Narnemvar didn’t scream when he toppled over. His silence was almost more frightening. His face was wide with fear and concentration.
“Should we wake him, sir?” Satbada asked. Not the least shade of the tone of his voice betrayed any thought for his own safety, if they stopped walking too soon.
Postlavanderon knelt beside his friend, who had bent at the knees suddenly and laid back on the trail. He looked at his eyes, which were round and fixed on something else. Beyond a shallow breathing, his fingertips were the only part of him moving. They seemed to be feeling the fabric of the air.
“Narnemvar,” Lavvi called, softly, “are you all right? Should we do anything to help you?”
Narnemvar’s lips moved slightly, aimlessly. There was a sharp smell. Lavvi watched his eyes, but they showed less fear than it had at first, not more. Perhaps is was the severe concentration that had caused his friend to release his bladder.
“Are we near enough to the sea to allow us to fetch water?” Lavvi asked.
“I believe so, sir. There was a cross trail awhile back that was going the right direction.”
“Back?” Concern about his safety laced through that single word.
“I believe I’ll be all right. I’ll be coming back in the right direction. And it’s a weak curse. In addition, I believe he should take a break from studying. He needs to recover himself.”
“You’re right, of course. I’ll stay with him.”
Satbada unpacked two folded leather buckets from the backpack he carried. He trotted back the way they had come. Postlavanderon removed a flask from his belt and a handkerchief from his sleeve. He poured water on the cloth and pressed it against his friend’s cheek, then his forehead, then his other cheek.
Narnemvar’s eyes blinked. He started, slightly, once, twice. His arms moved slowly, his fingers still making the feeling motion. After a few slow minutes, be began to whisper.
“It’s big. . . so big!”
Postlavanderon poured some more water on the cloth. “I thought it was a small curse?”
“The curse is small, but the caster was so weak. He used his fear to tap into . . . oh, it’s such a large store of ill-will, or ill-health. More than ill-health. So big. Must twist off . . . bit. . . have. . . must drain away. Can’t let it through. Can’t send it back to the magic. So big. Where did this come from?”
“One thing at a time, friend.” The cloth was once again against Narnemvar’s face. “You can trace where it came from later. The only thing to think of now is how to pull back away from it without hurting yourself.
It would also be nice if you didn’t hurt Shortbread.”
“No. He’s safe. I twisted it off behind me. It can’t get through. It’s just me. I’ll be fine. It’s just so big. Tell me I can do a lot of thinking about it later.”
“You don’t need to think about it now. It isn’t safe to just leave something like that laying around were weak mages can tap it. I want you to find out what it is, just not now. My father will want to find out what it is, but he can have other mages help you and it can happen later. Is that what you need?”
“That’s good. Yes. I only have a little of it and it’s more than I’ve ever held before. How was this collected? I’m afraid of the things I’m thinking when I think of . . . so big.”
“We’ll figure out how it was collected. If it was done illegally, more than my father will want it’s makers spoken to.”
“Speak to them. Yes. Tell them not to be bad. Lavvi?”
“I think you’re right to say they. I think it was many mages. I think there were a lot of people killed. I’m afraid. If they did it on purpose, I don’t think they’re the kind of people who should be using magic.”
“Yes. We’ll find them. We’ll think of that. Only we don’t have to do it now. It’s too big to loose track of, right?”
“So you can let go of it and find it again with no problem. Right?”
“So all you need to think about is letting go, of getting yourself away from it safely. Can you do that? Can you only think about getting away safely?”
“Will you remind me of . . . of the rest?”
“Of course. I’ll remember for you. You’ll probably remember, too, but I’ll remember. Satbada has gone to get some sea water to wash you off with.”
“I shouldn’t have said that. There’s nothing you need to think of, here. We have everything under control. You just wiggle out of that bad magic.”
“Wiggle.” Narnemvar giggled. “Wiggle. Wiggle out. It’s big, but I’m slippery. I can get out of anything.”
“Yes, you can.”
Narnemvar laid back, arms stiffly held, fingers twitching, eyes wide and staring upward. “I’m afraid.”
“The fear won’t stop you, my friend. Rest easy on that.”
Narnemvar’s reply was the sound of a balloon with a slow leak.
This was not good. Postlavanderon was at least five days walk from anything like his sphere of influence. They were in village country. Hut country. They were on the finger. And the most powerful mage that anyone had seen for decades was afraid. This was definitely not good.