XVIII.

"You want us to bring you back?" echoed Coin incredulously. He started cackling, "You poisonous old man, why on Irth would we do that? So you could tear us to pieces so no one would know your dirty little secrets? I don't think so. I'll tell you what I'm going to do. I'm going to find a nice deep pit somewhere and toss you down it. You can try talking to the trolls."

He made to get up. But even as Coin spoke Hunnah knew somehow the stone would have seen this moment and prepared for it. Jothanial schemed now as naturally as he used to breathe. She was right to be pessimistic.

"You can scry can't you boy?" Jothanial hissed "Find my daughter. Look where she is now, and who she has with her."

Coin looked suddenly caught out. "You know I can't do that," he said, sounding agitated "Zia has a much stronger mind then me. I couldn't break through her shields if I tried."

"But she won't. She wants you to see. If you feel trapped, you panic, and when you panic, helps the hunter. And she enjoys your fear of course."

Coin looked down at the gem in his palm.

"No," he said, "I don't believe it. Not even you would let your daughter's scrying find our trail. It's you she wants to destroy most of all. She's your worst enemy!"

"Then look," Jothanial told him serenely "And when you find her, do as I say. Only I can protect you from her. The clan and the tribes will follow me, not her. I'm the only friend you have up here."

"For the Gods' sakes just look!" Hunnah burst out, startling him. She had gone very pale, and her eyes bored into his. What had gotten into her? He gave up arguing and sank into the trance, dreading what he would find.

Coin's face went slack for a few moments. Hunnah sat tensely, waiting. A sickly sensation had gripped her belly when Coin had spoken. She felt like a talon was clenching and unclenching her guts, and in her mind she heard Pankelta's words roll passed unheeded.

'The price of your waystation is costing us more then we had bargained forforforfor.'

When he returned to himself she could see he was trying not to tremble. All his pent-up rage had fled. She tried to give him a few moments to master himself, but just had to ask.

"What did you see?"

"I saw her," he answered dully "She's arrived with a war party at the canyon. She has men scouting for the entrance right now. There are about two-score riders with her that I saw. Some are clansmen, but most were Beshtels."

Hunnah stared at him, her face eerily devoid of emotion. She said nothing. He couldn't believe she could take it so calmly. Did she want to die?

Frustrated, Coin burst out, "Don't you understand? She's turned the Beshtels against us! Even if we somehow get past her riders the whole countryside will be searching after us. She's cut us off!"

"Zia Kauld never crossed the wardlands with a handful of clansmen. Those are the survivors of another warband, a mix-up with new men. She cut her way through to find us."

Con stared at her. "I'm so sorry," he said, and he meant it, "But we have to do as he says. We would do better to cut our own throats before letting Zia Kauld take us alive."

"No," Hunnah said, "He let Two Pines burn. I know it. He wants to rule the Barrens and the mountains and anywhere he can. There will be more burnings, more deaths. If we do this now, it will never stop."

"We have to do this! She'll torture us to death!"

Coin was shouting now, his face red. Hunnah just shook her head at him, trying to shake off the memories. Coin's hand fell to his sword.

"Stop dithering and just kill her boy!" hissed the stone; "She'll give you up to the torturers otherwise."

The cleric was breathing heavily, his eyes were wide and darting around as though he expected the sorceress to suddenly spring at him clean out of the rock. Hunnah drank in his appearance. In her mind she played out a scene. A boy pulls out a sword; a monk strikes the boy down. As he dies, the monk takes his jewel and throws it into darkness. The monk waits for men to come climbing up, up to meet her. She throws herself amongst them, finds a quick death. Everything ends.

The monks of Bright Rock have a saying about redemption "The mountain path is long and hard, but it leads upwards."

"No," she said. "There is another way."

"What?"

"Do you trust me?"

Coin looked her. He remembered a lantern flying through the dark. He took his hand away from the sword.

"Yes," he said, "I do."

"Don't listen to her boy! She wants revenge on me, she'll sacrifice you to get it!"

Jothanial's voice was ranting in their minds. If he'd had lips, spittle would have splattered them. Coin swayed uneasily, but he waited for Hunnah to speak.

"If you listen to him, she'll still be waiting for you at the foot of the mountain," Hunnah told him "He won't kill his own heir. She's too useful a tool for a marriage alliance. You'll have to live right next to her. Who do you think would win in that battle?"

Coin licked dry lips before speaking; "What do you have in mind?"

"We've got to climb up out of this trench. We have the ropes, the climbing equipment. These mountains are full of iron and powerdust. We might die from the cold or a rock fall, but Zia will never be able to find us."

"Die! Of course you'll die! It's a hundred and fifty miles of freezing wasteland. You have no maps, no food, and no experience! Its suicide!"

"Just standing by this pool, it would be like trying to stare into the sun," Coin murmured "And perhaps she has no ropes or picks with her either."

Hope gave both of them energy. Ignoring the ranting gem as it threatened, cajoled and finally pleaded with them, they tore up their cloaks for rags, unpacked the ropes and gear, and filled their flasks with the pool water. The way up would be treacherous, and the top of the trench grey, windy and desolate after the blooming cavern. They left the stone till last.

Eventually there was nothing left to do. Coin looked over at Hunnah. He reached into his purse and pulled out Jothanial.

"What do we do with him?" he asked.

Hunnah glanced around, then picked up the short black pack shovel and held it out to him.

"Bury him here, where she'll never find him. We've got a long trip ahead of us."

"You wouldn't dare," the jewel hissed in their minds.

Using the ice pick and the shovel they began to move the stony earth.

"You can't do this," wailed the stone to Coin "You swore an oath to protect me and I hold you to it! You'll be struck down, see if you aren't!"

"Right," Coin smiled a thief's smile at him, "I did. And I'm keeping it. I've carried you away from your Hall, and now I'm hiding you safe here. And I'm drawing your daughter away from you, and through the mountains. Am I not kind?"

He picked the stone and cast it into the small hole they'd scratched out.

The dirt covered the stone's last screams.

THE END