Enoch awoke propped up against a great wide tree, his armor having reverted to its flexible state. His belongings were scattered about him, and as he took stock of himself, he decided he was no worse for the wear.
But, what had happened, he wondered.
He was away from that horrid castle, and his enemies therein, and Heaven allow it, perhaps done with them for good. But where he was he did not know.
“Well,” said a friendly, and familiar raspy voice. “That was fun.”
It was Raytch, and upon seeing him, all of Enoch’s memories came flooding back.
“Raytch? Are you Raytch?”
“I am!” Squawked his erstwhile friend.
“Where,” stammered Enoch, “where have you been.”
“Yes,” the bird nodded and made one of his impossible smiles. “From pretty high up, I’ve got to admit. It isn’t too safe to be around you, you know. Not too close, I mean. Things keep happening to you.”
“I forgot you, old friend. How could I forget you?”
“No, Sar Enoch. You did not. I was pushed out of your mind by that devil we met.”
“Figure of speech. Well, for all I know, he was. But you never really lost me. Like I say, I’ve been watching you from on high, looking for a chance to help.” Raytch’s head bobbed up and down. “But it looks like you don’t really need help. You seem to get out of every jam!”
“Maybe. So far. But I certainly seem to get into a lot of—what did you call them?—jams?”
“This is true,” agreed the bird. He scratched the earth for a moment, then, “well?”
The bird coughed as though nervous. “Well, how much closer are you to the horizon?”
Enoch sighed. “As you have no doubt seen from lofty heights, the horizon is no closer today than it was the day I left. It is a fool’s errand.”
“And yet you pursue it?”
Enoch nodded. “I am guilty as charged, and so, properly named a fool.”
“I don’t think so. Perhaps, as I fly and observe, we are just a bit closer to the horizon than when I joined you, and who knows how much closer than when you left fabled Goodhope.”
Fabled? Enoch wondered at that strange usage. “You patronize me, friend Raytch, but I forgive you, as you mean it as a gift.”
Could birds blush? Enoch had not thought so, but did he detect a slight flushing of his friend’s face?
“No,” he continued. “The only thing for it is to travel there all at once, in a manner I have grown a bit more acquainted with, over these past days and weeks—has it been, in truth, only weeks since leaving Goodhope?” Enoch wondered, then shook his head, remembering the strange twists of time out of time he had suffered—or perhaps enjoyed—at the hands of the ancient wizard Norrel.
“Then it must be our task to locate someone who wields such power, wouldn’t you say?”
“Our task, friend Raytch? Does this mean you wish to join with me again?”
The bird nodded vigorously. “I never meant to be separated from you, Sar Enoch. Your life amazes me, and is not without its rewards. I have eaten amazingly well, since joining my fortune and future with yours, and I see by the way you now dress that you have found luck and fortune as well.”
“Luck? Of that I am not so sure. Fortune? Some of it, for this,” he touched the glistening metal of his miraculous chain mail, “is a gift of great value,” He pulled his sword a ways out of its scabbard, “and this, the sword you directed me to find, is a wonderful weapon, indeed.”
“And yet you complain bitterly about your fate?” Raytch asked, cocking one eye at his friend.
“So, I suppose, it seems. But I shall admit that life has treated me well, if not a little roughly, of late. I have survived—even triumphed—in every situation thus far, if not by my own hand.”
Raytch looked puzzled. “Then, by whose hand, Sar Enoch?”
“By yours, mainly, and by the soft and delicate hand of my beloved—if unknown and unknowable—7. For she, much like you, appears ofttimes when needed most, and for this I am grateful—not to mention still alive.”
At this, the great bird Raytch bowed.
“Still, either I must find a way to drive a stake into the horizon, to keep it from fleeing at my approach—like it were alive, wouldn’t you say?—or must find a way of traveling there of an instant, for travel there I must. I have yet to determine just who it is I must meet there, but I suspect it to be an enemy, some foul and clever foe greater still than those I have encountered thus far, and thereafter must defeat this evil person.”
Enoch drew a heavy sigh, and continued, “for while I do not wish a fight to the death—for killing does not sit well with me, and being killed an occurrence even lower on my list of favorite things to look forward to, I wish this quest to be over, and successfully complete.”
“Then we should make ourselves scarce from this place, and since you cannot fly, and I cannot carry you, I will perhaps ride upon your shoulder, and we can talk, making the journey seem less tedious.”
“A wonderful idea, my feathered friend. As the day is still young, and I am no true woodsman to track the sun before it begins its descent into the west, point me in the direction I must go.”
Raytch did, and they began their journey together regaling each other with stories of their adventures experienced during the time they were apart.
As they walked, the feathered Raytch would often call for a pause in Enoch’s monologue to ask for description, expansion, or explanation. So it was that he had questions about this latest adventure, in the castle of the diminutive Hiltsholder.
“I do not believe that was his name,” said Raytch. “It sounds like something a man—or someone pretending to be a man—might create to impress or intimidate. My guess is you were not so intimidated by this buffoon in high heels.”
“Quite so, Raytch, on the other hand, his manservant, Many Things—“
“—pardon me? Did you say ‘Many Things’?”
“I did,” Enoch laughed, “and that name caused me no end of confusion as well, but that is what this Hiltholder called him, and what he called himself, as well.”
Raytch shook his head, and bade Enoch continue his tale, asking, “What was it, do you suppose, that this villain—if villain he was—was after? Surely a person cannot steal talent or skill one from another. What was his game?”
“I find, more and more often, that my understanding of the world and the foibles of it, are beyond my reach. I cannot say if he thought he could siphon off what meager skills and talents I might, within me, keep, but that is what he claimed. Said he, that he could do so with little to no difficulty, and would reward me in kind—although I think his reward, if accepted, would be anything but kind—but that I would need to agree to the exchange for it to happen.”
“This sounds familiar,” Raytch said, his body shuddering.
“As well it should, for it is just such a notion that separated us!” Cried Enoch.
“But,” Raytch reminded Enoch of the topic at hand, “why would this so-called Hiltholder bargain, in good faith or bad, for something so wispy and hard to define?”
“A fair question, and in truth I do not know. I suspect, though, for what it is worth, that these skills and talents, as minor as any contribution I might have made, would make some small improvement to the entertainments this creature—for I am loathe to call him a man—hoped to enjoy at the performance of his vassals.”
“All kinds, in this wide world, wouldn’t you say?”
Enoch agreed, and told his friend so, and then, “enough of this reminiscence, my friend. I must plan for the days to come, and would much appreciate adding your wisdom to the mix, that I might have a better chance to complete this quest, and get on with my life.”
“Well said, Sar Enoch, but I would like to remind you that every day of your quest is also a day of your life, and it would benefit you greatly to remember that.”
Enoch’s eyes opened wide. “You are of course correct, friend bird, but I did not think that way. It was as though this quest was practice for a life to be lived sometime in the future, but I see your meaning. Every day I live is a day of my life. Now I say it so, I am embarrassed that I did not see it.”
“Shall we save that energy for a philosophical discussion at leisure around a fire, but put it aside for now?”
Enoch agreed, and the two discussed the future—while remembering that tomorrow’s future is a today of its own—and they plotted and they planned, but we will not go into their schemes at this time.
It was only after much discussion, and no small amount of remembering, that Enoch realized that this last adventure was not at the castle of King Allyear, but rather a clever misdirection of whatever powers stood in his way.