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Volume 16, Issue 4: Similitudes

Aelfric the False

Douglas Wilson

Beow arrived just a few moments later. "Are you all right, little one?" he said.

"Yes," said Andrew, and he was pleased that his voice didn't quaver. He just sat quietly on the path, and waited for his heart to stop pounding. When that appeared to have happened, he asked Beow to bring his pack to him, which Beow did, deftly catching one of the armstraps with his indigo horn.
"Thank you," said Andrew, and began rummaging in the sack for a shirt that he could use as a bandage for his knee. "You are very clever with that horn," he said to Beow. "But I don't think you could clean and dress my knee with it. No?"
He and Beow laughed together, and Andrew realized that it was funnier than such a joke ought to be, and decided he was laughing because he was relieved mostly. Beow looked on with interest when Andrew tore his trouser leg completely off, rinsed off the wound and wrapped it tightly in a piece of his second shirt.
"That will leave a scar," Beow said.
"I think so," said Andrew.
* * *
They spent the night there, and waited in the same place for another day, and then they resumed their journey the next morning. Andrew could walk with a little difficulty, and he was able to use the spear for a crutch whenever they were going up or down hills. Beow offered to let him ride, but Andrew shook his head. In an emergency, that would be fine, but this didn't seem to fit.
"Aelfric warned us about Helwaru," Andrew said. "We should be getting somewhere near there soon." Beow said nothing, and just dropped his head a few inches.
About two hours later, walking up a slow gradual incline, Beow and Andrew looked ahead and saw a solitary figure, dressed in white, standing in the middle of the path. As they came closer, Andrew gasped. "Aelfric!"
The old man stooped his head in greeting. "Andrew. Beow."
"How did you get here?" Andrew asked.
"This is my native land, and I have many marked paths other than this one. Even so, I have not been here long."
"Why have you come to meet us? What news?" Beow asked.
"After you left, a vision came to my wife. She is a seer too, you know. The word said that you were to turn aside here. Go past the western rim of Helwaru, and you will find a great rune stone on the far side. You will know what to do when you have found it. What I told you earlier was wrong. You need to turn aside here."
As Andrew stared at Aelfric, two things came upon him at once. The first was that he knew, beyond any question, that this was not Aelfric, but some apparition, some wizard, something else, something evil. The second was a sensation that had him by the throat, the feeling of wanting to do what this new Aelfric was telling him to do.
"Who are you?" Andrew asked.
"I am Aelfric, as you know."
"And I know that you are not. Who are you?"
"Well done," Beow whispered to him, not knowing how much Andrew was wanting to veer to the left.
"I am Aelfric. You may believe me or not, but if you do not, then I wonder that you believed me at my home. Why there and not here?"
Andrew found himself wanting to obey the false Aelfric, in part because of the sheer impudence of what he was doing, whoever it was. Andrew knew he was an imposter, and Andrew knew that the imposter knew that Andrew knew, and yet he kept up his appearance. It was the lure of sheer disobedience.
The feeling at the throat was still there, and Andrew tried to swallow it down. Then Andrew remembered his obedience with the dragon at the gate, and how that same feeling had disappeared once he had made the right choice. Andrew hefted the ash spear in his right hand, thought for a moment with his head bowed, and then he looked up and hurled the spear with all the strength he had. The spear simply clattered to the ground in the middle of an empty path.
"Who do you think that was? Do you think he was trying to keep us from our mission? " Andrew asked as they made their way past the spot, Andrew picking up the spear as they went by.
"Someone from Helwaru," Beow said. "And he did not give two pennies about our mission. He just wanted someone alive to throw headlong down his foul hole."

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