Catching a fish turned out to be an easier task than Seymour had initially thought it would be—perhaps easier than it should have been. As fortune would have it, the three of them had come upon this particular bend in the river during the final salmon run of the year, and the water was thick with large, slow fish fighting their way upstream to mate and die. Seymour needed only to wade out up to his knees, reach in, and nab one as it limped past. It was, admittedly, a challenge to keep a hold of one after he had gotten his hands on it: they were slippery little devils, and quite powerful, too. If they couldn’t escape by sliding through his fingers, they would flap their cold, scaly bodies around until he dropped them. At length, he managed to retain one by hugging it to his chest and charging back to shore, where he was able to break the fish’s neck upon a boulder.
It wasn’t a pretty specimen, but they were all three too hungry to care. Each did his part in its preparation. Seymour cleaned and gutted it the best he knew how, Seoc collected wood and built a fire, and Simon went on an expedition to find the perfect fish skewer—or so he purported. The stick that he found for this purpose, however, quickly became a fencing foil with which he danced about, parrying imaginary enemies and poking his compatriots in the ribs as they went about their legitimate business. Luckily, Seymour was able to confiscate the skewer before Simon broke the implement. This course of action also helped to avert the risk of Seoc breaking Simon.
After the salmon had been cooked and consumed, they collected the few items that had not been stolen—namely Seymour’s half-empty bottle of brandy and Seoc’s blanket—and set off southward along the trail left by the goblins. They didn’t choose this way out of any hope of overtaking the thieves and recovering the horses; rather, it lay along the most direct route to the Carvil Valley, and the path was beaten clear of underbrush and other obstacles.
Seoc had no shoes, and although the wounds on his back had healed nicely into thin, barely-noticeable lines, he was still ill and feverish. Thus, Seymour carried him on his back while Simon, equipped in the remnants of the guard’s uniform, including boots, traipsed on ahead, bouncing off trees and making a racket.
“He ought ta be kept on a leash,” Seoc commented. “For his own safety, y’ ken.”
Seymour nodded, watching as Simon leapfrogged over a boulder, slipped in the dust, and fell on his rear. “It’s a bit endearing, really.”
Seoc snorted. “Aye, I suppose ’tis,” he replied after a moment. “I love him. And I hate him. But he’s all I have. All I’ve had for however many months.”
“Are you two, erm…?”
“No. He’s straight.”
“That’s what I thought. I’d just noticed that the two of you seemed…unusually close. But I suppose that comes of being kept together in tight quarters for two years.”
“Yes,” Seoc agreed vaguely. Then his tone turned suddenly serious. “Wait…two years? I was in there for two years?”
“Three, actually. Two in the cell with Simon.”
“Three years?” Seoc whispered, astounded. “So this is…what year is this?”
“1216. October…thirtieth, to be precise.”
“Rezyn,” breathed Seoc. “Gods. I’m…I’m eighteen years auld. I’ll be nineteen in…just under three months. Seymour, I…I never knew I was anything more than sixteen. Holy…holy shit. I never thought…I…I never…Rezyn…I…Seymour, let me down. I dinna…I dinna feel very weel…I think…I think I’m goina…I think I’m…I’m…”
Seymour crouched low to let him slide down. “Are you going to be sick?”
Seoc shook his head no, sinking slowly to the ground. His face had turned the color of sour milk. “No…no…I’m…no…”
Seymour shouted after Simon to stop him from venturing further ahead, then knelt awkwardly down beside Seoc, who had lowered himself all the way to the forest floor and was now lying on his side in the dirt. “What is it? Is there anything I can do?”
“Your…belt, Seymour. Please. I need…your belt…”
“What do you need my belt for?”
“Please…quick…quick! Need…belt. Leather…I…”
Bemused, Seymour removed his belt and placed it in Seoc’s outstretched hand.
“Thanks,” Seoc panted, taking the belt and slipping a portion of it into his mouth.
“What—? Oh…!” The pieces had finally fallen into place, and Seymour felt quite stupid for not putting them together earlier. “Mother of bloody fucking Rezyn. It’s a seizure, isn’t it?”
Seoc did not reply, merely lying there with the leather of Seymour’s belt held fast between his teeth, his eyes closed, his breathing deep and steady, waiting.
Seymour tore his eyes away. He didn’t want to watch. Trying to breathe slowly to delay his rising panic, he focused his attention on a knot in the bark of a nearby oak, sinking his mind into the tree’s rough contours. But it couldn’t hold him long. Seoc’s sharpening, pained respiration pulled him back, and he couldn’t help but to look.
Seoc’s eyes had come open again, but only the whites were visible between the parted lids. His lips were pulled back in a sort of agonized snarl, his bared teeth biting down into the leather strap of Seymour’s belt with terrible force. His body was contorted in the manner of a man being tortured—his back arched and his limbs rigid, his head thrown back, emphasizing all the sharp angles jutting out in his neck—tendons, larynx, collarbone, all displayed in disturbing detail. For an endless moment, he held this position, twitching and trembling at the limits of his flexibility; then, with a sudden gasp, he began to spasm violently, his body seemingly locked in a loop of flexion and extension, as if some other power had possessed him and yet he was fighting against it.
The sight was even more sickening than Seymour could have ever imagined. He wanted desperately to close his eyes, to look away, but he could not. He was helpless.
After what seemed like an age—but was probably little more than half a minute—Seoc’s body relaxed and his eyelids drifted shut. His breathing resumed its calm regularity. He looked as if he were asleep—and so convincingly, too, that Seymour couldn’t tell whether or not he was actually conscious.
Seoc’s eyebrow twitched ever so slightly in acknowledgement of his name.
“Are you alright?”
This question elicited no response.
“Are you alright?” he repeated, to the same end.
“Here,” said Simon, who had appeared at Seymour’s side without his noticing. “Allow me.”
Seymour stepped aside, and the madman sat down in the dirt next to his former cellmate, taking his head in his lap. For a while he stayed in silence, bent over him protectively, but then, softly, he began to sing.
And yet shall you go forth,
Three sunsets on, yea, Marandur’s men,
Three dawns blessed not by heaven’s worth,
I deosinu ag angealu go leir.”
In peaceful pastures you shall sleep,
’Neath your shields and warlike masks.
My gift to you, the wool of sheep,
Armúru fita, foil ó fiaru.”
But Seymour was not paying attention to the song. His focus had been drawn by something else: on the knot of the oak tree there had been carved a fresh symbol, one that definitely had not been there only moments before.
There in the bark, weeping tears of thick sap, was drawn another crude eye, watching him in the way that a cat stalks its prey.