In hindsight, perhaps it should not have surprised me that the legendary huntress had honed her senses to such a point that she could have detected me. On the other hand, knowing her now as I eventually came to do, I am equally inclined to think that it could have simply been a lucky guess on her part. She did that occasionally, fired an arrow into the air just to see if she might hit something.
Whichever it was, hit me she did, and I remained in my hiding place only a few seconds longer, blinking in my astonishment. "How did you know I was here?"
Lady Gray didn't answer, merely smiled. "I imagine that was a bit illuminating for you," she said. She didn't seem angry, at least, for which I was grateful, and she gestured for me to come closer.
"You're..." I tried to find words. "You're very...important to Sabastian, aren't you?" It wasn't quite what I wanted to say, but it was a beginning.
"Too important." The brightness of her green eyes dimmed slightly. "This was not the life I would have chosen for him. But he chose it for himself."
"May I ask how you met?"
"Well, if you were listening for as long as I suspect you were listening," she said, and I felt myself turn red, "you know that he was only a few years older than you are when our paths crossed. I was in Halar, which you might recall I told you is his home country. Sabastian was a shepherd's son; his father raised goats high in the rocky hills. On the day that I happened to pass through the area where they lived, there was a terrible rockslide - not an uncommon danger in those parts - and Sabastian's father was killed. Sabastian himself was badly injured, trying to save his father, and would have died too if he had gone undiscovered for long. My being nearby was a stroke of luck, or perhaps a whim of fate; I've never been convinced that the two are very different from one another. In any case, I managed to get him out of the pass where the slide occurred, and back to his home, and I spent a week there with him, nursing him and helping him to regain his strength. Once he was well again, we saw to his father, and I expected to leave him there."
"But you didn't."
"I would have. I tried, in fact. But his gratitude overwhelmed him; he was young, and the young are often impetuous with good intentions," she added, glancing sideways at me. "He pledged himself my protector, in thanks for what I had done. I didn't want his gratitude, nor his protection, and I attempted to reject them both by leaving in the dead of night. But he is wily, Sabastian, in his own way. He sold his remaining goats to a neighboring family, and tracked me to the Cathedral of Light. I could tell, when he found me, that escaping him would be no easy task, and I was concerned that he might come to harm if he continued to pursue me." She shrugged. "Once I determined I could not talk him out of the scheme, I relented. He has never left my side since then; it's been nearly twenty years."
I looked at her. There was little more than a trace of silver in her raven hair; I might have put her age near thirty, but certainly not over it. Sabastian looked older than she did. Her lips curved upward as she saw my scrutiny. "I'm older than I look," she said. "It's a long story. And one for which we don't have time at present," she added briskly, standing. "The midday meal is being served, and I for one am very hungry. Let's go."
The dining hall was furnished, like the main sanctuary, with long tables and benches carved from cedar, and the scents of the food mingled with that of the wood to create a most inviting fragrance. Sabastian was sitting off to one side, scowling into a bowl of broth when we approached. He glanced up warily, ignoring me; his eyes were all for the lady. She said nothing, sweeping her skirts gracefully to the side in order to seat herself next to him on the long bench. I sat down opposite, noting as I did that the other occupants of the room were giving us plenty of space.
Two of the kitchen staff came toward our table, hushing their voices as they drew near. They placed a bowl in front of Lady Gray, and another in front of me; in addition to the broth, there was a fresh loaf of bread, and a few pieces of fruit for each of us. A third woman approached with a decanter, and polished wooden goblets full of wine.
"This all looks delicious. Thank you." Lady Gray's voice was calm. The kitchen women, looking uncomfortable, bobbed a brief curtsey and moved away as quickly as they decently could. She barely spared them a glance, only picked up her spoon in one hand; with the other, she patted Sabastian's upper arm. His eyes darted toward her, then back to his food, and I saw the irritable crease of his brow lessen somewhat. "Eat, Tobiah," she added, starting to do likewise.
The bread was crusty, the broth light and clear, and compared to the heartier breakfast I had enjoyed, it was a small meal. I was surprised by how filling it was, and even more surprised by how little of it seemed to be consumed by the Lady. By the time most of the others had cleared out of the hall, Sabastian and I had finished the bread between ourselves, and she had pushed her bowl of broth at him to be finished likewise. He, for his part, seemed unconcerned by how much she had not eaten, which made me wonder if it was usual for her. Surely, to maintain her strength, she would require more nourishment.
"I'm expecting," said she, "that we will depart in the morning. Our next search will lead us north."
Sabastian grunted, and glanced at me. We had a brief staring battle, eyes locked, until finally he gave a second grunt. "Are you coming or not?"
"I...I think I want to," I hedged, "but I'm questioning the wisdom of it."
Lady Gray looked more amused than anything. "I see. Well, it's entirely your choice, Tobiah. We are prepared to have you accompany us, but if you'd rather remain here, I'm sure that the clerics of Lord Arash can help you settle on a course to take."
"What sort of course would I be following with you?"
"No safe one." Sabastian, perhaps still chastened by his conversation with her in the stable, sounded less cross than usual. "No easy one. And I don't know what good you'll do us. I don't even know what good we can do you."
Lady Gray watched him out of the corner of her eye, still with that amused expression. "Well said. But I think..." She turned her gaze to me. "I think, Tobiah, that your curiosity is likely to overpower your hesitations. Sleep on it, and make your decision in the morning."
I passed the afternoon in the gardens. My injury improved with every passing hour, and as I had no greater responsibility to occupy my attention, I lent my energies to tending the growing herbs and vegetables. I saw neither Lady Gray nor Sabastian again for the rest of the day, though I returned to the dining hall for the evening meal; either they ate and left before I arrived, or they never attended the meal at all.
At Father Brian's urging, I slept again in the dispensary, only to be awakened in the very early hours by a loud clap of thunder. I sat up in my cot, and the lightning flared to illuminate the rain dashing against the windows. Suddenly the room felt large, and empty, and oppressive. I dressed hurriedly and left, darting out into the rain and hurrying through the vacant gardens to the main courtyard.
As I passed the stables, I heard Nisu and Kastan commiserating with one another about the storm. The thunder was spooking them. Abruptly I changed my course, directing my pace into the stalls. The chestnut was pacing violently, tossing his mane in vexation, while the bay pawed at the straw covering the floor and occasionally punctuated his shudders with shrill whinnies.
"Steady...steady." I didn't really know what I was saying. Kastan struck me as being almost as forbidding as his master, so I approached Nisu instead. "Easy, boy. It's all right." I spotted an open bag of feed corn to my right, and grabbed a handful. "Here...you want some of this?" I pushed the corn under his nose. It was a well-timed gesture; there was enough of a pause in the storm that he could be diverted by it. "There we go."
Seeing his companion grow calmer eased Kastan's own anxiety, and he stopped thrashing so much. He even went so far as to nudge my arm, demanding a handful of corn for himself. After several minutes of this, the early hour and my own fatigue reasserted themselves on my body. But when I grasped the handle of the stall door, Nisu uttered a noise that was so plaintive, I couldn't bring myself to leave. Resigned, I settled down in a corner of the stall, and the patter of the rain lulled me to sleep.