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Chapter 45

They made camp in a boulder field. Large rocks helped form a natural rectangular fortress, nothing so refined as the place the Spotted Coyotes had built. Wagons filled in gaps among the big rocks. Whandall watched their placement-all wagons in sight of each other. They'd traveled until near sunset to find such an open place ... an easy trek down the gorge to the river... but wouldn't any bandit know just where wagons would stop? And the boulders and the rising and falling ground around them could hide all of Serpent's Walk and Bull Fizzle together.

But Hickamore drank strong hemp tea and sang, and when he came out of his trance was satisfied. There were bandits near, but they only watched. They had no plan, no purpose, only their envy.

The sun had set, but the west was still red and orange. Whandall sent two of the Miller children to keep watch outside the wagon circle. "Stay very still, and if you hear anything, shout and run under the wagon. But yell first!"

Then he had Willow, Carver, Carter, and Hammer sit down around the fire.

"We need to talk," Whandall said. "Carver, you knew what was expected when you went off with Starfall."

Carver looked very solemn. "Yes. Well, I knew it in my head," he said. "I wasn't thinking much, though."

"Starfall was," Willow said.

"How are you so sure?" Carter demanded.

She shrugged. "Girls always are. In Tep's Town you might get away with being careful, hut it's a big risk. Out here-believe me, Starfall knew what she was doing. So did you, I think."

"It's so-permanent," Carver said. "That's what I'm having trouble with."

Carter nodded in sympathy.

"So what do you want to do?" Whandall insisted. "I think I'm supposed to negotiate for you. Where do you want to live?"

"I can make rope," Carver said. "Well, if Carter will help. Carter, I'll teach you my part if you'll teach me yours."

"Greathand can't afford a ropewalk," Carter said.

They all looked at the wagon. Then they looked at Whandall. No one said anything.

Whandall grinned. "Depends on Willow," he said.

"Me! I don't have anything, except the dress you bought me. I don't have anything at all!"

And she was near tears. Dowries. Was that the problem? "The wagon. The ponies. Willow, they're all yours." He'd been thinking how to say that. He'd waited too long.

"One of the ponies is mine!" Hammer protested.

Whandall shrugged. "Argue that with Willow," he said. "But Kettle Belly says one pony is worth a team of bison, so Willow has a wagon and team."

"And the mare?" Carver demanded.

"I have a claim," Whandall said. "I helped catch her. The hemp and tar too-part of that's mine. I won't claim it, though. Willow can have my share."

"Why?" Willow asked. "It's very nice of you, Whandall, but why?"

"I know why," Carver said. "Don't you?"

She didn't answer, but she had the same vague smile that had appeared when Whandall said she owned the wagon and ponies. She looked quickly at Whandall, then looked away again.

"Don't forget, the wagonmaster gets a tenth," Whandall said. "Now about the gold."

"Morth gave that gold to you," Carter said. And Carver said, firmly, "Yes."

Whandall nodded. "I'll share. I needed you to move it for me. Still do. There's enough for your ropewalk, I think, if you and Carter stay together. I keep half. You, all of you, share the rest any way you decide." Half would still be a lot. "Half after the wagonmaster gets his share."

"Kettle Belly doesn't know about that gold," Carver said. "No way he could know."

"We could hide it," Carter said eagerly.



"No," he repeated. "We tell the wagonmaster."

"Why?" Carter demanded. "He doesn't know-he can't know." Whandall tried, hut words came slowly. "I said. I promised." "A Lordkin's promise," Carter said. "Made to a thief!" "Kettle Belly's not gathering," Whandall said. "He's-he's working with us."

Carter looked to the others. Some understanding flowed among them. Carver said, "All right," and shrugged.

Whandall felt like an outsider. There was a long silence. Finally Whandall got up and left the wagon. No one spoke until he was too far away to make out words, then Carter and Carver began speaking excitedly.

Chapter 44 | The Burning City | Chapter 46