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Chapter 63


Every message was sent after considerable argument. It helped that Willow could write. "I don't want them afraid to come here," said Willow, "with all of us waiting to jump him."

"Let's not make it too easy. Curse it, the boy betrayed me too. Let's just leave it that Green Stone is on a journey and we need to work out details. And keep it short."

"Dear one, does it bother you that he doesn't obey?"

Whandall stared at his mate, then laughed immoderately. "Willow, can't you see I still have trouble saying 'My son'? No, Saber Tooth is a good wagonmaster, and I can't break up the Feathersnake wagons unless I've got two directions to send them! So what is there for my second son? He'd better be able to find his own directions."

She smiled. Then, "Does it bother you that he chose the Burning City?"

"Yes."

"You do all the talking, then, and you talk only to Morth, right? We women aren't speaking to Green Stone. We're furious. You, you're talking business."

Seshmarls, carry my words. Morth, my son is in your care. We need to know what you intend. Will you leave for Tep's Town this year? Message ends. Seshmarls, go.

The bird returned two days later with Morth's reply: We hope to.

Whandall sent: Return before his autumn wedding?

Three days later: Hope to.

Stop at the New Castle. The boy's wife and mother are concerned.

Four days later: I've lost my transport! May wait for spring. Will come to New Castle whatever happens.

"That's good!" Willow exclaimed, and made the bird repeat it.

Whandall said, "Let's keep up the pressure."

I remind you, you blessed this marriage. Disrupting that spell could be perilous.

"Dear, couldn't he take that as a threat? Oh, you mean magic!"

"I meant both, curse him!"

Four days later: Understood. What we intend will make Green Stone and Lilac's children safe for a hundred years. Stone says Behemoth is on the Hemp Road?

"I saw Behemoth once," Willow said. "But why does the wizard want to know about Behemoth? And the Stone Needles Behemoth, it was white?"

"That idiot. That utter idiot. Ah, curse." The women were staring. Whandall said, "Lilac, Stone won't turn back now."

Shall we assemble provisions? Can you grant a second wish?

The bird returned in three days. They must be in transit. I can't prepare your second wish if you can't describe it. We need... There followed a brief list of provisions.

Whandall said, "Morth is keeping the weight down."

"Tell him to give us back our man!"

"If we wanted a kinless we could have raised one, Lilac. Son and husband, but not slave. Green Stone stands by his own decisions."

"Then carve out a wish that keeps him safe until we see him again!"

"Spells don't work in Tep's Town-"

"They can, you know," said Willow. "You saw ghosts in the Black Pit!

And there's magic along most of the Hemp Road-"

"Try this, then: Cast good fortune for travelers under the Feathersnake sign."

Done. Expect us in six days.


"There's one more thing I can try," Whandall said, "but we can't count on it. Willow, it Stone goes anyway, shall I go with him?"

"Yes!"

The wagon was in sight a good hour before it arrived. Morth and Stone stopped just under the Feathersnake sign, and there they prepared a brief ritual. As soon as Whandall realized he was watching magic, he went behind the house and waited until he heard the gong.

Green Stone guided the bison through the gate. Whandall made no move to stop or welcome them. This had been the topic of much discussion. But when they were firmly on his land, Whandall lifted the black glass bottle and silently showed it to Morth.

Green Stone reacted with wild laughter. "Yes! Father, it was wonderful! You should have seen it! Morth said you didn't know-"

Morth said, "I should have bought both bottles. Curse, why not? One might break!"

"Well, yes, but what is it? But if it's a good story, save it for the women." Whandall led them behind the house, to a table and chairs set under a great tree. Willow and Lilac were waiting there, and servants had laid out a lunch.

Willow could think of no way to talk to her son without letting Morth of Atlantis onto New Castle land. But he wasn't to come inside!

Whandall set the bottle on the table, waited until Morth was seated, and sat down himself. Green Stone was still standing, looking at Lilac. Lilac looked back.

"I had to wonder why you came to Road's End," Whandall said to Morth. "Nobody but White Lightning can make anything like this bottle. My guess is, you want to carry magic. Something like a talisman, in a cold iron glaze so nothing godlike can leach it out."

Morth said, "Very good-"

"Father, we've got a whole wagon load of them!" Green Stone caroled.

Morth swallowed a snarl. Green Stone saw that... but Morth waved, Tell it, and Green Stone did.

"Father, we set up camp by the stream, on a nice wide beach of clean white sand, on the eighth night. In the morning the wizard went up the mountain. I waited for two days-"

"I wanted to borrow Behemoth," Morth said. "The Hermit would have given him up, but I saw that the white Behemoth is the Hermit's only friend."

Lilac dropped her staring contest. "Borrow Behemoth?"

"I couldn't do that to him," Morth told her. "But at least I could deal with the bottles-"

Green Stone broke in. "Morth brought a chunk of cast iron with him, shaped like a heart with lumps around the rim, and heavy. We half buried that in the sand and he set the bottle on it. Then we went buck to the wagon.

"Night came. We'd left Morth's bottle behind a stand of bushes. Lights made scrollwork in the sky above it, curving out like a thousand whirlpools. Morth wouldn't let me go and look. When we went back in the morning there were bottles, more than I could count. They weren't all the same size. They trailed off in arcs and spirals and little knots, getting smaller and smaller, no bigger than sand grains at the tips. We left most of them. I don't know how Morth picked which ones to take."

Morth shrugged. "I took the biggest."

"The iron was all gone. There was just a pit shaped like a lumpy heart."

"So," Whandall said, "you need a lot of... what?"

"Virgin gold," Morth said.

"Wild magic?"

"I can't tell you any more. I wish you didn't know as much as you do! But I can't go near raw gold, so I'll need help to collect it."

"Yes. Well," Whandall said, "I've examined that bottle. Then I wondered what you might not want me thinking when Yangin-Atep looks in there."

"You'd come?"

He let his eyes flick toward Green Stone. "I'd have to." Let the boy work out the rest.

"How often have you felt the touch of the fire god?" Morth asked.

"Yangin-Atep left me about the time you did. Just that once. I think." Earlier? The madness with Dream-Lotus? Easy to blame that on the god, but he knew better. "Just that once, with Yangin-Atep. A season later, Coyote had me for some hours. Both did me more good than harm."

"We should hire you out as an inn. All gods welcome at the Sign of the Winged Serpent."

So there it was. Taking Whandall into the Burning City might tell the fire god too much. If Morth refused to carry Whandall, he might leave Green Stone too ... and Whandall saw now that that wouldn't work. He dared not let Green Stone go alone.

He said, "If rumor of the Feathersnake sign has reached Tep's Town, you'll be safer with me along."

"Yes, if you can go as a legitimate merchant! Your son and I have spoken of this. The caravan must be nearly to the Firewoods already. We'll meet them and assemble a few wagons. That will be easier with you along... ."

They'd finished eating. This would have been the time to invite Morth

to stay the night, hut of course that wasn't going to happen. "I'll ask some men to load your wagon," Whandall said.

"Good. Whandall, taking you into Tep's Town might be too dangerous

now."

"Sorry."

"But I need you to persuade ....urse. Curse! Come. We should get on to Road's End. We may not have much time."

Lilac said, "I'll come that far. Stone and I should talk. I'll walk back."

"Take the bird," Willow said.

They walked into the house to get the bird. Willow asked, "What's your intent?"

"As Morth says. Get some wagons from the caravan, and anyone who wants to come along, and goods to sell to the Lords in Tep's Town. Come back with tar for your brothers, if nothing else."

"You're going, then."

"Don't you see? Morth offered Green Stone a ride on the Piebald Behemoth! No boy of nineteen could turn that down."

She said, "Nor can a boy of forty-three." Seshmarls walked onto her arm and across her shoulder to Whandall's. "Let me know what's happening."

"I will."















Chapter 62 | The Burning City | Chapter 64



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