They rode on for an hour more, in silence once again. This time, though, the quiet was more contemplative than painful.
It was midmorning by the time they reached Prince Reymu Pass. The trail had ceased its downhill progression some ways back, and they had been climbing gradually upward ever since, expecting to come to a summit and resume their descent into the Carvil Valley. This, it turned out, was a roundly naïve assumption.
“Mother of bloody fucking Rezyn,” Seymour swore, bringing Wyrinther to a halt as the pass came into view.
While the Uarla had warned him of a narrow path and a long drop, he hadn’t gone to the trouble of specifying that the narrow path would be carved into a sheer cliff face, and that the long drop would be into the unknowable depths of a fearsome chasm.
Seoc, however, did not seem to share Seymour’s alarm. “This is it!” he breathed. “I had thought this might be it when I heard the name, but I did no’ know for certain…”
“What is ‘it’?” Seymour inquired.
“Prince Reymu Pass! It isna just named for him, he actually crossed over it, thousands an’ thousands o’ years ago! In fact,” Seoc mused, “I would bet my belt that we ha’e been followin’ more or less the same route as Reymu did ever since leavin’ Waelyngar.”
Seymour didn’t really understand why this was so very important, but he didn’t want to offend Seoc again, so he feigned interest. “Oh?”
“Aye. The pass was described in several o’ the manuscripts—an’ in one o’ them, there was a sketch o’ this exact view. He an’ Scarlet the Sorceress were chased this way by the goblins after they stole the elf-sword Luziea from the Uarla…”
Seoc fell into such an abrupt and complete silence that Seymour grew concerned. “Is something wrong, little fish?”
The human did not seem to hear him. “How much would you wager,” he murmured, “that the Uarla who took us in as guests of his city is one an’ the same as he from whom Prince Reymu took the sword?”
Seymour shook his head, forgetting that Seoc couldn’t see the gesture, and nudged Wyrinther forward along the road toward the pass. “I don’t think goblins live that long. An elf, maybe…”
Seoc, to Seymour’s surprise, laughed. “But Sey! Goblins and elves are o’ the same species! Did you no’ know?”
“O’ course they are. Most of their respective distinctions come from minor physical adaptations, cultural norms, and environment. The only real difference between them is that goblins are more powerful in the winter months, when it’s dark, whereas elves are stronger in the summer, when it’s light.”
Just like Elnias and Aita, Seymour thought to himself. “Seoc,” he asked, “where did you learn all this?”
“Books,” Seoc replied. “I spent most o’ my time readin’ when I was wee. There were no’ many other means o’ escape available ta me.”
They had reached the end of the tongue of solid land that extended out to the gorge. Now, they were confronted with a narrow, crumbling stone bridge that spanned the gap between them and the continuation of the trail on the other side of the chasm. Judging by the structure’s reliance on simple, everyday geometry, it was a human creation, but it was not well maintained. Its walls had crumbled into effective nonexistence, and Seymour could see that one of its supports had fallen completely away. To make matters worse, the snow on it had melted and refrozen so many times that its surface was now covered almost entirely by a thick, uneven coat of ice, which flowed down over the sides to form enormous, misshapen icicles. The mere sight of it inspired Seymour’s stomach to cramp. Feeling as if he had been stabbed in the abdomen, he stared down at his seemingly certain doom, his grip on the leather reins tight enough to leave welts on his palms.
Simon rode up beside them and regarded the bridge skeptically. “I don’t like it,” he informed no one in particular.
“Me neither,” Seymour replied. “But I don’t think we have much of a choice in the matter. Let us dismount: it looks to me that this stretch is one better taken on foot.”