Azti sped through the growing darkness racing the wind. Mona sat on the front of his saddle, bound to him with strips of leather. His cloak was wrapped round them both in an attempt to keep her warm. The wind was chilling this high up and the craggy mountainsides offered little protection from it. Mona had not stirred, she slumped lifelessly against him, and he feared that she had gone too far. There were soldiers he had known that, through injury or terror, had disappeared into the realms of their minds never to return, the body lived on but the soul was gone. He hoped the healers in Tor could do more than he. He slowed his mount fractionally to negotiate a narrow section of road, and then spurred it back to full gallop. Something made him uneasy on this new stretch. He pushed his senses, looking for a clue, but found nothing. All the same he became more cautious. Then in the distance he thought he made out a shadowy shape. He slowed Troy down to a walk and scanned the rocky edges of the road. The horse snorted suddenly and stamped its feet heavily. Wolves. With a sigh of relief Azti spurred the nervous horse forward again. He could easily outrun a wolf. He charged up the trail, watching five shapes take flight down the side of the mountain. Adjusting Mona’s head into a comfier position against his chest he realized that his shirt was wet where she had lain against him. He glanced down at her face, and saw the sparkle of tears.
“Mona,” he said loudly. But her expression did not change.
A little further along, at a wider section of road he reined in Troy, and looked at her again. He had to see if she was any closer, if she was coming back to him. He shut his eyes and sent his energy into her body.
Mona awoke to find the castle gone. She was floating in the midnight black and the old man floated in a lotus position at her side. He smiled at her.
“It is time to go back now,” he said softly.
“The path stretches out in front of you.”
He pointed, and Mona saw the silvery thread stretching away from her. She reached her hand out and went forward a small way. With a somersault she faced the old man once again.
“It is caught on something further ahead.”
“I don’t want to go near the dragon,” she whispered.
“She is dead now. You are entangled in her life thread. He will help you out.”
“Who?” she asked, puzzled.
But the old man had vanished and she was alone. Fearfully she reached her hand out again, but this time she didn’t move. She tried to pull herself along, hand over hand on the cord, but she didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. She tried again to stretch her arm in the direction she wanted to go, and this time she moved slightly. Then it all came together in her mind. She banished the fear in her heart, and sped off back towards her body, as was her intention. Soon she reached the place where her cord was entangled with another. One end of it floated around loosely, the other followed hers away into the distance. In between there was a knot. Catching the loose end Mona began to thread the cord back through her own. After a long time of patient weaving she realised that she was in as much of a mess as when she had started. Trying not to despair she started again. The two cords were only slightly different in hue, and the knot was rather large. Twice she found that she had added to the entanglement and had to undo what she had done. She was close to tears when she heard someone call her name. She stopped what she was doing and listened. There it was again.
“I’m here,” she called loudly, but her mouth issued no sound. She tried again, shouting with her heart and this time was rewarded with a light moving along her cord from the other side. She watched its progress, until it eventually became the form of a man.
“You are here at last.” He was suddenly at the other side of the knot.
“I’m stuck,” she whispered, heart to heart.
He looked down at the mess in front of her and she saw the problem dissolve in his eyes.
“The dragon?” he asked.
“I’ll be back. Don’t go.”
He sped off and was gone for what seemed like an awfully long time, but eventually he returned holding one end of the dragon’s cord. He pulled on it gently, and Mona watched as it slowly unravelled itself from her own.
“We must get you back,” he said, “ I will go first. Count to a hundred and then follow.”
He turned and disappeared from her view. She shut her eyes and counted, before beginning the final part of her journey. As she got closer she could here rhythmic drumming, and it took a moment for her to realise that it was her own heartbeat. The second she made that discovery she found herself drawing the chill air into her lungs, and sitting in a very cramped position. She tried to push herself upright, but she couldn’t move.
“Hold still. You are tied to me.”
Opening her eyes she took in her surroundings and suddenly felt faint. She shut them again quickly, fighting not to go back.
“You will feel very weak. I will loosen the bonds but I think it is safer if you stay tied to me. We still have a long way to go.”
She lolled back against him, shivering slightly. The cold bit through the wool cloak, and he wrapped an arm around her, pulling her close.
“Now we ride again,” he whispered and the horse surged forward under her.
The rest of the night passed slowly as Mona struggled to stay balanced and warm, and not to relive the horrors of the day before. The strange time when she was more dead than alive was a puzzle to her now, and she wondered if it had all been a dream. She hoped not, as she sensed that there were answers to a lot of questions wrapped up in those memories, but she didn’t have the will to find them. There was only one thing she felt sure of. She intended to live.
Marti sat motionless for a long time. The dragon’s silhouette seemed imprinted onto his eye, and behind it the burning shack took the place of the orange glow of the sun. Eventually, as the heat from the inferno subsided, he became aware that his extremities were icy cold. The night sky was a clear inky blue studded with many stars, and there was going to be a frost. He hastily realised that he would need warmth, and shelter if possible. Rising stiffly to his feet, he approached the blaze. Luckily the stream contained it, otherwise he imagined it would spread rapidly through the dry heather. The question at the forefront of his mind though concerned Ral. Where was he? He prayed he hadn’t been inside the dwelling when it had gone up. The next question had to be why? This was too much of a coincidence to be a random attack; it had to be connected to Karayana. There were just too many pieces of this puzzle and no answers. He walked along the edge of the stream. It was still too hot to go any closer to the fire. The area was well lit and he soon came to the spot where the dragon had stood. Squatting down, he traced the huge footprints with his hand. He hadn’t realized that any dragons still existed in Estlund. It wasn’t a comforting thought. Nearby he found another set of footprints, but these belonged to a man wearing thick-soled boots, and the feet were twice as large as his own. Frowning, he thought back to Karayana’s description of Ral. She said he was only a little higher than herself, which meant at least six inches smaller than Marti. He either had very big feet or these weren’t his prints at all. Had there been a rider on the dragons back? He couldn’t be sure. Examining the ground he eventually came across more of the prints. He could see that they led off towards the valley floor. Abruptly he became aware of how easy it would be to spot him from down there. Cursing himself for his foolishness he made for the other side of the fire. What now? The warmest place to sit out the night was right here, but had he just made it the most dangerous? Making the most of his indecision, he took a swig of water and a chunk of the wayfarer bread. Nothing was visible past the light given out by the flames, and he had made the mistake of looking into the fire for so long that it would take his eyes a while to adjust to the darkness. Turning his back to it, he drew out his sword. No harm in being prepared. He tried to hear past the snap and crackle and the sound of falling timbers, but it was seemingly an impossible task. He dare not relax his guard, and soon he was aching from the tension of the situation.
By the time the moon had reached it’s highest point in the sky Marti was beginning to feel his body’s need for sleep. The fire was not as hot now, and he decided it would be safe to jump the stream and stay as close to the intense heat as possible. He turned, keeping his eyes lowered to avoid the brightness. On the opposite side of the stream was a pair of large thick-soled boots.
Everything happened in slow motion. Marti looked up into an alien face. The nose seemed squashed, taking up a large portion of the cheeks, and only had one nostril. The eyes slanted to such an extent that they were just narrow slits, the eyeball hardly showing through the thick lashes. In comparison the mouth seemed ridiculously small, with no lips. The thing stood a good head taller than Marti and in its hand it held a battle-axe. It opened its mouth in a snarl, revealing canine teeth. Marti backed away in horror. It took one stride to cross the stream and another to reach him. Suddenly Marti’s survival instincts took over and he lunged forward with his sword straight at the monsters exposed throat. It ducked to the side surprisingly quickly and brought its axe swinging down, right where Marti’s arm had been. He tried a thrust to the face, and the axe blurred past his own eyes. Taking his sword in two hands he swept it into the air and down onto the creatures forearm. The arm severed and a cut artery squirted blood from the stump. The roar of pain was nearly as loud as the dragons’, but Marti knew he couldn’t stop while he held the advantage. He sliced open a thigh, and then a shoulder, and still the axe whirred. Marti was tiring now. The effort that was needed for each double handed swing, and the forced pace he had pushed himself all that day, was beginning to take its toll. But the monster was at last slowing. The axe didn’t lift as high, or drop with as much force. At last he managed to skewer the creatures eye, and it fell heavily ripping his sword from his grip. He wiped the sweat from his face and removed his weapon, trying not to look at the wounds he had inflicted. Taking a long swig from his flask he looked around. The night seemed still and quiet. He sat down to catch his breath and eat a chunk more of the bread. What the hell had he just fought? He had never seen or heard of its like before.
The fire was burning lower now and he stood to go to it. He wearily approached the stream, keeping his eyes low to avoid the flames. On the opposite bank of the stream was a pair of large thick-soled boots.
Marti snapped his head up in astonishment. It was the same creature, but this time it held a cudgel studded with iron bars. He had no time to look behind him, he parried a swipe instantly, and almost had his sword swept out of his grasp. This time the fight was longer. The only thing that gained Marti an advantage was the length of his sword compared to the cudgel. But he was fighting on reserves. He took a nasty hit to the shoulder, numbing his left arm for five minutes and forcing him to go back to one-armed fighting. This seemingly confused the creature. It seemed that finesse with a sword was not something it had seen before and taking heart, Marti fought with renewed vigour, killing the monster in exactly the same way as the first.
He placed a weary foot on the alien head to heave out his sword, and then collapsed on the ground. Thirstily he reached for his water bottle, but it wasn’t there. He searched the ground around the fallen bodies to no avail. His parched throat wouldn’t allow the whimper to come out and his eyes fell on the stream. He half crawled, half dragged himself to the sweet water and scooped a handful into his mouth. Then he dunked his head, before taking another long drink. He pushed his dripping hair out of his eyes and knelt up. On the opposite side of the stream was a pair of large thick-soled boots.
And this time the monster carried a sword.
Portheas paced the night away, occasionally stopping to eat and drink. He knew if he sat for long he would fall asleep, and that might mean his death. There was still no sign of the girls or the mare. He had searched the campsite time and again looking for clues, but nothing seemed obvious. He now didn’t know what to do, and he had to admit he was beginning to realise how inadequate his courtly training was in the real world.
Daylight found him finishing off the arrows and packing them together in bundles. Next he went through the packs placing as much as possible into one. The fire had dwindled to a glowing heap of charcoal and he heaped it over with soil until he was sure it would be safe to leave. Last of all he took his knife and carved a message into a tree trunk, ‘Gone to find Marti’, just in case anyone returned. Shouldering the pack, sword in hand he set out towards the village. Leaving the woods was a risk he would have to take.
He emerged from the cover of the trees farther west than he had the previous day and he gave the village a wide berth on its southern side. In the distance, slightly off his intended route he could make out fenced land with horses grazing. A horse would save him precious time. He looked to his hands at the only other ring he owned. It was gold inlaid with diamonds and had belonged to his grandfather. Could he bear to give it up? Would there be any horses for sale? He decided to find out.
As he got closer he realized that this was no simple farm, but a stud. Mares and foals grazed in neatly fenced paddocks and the yard he entered was spotless. An inquisitive head looked at him over a stable door, but other wise there seemed to be no one around. As he walked up towards a red brick house he took a look in each box. The standard of horses here was superb, and Portheas made a mental note to come back one day with real money. The last stable, closest to the house seemed empty. He leant on the door and stared into the gloom. All of a sudden there was a thud and a horse’s nose thrust out of the darkness, its teeth missing his face by an inch. He made a hasty retreat and watched as the horse barged the door again its ears flattened.
“He likes his privacy, that one,” a voice called, and looking round he spotted a man walking towards him donning a green jacket.
“You come here on business?” the man asked.
“I would like to purchase a horse, and I see you have a fine selection. Unfortunately recent bad luck has left me with no coinage. But I have this ring.” Reluctantly he pulled the ring free of his finger and placed it in the stud mans large palm. He held it up to the sun between index finger and thumb, and then weighed it in his hand.
Smiling at Portheas he said, “ I’m John Brett. I think we can find you something for this. I’m presuming you’ll need tack as well?”
“I will.” Portheas said, offering the man his hand, “ My name is Portheas Lasailles.”
“Lasailles you say, an Araevian then.” John studied him for a moment before nodding, “Right well I’ll show you what’s available and you can take your pick.”
A few moments later and Portheas stood watching six beautiful equines trotting in hand. He couldn’t fail to be impressed, and could find no fault with any of them. Thanking the gods of luck for his good fortune he turned to John to tell him his choice, but stopped his mouth agape.
At the top of the yard stood a horse that shone like no other he had seen. Its coat seemed to be made of gold and it stood with its head high and tail lifted. The head was refined with a long tapering nose and the eyes were large. The neck was well crested and swept down to a graceful body. Without warning it plunged forward, dragging the stable hand with it. Tossing its head wildly, it managed to rid itself of the irritating tugging, and with a clatter of hooves raced past them down the yard. Portheas looked to the man wondering what he would do. But he stood calmly his hands on his hips.
“He does that every morning,” he said.
“Does he come back?”
“I’ll show you.”
They walked towards the paddocks and Portheas watched the stallion jump the fence and gallop wildly around the field, bucking and plunging. Eventually he came to a sudden stop and lay down to roll, first one side, then the other. Standing back up he shook himself thoroughly, and then with a squeal and a buck he set off again. After fifteen minutes he had settled to trotting around with his tail high, snorting loudly. His movement was perfect, and Portheas would have given anything to ride him.
“We best move now,” the man said suddenly, just as the thunder of hooves warned Portheas that the horse was approaching at a gallop. He stumbled back, out of the way as the animal leapt the fence and trotted back to the yard. He clattered all the way back to his stable, that was now full of fresh straw, and rolled again.
Portheas dragged himself out of his spell bound state and asked, “Why don’t you just put him out on a morning?”
“Ah, well you see he won’t have that. He has to go when he wants. If he don’t want to go you know about it.”
“Is he for sale?”
The man looked at Portheas and laughed loudly.
“You don’t want him. He’s more trouble than he’s worth. But he breeds a good foal so I keep him.”
“Do you ride him?”
“We used to have a groom that did, but he left and Sunny there has to pick his own rider. He don’t let just any one on him.”
Portheas felt his heart hammering.
“If he’d let me ride him would you sell?”
The man scratched his head realising that this tall dark stranger was serious.
“I don’t rightly know. I’ve never had an offer for him before. Truth be told he costs me more money than he makes. He’s not the nicest stallion I’ve seen with a mare and some owners end up with a foal for free as compensation for the scars. Well we can at least see what he thinks of you, although you didn’t make a good start earlier, poking you nose into his private quarters.”
Portheas chuckled. This horse was definitely royalty.
Five minutes later a rather different horse came out of the box. The tacking up procedure had not gone well and one boy limped his way down the yard. The animal had a bullish expression on his face and had to be coaxed forward. Portheas watched the stallion’s ears constantly flicking backwards and forwards, proving that this horse was as nervous as himself. Nerves of steel were what he needed now. He had to be confident and let the horse feel that he was in safe hands. He took a deep breath and flattened out any jitters. Then with a swift fluid movement he mounted Sunny. The horse was narrow, but the neck stretched out a long way in front. He gave a tiny urge forward from the saddle, but four feet had firmly planted themselves. Readying for the inevitable, Portheas gave a jab with his heels, and off they flew. They careered and bucked and galloped and stopped but Portheas sat firm. He didn’t fight, just accompanied, waiting for the horse to get it all out of its system. Eventually Sunny stood in the middle of his field. He was dripping sweat and blowing hard. Portheas gave him a small pat on the neck and spoke soothingly. The ears still flicked backwards and forwards, and Portheas knew this horse would always be a thinker, but he was enjoying himself. Portheas gave a subtle movement from the saddle and this time Sunny stepped out. He did everything asked of him and floated like a cloud. Portheas couldn’t stop grinning. When he brought him back to the stud man at last, his cheeks ached.
“Very well he’s yours. You ride well young man. If you’re ever in need of work, come and find me.”
Portheas dismounted and reached to shake hands on the deal. Sunny decided he now had a point to make and bit down hard on Portheas shoulder. Luckily he caught more clothing than flesh, but Portheas made a mental note of that little trick, as he rubbed hard and eyed the stallion ruefully.
“I’ll just fetch you his papers.” John said with a chuckle before disappearing into the house. When he returned he slapped a wad into Portheas’s hand.
“Read them sometime. I think you’ll find them interesting. And good luck with him.”
With a smile and a wave he hopped back up into the saddle and rode off, this time on a much more willing horse.
He found the south-eastern road out of the village and had an enjoyable morning getting to know his new mount. A quick scan of his papers put him at six and he was very much like a young boy on his first outing. Every thing was interesting or menacing but Portheas rode him forward firmly and confidently and Sunny seemed to be having as much fun as his rider.
After lunch Portheas quickened the pace for a while, hoping to find Ral and Marti in daylight. The initial excitement at going faster was soon run out of his system and Sunny settled into an easy flowing canter. He seemed to possess unending stamina and it didn’t take long to find the end of the road and the beginning of the shepherds trail.
“This is where we find out how sure footed you are,” Portheas said surveying the hillside in front of him. Following a zigzagging sheep trail served to be the best course up the slope until they hit the steeper rocky patches and Portheas had to get off and walk. This turned out to be a rather daunting feat, balancing himself and his mount and dodging what he was beginning to take as playful nips. Eventually though Sunny had to concentrate as much as him, to Portheas’s relief, and they actually made better time.
By late afternoon they reached the top and looked down on the picturesque valley below. Portheas shaded his eyes from the sun, looking for any sign of a house. There was nothing. He removed Sunny’s saddle and sat down to rest and figure out where he should try next. To his delight Sunny lay down next to him and snoozed in the warm sun. It was good to have a companion he could understand again. He idly scratched the warm dusty shoulder nearest to him. Somewhere someone was burning something. He sniffed. Yes there was definitely a smoky scent on the air. Standing up he checked the valley again, and then he spotted it. A large blackened area on the neighbouring hillside was smoking gently for no apparent reason that he could see. There was no dwelling in sight, but someone must have lit the fire. He decided to find out who. They may be able to give him directions to Ral’s house.
“ Sorry boy, we need to be off again.” He gave a small tug on the reins and Sunny came alert instantly. He snorted and lay down flat on his side.
“Sunny up,” Portheas tried tugging again. The horse gave him an annoyed look and flicked the end of his tail.
“I haven’t got time for this Sunny. This isn’t a game any more.”
He went round the side of the horse and pushed his knees against its back. Sunny gave a groan and then rolled over straight towards Portheas. He leapt back, just avoiding the flailing hooves. Sunny rolled thoroughly, before springing to his feet and shaking like a dog. Looking slightly sheepish he allowed Portheas to put the saddle back on and soon was following carefully behind as they tackled the slippery shale.
Nearing the large charred heap Portheas understood at last what he was looking at. His stomach tightened. Had this been Ral’s house? A stream did run around it, but where then were Marti and the old man. Portheas urged Sunny on but the horse snorted loudly and planted his feet.
Portheas sighed. “Not now. Move on Sunny.”
Sunny shook his head wildly and tried to turn away. Portheas snapped him back round and tried again. This time the horse went backwards, nearly sitting down in the heather.
“ I haven’t got time for this,” Portheas said angrily throwing his leg over the saddle. He stalked off leaving Sunny to his own devices, until he found the problem. The horse had smelt death. Two monstrous bodies lay together. An axe and a cudgel were some feet away, and a sword lay sprawled in the grass at his feet. Flies were buzzing round the congealed wounds and Portheas decided he didn’t wish to go any closer. He looked around. There was no one about. He reached down and picked up the sword, wiping the blood off it on the swarthy tufts of grass. He held it up to evaluate it, and gasped. This was Marti’s sword. Wildly he looked about again.
“Marti,” he called, panic welling up in him. He ran to the stream meaning to search the charred remains for his friend. One of the monsters barred his way. He leapt back with a cry, and fell over the battle-axe. The creature lunged for him, and Portheas scurried backwards, Marti’s sword held above him, trying to rise to his feet. The monster had a sword also and it rushed straight in with a killing strike to the heart. Portheas rolled and heard a ripping sound as his opponent speared his cloak. Then all hell broke loose. A thundering in his ears heralded Sunny’s arrival on the scene. The creature let out a piercing roar, and the horse replied with a shrill whinny. Portheas rolled to his feet and watched in amazement as Sunny whirled and gave the creature a double-barrelled kick to the chest. The thing sprawled on the grass, and before it had chance to rise, Portheas had caught up his horse and sprung into the saddle. Sunny read his mind, and without urging set off up the hill at a flat out gallop. Luckily this hill was smaller and not so steep. They soon made it to the top, where he managed to check his mount and glance back for signs of pursuit. There was none, and apart from the two dead bodies, there was no sign of his attacker. Portheas ran a shaky hand through his hair, trying to put away the thought that was slowly forming in his mind. A thought that told him of Marti’s brave stance against two of those beasts, and his defeat by the other. But where then was his body. Within the burnt out timbers? Or was it worse. Had the creature eaten him? Portheas felt the sting of tears at the back of his eyes. He blinked furiously. This couldn’t be. How had he managed to lose everyone in the space of a day? The sun was close to setting now, perhaps he should move on. He turned Sunny around and walked the horse along the ridges until he found a trail back down to the road. The rest of the night he rode in numbed shock, berating himself and the Gods, and anyone else he could think of that even faintly had a hand in all this. When morning eventually broke he found himself back at the forest and he stopped just under the canopy of trees to completely untack his tired mount. He had a feeling that he wouldn’t go far. Portheas took out his knife and searched for two straight tree branches, lashing them together to form a crude cross, and hammered them into the earth. Then he inscribed the top piece,
‘To my true friend. You will be missed. RIP Marti Cryden’
He sat back and let the tears flow freely until exhaustion gradually overcame him.
Dorien awoke with the morning chorus, and a splitting headache, no doubt caused by his swollen eye. For a while he lay trying to push all the many problems from his mind, just enjoying the birdsong and the smell of the forest. Soon though hunger got the better of him and he sat up stretching and yawning deeply. Unfortunately, without the stone he had no means of acquiring food other than hunting, and nothing to hunt with other than his own powers. Well he supposed he must try or starve. He found the thought of fending for himself again rather an appealing way of not having to think, and to his surprise the morning passed quickly, leaving him relaxed and full.
Un-tethering the old mare, he mounted and set off in pursuit of the fading signature that Marti had left as a trail. He needed to salvage something from all this, and he was intrigued to know why he had left the group. Where Mica had whisked herself off to he could only begin to guess, but he was certain now that she hadn’t taken Karayana to The Master. Who her friend had really been, he couldn’t imagine, but the power that had emanated from that light had been vast. Vast enough to be a God? Dorien shuddered. At the moment he had no way of finding out. Without the stone it would take weeks to reach home, and although he could have used mind speak to contact someone, he did not think it wise. He wasn’t sure who he trusted anymore.
In one way he felt a strange sense of freedom. Most of his problems had now been forced out of his control; it was just him, a horse and a trail to follow. For now he would make the most of it.
He reached the edge of the forest and made his way up into the foothills. A few of the old songs from his troupe days came back to him and for the first time in years he started to hum, gradually adding words as he remembered them. So caught up was he, in the melodies, that he almost missed Portheas signature altogether. The songs vanished instantly and his full focus once again rested on his trail. Here and there he made out hoof prints in the shale as he dragged the mare onwards, and wondered if he would ever manage to catch up. Reaching the top of the rise, he looked down into the valley and immediately movement caught his eye. A man on horseback was galloping towards him, and he looked round in panic for some cover. Dipping back down behind the crest of the hill he ran to a scrawny stand of hawthorn, frightening sheep from its shade. Once there he waited until at last Portheas rode wearily back down on a beautiful golden horse. Dorien gaped.
“A Marachet,” he whispered, “ Now where did he acquire that from?”
Waiting until horse and rider were way out of sight he tethered the mare and made his way back up the hill. At the top his eye was instantly drawn to the smoking charred remains below, and he hurried down to inspect. What he saw drew him to a shocked stand still. The remains of two demons lay hacked to pieces at the side of a stream that surrounded what had once been a house. There had to be a portal open somewhere nearby, but he could see or sense nothing. Uneasily he walked the perimeter of the area of devastation until he reached a place where something heavy had flattened the grass. He got down on one knee, and picked up a small red gemstone the size of a pea. Hefting it in his hand he grimaced. There was only one creature that wore this stone.
But why here? With care he made his way to the stream and was about to step across when a demon appeared its sword all ready on a downward stroke towards the top of his head. Instantly he threw up his shield and the blade bounced back giving him time to make a hasty retreat. As he had expected the demon disappeared after a few paces.
“So the portal isn’t fully open yet. That’s why I couldn’t sense it.” The demons were sentinels only.
Not wishing to wait about for its grand opening he returned to the mare and set out to follow Portheas. Marti’s trail had gone cold and he didn’t want to think of how he must have died, as long as he had died and wasn’t now living his life in some sort of hell.
Dorien shuddered, pulling his cloak around him and putting such thoughts firmly from his mind.