When we left the inn the next morning, I avoided Satyr so I would not have to look at his self-satisfied face. As we were preparing to mount, Greyleaf said to the Prince, “Is it not yet time? Has he not yet passed your tests?”
“They are not my tests,” the Prince answered.
“I feel his pain every day.”
“So do I.”
“It is not right!”
“Many things are not. But life is . . . incisive. Nevertheless, I think you are right. We will turn in that direction.”
Harrow came out with a horn of ale to drink a stirrup cup with the Prince. When they had made a toast of easy journey and swift return, the Prince said, “You wear a troubled face, old friend. What is the matter?”
“T’slalas, the young man who came in with you yesterday, is ill. His face is blotched with fever and he breathes like a man at the end of a race.”
The Prince nodded.
“You understand, Prince, that illness is an innkeeper’s greatest enemy. Any guest that comes through my door may carry death for all.”
Satyr raised a hair-winged eyebrow in irony, but the Prince simply said, “Harrow, I give you my word, the illness that T’slalas carries is not contagious. At least, not in any sense that you would understand. That which taints him, you and yours will never suffer from, good old man.”
“Can you help him?”
“Whatever I have for him, I have already given.”
For three days we crossed the plain, heavy with harvest, sweet with the smell of new mown hay, rich with peasant life. The Prince did many things I have not his leave to record.
On the fourth day we reached the foothills, and on the eighth day we were high among tortured boulders where the trees are sparse and twisted.
There we came upon a Holy Man. He sat clad in rags and half cured skins, announcing his holiness at a hundred paces by the smell of him. He had erected a hut of bones, and sat moving his dirty fingers over the crown of a skull, as a maid would polish a fine brass bowl.
The Prince leaned down from his mount and studied the Holy Man, showing no discomfort at the miasma that surrounded him. He said, “I am a traveler from a far, strange place. Who are you?”
The Holy man did not answer. He only polished the skull and stared at the Prince out of hollow eyes.
The Prince said, “What is the ultimate truth?”
The Holy Man replied without hesitation, “Every true story ends in death.”
The Prince nodded politely and paid the man for his wisdom with an ornate dagger. We moved on, only a little enlightened. more tomorrow