Then Shalah spoke:—
“There was once a man of my own people who, when he came to man’s strength, journeyed westward with a wife. He travelled all his days, and when his eyes were dim with age he saw a great water. His spirit left him on its shore, but on his road he had begotten a son, and that son journeyed back towards the rising sun, and came after many years to his people again. I have spoken with him of what he had seen.”
“And what was that?” asked Ringan, with eager eyes.
“He told of plains so great that it is a lifetime to travel over them, and of deserts where the eagle flying from the dawn dies of drought by midday, and of mountains so high that birds cannot cross them but are changed by cold into stone, and of rivers to which our little waters are as reeds to a forest cedar. But especially he spoke of the fierce warriors that ride like the wind on horses. It seems, brother, that he who would reach that land must reach also the Hereafter.”
“That’s the place for me,” Ringan cried. “What say you, Andrew? When this affair is over, shall we make a bid for these marvels? I can cull some pretty adventurers from the Free Companions.”
“Nay, I am for moving a step at a time,” said I. “I am a trader, and want one venture well done before I begin on another, I shall be content if we safely cross these mountains on which we are now perched.”
Ringan shook his head. “That was never the way of the Highlands, ‘Better a bone on the far-away hills than a fat sheep in the meadows,’ says the Gael. What say you, mistress?” and he turned to Elspeth.
“I think you are the born poet,” said she, smiling, “and that Mr. Garvald is the sober man of affairs. You will leap for the top of the wall and get a prospect while Mr. Garvald will patiently pull it down.”
“Oh, I grant that Andrew has the wisdom,” said Ringan. “That’s why him and me’s so well agreed. It’s because we differ much, and so fit together like opposite halves of an apple.... Is your traveller still in the land of the living?” he asked Shalah.
But the Indian had slipped away from the fireside circle, and I saw him without in the moonlight standing rigid on a knoll and gazing at the skies.