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Chapter 64

Whandall drove with Morth beside him. Lilac and Green Stone talked in the back, and whatever they babbled of persuasions and recriminations was lost. Blue in the distance, a shape from the world's dawn ambled toward them.

Morth said, "Behemoth must be close to Road's End by now. I wish I could have warned Twisted Cloud."

"You know, this is the craziest thing I've ever done," Whandall said. "I'm not crazy. Crazy would be waiting for a water elemental to find me. I don't know what the sprite is doing. I've never known how far it can come inland. I've got to keep moving."

Repairs, loading, rebuilding of warehouses, all had stopped while Twisted Cloud and four of the chief's men watched Behemoth come. The men gaped in awe. Twisted Cloud was wild with laughter and delight.

The shaman caught sight of Morth. "Wizard, is that yours? The beast should be here by morning."

"I wish it were sooner."

"Wizard's flattery?"

"Medicine woman's sarcasm? I feel the elemental's cold wet breath on my neck."

Behemoth drifted toward Road's End like a storm cloud. Twisted Cloud watched. "He looks to be covering a league with every step, but he isn't. Wizard, how does one summon Behemoth?"

"Like summoning a rabbit for dinner. You must know the prey in your mind. I have Green Stone's stories of Behemoth and his description of a dead mammoth. As you see, they were enough."

Lilac and Green Stone would have their chance to make peace, Whandall thought, in one of the guesthouses tonight. The magicians would have to share another. Rumor told that Twisted Cloud had given up men years ago. But she seemed to get along with Morth, and Whandall wondered.... Well, after all, who wouldn't?

By dawn light it was as if Road's End huddled at the foot of a small hairy mountain. Behemoth was still a morning's walk uphill and would come no closer.

Morth's bottles, and a parsimonious few of the goods Whandall had sequestered, rode in the wagon with Lilac, Twisted Cloud, Morth, Whandall, and Green Stone. The bison ambled straight toward the great beast. Behemoth's illusion was too big to worry them.

As they neared Behemoth, he seemed to dwindle.

When they stood beneath him, he was a living image of a mammoth. Not small! He stank like a whole herd of wild bison. His trunk took Morth's proffered hand, and Morth spoke Atlantean gibberish. Then the beast lifted Morth into place.

Morth sang and danced on its back. The point of that became clear when dead things began raining out of its hair: parasites in wild variety, from mites too small to see up to crustaceans the size of a thumb joint. Morth brushed more from under the beast's great flapping ears.

Under Morth's direction they girdled the beast's torso with the fishnet they'd carried from Great Hawk Bay.

The beast picked up the travelers one by one. Whandall managed not to scream. Green Stone lifted his arms and hugged the beast's trunk. It lifted their cargo up to them and they tied every item carefully in the fishnet, while the bird fluttered wide around them, screaming curses. Lastly Morth summoned the bird with a gesture. Behemoth turned toward the hills.

The beast climbed steadily up a ravine, brushing aside knee-high bushes and trees, until it reached the ridge line. This high, the wind was cold. Whandall imitated Morth: he huddled prone against the beast's back, gripping the net. It was like riding a furnace.

Compared to wooden wheels bouncing on a rutted road, this ride was wonderfully smooth. Their motion was barely felt. Whandall savored the awe and the thrill of riding a moving mountain, if not as master, at least as a guest. Was this anything like what Wanshig had felt aboard a ship?

Was this thing any faster than a bison team'.'

Traveling above the Hemp Road made landmarks hard to find... but that, already behind them, was Chief Farthest Land's high peak and lookout point, as the caravan first saw it coming home. Landscape drifted by much faster than it ever would at a bison's pace. Behemoth was fast.

Morth asked Green Stone, "Have you any idea where we might find gold? There must be rivers all along..."

Green Stone was shaking his head.

"I know a hillside covered with virgin gold," Whandall said, "if we can find it, if it hasn't been mined out. I went up it in the dark. Came down with Coyote in my head. But it's south of First Pines. Now you tell me, will we pass close enough to First Pines to know this place? Stone, you've actually seen First Pines more often than I have."

"I'll ask Behemoth." Morth crawled forward to speak into the beast's ear.

Green Stone waved to the south. "Those are the pines, there where the land starts to dip. It looks like Behemoth wants to go above them."

Morth returned. He said, "Behemoth believes that he goes where he will, but he's wrong. He can't see places low in manna. They're holes in his map. He won't go near towns."

"Just as well."

Green Stone said, "So when we run out of pines we just walk on down and get the gold, yes, Father? We've covered a day walk already, two wagon-days. Morth, were you going to travel at night?"

"Better not."

They camped on the crest. Pines ran from the frost line right down into the canyon, hiding the canyon and the Hemp Road.

Morth summoned a yearling deer to roast. The bird hunted his own dinner. Behemoth ate the tops of young trees and pushed down older ones to get at their top foliage.

Next afternoon they ran out of pines. Now they could see down into the canyon. A beige trace was the Hemp Road, running almost parallel to a stream's blue thread, but higher. The ragged slope of the far hill, and the stream that ran down the gorge, were familiar. The caravan passed twice a year, but Whandall had never been impelled to climb that hill again.

Huddled up against the forest was the town of First Pines.

Morth and Whandall were lowering cargo from the mammoth's back. Green Stone looked from the chaparral-covered hillside across from them, down into the canyon, then at Morth's bags of bottles. He said, "You want all of these filled with gold?"


His son hadn't quite imagined the si/.e of this job! Whandall grinned. "We're far enough from town, locals won't bother us. Bandits might. We've been attacked here more than once. We can take a first pass this afternoon. Camp tonight at the caravan campground, watch for bandits-"

"No! Come back up. Sleep here," Morth said. "Bandits won't bother Behemoth."

Sleep with Behemoth-sure, that sounds safe. "Couple of days, then, if there's any gold. Twisted Cloud has known about this place all along. She might have told anyone."

"How do I know gold?" Green Stone asked. "How do I know wild from refined?"

Whandall wasn't sure he would either. Gold ore wasn't always bright smooth yellow. He said, "You coming, Morth?"

Morth was torn. "You've seen what I'm like when I've touched wild gold. Do you really need me?" Hopefully. Resisting.

Whandall said, "I can't sense it, you know."

"Don't I just. Ah! Take the bird," Morth said. "Watch Seshmarls."

Chapter 63 | The Burning City | Chapter 65