“An uneasy peace has descended over the World Apparent. The Winter Realm and the Old Kingdom are recovering from the cataclysmic events of the Twelfth Reconquest, while in the south, the Djanki and the Sharib retreat to lick their wounds from the battle at Temple Rock. To the east, the divided Empire of Temeria is nearing the end of a long civil war, in which rival Generals have fought like mad dogs to seize the long-vacant Imperial Throne.
Sorrow and Bail journey through The High Places, doing their best not be noticed by the fearsome inhabitants. Bail begins to understand that there may be more to this innocent child than meets the eye. Felipe has escaped the battle at The Field of the White Bull with his life. Now a fugitive from General Anma’s forces, he seeks shelter with a hermit in the nearby swamp. But how long can he resist the Grand Master’s iron will?”
“The prophecy named you well,” said Sorrow, returning to his intense study. “You are the Crooked Man, crooked in every word and deed. I would not trust you if you asked for water when dying of thirst. I’ll accept nothing from you.
“Oh, enough,” Bail snapped. “Yes, I sold you into slavery, but let it serve as a lesson to you. The world is a hard place, full of hard people. And listen, I’m scum and a bad lot and I know it, but at least I came back for you. That has to count for something, surely?”
Sorrow thought before replying. “You did not come back out of the goodness of your heart,” he said eventually. “The Crooked Man thinks of his own profit, always. What happened to the money you got for selling me?”
Bail looked sharply at him. “You’re uncommonly shrewd for a brat. Sometimes it pays to keep your mouth shut and not ask awkward questions.”
“Does it? And why should I be cautious? You listen for a moment. I have nothing. My mother and father are dead, along with all my kin. I am the last of my people, the only one in the whole of the living world. All I have is you, a criminal who betrayed me for the sake of a few coins, and you don’t want me asking awkward questions. Well, to the Hells with you, blue-eyes.”
Such forcefulness coming from a child’s mouth made Bail feel uneasy, and he wondered, not for the first time, if he had made a mistake in rescuing Sorrow. “I imagine the tribe that spawned you would be a match for anyone,” he said, rubbing his bristly jaw.
“We were nomads and thinkers, not fighters, though we would fight if we had to. Men covered in metal came and slaughtered my people during the night. I lived, thanks to a blow to my head that knocked me out but did not kill me. More is the pity.”
Bail wondered who had committed the massacre. Some roving band of cutthroats, out for food and plunder? There were enough of them roaming the land in the aftermath of the civil wars, remnants of defeated armies or soldiers cut loose without pay now that their services were no longer needed. The forests and highways were also plagued with another class of robber, once peaceful men turned to banditry after the loss of their homes and families. To any of these, a group of peaceful nomads like Sorrow’s kin would have been easy meat.
Bail felt a twinge of pity for the boy. It wasn’t much, a mere pinprick in the solid wall of self-interest that made up most of his character, but it was there. Perhaps he did owe some sort of explanation.
He took a pull from his flask and wiped his mouth with a grimy hand. “I’m going to tell you a few bits of truth, Sorrow,” he said, “which you should take as a compliment, because truth is not something I deal in very often. I came back for you because the money the Moon-Walkers gave me was false, a clever enchantment. A couple of days after leaving you, I woke up in a roadside inn with the innkeeper in a red rage hammering on my door. The coin I had given him had turned to mud overnight, as had all the money in my purse.”
Sorrow looked at him, and a wry smile crawled up one side of his face. He clearly liked what he was hearing.