Late that night Whandall dismissed the others and went to Saber Tooth's travel nest. They sat on ornate carpets in a wagon den of polished wood.
"You'll be wanting this wagon, of course," Saber Tooth said.
"It's yours, Father. I have my own."
"Who's in that?"
"Is his wagon here?"
"Yes, it's loaned to one of his wife's relatives." Hammer had married a girl from a town in Paradise Valley and was content to be a wagoneer foreman.
"Complicated," Whandall said. "Think Hammer would like to come to Tep's Town?"
"I think you would have to tie him to a wagon tongue to keep him out."
"And you as well?"
Saber Tooth didn't say anything.
"Son, I would rather have you with me," Whandall said, realizing that it was true. "But Feathersnake can't spare you. It can spare me-"
"It can, so long as you're in charge," Whandall said. "And you know it. You're a better trader than I will ever be."
Saber Tooth didn't answer. They both knew it was true.
"So I can be lost, and Green Stone can be lost, and Feathersnake goes
on. Your mother will grieve, but she won't starve, and neither will your sisters and their kin. Number One, we need you out here."
Saber Tooth was a long time answering. Finally, "Father, I'll take the caravan on to Condigeo. Having a new opportunity doesn't make an old one less worthwhile. I've always wanted to be the Feathersnake wagon boss. Most never see their dreams in old age, let alone as young as me." He sighed. "I've always wanted to see Tep's Town, too, but that can wait. You go in. We'll travel light to Condigeo, and we may be back here when you come out. If not, you can wait here for us."
"Good plan. What are you carrying to Condigeo?"
"Marsyl poppy seeds. German hemp. Some bad carpets that will still be better than anything they have that far south."
Whandall nodded to himself. The Feathersnake wagons didn't go all the way south unless they had cargo Condigeo would pay for, and time to reach Road's End before the snows. Storms chopped off the Condigeo leg two years out of three.
"And civet cat glands," Saber Tooth said. "Two jars."
"I want one," Whandall said.
"Did your nose die of old age? Or do they make perfume in Tep's Town?"
"Not that I heard," Whandall said. "Just an idea. I won't need a whole jar; two cups of the juice will do. Be sure it's sealed tightly."
Saber Tooth's nose wrinkled. "Don't worry about that!"
"So," Whandall said. "It's my wagon, and Hammer Miller's, and who else do I take?"
"Four, you said?"
"Four wagons if I can get 'em."
Saber Tooth poured tea. Sipped. "Not Fighting Cat Fishhawk," he said. "His mother's getting pretty old now; she'll expect to see him."
"How is she?"
"Sorry she retired, I think," Saber Tooth said. "But she was too damn old to be on the road!" He brooded, thinking of the first hard decision he'd had to make as a wagonmaster. Beaching one his father's oldest friends. The worst of it was that Whandall should have done it years before and hadn't.
"Insolent Lizard," Saber Tooth said positively.
Whandall nodded. Kettle Belly's fourth son. Reliable and skilled, if a bit of a smart-ass. "One more, then."
"You'll need a blacksmith," Saber Tooth said. "I can hire another for a while. Take Greathand. He'd follow you anywhere."
Starfall Ropewalker's brother, not her father. The son took the father's name when the first Greathand died six years ago, a skilled giant to his last
Jay. He wasn't blood, but he was kin. "Good. I'll talk to them alter we've loll this town behind."
Saber Tooth nodded agreement. The less the townfolk knew of family affairs, the better he liked it.
"Sure you'll be all right letting me have this wagon?"
"Truth is, Father, I like my own better. This is the nicest travel nest on the Road, but-"
"But you designed and built yours," Whandall finished for him. "Yup. All right, now for supplies."
"This is going to be like herding snakes. We have to cut out four wagons, take all the Condigeo cargo off them, put anything you want for Tep's Town onto them, and get it done out of town without making camp before the damn Leather-master caravan catches up and sees us!"
"No doubt you are competent-"
Saber Tooth took on a cagey look. "This will be tricky, and tricky is expensive."
"Never knew I'd have to bargain with my own son," Whandall said.
"Sure you did." Saber Tooth looked thoughtful. "It's Morth who needs the gold in those bottles."
"I do not exactly see why we need Morth."
"There's me and there's Morth, and nobody else on this expedition knows a cursed thing about Tep's Town."
"And we need him that much? I could sell everything we have and not come up with that much gold."
Whandall sighed. "Son, it's wild gold. Unrefined."
"But contained. There are wizards in Condigeo who would be more than pleased to refine it for us."
"It's not mine. Morth helped gather it. It's a matter of our word," Whandall said.
"Oh. I take it this is entirely a Feathersnake enterprise?"
"Yes, if we can keep it that way."
"Do that," Saber Tooth said.