Hunter Predd looked off into the night. "Not even his name?"
"Not even that. I don't think he remembers anything of what's happened to him."
The Wing Rider was silent a moment, thinking. "Will you keep him here for a while longer, care for him, watch over him? I want to look into this more closely."
The Healer nodded. "Where will you start?"
A soft scrape of a boot brought him about sharply. An attendant appeared with hot tea and food for the Healer. He nodded to them without speaking and disappeared again. Hunter Predd stood, walked to the door to be certain they were alone, then reseated himself beside the Healer.
"Watch this damaged man closely, Dorne. No visitors. Nothing until you hear back from me."
The Healer sipped at his tea. "You know something about him that you're not telling me, don't you?"
"I suspect something. There's a difference. But I need time to make certain. Can you give me that time?"
The Healer shrugged. "I can try. The man inside will have something to say about whether he will still be here when you return. He is very weak. You should move swiftly."
Hunter Predd nodded. "As swift as Obsidian's wings can fly," he replied softly.
Behind him, in the near darkness of the open doorway, a shadow detached itself from behind a wall and moved silently away.
The attendant who had served dinner to the Wing Rider and the Healer waited until after midnight, when the people of Bracken Clell were mostly asleep, to slip from his rooms in the village into the surrounding forest. He moved quickly and without the benefit of light, knowing his path well from having traveled it many times before. He was a small, wizened man who had spent the whole of his life in the village and was seldom given a second glance. He lived alone and had few friends. He had served in the Healer's household for better than thirteen years, a quiet, uncomplaining sort who lacked imagination but could be depended on. His qualities suited him well in his work as a Healer's attendant, but even better as a spy.
He reached the cages he kept concealed in a darkened pen behind the old cabin in which he had been born. When his father and mother had died, possession had passed to him as the eldest male. It was a poor inheritance, and he had never accepted that it was all to which he was entitled. When the opportunity had been offered to him, he snatched at it eagerly. A few words overheard here and there, a face or a name recognized from tales told in taverns and ale houses, bits and pieces of information tossed his way by those rescued from the ocean and brought to the center to heal - they were all worth something to the right people.
And to one person in particular, make no mistake about it.
The attendant understood what was expected of him. She had made it clear from the beginning. She was to be his Mistress, to whom he must answer most strongly should he step from between the lines of obedience she had charted for him. Whoever passed through the Healer's doors and whatever they said, if they or it mattered at all, she was to know. She told him the decision to summon her was his, always his. He must be prepared to answer for his summons, of course. But it would be better to act boldly than belatedly. A chance missed was much less acceptable to her than time wasted.
He had guessed wrongly a few times, but she had not been angry or critical. A few mistakes were to be expected. Mostly, he knew what was worth something and what was not. Patience and perseverance were necessary.
He'd developed both, and they had served him well. This time, he knew, he had something of real value.
He unfastened the cage door and took out one of the strange birds she had given him. They were wicked-looking things with sharp eyes and beaks, swept-back wings, and narrow bodies. They watched him whenever he came in sight, or took them out of the cages, or fastened a message to their legs, as he was doing now. They watched him as if marking his efficiency for a report they would make later. He didn't like the way they looked at him, and he seldom looked back.
Excerpted from Ilse Witch (Voyage of the Jerle Shannara) by Terry Brooks. Copyright© 2000 by Terry Brooks. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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