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Chapter 60


Without a wagon and team it was only a four-hour walk home. Whandall and Carver didn't hurry. Evening fell, and a long twilight. It might be the last peace they saw in some time.

The pile of goods was gone from the New Castle's gate. They parted there. Carver went on to the Ropewalk. Whandall went in.

The New Castle was a household disrupted by sudden marriage. Willow had put Green Stone and Lilac in the guesthouse. Stone's room wasn't enough to house two, and the noise . .. well, newlyweds were expected to be noisy. It was hours before Whandall and Willow could retire.

The bird had returned to Willow. "He's a good messenger," she said, "but next time, you speak the messages. I still flinch from Morth's voice."

"I will. And we have a wish coming." Whandall grinned in the dark. "Yes, we have a wizard's boon. There were two, but I used one. You awake?"

"Tell it."

He launched into his story. "Morth blessed Lilac and Green Stone's marriage," he concluded. "Now we've reached Road's End, so he owes us a second wish. He'll find someone to take him to Tep's Town. He'll die there, I think. We should collect before he goes south, but that won't be before spring."

"What shall we wish for?"

"Something for Saber Tooth? If he was affianced I wouldn't even hesitate, but we've got a married daughter now. We can give the wish to Hawk In Might, or her firstborn. Too bad we'll never get our third wish."

"Our lives are perfect?"

"Yeah."

"Just asking." Willow stirred in his arms. "I thought of asking Morth to leave our family alone forever."

"That's easy magic."

"A waste. Some gift for our children's children? Ask him if he can do that."

Hawk In Flight had never been happier than when planning her own | marriage. Now, seven weeks a wife, she entered the field as an expert. She \ and Willow began planning a formal wedding for Lilac and Green Stone when the caravan returned.

The celebrants were seen only at mealtimes.

Whandall kept himself occupied.

The bison had been well kept, but they needed exercise. The men who worked the New Castle had complaints they could not bring to Willow. He must hear them out and make judgments. Two must be married. Two needed a shaman's attention (and six thought they did). A woman must be put on the road. Her man went with her, and now they'd need a new blacksmith.

Whandall went up to the graveyard by day to pull weeds and tend flowers. Willow visited the hives nearby. Whandall didn't go with her. Willow must keep treaty with the queen bees; they didn't deal well with men.

"But you didn't get stung?"

"No," said Willow. She showed him bees still exploring her hands.

"Well, rumor says the Tep's Town bees are above First Pines this year. They mate with local queens, and then all the worker bees grow little poison daggers. Twisted Cloud calls them killer bees."

He went to the graveyard again at midnight to keep his peace with the dead, lest they grow restless. It was always freshly surprising, how the dead accumulated over a man's lifetime. Old friends; two children; no other family, and that was rare.

Whandall talked to them, reminiscing, while they hovered around him. It was hard to tell their thoughts from his own.

The twisted ghosts from Armadillo Wagon had raged at him for years after that business at the Ropewalk. Tonight they were not to be seen. Ghosts did fade ... or perhaps the fools had tired of his jeering.

Three days of that, and then Lilac joined her prospective mother and sister. The servantwomen were drawn into that circle. The servantmen and

Green Stone showed the same sense of abandonment that Whandall could feel nibbling at his own composure.

"The magic goes away," he told Green Stone. They were where the women couldn't hear. "It's the great secret of the age."

Green Stone said, "The honeymoon, we tell each other it fades. Father, it happened too soon."

"Maybe you started early? I'm not asking," Whandall said, "only musing."

Green Stone was silent.

"Hey, this place will survive without us. I should supervise repair of the wagons. Three days. Want to come along?" He could exercise the bison too. Hitch all six to one wagon.

The Puma wagons were upright again, looking almost new and ready to go. There were no bison about, nor Puma tribesmen either. They would be out finding fresh bison to catch and tame.

Two of the repair crew were about. He'd expected to find more. They tried to rag him about hitching six bison to one wagon. Whandall made up a story about a troll sometimes seen on the road. The troll was willing to bargain, a bison for two men. This time they'd missed him. Might meet him coming back.

Whandall spent several hours inspecting his wagons and arranging repairs, taking it as an opportunity to teach Green Stone.

Then he and Green Stone made their way toward White Lightning's workshop. Lightning wouldn't be awake in daylight, but it was near sunset and the days were getting long.

Most boys found their own names, but White Lightning had been named for the lightning blast that left his pregnant mother blind and deaf for nearly a year. The baby she bore had skin as white as snow. He was a good glassworker, strong and skilled, but he couldn't travel. The sun would burn him badly.

White Lightning was peering into a white-hot coal fire through the slits in a soaked leather mask. Stone and Whandall closed the door flap and waited, standing well clear. White Lightning pulled a gob of glowing glass out of the fire on the end of a long tube. He blew into the tube to make a globe, stretched it, twisted it. Now he had two lobes joined by a narrow neck. Lightning set it gently in a box of black powder and rolled the powder over it. Then he picked up the black double bottle with wooden paddles and danced it into an oven that was cooler, darker than the fire he'd been using, and closed the door on it.

"Dexterous," Whandall said. "You look good."

Lightning turned without surprise. "I never tell better in my life. Hello, Whandall Feathersnake. Ah-"

"Green Stone is now a married man."

"Boy, you all grow faster than I can catch up. Feathersnake, what's your need?"

"Lamps. Twenty, if you'll give us the quantity discount."

Lightning doffed his mask. His face was chalk white, but there weren't any sores, and his eyes looked good. "You need them before fall?"

"No."

"Then, sure, take eight for seven."

"Oh, all right, make twenty-four. What are you making now?" Whandall saw Lightning hesitate. "Don't tell me secrets-"

"He didn't say so. One bottle, but it has to be perfect. Glass glazed with iron. Wizards! But he's a great medicine man." Lightning stretched on tiptoe. "Every joint doesn't hurt! I can see again too!"

"He wants a black bottle?"

"Come see it after I've fired it. I'll get two this way. He can take his choice."

Rocks burned in a circle of rocks. Morth of Atlantis sat with his back to a small fire so that he could face Twisted Cloud. The medicine woman sat so far back that her face was in darkness. It looked awkward. Stone and Whandall joined Morth, backs to the fire.

Whandall asked, "Gold?"

"Right," Twisted Cloud said. "For years they've been paying me in river gold. Time comes when wild magic is needed; it's good to have, I suppose, but what can I do with it otherwise? Finally comes a man who can refine it for me."

"A pleasure," Morth said.

Whandall couldn't exactly ask after Coyote's daughter. When he had the chance he asked Twisted Cloud, "How's the wagon holding up?"

"That was Mountain Cat's work, wasn't it? Eight years, and we've only had that one broken axle, and twice a wheel. It's Clever Squirrel's first time out alone, but she'll be fine too. She's been running the wagon since she was fifteen," her mother said. "I just go along for the ride.

"It's her wagon. Her dowry, given by Whandall," Twisted Cloud said to Morth, "though she's Coyote's daughter. Feathersnake, I don't think she'll marry."

"Oh, she'll find her man," Green Stone said. Coyote's daughter was his weird half-sister; his tone was proprietary. "She's just-exploring. He'll have to be someone who doesn't listen to unicorns. He'll need courage, too."

Month asked, "Wagonmaster. have you settled on a wish?" -

"Not yet. Where can I find you when I do?"

Morth glanced at the shaman. "I'll he in the guesthouse while I take care of some business here. Then back to the Stone Needles. Plenty of manna there. I'll take things for the Hermit, make myself welcome."

"Fascinating place, it sounds like," Twisted Cloud said. "Maybe I'll visit."

"You'll love the Hermit."

Twisted Cloud laughed. "But he's very accommodating, you say."

"I'll wait there for spring," Morth said. "Travel with the caravan, leave them at the Firewoods, go on into Tep's Town. I'd like it if you came, Whandall."

Whandall shook his head. "I promised Willow, long ago. Promised myself too."

"Weren't you telling me," Morth asked, "that you want to extend the trade route? Find more customers, peddle more exotica, hire everybody's children ...."

"I'm looking around, that's true. But my children are able, Morth. We raise them that way. They'll find another path, or make one." Whandall didn't look at Green Stone, but the boy was listening.

Morth said, "Puma holds the path to Rordray's Attic. No room, for you. But the Lords in Tep's Town, what've they got that's worth having?"

Whandall held his arms straight out. The left was shorter than the right and a little crooked. "I'm not wanted in the Lordshills," he said, "and they did this to prove it."

"That was then. You'll go back as a looker-"

"I've heard this tale before."

"More than a looker. You have a reputation. After twenty years and more of ships carrying tellers, the tales are bound to have reached the ears of Lords and kinless too."

"Kinless won't deal with a Lordkin!"

"Then again, do Lordkin have anything worth trading?"

"Well, yes, if you'll allow that some kinless is carrying it for us, but you still can't think that Wolverines or Owl Beaks or Water Devils will deal with a man from Serpent's Walk!" Whandall didn't speak of the deaths in his own family, the ruin that had dogged Morth. Morth knew those dangers. Whandall couldn't yet believe the wizard was serious. "I'd be crazy to go back. You too. Get away from that-" He gestured behind him at the fire of gold ore. "Get your head right. Think it over then."

"Are you enjoying your return to domesticity?"

"Very much."

"All the same-, didn't you leave debts behind you in Tep's Town?"

"Nothing I could ever pay," Whandall said.

Green Stone spoke for the first time. "What's it like?"

Morth spoke of running a shop among kinless and Lordkin. Somehow Whandall found himself telling of how he'd played with the ghosts in the Black Pit. Then Morth again... . Whandall's family knew his tales of Tep's Town, and had heard Willow's tales too, but Morth was speaking secrets he'd never known.

It was late before they slept.











Chapter 59 | The Burning City | Chapter 61



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