"This is your troupe of players you're talking about?" Daniel asked.
Rebekah nodded, her expression slack.
"And why would they want to kill you?"
"I have no idea," the girl replied.
"So…no offense to William here, but isn't it more likely that he just made a mistake?"
"No," Rebekah said quickly, "William's memory is always flawless. Besides, those men singled us out, even though nobody in town knew about your sword, and we weren't showing anything else of value. Combined with what he overheard, it can't be a coincidence, can it?"
The sword hummed in ominous tones, and Daniel knew she was right.
"William," Rebekah asked, "did the boss know you overheard him?"
William's brow wrinkled. "I don't think so."
"We need to get off the street," Daniel said. "I have no idea what's going on, as usual, but if either of you are spotted again, we could be in real trouble. I wish Sir Reuben was here. He didn't even say where to meet him."
"I guess he thought he'd find us," Rebekah mused. "Or he's leaving us behind. It isn't as though either of us knows him very well."
The sword protested an angry blat of horns as Daniel shook his head. "No, he saved my life for a reason. Even if he does have a secret agenda, not that I think that's likely, he wouldn't leave the sword."
"Alright. So what do we do?"
"I say we do just what we set out to. We find lodging for the three, now four, of us, and stay out of sight until Reuben finds us."
The clouds were finally breaking up, pouring sunlight into the alley. The trio headed back into the street, Rebekah taking the lead while William strode imposingly just behind. Daniel brought up the rear, alert for danger. The sword played a constant, high tone in his head, keeping him on edge without distracting him.. Or was it keeping him alert? He'd already made the conscious effort to sharpen his perception before the sword had sounded, just as he'd already decided Sir Reuben wasn't abandoning them before the sword complained at the idea. Certainly in battle it had warned him of things he couldn't have known, but beyond that, was the sword really informing his instincts, or only responding to them? An aggressive drum beat sounded in his head; he scanned for danger, but then realized its intent was only to snap him out of his reverie. He had, he realized, ben allowing his mind to wander. It seemed the weapon did have some will of its own, then…but where did its end and his begin?
They discovered a tavern with a few spare, upper-story rooms for travelers and rented some space, paying extra for an assurance of privacy. They headed upstairs, trying to avoid the gazes any of the tavern-goers might throw their way.
None of them noticed the bartender catch the eye of a dark-clad man at the back of the room and make a significant glance after them.
Daniel and Rebekah dozed for a time while William kept watch. At first, Daniel had tried to stay awake, but as exhaustion waved over him, he found himself trusting the sword's vigilance more and more. Finally he trusted it enough to counter his lingering concern over William's intentions, not to mention his capabilities as a watchman, and drifted off.
As he slept, he wandered through the modest streets of his home. The buildings were familiar, but the deserted structures offered no welcome or solace. His hands were empty, and the weight of the sword was absent from his hip. A chill wind keened through the open doorways, almost drowning the sound of sobs even as it carried them to Daniel's ears. He followed the sound out onto the village green, where a young boy sat on a stump that Daniel remembered as a live, spreading oak. The boy's back was to Daniel, and his face was buried in his hands.
"What's wrong?" Daniel found himself asking.
"Nobody will play with me," the boy replied between sobs, his voice muffled by his hands. "Everyone hates me."
"I'm sure that's not true," Daniel assured him.
"Will you play with me?" The wind kicked up and whipped the words around the green.
"I'd like that," Daniel said, "but I have something important to do. I've lost something very special, and everybody is counting on me to get it back and use it to save the kingdom."
"You lie!" the boy cried. "You're just like all the others!" The boy jumped up and started to run away.
Daniel put his hand on the boy's shoulder and shouted, "Hey!"
The boy turned toward him, and Daniel stumbled back and screamed in horror.
The boy's face was his own of some years back, but the eyes were empty, ragged holes, the tears streams of blood coursing down his face.
Daniel continued backing away, his scream growing louder and more frantic as he scrabbled for the sword that wasn't there. The bloody simulacrum advanced on him, crying, "Play with me! Daaniieeel! Play with me, Daniel! Play with me…"
"Daniel!" Rebekah had one hand on his shoulder as he awakened to a loud smack that his burning cheek told him must have been her other hand connecting with his face. "Daniel, you're having a nightmare."
Daniel sat up and wiped his stinging eyes, realizing he must have been crying in his sleep. The rest of his face turned red to match Rebekah's handprint at the thought of her seeing him in that state. Still, there was neither mockery nor malice in her eyes as she looked at him, nor in William's broad face over her shoulder, only compassion as she asked, "Are you alright?"
"I'll be fine. Just a nightmare, and it's over now." His fingers curled around the hilt of the sword.
"It must have been awful, the way you were…"
Rebekah was silenced by a heavy knock on their door.