got *hat he *anted by har. or by stea#th) s#ipping o'' at night'a##) ret"rning at daybrea*ith s.a## s#a"ghtered ani.a#s and h"n-s o' dar- peasant bread$ He a#so pi#'ered any ba"b#e or oddity he o"#d get his pa*s on+ these ob&e ts *ere re!erent#y p#a ed at his 'ather%s 'eet$ 1read*inner and *at hdog) he he#d the 'a.i#y together+ a n" #ear .an$ He se*ed hardy 'eather,#ined #oa-s o' reindeer hide) and t"rned a a he o' .ar.ot pe#ts into a -ind o' side,s#"ng ba -pa -,totebag$ He *as doting n"rse d"ring his .other%s episodes) and stri t and "nbending apportioner o' a#ories in #ean ti.es$ Da"nt#ess *hen it .eant rossing .ighty ri!ers) re#ent#ess *hen it a.e to 'inding .o"ntain passes$ 1"t the end#ess .ar hing) the "nre#iab#e diet) and the o"nt#ess predators .ade the three #ean) haggard .o!ing targets$ There *ere ti.es *hen the #itt#e #a.p o' the 'a.i#y *as a## b"t e7ting"ished) and #ong stands in p#a es that see.ed abso#"te#y i.passab#e$ Sti##) the boy *o"#d *or- things o"t$ He *o"#d stoop to any #e!e# to 'eed his harges4and 'or a stranger to threaten Hero *as to s"..on a psy hoti ) "nre#enting .onster$ He *as both spear and shie#d$ The to"ghest &ob o' a## *as .aintaining a tight 'a.i#y "nit) *hi h basi a##y .eant the son *as 'or ed to be o.e a hard,nosed bastard *hene!er the 'ather *as ready to *ander o'') *hi h a#*ays see.ed to be *hene!er the .other *as h"rting .ost$ She%d be o.e a tre.endo"s i.pedi.ent to Hero%s o.p"#sion) and there'ore her son%s hie' ne.esis$ It *asn%t a big,pi t"re on ern any*ay+ the hand*riting *as on the *a##$ The b#"e #ady%s atta -s *ere in reasing spe ta "#ar#y on the steppe3 her *or#d had a#*ays been an en #os"re o' so.e -ind) and the great hori(on pro!ed &"st too ." h 'or her$ ;erhaps these intense a''airs ser!ed as #in-s to Hero%s s"ppressed .e.ories+ at the onset o' ea h atta he%d t"rn and hi-e) and then on#y e7ha"stion o"#d "rb hi.$ The boy *o"#d press his .other on) dragging) sho!ing) and s.a -ing+ he o"#d be .ean *hen ne essary$ Sti##) tho"gh ir ".stan es had .ade hi. the n" #e"s) their *or#ds re!o#!ed aro"nd Hero$ Where he sat) they sat$ And *hen he rose) so did they$ In this .anner they .ar hed 'or years a ross the !ast R"ssian Steppe) sing#e,'i#e4'ather) .other) and son) respe ti!e#y4"n.o#ested) #a -ing possessions) a#*ays 'o##o*ing the s"n$ :ong be'ore they o"#d be .eas"red they had dri'ted into obs "rity$ The *o.an%s end a.e 8"i -#y and dra.ati a##y) in a ro -y #itt#e depression on a ha#','ro(en 'ie#d *est o' the Bra#s$ One .o.ent she *as responsi!e to her son%s pro.pts) the ne7t she *as '#at on her ba -) her eye#ids '#"ttering$ That night she #eapt 'ro. 'e!er to hi##) 'ro. a#ertness to st"por$ The boy) s8"atting beside their a.p'ire) *at hed her 'a e and hands r"n ada!er,b#"e to 'ish be##y,pa#e and ba - again$ Whi#e he *as staring her eyes popped open and her hands a.e s rabb#ing$ He s*eated thro"gh the #a*ing e.bra e) and *hen he o"#d bear it no #onger oo(ed o"t and ran do*n to 'et h his 'ather$ Hero *at hed her in "rio"s#y 'or a *hi#e$ Her 'a e *as s r"n hed "p and her s-in the o#or o' sapphires$ She *asn%t breathing$ His ga(e be a.e g#assy) and his eyes ret"rned to the night$ Strange things *ere going on in his *or#d$ So.e days he *o"#d noti e ho* ani.a#s regarded hi. odd#y) in a .anner that see.ed a#.ost persona#$ He 'o"nd) 'or instan e) that ertain spe i.ens *ere re ogni(ab#e e!en o!er great distan es$ A n".ber o' ti.es he *o"#d sit *ith one in a stare,do*n) *aiting patient#y) "nti# the ani.a#%s nat"ra# disposition a"sed it to bo#t$ Tho"gh the .eaning o' these en o"nters *as *ay o!er his head) he *o"#d *at h) and he *o"#d #isten$ In ti.e he noti ed an in reasing s-ittishness in the .ost 'a.i#iar reat"res$ So.ething had the. spoo-ed$ He then obser!ed a n".ber o' #ean gray *o#!es .o!ing in and o"t o' the pi t"re *ith an air o' o.p#ete indi''eren e3 these *o#!es *eren%t h"nting+ they *ere #oitering4#o"nging in the grass) #a -adaisi a##y padding to the rear) 'i#ing by s#o*#y in the distan e$ On e in a *hi#e a #o"nger *o"#d raise its head) ya*n a!erno"s#y) and drop ba - o"t o' sight$ So "nobtr"si!e *as their beha!ior that e!en the e!er,!igi#ant boy began to ta-e the. 'or granted$ They pa"sed *here the 'a.i#y pa"sed) and ha#ted *hen the *o.an bro-e do*n$ ;er'e t#y a.o"'#aged by the gray bo"#ders and dire s-y) they *ere o.p#ete#y 'orgotten in the dra.a o' her passing$

There *ere other) 'ar s"bt#er e!ents *hi h e7isted 'or Hero%s senses a#one$ He%d been per ei!ing patterns in e!erything aro"nd hi.+ in the .anner !egetation appeared to gi!e *ay *here!er his heart *as #eading) in the *ay so .any ani.a#s see.ed to be .a-ing) not .ere#y .irroring) his o"rse$ And *ind) rain) r"nning *ater3 these pheno.ena had !oi es$ Det not 'or e!erybody$ No one4 not his .ate) not his son) not another so"# on the p#anet o"#d hear this a##) 'or they *ere a## o' a sort$ They *ere stati ) they *ere te.pora# and 'i7ed$ Hero o"#dn%t ha!e ared #ess abo"t the #i!es o' his 'a.i#y) or abo"t the ."ndane goings,on in the en a.p.ents and s.a## tribes they s-irted$ S" h beings #i!ed in a *or#d that *as de'ined by the .o.ent$ They sho"ted) they banged) they #a.ored$ 1"t *est 4*est *as ."si $ And so on e again the boy *at hed his 'ather sh"''#e o''$ He #oo-ed ba - do*n) at his .other%s death .as- being re.ade by the dying #ight o' their a.p'ire$ As the '#a.es d*ind#ed he o"#d ha!e s*orn he sa* shado*s reep into the *e##s o' her eyes) *hi#e others) ra*#ing "p aro"nd her &a*#ine) dre* her #ips #i-e p"rse strings$ He hopped to his 'eet and ran 'or .ore tinder$ When the 'ire *as ba "p he dropped to his -nees and #oo-ed again$ She *as sin-ing right be'ore his eyes) e!ery aspe t o' her e7pression in o##apse$ No* he *at hed #ini a##y) 'as inated$ As the '#a.es began to sp"tter he tho"ght he o"#d see #arge p"rp#e br"ises spreading a ross her hee-s #i-e the seeping #i.bs o' o!er'#o*ing poo#s$ He bent #oser$ /ro. deep in the night a.e the #ongest) the #eanest) the saddest *ai# he%d e!er heard$ He t"rned to see the star#it ghost o' his 'ather) 'a ing a*ay) staring at a #o* barren hi##$ Bn o"ntab#e stars e.broidered the spot$ The boy per ei!ed a #o* shape .o!ing a#ong the hi##top) "tting o'' indi!id"a# stars as it passed$ The *o#' ho*#ed again+ a .o"rn'"#) spira#ing ry to no*here and nothing$ His 'ather began to hi-e$ Ha#'*ay to his 'eet the boy 'ro(e$ It too- a .in"te to rea#i(e *hy he%d stopped dead) and a good *hi#e #onger 'or his heart to 8"it po"nding$ 5rad"a##y he be a.e a*are o' a ner!o"s padding) and) as his !ision ad&"sted) o' a #a(y strea. o' eyes that g#ea.ed in the 'eeb#e #ight o' the dying a.p'ire$ The eyes bobbed aro"nd hi.+ staring .o.entari#y) ret"rning to the gro"nd$ There a.e a .assi!e gasp4and his .other *as tearing at his *rist$ He *at hed her hyper!enti#ating) sa* her b"#bo"s ye##o* eyes sin-ing in a *ide !io#et poo#$ With a si((#e and pop the #ast tong"e o' '#a.e *as ta-en by the night$ And then her #a..y hands *ere a## o!er hi.$ They p"##ed and de.anded) aressed and besee hed$ He had to pry the. o'' #i-e #ee hes) had to 'or e the. together and p#a e the. #asped on her sh"ddering ar hed be##y$ A si#-y snar# rose a#.ost in his ear$ With a #itt#e s8"ea# he sprang to his 'eet) e!en as so.ething nearby &".ped ba - in response$ The boy stood abso#"te#y sti## *hi#e the panting thing padded nearer$ They stood !ery #ose) s.e##ing ea h other$ He instin ti!e#y e7tended a hand) pa#. 'or*ard$ 1"t it *as no good+ his ar. *as sha-ing o"t o' ontro#$ The snar# rose again) not so tentati!e#y this ti.e$ /ingers s rat hed at his an-#e$ The boy gent#y stepped a*ay) on#y to 'ind hi.se#' s"rro"nded by the shi'ting si#ho"ettes o' a do(en gray *o#!es$ They approa hed in a a# "#ated .anner3 t*o 'ro. the #e't) one 'ro. the right) another 'ro. behind$ He *as being goaded a*ay 'ro. his .other+ he o"#d hear her 'ists beating the gro"nd) and a se ond #ater the so"nds o' ra!aging$ He sha-i#y raised his other hand$ No* both ar.s *ere e7tended) and their .essage *as #ear#y one o' de'ense rather than ontro#$ T*o snar#ing *o#!es stepped aside) #ea!ing hi. a gate*ay into the night$ A o#d *et nose to" hed his *rist$ S rea.ing #i-e a *o.an) he too- o'' a'ter his 'ather &"st as 'ast as his 'eet *o"#d arry hi.$

Boy

A#ong the West R"ssian steppe a .an o"#d *ander a #i'eti.e and ne!er .eet another o' his -ind$ Espe ia##y i' his -ind happened to be A#as-an proto,In"it) and i' he happened to be the teenaged patriar h o' a t*o,.an 'a.i#y going no*here$ Here history is .ost#y ."te$ Bpon this great steppe "nna.ed o.."nities *ere s attered and reb"i#t) #i!es b#o*n abo"t by the *ind$ The on#y enters o' h".anity a tra!e#er .ight en o"nter) at the !ery ra - o' the 'irst .i##enni".) *ere te.porary en a.p.ents o' i!i#i(ation at its r"dest4shi'ting ho#es o' "tthroat o..er e e7isting so#e#y 'or the barter o' si#- and spi es and hap#ess so"#s$ :i'e here *as re!ered 'ar #ess than .er handise) and the #ongest,#i!ed .en *ere those *ho -ept their distan e$ Hero and his boy hi-ed o!er per.a'rost and t"ndra 'or years+ their .eandering o"rse a dr"n-en .ap.a-er%s s ra*#$ Chrono#ogi a# entries a#ong this i.aginary #ine *o"#d re!ea# that they%d stopped) so.eti.es 'or .onths at a ti.e) *hen the 'ather had gro*n too *ea- and disoriented to ontin"e$ Hero%s interna# o.pass had spr"ng) and his *eight 'a##en onsiderab#y$ He%d sit a## on his #oneso.e) s are ro*,s ra*ny) *ist'"##y s ro##ing a EF0 hori(on *hi#e his boy s o"ted and s a!enged$ Then) 'or no apparent reason) he%d &"st "p,and hi-e4so.eti.es north*est) so.eti.es a#ong a tangentia# p#ane that a#*ays threatened to spira#$ It *as br"ta#3 *inters *ere 'rigid) s"..ers) by odd ontrast) r"nning ba#.y to ba-ing$ Season by season these .ar hes #ost their tena io"sness) and e!ent"a##y their heart$ Hero%s obsession *as be o.ing his de.ise$ To a hypotheti a# obser!er) the pair o' *oo##y a.e#s .ateria#i(ing o"t o' the rising A"g"st heat .ight ha!e been .irages$ The beasts *ere no!e#ties here) and pioneers4*ay beyond their nat"ra# habitat$ They%d tra.ped 'or .onths) *ith a .ind,n".bing .onotono"sness) 'or a tho"sand .i#es and .ore+ ro"nd the Bra#s to the so"th) and thro"gh the hard territory bra ed by the 9o#ga and 9orone(h) a!oiding anything that e!en s.e##ed o' .en$ These had been *i#d a.e#s+ "g#y) i##,te.pered) and "npredi tab#e4"nti# the boy ta.ed the. by to" h$ No* 'or *ee-s the 'rai# #itt#e .an and his dar- teen,aged son had risen and 'a##en *ith their rhyth.+ #"##ed by it) si - o' it) drea.ing o' #ands 'ar re.o!ed 'ro. hoar'rost and peat .oss$ They%d been ported this *ay #ear to the "pper B-raine) *here the a.e#s% pa e had pi -ed "p) .i#e by .i#e) "nti# they rea hed a broad area disting"ishab#e 'ro. its bra ing p"r#ie" on#y by its .any deep s"r'a e ra -s$ Here the a.e#s began to beha!e errati a##y+ ro" hing side#ong *hi#e tra.ping) their #ong ne -s os i##ating) their noses ra-ing the gro"nd$ E!ent"a##y they a.e "pon a dingy poo# nest#ed in a pebb#y depression$ A## the #o a# br"sh s"rro"nding this poo# *as sit"ated #i-e iron 'i#ings abo"t a #odestone$ The boy ha"#ed ba - his a.e#%s ne - and #aid a hand on its bro*$ The beast s#o*ed to a ha#t$ The other a.e# 'o##o*ed s"it) .o!e 'or .o!e) and together they -nee#ed in the dirt$ The boy &".ped o'' and a"ght Hero as he 'e##$ The a.e#s stood and *at hed the boy gent#y #eading his 'ather$ A'ter a *hi#e they gre* ner!o"s) and s#o*#y stepped to the poo#%s ri.$ They -ne#t *oo(i#y) poising their noses &"st abo!e the s"r'a e$ Their *his-ers dan ed on the poo#%s 'a e) and their #ids be a.e hea!y$ Their hind8"arters 8"i!ered as they dran-$ Their nostri#s '#"ttered in "nison) then re.ained agape$ They see.ed to be as#eep$ The boy dropped to his -nees and began 'i##ing s-ins$ The *ater *as 8"ite *ar.$ He s#"rped a pa#.'"# and a#.ost i..ediate#y had a 'ee#ing o' being into7i ated$ He '#i -ed it o'' his 'ingers+ the *ater *as bad$ No* three heads *ere .irrored in the poo#+ the a.e#s at ten o% #o - and t*o o% #o -) the boy at si7$ He *at hed their re'#e tions ontin"e to ripp#e) #ong a'ter the poo# had be o.e sti##$ His 'a e) .e#ting and 'ir.ing) rapid#y '#" t"ated bet*een e7tre.es o' age) and bet*een his o*n re ogni(ab#e 'eat"res and those o' so.e $ $ $ .onstrosity$ This dist"rbing e''e t soon be a.e hypnoti $ He 'e#t his &oints sti''en$ His eyes be a.e *ea- and his tho"ghts ."dd#ed $ $ $ his 'a e *as .agneti a##y dra*n to the poo#%s s"r'a e) and 'or a .o.ent he *as in rea# peri# o' dro*ning$ At the 'irst onta t he s"..oned the 'o "s to p"sh hi.se#' ba - and o"t o' rea h$ He &er-ed his head aside and groaned to his 'eet$

Where the a.e#s had -ne#t *ere on#y the prints o' their be##ies and -nees$ In the distan e their "ngain#y #itt#e se#!es o"#d be seen ga##oping a##,o"t 'or the hori(on) right ba - the *ay they%d o.e$ He *at hed "nti# they *ere s*a##o*ed by their d"st) and *hen he #oo-ed again his 'ather *as #ong gone$ Right then and there he -ne* it *as a## &"st a .atter o' ti.e$ And s"re eno"gh) a'ter e#e!en .ore days o' 'eeb#y staggering a#ong his 'ather o.p#ete#y ran o"t o' stea.$ The boy b"nd#ed hi. "p in a sha*# #i-e an o#d *o.an$ Sitting there) rad#ing an "nresponsi!e .an *eighing #ess than eighty po"nds) he o"#dn%t he#p b"t #et his .orbid 'antasies r"n *i#d$ He *as no* o#d eno"gh to rea#i(e his 'ather had at so.e ti.e s"''ered se!ere head tra".a) and honest eno"gh to a ept that the .an *as rapid#y approa hing a !egetati!e state$ This tr"th a o.panied hi. #i-e a shado*4and that night he 8"estioned) 'or the !ery 'irst ti.e) his o*n on!o#"ted rationa#e$ He b"i#t a se.i,per.anent a.p) 'oraged in a tight spira#) and a#*ays ret"rned in a straight #ine$ So.e days he a.e ba - 'ee#ing "neasy) sensing another presen e$ Then it *as e!ery other day$ It b"gged hi. to no end$ At #ast) *hen it be a.e every day) he ha"#ed his 'ather to his 'eet and o..en ed a ha#ting .ar h to the *est$ A'ter on#y a do(en yards he *as an7io"s again$ He 'ro(e) *hee#ed) and h"n hed) ertain so.ething b"#-y had &"st dropped o"t o' sight$ Nothing #oo-ed s"spi io"s) and e!erything #oo-ed s"spi io"s$ He *a#-ed Hero so.e .ore) o asiona##y peering ba - o!er his sho"#der$ There *as4 something$ He *hir#ed and stared $ $ $ on#y .asses o' ro - and high br"sh$ Det) *hen he rea##y strained his eyes) he *as s"re) pretty s"re) he o"#d .a-e o"t a #arge ro" hing body ontin"o"s *ith the br"sh$ Heart in his throat) he began a s#o* steady reep and pa"sed) no* positi!e the b"#ge) *hate!er it *as) had shi'ted in response$ The boy !ery grad"a##y raised his ar. #e!e# *ith his eyes) 'a ed the pa#. o"t*ard) and e7tended the ar. "nti# it *as para##e# *ith the gro"nd$ He o"#d a#.ost 'ee# so.e -ind o' "rrent passing bet*een his it hing pa#. and $ $ $ nothing$ He *a#-ed o!er to Hero and stopped again$ There%d been the s"bt#est sense o' tra tion$ The boy propped "p his 'ather in a b"(( o' '#ies) and *aited$ In a .in"te the b"#ge dre* ere t) and o"t o' the br"sh stro##ed a s.a## *i#d ass+ pa"sing to nibb#e) ta-ing her s*eet ti.e$ She 'it right in+ bedragg#ed and 'ootsore) her gray ba - in #ined 'ro. o"nt#ess *eary .i#es$ The boy too- a as"a# step and she i..ediate#y hit the dirt$ There she re.ained+ '#at on her be##y) one big bro*n eye staring bet*een her hoo!es$ He too- another step and her r".p b"n hed "p$ And the #oser he got) the higher her rear end rose$ When he *as a#.ost at ar.%s #ength she sprang ba - and dan ed a*ay) pra ti a##y bo"nding *ith de#ight$ 1"t not to the east) as she%d o.e$ To the north$ The boy a.e on *hist#ing and ooing *hi#e she ba -peda#ed) .at hing hi. step 'or step$ When he thre* "p his a r.s she *hir#ed as tho"gh "ed) dropped on her be##y) and peered ba - o!er her sho"#der$ Ha#'*ay to his 'ather he pa"sed and t"rned$ Again the ass dropped$ The boy *as 'irst to b#in-$ This ti.e he approa hed in seg.ents) -eeping his .o!e.ents to a .ini.".$ She rose &"st as are'"##y) sa"ntering north*est in re!erse) and at the 'irst sign o' hesitation t"rned) dropped) and ga(ed ba - o!er her sho"#der$ The boy g#ared at that h"ge .o -ing r".p and bro-e into a sprint$ The #itt#e ass easi#y dan ed o"t o' rea h) p#opped do*n) and stared ba -$ He began h"r#ing stones) *ith !eno. and *ith a "ra y) and didn%t stop "nti# she%d s "rried into the br"sh$ 1"t on the *ay ba - he o"#d 'ee# her tagging a#ong$ T*enty 'eet behind the. she #ingered) #oo-ing e.barrassed$ The boy too- his 'ather%s ar. and *a#-ed hi. o!er) ."r."ring baby ta#- a## the *ay$ He 'ir.#y p#a ed a pa#. on the ani.a#%s ."((#e the .o.ent her breath gra(ed his 'ingers$ She stro-ed his hand "p and do*n *ith her *his-ers) ga!e a -ind o' "rtsy) and *aited on her -nees *hi#e he he#ped his 'ather .o"nt$ At his to" h a sh"dder ran do*n her body$ She stood "p straight) her eyes

be a.e set) and her ba - *ent abso#"te#y sti''$ She p"t do*n her head and began the #ong trenorth*est) ne!er on e brea-ing stride$ It *as an a.a(ing .ar h) an i.possib#e 'eat$ /or a #itt#e o!er three days and a#.ost t*o h"ndred .i#es she progressed #i-e an a"to.aton) dri!ing herse#' *itho"t rest) *itho"t 'ood or *ater$ A'ter trotting a#ongside 'or an ho"r the boy #i.bed on) astonished and e7ha"sted$ He 'or e,'ed his 'ather berries and s.o-ed .eat 'ro. their b"nd#e *hi#e his dar- eyes sear hed the o"ntryside$ O asiona##y he%d see a r"n o' red 'o7es to their #e't) *at hing intent#y *hi#e padding a#ongside$ A'ter a ti.e they%d !anish) on#y to be s"perseded by a di''erent breed$ There *as a rhyth.i 8"a#ity that '"rther #"##ed his senses$ ;a -s approa hed and re eded *hi#e) high o!erhead) '#o -s 'or.ed triang"#ar patterns that ontin"a##y bro-e "p and re'or.ed$ The boy shoo- his head to #ear it) b"t his e7ha"stion *as deeper than he%d s"pposed4e!en the br"sh appeared to be #eaning north*est$ That 'irst day he *ent n".b *ith the pa e) and that night the re#ent#ess po"nding o' her hoo!es dre* hi. into a .iserab#e s#".ber$ He *rapped his ar.s aro"nd his s#eeping 'ather and #ay ha#' atop$ When he o"#d no #onger -eep his eyes open he tore strips 'ro. his s-ins and tied his *rists ro"nd her ne - and his an-#es ro"nd her be##y$ On the se ond day she *as breathing hard) b"t her ba - *as sti## high and she sho*ed no signs o' 'a#tering$ Her eyes re.ained 'o "sed on the gro"nd dead ahead$ She a#*ays sensed the best ro"tes+ 'inding .o"ntain passes) s-irting or 'ording *et#ands$ 1"t by the third day they o"#d 'ee# her ribs 8"a-ing against their #egs$ Her breath e7p#oded as she .ar hed+ b#ood 'rothed and a-ed abo"t her nostri#s$ Sti## she p"shed on+ her pa e so steady it *as a#.ost .etrono.i $ On the 'o"rth day her #egs *ere gone$ She !eered and st".b#ed) tre.b#ing e!ery 'e* pa es$ The boy hopped o'' 'or the ".pteenth ti.e and tried to bring her to gra(e) b"t she *o"#dn%t be t"rned$ He ran behind her as she staggered a#ong) "n*i##ing) or "nab#e) to rest$ At #ast a 'ore#eg ga!e and she *ent do*n hard$ Sobbing and snorting) she p#o*ed her ."((#e ba - and 'orth in the soi#) the "se#ess #eg sti## rhyth.i a##y po"nding the gro"nd$ A'ter a .in"te she raised her head and brayed at the s-y) her ne - ."s #es ta"t) her head s#o*#y s*inging side to side$ Her ry *ent on and on$ She p"shed herse#' "pright and b"tted the boy aside$ E!ery part o' her body *as sha-ing$ /ro. her depths rose a #o* .oan) *hi h be a.e a steady bray) and 'ina##y a *i#d) p"#sing ho*#$ The ass a.e to a rise) b"t *as too *ea- to #i.b *itho"t s#iding$ She sta.ped in 'r"stration) .anaged a 'e* 'eet) reared 'eeb#y) s#id so.e .ore$ The boy got behind her and app#ied his ba -+ it too- a## he had to p"sh her sto.ping and *ai#ing) a#.ost to the top$ With a desperate #"nge she rashed on her be##y$ A.a(ing#y) she dragged herse#' on) her ho*# no* a s rea.) her head *hipping #e't to right$ When she o"#d p"## herse#' no 'arther she thr"st 'orth her ne - to its !ery #i.it and) *ith a sh"dder that ran 'ro. the tip o' her nose to the t"'t on her tai#) sho!ed her ."((#e straight into the dirt and died$ The boy p"##ed his 'ather o'' and 'e## ba -$ The ani.a#%s eyes *ere 'i7ed "p*ards) see.ing) e!en in death) to be straining 'or a g#i.pse o' *hat #ay &"st beyond the rise$ The boy ha#',dragged Hero the #ast 'e* yards$ They o##apsed at the top) and together #oo-ed o!er the o#d 1a#ti Sea$ At *ater%s edge a haggard 'isher.an sat on his boat%s ra!aged de -) *ret hed#y staring o"t to sea$ His *as an odd,#oo-ing !esse#+ a 'a.i#y str" t"re b"i#t .ore #i-e an a't, abined barge than #i-e ra't typi a# o' that period$ The 'isher.an%s boat) #i-e his .ind) had been ab"sed beyond repair$ He%d #ost ." h in his #i'e$ Ti.e had ta-en his drea.s) po7 his 'a e) hardship his ba - and sho"#ders$ And) .ore re ent#y) a bra*#ing band o' dr"n-en 1a#ti pirates had raped his *i'e and da"ghter be'ore b"t hering the. a#ong *ith his t*o 'ine sons4*hi#e he sat against the .ast) bo"nd and he#p#ess$ /ina##y) to '"rther their de#ight) they had set the boat a'#a.e and sent it ra -#ing against the s"n+ -no*ing he o"#d hear their hoots and ho*#s) -no*ing he *o"#d dri't "ndead a o.panied by this #ast "nspea-ab#e .e.ory$ 1"t a passing s8"a## had do"sed the '#a.es and b#o*n hi. ashore$

There he s#".ped) in sho -) his shattered #i'e a"ght on the ro -s) staring at nothing$ /or a '"## #ong day he had gaped) beyond o#d or aring$ On the se ond day he%d *or-ed 'ree o' his bonds and 'o"nd hi.se#' staggering abo"t in his .e.ories) gathering shards$ It *as a patheti #ai.$ E!ent"a##y he .ade a pi#e o' a## the o#d gar.ents and #inen) and set abo"t se*ing the. into a sort o' .e.entos sai#$ A## that third day he had se*n) and on the 'o"rth he had hoisted this sai# and been .o!ed to see it bi##o* in a north*est,b#o*ing bree(e$ Again he sat staring at nothing$ And #ater that day he%d be o.e a*are o' a o..otion ta-ing p#a e on the #ong grade #eading do*n to the *ater$ There a *rithing .ass o' seag"##s *as pro eeding #i-e a tre.endo"s sno*ba## in s#o*,.otion$ He%d ne!er seen anything #i-e it$ It *asn%t "n o..on to 'ind g"##s in a gro"p o' .any do(ens or .ore) b"t there ."st ha!e been t*o) .aybe three tho"sand o' the birds no* s*ar.ing to*ard his boat$ They *ere .a-ing an in redib#e ra -et$ In the .idst o' this #o"d he o"#d see a o"p#e o' 'ig"res s#o*#y *a#-ing his *ay) and as they neared he .ade o"t a s.a## .an and a teenaged boy) dressed in odd s-ins$ When they rea hed the ro -s his eyes *ere dra*n to the s.a## .an%s 'a e$ It *as a 'oreign 'a e) br"tish and dar-) *ith a deep #e't r"nning 'ro. the right te.p#e to the #e't side o' the &a*$ Whate!er instr".ent had 'e##ed this .an had been de!astating3 e!erything in its path had been s.ashed) and *ith per.anen e$ The 'orehead *as a!ed in$ There *as no bridge to the nose) the #e't hee- *as o.p#ete#y o##apsed) one side o' the .o"th *as a .ang#ed .ess$ The &a* itse#' had set i.proper#y) so that it &"tted to the side$ The genera# i.pression) espe ia##y 'ro. a distan e) *as o' a o"ntenan e p" -ering at an ang#e$ It *as a 'a e right o"t o' a night.are$ 1"t there *as nothing 'rightening abo"t the eyes$ They *ere the eyes o' a hi#d$ Maybe ha#' the g"##s dan ed on the ro -s) s rea.ing) *hi#e the rest ir #ed o!erhead$ The boy onsidered the 'isher.an "rio"s#y be'ore p#a ing a 'oot on the b"rnt de -$ His ga(e *ent aro"nd the boat) #ingered on the .a-eshi't sai#) ret"rned to the s#".ped 'ig"re$ He passed a hand be'ore the eyes$ No response$ He then #eaned in and p#a ed his hand on the 'orehead$ I..ediate#y that b#ea- e7pression be a.e '#"id) bri..ing o!er *ith horror and heartbrea-$ Tears ro##ed do*n the 'isher.an%s hee-s as he gasped) sh"ddered) and ba -ed "p the harred .ast to his 'eet$ Th"s propped) he gaped at his !isitors and *as o!er o.e by a *a!e o' ho.esi -ness so strong he had to t"rn a*ay$ The 'ee#ing be*i#dered hi.) 'or this !esse#) and this sea) *ere a## the ho.e he%d e!er -no*n$ He #"ng to the .ast *hi#e the boy he#ped his 'ather board$ On e he%d o##e ted hi.se#') the 'isher.an tore a hea!y rossbea. 'ro. the toasted abin$ He and the boy "sed this as a #e!er) and together they sho!ed the boat o'' the ro -s$ The *ind pi -ed "p ni e#y) and the #itt#e ra't *as s*ept a ross the *ater$ The g"##s e7p#oded o'' the ro -s and shot a'ter the boat as i' it *ere bri..ing *ith 'ish) the #o"dest and orneriest !ying 'or 'a!ored positions dire t#y o!erhead$ The .e#ee attra ted additiona# g"##s4they a.e s rea.ing in their h"ndreds 'ro. a## sides) ban-ing and a##ing in the oddest .anner) "nti# the .ass gre* so thi - as to ast a per.anent shado* on the boat$ A## day #ong the shrie-ing ontin"ed) and a## that night$ The 'isher.an ro##ed *ith the r"dder) #ist#ess#y) a##o*ing the sea to ontro# hi.$ Ine!itab#y he #et go) that the *ind .ight bear the. *here it *o"#d$ His sai# ba##ooned b"t he#d 'ir.) and the boat 'air#y (ipped a ross a sea as s.ooth as g#ass$ The three tiny sai#ors sat h"n hed together) .otion#ess) a## thro"gho"t the ne7t day) "nti# the b#a - oast o' S*eden #oo.ed in the t*i#ight$ As the boat neared #and the #o"d o' g"##s bro-e "p) shot to shore) and #anded in gro"ps o' a tho"sand and .ore+ a di((ying) *i#d#y #a.oro"s re eption o..ittee$ The d"ng, o!ered boat s#a..ed into the ro -s) shattering the 'isher.an%s tran e$ He int"iti!e#y *a#-ed his b"tt "p the .ast and) s*aying there) *at hed the boy dra* his 'ather o!er the side and #ead hi. to a #earing at *ood%s edge$ There in the d"s- he .ade o"t *hat appeared to be a s.a## spotted r"na*ay o* hit hed to a ri -ety *ood *agon$ He sa* the o* r"n "p to .eet the.) sa* the boy #oo- aro"nd *ari#y) sa* hi. he#p the #itt#e .an into the *agon and #i.b in beside hi.$ The o* i..ediate#y began pi -ing thro"gh the *oods) the #arge brass be## ro"nd her ne - #anging 'or#orn#y$

The #arity o' that be## .ade hi. rea#i(e &"st ho* 8"iet it had be o.e$ He raned his ne -3 not a g"## in sight$ The 'isher.an 'e## ba - against the harred .ast and s#id onto his tai#bone *ith a #a -ing o' teeth$ His eyes began to .ist$ In the gathering dar- a 'e* sai# 'rag.ents '#e* past and *ere s" -ed into the *oods$ The boat ro -ed and re#a7ed$ A'ter that there *as on#y the so"nd o' the re eding be##%s sad) .onotono"s song being batted abo"t by the *ind$ The #itt#e o* strode a ross the .oon#it *oods "nti# she a.e to a path in the br"sh 'or.ed by the r"tting o' *hee#s o!er .any years$ She 'o##o*ed this bro-en) serpentine tra - thro"gho"t the night) and by .orning *as passing 'ar.s and) o asiona##y) rossing broader trai#s that .ight rea#isti a##y be de'ined as roads$ A## day #ong she bore do*n that ragged tra - "nti# she a.e) in #ate a'ternoon) to a #earing near a !i##age$ Here .any s" h tra -s on!erged$ And here the boy s#ipped a*ay *hi#e she gra(ed$ So.eti.e a'ter dar- he ret"rned *ith a #oad o' stra*) a o"p#e o' pi#'ered b#an-ets) and a 'at iron -ett#e$ Cra..ed in this -ett#e *ere sa#t) t"bers) heese) a 'e* #oa!es o' rye) #eg".es) and a 'oot o' p#".p #a.b sa"sage$ Most o' this booty he%d bro"ght in tied to the bo*ed ba - o' a h"ge) p"''ing) high#y a.enab#e b#a - pig *hi h) th"s #aden) no* 'o##o*ed the boy%s e!ery step #i-e a 'resh on!ert tra ing the .essiah%s hee#s$ The boy b"i#t a 'ire "nder the stars) 'i##ed the -ett#e *ith ree- *ater) and o..en ed si..ering their dinner$ He shooed the pig$ Rather than r"n a#ong) it ba -peda#ed in a ner!o"s ir #e) ro"nd and ro"nd in re!erse) "nti# it #ost its ba#an e and 'e## on its r".p$ There it re.ained) a yard behind the *agon$ The boy 'ed his 'ather and #ined the *agon *ith stra*$ They sett#ed in 'or the night$ The boy ."st ha!e nodded) .ight ha!e drea.t) b"t *hi#e he *as dri'ting he be a.e a*are o' a stirring in the *oods$ He sat "p) sa* the pig%s eyes g#ea.ing in hes 'ro. his nose$ And there *ere a n".ber o' ani.a#s) so.e *i#d) so.e strayed 'ro. 'ar.steads) arranged in a broad ir #e aro"nd the *agon) their eyes g#inting *ith .oon#ight$ Not a r"st#e) not a peep) *as #i'ted 'ro. the *oods$ In the .orning he *o-e to 'ind the pig sti## staring$ The o*) i.patient to ro##) began her #ong day%s .ar h *hi#e Hero and his boy *ere yet stret hing and s rat hing) and the big b#a - pig) ga##oping hea!i#y) 'e## right in behind$ Ea h ne* day this ro"tine *as reprised$ They b".ped past 'ar.s and s.a## o.."nities "nti# the r"ts interse ted a broad ro -y road *ending ha#'*ay a ross the -ingdo.$ The o* addressed this road *ith !igor$ They pi -ed "p 'o##o*ers4a goat here) a o"p#e o' sheep there4*hi h h"rried a'ter the *agon as best they o"#d$ The o* p#odded a#ong) .i#e a'ter .i#e) day a'ter day) her be## -eeping steady ti.e$ That be##%s a e#erating pea# attra ted 'oa#s) #a.bs) and -ids into the *agon%s narro*ing *a-e$ Hares hopped bet*een hoo!es and *hee#s$ 1oars and b#"e 'o7es .ar hed and *ithdre*$ White 'a# ons) nor.a##y so#o '#iers) *hir#ed into e#ongated *edge shapes high o!erhead$ At night the entire train *o"#d a.p on the road$ As soon as the 'ire *as o"t the o#ony gre*) reat"re by reat"re$ And the .o.ent the s"n bro-e the hori(on the #itt#e o* a.e to #i'e and .o!ed on) b"t ea h day a bit .ore reso#"te#y) as tho"gh straining to .eet a dead#ine$ The .ar h too- on a sense o' "rgen y$ The o* *a#-ed e!er s*i'ter) the #ang o' her be## a bit .ore strident *ith ea h passing .i#e$ Soon her 'o##o*ers n".bered in the h"ndreds) as ani.a#s deserted their 'ar.s or rept o"t o' the *oods to &oin the pro ession$ Ti##ers and traders stood d".b'o"nded) a.a(ed by the bi(arre '#o*$ On e they%d rossed into Nor*ay the o* !eered to the *est) and the pa e pi -ed "p onsiderab#y$ The days b#"rred into a sing#e !ariegated '#o*) 'or the bashed and #opsided *agon *as s"rro"nded da*n to d"s- by a on'"sed and on'"sing s "rry$ Word o' the '#o*%s *eirdness pre eded it #ear to the Nor*egian oast) so that no* 'ar.ers and to*nspeop#e) *eari#y gathering their gogg#ing 'a.i#ies) 'o"nd the.se#!es #ined in anti ipation a#ong the -ing%s high*ay$ Riders *ent po"nding to

and 'ro *ith ne*s o' its progress and parti "#ars+ hi#dren ran thro"gh the streets banging pots in i.itation o' the o*%s approa hing be##$ :i!esto - *hee#ed and sta.ped) 'o*# #eaped and rashed$ The o* bro-e into a r"n$ 1ystanders trotted behind) a##ing ba - and 'orth e7 ited#y) *hi#e the *agon%s per.anent ento"rage s8"ea#ed and s8"a*-ed bet*een their hee#s$ The o* .ade a hard t"rn onto a *idening s*ath in the br"sh$ This s*ath) see.ing to strain against the soi#) ran straight do*n to the rest o' a #o* hi## o!er#oo-ing the At#anti $ On either side a ro*d had been st"dying the pheno.enon 'or so.e ti.e) b"t no* a## eyes s*"ng to the dar- and dis'ig"red .an and his son) #inging to the disintegrating *agon behind the areening spotted o*$ The trai#ing peop#e traded !ie*s as they ran$ Most4at the !ery o"tset o' the ne* .i##enni".) *ith Christianity b"rgeoning thro"gho"t E"rope4#eaned to the .ira "#o"s$ Others) &"st as s"perstitio"s b"t prone to a dar-er o"t#oo-) thre* #oo-s o' horror at the de'or.ed #itt#e .an$ Det they ran no #ess eager#y$ Spe "#ation #eapt #i-e *i#d'ire) .an to .an) tho"gh the onsens"s o' the ga##oping ro*d needed no !oi e4on#y one #o a# e!ent o' any .o.ent *as bre*ing$ On the oast a 5reen#ander 9i-ing) i.pet"o"s son o' the great is#and%s notorio"s dis o!erer) *as preparing his #ongship 'or the ro"gh !oyage ho.e$ He%d &"st been bapti(ed in O#a'%s o"rt) and *as no* eager to sai#4b"t not as a *arrior) as a .issionary$ Whi#e his spirit re.ained in a t"g,o%,*ar bet*een gods o#d and ne*) his d"ty *as #ear#y to his -ing$ And O#a' had harged hi. *ith the Christiani(ation o' pagan 5reen#and$ So.ething on the *ind no* .ade this destined .an t"rn his head$ /ro. behind the gent#e hi## to his rear a.e a -ind o' th"nder$ Heads popped "p) 'o##o*ed by a on'"sed e7p#osion o' !oi es) and se onds #ater a b"g,eyed o* b"rst into !ie*) dragging the *hee##ess s-e#eton o' a shattered *ooden *agon$ On the *agon%s sp#ayed 'ra.e a .an and teenaged boy #"ng 'or their #i!es as the gasping o* .ade a bee#ine 'or his ship$ The ne* .issionary) sti## ego entri eno"gh to ass".e his Ma-er .ight a t"a##y toss hi. a persona#) s"rreptitio"s#y ro##ed "p his eyes$ The s-y ya*ned at his pretentio"sness$ At his side a s.a##ish) o*#ed .an stood) b"t the .issionary sat hi. right ba - do*n$ He then snorted) s8"ared his sho"#ders) and signa#ed his .en to ha#t their preparations$ Ano*ing it *as e7pe ted) he gathered his hard Nordi pride and oo##y .ade his *ay into the ro*d$ The priest #"ng to port) his t*isted 'a e *agging abo!e the *a!es$ A'ter a o.p#ete#y "ne!ent'"# .in"te he #eaned ba - and stared thro"gh tearing eyes at the distant ba -drop o' gathering 'og$ A .an o' his onstit"tion had no b"siness at sea$ He *as a#ong) on the -ing%s o..and) so#e#y to assist the ne* .issionary$ A#ong) too) the .issionary bro"ght an odd #itt#e .an and the .an%s 'ier e#y de!oted son$ This a t o' Christian harity had appeared strong,yet, o.passionate in the eyes o' his re*) and had readi#y *on the priest%s 8"iet appro!a#$ The boy) thro"gh his panto.i.e) had been so persistent in begging their passage that re'"sa#) "nder the ir ".stan es) *o"#d ha!e been "nbe o.ing not on#y a .an o' 5od b"t a .an o' the *or#d$ A priest *ho o"#dn%t ho#d his #"n h) a *it#ess eyesore *ho o"#dn%t sit sti##) and a s"r#y teenaged -eeper *ho snar#ed at the 'irst hard #oo-4this #ast passage &"st had to be so.e -ind o' di!ine test) o' .orta# patien e as *e## as .ora# !a#"es$ Norse.en *eren%t .ade 'or babysitting$ And the 'og ondensed) and the shape be a.e a hard oast$ And then the #ongship *as .ooring) and the re* *ere &ost#ing and #a.bering) and the big .issionary had booted o'' the ha"nted #itt#e 'rea- and his hypersensiti!e #itt#e son) and *as ondes ending#y ha#',es orting) ha#', arrying) the green #itt#e priest ashore$ And they *ere ho.e$

;riest in to*) the .issionary 8"i -#y too- "p the Christiani(ation o' 5reen#and%s Western Sett#e.ent) as per O#a'%s o..and$ His .other e.bra ed the ne* re#igion big ti.e) b"t his 'ather *as "napproa hab#e on the s"b&e t 0tho"gh he did on ede to b"i#ding her a s.a## h"r h2$ The .ang#ed #itt#e .an and his son 'o##o*ed the .issionary aro"nd #i-e dogs) s#ept o"tside his door and annoyed his !isitors) b"t "#ti.ate#y pro!ed 'ar easier to adopt than to sha-e$ 1are#y to#erab#e pests $ $ $ sti##) the boy *as si.p#y a.a(ing *ith #i!esto - $ $ $ and tho"gh his "se#ess 'ather see.ed ti.e and again to be &"st begging 'or a *hooping) his presen e bore so.e ine''ab#e 8"a#ity that a#*ays "rbed the .issionary%s hand$ Se!era# ti.es he%d *itnessed the 'ather approa hed by sett#ers bent on ab"se$ Ea h ti.e the boy had stepped in oo##y) and ea h ti.e the tro"b#e.a-ers *ere 8"i -#y o*ed$ The .issionary o' o"rse didn%t attrib"te any -ind o' e#estia# inter!ention to these episodes) and ertain#y the pop"#ar notion o' de!i#ry *as a nat"ra# rea tion to the pair%s o"trageo"s e7oti ness) but $ $ $ in the son%s presen e) and e!en "nder the hard eyes o' his 'e##o* Norse.en) he .ore than on e 'o"nd hi.se#' deigning to the 'ather$ And so the de'or.ed .an and his boy soon b#ent right in4in the *ise o' !i##age idiot and .ysti g"ide$ And *hen e!ent"a##y a sea.an bro"ght ta#es o' an "n!isited #and to the *est) it *as on#y nat"ra# 'or the rest#ess 5reen#ander to b"y that sea.an%s boat and) be'ore sta#*art o.rades) *eary 'a.i#y) and *hi.si a# 5od A#.ighty) re#" tant#y a ept the e entri 'ather and son as sort o' seagoing .as ots$ Hero *as 'ro. then on irrepressib#e$ D"ring preparations he *o"#d pipe and sta..er) in his ha#',."te *ay) bri..ing *ith a on'o"nding an7iety that -ept hi. "nder'oot and at odds *ith a##$ On 'rigid nights he *o"#d per h on the *estern.ost ro -s .oaning in the strangest 'ashion *hi#e his son stood g"ard$ And therea'ter he positi!e#y spoo-ed the #o a#s$ They *o"#d gossip) ner!o"s#y and *ith bi#e) o' an ans*ering *ind that a.e #o*ing o'' the sea #i-e a banshee in #abor$ The *ho#e is#and *anted rid o' hi.$ And *hen his ha.ping -eeper) sti## #inging to the notion o' Christian harity) b"nd#ed hi. aboard *ith his son and a re* o' thirty,'i!e) perhaps no one *as happier to see hi. go than the .issionary%s 'ather$ A#.ost 'ro. the .o.ent they ast o'' e!erything *ent *rong$ An "nstab#e *eather pattern appeared to p"rs"e the.) *orsening steadi#y and dra.ati a##y) and *hen the #o"ds 'ina##y b"rst the o*#ing sea *ent .ad$ Der!ishes *hir#ed ro"nd the h"##) riss rossing *inds bede!i#ed the s8"aresai#$ ;at hes o' -e#p be#onging to ." h *ar.er *aters a.e hea!ing a#ongside) 'o"#ing the *or- o' the oars) *hi#e 'ar to the *est a h".ongo"s 'ogban- gathered and dissipated) gathered and dissipated) eradi ating the na!igab#e 'ie#d$ The #ightning,strea-ed hori(on be a.e an inter.ittent#y throbbing gray s#it$ The .en o.p#ained o' heada hes and ha##" inations) and o' a nasty) s#ight#y .eta##i tang to the air$ There *ere n".ero"s *a#r"s sightings+ bobbing '#ippers and sno"ts a.id dri'ting i e h"n-s that a.e pro*#ing the North Sea #i-e a pa - o' *hite *o#!es$ Worst o' a## *as the boy%s 'ather4instant#y agitated by e!erything and nothing) prey to so.e pri.iti!e i.p"#se that a"sed hi. to periodi a##y in #ine his head) sh"dder to his 'eet) and #oop his ar.s as tho"gh e.bra ing the s-y$ The .issionary *o"#d *at h hi. s rabb#ing at the pro* #i-e a at at a tree) '"rs snapping in the *ind+ he%d *at h the boy reseat hi. 'or the h"ndredth ti.e) and 'or the h"ndredth ti.e be 'i##ed *ith an i..ense onte.pt$ 1y no* he%d a -no*#edged that it ta-es a spe ia# -ind o' strength to sho"#der harity and to#eran e$ That bro*n #itt#e bother str" - hi. as an enor.o"s .a#'or.ed barna #e) s#o*#y *or-ing its *ay ba - "p the pro*$ The 'oo# *as trying so !ery hard to go "nnoti ed) #oo-ing and #istening intent#y) tho"gh there *as nothing to see other than gro*ing she#!es o' 'og) and nothing to hear sa!e the rising) a#.ost hysteri a# !oi e o' the *ind$ The ship -i -ed$ The "ne7pe ted &o#t *as a o.panied by an abr"pt in rease in !e#o ity) and a steadying in the ship%s s*ay$ The bo* dipped and sh"ddered$ The ship #"r hed again) as tho"gh an enor.o"s s"b.arine hand had re#eased and resei(ed the h"##$ A## aro"nd) those dri't,i e ghosts r"ised dangero"s#y near) a"ght in the sa.e po*er'"# "rrent$ Ship and i e *ere p"##ed d"e *est) and so began to o"tr"n the *eather$

In a heartbeat the rain had !anished) #ea!ing on#y its s attering print$ The #o"ds 'e## 'ar behind as the ship e.bar-ed "pon an a.a(ing#y a#. sea4so a#. its *ho#e !isib#e s"r'a e *as 'eat"re#ess e7 ept 'or the 'aint *a-es pro!ided by the ship and its h"#-ing i e o.panions$ /ar to the east another great 'ogban- appeared on the hori(on) and a *hi#e #ater a s.a##er ban- to the north$ Then a !ery dense one to the so"th$ In ti.e the 'ogban-s on!erged) i.per eptib#y be o.ing a sing#e .ass that grad"a##y #osed aro"nd the ship$ The ring o' 'og%s !ang"ard a.e as tresses o' sna-ing .ist that reated a -ind o' hea!ing do.e$ Tiny beads o' *ater began to appear on beards and eyebro*s+ in a .in"te e!erything *as soa-ed$ The on#y so"nd *as that o' the dragging steering oar$ The .en be a.e sopping ghosts in a !ag"e #"ttered 'ra.e) spea-ing on#y *ith their eyes$ Dire t#y ahead the 'og began to di.p#e$ The di.p#e be a.e a ho##o*) the ho##o* a a!e) and then ship and i e *ere being to*ed thro"gh a #o*) e!er,e7tending t"nne# in 'og$ The "rrent in reased its p"##$ Ship and dri'ting i e a e#erated thro"gh the t"nne#$ A'ter a .in"te the .issionary 8"iet#y stepped 'or*ard$ He stood *ith one hand on the pro*%s ne -) staring intent#y and #istening to the .ist) so .otion#ess he .ight ha!e been a ar!ed e7tension o' the #ongship%s aggressi!e design$ Not a .an breathed$ The t"nne#%s di#ating and ontra ting bore *as prod" ing an other*or#d#y) near#y sea.#ess series o' os i##ating) !ag"e#y phoneti so"nds$ He a#.ost tiptoed ba -$ No god) pagan or Christian) o"#d a o"nt 'or the strangeness o' this sit"ation$ Night a.e) and the t"nne# ontin"ed to bore thro"gh the 'og$ The te.perat"re p#"..eted$ S.a## sheets o' i e on!erged) dri'ting bet*een the h"n-s$ The Norse.en) instin ti!e#y h"dd#ing a.idships) passed o"t one by one in a .assi!e pi#e o' '"r and '#esh$ In the 'ree(ing si#en e the '#oes b".ped and re oi#ed) b".ped and gathered) b".ped and bonded$ The tiny ship) s*a##o*ed *ho#e) *as dragged a#ong in a #abyrinth o' b#a - sea and inter#o -ing s#abs o' i e$ The sai#ors a.e to in a s"r#y) 'o"#,s.e##ing heap) #ost at sea$ Whi#e they *ere sti## groggy a !oi e ried o"t that a dar-er pat h *as de!e#oping in the 'og$ The .en a## 'e## to port$ Bnder the on'"sion o' their !oi es o"#d be heard a distant) 'a.i#iar r".b#e$ At this Hero ha"#ed hi.se#' "p the high "r!ed pro*$ The t"nne#%s bore *as broadening$ A ha#',#ight began to penetrate the 'og) bare#y irradiating the irreg"#ar 'a es o' dri'ting i e$ The .issionary stor.ed 'or*ard and indi ated by gest"res that i' the boy didn%t restrain his 'ather he *o"#d ha!e the .an tied do*n$ The "rrent s#o*ed "nti# the #ongship *as dead in the *ater$ 1road pi##ars o' s"n res"rre ted the *or#d) and the Norse.en 'o"nd the.se#!es regarding a perpet"a##y 'ro(en oast#ine s*athed in b#"ish !ei#s o' .ist$ Dire t#y be'ore the. #oo.ed an i..ense i e #i'' h"ndreds o' 'eet high$ Rising beyond this #i'' *ere end#ess sno* 'ie#ds *here #ean !io#et shado*s see.ed to drag abo"t o' their o*n !o#ition$ And "pon those b#ea- 'ie#ds a thin) ho*#ing *ind pro*#ed) -i -ing "p brie' *hite der!ishes) #ea!ing a strange (ig(agging signat"re$ E!en as the .en stared) a dar-er shado*) high on the i e #i''%s g#istening 'a e) began to *iden and e#ongate) a o.panied by a ra -ing so"nd that o"#d be 'e#t be'ore it *as heard$ With the i##"sion o' s#o*,.otion) a st"pendo"s h"n- bro-e o"t o' the i e and a.e s rea.ing to*ard the sea$ It hit the *ater #i-e a bo.b$ The th"nder o' its separation and the e7p#osion o' its i.pa t too- a .o.ent to rea h the.$ Then) o"t o' a spe*ing rater o' rests and sp".e) the ne* berg a.e #"nging) tro.ping the sea so hard the #ongship) '"##y a .i#e to sea) *as s*ept o"t and s" -ed ba - in #i-e a or-$ The '#o"ndering .o"ntain o' i e bobbed and #i#ted) generating h"ge *a!es *hi h ontin"ed to ro - the ship #ong a'ter the berg had sett#ed$ In a *hi#e the roaring in their ears s"bsided and there re.ained on#y the s*ir#ing) ner!e,*ra -ing ho*# o' the *ind$ The .issionary%s eyes s*ept #e't and right$ He -ne* his ho.e#and%s shores #i-e the ba - o' his hand) and) *hate!er this p#a e *as) it s"re *asn%t 5reen#and$ Hero again s ra.b#ed "p the pro*$ The

.issionary yan-ed hi. do*n and .ade good his threat$ He had the #itt#e pain bo"nd) tho"gh he *as ha#',te.pted to #et hi. ta-e his han es o!erboard$ They ontin"ed on a so"ther#y o"rse) and the 'o##o*ing day a.e "pon an inhospitab#e shore#ine g#a(ed by da((#ing *hite bea hes$ T*o days #ater they behe#d a 'ar p#easanter) thi -#y *ooded oast$ Here the .issionary "ntied Hero and persona##y p#a ed hi. and his son in a tiny oaro*boat$ He *as &"st as si - o' the. as he *as e7 ited by this pro.ising ne* #and$ On e the ro*boat had been hea!ed o!er the side) he and another .an stepped aboard and too- "p the oars$ They began ro*ing *ith easy) po*er'"# stro-es$ When the boat -issed sand the .issionary stood "nsteadi#y$ The 'irst E"ropean to set 'oot on North A.eri an soi# no* p#a ed one hand on his r" i'i7 and the other on his s*ord%s hi#t$ He a*-*ard#y p#"nged his #eg into the thigh,deep) i e, o#d s"r'$ 1"t be'ore he o"#d ta-e another step the boat #"r hed as Hero #eapt head'irst into the *ater$ A heartbeat #ater his son 'o##o*ed$ The 5reen#anders *at hed in "rio"s#y as the t*o sp#ashed their *ay into a .ad dash 'or the *aiting pines$ The .issionary *ished the. both good riddan e and t"rned ba -$ He ."st ha!e b#a -ed o"t 'or an instant) ."st ha!e been b#inded by a sha't o' s"n) 'or he 'o"nd he *as staring st"pid#y at a point bet*een his o.panion and the distant ro -ing ship$ It 'e#t #i-e he%d been -i -ed bet*een the eyes$ E!erything *as disso#!ing$ He st"died the bea h and pines #ose#y) b"t sa* nothing o' the .an or his boy$ Nor o"#d he dete t any tra e o' 'ootprints in the sand$ The area *as pristine$ He t"rned ba -) disoriented$ With *hat see.ed a s"perh".an e''ort he too- "p his oars$ He ro*ed o"t s#"ggish#y) in a drea.) and the 'og ro##ed in to .eet hi.$ The boy bro-e into the trees and e.bra ed a tr"n-) 'ighting 'or breath$ What happened ne7t a.e so 'ast) and so "ne7pe ted#y) that he didn%t ha!e a han e to rea t$ Three sa!ages stepped 'ro. behind the pines and beat hi. to his -nees) t*isted his ar.s behind his ba -) and ha"#ed hi. to his 'eet$ He%d bare#y pro essed the i.pression o' a *i#d painted 'a e *hen so.ething sharp str" - hi. hard on the te.p#e and tore do*n his hee- to the &a*$ T*o o' the assai#ants .anhand#ed hi. into an "pright position and he#d hi. in p#a e *hi#e the third bro"ght his *eapon do*n again and again and again$ A## b"t dead) he sa* a night.are o"ntenan e sho"ting thro"gh a shot !ei# o' b#ood) and behind that i.age a ree#ing ri.son s-y$ He #ay there g"shing *hi#e the sa!ages *ent thro"gh his rags$ They propped hi. against a pine and shrie-ed *ith tri".ph *hi#e they tore the gory hair and s a#p 'ro. his s-"##) then thre* ba - their heads and s rea.ed at the s rea.ing s"n$ Tooth and nai#) they ripped apart his 'a e and throat and) ertain he *o"#d die) sp#it *hat bits o' '"r *ere #e't and #et his ar ass #ie$

Hero
The *ee-s stret hed into .onths *hi#e he 'o"ght his *ay ba - into the #ight$ He .ade his *ay in stages+ on#y ha#', ons io"s) st".b#ing a#ong in a b#ood,red st"por p"n t"ated by the s#o* strobe o' his 're8"ent b#a -o"ts$ Days #oo.ed and de ayed) nights po"n ed and *ere gone+ the ba -#it) s*ir#ing gray os.os o##apsed and e7panded *ith the beat o' his p"#se$ A tho"sand ti.es he spread o"t to die) and a tho"sand ti.es he #a*ed to his 'eet) dri!en to p"rs"e a tiny) ghost,#i-e 'ig"re that '#"ttered in his .e.ory$ E!erything onspired to he - hi.$ A h".ongo"s bay *as s-irted o!er .onths or years4it *as a## the sa.e$ Co#d #o -ed hi. in) H"nger dro!e hi. a'ie#d$ That r"de bit h Wind #ashed hi. b#ind) *ore hi. #i-e a shoe) s rea.ed 'or his s-in *hi#e he *or-ed his *ay *est$ So.eho* he ate) so.eho* he a!oided being eaten4the instin ts that had ser!ed hi. ha#'*ay aro"nd the p#anet *ere sti## !ita# beneath the ab"sed e7terior$ E!ent"a##y his si.p#e b"rro*s be a.e

st"rdy te.porary she#ters$ He re#earned the art o' 'ire) and began to oo- *hat he -i##ed$ He .an"'a t"red r"de snares and *eapons and) *hen his re "peration *as o.p#ete) paid #oser attention to the on,again) o'',again trai# he%d been 'o##o*ing $ $ $ 'ore!er$ So.eti.es this trai# *o"#d a## to hi. #i-e a #o!er$ Other ti.es he stood peering "n ertain#y) trying to re apt"re .eanings and ai.s$ Then the gro"nd *o"#d t"rn spongy and the s-y re!o#!e) and on e again he%d be #ying a## b"t dead in the *oods) *hi#e 'ro. the 'a e o' the s"n e.erged a !i#e *inged horror) its pa#e "g#y head #ashing side to side) its r"e##y hoo-ed bea- dang#ing so.ething that g#istened in the *i#d p"#sing #ight $ $ $ then the 'at .oon) rising #i-e gas against the i y b#a - night $ $ $ the 'ee# o' the *ind3 the ri!ing o' her nai#s) the ha'ing o' her he. $ $ $ the so"nd o' things r"n hing and pa"sing and sni''ing $ $ $ then the s"n) b#a(ing ane*$ And again that thing) des ending) its *ide b#a - *ings beating s#o*#y) .etrono.i a##y4b"t none o' that .attered any .ore$ /or his .ind had 8"it hi.) had '#o*n ho*#ing into i e and pine to roost *ith things s"rrea#$ In the s"n his .adness .ight ."dd#e and r"n) or spend the #ight sta#-ing+ at,#i-e) *at hing) *aiting$ 1"t at night it a.e reeping 'ro. a## sides$ So.eti.es it a.e in *a!es$ It o"#d gna* #i-e the de!i#) or *rap aro"nd hi. #i-e a *ar. se ond s-in$ 1"t none o' that .attered either$ The on#y thing that .attered *as the trai#4*hether it *as #ost 'or good) or 'or on#y a *hi#e$ He%d been 'o##o*ing it thro"gh his episodes) a#*ays north) *ondering &"st *ho and *here in the *or#d he *as) and trying to sha-e a ridi "#o"s notion o' being #ed on a *i#d goose hase$ The o#d *as "nbe#ie!ab#e$ The deeper north he de#!ed) the .ore on'"sed he be a.e$ He gre* star!ed 'or o#ors and s ents) 'inding none7istent patterns in the star- ontrast o' shado* and sno*$ He tho"ght he o"#d dete t a -ind o' other*or#d#y design in the o!er*he#.ing n".ber o' dead ends he en o"ntered) and in the de!i#ish#y 'r"strating #o ations o' nat"ra# obsta #es$ He see.ed to be 'ore!er 'ighting the *ind3 a h"#-ing) despondent sno*.an) he hi-ed 'a e do*n and 'o "sed) *hi#e another aspe t o' his attention '#oated &"st behind) dise.bodied) *at hing his si#ent p"rs"ers4#ea!ing no tra -s) b#ending per'e t#y *ith the en!iron.ent in their #e!er *inter oats $ $ $ not predators) b"t reat"res that nor.a##y sho"#d ha!e been hightai#ing it a*ay 'ro. hi.$ 1y the ti.e he o"#d t"rn) they%d be o.e nothing .ore .ena ing than sno*dri'ts$ 1"t they p"rs"ed hi. ne!erthe#ess$ And so his paranoia in reased $ $ $ had there e!er rea##y been a trai# $ $ $ and *hen did this .iserab#y o#d) .iserab#y ane.i r"sade begin $ $ $ his #ong,ter. .e.ory *as 'a##ing apart a h"n- at a ti.e$ It &"st got o#der and o#der and o#der "nti# at #ast) one snippet o' a day d"ring one b#"r o' a year) he 'o"nd hi.se#' "tter#y #ost) and #"e#ess as to his history or ob&e ti!e$ His .ind *as a b#an-) as o#or#ess and 'eat"re#ess as the end#ess *or#d o' i e aro"nd hi.$ He%d o.e this 'ar so#e#y to #earn that the on#y trai# he%d been 'o##o*ing had been his o*n $ $ $ and no* e!en that trai# *as s" ".bing to i e$ On a## sides there *as nothing to see b"t an in'inite 'ie#d o' g#aring *hiteness) and nothing to hear b"t the "#"#ating *ai# o' the t"b"#ar po#ar *ind$ It *as the #one#iest) the "nho#iest) the reepiest so"nd i.aginab#e$ 1"t it *asn%t insanity that .ade hi. *hee#$ It *as his se#',preser!ation instin t$ And then he *as so.eho* on his -nees in the *oods) 'a ing a '"rio"s setting s"n$ Who#e seasons had passed 'ro. his .e.ory #i-e ha#- 'ro. a board$ His on#y re o##e tions *ere those o' a bro-en) ha"nted ani.a#3 o' being peri#o"s#y si -) o' 'earing the "nseen) o' b#ind#y str"gg#ing a ross a so#id,*hite *i#derness$ That he%d s"r!i!ed s" h an ordea# .eant nothing to hi.$ And that he had in so.e inde ipherab#e .anner st".b#ed a ross the o#d,as,stone trai# did not 'i## hi. *ith a.a(e.ent or *ith than-'"#ness4there si.p#y *asn%t anything !is"a# or e.otiona# #e't to dra* on$ A signi'i ant part o' his #i'e had been *hited o"t$ 1"t no* he o"#d 'o "s entire#y on the trai#$ And be'ore he -ne* it) the '"((y area bet*een 'antasy and rea#ity 'o"nd a sea.$ He began to ana#y(e and p#an$ He paid attention to hygiene) and -ept a -ind o' r"nning .enta# &o"rna#$ Things *ere sorting o"t$ Det there *ere nights *hen the o#d si -ness *o"#d s"r'a e) reestab#ish its ho#d) and #ea!e hi. s*eating and "n ertain "nder the stars$ Then) parado7i a##y) his per eption *o"#d be o.e ra(or,-een$ And so he *o"#d see) on a distant hi##top) a

pair o' s ra*ny si#ho"ettes) one on 'o"r #egs and one on t*o) s#o*#y rossing the 'aint#y po -ed 'a e o' the setting .oon$ He *o"#d be o.e strange#y e7 ited) and therea'ter retain rysta#, #ear i.ages o' hi.se#') as i' seen 'ro. abo!e) h"rrying *ith adroitness thro"gh the si#ent) gra!eyard,#i-e setting o' b#a - and b#"e night and *hite,'rosted trees$ Then the '"((y area *o"#d broaden) and it *o"#d be the ne7t .orning) and he *o"#d be staring at the prints o' .an and e#- in sno*$ And he *o"#d see ho* the e#-%s prints do"b#ed ba -) and ho* the .an%s prints ter.inated *here he had ob!io"s#y .o"nted his g"ide$ An "n'atho.ab#e g#o* *o"#d bring tears to his eyes$ 1"t) e!en as he gathered hi.se#') a 'resh sno*'a## *o"#d *ipe o"t the prints$ And on e again the *or#d *o"#d p#"..et into *hite$ And the *ind *o"#d ho*# as the sno* ha..ered his eyes$ And he *o"#d tra.p on$ A s ra*ny haggard ani.a# sat shi!ering in a s.a## gro!e o' 'ro(en pines) *at hing his a.p'ire die$ His eyes *ere 'i7ed$ :i-e the 'ire) he *as r"nning o"t o' *ar.th) r"nning o"t o' '"e#$ There *asn%t a *ho#e #ot o' tinder ro"nd his bones) and not ." h 'ee#ing #e't in his #i.bs$ The s#o*#y heaping do*n'a## *as b"rying hi. a#i!e) b"t he *as too n".b to rea t$ It had ta-en hi. si7 #ong years to ross an entire ontinent) and d"ring that ti.e he%d -no*n on#y o#d and e7 r" iating pain$ 1"t no* the pain *as #ea!ing hi.$ The o#d *as .a-ing it right$ His eyes began to g#a(e$ A#ong a narro* p#ain to the *est a herd o' aribo" 'i#ed drea.i#y thro"gh the sno*) "tting a ross a panora.i ba -drop o' da((#ing *hite .o"ntains$ The s#o*,.otion parade *as hypnoti $ A'ter a *hi#e it o "rred to the dri'ting .an) in a ro"ndabo"t *ay) that he *as dying) that he *as as"a##y 'ree(ing to death$ Con "rrent *ith this notion there rose in his hest a de#i io"s) #i8"id *ar.th$ His eyes s#o*#y #osed and) on e sh"t) began to set 'ast$ He *as &o#ted$ It *as as i' he%d been -i -ed$ He &er-ed to his 'eet) po"nded his 'ists on his thighs) 'e#t nothing$ The breath sp"rted 'ro. his .o"th in s.a## *hite #o"ds as he st".b#ed do*nhi## a'ter the s#o* aribo" train$ He s*a. thro"gh the sno*) ha##" inating) i.agining that ertain indi!id"a#s in the herd *ere .o -ing hi. by s#o*ing and a e#erating) *hi#e others g#an ed ba - *ith e7pressions o' onte.pt$ As he b"rst into their .idst the ani.a#s stepped aside indi''erent#y$ A 'e* ga##oped ahead to -eep "p the herd) b"t .ost si.p#y *a#-ed aro"nd hi. *hi#e he dan ed there) sta.ping his 'eet and s.a -ing his hands$ The herd gre* thinner) "nti# on#y the o#d and in'ir. *ere 'i#ing by$ The .an desperate#y e.bra ed a hobb#ing 'e.a#e 'or *ar.th) b"t she ried o"t and -i -ed) triggering a pani rea tion in the herd$ C#inging 'or his #i'e) the .an *as dragged a#ong beside her as the herd stor.ed into a .a(e o' '#ying i e and sno*$ His *eight a"sed her to stagger side*ays "nti# they s#a..ed against the '#an- o' a si - .a#e$ The .an instin ti!e#y thre* an ar. o!er the .a#e and) th"s draped bet*een the.) *as borne a ross the dri'ted p#ain 'or "p*ards o' a .i#e) his 'ree(ing 'eet a#ternate#y dang#ing abo!e and dragging thro"gh the sno*$ The herd bro-e into a hard r"n) 'or ing hi. to ass".e a bro-en trot$ Soon his #egs *ere stinging$ Sensation r"shed thro"gh his body$ No* the herd) sti## pi -ing "p speed) began to ontra t) &a..ing hi. bet*een his bearers$ There *as a 8"i - side*ays &o#t and he *as #i'ted #ean o'' his 'eet) near#y stradd#ing the b" -ing 'e.a#e$ It had be o.e an a##,o"t sta.pede$ Thro"gh hard,'#"ng sno* he sa* the a"se3 &"st ahead the aribo" had r"n head,on into a so#id *a## o' ga##oping *ood bison) and both 'ranti herds had b#ind#y !eered to the east+ *ere in 'a t r"nning side by side do*n a deep) ragged anyon) *ere po"ring o!er the anyon%s #ip #i-e *ater o!er a 'a##s$ He *as approa hing) at brea-ne - pa e) that !ery p#a e *here the on!erged herds so abr"pt#y s*er!ed$ The hanging .an snar#ed as he *as borne ine!itab#y to the point o' de'#e tion$ There a.e a on "ssion at his #e't sho"#der) 'o##o*ed by a b#ast o' sno*$ In an instant the ai#ing .a#e *as t".b#ing head o!er hee#s to the east) s" -ed into the sta.pede%s p#"..eting .ass by the '"ry o' its des ent$ The .an and 'e.a#e) rebo"nding 'ro. this i.pa t) *ere shot to the *est in a

ra(y &".b#e o' '#ai#ing #egs$ The aribo" #ost her 'ooting) '#e* nose,'irst into a sno*ban-) and a.e "p r"nning$ Ai -ing o'') the .an "sed the #ast o' his strength to hea!e hi.se#' astride$ At 'irst she 'o"ght to sha-e hi.) b"t the spe## o' the r"n *as too strong$ She and ha#' a do(en others *ent po"nding in the opposite dire tion o' the sta.pede) 8"i -#y &oined by a n".ber o' bison that had #i-e*ise sp#intered 'ro. their herd$ The riding .an o"#d .a-e o"t their h"ge h"#-ing shapes th"ndering by in a b#i((ard o' '#ying i e) o"#d hear their hea!y gasps and e7p#osi!e gr"nts$ One passed so #ose he 'e#t its .assi!e '#an- br"sh his #eg$ He peered to his right and sa* a b#a -) pig,#i-e eye regarding hi. e7 ited#y) .o!ing "p and do*n #i-e a piston as the beast ran a#ongside$ The eye shi'ted) 'o "sing on the gasping) o.p#ete#y obsessed 'e.a#e$ The b"## dropped its head and s#a..ed into the aribo"%s side) sending her and the .an areening do*n a s#ope to the *est$ The aribo" brayed hysteri a##y and her ba -side *ent do*n) b"t she .anaged) despite the *eight o' her rider) to ret"rn to a## 'o"rs and 'ranti a##y ontin"e a#ong the s#ope$ Again the b"## harged) rashing into her sho"#der$ The .an and aribo" *ere #a"n hed side*ays into the *hite searing air$ He sat "p are'"##y$ The h"''ing bison *as stradd#ing hi. #i-e a b"##y #aying the gro"nd r"#es$ Its big *iry beard a.e right "p to br"sh his hin$ The sten h o' its breath *as st"pe'ying$ The b"## sta.ped and snorted) thr"sting its st"bby horns #e't and right as the .an "sed his e#bo*s and hee#s to ba - a*ay$ The b"## 'o##o*ed) .o!e 'or .o!e$ When the .an o##apsed "nder his o*n i.pet"s the b"## sho!ed hi. a#ong *ith its sno"t) be##o*ing '"rio"s#y$ C#ear do*n the s#ope they #"nged) sho!ing and #"r hing) "nti# the .an #ay spra*#ed on his ba -) "p to his hin in sno* and o.p#ete#y he#p#ess$ The ton o' a b"## b"tted and -i -ed) b"t on#y g#an ing#y+ those hoo!es o"#d -i## *ith a b#o*$ At #ast the .an) in one #ean se8"en e) sp"n on his rear) dropped to his side) and *ent ro##ing do*n the s#ope "sing his e#bo*s 'or thr"st$ At the botto. ran a narro* 'en e o' 'rosted sap#ings .ar-ing an i e #i''%s pre ipi e$ He #ay 'a e do*n in the sno*) too done in to do anything b"t s" - at an air po -et$ And there a.e a high,pit hed ra -#ing) a so"nd #i-e the protra ted gasp o' e.bers in a dead 'ire$ He t"rned &"st as those sap#ings began #eaning to the *est) their 'ro(en s-ins ra -ing *ith the strain$ The bison be##o*ed .ena ing#y$ The spra*#ed .an #oo-ed ba - and sa* it sti## standing *ith #egs spread *ide) si#ho"etted against the s-y$ In a .o.ent it began h"''ing do*nhi##) #"r hing side to side) s"r'ing the sno* bet*een #"nges$ It hased hi. thro"gh the gen"'#e ting sap#ings straight into a 'ro(en g"##y *here) prote ted by a 'e* 'eet o' ins"r.o"ntab#e !erti a#ity) he *as ab#e to s#ide on the i e bet*een its sto.ping hoo!es) do*nhi## o"t o' rea h) then do*nhi## o"t o' ontro#4spinning &"st in ti.e to g#i.pse a breathta-ing !ista3 part#y 'ra.ed by the g"##y,stradd#ing sap#ings *as a !ast res ent o' &agged *hite .o"ntains see.ing#y h"dd#ed ro"nd a s.a## stret h o' sno*,draped pines$ The #itt#e *ood these .o"ntains s"rro"nded *as iso#ated in a broad #a-e o' so#id i e$ H"ndreds o' 'iss"res radiated ra(i#y thro"gho"t this pa -ed i e 'ie#d) appearing to iss"e 'ro. so.e*here near the 'ro(en *ood%s enter) *hi h *as o.p#ete#y obs "red by a ring o' rising .ist$ Abo!e this th".bnai# panora.a the s"n sho*ered go#d$ Then the g"##y dipped radi a##y) and he *as s-idding head'irst) s#a..ing ba - and 'orth against its s#i - *hite *a##s$ This "n ontro##ab#e p#"nge had the positi!e e''e t o' getting his b#ood '#o*ing$ Det it tore hi. "p$ Had the g"##y on #"ded in a "#,de,sa ) or had '"rther progress re8"ired a sing#e a#orie o' "phi## e''ort) his str"gg#e *o"#d ertain#y ha!e ended here$ He *o"#d ha!e been too *ea- to .o!e) and death *o"#d ha!e been s*i't$ 1"t there *as a g#a ier+ a great ri!er o' i e po"ring s#o*#y o"t o' the #o"ds$ The g"##y) ter.inating in a #itt#e s oop 'or.ation near the g#a ier%s base) spat hi. '#ai#ing onto its gnar#y g#ass hide$ He *ent head o!er hee#s) bits o' s-in and '"r '#ying #i-e hips 'ro. a bandsa*$ So.eho* he gained his 'ooting) and then he *as r"nning against his *i##4t".b#ing and re o!ering and t".b#ing again$ He didn%t at h ." h o' that ra(y r"n$ He ha#',g#i.psed *hir#ing *a##s o' i e) 'e#t a 'i -#e s"r'a e "nder'oot) and bro-e thro"gh an assa"#ti!e .ist that #"ng to his an-#es and ar.s$ He

re.e.bered ha!ing the ragged hides torn right o'' his body) and then being s-inned a#i!e$ And he re.e.bered rea hing the g#a ier%s base and ra*#ing #i-e an ani.a#+ ro"nd its s*eeping dri'ts) past its pea-ed .oraines) a## the *ay to a t*isting 'ro(en gorge$ And he 'o##o*ed this gorge do*n+ ri o heting *a## to *a##) de#irio"s) s.a## p#".es o' thrashed sno* .ar-ing his des ent$ Thro"gh a 'ree(ing *ood he '".b#ed$ In a !ei# o' .ist he t".b#ed do*n a steep and !erdant grade$ As o#d ons".ed his #osing breath) he 'e## "pon) near,b#ind) near death) a strange) en hanted g#ade$ There is a poo#$ And in this poo# a .an #ay p"rged) his bro-en body ha#',s"b.erged$ The st".b#ing .an stopped$ He -ne#t to *eep) b"t #ost his thread$ One hand too- a bi ep) the other) the head$ With a t*ist and p"## the orpse e.erged$ That !isage $ $ $ that 'a e4.isshapen .as-) ontorted) b#ea hed+ o' #i'e%s deposits '"##y #ea hed$ Essen e dispat hed4a !oid) sodden *ret h$ He #et it 'a## and the g#ass *as brea hed$ A## a 'rea-) a## a stret h3 "pon this a t his grip deta hed$ And the bridge o##apsed $ $ $ one !agabond grasp $ $ $ *hat *ere these 'ee#ings+ re apt"red and trashed $ $ $ a span e#apsed $ $ $ *ho *as this p" -ered .ass $ $ $ he ha"#ed it by the *aist and thighs $ $ $ s#id it in) *at hed the poo# rea t3 p"rse and re o!er) e7pand) ontra t$ The g#ass re'or.ed) no* si#!er, ba -ed $ $ $ a s"dden .irror $ $ $ the .an #eaned nearer) sa* his i.age) on e s.ashed) reborn inta t$ The poo# gre* sti##$ Within its depth a shado* stirred4odd !isions gathered) so.e distin t) so.e obs "re$ What they .eant) and *ho they *ere) *as too ." h to 'atho.$ The g#ass be a.e b#"rred$ He #osed his eyes) #et his hea!y head 'a##) 'e## ba - on his ha"n hes) 'e#t the s*eat seep and ra*#$ The air *as a pa##4as he str"gg#ed to rise) a nib nipped his pa#.$ He opened his eyes$ 1et*een his 'ingers the b#ades po-ed and rept$ Ro"nd his -n" -#es they !ent"red) "p his 'orear. they stepped$ They see.ed to be triggered by pro.pts 'ro. the gro"nd$ He shoo- his head s#o*#y and d"##y #oo-ed ro"nd$ There *ere &ays gro"ped abo"t hi.) a## b#a - eyes ag#o*$ Red hens a.e r"nning) their 'at hi -s in to*$ 5ophers engaged in a *eird hide,and,see-) *hi#e b#"ebe##s and b"tter "ps raned 'or a pee-$ Sparro*s hopped past and) paying no heed) b"rst into '#ight$ He *at hed the. re ede$ West*ard they '#e*$ 1e*i#dered) he s#".ped) and *as b".ped 'ro. behind$ He &".ped to his 'eet) '#abbergasted to 'ind an an ient gray .oose near,e #ipsing the s-y) *ith grit in his snar# and 'ire in his eye$ The o#d .oose too- ai.$ The .an t"rned to '#ee) then #apsed and o##apsed on a pa#. and a -nee$ 1"t there #ies a *or#d 0so the #"##aby goes2 *here ri!ers e!er r"n$ 1"tted and b#ind) ha#' o"t o' his .ind) he staggered into s"n$

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