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Night Shadow

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Farsight, less commonly known as Prince Clerebold, ruler of Dawnlight since the death of his father by mischance, stood on the highest, narrowest tower of his keep and looked down upon his realm. From here, far higher than the birds swooping from tree to tree, he could see clearly his people: castle dwellers walking to and fro across the drawbridge under the watchful eye of the soldiers, tradesmen bumping carts against each other in the busy streets of the town under the keep's shadow, craftsmen working in their village houses with steady concentration, commoners spreading seed in the fields under the spring sun, and, most clearly of all, the nervous soldiers near the gold-filled mountain that stood by Dawnlight's northern border with Duskedge. Within Duskedge itself, Farsight could faintly sense fear and pain, especially the prolonged agony of men held captive in a faraway castle. But the darkness that Farsight had sensed during the past weeks was quiescent, perhaps driven into sleep by the light.

Kneeling on the ledge of the crenel that provided a gap in the tower's stonework, Farsight stared down at the hundred-foot drop and murmured to himself, "If only I could see the people near me clearly. They seem so dim."

"That will be your death."

Startled, Farsight turned so suddenly that he nearly matched his father's death by pitching through the crenel into open air. Standing behind him, near the trap door leading to the winding stairs, was a man about the same age as Farsight, wearing the clothes of a commoner. He was standing so close to the prince that Farsight could see little more than mud-colored hair and eyes that matched the burnished blue sky.

"Who are you?" asked Farsight sharply, his hand moving to the gold-hilted dagger at his side. "Why are you here?"

Farsight's abrupt words seemed to startle the young man. He stepped backwards onto the trap door, stumbling as he did so. The sound of his heavy swallow followed, and the blur of his outline shifted. Narrowing his eyes to better his sight, Farsight realized, with amusement and something more, that the young man's hands had tightened nervously like those of a boy facing scrutiny.

The gesture reassured Farsight, as did the faint sound of footsteps below the trap door, which told him that the guard was still at his post. "Why are you here?" he asked in a more moderate tone. "The guard had orders to let no one through."

"The guard?" The young man's voice was breathless and somewhat puzzled. "He wasn't at the landing when I came up. I saw him— Well, he was at one of the windows of the stairwell, fiddling with his breeches."

Farsight sighed, wondering again what sort of men he was training to be in his personal guard. He tried not to let too much of this show in his voice as he said, "That was careless of him. So – the fault is not yours, but why are you here?"

He heard the young man swallow again. "That's why. To warn you to guard yourself better."

Farsight frowned, trying to read what lay inside the young man, but he was too close. Pulling himself out from the crenel ledge, which had begun to turn warm under the morning light, the prince walked toward the eastern side of the tower, until he was as far from the young man as he could go. The young man, perhaps sensing his need, obediently stepped backwards until he was at the opposite side of the tower.

He was still too close, but Farsight could at least see now the man's features: a heavy jaw, lips too asymmetrical to attract lovers, a broken nose, a scarred temple, and blue-lit eyes bearing nothing except uncertainty. As Farsight watched, the man licked his lips anxiously.

His hand, though, was resting with practiced ease on his dagger hilt, and his cheeks were shaven – he was not a field commoner, then. "You're a soldier?" Farsight guessed aloud.

"A guard, my prince." The young man hesitated, then added, "My name is Amyas. I've been with Lord Grimbold's household until recently." With delicate timing, he allowed his hand to drop from his dagger.

Farsight felt the blood thrumming through his throat and resisted the impulse to call for his guard's protection. "You're far from home," he said. "I wouldn't have thought you'd have left Duskedge at time of war. And why call me your prince?"

"My prince, I—" Amyas faltered, staring at his mud-wrapped boots. "Because you are my prince. I was born in Dawnlight, near the border. I would have stayed here, but I couldn't find work in this land. So I went over the border and took service with Lord Grimbold, but part of our agreement was that if war broke out between our two lands, I'd be released from his service to return home."

"War broke out four months ago," Farsight observed. "That's when Royston turned his hungry eyes toward our gold-mountain near his border."

"Yes, my prince, and I left Lord Grimbold's service at that time. It occurred to me, though, that you might be in need of information, so I went to King Royston's castle and listened to the gossip there. I'd been there in the past, so no one took notice of me."

Amyas spoke with a pure simplicity, as though risking his life as a spy were the most natural activity in the world. He had a habit, Farsight noticed, of shuffling his feet on the ground, as though he were a boy who might be noticed at any moment and would need to flee the room to escape his elders' wrath.

Farsight suddenly felt very old. He smiled at Amyas and said, "So you have come to me with that information. Thank you."

Amyas looked up at him. For a moment, on the edge of his expression, something seemed on the point of breaking through. Then his eyes grew sober, and he said, "Yes, my prince. I came to warn you to guard yourself. King Royston has sent his Night Shadow to seek you."

A wind, chill from the north, travelled through the crenel behind Farsight and played like a cold blade against his back. When he could breathe once more, Farsight said, "Well. I suppose that is the easiest way for him to win this war."

Amyas took a step forward, faltered, then said in an impassioned voice, "My prince, forgive me, but— In Duskedge, I always kept to my place, so I do not wish you to think I was ill-trained there—"

Farsight managed to pull his smile back from the black pit where it had dropped. "We handle matters differently here in Dawnlight, as you'll recall from your childhood. You needn't be afraid to offer advice – I welcome your thoughts."

"Then, my prince—" Like the surge of a blade, Amyas flung the words forward: "Prince Clerebold, you're as close to death at this moment as you were when you were kneeling on that ledge! Do you know how easy it was for me to enter your presence? No guard challenged me at the drawbridge, your soldiers in the courtyard were indifferent to my presence, your courtiers gave me detailed instructions on where to find you, and your bodyguard was off making water when a man from Duskedge arrived looking for you. My prince, if I were an assassin, you'd be dead now!"

Farsight let out his breath in a long sigh and walked forward until Amyas's face blurred into the stones. "No, I wouldn't be. My guard is close by; the Night Shadow never allows himself to be seen, and he never kills anyone except his mark."

This answer appeared to disconcert the young man. A moment passed before he said, "And what if the Night Shadow decides to change its pattern for this kill? My prince—"

"Call me Farsight," the prince said mildly. "You've been too long away from home."

"Farsight . . ." Amyas fumbled with the name. "Farsight, the Night Shadow always wins. Everyone knows that. That's how Royston keeps his people in terror. And you . . . Your soldiers are the best trained in the world; Royston dare not attack you again through battle. That's why he's sending the Night Shadow. My prince, how can you have such fine soldiers at the border and such poorly trained guards at home?"

Farsight closed his eyes, released a long breath, and opened them once more to the blur that was the young man. "I'm farsighted," he said.

"My prince?" Amyas's voice was tentative.

"I'm farsighted. I can't see you unless you're far away; I can't see anyone unless they're far away. The soldiers I train at a distance – I can see them. The people I rule from a distance – I can see them. But the people I work with from day to day – I can't see them. I can't understand them, I can't know them. So I make mistakes. In some cases, mortal mistakes."

The wind rattled grit across the tower roof. Faintly from the sky above, birds called to each other, but Farsight could hear nothing more, not even the shouts of the guards on the drawbridge as they changed their watch. Below the trap door, the guard continued to shuffle in his place. By now, he must have heard Amyas's voice, but Farsight's moderate tones had apparently reassured the guard as to the nature of the interview. With exasperation, Farsight wondered whether the guard thought that Amyas had flown to the tower from one of the trees.

"Are the stories true?" Amyas's voice was subdued.

Farsight gave a crooked smile. "Half true. Sight in my family is connected with power, but the power isn't as great as most people think. My father was nearsighted; when he met someone, he could read through their soul to the nature of their being. With me, it's the opposite. I can only read what's at a distance, and that makes it hard for me to read individual men. Mostly what I sense are general events. If Royston were preparing his army to attack me, I'd be able to sense that and plan accordingly." He shook his head. "I always envied my father for his gift; I'd rather know the hearts of individual men and women. It's hard to rule without that gift." He paused, then added, "I envy the Night Shadow."

"The Night Shadow?" Amyas appeared startled; his voice cracked on the words.

Farsight shrugged. "They say that he has the same gift my father had, the ability to read the nature of men and women. That's why he always wins. He takes what he learns and uses it to trap the mark to his death."

"Not a pleasant gift." Amyas's voice poured out bitterness like a gushing fountain. "I can't understand why you envy such a creature."

Farsight squinted his eyes to see better, then stepped back until he reached the edge of a feeling. It was a deep feeling, full of blackness. Trying to sharpen the edges of his blurred vision, he said, "You've encountered the Night Shadow?"

After a moment, Amyas met his eyes. "Not encountered, no. No man who has met the Night Shadow is alive, save King Royston. . . . I had a friend when I was younger. He disliked Royston's rule, and said so too freely."

"I see," breathed Farsight.

Amyas's hands tightened on air, then opened once more with effort. "My prince, just once in my life I would like to see the Night Shadow fail to win its mark. Will you take me into your service and allow me to protect you?"

The shuffling beneath the trap door had ceased. Farsight wondered whether the guard had wandered away once more. He found he was smiling.

"Only," he said, "if you remember to call me by my name."

o—o—o

"Watch," said Amyas softly.

Narrowing his eyes as much as possible, Farsight focussed his attention on the nearby guard, who was whistling a tune as he turned his head slowly back and forth to watch the men and women travelling over the drawbridge into the castle.

Farsight, hidden in a recess behind the portcullis, said, "I don't know. He's happy?"

"He's drunk," said Amyas flatly. "Not badly, but he's been drinking today. Notice how carefully he moves. He's exerting all his control not to reveal his weakness."

Farsight looked over at Amyas, who was playing with a spindle, apparently oblivious to anything taking place around him. "So you believe I should dismiss him?" said Farsight.

"You should reward him," Amyas murmured, his gaze upon the twisting wool. "Oh, you should reprimand him too, for the drinking, but note what care he is taking in his duties. He takes care because he has pride in the work he does, and he's far more alert half-drunk than most of your men are sober. If you can pound it into his mind that he should be this alert all the time, he'll become one of your best soldiers."

Farsight sighed, looking back at the soldier. Now he could see that the guard's stance was lopsided. "You ought to be ruler of this land," he commented.

"Not until I acquire the ability to sense troop movements at the border." Amyas moved backwards a few steps, and for a moment Farsight could see him clearly: his eyes dawn-bright, his face expressionless. Then he noticed Farsight watching him and gave a shy smile. "Actually, it's not hard to read people," he said, and came forward again. He had stayed close to the prince's side since entering his service.

"Not hard for nearsighted men," Farsight replied as he stepped out of the recess, causing the whistling guard to stiffen suddenly and bring his spear up in a salute. Farsight waved at the guard, and the guard, reassured, waved back and called out a greeting.

"No, I'm not in Duskedge any more," Amyas murmured, placing the spindle carefully aside on a barrel as they moved into the noon-warm courtyard. Farsight caught a glimpse of its gold cap. "I can't imagine Royston – or Lord Grimbold, for that matter – greeting his men like that. How do you keep your people's loyalty?"

"By leaving them free to be disloyal," Farsight said enigmatically. "Amyas, what is his real name?"

"What is whose real name?" Amyas asked, turning his head to watch a group of commoners who were pushing a cart of bracken into the courtyard.

"The Night Shadow, of course."

Amyas looked over at Farsight. The dark blur that was his eyebrows settled closer to the lightness that was his eyes. "That's an odd question to ask," he said.

"Surely people have wondered before now who the Night Shadow is."

"Yes, but it's odd the way you ask it: 'What is his real name?' As though the work the Night Shadow does is less real than the mask it wears to hide the fact that it's the Night Shadow."

"Perhaps the matter is the other way around," Farsight suggested as he stooped to pick up a bit of bracken. He handed the fern to a commoner who was reaching for it. "Perhaps his other life is his reality."

"How could that be?" Amyas asked with exasperation. "Farsight, the creature kills. Do you think that's a small thing which can be forgotten in the daytime? The Night Shadow slits throats and it pushes men off cliffs and it breaks the necks of women—"

"He doesn't use poison."

Amyas stopped dead in the entrance to the great hall. "What?"

"He doesn't use poison," Farsight repeated patiently, reaching over to take an armful of bracken from an overladen page. "Most assassins use poison some time during their careers. The Night Shadow never uses poison, he never hangs his marks, he doesn't use any method that would cause prolonged pain or slow death."

"So?" said Amyas with anger. "Are you saying that it's a gentle creature because it likes to watch blood spurt rather than watch hanged men twitch?"

Farsight shook his head as he entered the hall. All around him, men, women, and children were jumping up and down, crushing level the bracken that covered the floor between the entrance and the high table. Farsight let the bracken in his arms fall onto an empty section of the floor, then watched as a young girl ran forward with a whoop to crush the flooring down. The sunlight reflecting from the gilded beams above shone upon her face.

"I'm saying that the Night Shadow is like me," the prince told Amyas over his shoulder.

He could hear Amyas's heavy breath behind him. His shape was grey and dim under the shadow of the walls. "You're mad," said the young man flatly. Then, hearing what he had said, he began to stammer out an apology.

Farsight cut him off with a laugh, guiding him back out into the sun-soaked courtyard. "Not as mad as that," he said. "Amyas, how many men do you suppose I have killed since I became prince two years ago?"

Amyas's voice held a frown. "Through executions, you mean? Not as many as Royston does, I imagine. Three dozen . . . four dozen . . ."

"Two thousand." At the soft sound of Amyas's in-drawn breath, Farsight added calmly, "That's how many of my men died in the battle at the border earlier this year, when Royston sent his troops to capture the gold-mountain. They died because I sent them to fight Royston over pieces of yellow metal."

Amyas was silent a moment before saying, "The mountain is important. It brings wealth to this land."

"And so do this realm's other gold-mountains. Is losing a single mountain worth two thousand lives?" Farsight allowed the question to hang as they entered the cavernous kitchen. The head cook, bustling up, let out a torrent of words that led Farsight, in the end, to join the young women chopping herbs on the stone table. Giggling, they allowed the prince into their company as Farsight silently offered Amyas one of the knives. Amyas shook his head and drew out his own blade. It was, Farsight noted, as dull as a hammer – not the best blade for herb-chopping, much less anything more.

"Most of those men died in agony over many days, through painful wounds," Farsight said under the chatter of the young women. "Yet another reason for me to envy the Night Shadow, who brings only quick death."

Amyas brought the dagger down in short, furious chops. "Are you comparing the actions of a ruler protecting his kingdom to those of a creature that brings death to the innocent?"

"No," said Farsight. "I can think of few professions more evil than that of an assassin." He paused to take a handful of herbs out of a gold-trimmed basket and added softly, "The spring my father died, he told me that, a few years before, a man came to him and said that all his life he had desired nothing more than to serve the prince of Dawnlight. My father asked the man what service he wished to do. The man seemed not to know what to answer at first. Then he said that, if my father had any enemies among his subjects, the man would seek them out and kill them. My father rejected the man's service and sent him away."

Farsight reached for more herbs past Amyas, whose blade was now motionless. "My father was a nearsighted man," Farsight said. "He saw what he should do then, but he failed to foresee the future. If I had been prince then, I would have persuaded the man to enter my service in some other role, or I would have had him killed. I would not have rejected him. Rejected assassins are dangerous men; they are apt to pledge their loyalty elsewhere."

Amyas lowered his blade slowly to the table. "Are you saying—?"

"I'm saying that it may be partly my father's fault that the Night Shadow is who he is today. And since I inherit my father's blood, I inherit his guilt as well. Thus I'm less inclined to dwell on the evil in the Night Shadow, since my family may have helped create that evil. I'm more interested in seeking out the good in him."

Amyas's opened his mouth, and his breath whistled in. He had no chance to voice his thoughts, for in the next moment the cook appeared at Farsight's side, waving her arms and shouting in a piercing manner that made Amyas wince. Farsight laughed. Taking Amyas's arm, he pulled him away from the table, saying, "We weren't paying enough attention to our tasks for her satisfaction. Come, let's go up to the tower."

They wound their way through the courtyard again, this time past courtiers carrying gold plates into the storeroom below the hall and past castle dwellers making admiring remarks as the craftsman of the plates described his work. Farsight, catching the glint of sun-bright metal, paused a moment to listen as the castle dwellers debated which piece was finest. Beyond them, he caught a glimpse of the craftsman's smile, and he smiled back in return. Then he glanced over at Amyas and saw that the young man was slowly turning to gaze upon all of the courtyard's inhabitants. Finishing his circle of inspection, Amyas looked back at Farsight and gave him a reassuring nod. They walked forward together toward the stairwell that led to the highest tower of the keep.

A courtier passed them. At Amyas's slight gesture, he stopped, and Amyas briefly picked up a plate. The gold from it shone onto Amyas's face, turning it sun-colored. Amyas dropped the plate back onto the stack and ducked under the low doorway to the stairwell.

The stairs circled like a snail-shell whorl around the central pole. At intervals the steps were lit by slits between the rock-slabs. Looking back, Farsight saw the warm glitter that was Amyas's eyes, watching his back. The young man said, "Does that craftsman work for you?"

"Yes, he does most of the goldwork in the castle. Why do you ask?"

"Dismiss him."

Farsight stopped at the landing that led to the treasury above the hall. The room had long since overflowed, and the precious objects Farsight had inherited were now stored throughout the castle. If any of them passed into the hands of castle visitors, he was apt not to notice.

Amyas gestured slightly with his head toward the guard stationed on the landing, and Farsight walked up another turn of steps. Behind him, Amyas said, "He's cheating you. Those plates are gold over base metal."

Farsight looked back at the blue sparks within Amyas's face. "You could tell from the plate's weight?"

"I guessed before that, when I saw how the craftsman smiled at you. He despises you for not guessing his tricks, Farsight. A man like that is dangerous in more than cheating."

Farsight paused at one of the window slits and reached down with his vision, but he was too near to feel anything taking place in the courtyard. He started forward once more, saying, "If he's that dangerous, I'll keep him at my side and give him reason to serve me well. I won't dismiss him, Amyas. I won't turn any man from my door."

He checked his progress on the steps for a moment, frowning as he looked back over his shoulder. "A single mountain," he murmured. "If that mountain disappeared tomorrow, would the craftsmen of this land even notice? Would the tradesmen? I have more than enough gold in that treasury to supply the entire realm, if need be."

Amyas frowned. "Surely that's not what is most important in this conflict between you and Royston. The mountain is but a symbol. Give Royston that, and he'll think he can take anything he wishes from you."

"Royston," Farsight said reflectively, "is good at grabbing but poor at making trades. He has always reminded me of the man in the old tales who traded his beloved wife for a statue of gold, only to discover that it was fool's gold."

Amyas shook his head. "It hardly matters in any case. There's nothing he could give you that would equal a mountain of gold."

Farsight turned away without replying. They reached the start of another turn of the whorl, where a guard stood watchful before the entrance to the prince's sleeping quarters. Seeing his ruler start on the next set of stairs, the guard cried, "Would you like me to accompany you, Farsight?"

Farsight glanced back at Amyas, who shrugged and said, "It wouldn't hurt. The more men that protect you, the better."

"I'd trust the dagger of a guard who trained under one of Royston's lords," Farsight said in a low voice as nearby the guard called to his companion below in order to tell him of the change in watch.

"I learned most of my bladework in Dawnlight, actually," Amyas said, his eyes lowered to survey the worn steps as the men climbed. "I used to watch our land's soldiers carry out their practice. Unfortunately, this was during your father's time, so the soldiers at the border weren't very well trained."

Farsight's laughter carried them through the trap door. Amyas paused at the landing where the guard had taken up his post, and murmured something that caused the guard to flush and straighten his back further.

"Whatever did you say to him?" Farsight asked with amusement as they stepped onto the top of the tower. "My guards' work has improved tenfold since you arrived. And not just my guards' – all of the castle dwellers seem to be working better. I don't hear the complaints that used to arise. One of the courtiers told me you'd been giving them instructions. They seemed to think that the instructions came from me."

Amyas stopped short. Farsight was just distant enough that he could see the fear in the young man's face. "My prince, I didn't mean—" Amyas stumbled over the words. "If my suggestions were treated as orders— Prince Clerebold, I never intended—"

"Amyas," Farsight said softly, "you're not in Duskedge. I'm not going to punish you for trying to help me."

After a moment, Amyas walked forward. His steps dragged, like that of a boy approaching too near to peril. "Farsight, it's dangerous," he said in a low voice, as though others were listening. "The castle dwellers took my instructions too easily; even your guards did. They should have known that you wouldn't give me that much power. If I had been the Night Shadow—"

"I know," said Farsight. "I thought of that yesterday, when I was standing here. I can sense a little of what goes on in the castle, you know, as long as I'm standing far enough away. In matter of fact, I knew about the changes you had made before the courtier mentioned them. I sensed them while standing here, and it frightened me. For the reason you mention," he added hastily, as the blur before him tightened his hands suddenly. "Because the Night Shadow could do the same, and reach me that way."

"So what will you do?"

"Give you the power you have taken."

A bird, swooping high above the trees, trilled joy through the sky, leaving its scarlet blur against the white clouds behind Amyas. Amyas had not stirred; no slight movement helped to reveal to Farsight what his face held. Finally the young man whispered, "Why? Because I've lived in Duskedge? Because I can help you to trap the Night Shadow?"

"Oh, that too, of course. But the main reason is that you are risking your life to help me."

The blur turned. Farsight saw a glitter in the eyes that was more than sky. As the figure retreated, something trailed back behind it, deep, dark, filled with pain.

"Amyas?" Farsight said with sudden anxiety.

"I'm not going far," Amyas reassured him in a voice that revealed nothing. "I'm going to give orders to that guard of yours about some changes that I think need to be made. Now, before it's too late."

o—o—o

"Evil," said Amyas. "The Night Shadow is utterly evil. It is without heart, it is colder than dead bones. If you don't believe me, ask the mourners of the marks it has slain over the years."

Dusk had arrived, a warm dusk with only an edge of chill to the evening breeze. Returning to the tower from the landing, Amyas had brought with him wine that the guard had fetched from the kitchen. Farsight, ignoring the guilt stabbing at him for neglecting his regular duties, had poured out the wine, and by now his vision had blurred even further than it usually did.

"Good," countered Farsight, trying to remember the motions the soldier at the drawbridge had adopted to hide the fact that he was drunk. "Every man has good in him, as every man has evil. Tell me what they say in Duskedge about the Night Shadow."

"I told you," said Amyas impatiently, spilling some of his wine as he gestured violently. "It is cold, it is heartless—"

"—he is pitiless, he watches without emotion as blood seeps out of a mark. Yes, I know all that."

Amyas was motionless for a moment, then set his cup carefully onto the crenel ledge where he and Farsight sat. "If you know all that about the Night Shadow, why bother to ask?"

"I know all that about myself," Farsight corrected.

He turned to look out at the fields, blue-grey under the dusk-shadow, and beyond them to the mountain with its treasure-heart that poured out wealth to Farsight and his realm. Farsight reached further, to the darkness beyond the mountain, but he could feel nothing. Perhaps, he thought, the darkness was already too close.

He looked back at Amyas, whose brows had dived low, and he said, "I told you there was evil in everyone. When I sent the order for our soldiers to push back Royston's coming attack, I was cold that day. Colder than the midwinter snow on the gold-mountain; colder than the caves inside. I cannot fight in war. I know a little bladework, enough to defend myself, but my vision is not good enough to allow me to take part in battle. So I sent others to die for me. I dared not allow myself to feel anything that day from the images that came to my mind of what would happen to those men."

Amyas's frown was so pronounced that even Farsight could see it. "You did what you had to that day."

"Perhaps the Night Shadow does what he has to," Farsight suggested. He drowned out his companion's sigh by saying, "Amyas, how can I judge a man like that? I'll protect myself against him – I'll be forced to kill him if I capture him – but how can I say to such a man, 'If I had been you, I would not have done the evil that you do'? I simply can't know what made him the way he is. All I can do is try to understand now what he is, before he comes so close that I cease to know him. So tell me what they say about the Night Shadow."

Amyas was silent for a minute; then he reached forward for his cup. The gold glittered in his hand as he said, "They say what you say, that it kills its marks swiftly. They say that it has never killed a mark except upon Royston's orders. They say that it has always remained loyal to Royston." He sipped from the cup, causing his face to turn gold in Farsight's eyes. "They say nothing more. Farsight, one can hardly call a creature – a man, if you like – good because it's well enough satisfied with its work that it follows orders."

"One can hardly call him utterly evil if he shows such loyalty," Farsight said softly, watching the ebbing sun's reflection on the gold. "Besides, I don't believe that the Night Shadow follows Royston's will when he gives his marks a quick death. I know Royston; I know that he would far rather that his enemies linger in pain. That part of what occurs must be the Night Shadow's wish."

Amyas turned his head to look at the shadowed landscape below. "I still say that's a sorry sort of good."

"We can't judge that, Amyas," Farsight replied, still soft against the hush of the evening wind. "For all we know, that may be the real man inside the Night Shadow, struggling to break free of the mask he has created. The easy path to take would be to adopt all evil. The Night Shadow hasn't done that."

Amyas looked back at Farsight. The line of his lips twisted suddenly, and his voice dripped acid as it said, "My prince, you do realize, I hope, that the Night Shadow is loyal only because Royston grants slow deaths to his disloyal servants. And you do realize that the Night Shadow kills swiftly only because that's the safest path for an assassin."

Farsight laughed then, his laughter rolling off the edge of the tower and dying somewhere short of the ground. "Oh, Amyas," he said, "if you are as skilled at fighting with your blade as you are with your words, then I'm well protected indeed." He stood up and reached out with his hand. "Come, let's to bed; we can continue our argument later. I'm so drunk that I'm about to fall off the ledge and follow my father to his death."

"He was pushed," Amyas said, taking Farsight's hand and allowing himself to be pulled up.

"Accidentally," Farsight amended. "My father was kneeling in a crenel, looking over the edge to try to see the ground. His guard feared that he was leaning too far and tried to catch hold of him. I'm counting on you to train my guards better." His gaze returned involuntarily to the crenel, and the emptiness beyond it.

"Which do you suppose would be worse?" asked Amyas, bending to look over the edge of the tower. "To fall from here, or to die through a blade?"

"I heard my father cry out as he fell," Farsight said quietly. "I'd rather die by the blade."

"I'd rather fall," said Amyas, looking down. "I've seen men die by the blade. I think that death through falling must take less time."

Farsight raised his eyes to the mountain, looming dark next to the quiet border. He wondered how long it would be before he felt a darkness creep over that border, walk across the fields, enter the castle. "I don't suppose," he said as he turned toward the trap door, "that the Night Shadow will give me any choice."

Behind him he heard only silence, then the sound of Amyas rejoining him, protecting his back.

Amyas said, "There will be no choice, for we'll kill the Night Shadow before it kills its mark."

o—o—o

Darkness came with the night.

"It's here," Amyas whispered in his ear.

Farsight, waking suddenly to Amyas's touch, felt his mind as muddled as his vision. He looked around the moonlit room, as though he might thereby sight a figure standing in the shadows.

"How do you know?" he whispered back. "Did you see him?"

Amyas shook his head. "No one ever sees the Night Shadow. Your keep guards are missing. I gave instructions for the guard to be doubled from now on, and no one is here. Something must have changed their orders. It must be coming—" He rose abruptly from where he had been kneeling, beside the Farsight's bed, and walked over to the other side of the room, where Farsight, in a drunken haze, had dropped his clothes. Nearby, Amyas's bed, in which he had slept since he became the prince's body-guard, was untouched.

Farsight's head ached. Abandoning his eyes, he reached out with his other vision, searching. Faintly, he felt something. It was close . . .

"He's here," he breathed.

Amyas, stepping toward the bed, stopped short. After a moment, he said tentatively, "You feel it?"

"I think so. . . . I'm not sure. If I were further away, I could tell."

"The tower," said Amyas. "Could you tell whether it was here if we went up to the tower? If we knew for sure, we could trap it."

"Yes," said Farsight, allowing the flustered young man to clumsily help him into his clothes. "If we went that far away, I'd know. Should I call guards to accompany us?"

"There's no time!" Amyas's strained whisper cut through the quiet. "Farsight, the Night Shadow has killed dozens of men; it won't make any mistakes. We must find where it is before it reaches you."

"Let's go, then," said Farsight, rising from his bed with his feet still unshod. "No, leave the rest."

"You'll need this." Amyas handed him his dagger.

They raced up stairs lit only by ice-cold moonlight. The tower above was so black that Farsight nearly fell through a crenel. Shivering from the chill stabbing at his feet, he pulled himself back and looked around. Amyas was closing the trap door. In his hand was his dagger, but he was holding it awkwardly, as though uncertain of its purpose.

"I knew that I should have whetted this today," he said in a plaintive voice as he approached Farsight. "Can you feel it? The Night Shadow?"

"Wait." Farsight closed his eyes. Reaching out, he searched through the great hall, where the castle dwellers slept; through the kitchen, where the fire slept; through the courtyard, where the guards yawned at their posts.

"No," he said, opening his eyes to the dark blur that was Amyas. "Maybe I was wrong before. Maybe I can't feel him because he's too far away."

"Or too near . . ." Amyas said slowly. They stared at each other, Farsight seeing before him the moon-filled eyes like snow. Then they both turned at the same moment to look at the stairwell.

"Too near," Farsight whispered. "I can't tell whether he's there, or whether that's an empty stairwell."

"If the Night Shadow's there, it won't stay there," Amyas whispered back. "Farsight, my fighting skills— I'll protect you as best I can, but if you can fight as well—"

"I can," Farsight assured him, trying to sound as calm as a prince should be at such a moment. "And my blade is sharper than yours."

"Let me see," said Amyas, his voice rising in a manner just short of panic. He took the blade that Farsight handed him, and held up the gold-hilted dagger against the silver moon. "It's deadly sharp," he confirmed in a distracted manner. "But just the two of us against the Night Shadow— Farsight, couldn't we call down to the soldiers below?"

"No," said Farsight, feeling pain in his throat as he swallowed. "I tried that as a boy, shouting down to scare people. Nobody can hear us up here."

"Good." And at the word, Amyas took hold of Farsight's shirt and thrust the prince against the tower stonework.

The clatter of Amyas's blade falling nearby shouted into the night. The sound disturbed no one except a crow passing across the moon, which veered in the sky. Farsight stared at the snow-white eyes in the blurred face before him and felt the hand tighten on his shirt. The gold-edged blade pricked at his throat.

"Night Shadow?" whispered Farsight to the blur.

Dark silence provided the answer.

He closed his eyes then and felt the breath shudder out of him. His head, which had been throbbing before, now screamed from the pain of being flung against the stones. His throat, embracing a swallow, turned warm as a single drop of blood trickled down from where the dagger-point edged his life. The wind chilled it before it reached the hand holding him, with easy power, against the stonework.

He opened his eyes finally. The blur was still there; the cold eyes had not moved. "Why am I still alive?" whispered Farsight. "The Night Shadow kills swiftly.

The right hand of the Night Shadow blended with the gold of the dagger-hilt, making the assassin look, in that moment, like a creature that had crawled out of a gold-mountain. Farsight, reaching forth with his vision, could feel nothing but emptiness; the Night Shadow's darkness was too close. Only the eyes, passionless, white like bones, spoke of what stood before the prince of Dawnlight, holding stolen power and life.

The frost-white eyes gazed unblinking. Farsight, lost in his blindness, waited. When the voice came, it was as cold as the eyes.

"You see too far," it said.

With a motion as swift as that with which it had begun, the Night Shadow stepped back. Released, Farsight felt his knees waver. Then he saw the blur of the blade coming toward him.

"You said that would be my death," he whispered, and gasped as the dagger reached him.

The blade was cold; the gold hilt was heavy in his hand. Farsight's palm closed automatically around it. His head had turned to look at the Night Shadow, who had stepped away once more, this time to the side. The assassin had its head bowed to look over the edge of the tower.

"You know what I am," it said. "Do as you will." The figure moved northward and knelt on the crenel ledge.

Farsight, walking slowly forward, could not see the figure's face; it was turned away, facing the chill emptiness of the drop. Nor did it turn as the prince stepped behind him, feeling the weight of the dagger in his hand. Blade or fall, blade or fall; the Night Shadow had granted him the choice.

He sheathed the dagger and placed his hand on the Night Shadow's shoulder. Under the moonlight, he saw the blur of hands below tighten, grasping air, but otherwise the Night Shadow did not move. Where Farsight's hand touched the skin next to the neck, the blood beat hard.

"Amyas," Farsight said quietly.

The wind's sigh paused. Now Farsight could hear the breath in front of him, shallow, measured. After a moment, in a detached voice, the blurred figure said, "What?"

"Amyas," Farsight repeated. "That is your real name. The Night Shadow is only your mask."

The figure did not move. Its skin was growing cold under the moonlight. "The mask covers me like gold over base metal," it said without emotion. "I cannot remove it. . . . Prince Clerebold, you know what I am; you know what I will do. Stop me. Finish me."

"I know who you are," Farsight said in a low voice. His hand tightened on the shoulder in preparation; it pushed the body.

The face was still a blur, but the eyes seemed somehow brighter than before. Farsight finished pushing the unresisting body back against the side of the crenel and reached forward until his hand felt the blurred darkness. It was cold, but after a minute he felt a warmth touch his fingers, in the form of wetness.

"Cold," said Farsight softly. "Heartless. Pitiless. Utterly evil." He paused to wipe the tears from the chill face. "Amyas, I think I have won this argument."

Cold hands reached up, pushed Farsight's away, then covered the darkness. After a minute more, Farsight sat down on the ledge, reached forward, and pulled the shaking body toward him.

The moon shifted in the sky. When finally he raised his head from Farsight's shoulder, Amyas's eyes had turned blue in the growing shadows. With a voice once more level, he asked, "What will you do with me, Farsight?"

"What do you wish to do?"

Amyas remained silent a while. His hands were motionless at his sides. Then he turned his head toward the north, where the wind blew around the mountain by the border. "I have no choice," he said quietly. "If you let me live, I must return to Royston and tell him what I have done."

Faintly, at the edge of his vision, Farsight felt the screams of men in the cellar of Royston's castle. Amyas's head remained turned toward the wintry north; Farsight could no longer see his eyes. The wind shivered over the tower.

"Return to him, then," Farsight said softly, "and carry a letter from me. Tell Royston that, if he will spare you punishment and set you free from his service, I will give him the mountain he wants."

Amyas's breath drew swiftly in as he looked back at Farsight. His voice, when it came, was unreadable. "A mountain full of gold in exchange for me? You value my service that much?"

"Not your service. Your freedom." Farsight turned his gaze away from the mountain. Reading Amyas's silence like the emptiness that had come before, he added, "I'm not rejecting you like my father did, but neither will I trap you like Royston did. If you choose to serve me, I'll welcome your service. If you choose not to, you'll have your freedom. Whatever you choose, you'll have my friendship." He reached down, picked up the object that was nudging his foot, and handed Amyas his dagger.

Amyas took the blade slowly. He turned his head again toward the north to the dark mountain there, where the troops lay sleeping in the night. After a moment, he said in a quiet voice, "Farsight, did you know who I was all the while?"

Farsight shook his head. Under the cool moonlight, his feet were now as frigid as ice-blocks, but he barely noticed. A warmth was running through him like a sunlit sky. "Not when you came close. I didn't recognize you then. But when you were in Duskedge, I sensed you; I felt your thoughts turning toward me. And so, since it seemed likely that we would meet, I began asking every traveller who visited this castle what they knew of you, so that I would understand you before you came too near for me to know you."

The pale moon began to sink under the horizon. Amyas turned his face toward Farsight, his eyes still bright. "A mountain for the Night Shadow." His voice held amusement, and something more. "I know Royston, Farsight; he'll accept your trade. And it will be the worst trade he ever made. I'll be the Nearsight you need to complete your vision, and I'll show you the nature of the men and women close to you. And by the time we're through, my prince, Dawnlight will be ten times as powerful as it was when it owned that mountain of gold."

The young man stood up and reached out his hand to help the prince rise. "The Night Shadow was tired of winning, Farsight," he said. "He's grateful that you killed him."