Chapter Four
Sea of Trees


...... "I don't like it," Misty said. "It's too dark in there." She peered around his shoulder at the stone arch entrance to the opening in the hillside. "What is it?"
...... Justin leaned against the fitted stone edging, his arms folded across his chest. "It's what my people call a mine. There's no word for it in your language." Glancing over his shoulder, he added, "You dislike the darkness?"
...... She walked a few paces away, then turned. "No one likes the darkness. Even when it's indoors. But out here, it's very . . . uncomfortable." Brushing fallen pine needles from a flat spot on the ruined wall, she sat down. "I don't like it anywhere, when there's not enough light to see by."
...... Avoiding the trickle of water from the hillside above the mine, he ambled back to where she sat on the ancient wall. Somewhere among the nearby trees, a limb softly creaked in the tiny breeze. His own footsteps were loud in the silence.
...... "I've noticed how bright the night sky is, here," he remarked. "There's always enough light to see the path."
...... "There's always enough light at night to see across the farmlands at home." Brushing pine needles from her hands, she nodded agreement but shifted uncomfortably on the irregular stonework. "I thought it'd be totally dark at night, this far in the forest, but it has seemed brighter here under the leaves than it is at night in the cleared lands." She looked warily at the black opening in the hillside several yards away, shivered slightly, then looked down as she rubbed her boots together. "But night here isn't so bright I'd want to do without a campfire."
...... "The foliage glows very slightly. All of it." He frowned and gestured upward. "What I'd call phosphorescence. It's not something my people consider an encouraging sign."
...... "Phosphorescence," she slowly repeated, carefully following the syllables. "Your people do have some strange words." She broke a twig from the small tree, which was growing from a crack in the stonework. "What do you find so interesting about this mass of used building stone?" she hurried on. "There's nothing here but ruins needing to be cleaned up and reused. The ancient people left messes like this all over the Province. And beyond it, for all I know." She slid a few inches over and braced one hand on the top of the wall. A fragment of stone flipped up and landed upside down on a flat area.
...... Holding one worn boot braced on the low stonework, he looked over at the remains of a fallen chimney. Tiny gusts of cool air blew through the tree leaves overhead and stirred the warm humidity beneath. A single bee buzzed noisily past. In absent thought, he tossed a dark stone from one hand to the other.
...... "I think they must've smelted copper here," he suddenly remarked. "Those stone structures and the heaps of slag suggest that. But that must have been hundreds of years ago, considering how weathered this whole area is." He scraped his boot sole across the wall.
...... "They what?" she demanded, gesturing with the bunch of leaves. "What is that?" She glanced around as a frog started to croak in the distance.
...... He waved one hand in a wide sweep. "The ancient people who lived here. They made copper metal." He held out the chunk of rock. "They extracted it from stones like this."
...... "It must have been the Land People then. The Lost People never would have done anything like that." Her braid slid over her shoulder, as she tilted her head to stare at the rock fragment. She pushed it back, her forehead wrinkled in puzzlement, then pointed at the stone. "What did they do? Hit it with a hammer?"
...... Justin again motioned to the rubble remains of the large building which adjoined the wrecked chimney, its shattered walls half-covered by thick bushes and the perpetual trees. "Over there, that once was a furnace to obtain copper from its ore."
...... She looked at the rock, glanced behind her at the ruins, and peered again at the specimen. She didn't touch it. "That doesn't look like copper to me. It looks like a rock." She pushed the braid out of her way again. "Copper's a red-yellow metal, and it bends. I've certainly seen enough of it, because it's used in the trade. It's usually done as a small coin." Tossing the twig away, she stood up, adding: "Let's get going. We've been here long enough."
...... He flipped the stone in the air and caught it, softly laughing. "This rock contains copper. It has to be purified first."
...... "Purified?" she repeated. She took two steps and stopped, looking suspiciously at the ruins again.
...... Motioning once more to the collapsed chimney, he explained, "You'd stoke up that furnace over there and cook rocks like this, as hot as possible. Be sure to be upwind, since it's a smelly process. When the fumes have died down, you'd add sand and charcoal and limestone. Then you'd let the mess cool down, and beneath the top layer would be copper." He changed boots on the wall, then gestured another time at the stone ruins beyond. "It's a little more complicated than that in practice. But not much."
...... "Maybe you would. Not me." She took another few steps, then stopped to look sideways at him. "Your people have some strange mystic rites. But I'm not naive enough to believe that you can make money out of broken rock, not even small change like copper." She waved that away and walked a few more steps toward the packhorse. "Let's go," she repeated with a twist of her head. "We're wasting time here."
...... Stepping on a flat stone in the middle of the small stream which ran down the shallow cliff face above the mine, he crossed over to where the packhorse was grazing. The stone rocked and shifted, releasing thin streamers of mud from the disturbed bed.
...... "Don't your people produce any metals?" he asked, picking up the lead from where it was dragging along the ground and cutting a path through the new ferns. He shook mud from the end of the leather strap.
...... Stopping at the bank of the tiny brook, she paused to quickly shake her head. "Copper is copper, and iron is iron. There's bits of it lying around, mostly in old ruins like these. Some people collect it, and other people trade for it." She splashed through the brook and trampled a new path through the fern bed. "They say gold and silver came the same way, but nobody finds any of that anymore."
...... He grunted, and slapped the end of the lead against his hand to shake off the last bits of mud.
...... "All of the coppersmiths melt old copper and cast new things," she explained. Stopping beside the eroded pathway of the trail, one hand braced on a tree trunk, she leaned over to scrap the sole of her boot against the edge of rock outcropping. "Likewise, the blacksmiths pound the old iron into new shapes. Whatever they think they can sell. Every smith is a metal dealer first and a craftsman second." Looking along the trail in the dim light which filtered down from the gray sky through the tree boughs, she absently twisted her foot inside her scuffed and worn boot. "Let's go! Anyway, I've never heard of anyone getting any metals from any rocks. Not by any practice."
...... "Obviously, your people know about casting, since you have a word for it." He tossed the chunk of ore into the woods beyond and jerked on the lead. A crash of broken shrubbery announced the stone's landing. "Well, I'm not here to open a blast furnace business."
...... She only nodded and wriggled her foot again.
...... Justin suddenly looked upward, as a heavy splatter from the wet leaves showered down on him. He shrugged and jerked again on the lead, marching through the last of the ferns to the next section of muddy route. "At least, I think the rain actually may have stopped," he suggested in a hopeful tone.
...... "It has." She straightened her boot top, then stood up again. "The winds have changed, and it's Spring now."
...... He paused to scratch his head and looked again at the leaves above. "How can you tell that?"
...... "I just know," she murmured quietly, very occupied with adjusting her boot.
...... He looked at her for a long moment before continuing on down the trail. Within a minute, she caught up and walked a pace ahead. High above, a wisp of humid breeze stirred the topmost limbs, creating a soft hum.
...... They trudged along the path in silence for some time. The sound of the wind, the swish of their damp clothes, the creak of the packhorse ropes around the tradegoods, and the squelch of their boots supplied the accompaniment.
...... "You said that this temple of yours is too far to walk to," he suddenly remarked. "Then how do you propose getting there?"
...... "I'll go to one of the bridges the ships use, wait around, and catch passage when I can." She stumbled on a loose rock, recovered, and kept walking. The trail meandered between several large boulders and started to rise again. A trickle of water joined its edge, flowing along a tiny sandy bed.
...... He allowed another few silent minutes to go by. "Exactly where is this temple?" he asked. "Never mind, you answered that. I suppose, what is the temple, might be the better question."
...... She twisted slightly to gesture, matching her stride to the new change in direction of the path. "It's the principal building of the Guild of the White Witches. It's located in the middle of town in Center. And the Council's chamber is there too. And several of the other Guilds have halls there. And the law courts and the Advisor's fancy home and so on. It sits in the exact center of the Province, which is all of the inhabited area of the forestland." She stopped to kick a broken branch out of the way.
...... "The center of this region?" he inquired, then added a sigh. He stepped over the broken branch, giving it another kick. It landed lengthwise in the tiny water trickle. "I think I'm going to need a geography lesson next".
...... She shrugged. "Like I said before, Center is the main city. It sits at the center of the Province which stretches for about two thousand miles in every direction. A circle, like." She stopped a moment to scrap at the boot sole again.
...... "What do your people call a mile?" he requested.
...... "A mile is a unit of length of one thousand meters," she recited, as she started forward up the trail once more. "Some people say one thousand yards, but a yard and a meter are the same. There's also a Cable. A Cable is one and a quarter times as long as a mile." She motioned with one hand over her shoulder. "That's children's school level."
...... "Sounds about where I ought to be starting," he morosely agreed. The packhorse had slowed, and he impatiently jerked the lead. "How long is a meter or a yard?"
...... "About one good footstep. If you want to know exactly, there's a sword which hangs in the lobby of the Council Chambers. You can take a stick or a piece of string and cut it to match the length of the sword. That's a yardstick." She moved to the left side of the path to avoid a stretch of mud.
...... "I think I need to start at the top," he suggested. "Or maybe, the bottom, more likely." He moved to the left, following her example. His boot scraped the side of the ancient and eroded cutting, and a few pebbles dropped to roll back down the trail.
...... "The bottom of this world is a big land of frozen water," she laughed without looking back. "Or so they say. I've never been there." She waved that away with a quick gesture.
...... "Ice," he suggested.
...... "Ice?" she repeated. "That's a pretty sounding word. Cold sounding, too. I've never seen frozen water."
...... "Okay. Apparently, that's the farthest south that there is. The bottom of the world." He paused for a minute.
...... When she didn't continue, he added: "What's next?"
...... "You can charge this to my teaching fee," she allowed. "Next up is the Great Desert. It's a rock and sand desert, no water, where no one lives . . . or would want to. Next up is the Stone Mountains, where the WindWalkers live. There's brush and water springs and very rugged mountains and high cliffs. The WindWalkers are nomads who gather roots and berries mostly, and their messengers travel by spreading thin blankets on thin wood frames and ride those things on the wind by jumping off the cliffs. At least, that's what I was told by someone who saw it. I think it's most likely true." She pushed through a straggle of three bushes. "It sounds like fun, but my people would never permit it."
...... Following, he shoved thin branches out of the way, breaking several of them. The trail began again just beyond the obstacle. "Hang gliders," he mused to himself. The sounds of shattered twigs echoed behind him, as the packhorse trampled the bushes into the damp earth.
...... Momentarily, she stopped to toss a puzzled glance back over her shoulder.
...... He shrugged. "My people don't use them, but they know about them."
...... She nodded, then slogged through the next muddy stretch of path. "Next up is here. The Great Forest. The whole region looks exactly like where we are now. But only the Province is settled. There's no one in the rest of the forestland. Not even Outlaws."
...... "Hold up a minute," he requested. "I seem to be missing from your count," he added. He stepped back beside the packhorse and pulled at the supporting ropes. One was loose, and he retied it around the odd shaped mass of bundles.
...... "Because you don't count." She leaned against a tree truck at the side of the trail, watching him. "North of here is the Rock Mountains where you and yours herd horses and cattle. You know more about that than I do. I'm told that farther north of you, at the top of the world, is just a big expanse of wasteland. Cold, frost covered rock, with no water and no bushes or grass and no people."
...... He walked forward, jerking again on the leather lead. Grimacing at the foliage above, he inquired, "Is the sky always gray?"
...... She started off ahead again. "The sky is gray. There is no other color. That is the sky. During the day it's bright gray, and during the night or during thunderstorms it's dark gray. Sometimes, it's a uniform gray. Sometimes, there's a bright spot. I mean, that's all there is to it. You have to be out in the cleared farmland to really see it for what it is." She ducked around a tree trunk on the side opposite the muddy trail.
...... He marched straight ahead, wading through the wet mud. The packhorse squished along after him. "You talked about these farm villages before," he continued. "About two hundred in each Estate, or less than a thousand in the whole area, what you call the Province."
...... "Basically, they're all just big farms. Miles and miles of farmland, with a tiny town in the middle and a few shops. Usually, if it's a bigger town, big enough to have a market and the workshops of artisans, it's on a lake or a large river, and there's always some sort of castle for emergencies. The towns, which are big enough for the ships to call there, all have a wharf on the lake and one or two ramps." She hesitated a moment. "The tenant farmers have a hard life, what with the Lords and the taxes and the rents and all the trading fleets they seem to be supporting. Just so the Lords can have trading battles with each other. Still, most people are happy. At least, happy enough that they don't join the Outlaws in the forest here." She detoured around a large rock in the center of the trail -- a recent addition, caused by the rains.
...... "Then those ships are trading ships?" Again, he followed the path she took.
...... "And passenger ships and freight carriers and warships, when the SeaLords are at odds with each other or with the Forest Outlaws. Everyone trades with everyone else. Except when they're fighting with each other." She paused long enough to gesture. "I do wonder sometimes which one of those is the hobby. Maybe both, because neither seems much profitable. It'd be better if they spent their time running the farms rather than chasing all over the Province."
...... "You spoke of pirates," he reminded her.
...... "There's a couple ships down south of Center which somebody seems to run. Here, the only real pirate is Gonzalis-Hiptmann. He used to be a minor SeaLord until Mercadoratius ruined him, and he now sails just one ship and harasses Merc's people whenever he can." She stopped to fiddle with her boot again, standing on one foot with her hand braced against a tree trunk. "Surprisingly, he always seems to outsmart Merc. Not that that would be all that hard, in my opinion." She stamped her foot on the ground and wiggled her boot toe. "Change the subject!"
...... "You mentioned the Land People and the Lost People." He stopped to wait for her. "What are they?"
...... "Legend," she retorted, tossing both hands in the air. With a long sigh, she started up the trail once again. "How the world began. . . .I don't much believe it. Supposedly, the Land People, your people, black haired and brown eyed, inhabited everything north of the Stone Mountains including all of the forestland. Then from somewhere, a small group of people like me came . . . light hair and eyes. They settled in the Stone Mountains right down at the edge of the Great Desert. They were merchants and artisans." She quickly stooped to scoop up a dead, leafless branch. "Then something bad happened, and that group had to come northward for survival. They called themselves the Lost People." After breaking off the small twigs, she started to use the branch as a walking staff. "In time, the Land people either stayed as peasants, farming the land, or moved northward to become you BlackRiders with your horses. The Lost people became the local artisans, then the local aristocracy, then the rulers of the Province. Those few who stayed in the Stone Mountains became the WindWalkers."
...... "What happened to those people outside your Province, those in the forest?" He slowed to allow the packhorse to negotiate a short stretch of loose pebbles.
...... At the next turn in the pathway, she stopped to allow him to catch up. "They just seemed to die off or migrate or something. They might have become the original Outlaws. Only the DawnWriters think they know."
...... "And who are they?" He shook loose a branch which had caught his sleeve and frowned at the tear in the leather, where the stitching had been torn away.
...... "I don't know." She waved a hand at an insect which hovered next to her. "Nobody knows. It's some sort of secret society. Some people who want to go back to the time before the ships . . . get rid of the ships and the other things. Another back-to-the-land movement. Those people claim to have searched the ruins and translated the history records they found. No one I know pays too much attention to them."
...... The insect paused to hover next to him, and he waved his hand until it flew off. They walked on, each immersed in his and her own thoughts. The day and its journey continued on -- a repeat of the day before.

* * *

...... As the gray day ended, the ancient, half-overgrown foot trail led downward to a wide, fast moving creek, its confined roar echoing off the nearby rocks. Wind-carried cool spray eased up the pathway to meet the travelers, carrying the odor of wet and rotting wood.
...... The large encampment of dozens of elaborate multicolored tents, pitched in a tight group beside the stream, had been concealed by the trees until the very last moment, seen too late to permit evasion. From beside a small campfire tucked in a crevice between boulders, two burly men moved forward to bar Justin's way. They were dressed in patched garments, clean but well-used, not unlike those of the previous hostile villagers. Each man was armed with a long knife.
...... Justin dropped the leather lead and loosened both swords in the sheaths strapped to his back. The packhorse immediately halted, turning its neck to nibble at a young bush along the trail. Misty moved two paces back, out of immediate range, and loosened the knife in the sheath on her belt. Back beyond them, a bird shrilled in the quiet.
...... Twisting their boots to locate a firm footing on the eroded earth, the two men clasp their hands on the hilts of their own knives and peered suspiciously into the darkness beyond the two travelers.
...... After a tense moment, Misty let out a long breath. "Justin! It's all right. This looks like a traders' caravan." Shoving her knife firmly into its sheath, she paced forward again.
...... A moment later, when no one else appeared out of the darkness of the forest, the guards relaxed. One of them folded his arms across his chest and waited, while the other stepped back to the campfire. The peal of a single bell rang out.
...... A few silent minutes later, a middle-aged heavyset woman, all bangles and jewelry and bright billowing garments, huffed up the steep incline leading to the main trail, holding a bright Candle high over her head. In the distance, a swirl of small tinkling bells answered a puff of breeze.
...... "Outlanders," she decided, as she pushed past the barrier of her guards. She gestured upward, causing several bracelets to slid jingling along her arm. "I'm Mola, organizer of this caravan. All these are my people. I see you have goods there on the horse. Are you also going to the Grand Bazaar?" She propped one ornately stitched boot on a low flat rock by the trail.
...... "You talk," Misty commanded in a whisper. "You lie better." She slipped back to beside the packhorse, beyond the bright white light of the Candle, looping her hand in one turn of the frayed tie rope.
...... Finally moving his attention from the light to the woman, Justin shook his head and held up one hand. "I'm taking the packages to a village across the creek. I have relatives there, and the load is gifts for them." He motioned toward the stream. "We've come to use the ford."
...... Mola waved with a theatrical gesture toward the moving water. "The shallows are there for all to use equally." Glancing to one side, she flicked a hand to order the guards back to their station. "Good journey," she offered, as she turned away.
...... As Justin splashed into the creek, tugging on the packhorse's tether, Mola looked back over her shoulder and shook her head. Her many ornaments clanked in unison. "It was just that I had hoped you might know where it's moved to. The Grand Bazaar." She shrugged and started down the path again. "Good journey!" she repeated in a tired voice.
...... Negotiating around a boulder in the middle of the gushing stream, Misty turned to shout: "Southwest. A day and a half walk."
...... Turning abruptly, Mola hurried back with her Candle causing strange shadows to wave among the trees. One of the guards peered out from the crevice which concealed their small fire.
...... "You're not a barbarian," Mola stated, again holding the Candle high above her head. Brilliant reflections danced in the cascading water. "Who are you?"
...... "No one! Another traveler," Misty retorted. She held up a dripping sleeve to shadow her eyes against the brightness of the light and moved to the other side of the wet boulder. Her foot slipped on a loose stone, and she grabbed at the boulder to recover her balance.
...... "You are sure of this?" Mola demanded. She stopped at the very edge of the bank, shaking her head in annoyance at the cold spray.
...... "Yes, I'm sure. The Bazaar is there now." Misty turned to gauge the distance from the boulder to the farther shore. The water streamed quickly by in long, seemingly unmoving waves. A dead branch bobbed to the surface, bounced against the large rock, and rushed past downstream. A mass of spray formed a dull rainbow in the Candle light before dissipating in the gentle breeze which followed the creek bed.
...... Mola studied her for a long moment in the glare of the candle. "You're a Scribe?" she asked in surprise. "Can you write a letter?"
...... "I'm not at work now. I'm traveling. I don't have my pens."
...... Misty gestured to Justin, who stood on the edge of the farther bank, one boot braced in the rushing water. He had his hand held out, waiting. In the shadows beyond, the packhorse patiently grazed on a few clumps of grass which had prospered in the muddy soil.
...... Mola spread both her hands, the moving Candle throwing bizarre shadows among the trees. "Please. I need to write a letter to my partner at the place of the Grand Bazaar. To tell him where we're at. When we will be coming." She stepped up on a flat stone which was half submerged in the water. "Please. I have pens, paper, sand." Pulling a money bag out of somewhere in her voluminous garments, she held it out. "Please. I have forty coppers here. Forty-eight coppers. It's very important to us. Please."
...... Hesitating, both hands gripping the stability of the midstream boulder, her lips twisted in an irritated frown, Misty looked across the creek at the dark forest beyond, then back at the caravan owner.
...... "Get the pens!" Mola ordered the guards.
...... One of the men bounded out of the shelter of the crevice and raced down the pathway toward the flickering pinpoints of the campfires which now defined the tents in the darkness. An erratic breath of wind brought the sweet scent of hot food to momentarily block out the dank odor of the creek banks.
...... "Forty-eight coppers and the pens," Mola again offered, holding up the small, packed purse. "They are very good pens, excellent for any Scribe. I would have sold them at the Bazaar for half a silver piece, but I will lose much more than that, if I cannot get a letter to my partner." She glanced back over her shoulder, before gesturing once again with the purse. "Please. My partner must have a letter from me. It means very much money for us. Please."
...... She rolled her eyes upward, then quickly swiped at the wet blonde bangs, plastered to her forehead. "As you wish," Misty agreed, slowly pronouncing each word. Maneuvering her way back around the boulder, she stepped carefully among the stones of the stream bottom. At the last moment, she stopped to motion to Justin. "You go on and camp on the bank there," she called over the sound of the water. "I'll only be a short while. Don't worry about me. I'll be okay."
...... The guard came running up the incline from the tents, a finely crafted wooden box clutched under his arm. Returning, Misty waded across the stream to the shore, clambered up the piles of loose stones which made up the bank, and stood still, watching the water drip from her soaked pant legs.
...... Mola took the box from the guard, put the purse on its top, and held them out. With a reluctant nod of agreement, Misty accept them, sat on a nearby stone, moved the purse, and opened the box to remove paper and pen. "Who does this letter go to?" she requested, then looked over her shoulder across the creek. With a quick shooing gesture, she waved Justin away.
...... After a minute's study of the situation, Justin shrugged, retrieved the lead, and started the packhorse up the trail to beyond the range of the drifting spray. In a small clearing next to a tiny spring, he unloaded the horse, pitched their tent, gathered several armloads of firewood, and put their frugal meal out to warm. Taking a thick, hand-formed needle and a spool of coarse thread from the pack, he sat by the fire to repair the split in his shirt sleeve. "At least my handiwork will make me fit right in with the appearance of the locals," he murmured, turning to glare at the grazing packhorse.
...... Pants and shirt soggy with the second crossing of the mountain stream, Misty strolled into their camp, twenty minutes later. She sat beside the hissing fire and put down the two packages she carried. Counting out twenty coppers, she laid them on the mat next to the ring of rocks which bordered the flames.
...... "This amount covers the things you gave me, if you'd sold them at the Bazaar," she announced. As a second short stack, she added four more coppers. "And here is double the usual repayment fee. So now we're even." She laid the empty purse beside her. Carefully tucking the corners of an oilcloth around her ornately carved pen box, she placed it on the ground next to the purse.
...... "It's hardly necessary," he remarked, dishing out the thick stew. He put a spoon in each bowl and handed her one.
...... "Contrariwise, it's absolutely necessary." Balancing the bowl on one of the stones by the fire, she pulled off her boots and grimaced at the hole in the center of one sole. Pausing to frown at him, she added: "And you'll either take them, or I'm walking away right now!" Putting the worn out boots aside, she unwrapped a short length of fabric and held up a new pair of boots for her own detailed inspection.
...... Spoon in one hand and bowl in the other, he opened both hands in gesture. "As you wish."
...... "Exactly," she agreed, trying on her new footwear.

* * *

...... The young man scratched at the door of Mola's ornate tent, waited for permission to enter, then ducked in under the flap. He held out a scrap of parchment, his head tilted to one side. "Your partner's reply to your letter," he explained, shifting position uncertainly. On the uneven ground, the carpet under his feet swished slightly as he moved. "Your partner states he doesn't understand a thing of what you sent him." The youngster paused a long moment, then reluctantly added: "I wasn't aware of any letter being sent in the last couple days."
...... Pouring out a cup of steaming tea from the teapot on the side table, she laughed, then commanded, "Come in and sit down. I have some work for you to do. You have your pens?" Holding the teacup up to appraise it, she paused to sniff at the musty aroma of the tea.
...... In response, he touched the flat box which hung from a rawhide shoulder strap, then sat down on the low wood bench beside the entrance.
...... Mola sipped her cup of brew, while looking at the sloped fabric ceiling of her dwelling. "First. To my partner."
...... The youngster opened his box and took out a sheet of paper and one of the pens. He closed his eyes for a moment, then wrote a line on the sheet. "Ready," he allowed.
...... Putting down the teacup, she folded her hands and started to dictate. "Dearest business associate. I hope you are doing as well as I have lately. We are about to complete a very profitable bit of commerce. With regard to my last letter, please disregard it completely. It was a business ploy and has no meaning to you. Do not take any actions at all of any kind, based upon it. I will explain it all to you on my arrival at the Bazaar in two days. My greatest respects, Mola."
...... He wrote quickly, paused for a moment, then folded the sheet and put it away in the box. "Done," he stated. "Another?"
...... Mola nodded. "You know the location." Toying with the teacup, she pursed her lips in thought, then began to speak. "To my dearest Lady Xyly. My most gracious salutations. With regard to your pretty white-haired pawn and her traveling companion, the formidable young barbarian of which you may not as yet have heard . . . ."

chapter three Table of Contents chapter five

PLEASE NOTE: The above story is fictional - the characters and situations are imaginary. Resemblances to actual persons are accidental (and in some instances appalling!)

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