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"I talk some Pole. What hell you want?"

"Okay, stay in character if your ego needs it, but I would like to know how far it is to the main highway to Cracow."

"You on road, Horse Ass."

"I'm on a trail, but I need to catch the bus to Cracow. Now, please cut out the nonsense."

"You need bashed head, you."

There comes a time when you must stop being polite to an idiot. I was a Polish Air Force Reserve Officer, and I spent some months in a basic training camp. There is a thing called a 'command voice.' It is very loud, very deep, and very penetrating. It is guaranteed to shake the socks off the average recruit. So: "Now listen up, you baseborn moron! I have had quite enough of your archaic nonsense! I have asked you a simple, civil question: How far are we from the main road? Now, you will answer up, and smartly, or you will regret it! Do I make myself clear?" It is important that you never actually swear at an inferior, since this puts you down on his level. You can come close, however.

His eyes widened, and he started to draw his sword. Then he dropped it back into its sheath.

At the time I thought I had him buffaloed, but on more mature reflection I think that he simply didn't want to dirty his sword on me.

He searched among his ironmongery and pulled out a meter-long chain with a long stick at one end and a big iron star at the other. He swung this thing at me.

I was sufficiently startled that my reaction time was slow. I did manage to turn and start running, such that I caught the star mostly on my pack and only glancingly on the back of my skull. The impact was sufficient to knock me some ways from the trail and into a thorn bush. I decided to remain there until he went away.

He never looked at me again. He slung his gadget back over the saddlebow, put his helmet back on his head, and continued south.

God! He wasn't a lunatic so much as a bloody maniac!

I disentangled myself from the thorn bush and sorted through my pack for a clean cloth. The wound at the back of my head did not seem to be bleeding much, and I guessed that it would last until I could get to a hospital. Actually, it hurt less than the throbbing hangover in my forehead. I would live, but I would definitely report the homicidal moron to the police! Besides damage to my pride and person, he had punctured my tent, ripped my knapsack, dented my mess kit, and smashed my flashlight into three pieces! Damn it, I would sue the bastard!

I got everything back together, keeping the damaged equipment for evidence, and continued north.

The weather that had been bad turned absolutely foul. Overcast turned into fog and mist that turned into sleet and snow. I stopped and put on the long johns that my mother had insisted I take. I traded my tennis shoes for heavy hiking boots. Then I put on my nylon wind jacket and sweater over my sweat shirt. I soon covered this with a plastic poncho and was at last reduced to wrapping my sleeping bag about me under the poncho.

My hangover had not lessened a bit.

This was totally insane weather for mid-September.

According to my map, I should have crossed the highway hours ago. I supposed that I could be on the wrong trail, but only one was shown on the map. Nor had I seen another trail since leaving the inn. Perhaps I should have turned back to the inn and followed the gravel road down to the main highway, but there was always the chance that someone had seen me sneaking out. No. The likely solution was that, what with hangover and wounds, I was just slower than usual.

It was hard to tell, but I think it was about noon when my stomach began to protest. I was hungry.

I found a small stream forded by large rocks, which was strange; the Tourist Directorate usually bridges them. Not far from the trail was a cliff that sheltered some squaw wood from the sleet and snow. Squaw wood, for the benefit of you Polish city folk, is what my American friends called the dead, dry branches that stick out below the living branches of a tree. They are the best firewood in the forest, and taking them reduces the tree's burden, so no harm is done.

It didn't take much Sterno to get a fire going, and within a half hour I had a mixture of water and freezedried stew boiling in one aluminum pot and water for powdered coffee going in another.

The coffee went down well, but my stomach was still upset from the previous night's drinking. I was debating between (a) throwing away the uneaten half of the stew, (b) forcing it down anyway, since it was warm and I wasn't, and (c) trying to carry it along. I then met my second lunatic of the day, this one heading north, as I was.

I decided that some sort of festival was being held to pep up offseason business. At least this person was completely in character. He was wearing a great, thick, shabby brown monk's robe with a huge cowl pulled far over his head. He carried two large purses-rather like military musette bags-made of real leather. One was securely, buckled, but the other was covered with a loose flap. The food I had eaten had cheered me some, and after my run-in with the maniac knight, I didn't want to irritate anyone.

"Hello, Brother!" I shouted. "You look cold. Join me by the fire!"

The fellow jumped at least a meter. His cowl had been pulled so far down that he had not only missed seeing me sitting by the cliff but had missed the fire and smoke as well.

"What? Oh! Bless you, my son! What did you say?" His accent was strange, but I could make out what he said.

"I said welcome to my fire! And welcome to some food as well!" By this time it was necessary to shout because a full blizzard Was howling through the trees.

"Bless you, my son, bless you!" He hobbled over to my small cooking fire.

Good God! The man was barefoot! With the snow, he'd probably be frostbitten in an hour and dead of pneumonia within a day. Sitting alongside the fire I was warm enough that I really didn't need the sleeping bag wrapped around me. By the time he got to the fire, I had it spread on the ground. "Come on, Brother. Sit down right here."

"You would give me your own cloak to sit on?"

"It's not exactly a cloak. Please, sit down."

"You do me a great honor, my son." He bowed before he sat down.

"I do you no honor at all. I am merely trying to save your life." I started zipping up the bag around him.

"Jesus Christi! It grows together!"

"No, it just zips up. Here, see? Now, stop making a fuss and eat this stew." A mercenary redhead and twocount 'em, two!raving lunatics in a single twenty-four-hour period. My mother said that I should have gone to the beach.

"You give me your dinner, besides?"

"No big thing. I cooked too much and was about to throw the leftovers away. Look-you don't mind, do you? I've only got the one spoon."

"Of course not, my son. You honor me again."

"Right." The high honors of a dirty spoon. I fined the coffeepot again with water from my canteen and went out in search of more squaw wood.

I returned with an armload of wood and heaped up the fire. The monk had finished the stew and had taken the trouble to wash out the pot with snow.

"This is the lightest silver that I have ever seen."

"No, Brother. It's aluminum, and of no great value."

There was certainly nothing halfway about his psychosis. Apparently he had studied hard to get there. I mixed up some instant coffee with the hot water and poured half of it into his pot.

"Drink up, Brother. It's good for you."

"This is some infusion of herbs?"

"A close approximation. Coffee. It will warm you up."

The next step was to see just how badly his feet were frostbitten. I dug out my spare socks and the pair of light tennis shoes I carry. Then I unzipped the bag from the bottom and got my next major shock.

His feet were huge! They were rough-red and incredibly widehalf again wider than my tennis shoes. The calluses were fully a centimeter thick! I didn't know what the disease was, but it was nothing like frostbite. I touched his feet, rubbed them. They were warmer than my hands!