Never have I seen him so.” Ronsard gestured with his hand toward the chamber they had just left. He spoke in an astonished whisper. “He is not himself.”
“The weight of his dreams has fallen upon him, and he is being crushed beneath it.” Theido shook his head sadly.
“Dreams are one thing, but he raves as one gone mad!”
“If he feels the depths of his sorrow more deeply than other men, it is because he has trusted the Most High more than most.”
“If he falls the farther, it is because he flew the higher, eh? Would that Durwin were here. He would know what to do.” Ronsard sighed heavily. “I miss that old hermit.”
“Aye, and so do I. But we must do the best we can. The kingdom depends upon it, I think.”
“What shall we do?” Ronsard shrugged helplessly. “Until the prince is recovered, there is nothing to be done.”
“No,” said Theido slowly, “I perceive there is more to his torture than the prince’s disappearance.”
“Or Durwin’s death?”
“Or Durwin’s death. Though both of those weigh heavy on him now, I believe he could rise above them if not for his loss of faith in the Most High.”
“What can we do about that?”
“Find the sword.” Theido looked steadily at his friend. “Find the sword and return it to him before someone else takes it for himself.”
“I am all for it, sir. Only tell me how to do it, and it will be done.”
“I would tell you if I knew, count on it. I only know that we must recover the sword—and soon.” Theido put his chin in his hand and stood for a few moments in deep thought. Ronsard watched him and waited.
He said at last, “Ronsard, you must go alone and begin the search.”
“I will stay here, close to the king. He may need a stout companion nearby.”
“As you say, Theido. But where shall I start?”
“That is the puzzle. But I think I have a plan that will be useful to us. Are you game to try?”
“I will do anything.”
“Good; then come with me. There is no time to lose.”
The first thing he felt as consciousness returned was something cool running down the side of his neck. Blood? He raised a hand and felt the side of his head where the blood started.
The movement brought a throb of pain to his aching head. He moaned.
“Toli? Are you alive?”
The voice was hushed, but nearby. He opened his eyes carefully, then squeezed them shut again quickly, the light sending blazing fireballs through his brain.
“Just lie back. Do not move,” the voice urged. Toli tried to place it.
In a moment the throb in his head eased somewhat, and he opened his eyes, shielding them with his hand. The bare stone room was dim. The light slanted down in a single brilliant band from a narrow window high up in the wall. He lay on a straw pallet on the floor opposite the window.
He turned his head to the side; his vision wavered, but he made out the form crouching beside him on folded knees.
“Prince Gerin! Oww! What did they do to my head?”
“They dumped you in here. I was afraid you were dead.”
“When was that?” Toli pushed himself up slowly on his elbows. Each small movement brought a new stab of pain through his head.
“Do you not remember?” asked the prince. He offered again a bit of cloth soaked with water that he had applied to Toli’s head.
Toli took it and placed it against his forehead. “I remember nothing,” he said. “No—I remember coming to the temple and asking to see the high priest. I saw him, I think—talked with him. The next thing I know, I am waking up here.”
“The high priest?”
“Is that where we are? The temple?”
“It must be,” replied Toli. He looked around the cell and at the door, which was not the door of a castle dungeon, though it was heavy oak and strong enough to keep a prisoner from breaking free. “Did you not know where you were also taken?”
“No, it was dark. And they blindfolded me. It seems we walked for days. Then I was shoved in here. Days ago. That is the blindfold you are holding.” Gerin indicated the damp rag.
“I see. How many days?” Toli studied the prince carefully, searching for any signs of mistreatment.
“Three, I think—maybe four. Yes, four. Two before you came.”
“I have been here two days?” It did not seem possible.
“This is the second. How do you feel?”
“I will live.” Toli reached out a hand and patted the young prince on the shoulder. “You have done well, young sir. I am glad to see you alive. How have they treated you?”
“Well enough. I am fed from their table and have good water.” Gerin looked eagerly at his friend, glad to have someone he knew with him, though both were prisoners. “Toli, what has happened?”
“I scarcely know.” He shook his head slowly. How do I tell him? he wondered.
“I know about Durwin. I have been worried for Father.”
“He is well. He is searching for you—for us. Ronsard and Theido, too.”
“Poor Durwin,” said Gerin. Tears came to his eyes. “Oh, poor Durwin.”
“Your father was with him when he died. He died at peace.”
Gerin sniffed, trying to hold back his sorrow. But he had been brave so long; now that a friend was here, he could let go. The sobs came, and the tears washed down his face.
Toli put an arm around the boy’s slim shoulders. “It is good to cry. He was your friend. There is no shame in tears of mourning.”
When Prince Gerin could cry no more, Toli gathered him close, speaking softly. “I do not know why this has happened, but there is some evil behind it, you may be certain. Priests do not leave the temple to murder and kidnap the innocent—that is, they have never done so before. Why they should start now, I cannot say.” He looked at Gerin closely. “But we must find out what it is they plan. Think now. What did you see?”
The prince was silent for some moments, then raised his eyes to Toli and said, “There were six of them, five of them swordsmen and one other—the leader. I heard them talking about him.”
“What did they say?”
“They do not like him much. That is all.” He thought for a moment, and added, “And the one who told about Durwin—he said that the king had killed one of them in the road.” He looked at Toli questioningly.
“That may be true. If so, it is another matter to weigh on his heart.” Toli was silent for a moment, then added, “Well, it is done. Perhaps there is yet some better purpose behind it. We must hope so.”
The two talked and comforted each other. The day, measured by the slanting band of light as it moved across the floor and up the opposite wall of the cell, stretched on. Toward evening a priest came in with two bowls of water and a large trencher of food. The door was opened, the food slipped in, and the door closed and bolt thrown—all in an instant.
“This is how the food is brought?” Toli asked.
“Yes, every day. I think they are afraid I will try to escape.”
“Have you tried to escape?”
The prince nodded. “Once—on the road. Tarky reared and I fell, or was grabbed. That is when he ran away. It was not far from here.”
“A horse with Tarky’s sense can find his way back home, or someone will catch him and take him to the king. Either way I believe someone will soon think to look for us in this direction; the king will find us, you will see.”
Gerin nodded, but said nothing.
Toli patted his shoulder, saying, “Never fear, young sir. I will not let anything happen to you.” The words almost stuck in his throat. Even if it costs my life, he thought, I will not fail you again.