|Conan and Colin sat under a tree eating provisions supplied, involuntarily,
by their previous host. A small fire kept the darkness of the forest night
"I still say she must have been the person the gamekeeper's boy saw
taking leave of the Duke's guard," Colin said, breaking another handful
from what was once a much longer loaf of bread. "The trim on her coat and
the jewel she wore were just as you described them."
"Perhaps," Conan said, chewing the last scraps of meat off a joint,
"but it makes no sense. Why should the Duke give her a horse and a safe
escort? Especially after what happened."
Colin chuckled. "But she had nothing to do with that. You said yourself
she and the Duke seemed on good terms when they left you. Who knows what
happened? Anyway, the boy did not see which way she went at the crossroad.
One can only assume she would have continued toward your destination or
returned home. After the riot we caused, she would have no more luck trying
to find you. What was your destination, by the way?"
"A reference quest, not a known destination. We argued last about the
interpretation of the signs at the marketplace." Conan scowled at the fire.
"If we had gone my way, we would not have crossed paths with the Duke.
But, the Prism was given to her."
"Ah," Colin chewed and they both stared at the fire. "May one ask the
nature of the quest? I am more familiar with the technical arts myself,
but I am much in your debt for the rescue and all. I mean, if there's anything
I could do to help..."
Conan regarded his new friend. He was skinny and pale but his blue eyes
were sincere and he had proved himself quick-witted and stronger than he
looked. "How well do you know the talisman called the AACR2?" he asked
"Why, I have studied it of course. It is the heart of the Temple, as
they say. Without it no knowledge can flow."
"Ours was stolen." And Conan told Colin how he and Meta had followed
the track of the Hyper-Cats to the marketplace. "And Meta still has the
Prism, the charm we were given to track it. Even if she did not, we dare
not enter the Duke's lands again to pick up the trail." He scowled at the
picked-clean bone in his hands. "I will not return empty handed. Conan
does not fail on a quest."
The fire burned low. One of the horses shifted its weight. Colin stirred
the fire and added a couple more branches.
"What did you say," he said, "about you and Meta interpreting the signs
at the marketplace differently? Maybe you were right. Maybe the trail lies
not across the Duke's lands. Anyway, what other course do we have open?"
"You're right!" Conan through the bone into the fire. "I will trust
my own powers to read signs. The vendor sold charms for communication with
the oracle, OCLC. In the morning we ride to Dublin!"
"Dublin, then. Jolly good." Colin started to pack away what was left
of the food, then stopped. "Here," he said, his eyes round as an owl's,
"you don't mean the OCLC, the Mother of all Databases?"
© 1994, by Hadley V. Baxendale