Stone and Whandall set out with the bird wheeling above them. They'd half filled their packs with empty bottles. Those didn't weigh much, but they'd be heavy coming back.
The rising wind was to Seshmarls' taste. The rainbow crow flew with motionless wings, pretending to be a hawk. He had to flap more often than a hawk would.
Without that bird they might have come and gone unnoticed.
They reached the floor of the canyon in a ring of older children all chasing around under the bird, demanding to know whose it was, or swearing it must belong to Whandall Feathersnake.
Whandall introduced himself and his son and the bird. When he asked where they were from, they pointed up the valley toward First Pines.
They crossed the valley floor, and the stream, in a circle of children and a flood of questions. While they climbed, Whandall told tales of the bandit attack and of Coyote's possession.
A few of the smallest couldn't keep up and dropped out. An older girl went with them, complaining bitterly of the excitement she would miss. Green Stone apologized. "We can't stop. We have to finish before dark."
Now ten remained of the original fifteen.
He just couldn't tell. These might be from First Pines, the children of customers and friends. They might be bandits' children, or First Pines might include part-time bandits. Then again, it was a fine day for walking uphill in a gaggle of babbling tens and twelves, with bright noon light to guide them around malevolent plants that had ripped half his skin off one black night.
"Oh, look!" cried a black-haired boy, and he pointed up.
The bird was arguing territory with a hawk. What had the hawk so confused, what had excited the boy, was the brighter-than-rainbow colors flashing across Seshmarls' feathers. It hurt the eyes to look.
"Wild magic," Whandall murmured, and Green Stone nodded. They took note of where they were and continued to climb.
The stream ran to their right. The children's chattering had dwindled, but one boy-thirteen or so, with straight black hair and red skin and an eagle's nose-urged them on. Whandall spun them a tale about an Atlantis magician in flight from a magical terror. He did not speak of gold. He let the bird's display guide him up the hill.
Gold would not be found where Seshmarls kept his accustomed colors. Where colors rippled across the bird in vibrating bands and whorls, hurting the eyes... well, it seemed they were tracking a flood that might recur once or twice in a man's lifetime. Gold followed the flooding.
"Oh, look now!"
The bird sank toward the stream, darkening as he fell. The children ran.
Greenery thickened, blocking passage. Stone and Whandall forced their way through. And there in the water, with eight children all around it, sat the skeleton of a man. Seshmarls perched on his skull, jet black.
Whandall said to them, "Here rests Hickamore, shaman to Bison Clan, lost these many years."
"Gold," Green Stone said, and picked up two yellow lumps as big as finger joints. He put one in his pouch and gave the other to the oldest boy. "Here," he said, and pointed out more dully glowing bits of gold for the children to collect, until every child had a bit of gold and they were scattered all up and down the streambed. Green Stone and Whandall tried to find gold in places a child would miss, and thus filled their belt pouches.
Day was dimming. Whandall gave a tiny black glass bottle to the oldest girl. "Wait three days," he said, "then show it to your folk and tell them where to find Piebald Behemoth the shaman."
They all trooped down to the valley floor and parted there.
Whandall and Green Stone followed the last sunset light up toward the crest and Behemoth. "That was clever," Whandall said.
"Thank you, Father. I wasn't sure."
"No, it was brilliant! This isn't what Morth needs; it's refined. Valuable, of course, but Coyote used up all the manna in it. But it'll draw them."
Morth heard their tale, then asked, "Will the children wait?" "Don't know. We still don't know if those are First Pines children or bandits. It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter it they tell their parents or go themselves. The way to gel the refined gold around the shaman's skeleton is to go up the river. We'll cross lower down tomorrow and get the wild gold on the slopes. We know where it is now."
The bird settled on Morth's arm. "Reminds me," Green Stone said. "Keep the bird with you tomorrow, Morth. He attracts too much attention ... oh, that'll do," as the bird on Morth's forearm turned glossy black.