47

Before I could do much more than gap at his revelation, the door to our cell opened and the copper-haired tall man gestured for us to come out.
“The town is on fire – you need to get out.”
We followed him out, down a hallway, and past a clerk’s room where I spotted my satchel. I darted in and snatched it up, checking for Tiria’s things as I caught up with the others. The map, letter, and my wife’s – my wife? Lady of Spring Rain save me – I’d married Jeslynn. Weaver Noth had courted her for months before she caught my eye. He ended up marrying the village harridan. No wonder he wanted me out of town. But that meant Som…
“Gestin – come on,” Torgood’s hiss made me realize that I’d stopped and had been starring absently into the satchel.
We came out of the keep and looked down at the town. Many buildings had already been burned and most were in the process of being consumed.
“I don’t think I can pray for the wind to fix this one,” I muttered to Torgood.
The copper-haired man turned to me and said, “You’d better come up with something then, stranger. You’re all we’ve got left.”
“What?”
He gestured to the center of town, barely visible through the smoke. “We can’t get to the well. That Smat fellow told me you blew the fire back – so I’m hoping you can do it again.”
I looked at Torgood and he nodded confirmation.
“Can I do it from here?” I’m not a coward but the thought of entering another fire – especially now that I’d remembered – did not appeal. But the man lead the way down the hill and Torgood and I followed.
“How did you know I could influence the wind?” I asked Torgood.
“I remembered. You had a cyclone of wind around you when you went into your house to save your family. So I hoped that you’d remember even if you didn’t actually remember.” He thumped me on the back, “And you did.”
We reached the edge of the market and could feel the heat coming off of the fire. The copper-haired man offered us thick leather jerkins, gloves, and some cloth to put over our faces.
“Consider this your parole. If you make it out, Handyman, you can go free – and never return. Stranger, I hope this isn’t a load of mule manure.”
“You and me both,” I answered and wrapped a cloth over my nose.
As we entered the fire’s radius, I heard the roar of the fire elemental. It knew I was there and wanted me.
“You said there were three things you wanted to tell me,” I reminded him. “We are still in mortal danger.”
“Ha, well…”
“Torgood.”
“I slept with your sister – I mean wife. Shit.” With that exclamation, he fell back, the wind blowing cinders into his face and hair.
My rage tangled with the wind and, yes, I remembered how to control it. I spun the burning bits of buildings around me in a globe and turned to look at Torgood, who lay on the ground – a hand held up to shield his face.
I could kill him. I was ready to kill him, but then I realized that it took two to cuckold a man. Jeslynn my sister wife probably needed some support – weather gods knew I couldn’t have given it to her.
I left him there and went into the flames.

48 the things you learn in jail

There had been a long silence, both between Torgood and I and from the outside world. Many hours must have passed, and we received no water or update on the fire or any visitation what so ever.
Torgood seemed content, humming to himself, but I felt the needed to do something.
“So how did you,” I started to ask, but Torgood roused himself from his slumped position and answered before I finished.
“Become a thief, assassin, and all around nice guy? It happened when you were in recovery from the fire. My mother sent me to the Grand Council to ask about the fire and on the way there, Smat and his group robbed me.”
I stopped pacing and turned to regard him.
“So you thought I’d like the experience myself?”
He shrugged. “Changed my life it did.”
“So you joined them. Were the Dvergr apart of the group as well?”
“No,” he shook his head. “Why do you call them that?”
“That’s what they are.”
He looked puzzled.
“Dvergr are a people from the south. They deal in minerals mostly and are magical, obviously. I’m not sure why they’d be here though, they’re long-time enemies of the Nord.”
He raised both eyebrows at me in question. I searched my memory for more information but a gray soup of the mind obscured any other memory.
“The Nord are from the north.”
He sniffed dismissal of that information, but then added, “Oh – wasn’t there a Nord queen of some sort – married one of our kings? She killed him and disappeared.”
That didn’t sound familiar at all. “Was there?”
“Before we were born,” he added.
We lapsed into silence and I put my ear to the metal grate, hoping to hear something of the world outside. All was eerily quiet.
I went back to pacing.
“Where’d you learn to fight?” Torgood of my memory hadn’t been trained, as I hadn’t been trained, in anything but rural implements.
“Remember – ha, you don’t but – there was a strange trader who came about the time you…”
He paused and I sat on my haunches and gave him my full attention.
“I, uh, have something I should tell you. But I don’t want you to be mad. I mean, if we’re trapped in here and burn to death, I want you to know so that you can go to the elements in peace. So that we both can.”
“I’m really not interested in going to the elements,” I commented but gestured for him to continue.
“I’ve two – no three. Well, two at least.” He took a deep breath. “I want you to know that I just remembered this myself – so your guess that Tiria was a witch might be accurate.”
“What does Tiria have to do with this?”
“Do you remember the wildfire?”
“I told you I don’t…” I paused. I did remember – all in its appalling glory.
Torgood went on, “You had a head injury that made you forget the people you loved. Tiria tended your wounds and suggested – maybe magically – that we go along with whatever you said.”
I thought of the crying child I couldn’t save in the fire.
“Rand was my son.”
He nodded. “And Jeslynn is your wife, not your sister.”

49 Southallow

I slid of Smat’s mule and stood amidst the chaos, getting my bearings while the residents of Southallow ran about with urgency. Women herded children and farm animals, men set up a fire bucket line that ran from the marketplace well to the gate, while others donned thick leather jerkins and gloves and wrapped wet towels across their faces and hefted axes, shovels, and rakes – obviously headed out to make a fire line. One thick-bodied man, who had a curling mustache the color of mustard and a bald head, spotted our small party and yelled for some nearby men.
Torgood cursed and made to turn the horse around, but another man, this one tall with cropped copper hair, reached out and caught the horse’s bridle. Smat climbed down, his hands up, and Torgood followed.
A sharp gesture from the yellow mustached man made me raise my hands as well.
“If it isn’t the Handyman,” the man said to Torgood, smirking.
“Watchman Engli, so good to see you.” Torgood smirked back. “How’s your darling Rahila?”
The man looked like he wanted to smash Torgood’s face in. Instead he barked to his friends, “Bind them and take them to the keep.”
Smat resisted, saying “Wait – we’re here to help fight the fire,” while I said, stupidly, “What? Why are you arresting me? I haven’t done anything.”
“Sorry Smat, you are riding with a wanted criminal.”
Smat gave Torgood a look of feigned horror. “I didn’t know. I just meet them on the road – that one,” he pointed to me, “had taken ill, so I helped.”
Watchman Engli considered, giving me a closer look. Weather gods knew I probably looked like animated death.
“You know this man?” he gestured to Torgood. Of course I said yes before thinking. He snorted and told Smat to go join the fire line. Smat gave a parting wave to us that made Torgood curse under his breath.

The keep sat atop a small rise at the apex of the town, which I noticed as we were marched through, had more than one tavern. I’d never been to Southallow, but obviously Torgood had. They locked us into a room with a stout door and a iron grill for the jailer to look in through. There weren’t any seats and just a small hole in stone floor with a smell that gave its purpose away.
Torgood sank down against the wall opposite the door, and I sat as far away from the smell as I could.
“So, been to Southallow before?” I said after a while.
Torgood gave a sour look.
“That watchman seems to hate you. What’d you do – sleep with his wife?”
Torgood laughed at that a little longer than I thought the joke merited.
“Aye,” he said, wiping a tear from his cheek, “his wasn’t the only one, but he’s the only man who caught me.”
I reviewed what I now knew about Torgood, the village tinker/fix-it man, and it disturbed me. I’d finally seen the small sharp knives they took from him before we were shoved into the cell. They also took my satchel, but just set that aside unsearched.
“That’s so very honorable of you, Torgood. I can’t wait to tell your mother what an upstanding citizen of Oakdale you are – apparent bandit, expert at killing Dvergr, husband cuckold-er. I think I would have been safer going to Crown City by myself.”
He gave a snort of dismissal. “You’d have never made it out of town. Weaver Noth wanted to burn you alive. My mother sent me because you need someone to watch out for you.”
“I don’t.”
“Yeah – you do. With your memory, you very much need a keeper and I’m sure Jeslynn was happy to have a break.”
Jeslynn’s name made me sit up straight. There was something hanging at the edge of my mind related to her.
“Jeslynn is not my keeper,” I said and felt a cleansing anger building in me. “Storm god’s nads, Torgood, you had us robbed. Why?”
He didn’t answer for a moment and instead studied his dirty hands.
“It wasn’t supposed to happen that way. They were just supposed to scare you.”
“They succeeded,” I said through my teeth.
He looked at me. “I’m sorry, Gestin, it was supposed to be a joke. Truly, I just wanted to give you a thrill. Something to tell the folks at the tavern when we get back.”
“Why would you pull such a horrible joke?” I answered my own question a moment later. “Because you think I’m the village idiot. That’s just mean.”
He shrugged and mumbled, “Sorry.”
I considered bashing his head against the wall or perhaps forcing him down the shit hole.
“Let me see if I have this straight,” I said, trying for calm. “I don’t remember things, so therefore I’m stupid?”
“I know you’re not stupid, but you are kinda gullible,” he said with a nod.
Had he pulled jokes on me before? If he had and I remembered, he would be a walking corpse.
“And when I get my memory back?”
He made an expansive gesture. “The whole village will celebrate the return of Gestin Hospitlar.”
I made a rude gesture at him and he laughed.
We sat in silence for a long moment; he thinking whatever shallow thoughts he had and I fuming.
Outside in the town, the community fought a fire that was – ultimately – Torgood’s fault. If they figured that out – if Smat confessed – they’d hang him. And then they’d hang me for being his companion.

50 fire 2

The smokey hot wind blew embers that caught on our horse’s tail, causing the animal to jerk forward and fight Torgood’s hold on it.
Flames circled us. Men and animals panicked.
A small opening to the right appeared, barely wide enough for two mules to ride through. Everyone jostled for that opening. Smat on his mule and Torgood and I were the last to reach it. Torgood let the horse have its head and it galloped, head down and jumping any thing in its way. Smat’s mule and the others did their best to follow.
We ran toward the foothills, the terrain getting steeper and rockier. The horse grew sweaty as did I. My chest burned and my eyes watered. I could hear the elemental roaring behind us somewhere. I felt dizzy. A memory of searing pain made me let Torgood go for a moment and clutch my arm.
“We can’t get up here,” Smat yelled to Torgood.
“I know.”
“Let’s head for Southallow.”
Torgood didn’t like that idea for some reason and argued. I clung to his back and tried to keep from vomiting on it.
Smat turned south anyway and our horse, although Torgood fought it, followed.
The wind whipped fire nipped at our heals as we came back down slope.
“Gestin, make the wind blow the other way,” Torgood shouted over his shoulder and bunching up as the horse jumped over a log. I slammed back hard on the landing and only his grip on my leg kept me safe.
“Want me to pray from rain also – we have an equal chance at both,” I yelled back at him, annoyed.
His shrug bumped me in the nose. “Can’t hurt.”
I coughed and another dizzy spell made me clutch his tunic. I prayed and the world tilted.

I came to, once again laid out like a dead animal across the back of a mule, in the town of Southallow.

51 fire

Torgood put his hand over my mouth to silence my yelp of surprise. He gestured for me to follow and we crouched/ran away from the burning Dvergr leader. I heard a shout and knew we were pursued.
We ran to where the animals had been tied. They were gone. The female Dvergr and another jumped from behind a tree and attacked.
Torgood tangled with the female and I dodged the other. The whoosh of the spike-tipped club near my face made me dodge the other way. I had no weapon so I tossed dirt at him, hoping to blind him. The wind picked it up and obligingly blew it into his face.
Torgood somehow had disarmed the female. She circled with him, holding a knife. He didn’t appear to have any weapons. She stabbed at him, and he ducked and darted in and out, fast like a rattlesnake striking. She stepped back with a yelp and held her hand to her throat. Blood welled out from between her fingers.
Torgood turned and blocked the club descending toward my head. He darted in, and that Dvergr’s throat became bloody as well.
The club wielder scattered the blood on the ground and made a strangled cry before falling over. More Dvergr rose up and headed toward us.
I paused, shocked. They came from blood on the ground.
“Storm God’s nads.” We ran.
More Dvergr appeared before us.
We spun about and ran back the way we’d come.
“It’s no good,” Torgood panted, glancing behind. “We’ll have to climb.”
Climb what? I wanted to ask, for the trees had all started to blaze. He lead off to the right and across some rocks that abruptly ended in a gorge.
I looked back and didn’t see any Dvergr but did see the growing fire, fueled by the now larger fire elemental. It spotted me and spread, with the flames, toward me. The smoke obscured it for a moment, but I knew. It wanted me.
I had a moment of dizziness, poised on the edge of the gorge that Torgood had already started to climb down, and I suddenly I was another the wildfire, wind whipping around me as I moved through it to get to my burning house. Jeslynn was at the front of the house, screaming. Som yelled from behind me, something about being crazy. Jeslynn had a rag wrapped around her face and her skirt on was on fire.
“I can’t get to him.” Tears leaked from her eyes. “Don’t let him die, Gestin.”
I pushed her behind me and entered the inferno.
The intense heat took all of my breath away. I heard a cry and headed toward the stairs.
“Gestin, come on!” Torgood’s call brought me back to the moment just as a crossbow bolt winged past my head and into the gorge.
I ducked and scrambled over the edge.

My whole body shaking, Torgood caught me as I fell the last few feet to the bottom of the gorge. He stood me upright, looked at me intently to see if I could stand on my own, and then jogged off to the north. I stumbled after on shaking legs. I didn’t see any Dvergr climbing down and no rocks tumbled down on our heads. Maybe we’d escaped.
The roar of the fire elemental from above me made me flinch and run faster.
The gorge widened out in a few moments and Torgood started up a narrow animal trail on the other side.
Once at the top, we moved south-ish. I struggled to keep up. The smoke from the growing fire made it hard to see.
After a moment, Torgood made us pause in a bramble bush.
“Did you see the blood and the Dvergr…”
He nodded but held up a hand for my silence.
He whistled like a nighthawk and a nighthawk answered.
A man rode up a on a mule, leading the horse.
Torgood stepped out and greeted him.
“This is Smat,” he said as way of introduction as he climbed up on the horse and held a hand down for me to climb up. “Pitro didn’t make it.”
Smat cursed. I got on the horse behind Torgood and hung on. We moved off at a lope.

We came at last to a road. I could see the smoke rising behind us and almost hear the crackling of the fire as it spread through the grass.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
Smat and Torgood had a silent argument through looks and gestures. Torgood shook his head no. The man looked unhappy but nodded, and turned us off the road and into the grass.
We moved at a good pace and I felt lucky to be alive and on the horse instead of the mule, who, well, acted mulish about the approaching fire.
Torgood stopped the horse after a while later and turned in the saddle toward me. Smat continued on.
“You have to promise to not reveal this location.”
“Sure, whatever, I promise,” I said, but looked over at the fire line, clearly visible to the north. “Not that it matters, because wherever we’re going will be burning soon.”
Torgood looked grim and asked the horse to trot.
We came over a small hill, made a sharp left, and moved through a wall of bushes, and into a camp of sorts.
Men, and only men, greeted us with silent waves and smiles. Smat helped me off the horse and then lead me to a stump. He gestured for me to sit, which I did.
He rejoined the group around Torgood, which seemed to be discussing something – all through some sort of sign language. Based on the abrupt gestures I saw, the meeting turned into another argument.
After another few minutes of arguing, the group broke up and each person went his separate way.
Torgood brought me a water skin and a held out a leather satchel.
“Here’s the map, some paper, and the vase. I’m sorry I didn’t get the lamp.”
I took the bag and shook my head.
“I have so many questions, I don’t even know where to start.”
As I said that a man’s yell made everyone jump.
“Those will just have to wait,” Torgood said and pulled me to my feet. The fire had moved much faster than anticipated.

52 lamp

The ropes loosened but did not come off. I heard the Dvergr leader give some commands and hazarded a look back. His followers scattered and started to dismantle the camp. I realized I didn’t see any bandit men around. I closed my eyes and couldn’t feel any either. Had they run off? Where was Torgood? I continued to rub my rope against the tree in the hope that I’d get enough slack to twist around and get at the knots.
A group of Dvergr approached, carrying a large but flat boulder between them. It must have been enormously heavy. One missed his footing and the entire group almost dropped the rock on him – which would have been ugly.
A man’s cry made me flinch and tug at my ropes more.
The group placed the boulder close to the pool of water and all but one ran off. The one remaining dusted the boulder with a rag and placed handfuls of dirt on it in a deliberate manner while chanting. His black clothing looked more elaborate than the other’s and reminded me of the elders’ ceremonial funeral robes.
The group returned, carrying a man – the same man who had been arguing with the female Dvergr over the lamp. They lay him on his back across the rock. The chanting Dvergr made a downward motion. The man screamed as the rock surged up around the his arms and legs.
Magic.
“Don’t worry about that,” I muttered to myself as I put more effort into getting my ropes untied.
Someone whistled shrilly and the Dvergr, more than I’d thought were around, gathered in a semicircle around the rock. The Dvergr leader passed through them, now wearing some sort of pointed hat, and holding Tiria’s lamp up high.
Without much formality, the leader handed the lamp to the robed Dvergr, who offered him a long wicked looking dagger, which the leader then plunged into the man’s stomach. Reaching in to that cavity, he pulled out the man’s heart. I had to look away and swallow bile a few times.
The chanting grew louder and I looked back. The robed creature threw the heart into the pool and the water was sucked up as if by a towel. Soon, no water remained and the trees, including the one I was tied to, started to shrivel and dry out. The grasses turned yellow. A breeze came up, blowing dust into my eyes.
They moved the body, whomever he had been, and placed the lamp on the rock. It burned brightly despite being the middle of the day. The chanting grew even louder and the leader positioned himself at the head of the rock. He pointed at me and said something in his language. The only word that seemed familiar was ‘nordling.’ The others laughed and some also pointed at me. The robed one stroked its gory knife and grinned.
The leader laughed and slammed his hand down on the lamp, as if to squish it into the rock.
The rock rippled but the lamp remained, undisturbed.
The leader gestured and two Dvergr came and untied me. They held my arms and dragged me forward.
“No, no, no…”
The robed one came forward, spat in my face, and pricked me in the throat with the tip of his dagger. A trickle of blood ran down my chest. He let it run along the blade for a moment, looking so pleased I expected him to lick it. He took the blade to the lamp and smeared my blood on it.
The chanting began again. The breeze increased to a steady wind, blowing dead leaves at me that stuck to my wet neck.
The leader repeated his gesture of smashing the lamp into the rock. The rock rippled and the lamp shook, sparks flying everywhere and the now violent wind took them into the trees. Fires started all around as the lamp sank into the rock.
A moment of silence had everyone watching the rock. Then leader gave a strangled cry and a small fire elemental crawled from the rock and blazed up into his face.
At the same time, the Dvergr who held my right arm jerked back and fell, followed almost instantly by the one on the left. A hand pulled me by the shoulder behind the tree.

53

The black-glass-feeling men and two other men helped me off of the mule, sat me down and tied me, from what I could feel, to a tree with flaking bark – probably a Sycapress tree. If it were a Sycapress tree, then we were near to enough water to support it. I tried to determine my location based on the memory of the map, but I hadn’t studied it long enough to remember what was south of Scrubplains. We were supposed to be headed east to the trader’s highway and then north along that road to an actual city. Had I seen a city before? I couldn’t define an actual memory of one, but I had the impression of more people, more noise, and more smells. At this point, I really didn’t want to see one. I yearned for the tavern, my books, and even Jeslynn’s temperamental company.
The men and the black-glass men moved off, unconcerned about watching me, I guess. I felt for Torgood, but he seemed to have moved out of my range.
Being alone, I experimented with my bonds. The rope tying my arms behind me and about the tree seemed to be well tied – or at least, I couldn’t move it much. The blindfold, however, moved when I moved my head – so after much turning I managed to drop it down around my nose and chin, and finally to my neck.
The bandit camp, within my limited view, consisted of a stand of Sycapress tress, a small pocket of water between them, and a tie for the riding animals, one of which looked like an actual horse with a long mane and long brown tail. I marveled at it for a moment and wondered where they’d stolen it from. The rest of the camp seemed to be behind my tree. Clever for them to tie me out here, I supposed, so I couldn’t see what they were doing.
Curse words, shouts, and the clang of swords made me try to stand up. I certainly didn’t want to die tied to a tree. I didn’t want to die at all. Why had Torgood gotten us, if he had, into this mess? Surely he knew, if he really wanted the magical items, he could have just asked. If he needed money, he could have just asked. If there was anything I had that he needed – but maybe he needed something I didn’t have? It made my head hurt and by this time, I was definitely tired of that feeling.
I managed to stand up and my ropes slackened enough that I could twist around to look behind me.

The Dvergr man from the shack in Scrubplains, surrounded by several of his fellows – maybe five, had come between a bandit man and Dvergr woman, who had twin short swords drawn. The man had my lamp in his hand and waved it about, yelling at the woman. The woman spat at him. The man from the shack made a strong downward gesture with his arm that made the dust jump up in a circle about ten feet from him.
I froze along with everyone else.

The man from the shack said something to the Dvergr woman in a guttural language and she stepped back and sheathed her weapons. He said something to the man, who handed the lamp to the nearest Dvergr and moved away quickly.
The Dvergr bowed to the man from the shack and offered up the lamp from his knees. The man examined it and then looked directly at me. A shock of panic went through me. He curled his dark lip in an unfriendly smile.
I ducked back behind my tree and tried to get the ropes off.

54 stolen

I came to with my head hanging downward, slung cross-wise, like a dead animal, over my mule’s back. The saddle horn dug into my right side. But my mouth was free so I didn’t choke when I vomited the remaining physicker’s assistant out.
I still had a blindfold on, but it had slipped so that I could see my mule’s feet, rocks, and occasional dry grass.
We were headed south. I could always tell when I was headed south and I could always tell, I suddenly remembered, where people where positioned relative to my position. My childhood friends and I used to make a game of it, hiding in the cellar or up in the tower. We’d run about with tea towels tied over our eyes and play conceal and chase. My mother told me it wasn’t fair to play with the village kids that way because they couldn’t tell what I could tell.
I’d forgotten that. Maybe Torgood was right. There was something wrong with my memory.
I tried to feel the people around me. They felt odd; solid and sharp like the black glass the comes from a volcano. There were others, men, further up the road and one behind. And Torgood, also ahead of me. Six black glass and four men, including Torgood.
A while later, we crossed a dry stream bed and climbed a rocky slope, and came to a camp of some sort. I could hear more people, and tell, if I concentrated, approximately where they were. Torgood seemed off to the side of me and I could hear him cursing. I wanted to tell him that he’d been right about the bandits. I worried about Tiria’s magical items. They’d probably sell them. All that trouble to get change yesterday; waste of time.
“I told you to rob us, not kidnap us,” he said.
“If he is so important that you escort him to the Crown City, we figured he’s important enough to ransom.” The voice seemed familiar.
“He’s the village fool. No one is going to pay for him.”
And then I knew. To say that I was surprised that Torgood was a thief would be to say that I was surprised that a bird flew. That he hung out with bandits? Not so surprising. That he thought I was an idiot? That one caught me off guard and it hurt. I thought we’d been friends.
I wanted to kick him, but obviously couldn’t. The black glass bodies near me took me out of earshot before I could hear what fate they’d assigned me.

55 travel 3

I awoke in the dark to a smelly rag pressed firmly across my mouth and nose. I struggled, taking a deep breath – because that’s what you do when you have something over your face when you first wake – and kicked out. Someone grunted. I sucked the smell, a combination of sour mash, rosemary, and something spicy like ginger root, into my chest and nose and I could feel it swirling around in my body.
I struggled to rise but many bodies, it seemed, held me down and sat on my flailing arms.
The smell overwhelmed my thinking and I lay still, not unconscious, but unresponsive. I hated this feeling. I heard them rustling around in my bags and in Torgood’s bags. Where was Torgood? Had they knocked him out using the same “physicker’s assistant”?
The smell and feeling clung to me and I remembered the burning on my arm and the pain in my head and someone singing to me as she tended my wounds. Her voice had been very familiar and comforting. I’d always assumed it had been Jeslynn but I realized now it hadn’t been.
“Storm god’s balls, he heavy,” a man grunted and my upper body lifted. Someone tied a blindfold over my eyes and I panicked. A memory of a burning beam, falling from the ceiling and hitting me in the face and burning my eyes made me cry out and thrash about.
“Get him, sit…damnation. Here, tie him.”
“Torgood,” I croaked, but got no answer. They stuffed the smelly rag in my mouth and I slipped into delirium.

56 travel 2

We came to Scrubplains, a village slightly larger than Oakvale, mid-morning the next day. Torgood didn’t speak of things I didn’t remember and I didn’t ask him. I’d spent the night turning it around in my mind and I’d awoken with the feeling that maybe it didn’t matter. So I’d courted a woman – maybe it’d been Weaver Noth’s wife – and obviously I hadn’t been chosen otherwise I would have a wife. I hadn’t wanted a wife, had I? Or children? The thought of children made me remember my fire dream, where the child cried and I couldn’t get to him.
Scrubplains appeared to have water and not to be in a drought. We contacted one of the elders, who treated Torgood like a long lost child, and gave me a dismissive sniff when introduced. I guess my reputation – whatever – had made it this far. He confirmed that by telling me as we were leaving that there were no witches in Scrubplains.
Torgood and I decided that a drink would be nice before eating more road dust and bumping along on our mules. The village didn’t have a tavern, but the village square had a lively market that included everything Oakvale normally had, plus one tired looking palm reader. She made a wiggle-finger warding gesture at me when I looked her way, so I didn’t investigate.
We found a stall that sold beer and roasted meat served on slices of bread. In Oakvale we trade for goods and services, so when the seller raised an eyebrow at me when I didn’t respond to his request for coin of the realm, Torgood shouldered me out of the way and pulled out a few copper pieces.
“Don’t you have any money?” He whispered to me as we returned to the village well where we’d left our mules watering.
“Sure, I have some gold pieces, but I was saving them for the city.”
“How many?” His eyes lit up in a manner that made me wary.
“Six. Why?”
He chewed on his lip for a moment and then reached some decision.
“Let’s go see a merchant I know here, we’ll get you some change.”
I followed him, leading my mule. “I don’t want change. Change is hard to keep track of.”
He ignored me and ducked between two buildings and went around the back of a third where he knocked on the door of a rickety shack. A small, dark-clothed child answered, eyed Torgood up and down, and then sheathed his knife.
“Wait, that wasn’t…” I started. Torgood gripped my shoulder to shut me up and dragged me into the dimness of the building.
“Torgood, so good to see you.” Another black-clad childlike person came out of the back through a curtain. Torgood clasped arms with him.
He didn’t introduce us. I stood by the door, opposite the child with the knife. His stare reminded me of Som’s cows.
“Have you got any spare change? I’m a little short.”
The child-man laughed and said “I’m a little tall. What’s it worth to ya?”
Torgood laughed, pulled out a delicate looking ring from his pocket and gave it to the man. He pulled out an eyepiece, held the ring toward the doorway, and examined it.
“Where’d you get this one?”
Torgood shrugged.
The man snorted and examined it again.
“I’ve got change,” he said at last.
“Good.”
In exchange for the ring, which the child-man placed in his vest, Torgood received two small bags of something that clinked. Money, I assumed. Torgood took the bags, nodded to the child-man, and dragged me out saying over his shoulder, “We’ll drink soon.”
“I know it,” the man replied and the door shut firmly behind us.
Torgood handed me one of the bags and took the coins from the other and stashed them about his person, in many unexpected pockets, and in his saddle bags. He gestured for me to do the same.
“You don’t keep your money in your boot do you?” he asked.
I nodded. I knew enough not to put all of my money in my belt pouch.
“We’ll have to get you some pockets.”
Several stops later, we finally rode out of the village. Torgood sat on his mule, sewing pockets into my vest, cloak, tunic, spare pants, hat, and belt.
“Anything but the boots,” he told me.
“Where’d you get that ring?” I asked.
“I had it.”
I raised my eyebrow at him.
“I did,” he insisted.
“What … were those men halfmen or dvergr?”
“Dvergr? What have you been reading? They’re just short.”
He winked.
“What were dvergr doing in Scrubplains?”
“Providing us change, of course. Just because you’ve never been out of stuffy old Oakvale, doesn’t mean that I haven’t. Lots of short men…”
“Dvergr.”
He waved my word away, “live here. You do realize that Oakvale is the middle of no where, yes?”
I shrugged. “It was on the map.”
“That’s another thing you should hide. The map, the lamp, the vase. Those things could attract a lot of unwanted attention. So don’t mention them to anyone but me.”

That night we camped in a clump of scrub and at Torgood’s direction, I made sure that the lamp, map, and vase were hidden from view and within reach.
“We should be okay here, but you know, bandits.” He seemed strangely pleased by the prospect, and I suspected that he was trying to ‘cat up and catch the mouse,’ (as my mother used to say) with me being the mouse as usual.
We’d passed a few people moving from Scrubplains or going to Scrubplains, mostly traders with stock. Nothing I’d think twice of, but Torgood’s admittedly more worldly view made me paranoid. I had a knife, but not a very big one. I could fight, but I didn’t like to. Torgood’s long walking stick turned out to be an unstrung bow, which he’d tied to the back of his saddle.
Hiding in the scrub seemed like a smart idea.
The bandits found us anyway.