The next day Mountain Cat and three more repairmen were all at work on Puma wagons. Whandall and Green Stone watched for a bit, talked to them a bit. Then they worked on the Feathersnake wagons. They left both wagons on blocks, each with missing wheels.
Whandall had bought three new wheels to replace the old, not because they were ruined, but to show Green Stone how to dismount and then mount a wheel. Green Stone had to know this stuff!
But they'd mount the wheels tomorrow. If the mad wizard took it into his head to run for Tep's Town tonight, he would not ride a Feathersnake wagon. It was rare that Whandall Feathersnake remembered Tep's Town. What would his brothers say, watching him make repairs ahead of a band of kinless so he wouldn't have to pay them as much?
Enough of the day was left for hunting. Hunting was better while the wagons were gone from Road's End. They bagged a deer and some onions and brought it all back to become the evening's dinner. Twisted Cloud and her boys and Rutting Deer set potatoes, corn, and bell peppers to roasting too.
Dinner would be late. It took time to roast a deer. They told stories of Tep's Town while they waited.
"Lookers blame the fire god," Morth said. "Kinless blame the gatherers, and a natural human lust for what others have. I believe the curse on Tep's Town is a pattern of habits, rather than the baneful presence of a moribund fire god."
Green Stone asked, "What do you do to break patterns?" When nobody had an answer, he asked, "What does it look like? Lordkin all stand around waiting for someone to set a fire?"
"Come and see," Morth said to him. Then to Whandall, "Was there treasure you couldn't carry away with you? Enemies who couldn't touch a caravan master? If there ever was a chance to set things right in Tep's Town, this is your best chance. You'd go with a wizard. You'll carry refined gold."
This was beginning to make Whandall uncomfortable.
"I'll invest some gold with you myself," Twisted Cloud said. "I like the trade possibilities."
"I bet you do, Coyote's woman." Her attitude had Coyote's touch! Any risks would belong to Morth and Feathersnake, but new trade routes would be shared by Bison Clan and every wagon served by the Road's End shaman. Whandall asked, "Gold refines itself in Tep's Town, doesn't it, Morth?"
"The wild magic leaks away? And your wizardry won't work either. Whatever you have in mind, try to remember that. Dinner's starting to smell wonderful, Cloud-"
When Rutting Deer and the boys went to retrieve the food, some glowing lizard thing leaped at them out of the burning rocks.
Whandall Feathersnake got his blade between them and the threat. Something like a Gila monster stood up four feet high and screamed at him, and as it came at him Whandall wondered if he'd finally bitten off more than he could chew. But it tried to eat his knife, and died.
"I never saw a thing!" Rutting Deer cried. "Oh, curse-" A quarter of deer lay in the dirt.
"Something changed by the gold. A lizard, maybe," Twisted Cloud said. "Deer, it's not your fault."
Whandall thought of work to be done tomorrow. If he went to bed now he could rise early.
Whandall woke before dawn. Green Stone was not in his blanket. Voices from Twisted Cloud's dying fire-wood, for the gold had run out- suggested that they'd been talking all night.
For White Lightning it would be near bedtime.
He was still up. With pride he showed off a black glass bottle. Another firing had glazed it. There were rainbow highlights in the black finish. He'd made a glazed glass stopper in the same fashion.
"So, and this one is second best?"
White Lightning laughed. "Yes, second best for Morth! He chose the other one. Why, are you thinking of buying it?"
"Never crossed my mind."
The smith settled for a hit of gold half the size of his thumb.
By examining this thing, Whandall might learn Morth's purpose. What was Morth hiding from Whandall? The only certainty was that this bottle was intended for magical use.
Glass in a cold iron glaze. What would Morth perceive? To a wizard this would be a hole, a blank spot. Hide it under gold-even refined gold-and a wizard would see only gold.
Morth and Green Stone were packing one of the Puma wagons.
"I thought you were staying longer," Whandall said.
"I had a notion," Morth said. "It might be worthless. Fare you well, Whandall Placehold. When you decide what you want, I'll be in the Stone Needles, growing strong again."
"Time we went home too. Green Stone, come."
The sky darkened as they traveled. Cloud drew itself across the sky, but there was no smell of rain. The wind made a strange crying sound.
Green Stone understood first. He didn't warn Whandall. He casually traded away his place on the driver's bench and crawled under the roof to sleep.
White dung began to rain down.
There was no way to hurry bison. Whandall could hear muffled laughter from under the wagon cover. The wagon, bison, and driver were covered in white when the bison plodded through the New Castle gate in a sunset sky dense with passenger pigeons.
Everywhere outside of the Burning City, elders remembered when evening's dinner could be summoned. Where civilization grew dense, surviving animals learned to avoid people. Some learned to fight back. In these days of dwindling magic, seeking meat became an adventure. Meals were often vegetarian at the New Castle. But twice a year, birds would over fly the land... .
There was nobody to greet Whandall's return. Men, women, children were all over the landscape, all swinging slings, sowing a hail of rocks and reaping birds. Green Stone and Whandall arrived in time to share the plucking.
The evening was spent stripping feathers and roasting and eating pigeons. Everyone gorged. They all reached bed very late.
Late breakfast was cold roasted pigeons. Whandall and Willow spoke of mundane matters.
Green Stone had been days away from his new bride. No need to disturb them. As for the wedding, plans had firmed up; most of the arguing
hail stopped. With the caravan away, not much could he done to prepare. If only Hawk In Flight would stop blurting out new ideas!
Morth would be no bother until next spring. "He'll be on a mountain," Whandall said. "If we can pick a wish..."
Willow said, "You were talking and you just trailed off."
"I can find him 'when I decide what I want,' Morth said. Maybe he meant the wish he owes us. Maybe he still thinks I'll come with him."
She looked so worried that Whandall laughed. "He's off to fight a water elemental on my home turf, but that's okay, he's got a plan, only he can't tell me because the fire god won't like it!"
"So you won't-"
"But if I'm willing to make the effort, I could be standing right next to him when it all happens!"
"Dear one, I will not go. A Lordkin's promise. Now, what shall we wish for? Something a magician can reasonably be expected to accomplish? Nothing outrageous."
"We have most of a year-"
"I don't think so. There was something in his voice. Willow, he won't wait. He's thought of something. Maybe Stone knows."
"Why would he tell Green Stone?"
"Well, we generally ate with Morth and Twisted Cloud, and told stories."
"We'll catch him at dinner," Willow said. "And now, Lordkin, will you go to encourage the kinless at their work?"
"In my dreams," Whandall said. He went out naked. It was appropriate for the work, and the weather was warm.
Where passenger pigeons had passed, every human hand was needed to clean the droppings from every human artifact. Women worked inside, men outside. Whandall Feathersnake in his youth had learned to climb. He spent the day scraping roofs alongside those few who didn't fear heights.
The New Castle men and boys spent day's end in the pond, trying to get each other clean.
But Green Stone wasn't there.