“Farewell, Etedstra Mercet,” Seymour called over the wind, bowing slightly.
With a nod of acknowledgement, the Uarla turned and left them. His figure was soon swallowed by the churning veils of snow as he made his way back into the heart of his city. Seymour watched him go before turning back to his charges. In silence, he helped Simon onto Elêganor, then lifted Seoc astride Wyrinther, placed his own foot in the stirrup, and swung up behind him.
“You alright, Seoc?” he asked, the first words he had spoken to the human since the incident of the previous afternoon.
Seoc nodded his head wordlessly in reply.
“Simon?” the Aechyed shouted over his shoulder. “Are you ready?”
Simon gave him an affirmative salute, which Seymour returned before taking the reins in both hands and nudging Wyrinther forward with a tap of his heel. Then they were off, cantering through the gates and onto the goblin road.
They had been riding for nearly an hour when the sun finally rose, painting the clouds with glowing rays of silver and gold, but it was some considerable spell later, after they had already turned at the first junction, by the time it had climbed high enough in the sky for its light to warm their cold faces.
The eastward fork of the road sloped much more gradually than the northward route, which was a logical phenomenon. After all, the point of its existence was to wrap laterally about the face of the mountain to bring travelers to the pass rather than taking them all the way down to its feet. The snow was shallower at this lower elevation, but the path was much slicker than the main road had been. Thus, the horses’ steps became tentative and their pace slowed tremendously. Meanwhile, the trail grew progressively narrower, the evergreen trees closing in upon them from both sides. Each bough drooped wearily, laden with snow and icicles.
“Seoc?” Seymour asked eventually, fed up with the tense silence that sat between them like another passenger.
Seoc did not acknowledge the fact that Seymour had spoken.
“I’m sorry,” Seymour attempted. “I really am. You know that, right?”
Again, his inquiry was met with no reply.
“Seoc, if this is ‘Don’t Talk to Seymour Day,’ you are perfectly welcome to nod or shake your head when I ask you a yes-or-no question…”
Seoc’s posture became incredibly still.
“Listen,” Seymour pleaded, his voice breaking between the syllables. He took a deep breath and tried to swallow the lump that had formed in his throat. “Listen, if you’re trying to punish me, you’ve succeeded in your…endeavors, and you can…stop now, alright?”
“Are you cryin’?” the human asked after a pause, his voice low and calm, with no evident concern.
“No!” he lied unconvincingly, rubbing his eyes vigorously with the sleeve of his tunic.
“You are cryin’,” Seoc concluded. If he was trying to conceal his glee at this revelation, he was failing.
“What of it?” the Aechyed demanded aggressively.
Seoc did not answer, and Seymour couldn’t see the expression on his face without leaning awkwardly around him, but somehow, he knew it was one of cruel satisfaction.
He pulled back on the reins, and Wyrinther stopped in the trail.
“Why are we stopping?” Simon called out, bringing Elêganor to a halt behind them.
“I feel sick,” Seymour replied. He dismounted, brushed the snow off of a rock with his webbed hand, and sat down, his head held between his knees, his arms crossed over his shins.
“But we cannot stop now!” Simon protested. “We must be in evening by Carviliet! You said so yourself!”
Seymour looked up at him. “You two go on then. You don’t need me. Here,” he continued, removing the Uarla’s map from his pocket. “Take this.”
“No!” Simon objected, hopping down from Elêganor. “We aren’t leaving you here, Seymour. It’s a day’s walk by foot back to the the goblin city, and the worther is weasening...weather is worsening. You’d freeze to death. Anyway,” he continued in a quieter tone, sitting down beside Seymour on the rock, “We do need you, Seymour. We wouldn’t make it a mile without you. I’d get us both lost and then Seoc would tear my throat out and live out his days as a cannibalistic, mountain-dwelling savage, hunting any unfortunate traveler that dares to take this road again.”
Seymour smiled weakly. “Somehow, I can’t see Seoc doing something like that.”
“You’re right,” Simon agreed. “Perhaps he would only gouge my eyes out and keep me as a servant. Still, he turns into a right monster when he’s angry.”
Simon shook his head. “No, you have no idea. You haven’t seen him angry yet.”
“He isn’t angry now?”
“No, just mildly upset.”
“I see,” said Seymour, even though he didn’t see at all.
Simon stood up, gathered a handful of snow from the limb of a nearby tree, and took a tentative bite out of it. He then packed the uneaten remainder into a ball, drew back, and hurled it at Seoc, who was still seated upon Wyrinther, sulking. The icy projectile hit its target square between the shoulder blades.
Seoc yelped indignantly and twisted around in the saddle to face his assailant. “What?!”
“Tell Seymour we’re leaving and he’s coming with us,” Simon replied, drying his hands on his trousers.
“Tell him yerself!”
“I tried,” Simon explained. “He wouldn’t listen to me.”
“What makes you think he’ll listen to me, then?” Seoc demanded. “It seems ta me he doesna think me worth the effort o’ makin’ eye contact…!”
“Seoc, that’s not—!” Seymour began to protest, before realizing that he had thought of no words with which to conclude his assertion. “You…you don’t understand… I-I didn’t mean to…!”
“Ye’re right,” Seoc snapped, struggling down from the mare’s saddle and stomping through the snow toward the others. “Ye’re right. I dinna understand, an’ I would be simply elated if you would enlighten me! What part o’ my face do you find sae offensive that you canna bear ta look at me? Eh?”
Seymour had to open and close his mouth a few times before any sound came out. “It…it’s not that. It’s…it’s…” He trailed off.
“It’s what?” Seoc challenged him, his face so close to Seymour’s that the Aechyed had no choice but to stare back into his enraged eyes.
“It’s just…you remind me of someone, that’s all. He had the same eyes as you.”
Seoc turned away. “Lots o’ people ha’e brown eyes, Seymour. ’Tis the commonest color there is.”
“It isn’t just the color,” Seymour insisted. “They’re the same shape, same size, sit at about the same position on your face…!”
The human stopped and looked back at him. The fury was gone from his countenance, replaced by an expression of such pain that Seymour’s heart broke upon seeing it. This was what he had been afraid of, the reason why he had not wanted to tell him in the first place.
“What’s happening?” Simon piped up, alarmed and bemused. “Did I miss something?”
Seoc merely shook his head in reply, already trudging back to Wyrinther. He placed his foot in the stirrup, which was adjusted for the length of Seymour’s leg, and with considerable effort, clambered up into the saddle. There he sat for a spell, shoulders slumped and eyes downcast, before he glanced over at Seymour and Simon once more.
“Socially, you two constitute the ineptest pair o’ apes that I ha’e ever had the pleasure o’ meetin’. Noo hurry up, weel you? There’s a nice, warm, rectangular bed awaitin’ me in the Castle Carviliet, an’ I dinna want ta ha’e ta leave you rascals behind in order ta keep my appointment.”