The two Puma wagons rolled past the New Castle's gate. The Feathersnake wagons stopped. Green Stone helped Lilac down. Whandall waved Morth back before Morth could join them. Where was everyone? "We sent the cursed bird," he said. "We'll take care of it," Green Stone said. "Go on, Father." "Tell Willow that I have brought Morth of Atlantis and will take him to Road's End. He will not be coming in." "Right."
Whandall set his own wagon moving and looked behind to see Carver's wagon following. They had left considerable cargo in Green Stone's care. He didn't intend to pay storage and tax on all of this!
Every wagon fit to roll was gone from Road's End. The two Puma wagons were on their sides, stripped of their covers and their wheels. Puma guarded stacks of cargo. Carver went searching for the repair crew. Chief Farthest Land's men had to be found to open the warehouses-
"I could do that," Morth said.
"Better if they don't know it. Hello, that's..." Whandall called, "Twisted Cloud!"
"Whandall Feathersnake!" Twisted Cloud made her way toward them, but she was limping. Two boys ran ahead of her. "You're back in good time!"
"Yes, but why aren't you with the caravan?"
"I broke an ankle. Patch of mud wasn't dry yet. It's almost healed, but I
couldn't stand at all when the caravan rolled. I had to send Clever Squirrel." Her daughter. Coyote's daughter. Whandall's daughter, some would say. An obligation it Twisted Cloud cared to make it one, hut she never had, beyond the wagon Whandall had bought for her daughter. "The wagon's hers, and she's old enough now."
"She was born old enough. Twisted Cloud, this is Morth of Atlantis, of whom you've heard tales. You're both wizards-"
"Yes, I can see the glow," Twisted Cloud said.
"And you, there's a familiarity. Like Whandall. A god has been in you?"
She blushed. "Well. .. yes."
The boys watched and listened with interest. Boys would not be introduced until they discovered their names... as Green Stone found malachite in a cave, or as his father's tales of the Black Pit shaped Saber Tooth's dreams.
"Did you come to join the caravan?" Twisted Cloud asked.
Morth said, "Yes, to reach the Burning City."
Whandall said, "I fear Morth has been sniffing raw gold-"
"Whandall, I can't tell you more! Your mind is open to too many gods, and the gods of fire and trickery all seem to be related."
Twisted Cloud said, "But the wagons are all gone!"
Whandall said, "Yes. Morth, they left when we did, as soon as the Hemp Road became passable. You'll be here until spring. That gives you most of a year to come to your senses!"
"And then the caravan goes only as far as the Firewoods," Twisted Cloud said.
"Curse," Morth said. "I'd lose all the power I gained on the mountain."
Whandall noticed that the band around the Puma wagons had grown. "I need to do some business," he said.
"I'll scrape up a meal for us," Twisted Cloud offered.
"Here, I brought back some spices."
Chief Farthest Land's men made meticulous records as Whandall stored his gatherings. They took a percentage of the estimated value. It was worth it to most traders, and to Whandall too, up to a point. The New Castle was the only hold in these parts that could be called safer than the Chief's safehouse.
Then again, like the Spotted Coyotes, or the Toronexti in Tep's Town, Chief Farthest Land insisted.
No doubt the Chief knew-very likely his clerks knew-that not everything Whandall brought home came this far. He had never made a point of it, and Whandall didn't abuse the privilege.
Whandall completed arrangements for repairs on his own wagons. Puma had arrived first; their wagons would be repaired first. Give them
Morth's preserving box full of Whandall's spices to carry to Great Hawk Bay. They'd be back before the autumn rains.
He returned to Twisted Cloud's fire and a rosemary-flavored bison stew.
Morth's youth, restored in the Stone Needles, had gone to hale middle age. Twisted Cloud had put on some weight since their encounter with Coyote, and birthed six children too, four still alive. Still a good-looking woman, she had a round face made for laughter.
"The tribes just don't get it," she chortled. "They think I should have seen it coming and walked around the mud patch!"
"It's like looking at the tip of your own nose," Morth agreed. "Your own future is all blurred. I saw the great wave from the sinking of Atlantis and missed the sinking itself!"
"Got clear, though."
"Lucky. Fated. Whandall told you? But there are things he couldn't have known...."
There were three guesthouses at Road's End: low pits with tents over them. Rutting Deer and Mountain Cat ran these and lived in one. In the absence of her wagon, Twisted Cloud was using one. Her boys had moved Morth's baggage into the third while he took care of some business matters.
Now the wizards were verbally dancing around each other, each trying to learn what the other knew, hoarding secrets for later trade. Whandall tried to follow their talk, feeling more and more left out. Presently he went off to his travel nest to sleep.