“You are a trespasser in a sikestra, a sacred spot.”
“All lands are mine.”
“You’ve been misinformed. Even kingdoms have limits. You’ve reached yours.” The gray robed man ignored the collective gasp which followed his statement, choosing instead to brush a feather from his sleeve. He seemed not the least bit embarrassed by this action; in fact, his attention was momentarily caught up in watching it drift to the ground. “The Eld Forest belongs solely to the Elyon.”
“Who are you to make such an assertion to the High King?” demanded Creath, his face ablaze with outrage. “We are nobles, sirrah, and unused to taking orders from a peasant covered with feathers and lice.”
“Ah, nobles. Very well. I will introduce myself. I am Shautu the Shaman, Keeper of the Blue Stones, and Sikestran of the Eld Forest. Perhaps you have heard of me?”
“You are a myth,” said Ondred, flatly.
The Shaman gave a bark of laughter. “So you say. In any event, I charge you to leave this place before further harm is done.”
“We are here to capture the three-spotted falcon,” said William, adding. “Dead or alive.”
“No blood must be spilled in the Eld Forest. Rid yourself of the foolish ideas.”
“Step aside, sirrah,” declared the King, raising his bow. “Lest I put an arrow through your heart.”
William nocked his arrow. The Shautu raised his hand and a harsh, strange language ripped from his throat. The air about them came alive with sound. The trees groaned; the leaves cackled with mirth. William’s arrow flew forward a few feet, then fell helplessly to the ground. He tried to dismount only to find he couldn’t move. He looked at his nobles. They, too, were struggling with ropes astride their mounts, bound and helpless. The forest sounds grew mocking, hurling through the air.
“What mischief is this?” William roared. “I’m the High King of Casoria! How dare you work this foul magic on me!”
“What seems to you most foul is really fortuitous,” the Shautu replied. “Were you to actually spill blood in the Eld Forest, more than mischief would ensue. Go home at once.”
“You can’t order me! You can’t shame a King!”
“Then say I begged. Say I begged you to go home to your throne and your court and your walled city and never to enter the Sacred Forest again.”
It was the last the Seer would speak to them win a language they could understand. The strange words began again, only now the tone was sharper, directive. The horses came fully awake and pricked their ears. The pack ponies were the first to break, scattering nets and wineskins to the ground. Then, the horses followed, snorting, jostling; when they saw a clear path, their hooves ate up the ground. The nobles swayed in their saddles, bobbing, cursing, and bound.
They were able to dismount on the outskirts of Nails Bottom, which was three miles past Saundry, where they’d camped for the night. In the morning, they awoke to find their mounts had fled, and so they began their return on foot. Some miles later, they accosted a farmer driving a wagon loaded with pigs, and tossed the swine out. The men surveyed the filthy wagon bed with misgivings.
“This is not a gentlemanly conveyance,” protested Ondred.
“Get in,” said Creath.
In accordance with the clomping of the horses’ hooves, the farmer breathed, “Pigs. . . pigs.”