The Thing had ended and most people went home to assess their food and water stores. Som said that his well still had water, as did Tiria’s, and that all were welcome to it. Woodman Arne and the butcher said they would search for water in the forest and bring home extra meat if the community needed. Elder Cosank suggested visiting the valley to our west to see if that community was having the same problem.
“You’re sending them to talk to the neighbors?” Torgood asked Elder Ponmay as we went back to the tavern. We would not be serving food tonight since it’s harder to cook without water.
“I’d send you but you’re going to Crown City,” the elder answered.
Torgood snorted and held the door open for her.
“Gestin, you should get your pack and find some good shoes.”
“We’re walking? You’re making me walk to Crown City? Ugh.” Torgood flopped onto a chair and moodily chewed on his thumb.
“No, you’ll ride if you can find someone to loan you a beast, but it is best to be prepared.”
“I’ll loan them my mules,” the butcher offered.
The elder nodded and he went off to get them ready. We would be leaving, she informed us, at dawn.
“It should take you eight days, maybe ten, to get there, and a day to stay, and then eight or ten to get back, so pack what you think you’ll need.” She sat at the table across from Torgood and accepted the cider that Jeslynn brought her. I lit the tavern’s lanterns and sat down instead offering to make the group food. A band of pain had settled across my eyes and I truly just wanted the day to be over.
Som stood at the big table and leafed through the papers that had come from the small chest.
“Do you think one of these will tell us who Tiria’s relatives are?”
“That is my hope.”
He looked at her, papers in his hand, and waited.
“I cannot read them,” she added a moment later. “The words swirl like small fish every time I try. Maybe Gestin will have more luck.”
Som looked at them and blinked his eyes a few times and handed them to me.
The papers were cool and firm in my hand, not dry and cracking as I had expected them to be. They seemed to be made out of similar material to the two books. I took them over to the corner where I’d hung the ever-burning lamp so that I could see them better. As I got within it’s halo of light, the words became clear.
“Letters,” I said, reading. “Mostly. Who is Angestirian?”
I looked up to see the group – Som, Jeslynn, Torgood, and Elder Ponmay – looking at me all with the same semi-annoyed look on their faces.
“The only name in the letter is Angestirian.”
“I’ve no idea,” Jeslynn said.
“What else does it say?” The elder prompted. I read on. It seemed to be from a female someone to Tiria, I assumed. “The writer rambles on about her flower garden and new husband and asks after Angestirian. She offered her hospitality should they ever want to visit.” I looked for an address, but there wasn’t one.
The elder nodded decisively. “Take it with you, since you can read it. Maybe someone in Crown City will know this Angestirian person.”
I moved out of the light of the lamp and the words started to swim again. I moved back in, and they cleared up. I moved out again, and they swam. Torgood moved over and looked over my shoulder, and then took the letter out of my hand to do his own test.
“Ha. We should take the lamp with us,” he said. I nodded.
“What if the drought has spread to the other communities? Or the whole kingdom?” Jeslynn stood behind the bar, a towel twisted in her hands.
“I am certain the other communities would send someone here to check on us, just as we are sending someone to check on them,” the elder replied.
“What if the Grand Council won’t hear them? What then?”
“They will be heard, Jeslynn. The Grand Council will know what to do.”
Elder Ponmay seemed very confident that this drought could be fixed by man, but I had my doubts. How could man fix a drought? I looked at the flower vase. Except by magic?
“What if they don’t find anyone who knows Tiria in Crown City? It is a big city.”
Elder Ponmay shook her head. “I recall her saying or someone saying that she came from there. Gestin will find someone. That much the gods have shown me.”
Som shot her a look. “So they have spoken to you.”
“Mere snippets of dreams. Very odd.”
“But what if…” Jeslynn started to ask.
“‘Ifs are like wisps. The more you chase them the further away they stay,’ as my mother used to say,” I said.
“Have you ever seen a wisp?” My sister demanded.
“Sure, they live in Coalfen swamp,” I answered, not taking my eyes from the papers I was trying to figure out.
“Gestin.” She had to say it twice. I realized the others were looking at me again.
“What?” She looked like she wanted to hit me.
“Where in the snowy underworld is Coalfen swamp?”
I opened my mouth to answer and then stopped. I had no idea. “Maybe I read it.”
“Maybe you read it,” she repeated.
“I’m taking the vase,” I said, putting the papers down and picking up the crockery. Its flowers were still bright and fresh. I sniffed them.
A small gasp from Jeslynn made me look at her.
“You ass,” she hissed and burst into tears and ran upstairs.
“Jeslynn?” I made to go after her, but Elder Ponmay’s hand on my arm stopped me.
“I’ll go,” Som said and headed up the stairs.
“You could have asked about taking her vase instead of just stating it,” Torgood said.
“This vase keeps things fresh. See?” I said in explanation. I took out the flowers and watched them wither on my hand and then put them back in the vase and watched them come back to life.
“Whoa,” Torgood said. Elder Ponmay took the vase and experimented with the flowers and dumping the non-existent water out.
“Yes, take the vase, and the map. Take it all. You might need it,” Elder Ponmay said and went upstairs to help Som with my sister.

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