Atreyu felt as if a band had tightened around his throat. All he could do was nod his head. Then he heard the sweet soft voice saying: “You have carried out your mission. . .”
Were these words meant as a question? Atreyu didn’t know. He didn’t dare look up to read the answer in her face. Slowly he reached for the golden amulet and removed the chain from his neck. Without raising his eyes, he held it out to the Childlike Empress. He tried to kneel as messengers did in the stories and songs he had heard at home, but his wounded leg refused to do his bidding. He fell at the Childlike Empress’s feet, and there he lay with his face to the floor.
She bent forward, picked up AURYN, and let the chain glide through her fingers.
“You have done well,” she said, “and I am pleased with you.”
“No!” cried Atreyu almost savagely. “It was all in vain. There’s no hope.”
A long silence followed. Atreyu buried his face in the crook of his elbow, and his whole body trembled. How would she react? With a cry of despair, a moan, words of bitter reproach or even anger? Atreyu couldn’t have said what he expected. Certainly not what he heard. Laughter. A soft, contented laugh. Atreyu’s thoughts were in a whirl, for a moment he thought she had gone mad. But that was not the laughter of madness. Then he heard her say: “But you’ve brought him with you.”
Atreyu looked up.