"I am honored," Jonas said.
"Here we are alone," Scharpe went on, his voice lowering. "My wife and daughter have gone to visit a neighbor, for they have not yet closed us off entirely from all human contact."
He grimaced. Jonas peered into the mind again, very gently, but the mad roiling of pain and memory there was too strong for him, and he returned.
"If you have anything to say to me," Scharpe said, "tell me now. No one can hear us, not Herr Knupf himself."
"To say to you?"
"Regarding your plan," Scharpe said. "Surely you have a plan. And if I may play any part in it--"
Jonas blinked. "Plan?" he said.
"Of course," Scharpe said. "You speak of an end to troubles, an end to the Inquisition and the burnings, an end to the question. And so you must have a plan for ridding us of Herr Knupf; one which you will tell me."
Jonas shook his head. "I have no plan," he said.
"It means danger," Scharpe pressed him. "But I do not mind danger, in such a cause. I am not vengeful, but my son was no wizard. Yet the Inquisitor took him and had a confession from him; you know well the worth of such confessions. And soon there will be others, for when the curse strikes a family it does not stop with one member." He tightened his lips. "It is not for myself I am afraid," he said.
Jonas nodded. "Were there such a plan," he said, "be assured I would tell you."
"There is none," Jonas said. "Herr Knupf shall remain, for all that I can do, while the earth remains."
Scharpe opened his mouth, shut it again, and then shrugged. "I see," he said at last. "You do not trust me. Perhaps you are wise. I might talk foolishly; I am an old man; older, in this last month, than in all my other years."
"Believe me," Jonas began. "I--"
"Let it be," Scharpe said quietly. "I believe you. If that is what you want, I believe you." He shrugged again, moving out toward the door of the hut. "And, in any case," he said, "the money is needed. For there are fines to pay, and costs of the Inquisition."
"I understand," Jonas said helplessly.
Scharpe turned and looked him full in the face. In the big man's eyes, bitterness and hopelessness glittered. "I am sure you do," he said, and turned again toward the door.
The others he met only briefly. Frau Scharpe was a little woman with the face of a walnut, who looked as if she had never really been cheerful. Her son's death, he saw when he looked into her mind, had not come as a surprise to her; it was one more unhappy event, in a lifetime in which she had expected nothing else. Unhappiness, she told herself, was her portion in this life; in the Life Above, things would be different.
Jonas had met the type before, and was uninterested in going further. But Ilse Scharpe was something else entirely. She did not say a word to him, coming into the house that evening, a pace behind her mother, like an obedient slave. She was about seventeen, and her mind was as fresh and clean and pretty as her face and figure. Jonas started musing on Heroes again, but he never had the chance to make a move toward her. She had a very nice smile, and from memories in the others' minds he could hear her voice, low and quiet and entirely satisfactory.
Jonas sighed. The job, he told himself sternly, came first. And afterward-- Though, come to think of it, there wouldn't be an afterward.
The evening meal was simple. There was a single dish of meat and some sort of beans; after it had been eaten, and the darkness outside grew to full night, it was time to retire. Jonas went over to his pallet, removed his jerkin and shoes, and lay down. He heard the others readying themselves for sleep, but he did not look into their minds. Soon they were asleep and breathing heavily.
But Jonas stayed awake for a while.
"It's really too bad we can't work this sort of thing at a distance," Claerten's voice said suddenly. "But then, none of us has ever met the man, and you can't read a mind if you haven't had some physical contact with the man who owns it."
"It is too bad," Jonas agreed politely. Five hundred miles away Claerten chuckled, and the linkage of minds transmitted the amusement to Jonas.
"You don't think so, at any rate," the director said. "You're having adventures--and a fine time. It's the sort of thing you like, after all."
Jonas shrugged mentally. "I suppose so," he said. "I like to work on my own, do my own job--"
"And it's got you into trouble before," Claerten said. "But you can't afford any mistakes this time."
"I know the risk perfectly well," Jonas thought back.
Claerten's thought carried a wry echo. "You know the risk to yourself," he told Jonas, "and you've accepted that. You rather like it, as a matter of fact. But you haven't thought of the risk to the rest of us--and to the town you're in."
Jonas sent a thought of uncertainty: "What?"
Claerten transmitted the entire picture in one sudden blow: the chance that Jonas would not be killed immediately, but would be discovered; the chance that the Inquisitor would get from him the secret of the Brotherhood-- "That's impossible," Jonas said.
Claerten sounded resigned. "Nothing's impossible," he said. "And if the secret is let out--why, the Brotherhood is finished. Finished before it's barely started. Because you can read a man's mind doesn't mean you can defeat him, Jonas."
"But you know what he's going to do--"
"And if he's got you in a wooden house and he's going to burn it down, what good does your knowledge do you?"
"But you can transmit false thoughts--"
"And confuse him," Claerten said. "Fine. Fine. If you've ever met the man before. And suppose you haven't? Then you can't transmit a thing to him; you're trapped in the house, remember, and the fire's started. What good's your telepathy?"
"It's a sense," Claerten said. "Like any other sense. But it isn't magic any more than your eyes are magic. They're ... given by God, if you like; they grow, they develop. So the ability to read minds, to transmit thought is given by God. No one knows why or how. Fifteen of us have developed it; fifteen who are members of the Brotherhood. But there are others--"
"Of course," Jonas thought impatiently. "I know all that."
"You know a great deal," Claerten said, "which I sometimes find it necessary to bring to your attention."
"I've done all right," Jonas thought sullenly.
Claerten agreed. "Of course you have," he thought, "but you're not the most careful of men; and great care is needed. The Brotherhood must grow. This new sense is of great value; perhaps we can learn to teach it to others in time, though we have had little success with that. But at the least we can maintain our numbers, pass the gift on to our children--"
"If it is possible," Jonas said.
"We must try," Claerten said. "And your job is enormously important."
"I know that," Jonas thought wearily.
"You have accomplished the first step," Claerten said. "Do nothing rash."
"Of course not."
"You will not accept help--"
"I will not," Jonas thought.
"Very well, then," Claerten thought. There was the ghost of another idea; Jonas caught it.
"I know perfectly well that you wouldn't have sent me if there were any other available member," he thought. "There is no need to remind me."
"I'm sorry," Claerten thought. He radiated caution, worry, patience; Jonas turned in the bed and cut off from the director with a grunt. He was tired; long-distance linkages were a drain on the body's energy, even when the person involved was easy to visualize. But Claerten had insisted on intermittent contact.
If there were such a thing as total contact, constant contact over a period of days, Jonas thought, Claerten would use me for a puppet, a veritable Punch among men; he would override me and take me over the way a traveling entertainer rules his jointed dolls.
And that would be a fine thing for a hero, wouldn't it?
He grimaced in the darkness. Constant contact was simply impossible; any reaching out used energy, and linking up for a long period simply burned the body up like a long starvation; it was as bad as a penance.
Jonas was thankful for that.
And for the rest--well, he thought resignedly, what was a hero without a quest? And what was a quest without someone to set it?
But that the someone had to be Claerten, with his caution and his old-woman worry-- Jonas sighed and set about the business of falling asleep.
The days passed slowly, with great boredom. Jonas made contact twice with Claerten, who told him over and over to wait, to do nothing: "The next move is coming soon; do nothing to hurry it. You can only upset the natural course of events."
"Which is unwise," Jonas thought bitterly, "and risky, and very probably impious as well."
"As for the piety," Claerten thought, "I leave that to the priests and the women. But wisdom and caution are my task, Jonas, as they must be yours."
"You are a hero, out on an adventure," Claerten thought witheringly. "But set your course with sense, travel it with caution; you will the more certainly arrive."
"Philosophy for a dull plodder," Jonas thought.
"Philosophy for one of the Brotherhood," Claerten thought back. "We are tiny as yet; we have no force. You can add to that force, add greatly; but you must be wise."
"I must be slow, you mean."
"I mean what I have told you," Claerten thought. "And--one more thing, Jonas."
"The daughter," Claerten thought. "I have seen her in your mind. Ignore the wench. Is she worth what your task is worth?"
"Then my caution is unnecessary," Claerten thought. "But, in the unlikely case that she might tempt you to folly--remember it."
Jonas, who disliked irony, sighed and cut off.
That was the third night. During the days he had done the things he had planned; he did no work with the Scharpes, but let them find him, when they returned to the hut of an evening, reciting strange words. Once he built a small outdoor fire and walked around it, widdershins, for several minutes. Then he put the fire out and went inside. He wasn't sure whether or not anyone was watching him, that time.
But sooner or later it had to happen.
And it happened, as Jonas had suspected it would, through the wife. Mrs. Scharpe came back to the hut early one day, threw a frightened glance at Jonas sitting in a corner doing nothing at all, and left.
He hardly needed to see into her mind to know where she was going.
And twenty minutes later two men came to the hut. They stood in the opened doorway, Mrs. Scharpe behind them twittering like an ancient bird, and Jonas watched them boredly. They were giants, for this part of the world, almost six feet tall, with great hands and jaws. One had black, coarse hair on his head and a stubble about his face; the other was bald as an egg.
"That's him," Mrs. Scharpe said--just a trifle hesitantly. "He's the one. He came to stay with us and we didn't know--"
The man with black hair said: "Uh. Gur."
"Herr Knupf said take him back," the bald one added.
"Herr Knupf?" Jonas said, entering the conversation with a light, pleasant tone.
"He's the ... the--" Mrs. Scharpe tried to get the word out, and then pushed by the two men and came into the hut. "I didn't want to but there's something strange, and we can't afford any suspicion, and--"
Jonas realized slowly that she was crying as she looked at him. "It's all right," he said uncomfortably.
"I'll be perfectly all right," Jonas said. He stood up. "This Herr Knupf," he said. "He wants to see me?"
"He said bring you along," the bald man told him.
The black-haired man nodded very slowly. "Gur," he said.
Jonas sighed and went forward to meet the two big men, leaving Mrs. Scharpe sobbing in the background. The poor woman felt terrible, he knew; but there was nothing he could do about that. "Then let us go," he said, and marched off. Feeling that one more effect wouldn't hurt, he led the way to the Town Hall; let them figure out how he had known just where to go, he thought.
Their minds were very, very boring, and quite blank. Herr Knupf, Jonas reflected, might be a definite relief.
First there was the cell, which was in the basement of the Town Hall. It was damp and the air was not too good, but there were compensations. Rats, for instance. Jonas told himself, after the first couple of hours, that he simply wouldn't have known what to do without the rats. Trying to trap and kill them, with no weapons beyond his bare hands--even an eating knife he had carried in his jerkin had been taken away, leaving him to the uncomfortable reflection that he was going to have to dine with his fingers--was a pastime that occupied him for several hours on the first day.
On the second day, the rats began to bore him. By that evening, they were annoying him, and when the third day dawned bright and warm--as near as he could tell from the tiny slip of window at the top of his cell--Jonas was telling himself that any move at all was a move in the right direction.
He set up a shout for one of the guards. The bald one had brought his meals every day, but the black-haired one was the man who checked his cell at night. For once, Jonas thought, he was lucky; the bald man appeared, after some fifteen minutes of screaming and cursing. Jonas was not at all sure whether the black-haired man understood language: there was little trace of it in his mind, and virtually nothing that might be called intelligence. With the bald man, at least, he could communicate.
"What's wanted?" the guard said sourly, staring through the bars.
Jonas smiled softly. "You know why I'm here, don't you?" he said in a voice as close to silky as he could make it.
"You?" the bald man said. "You're here. In a cell."
"That's right," Jonas said patiently. He rubbed at his face. "Do you know why I was put here?"