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To Steve, who helped me immensely and without complaint and

exhibited considerably more patience than I might have managed if the

roles were reversed.

And to Alexander, the light of my life, who, despite seeing me

only at dinner for months on end, still remembered to call me Mommy.

 

***

 

Kendermore

 

by Mary Kirchoff

 

Late afternoon was a peaceful time at the Inn of the Last Home

in the village of Solace. Three friends sat at their favorite table

near the inn's fireplace, making plans.

 

"Where do you think you'll go first, Tas?" The speaker was Tanis

Half-Elven, who relaxed with his chin cupped in his an and his elbow

propped on the dark, oak table.

 

Across the table from Tanis sat his kender friend, Tasslehoff

Burrfoot. Next to Tasslehoff was the burly dwarf, Flint Fireforge.

 

The smell of smoke hovered about the kender's nose. It clung to

all forty-eight inches of his childlike frame, from the toes of his

blue leggings to the very tip of his topknot of ginger-colored hair.

The familiar scent comforted him, for he was just a smidgeon sad; soon

he would be leaving his closest friends for five years, which was a

very long time. Their tight-knit group of seven had decided to part

and meet again - five years to the day - after they'd learned what

they could about rumors of war in the land, as well as solve some

personal problems.

 

"I haven't thought much about where I'm going yet," the kender

said vaguely. "Wherever the wind blows me, I guess." Raising an empty

flagon upside-down, Tasslehoff threw his head back and waited for the

last dollop of flavorful foam to slide slowly into his waiting mouth.

At last, the froth drizzled out with a "plop!"

 

Smacking his lips in satisfaction, he wiped them with the edge

of his fur-trimmed sleeve. Squinting agains't the haze in the dimly

lit taproom, he looked at Tanis. "Friends all over Krynn have been

waiting for my next visit, though!" Tasslehoff pushed his empty mug to

the edge of the table for refilling.

 

Flint's eyes twinkled merrily under his bushy, grayblack brows.

"I'll bet they've been waiting! And I'll bet they've kept busy, too,

working on kender-proof door locks!" Beneath his huge bulb of a nose

and wild, peppery moustache, the old dwarf's mouth opened wide with

laughter, setting his fleshy cheeks to jiggling. Even Tanis, ever the

peacemaker, could not help smirking behind his hand.

 

"Oh, do you think so, really?" Tasslehoff cried earnestly. As he

smiled, his young face broke into a thousand tiny, spreading creases,

like a shattered pane of stained glass. Facial wrinkles were a

characteristic shared by all kender, which made it very difficult to

accurately guess a kender's age. "Most locks nowadays are so flimsy -

no protection at all! I don't know how anyone expects to keep anything

safe anymore."

 

"No one does if kender are about," Flint snorted under his

breath. He could tell from Tanis's warning glance that the elf's sharp

ears had caught his words. Tanis liked to defend the kender against

Flint's gratuitous insults, even if Tas was never in the least truly

offended.

 

Two of Flint's fingers, tightly pressed together, disappeared

under his moplike moustache, and he blew a loud, sharp whistle. The

inn was not busy, so in no time the innkeeper's adopted daughter

appeared. She was a rosy-cheeked girl with eager eyes and

short-cropped, dark, curly hair. Though a slight breeze blew through

large cracks in the inn's few arched, stained-glass windows - in a few

weeks they would be doubly covered with oiled parchment to keep out

the winter - the weather on this day was unseasonably warm for early

fall. Flint called it "summer's last dance." Coupled with the heat

from the ever-present fire in the hearth, the heavy air had pasted the

girl's hair to her forehead and moistened her coarse, graying tunic to

her back.

 

"Yes, sir?" she inquired eagerly. Her voice carried none of the

weariness so common among seasoned serving wenches. In a few years,

Flint thought sadly, when the impertinence and unwanted attentions of

too many men wore her down...

 

"Tika, isn't it?" he asked, and she nodded. Flint smiled

encouragingly. "Then, Tika, I need two more -" Tanis quickly drained

the last of his own mug and pushed it forward. "- make that three more

mugs of Otik's fine ale," Flint corrected himself. "On me."

 

"Very good, sir." Tika's willowy form bobbed once, then darted

skillfully through the closely spaced tables to the bar.

 

The Inn of the Last Home was shaped like the letter "L." The

ceiling was low, making the room cozy for small groups, though

sometimes on very busy nights it just seemed cramped. The walls were

built of thick, dark beams sealed with a thin mixture of tar, which

gave off a heavy, musky scent that was pleasantly familiar to the

inn's regular patrons. Small, round tables filled the room, though

Otik had also included one long table with benches to encourage

conversation among strangers.

 

The kitchen, a noisy, bustling place, was at the foot of the L.

The sounds of pans rattling and the cook screaming, and the enticing

scent of Otik's renowned spiced potatoes, were not unusual at any

hour.

 

What was unusual was that the inn was built in the mighty

branches of a vallenwood tree, a graceful, fastgrowing giant that

seemed to thrive around Solace. In fact, the entire town, except for

the stables and a few other buildings, was all located high above

ground in vallenwood trees. The village was unlike any other -

breathtakingly beautiful, yet practical for defense. Bridgewalks

spiraled to the ground around the trunks and swayed gently in the air

between trees, linking together businesses, families, and friends.

 

The three friends seated before the fire seemed lost in thought

as Tika returned with their drinks. The young girl's eyes lingered on

Tanis's attractive face - the dark, wide-set, brooding eyes,

cheekbones seemingly chiseled from marble, and his thick, wavy, red

hair, carelessly uncombed. But when her gaze dropped unconsciously to

his lean, muscled torso, obvious even through his shirt, her hands

grew clumsy and she slopped a bit of ale across the table.

 

"Oh, I'm sorry... it must be the heat." she mumbled, jabbing at

the spill with the hem of her apron.

 

"No harm done," Tas assured her. "It's really a very small

puddle. Actually, I'm impressed that you hit the table at all,

considering the way you were staring at -"

 

"Thank you, Tika," piped Flint, drowning out the rest of the

kender's all-too-honest proclamation. Tika flushed crimson and,

grateful for the dismissal, dashed into the shadows of the kitchen.

 

"Tas, you shouldn't have embarrassed her like that," Flint

scolded the kender.

 

"Embarrassed who' Whatever do you mean? Oh, Tika!" Tas finally

caught Flint's meaning. "It's not my fault if she fills mugs to the

brim, although" - he shrugged - "personally I like that in a girl."

Tas scooped a fingerful of foam from the top of one of the mugs and

guided it into his mouth.

 

Flint rolled his eyes in mock disgust. "There's not a bit of

common sense in that head of yours sometimes. You shouldn't have

pointed out that she was staring at Tanis."

 

Tas looked puzzled "But girls always stare at Tanis. Have you

seen some of the looks Kitiara gives him? Why, sometimes I get so

embarrassed it's hard to watch! Kit never seems to feel ashamed,

though. I wonder why..."

 

"Uh-hmmm!" Tanis cleared his throat loudly, his face suddenly

hot. "Would both of you mind not talking about me as if I weren't

here?" He frowned sternly, turning to the unabashed kender. "Tas, what

Flint meant was -" Tanis groped for words that might persuade the

kender.

 

"It doesn't matter," he sighed at last, seeing Tas's attentive,

childlike expression, curious yet uncomprehending.

 

"So, Tanis," Flint said, striving to change the subject, "you

haven't told us where you're going." Pulling a chunk of wood and his

whittling knife from the depth of the brown leather vest he insisted

on wearing in every type of weather, Flint leaned back and began

carving details into the miniature form of a half-finished duck.

 

Tanis stroked his clean-shaven chin and contemplated the fire's

blue flames. "I don't know... I thought I might wander toward the city

of Qualinost," he said ambiguously, his unblinking eyes burning.

 

Flint looked up and gave Tanis a meaningful stare. Tanis's entry

into the world had been more difficult than most. His mother, an elf

woman raped by a human, had died giving birth to Tanis. The half-breed

child was raised by his mother's brother. Though his uncle treated the

boy as one of his own, Tanis never felt truly welcome among humans or

elves. And as Tanis grew into manhood, his mixed heritage became even

more physically apparent; he was smaller than most humans and larger

than most elves.

 

It was then that he felt the attitude of his elven family

change. Everyone except Laurana, that is, whose girlish attentions

were not completely unwanted. Which made the tension between Tanis,

his uncle, and his uncle's sons - Laurana's brothers - even more

apparent.

 

So he had left. The void haunted him, and he knew he must face

his uncle - and Laurana - one day. The task was complicated by the

fact that the man was not only his uncle, but the Speaker of the Sun,

the leader of the Qualinesti Elves.

 

Flint reached out and squeezed Tanis's shoulder reassuringly.

"You'll always have a home here, lad."

 

Tanis looked away from the flames, giving Flint a smile that was

not reflected in those brooding, dark eyes. "I know." But this was to

be a happy parting, and Tanis did not wish to think of Qualinost just

now. Not yet.

 

He flashed Flint a cheery smile. "And if I know you, Flint

Fireforge, you'll spend the whole five years whittling before your

hearth."

 

Flint sliced an over-large chunk from the wood in his fingers.

"And what would be wrong with that?" he asked indignantly. Tanis was

sure now that the dwarf intended to do just that.

 

"Nothing, except that it would be awfully boring after an hour

or so," interjected Tasslehoff, sending sparks flying as he stirred up

the fire in the hearth. "You know, Flint, I could stay for a while and

keep you company and -"

 

"And nothing." Flint cut in, glaring at the kender. "I don't

need any lame-brained kender underfoot! Did it occur to you that may e

I'd like to be a little bored after having you kids cluttering up my

hearth for so.long!" Tanis found the term "kid" amusing since he was

nearly one hundred years old by human reckoning, though he looked

twenty. Of course, Flint was no youngster himself - he was in his

early one-hundred-forties, which translated to late fifties for a

human.

 

The grizzled dwarf wasn't finished yet. "Raistlin always

brooding, Sturm so blasted stoic, Kitiara forever arm-wrestling with

Caramon, or wrestling of another sort with Tanis...." His gruff

expression softened, and he gave the half-elf a good-natured poke in

the ribs.

 

Tas leaned back his chair and propped his feet on the table. "Do

you think Sturm has a chance of finding his father in Solamnia?" he

asked, suddenly reminded of their friends who had already left. Sturm

Brightblade and Kitiara Uth-Matar had left Solace earlier in the day,

headed for Solamnia to the north. Sturm was searching for the father

he'd been forced to leave as a child, and Kitiara had gone along for

the adventure.

 

"If Sir Brightblade is still alive, I'm sure Sturm will find

him," Tanis said firmly. "He can't miss with Kit along to help."

 

The fire crackled and popped, spitting a hot ember onto Tas's

left leg. With a yelp he was on his feet, leaping around madly. "Ouch!

Ouch! Is that why Kit went - to look for Sturm's father?" he asked,

slapping furiously at his smoldering legging.

 

Tanis, scarcely taken aback by the kender's acrobatics, replied

seriously, "I don't think Kit knows what she's looking for."

 

The ember extinguished, Tas poked his finger through the

black-rimmed hole in his blue leggings. "Well, whatever it is, I'm

sure she'll find it," he said. "She's so..."

 

"Driven?" Tanis completed the sentence.

 

"Determined, I was going to say," said the ingenuous kender.

 

"She is that," said Tanis with a knowing smile.

 

"I'm worried about those darn fool brothers of hers," Flint

muttered, "although I don't know why I bother. And I don't care what

anyone says, Raistlin is too young to be taking that magical test in

the Tower of High Sorcery. Gonna get himself killed is all. And poor

Caramon - I don't know what he would do without him." The twin

brothers, Caramon and Raistlin Majere - Kitiara's half-brothers - had

already left as well. Frail Raistlin intended to take the dangerous

magic user's test in the Tower of High Sorcery at Wayreth, and his

burly brother Caramon had insisted on accompanying him for protection.

 

Tasslehoff looked thoughtful. "I think it's the other way

around," he said, not intending to sound unkind. "I don't know what

Raistlin would do without Caramon. Unless, of course, he's dead."

 

"Family...." was all Tanis said, his thoughts remote.

 

"That's it!" Tas exclaimed, jumping to his feet, his eyes

sparkling with excitement. "That's what I'll do! I'll go visit my

family. Gee, I wonder where any of them are."

 

"You don't know?" Flint asked, looking up from his whittling.

"How about your parents?"

 

"Not exactly, no. Not lately, anyhow."

 

"Then, how do you even know whether any of them are still

alive?" Tanis asked, sipping his ale.

 

"Someone would have told me if they weren't, I guess," Tas

reasoned.

 

"But if you don't know where they are, how would anyone know

where you are to tell you that someone whose whereabouts you didn't

know had died?" Flint sputtered awkwardly. The dwarf paused for a

moment, then shook his head. "Listen to me, now I'm starting to sound

like a kender!" he spat.

 

But Tas was too busy listing off relatives to notice. "There's

Uncle Remo Lockpick, my father's uncle's second cousin, I think. He

has a wonderful collection of keys - big ones, small ones, heavy ones,

ones made of bright blue gems as big as your head." Tas scratched his

chin. "What would anyone use a key like that for?"

 

Both Flint and Tanis wondered why any kender had need of a key,

considering their light-fingered tendencies, but each remained silent.

 

"And then there's Uncle Wilfre," Tas continued thoughtfully,

"but no one's seen him in, oh, well... I guess I've never seen him,

actually." He took another pull on his ale before continuing.

 

"My favorite uncle, though, is my mother's brother - I think,"

Tas said, happily remembering. "He's a Furrfoot, not a Burrfoot, which

is very confusing at family picnics, as you might guess. Anyway, Uncle

Trapspringer moved in with my family after his bride died on their

honeymoon. At least he assumed she was dead."

 

"What do you mean, 'assumed'?" Tanis exclaimed.

 

"That sounds tragic."

 

"Oh, it's all very romantic, the way Uncle Trapspringer tells

it," Tas began, holding up his mug for a refill. The kender was

obviously gearing up for one of his long stories.

 

"The short version, if you please," Flint warned him. "I don't

want to be sitting here, listening to your tale, when the others

return five years from now."

 

Tasslehoff rolled his eyes. "Very funny, Flint. I've never told

you a five-year story. Not that I don't know a few....

 

"Now," he continued as if uninterrupted, "Uncle Trapspringer and

his bride decided they didn't want to go just any old place for their

honeymoon, so that's exactly where they went. Or tried to, anyway."

 

As usual, Tas was proving obtuse. "Where did they go?" Flint

asked, feigning patience. He was sorry almost the second the words

left his mouth.

 

Tas looked exasperated. "Really, Flint, you're not listening.

Where else would you go on your honeymoon but the moon, of course?

That's the point!"

 

Tanis's eyes narrowed. "They went to the moon?"

 

"No," Tas corrected him, "but they sure tried to. They bought a

magical potion at the Spring Faire in Kendermore. They both drank

half, closed their eyes, and thought about the moon, just like the

salesman told them to. But when Uncle Trapspringer opened his eyes, he

was still at the faire and his bride was gone! Her wedding dress was

in a heap next to him on the ground." Tas's eyes misted over. "Golly,

that story always makes me sad. Do you suppose he just didn't think

about the moon hard enough?"

 

"He didn't think hard enough all right, but not about the moon,"

snorted Flint as he shook a handful of wood shavings from his beard.

"She probably knew what she was getting into and ran off while his

eyes were closed, before it was too late. Surprising insight, for a

kender." "Uncle Trapspringer says she must be dead," Tas said,

"because if she weren't she would have found a way back to him by now.

But I think she's on Lunitari right this minute. I bet she's awfully

lonely. I wonder what we look like from up there?"

 

"At least she won't be going hungry," said Flint. "Everyone

knows that the moon is made of red cheese!" He forced the smile from

his twitching face.

 

"I'm not so sure," Tas said soberly. "I don't know what Lunitari

is made of, but red cheese is most unlikely. Red something, I'll

wager, but nothing so mundane or squishy as' cheese -"

 

Flint burst into a loud guffaw.

 

Tas's monologue was cut short when the heavy, oak door at the

entrance to the inn blew open and slammed against the wall with a

bang, sending early autumn leaves swirling through the taproom.

Through the doorway stepped the most unusually vivid creature any of

the three companions had ever seen. The woman, a dwarf judging by the

squatty proportions of her body, was incredibly voluptuous by that

same standard. A silky, raspberry-colored blouse that gathered at the

wrists was stretched tight across her sizable bosom, straining the

criss-crossed front laces. Below it, a canary yellow braided leather

belt cinched in her waspish waist. Her pants, made of skin-tight

purple leather, were tucked into leather boots that matched perfectly

the color of her blouse. Her lips and cheeks glowed with the same

impossibly brilliant, unnatural shade of pomegranate as her long, wavy

hair. Perched upon it at a jaunty angle was a small, plumed purple and

yellow hat.

 

"At last, we're here," she sighed contentedly, looking around

the inn. Hands on her hips, she struck an imperi ous pose that made

her appear taller than she was. The inn fell silent. Even the pans in

the kitchen stopped rattling. "Woodrow, come in here!" she called as

an afterthought over her shoulder.

 

"Yes, ma'am," croaked a nervous voice. A young man stepped from

behind her, carefully squeezing around her bulk so as not to intrude

on her magnificence. His sunbleached hair looked like straw that had

been cut with a bowl around his head. His nose was hawkish and strong,

as was his tall, sinewy frame. He was dressed, oddly, in gray, quilted

cotton pants and a long-sleeved, padded shirt of a type commonly worn

as protection under chain mail. His pants, obviously past their prime,

weretorn at the seams and faded. The young man's wrists dangled more

than an inch below the cuffs.

 

"Do stop calling me ma'am," she chided him goodnaturedly. "You

make me feel so old. And let me assure you," she continued, giving him

a seductive wink, "I'm not that old yet!"

 

The young man named Woodrow blushed furiously.

 

"Yes, ma'am," he gulped.

 

She looked at him for a long moment and touched his cheek

briefly. "So young... but I like them young...." She looked away

abruptly and peered into the depths of the inn, spotting Otik behind

the bar in his apron. "Yoo-hoo!" she called, fluttering her hands in

his direction. His eyes transfixed, Otik scurried to her side. "A man

so important-looking and dignified as you must be the barkeep," she

purred.

 

Otik's stout body jiggled to a stop, and he grinned like a

lovesick fool. "Uh, yes, I guess I am. Can I be of some assistance? A

room, perhaps? Dinner? Our food is the best in Solace -- all of

southern Ansalon!" he blathered. "I'm sure it is," she said smoothly,

"but perhaps later. Actually, I'm looking for someone. A kender named

Tasslehoff Burrfoot. I was told I might find him here."

 

The three companions had been watching the whole display. At the

sound of his name, Tasslehoff jumped ex citedly to his feet and raced

up to her. "That's me! I'm Tasslehoff Burrfoot! Did I win something?

Are you here to give me my prize?" He paused for a new thought. "Or

did I lose something? Did you lose something?"

 

"You could say that," the voluptuous dwarf said, running her

gaze over his childlike form. "Can't say I understand what all the

fuss is about," she muttered mysteriously, then latched her

surprisingly strong fingers around his bony wrist.

 

"You'll have to come with me now, and I'm in a bit of a hurry,"

she said, stepping toward the door. Not quite sure what was happening,

Tasslehoff draped behind her like dead weight. He dug his heels into

the floor. "Well, come along," she chided, "I haven't got all year."

With that she tugged him toward the door.

 

"Wait a minute!" he blurted. "Who are you? Where are you trying

to take me? You're not at all polite." The dwarf's outburst brought

Tanis and Flint to their feet, and they began making their way to

Tas's side.

 

The stranger seemed to recollect something. "Oops, sorry. I

forgot that part." She adopted an officious tone. "Tasslehoff

Burrfoot, you're under arrest for violating section

thirty-one-nineteen, code forty-seven, paragraph ten, sub-paragraph

something or other, of the Kender Code of Conduct." She gave

Tasslehoff's wrist a sharp yank, leaning toward the door.

 

"That certainly sounds serious," Tas agreed grimly, keeping his

heels planted. "What does it mean?"

 

"It means you broke your marriage oath. You're in big trouble,

Burrhead."

 

 

 

 

Part 1

 

 

Cpapter 1

 

 

"Oh, that!" exclaimed Tas, dismissing concern with a wave of his

hand. "I forgot all about it."

 

"Obviously. However, the Kendermore Council didn't. Now, stop

stalling!" the brightly clad dwarf complained, giving the kender's

wrist another sharp tug. Tas dug the fingers of his free hand into the

edge of a heavy table and refused to budge.

 

The red-haired dwarf stopped and turned around to face him. "I

don't want to do this, but you're really giving me no choice. Woodrow,

pick him up and carry him." But the blond young man took only one step

before Tanis's voice halted him.

 

"I wouldn't if I were you, boy." Stepping forward with his fists

clenched before him, the powerfully muscled half-elf looked as if he

outweighed Woodrow by at least fifty pounds. Standing next to Tanis,

Flint's face was grim and his hand rested reflexively on the hammer

that always hung at his thick waist.

 

"What's this all about, Tas?" Tanis asked in his sternest voice.

 

"I'd like the answer to that as well," Otik demanded, focusing

his irritation at the kender. "You're disturbing the peace of my inn."

He looked at his kitchen staff, including his daughter Tika, all of

whom had gathered around the bar to see what was happening.

 

Tas stopped his struggling. "I think this lady wants me to go

back to Kendermore and get married," he said, avoiding his friends'

eyes.

 

"To her?" Flint asked, his brows raised in amazement.

 

"Don't be insulting!" the female dwarf cried, drawing back.

 

"Of course not, Flint," Tas sniffed. "She's not even a kender."

 

"Look," Tanis said impatiently. "Would somebody tell us what's

going one" He gazed directly at the unusually vivid-looking dwarf.

"Who are you, and what's the real reason you want Tasslehoff?"

 

The woman regarded Tanis's handsome face with interest. Suddenly

she thrust out her hand, palm down, and said sweetly, "My name is

Gisella Hornslager. Yours?"

 

"Tanis Half-Elven," he responded, awkwardly returning the

woman's crushing handshake.

 

Gisella withdrew her hand. "As I was saying, Buzzfoot is under

arrest for breaking a marriage oath according to some kender law or

another," she said vaguely. "Now, as much as I'd like to stay and

chat," she continued, letting her gaze wander down Tanis's lean form,

a smirk on her lips, "I really must be going. Schedules to keep,

places to be, you know how it is."

 

Flint, who had been quite obviously staring at the woman since

her arrival, gulped in surprise. "You're a bounty hunter?"

 

"Oh, not specifically," she said, spinning on her heel.

 

"I'm in the import-export business; my motto is 'You want it, I

got it.' The Kendermore Council asked me to do this job, and I thought

'fabric, a kender -- what's the difference as long as it's portable?'"

 

She lifted her broad, raspberry-colored shoulders in a weary

shrug. "Now, I don't mean to be rude, but I really must be going. I've

got two bags of rare merganser melon out in my wagon getting riper and

costing me more money every second I delay. Kendermore's Autumn

Harvest Faire opens in a little more than a month, and that load is

worth a half-year's profits to me there. Woodrow?"

 

The young man stepped forward obediently and wrapped his strong

arms around the wriggling kender.

 

"Sorry, little fella," he mumbled.

 

Tanis stopped Woodrow again, this time with a hand on his arm.

The kender slid to his feet once more, twisting his vest back into

place with a disgruntled "humph!" Gisella pulled Tanis to the side,

batting two small, kohl black-lined eyes at him. "Look, friend, if

it's money you want, I'll give you half of my take for him. Fifteen

new steel pieces," she said, biting into each word as though she

enjoyed their taste.

 

"You've got to be kidding." Tanis sputtered, unable to

comprehend that someone was trying to buy Tasslehoff from him.

 

"That's more than fair!" She dropped her voice abruptly. "OK,

twenty, but that's my final offer."

 

"My good woman," Tanis growled, his eyes flashing black, "you

cannot buy and sell a kender like horseflesh!"

 

"You can't? Why not?" she asked, genuinely surprised.

 

"Because some things just aren't for sale!"

 

"Honey," she purred, letting her tightly clothed thigh rub

against his for a moment, "everything has a price." Tanis jerked his

leg away and took a deep breath, throwing a withering look at Flint,

who was jiggling with silent laughter. Groping for a new approach,

Tanis suggested, "Let's ask Tas what he wants to do."

 

Everyone turned toward the kender.

 

"Well, Tas?" Tanis asked. "What's this about getting married,

anyway? You never even told us you had a sweetheart."

 

Tasslehoff shuffled uncomfortably.

 

"I don't, exactly," he confessed. "See, a long time ago,

somebody suddenly noticed that there weren't many kender left in

Kendermore -- people just never got around to getting married. So some

other somebody came up with the idea of randomly assigning mates at

birth. You know, a boy and a girl are born near each other timewise in

the city, and they have to get married sometime near their thirtyfifth

birthdays. It's one of the few rules that any kender can remember.

Except me. I just forgot it."

 

"So there's a girl waiting in Kendermore for you to marry her?"

Flint asked, struggling to keep the smile he felt growing inside him

from showing on his face.

 

"I guess," Tas said morosely. "I've never met her. I think her

name begins with a 'D,' or at least it sounds like 'D.' Dorcas...

Dipilfis... Gimrod... Something like that."

 

Flint could contain himself no longer; he burst out laughing.

"I'd like to see the look on her face when she sees what she's

getting! Ha!"

 

"Tas," Tanis said kindly, looking into the kender's crestfallen

face, "do you want to marry this girl?" Tas pursed his lips in

thought, watching leaves swirl in Tika's wake as she marched by with a

tray of drinks.

 

"I've never thought about it, really. I always figured I'd get

married someday... someday later... much later."

 

"If you don't want to marry her, the honorable thing to do is to

go back and tell her so," Tanis suggested reasonably. "Or send a

message through Miss Hornslager here. I'm sure the girl will

understand."

 

Tas brightened slightly. "I suppose I could do that."

 

"Well, let me just tell you that Miss Hornslager won't

understand," Gisella grumbled. "I get paid for delivering a kender,

not a message. Bundle him up, Woodrow," she instructed abruptly. "You

don't need to treat me like a sack of potatoes," Tas pointed out, his

face dark.

 

"I don't know," Flint said mischievously, a twinkle in his eye.

He was enjoying Tas's discomfort immensely.

 

"I'd keep my eyes on him every minute. He may intend to return

with you today, but a butterfly might cross his path tomorrow, and off

he'll go."

 

Gisella looked directly at Tas and clicked her tongue.

 

"Any old time you think about wandering off, just remember this:

The council is holding your Uncle Trapspringer prisoner until you

return. They want you back real bad."

 

"Prisoner? Poor Uncle Trapspringer!" Tas cried. Suddenly his

eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Wait a minute, how do I know they really

have my Uncle Trapspringer?"

 

Gisella's cheeks colored for the first time. She scratched the

back of her neck, looking uncomfortable.

 

"Well, it wasn't my idea, but they told me to show you something

if you gave me any trouble." She pulled a tiny pouch from the depths

of her blouse and tugged open the strings. Wrinkling her nose, she

held up a two-inch, jointed piece of polished white bone.

 

"Here's his finger!" Tas peered at the fragment closely.

 

"Yep, that's Uncle Trapspringer's favorite one," he said,

unperturbed. "I'd recognize it anywhere."

 

Tanis's face wrinkled in horror. "They cut off your uncle's

finger? But why would they do that over such a small matter?"

 

"I thought it was unusually nasty, myself," Gisella agreed,

dropping the bone back into the pouch.

 

Tasslehoff's expression turned from confusion to sudden

amusement. 'You thought this was one of his fingers? Oh, that's

funny!"

 

"Well, that's what you said it was, you doorknob," Flint

growled, shuffling his feet angrily. Tanis looked merely bewildered.

 

"Oh, that's really funny!" Tasslehoff shrieked. He clutched his

stomach and doubled over with highpitched laughter, oblivious to the

irritation of his friends.

 

"Uncle Trapspringer collects bones," he gulped -- "of animals

and such," he managed to gasp at last. "That's the one he carries for

good luck!"

 

"Obviously it's not working," observed Gisella dryly, tucking

the purse back into her blouse.

 

Tanis sighed heavily. "I should have known better than to try

helping you out of a jam, Tas. I give up; you're on your own." The

half-elf shook Tas's small hand and backed out the door. "Good luck,

friend. See you in five years."

 

Chuckling aloud, Flint stepped after the young halfelf. "Have a

nice wedding, Tas!" he said, clapping the kender affectionately on the

shoulder as he passed him. "Wait!" Tas called. "Of course I'm terribly

concerned about Uncle Trapspringer --" But his friends were already

gone. Tasslehoff took a step after them, but Gisella and Woodrow

blocked his way. Feeling just the tiniest bit forlorn, he chewed his

lip and looked expectantly at the red-haired dwarf.

 

Gisella Hornslager arched her eyebrows in a hopeful gesture.

"Well, that's that, hmm? Those melons aren't getting any greener."

 

Tasslehoff hesitated.

 

Just then, Otik emerged from the kitchen, carrying a parchment

sack. "I, uh, just wanted you to have something to remember your trip

to Solace," he said shyly, placing the sack in the dwarf's

outstretched hands. Then he wiped his own greasy ones on the front of

his apron. Gisella flashed the tubby barkeep a brilliant smile.

 

"You wonderful, thoughtful little man!" she cooed, planting a

red-lipped kiss on his plump, blushing cheek. Behind him, Tika crossed

her arms in disgust, a baleful glare on her young face.

 

"Well, Burrfoot, are you going to come with us easily," Gisella

began, her arms crossed in challenge, "or is Woodrow going to have to

carry you?"

 

Tasslehoff thought about his uncle locked up somewhere because

of him, and he realized there was no choice to be made. "I'll go

easily," he said. "Just let me get my things."

 

"Fine. Ta-ta!" Gisella called grandly to Otik, sweeping out

through the open door. Under Woodrow's watchful eye, Tas hurried back

to the table he'd shared with his friends and snatched up his hoopak,

the fork-shaped, slinglike weapon no kender would be without. Waving

good-bye to the preening Otik and scowling Tika, Tas followed Gisella

down the bridgewalk that spiraled around the trunk of the inn's

supporting vallenwood tree.

 

"Wow, what a wagon!" Tas breathed, catching sight of a large,

enclosed, wooden wagon hitched at the base of the tree. The roof was

arched instead of flat, showing intricate carving and workmanship.

Even the whees looked expensive: thick, with wrought iron spokes.

Painted on the side in bright red were the words: "Mr. Hornslager's

Hypermarket: You Want It, I Got It."

 

"Where's Mr. H?" Tas asked.

 

Gisella smiled broadly and slapped her thigh. "Right here,

Bramblefoot. It's good for business if people think I'm a Mrs. They

just assume I'm Mrs. H. It makes the poor saps think they got a better

deal by bamboozling the owner's silly wife." Gisella widened her eyes

and raised her voice an octave or two. "Oh," she mimicked, "I couldn't

sell it for that! We paid more than that! Well, if you really like

it... it looks so nice on you. But please don't tell my husband!"

 

Tas giggled helplessly. He raced down the remainder of the

bridgewalk and skidded to a halt before the wagon, "I can't wait to

see the inside! You collect stuff from all over the place, right'!

Gems and steel pieces and candy --"

 

She laughed. "No, that's what I get when I sell my goods. Right

now I have some spices, a few bolts of fabric, and some melons growing

riper by the minute."

 

The dwarf hurried up to the buckboard and rummaged through a

large leather pouch at the side. "Now, where is that thing...," she

muttered, pushing a loose sheaf of papers around impatiently.

 

"Woodrow!" she yelled without looking up.

 

"Yes, ma'am?" he said quietly at her side.

 

"Oh!" she cried, startled. "Don't creep around like that, dear,"

she scolded. "Get the kender settled in the wagon while I find that

blasted map. I've got to see if I can't shave some time off the return

trip, or we may as well throw some of this stuff out right now."

 

Tas's ears perked up. "Map? You're looking for a map? I've got

lots of maps. My family makes maps." He thumped his chest proudly.

"I'm a mapmaker. It's what I do!-

 

"Really?" Gisella asked, looking up, her face half hopeful, half

dubious.

 

"Yes. Here." He reached into his fur-trimmed vest and pulled out

a surprising number of rolled pieces of parchment.

 

Peering closely at the numbers and shapes scribbled on the upper

left corner of each, he finally selected one and unfurled it on the

ground. It was slightly faded and the corners were torn, but otherwise

the map was in good shape and readable. "That's odd," Tas said,

blinking at the page. "Solace isn't on here. Well, it's a small

village, and everyone knows where it is," he concluded. "It's just

west of Xak Tsaroth, which is marked. He traced his finger from that

city to where he knew Solace was.

 

"Now, I'll bet you came up the Southway Road from Pax Tharkas,

right? Everyone does." Gisella nodded, studying the map over his

shoulder.

 

"Look at this." Tasslehoff drew an invisible line to the right

edge of the map. "The region of Balifor is almost seven hundred miles

straight east of here, and that's right next to the city of

Kendermore. We'll have to climb a few mountains and travel through

some thick forests, but we should save a lot of time over going the

long way to the south." He did some quick figuring in his head. "If we

really hurry, we should be able to make it to the city in near to a

month."

 

Something about the plan bothered Gisella. "Let me see that,"

she said, indicating the map, her expression puzzled. "I know what's

different! I don't see any of the landmarks here that were on my other

map."

 

"Was it made by a kender?" Tas asked. She shook her head. "Well,

that's it, then," Tas said definitively. "Kender often use their own

sorts of landmarks, symbols, and elaborate measurements."

 

"Like 'Uncle Bertie's foot'?" she asked, pointing to words

toward the top of the page. "And what's this one?" Her eyes were left

of center. "Where I found the pretty stones'; 'shop with great candy';

'monsters with big teeth here'." She looked up at Tas. "These are

important landmarks ?"

 

Tas shrugged. "They were to Uncle Bertie."

 

"I don't know, Tasslefoot," Gisella said slowly, still looking

closely at the sheet. "I don't recognize the names of very many cities

on this map."

 

"All the major cities are here -- Xak Tsaroth, Thorbardin,

Neraka. You name it!" Tas said, stomping his foot in frustration at

her reluctance. "Your map must not have been as detailed as mine," he

sniffed, then had a thought. "Do you want to get to Kendermore before

your melons rot or not?"

 

Gisella frowned. "Of course I do."

 

"Then leave everything to me," the kender said grandly, rolling

up the parchment and slipping it back into his vest. "If there's one

thing I'm good at, it's getting to where I'm going." With that, he

climbed expectantly onto the buckboard. Gisella excused herself and

slipped for a moment into the back of the wagon, giving Woodrow

last-minute instructions to quickly finish feeding the horses.

 

Woodrow's straw-blond head bobbed absently ahead of the wagon,

where he stood feeding the two horses, one dirty-white, the other

dove-colored. He stroked their thick necks softly as they nibbled

their dinners. The young man didn't know much about kender, but the

one thing he had learned from the few he'd met was that it was a rare

kender who knew where he was going in the first place. Woodrow didn't

contradict Tasslehoff's claims, though; he was in no hurry to get

anywhere.

 

 

Chapter 2

 

"Now remember, keep those beeswax plugs in your ears for two

weeks, and when you take them out you'll be able to hear much better."

 

The kender, a sawyer named Semus, cocked his head to the side

and looked at Phineas Curick with a puzzled expression, then tapped

his ear with his hoopak. Phineas placed his mouth next to the kender's

ear and shouted, "Keep them in for two weeks!" Semus smiled.

 

"Thanks, Dr. Ears," he shouted. "Can you hear me OK?"

 

"Fine, fine," said Phineas, ushering the beaming kender out of

the chair and steering him back through the waiting room. "That'll be

ten copper," the doctor said, holding his hand out for payment.

 

The kender patted his pockets, then reached in and pulled out a

fistful of sticky candy. "I seem to be a little short today. Could you

maybe use some scrap wood?

 

You could fix up this dump real nice, add a few more shelves,

you know --"

 

"No, thank you," Phineas said, snatching the plugs from the

startled kender's ears and booting him out of the door into the

cobbled street. The balding, middleaged human dusted off his hands,

scratched his redveined nose, and turned to the waiting throng. Ten

kender were seated on the long wooden bench that ran along the north

wall of the office.

 

For a year and a half Phineas Curick had been practicing his

peculiar brand of medicine in Kendermore. And if he lived to be one

hundred years of age, he thought, he would never understand kender.

Day after day they crowded into his front office with their aches and

pains and imaginary ills, and day after day he dispensed sugar pills,

beeswax, curdled milk, and mustard to his faithful patients. The only

real medical procedure he knew was pulling teeth, and there was some

call for that, too.

 

To kender with toothaches he was Dr. Teeth.

 

To those with ear problems, Dr. Ears. If someone's joints hurt,

Dr. Bones. No ailment was too acute or too minor.

 

"Who's next?" All ten of the seated kender jumped to their feet

-- or tried to. Only one stood up and strolled confidently into the

examination room. The other nine flew to the floor, arms and legs

akimbo, shoelaces mysteriously tied to their chairs. Phineas had seen

many things in his kender-filled waiting room. Most of his patients

with genuine ailments received them in his office. Fights broke out

regularly -- he made a lot of money off those, removing broken teeth

and plugging bloody noses -- but he admired this particular kender's

ingenuity.

 

Stepping gingerly through the thrashing, flopping bodies and

dodging their famous kender taunts, Phineas followed his next patient

into the examination room.

 

Washing,his hands in a stoneware pitcher of cool, murky water,

he smiled at his patient. "Just hop up in that chair," he invited.

"What can I do for you today? Teeth, ears -- a haircut, maybe?"

 

"I have those, yes, and I could use a haircut," replied the

kender -- a young one, judging from the deep brown color of his hair

and wrinkle-free skin. "But it's my eyes. When I step into bright

sunlight, I can't see anything, and when I step out of the sunlight

and back into the shade, I can't see either."

 

"This is a problem?" the doctor asked, readying some large

calipers, pliers, and an ice tong on a wooden tray next to the chair.

 

The kender glanced uneasily at the tools arrayed on the tray.

"That's a bit of a problem, as I'm the doorman at the Kendermore Inn.

What are you going to use that for?" he asked, fidgeting into the

farthest corner of the chair.

 

"Don't worry," Phineas said, opening the ice tongs and placing a

point against each of the kender's temples. "I just have to take a

measurement." He closed the tongs slowly against the patient's head,

then sighted carefully along both temples, with a "hrrmmm" and a

"hummm.

 

"There!" he announced. Careful not to jiggle the open tongs, he

held them up to a row of wire eyeglasses on the wall behind him. "Here

we are," he said, satisfied at last that he'd found the right fit. He

placed the spectacles on the tray, then turned away again and rummaged

through one of many drawers in a large wall cabinet. He removed two

rectangles of dark, oiled parchment and slipped them into the

spectacles where the lenses should be. Finally, he set them on the

bridge of the kender's nose and hooked the horns around his ears.

"You must wear these spectacles for two weeks, and

when you take them off you'll be able to see much

better."

 

"But I can't see at all, Dr. Eyes," the kender protested,

struggling to find the arms of the chair so that he could climb down.

"If you could see, you wouldn't have come to me," Phineas noted

patiently.

 

The kender's face brightened under the dark glasses.

 

"That's true! Oh, thank you, Dr. Eyes!" Arms held before him,

the kender bumped into the doorjamb, then banged into a hanging

skeleton on the way out of the examining room, sending bones rattling.

Phineas guided him to the front door.

 

"Just doing my job," the doctor said modestly.

 

"That'll be twenty copper." It was a bit steep for parchment

spectacles, but he had to make up for lost revenue from the sawmill

worker.

 

"I'm afraid I can't see very well," the kender apologized.

"Could you?" He held open the pouch dangling from his belt by a

string.

 

Phineas helped himself to twenty-three copper pieces and two of

his own pliers. "Thank you, do come again."

 

Only two of the previous nine patients were still in the waiting

room, the rest having apparently wandered off after untangling their

shoelaces. Or perhaps they all trooped out in one big knot, mused

Phineas.

 

One of the two patients was a young woman whose fingers had

somehow got caught in opposite ends of a hollow stick and a

construction worker who had nailed his own pant leg to a board. Eyeing

the reflection of the setting sun in the shop windows across the

street, Phineas decided to call it a day.

 

Ushering out the unhappy kender, he advised the two of them to

try again tomorrow. Locking the door behind them, he extinguished the

one source of light in the room, a small, dim oil lantern with a

greasy, black mantle.

 

Phineas Curick commended his good fortune as he cleaned his

tools in the examination room at the back of his "Doctor's Office."

Kender were such wonderful patients, even for someone who wasn't a

doctor! And while he seldom cured anyone outright, he assuaged his

guilt with the knowledge that he provided a great psychological balm

to people in distress. And that should be worth something, shouldn't

it?

 

"Ten copper pieces per examination!" he chortled happily under

his breath.

 

Hearing a noise in the outer waiting room, he wiped his hands on

his spattered apron and called out in irritation, "I'm closed, didn't

you see the sign?" There was no telling what might be going on, since

even locking the front door was no guarantee against a kender just

strolling into the office. "You'll have to come back tomorrow."

Many moments passed, and he heard no response.

 

Puzzled, Phineas stepped into the shadows of the waiting room.

"Hello!" said a deep voice in the darkness.

 

Startled, Phineas fell back against the wall, setting up a

chorus of rattling glass bottles. "Who are you," he demanded, "and

what do you want? You scared the wits out of me!"

 

"Trapspringer Furrfoot. Pleased to meet you." Phineas felt a

small hand shake his. "My friends call me Trapspringer. I'm truly

sorry I frightened you; humans are such a jumpy bunch, but I guess you

can't help what you are. Did you know your door is stuck?"

 

Phineas strained his eyes in the darkness to discern his

visitor. "It's not stuck; it was locked," he said sternly, having

composed himself. "And you're supposed to be on the other side of it.

You'll have to come back tomorrow."

 

"Could you light a candle or something?" asked the kender. "I

can't see a thing!"

 

"Didn't you hear me? I said the office is closed."

 

"I heard you, but I was certain you didn't mean me, since this

is a matter of life and death!"

 

Phineas sighed; emergencies like these came up daily in

Kendermore. "What is it this time?" he asked wearily.

 

"I've just lost my finger and --"

 

Phineas's eyes went wide with alarm. "Good gods, man, why didn't

you say so?" Phineas didn't know much about medicine, but he knew that

a kender bleeding to death in his office would be bad for business.

Groping for the kender's shoulders in the 'darkness, he ushered him

into the candlelit examining room. "Get up in that chair and hold your

hand above your head!" he ordered, collecting a large roll of white

cloth strips he used for bandages.

 

"This is awfully nice of you," Trapspringer said.

 

With the roll of bandages under his arm and clean water sloshing

from a bowl in his hand, Phineas turned to the kender, expecting to be

greeted by a fountain of blood.

 

Trapspringer Furrfoot sat in the chair, his hand -- with all

five digits -- held high above his head, as instructed. There was not

a drop of blood on him.

 

"All right, get out of here," Phineas growled, grabbing

Trapspringer by the scruff of the neck. "I'm not in the mood for

practical jokes."

 

Genuinely surprised, the kender twisted out of the human's

grasp. "I wasn't joking. I lost my finger. It was from a minotaur, or

maybe a werewolf; they're hard to tell apart. I collect interesting

bones, and this was my lucky one, a beautiful, polished white joint --

it looked just like alabaster. Actually, I didn't lose it. The

Kendermore Council borrowed it, but that's another story entirely and

part of the reason I can't come back tomorrow. So can you help me?

It's really very important, and I'm certain my life is proba bly in

danger."

 

Totally bewildered, Phineas stared at the kender for a long

time. This Trapspringer Furrfoot looked very cosmopolitan for a

kender. Phineas judged him to be late middle;aged, from the advanced

network of lines on his face, the gray streaks in his copper-red,

featherstudded topknot of hair, and his deepish voice. He wore a very

expensive, flowing cape of purple velvet, so dark it looked black,

with leggings of the same, unusual color. His tunic was pea green, and

a wide, black leather belt hid the beginnings of a paunch. Around his

neck hung a necklace of small, gray-white bones -- from what, Phineas

did not wish to contemplate.

 

Trapspringer's red-and-gray-streaked eyebrows twitched in

curiosity above his almond-shaped, olivecolored eyes.

 

"Well?" Trapspringer said expectantly, tapping a toe. "Will you

help me or not?"

 

Phineas was still confused. "You want me to get this bone back

from the council?" he asked stupidly.

 

"Oh, no, that wouldn't be possible," the kender said firmly.

"What I really need is another minotaur finger bone."

 

Phineas rubbed his face wearily and plopped down on his padded

stool. He'd lived around kender long enough to know there was going to

be no easy way out of this conversation. "You want me to give you a

minotaur bone," he repeated dully.

 

"From a finger. I would be most grateful," Trapspringer said,

holding out his hand expectantly. "You see, my old one was my good

luck charm, and I'm certain something dreadful will happen to me

unless I replace it soon."

 

"You're afraid you'll die without it?" Phineas asked.

 

"Perhaps, though that's not the most dreadful thing that could

happen. Actually, it might be interesting, depending on how you, you

know, died. Getting run over by a farmer's cart wouldn't be nearly as

fascinat ing as, say, falling off a cliff into the mouth of a lion

who's on fire. Now that would be interesting!" His eyes glowed at the

concept. "Just the same, I don't want to take any chances."

 

Phineas gave the eccentric kender an odd look. "But I'm not an

animal doctor, or even an apothecary. What makes you think I'd have

such a thing?"

 

"Well, to be honest, you weren't my first choice. I couldn't

find anything that looked like my bone in those places --" he pulled a

wad of string, four pointy teeth, and a small vial with blue liquid

from inside his cape -- "though I found some other things I've been

needing. But there was no one around to ask about bones."

"Won't any of the bones around your neck do?" Phi-

neas asked, suppressing a shudder.

 

"If they were finger bones, sure," Trapspringer said irritably,

"but they obviously aren't."

 

Now that he knew what the kender wanted, Phineas regained his

composure and opened a cupboard. He removed a flat-edged wooden tray

carefully, so as not to dump its contents of numerous thin, white

bones.

 

He picked up the largest of the bones and cupped it tenderly in

his hand.

 

"Well, this must be your lucky day, Mr. Trapspringer. I just

happen to use minotaur finger bones in the preparation of one of my

most potent and expensive health elixirs. In fact, I have here the

finger bone of a minotaur that was also a werewolf, one of the rarest

and most exotic creatures in the world. Lycanthropy is a strange

thing. There are those who say it can't affect creatures like

minotaurs, but right here we have the proof. Quite an indispensible

item. Being a collector yourself, you must know that such a bone as

this is very valuable. But, if it means so much to you -- saving your

life and all -- I'd be willing to part with it. I ask only that you

reimburse me for my cost." He held the bone up for Trapspringer's

inspection and sucked in his breath.

 

"It's marvelous!" Trapspringer cried, elated. He picked up the

bone gingerly and cradled it in his palm.

 

"I couldn't possibly pay you what this is worth," he lamented.

"But I would gladly give you my most valuable possession in trade!"

The kender reached into the depths of his cape.

 

Phineas's eyes lit up with greed as he watched Trapspringer's

hand create waves in the rich velvet of his cape. When the kender's

hand emerged, he pressed a folded, old parchment sheet into the

doctor's outstretched palms. A bank note! What else could it be?

Phineas nearly leaped out of his skin with excitement. At last he had

met up with a rich kender! He forced himself to not appear too anxious

or gauche.

 

"Thank you. You are most kind," Phineas said, pocketing the

note. "If I can ever be of service again..."

 

"Yes, I'll remember," the kender assured him, stepping back into

the dim waiting room, happily holding his "minotaur" bone. "Well, I

really must be getting back to the prison now. It's not a prison,

really. It's actually very nice, if you like overstuffed chairs and

floral prints. I don't want to be gone too long or they'll worry over

me. If I can ever be of any help to you, just ask. I'm a close

personal friend of the mayor's, you know. My nephew is going to marry

his daughter. Tata!" With that, the kender slipped through the

darkness and out the front door.

 

Phineas stood, stunned and slack-jawed, staring after

Trapspringer Furrfoot for several moments. He'd been had! But by the

time he could react, he knew it would be too late to catch the kender.

Furrfoot was obviously an old eccentric who had escaped from the city

jail. Bank note, indeed! Marrying the mayor's daughter, bahh!

Strangely, Phineas wasn't very annoyed at Trapspringer for having

tricked him. In a way, he admired the kender's ability to get what he

wanted, just like he had admired the kender who'd tied everyone's

shoelaces to the bench.

 

With a shrug, Phineas blew out the candles and headed for the

stairs at the back of his shop that led to his quarters above. On the

way back, he took the worthless "bank note" from his pocket and tossed

it on his tool tray without looking. He'd throw it out in the morning,

along with the remaining rat skeleton he'd "sold" as minotaur bones to

the kender a few minutes before. Phineas had found the dried rodent

husk, long dead, in his medicine cupboard. He'd swept it into his

wooden dustpan and had been meaning all week to throw it out. But when

Trapspringer had begged for the finger bone of a minotaur, Phineas,

ever the con man, remembered the rat bones and thought the ploy worth

a try.

 

And Trapspringer had fallen for it!

 

Phineas smiled. Trapspringer Furrfoot was quite the shyster, but

he wasn't the only one who'd be laughing tonight.

 

 

 

Chapter 3

 

A light rain began falling at dusk as Tasslehoff, Gisella, and

Woodrow rode due east of Solace. The forest surrounding the village

quickly gave way to the foothills of the Sentinel Peaks. The wagon

traveled steadily uphill past low scrub pines and aspen, the air

scented with wet worms and bitter-sweet wild chrysanthemums. The road

ran through a narrow valley between two spurs of the mountains, but it

was clear and relatively rut-free. The horses plodded amiably, away

from the setting sun.

 

Seated between Tasslehoff and Woodrow on the buckboard, reins in

one hand, Gisella mopped her damp brow with a vivid, orange silk

scarf.

 

"Gods, it's warm," she sighed. "That rain helps, though.

Shouldn't be so warm this time of year." Raindrops gathered in

shimmering pools on her unusually red hair and ran through it in wavy

streams.

 

"It's a bad omen, I think," said Woodrow, voicing the first

opinion either the kender or the dwarf had heard from him. His

almost-white hair clung to his head in wet, arrow-straight clumps. He

pushed his bangs aside, sending drops of water flying in a shower.

 

"A bad omen?" asked Tas, whose braided topknot of hair looked

the same wet as dry. Looking up at the falling rain, he tucked his

parchment map into his vest to keep it dry. "What do you mean,

exactly?"

 

"When it's this hot in late autumn," Woodrow began, "we're in

for a harsh winter."

 

"That's a trend or a cycle, not an omen," Gisella commented. "I

don't believe in omens and superstitions."

 

"You don't?" said Woodrow, looking at the dwarf with an odd

combination of disbelief and pity. "You mean you would actually walk

past a nesting bird during a full moon? Or drink ale from a chipped

flagon? Or... or even use a candle that had been lit in the presence

of a dead body?"

 

"I don't take any pains not to," said Gisella. "What's supposed

to happen when I do those things?" "Oh, terrible things will happen!"

Woodrow gasped. "If you walk past a nesting bird during a full moon,

all of your children will be hatched from eggs. Drinking ale from a

chipped vessel means you will be robbed before the day ends." Woodrow

nibbled at his nails nervously.

 

"But worst of all, whoever lights a candle that was used in the

presence of a dead body after the body's been buried or burned will be

visited by the spirit of the dead person." Woodrow's young face grew

even paler. "Sometimes, if the soul is newly dead, it will take over

the body of the living person!"

 

"That's ridiculous!" Gisella snorted indelicately.

 

The horses were having a difficult time avoiding ruts in the

growing darkness; she gave the reins an impatient tug.

 

"It's the gods' own truth, ma'am," Woodrow vowed solemnly.

 

"I don't believe in any such things, including the gods,"

Gisella mumbled under her breath. "Tell me, Woodrow," she said more

loudly, "have you witnessed any of these curses yourself?"

 

"Of course not, ma'am," he said, suppressing a chill.

 

"I've been very careful to avoid those things."

 

"It would be interesting to hatch from an egg, if you could

remember it, don't you think?" remarked Tas. But then he frowned. "I

shouldn't like to be robbed, though. But I wouldn't mind talking to a

spirit. Maybe it would tell you where its jewels and things were,

since it wouldn't need them anymore. At the very least, it could tell

you what it felt like to be dead -- whether you're happy or sad all

the time, or what."

 

"No spirit is ever going to talk to you, Burrfoot," Gisella

laughed. "At least not while I'm available as the preferred party."

 

"You shouldn't joke about such things, ma'am," Woodrow said

softly. "Spirits don't like that."

 

"And I don't like this discussion," the dwarf said

uncomfortably. She held a hand out, palm up. "I think the rain is

beginning to let up. But it's getting too dark for travel." She

steered the horses off the road to the right and jumped from the

buckboard. Taking the horses by the bridles, she led them away from

the road to a clearing that was partially screened by a high hedge of

red-leafed bushes.

 

"Feed the horses, will you, Woodrow?" she instructed, walking

past them to the back of the wagon. "And keep an eye on Burrfoot. I'm

going to find someplace to take a bath." The front of the wagon

pitched up suddenly as Gisella stepped inside.

 

Dutifully, Woodrow slid from the wagon and unharnessed the

horses. Pulling a burlap bag of dry grain from under the seat, he

crooned softly to the animals and petted their silky noses. They

nuzzled his hands affectionately. Setting the bag on the ground, he

dipped both hands into it and pulled out two fistfuls of grain. The

horses nibbled eagerly from his open palms.

 

When each had finished a handful of grain, Woodrow said, "I've

got other chores that need tending, my friends." He set out enough

grain for the horses' dinner and called, "Enjoy your food. I'll bring

you some water later." Both whinnied contentedly.

 

Tas had been watching Woodrow unabashedly the entire time. "They

really seem to like you," the kender said admiringly. Woodrow

shrugged, but there was pride in his smile.

 

"I've grown fond of them, too, in the few weeks I've been Miss

Hornslager's hired hand." He peered around the campsite. "Help me find

some big rocks to block the wagon wheels with, would you?" He strolled

back toward the road, eyes scanning the ground, and Tas scurried after

him, trying to help.

 

"Can you speak with animals?" Tas grunted as he struggled to

lift a rock almost as big as his torso. "My friend Raistlin can

sometimes, when he casts a spell. It's funny, though; animals still

don't seem to like him very much."

 

Woodrow shook his head. "I can't speak to them with words, no,"

he said. "I do seem to understand them -- their feelings and such --

except I have trouble with lizards and some birds." Wordlessly, the

human lifted a small boulder from Tasslehoff's straining arms. "We

don't need rocks quite this big. Why don't you gather some wood?" The

young, wiry man strode over to the wagon and dropped the stone behind

one of its rear wheels. "There, that one ought to do it," he said,

kicking the stone into place. "This area is mostly level."

 

Using some smaller rocks, Woodrow made a large fire circle about

six feet from the wagon. After completing the circle, he found the

kender at the edge of the clearing, gathering handfuls of dry pine

needles for starting a fire. Woodrow collected an armload of small

sticks and dry branches.

 

"How did you learn to do that?" Tas asked him. "Understand

animals, I mean."

 

"I dunno," said the young human, shrugging. "I just watch and

listen. Always have. I think anyone can understand animals. Most

people just never pay enough attention."

 

"Of course, Flint says I talk too much," Tasslehoff reElected

pensively. "Maybe that's why I've never heard an animal talk."

 

"I guess," Woodrow said. "Anyway, I hope you can, cook

something. Miss Hornslager can't even boil water. I try, but..."

 

"Oh, I'm a great cook!" Tas proclaimed modestly.

 

"Why, I can make rabbit gumbo and turnip dressing and even acorn

pie!"

 

"I'm afraid we don't have any of those ingredients," Woodrow

said sadly. "Miss Hornslager lives in the wagon year-round, so she

travels light -- just her possessions, and what she has for barter or

as payment. I haven't seen her do a lot of trading in the few weeks

I've been with her -- at least not for goods." Woodrow blushed,

remembering the lusty dwarf's advances.

 

But Tas didn't notice. "So what do we have on hand?"

 

"At the moment, we're down to one skinny chicken, a bag of dried

beans, three boIts of fabric with gold threads, two crates of

merganser melons that we don't dare touch, two live pug ferrets --

which will stay that way," he warned through narrowed eyes, "and some

odd spices, most of which have to be scraped off the floor of the

wagon, though there are some in jars."

 

"That's not much to work with, but I think I can do something

with the chicken and the beans," Tas replied. Woodrow looked

skeptical. "You'll find everything inside the wagon, in a cupboard

toward the front. If it looks edible -- except the ferrets and the

melons -- it's fair game." With that, he dropped to his haunches and

set about building a cookfire.

 

Tas sprang into the back of the wagon, expecting to find

Gisella, but the wagon was empty. Fortunately, a lighted lantern hung

from a hook by the door, He looked around in astonishment. The

interior looked much larger than the outside would suggest. From floor

to low ceiling on the right side of the wagon were narrow shelves

containing neatly stacked, corked, green apothecary jars, some empty,

most full of dried herbs. The shelves held various and sundry other

items, from pale yellow beeswax candles to a black velvet-covered

board crammed full of rings studded with winking, colorful gems. Tas

reached out a hand eagerly.

 

"Don't touch the rings, whatever you do," Woodrow called to him

suddenly from outside the wagon. "The gems are fake, but Miss

Hornslager trades them as real ones. She knows exactly how many she

has and where each one's place is in the velvet display board."

Tas snatched his hand back abruptly.

 

"I wouldn't," he said, flustered, wondering if the young human

could read minds as well as understand animals. "She shouldn't leave

them out where just anyone can get at them," he murmured.

 

Tas dragged his eyes away from the sparkling rings and examined

the rest of the wagon. Except for the far front corner, the entire

left side of the wagon was covered with fluffy, overstuffed, brightly

colored pillows atop a thick-piled, midnight-black fur -- probably

Gisella's bed, Tas decided. In the far corner was an ornate,

black-lacquered dressing screen folded accordian-style. At the rear of

the wagon Tas spotted Gisella's clothes where they were piled neatly

on a stack of pillows.

 

His stomach growled, and he remembered why he was in the wagon.

As promised, he found a wide, shallow cupboard and opened the door.

Inside was a headless, unplucked chicken hanging from one leg, a small

bucket placed beneath it to catch drops of blood. The chicken seemed

pretty well drained, so Tas took it down and snatched up the bag of

dried beans. He located what smelled like fennel and sage in two of

the green, corked jars (but only after testing all of them, just to be

sure). He also nabbed a dried-up lemon -- a treat, despite the mold --

and a few pans and bowls, and then left the wagon to join Woodrow by

the small fire.

 

"Miss Hornslager is bathing in a stream on the far side of that

grove of trees." Woodrow pointed, handing a half-filled bucket of

water to Tas. "Here, the horses didn't drink this water. You can use

it to flavor your cooking."

 

Wrinkling his nose, Tas took the wooden vessel. He was relieved

to find no foam on top, and even more so to see that the horses had

their own bucket. He dumped half of the beans into a bowl, added

enough of the cold, clear water to cover them, and set the bowl near

the fire to warm the water and soften the beans. Finally, he stretched

the chicken across his lap for plucking.

 

"Where did you learn to cook?" Woodrow asked, adding a few

larger sticks to the flames to encourage the coals.

 

"Watching my mother, I guess," Tas said. "She was a great cook,"

he said fondly. "She could turn a week-old loaf of bread into a feast!

One whiff of her mongoose pie caused riots in our neighborhood in

Kendermore. In fact, she was forbidden, by order of the Kendermore

Council, to make it anymore." Tasslehoff's eyes shone with pride.

 

"Was?" Woodrow said gently. "Is she dead?"

 

"I don't think so," Tasslehoff frowned, "but I haven't seen her

in a long time."

 

"If my mother were still alive, I'd visit her as often as I

could," Woodrow said wistfully, stirring the coals a little too

vigorously. "My father, too."

 

"Both your parents are dead? Gee, I'm sorry," said Tas kindly,

tearing out a handful of black feathers. "How did it happen?"

 

Woodrow blinked frequently. "My father came from a family of

Solamnic Knights. He was raised to it -- he didn't know anything else.

He didn't care so much about the knighthood as he did about helping

people, though. And that was his downfall."

 

Tas could almost guess Woodrow's next words. He knew, from his

friend Sturm Brightblade, that the Knights of Solamnia, once the

peacekeepers of the realm, had lived in persecution and fear from the

common people in the region of Solamnia. Many of those people wrongly

blamed the knights for the Cataclysm, which Tas found difficult to

understand, no matter how many times Sturm explained it. Sturm's

father was a knight who had sent his wife and then young son to the

south until things quieted down. Sturm never heard from his father

again.

 

"About ten years ago, my father came to the aid of a neighboring

farmer," Woodrow continued. "The man was wounded and claimed that

several men who looked like knights had looted his home and left him

for dead.

 

My father was trying to help the man to his feet when other

neighbors, alerted by the farmer's cries, as had my father, came

storming into the cottage, bearing pitchforks and axes. They saw a

Solamnic Knight standing over the injured farmer, and without a

question, they struck him down." Woodrow's voice was even and clear,

but his eyes watered. "The farmer tried to stop them, but he was too

late. He tearfully told us later of my father's senseless death."

 

Tas's tender heart was near to bursting. "And your mother?" He

blew his nose on his sleeve.

 

"She died miscarrying my brother shortly after." Woodrow stared

into the flames.

 

For once Tas didn't know what to say. Then he had an - idea.

"You could visit my parents with me when we get to Kendermore -- if

they're still there, that is."

 

"That's awfully kind of you," Woodrow said, "but it wouldn't be

the same."

 

Tas frowned. "I suppose not. Is that why you're with Gisella?"

 

"Sort of," Woodrow said slowly. "After my parents died, my uncle

-- Father's brother -- took me in."

 

"That was nice of him," interjected Tas, trying to sound

cheerful.

 

"Father and Uncle Gordon were very close." Woodrow added another

log to the fire. "I've thought about it a lot, and I believe he hoped

to bring my father back through me. He was always saying how much I

looked like Father. Anyway, he wanted me to be his squire, and day

after day we trained." Woodrow shook his head sadly. "But I knew how

-- and why -- my father had died. I wanted no part of the knighthood,

and I told Uncle Gordon so as nicely as I could. But it was as though

he hadn't heard me. He just kept reciting the Oath and the Measure. So

I had to run away."

 

"Yes, I suppose you did," Tas agreed awkwardly.

 

The story seemed to have drained Woodrow. He ' sighed heavily.

"To answer your original question, I met Miss Hornslager at a fair in

Sanction. I needed a job, and she needed an assistant. So here I am."

 

They were quiet for some time. Tas's thoughts traveled back to

his own family. "I have an uncle. He's my mother's brother, and his

name is Trapspringer. You know the one -- the Kendermore Council

locked him up and took away his lucky finger bone because of me." Tas

looked up from the chicken at Woodrow earnestly, white and black

feathers clinging to his fingers. "Would you say that's a bad omen --

having his lucky bone taken away?"

 

Woodrow srhiled for the first time since the conversation began.

"I wouldn't say it was a good one."

 

"Poor Uncle Trapspringer," Tas said sadly, shaking his head as

he pulled the last of the feathers from the bird. "I'll gut it for

you," Woodrow offered, holding out his hand for the chicken. "If I

learned anything from my time as a squire, it was how to dress game."

 

Tas handed him the chicken. "I'll need a spit, too," he said to

Woodrow. After wiping his palms on the grass to remove the feathers,

Tas rinsed his hands with the clear water he'd set aside earlier.

Next, he drained the water from the bowl of beans. Tossing in a

handful each of fennel and sage, he stirred the mixture with his

hands.

 

Woodrow returned with the bird. "All clean and shiny and pink,"

he said, handing it over by the neck. Tas split the lemon in half and

rubbed what little juice there was over the chicken, inside and out.

Next he stuffed the bean mixture into the cavity of the bird while

Woodrow drove two sturdy, fork-shaped branches into the ground on

either side of the fire. Tas held the stuffed chicken up and Woodrow

ran a straight, thin stick through it from one end to the other.

Wordlessly, he set it on the two forked sticks with the chicken

centered over the glowing coals.

 

"Perfect," Tas sighed. He leaned back against a sturdy wagon

wheel and closed his eyes.

 

"I'll keep an eye on dinner," Woodrow offered, but he knew the

kender was already asleep. The human sat cross-legged before the fire,

absently staring into the red-hot coals.

 

Meanwhile, Gisella scampered barefoot up the slope toward the

light of the fire, stopping occasionally to pluck pine needles from

the tender pads of her feet. She knew Woodrow was scandalized by her

nightly forays to the nearest body of water -- and to bodies of

another sort when the option was available -- she thought with a

girlish giggle. He'd said it was rather bold of her to traipse around

in the woods unclothed. But Gisella Hornslager was accustomed to

taking care of herself. She found the damage from a day's dirt and

sweat grinding into her skin more upsetting than any possible

encounter with a wild animal. The frigid bath by moonlight had felt

divine, though now her damp skin felt cool against the night mountain

air. She drew her thin wrap closer and hurried toward the promised

warmth of the fire.

 

Gisella stopped in her tracks at the edge of the clear ing; the

most delicious aroma assailed her nostrils.

 

"Tasslehoff's recipe," said Woodrow, noting the pleased

expression on her face. He had removed the chicken from the fire and

was in the process of sliding the bird from the stick.

 

Gisella rushed forward and turned over the bucket of water for a

seat. Gingerly testing the temperature of the rocks around the fire

with her icy toes, she found a comfortable spot. Sighing contentedly,

she looked at the kender, who had woken and was holding a large tin

plate under their dinner.

 

"Perhaps your friend, that cute half-elf, was right about one

thing: maybe you are worth more than a bolt of fabric." She snatched

up a smaller plate and held it out eagerly to receive her share. "I'm

starved!"

 

"Thank you," Tasslehoff said, though he wasn't sure if that had

been a compliment or not. He tipped the platter so that tender,

crumbly bits of chicken rolled onto Gisella's plate, and then added a

helping of bean stuffing. Tas sat back to enjoy his own meal.

 

Woodrow ate his share in silence, watching his employer.

Gisella's hands were a flurry of activity, and her mouth never stopped

chewing. Before Woodrow had eaten more than two bites, Gisella was

finished with, hers. She sat with her arms clutched tightly about her

waist, holding her wrap closed, her eyes the half-closed slits of a

sleeping cat.

 

Woodrow had not met many women, and had come to know only a few

of them, but he felt that Gisella Hornslager was not typical of her

sex. She had her own rules about everything, and she seemed to care

not one whit what anyone thought of her. She had a voracious appetite

for food, among other things. He blushed, remembering the sound of her

"trading" with men these last weeks. He'd tried not to listen to the

grunts and groans coming through the wagon's windows, but it was

impossible since on those occasions she posted him right outside as

watchman. Afterward, she seemed not the least ashamed to face him and,

in fact, seemed to delight in bringing a flood of red to his cheeks

with some earthy remark.

 

She was afraid of nothing -- except the possibility that

something she wanted could not be bought. Woodrow concluded that,

although he strongly disagreed with her freewheeling lifestyle, he

respected her for having the courage of her convictions.

 

"What are you staring at?" she demanded suddenly, her eyes wide

open. She looked over his lean, muscled body with a suggestive smile

on her face. "You haven't changed your mind about my preferred payment

plan?"

 

His gaze flew back to his plate, and he concentrated madly on

his meal. "N-no," he stuttered, blushing as usual. "I still need the

steel pieces, ma'am."

 

She shrugged, unoffended. "Suit yourself. You know I prefer to

barter for services, whenever possible." Gisella picked up a twig and

poked it into the fire. "Let me see that map, Burrfoot," she said.

 

Looking up from his plate, Tas sucked his greasy fingers loudly

and reached into his vest. He handed the dwarf a folded piece of

parchment. "We've traveled for little more than a half-day. Given

that, I think we should be able to reach Xak Tsaroth by late

tomorrow," the kender predicted.

 

Ignoring him, Gisella tipped the map toward the firelight and

peered closely.

 

"We're right about here," Tas said helpfully, jabbing at the

back of the map toward the top center, at a point near the city marked

Xak Tsaroth.

 

Gisella could see the shadow of his finger through the

parchment. "Hmmm, yes," she said. "It looks like a nice, straight shot

from here to --" she looked closely all the way to the right edge "--

well, all the way to Balifor."

 

Tasslehoff puffed himself up. "I told you I'd get you back

before your melons went bad. If there's one thing a Burrfoot knows,

it's maps."

 

But Gisella was still looking closely at the map, shak ing her

head slowly. "I guess..." she mumbled. But the dwarf continued staring

at the piece of paper, wondering what it was that she was missing,

until the coals burned black, long after Tasslehoff and Woodrow had

both curled up to sleep.

 

 

Chapter 4

 

Phineas wiped the night's grit from his eyes with a corner of

his white smock as he clomped down the wooden stairs, headed for his

office below. Grimacing, he smacked his lips. His mouth had an awful,

metallic taste, as if he'd been sucking on a rusty sword. Undoubtedly

residue from the pitcher of kender ale he'd drunk before falling

asleep last night, he decided.

 

After opening the door to his examination room at the foot of

the stairs, he quickly lit the stub of a candle in the darkened room

and headed straight for the counter that contained the green glass

bottle of his own special elixir. It was Phineas's cure for anything

that couldn't be covered up with a bandage, ear plugs, or oiled

parchment glasses, or pulled out like teeth or in-grown toenails. He

prescribed it for headaches, stomachaches, foot aches, joint aches,

sore throats, bulging eyes, rashes, bad breath, swollen tongues,

irregularity, and a host of other ills that seemed to plague the

citizens of Kendermore. Oddly enough, he'd found that the

sharp-tasting liquid was actually effective against stomachaches and

bad breath. He charged a dear price for his elixir, claiming that its

mystical ingredients came "from dangerous lands far away, where

strangers are met with the sword and the flame and seldom escape with

their lives." Kenders' eyes would open wide as they contemplated the

green bottle, and a low whistle would often escape their lips as they

reached greedily for the exotic medicine.

 

Taking a swig now and swishing it around in his mouth, Phineas's

full cheeks jiggled with mirth. The special ingredients of his elixir

were a few crushed cherry and eucalyptus leaves that he scavenged from

the trash behind the neighborhood apothecary's shop. Nothing mystical

about that. Certainly he had never put a bone from a lycanthropic

minotaur in any batch, as he'd told the kender the night before.

 

Thus remembering his visitor, Phineas's eyes fell across the

folded paper on the nearby wooden tray.

 

"That Trapspringer was a con artist -- maybe even better than

me!" the human admitted aloud, unfolding the sheet absently. It was a

map. He was about to crumble it between his fists when a word on one

corner fleetingly caught his attention.

 

The word was "treasure."

 

Frowning in thought, Phineas thumbed the map open and spread it

out on the counter, allowing the glow of the candle to fall over it.

He squinted in the flickering light and deduced from a smudgy title at

the top that this was a map of Kendermore. But he couldn't make out

any fine details on the aged, delicate map. He needed more light.

 

The window in the examination room faced west, so Phineas didn't

even bother opening it; he knew he wouldn't get any appreciable light

from that direction so early in the morning. Instead, he stepped into

his small waiting room and opened wide the shutters, which faced the

east and the rising sun. Morning sunlight filtered in beneath a heavy

canvas awning. Phineas dragged a rickety stool to the open window,

spread the map out on the waiting bench, and parked his bulk on the

stool. The wood creaked in protest, which usually happened when

Phineas sat in anything made for a kender.

 

Not that he was heavy, at least by the standards of his own

race. He was of average human height, with a barrel-shaped chest and

rather sticklike arms and legs. His hands were lily white, and there

was not an ounce of muscle on his bones. He had always been considered

slight and nonthreatening among his own people.

 

But compared to kender, he was large, which was one of the

reasons he liked living in Kendermore. Nibbling at a fingernail now,

Phineas scanned the old parchment map for the word "treasure." He

scanned it again, and then a third time. Had his eyes somehow played a

trick on his mind? He was sure he'd been looking at the right side of

the map, near the edge. Phineas concentrated his gaze there.

 

"Hey, it'th Dr. Teeth!" called a high, lisping girl kender's

voice. Phineas started so violently he almost fell backward off the

groaning stool. The voice's owner poked her head under the awning to

peer in the window. "Are you open?" she asked. "I have thith terrible

toothache, and thinth there'th no waiting right now, you could..."

"No, I'm not 'open' yet," snapped Phineas, his eyes

drawn back to the map. "Do you see an 'open' sign in

my door?"

 

"Well, no, but your window ith open and I thought maybe you

hadn't turned the thign yet, and my tooth hurtth real bad. Thay,

what'th that? A map?"

 

Phineas instinctively jerked the paper from the kender's prying

eyes, then looked up. A white strip of cloth was stretched around the

kender's jaw and tied to the top of her head.

 

"This? Why, yes, it is a map. I'm thinking of moving my shop,

and I'm simply considering new locations," he improvised hastily. "And

yes, my window is open, but I am not."

 

"Well, when will you be open?" she asked, laying a hand gingerly

to the left side of her jaw.

 

"I don't know!" he growled impatiently. "Come back this

afternoon!"

 

"Should I come here, or should I go to your new shop ?" Phineas

looked at her strangely. Ordinarily, kender didn't bother him, like

they did most humans. But for some reason, this kender was annoying

him to distraction. Perhaps it was simply a reaction to the previous

evening's excessive nightcap.

 

"Here!"

 

"OK!" she said merrily. "Bye! Thee you thith afternoon!" Waving,

she grinned, but her smile disappeared immediately. Holding her sore

jaw, she drifted away down the uneven, cobbled street.

 

Quickly, before more snooping kender could appear and pester

him, Phineas pulled the map back onto his lap and studied it closely.

A street map of Kendermore looked like a box filled with writhing

snakes. No two roads were parallel -- or even straight -- and all but

the thicker, main avenues were dead ends. Phineas noted that the names

on those main thoroughfares seemed to change at random. He focused his

attention on one whose name he recognized as being near his shop;

there it was called "Bottleneck Avenue," two irregular blocks to the

east, the same road bore the name "Straight Street" (and appeared to

be anything but), and just beyond that word, the street was renamed

"Bildor's Boulevard."

 

If all that weren't confusing enough, the mapmaker had used his

own symbols, which depicted such important landmarks as "Bertie's

house," "here's where the robin's nest is," and "violet patch."

 

Looking at the map only made the city more confusing, Phineas

decided. But asking directions from a kender was hopeless, too. "Turn

right -- or is it left? -- at the big, green tree, then spin in place

twice, go past the red geraniums -- beautiful, have you seen them? --

and before you know it you're where you are!"

 

Again the word seemed to leap from the right edge of the map,

this time hitting him squarely in the eyes. Actually, "treasure" was

part of a phrase, which may have made it difficult for him to see. In

full, it read, "Here be a treasure of gems and magical rings beyond

compare." Phineas's pulse throbbed in his temples.

 

Snatching up a bit of coal from the small pile near his heating

brazier, he circled the phrase with shaking hands. Then he noticed the

symbol below it.

 

Beneath the glorious words was an arrow pointing to the right

edge of the map, its chevron point catching exactly the lip of the

sheet. With his nose less than an inch from the page, he noticed that

the right edge of the map was slightly frayed, as if it had been torn

along a fold.

 

The map had been ripped in two, and the location of the treasure

was on the other half !

 

"No!" Phineas cried. His head moved quickly from side to side,

his eyes scouring the map for a different answer, Maybe the arrow

didn't apply to the treasure. But after a few frantic moments, Phineas

had to admit that it did. There was nothing else on that edge of the

map. Strangely, he was fairly certain that all of Kendermore, as he

knew it, was represented on the map in his hand.

 

Then what was on the other half of the map?

 

And where was it?

 

Phineas forced his mind to slow down. He might possibly have in

his possession the find of a lifetime, He could live a long time on

the sale of gems and magical rings. But he had to have the whole map

to find this treasure.

 

Trapspringer! The kender had told him the map was one of his

most prized possessions, so he obviously knew its value. Surely the

odd, elder kender had the other half. But how would he find

Trapspringer in the vast city of Kendermore? Phineas's heart pounded

like the sound of a hundred horses' hooves.

 

Frowning, he craned his neck through the open window, then

snorted at his own foolishness. The ringing in his ears wasn't his

heart at all, but an early morning parade coming down his street.

 

Parades -- if the term were used loosely -- were a daily event

in Kendermore. The occasions they celebrated ranged from the

ridiculous to the sublime. This one was shaping up to be the former,

Phineas thought sourly, taking note of the band. Five squealing fifers

and three thundering cymbalists provided background noise for a

middle-aged kender with a black topknot, who yelled through cupped

hands from a bench atop a seriously listing wagon. A banner, stretched

between the hands of two scantily clad young female kender in

knee-high boots, short skirts, and low-cut blouses, proclaimed that

they were promoting the election of someone or other into the mayor's

office.

 

"And why do we want a gynosphinx for mayor?" he yelled. "Because

we've never had one, that's why!

 

Kendermore was founded on freedom and equality -- well, maybe no

one said those things specifically -- but we say that a gynosphinx

deserves a chance! Besides, they tell good riddles!" The fifes struck

a piercing trill, the cymbals crashed, and the ensemble continued down

the street, yelling and cheering for the spokesman's words.

 

Distracted from the map, Phineas shook his head in amusement. A

gynosphinx for mayor, indeed. As far as he knew, gynosphinxes were the

female of the species of creatures with lion bodies. They were almost

as large as ogres, though vastly more intelligent, and they tended to

devour anything that offended them. Only in Kendermore would anyone

suggest such a thing. Besides, Kendermore already had a mayor, and

Phineas had heard of no scheduled elections. Of course, kender seldom

scheduled anything.

 

Kendermore already had a mayor. Phineas's eyes darted from side

to side as a thought -- a recollection, really -- congealed in his

brain. Trapspringer had said some very strange, contradictory things

the night before. He'd said that he was being held in prison. But he'd

also said that his nephew was marrying the mayor's daughter. Had one

or both statements been the rambling of a crazy old kender? The two

could not possibly be connected. Nevertheless, in the absence of any

other clues, it seemed that Phineas's best chance to find Trapspringer

might lay with the mayor, whoever he was. A smile of pure delight and

anticipation spread across his middle-aged face.

 

In the wake of the parade, kender had begun appearing before his

window.

 

"Dr. Bones --"

 

"I need a haircut and --"

 

Forced to acknowledge their raucous presence, Phineas asked

abruptly, "Say, do any of you know where I might find the mayor?"

 

"City Hall!" they sang out.

 

"Thanks," he said tersely. "I'm closed today, because of the

holiday -- the parade, and gynosphinxes, and all that." With that he

swung the shutters closed in the kender's tiny, surprised faces. He

could hear their sputtering taunts, but his mind was already on its

way to City Hall to locate either a crazy man or -- Phineas couldn't

think of an 'or.'

 

 

Chapter 5

 

"I don't get if," Tasslehoff said for the tenth time that

morning. He was seated on the buckboard between Gisella and Woodrow,

his map unfolded and spread wide.

"The village of Que-shu was where it should be, smack in the

middle of the plains. We're riding on the Sageway East Road -- right

where it should be, too -- but this should be more plains, right?" He

flung his arms at the scenery around him. "So where did these

mountains I come from?" He thumped the map and shook his head.

 

"Has there been an earthquake or something? Everything is turned

around."

 

"You tell me," Gisella said, clicking her tongue at the horses

to spur them up the incline. "After all, you're the sport who made the

map."

 

"I said I made maps, all right. But I never said I made this

one," Tasslehoff said, fidgeting.

 

"Mr. Burrfoot's Uncle Bertie made this map," Woodrow said

innocently.

 

"Well, I'm not exactly positive Uncle Bertie made it," Tas said.

"That's just what my Uncle Trapspringer told me when he gave me a

bunch of maps for my coming-ofage present. Come to think of it, I've

never met an Uncle Bertie. I wonder if he's even my Uncle Bertie."

 

"How did you get to Solace in the first place?" Gisella

demanded, ignoring his chatter. "You must remember the route, being a

map aficionado and all."

 

"Of course I remember. I came up from the south, through

Thorbardin and Pax Tharkas, just like you did," the kender said

simply.

 

"Pardon me for asking, but why didn't we just go back that same

way?" said Woodrow.

 

Tas looked a little exasperated and held up his hands. "Don't

look at me. Gisella's the one who was in a hurry and wanted to take a

short cut. I simply suggested the direction!"

 

Gisella scowled. "I'm not sure what we're bickering about," she

said. "So Tasslehoff's map is missing a few cities, some mountains --

no ill has come of it. The road is clear, we're making good time.

Let's keep on!"

 

At that, the miffed expression on Tas's face was replaced by

satisfaction, and Woodrow drifted off into silence again.

 

Their morning had, in fact, been peaceful, uneventful. They had

woken to find the gray, rainy sky replaced by a cloudless, azure one.

Tas had risen early, drawn to the sounds of rushing water. Removing

his grease-stained leggings, he scrubbed them on a rock in a cold,

clear stream, and they dried quickly on a branch in the early morning

sun.

 

A light sleeper, Woodrow had meanwhile quietly slipped the bag

of grain from under the buckboard and fed the horses in anticipation

of the long day ahead. Af ter filling their bucket with fresh water,

he ventured into the woods and found a late crop of wild blackberries.

 

Before long, Gisella had slipped from her bed of overstuffed

pillows in the wagon, wearing her raspberrycolored boots and a vivid

orange, long-sleeved tunic with matching pants so tight they looked

like they had been painted on. The sun gave her hair red hotspots of

light as the three sat by the ashes of the fire and breakfasted on

cold, leftover bean stuffing, fresh blackberries, and mountain spring

water.

 

Spirits had been high as they rolled away from camp. Within an

hour, they had left the mountains, and the barbarian village of

Que-shu shimmered against the blue-gray horizon. Though the road they

traveled passed very near -- easily within one thousand yards of

Que-shu -- a clear view of the village was blocked by the perfectly

circular stone wall surrounding it. Still, the upper levels of several

huge stone temples and a spacious arena could be seen against the blue

sky in the latemorning sun. Barbarian eyes, apparently accustomed to

traffic on the road, watched from atop the wall, but there was no

effort to hail or molest the travelers.

 

After passing Que-shu, they had stopped for lunch. Gisella

reluctantly dipped into her secret stash of trade goods and produced a

small haunch of expensive Tarsitian smoked ham. While munching his

portion, Tas had looked to the east and was the first to spot the

jagged spines of the mountain range about which they were now

bickering.

 

"We're traveling downhill now," Woodrow said, detecting a slight

decline. "Maybe this mountain range wasn't included on your map

because it was relatively small," he suggested to Tas.

 

The kender brightened considerably. "That's probably it!" He

liked finding the answers to mysteries.

 

Soon their descent became more obvious. Gisella had to strain

mightily on the reins to keep the horses from galloping pell-mell down

the mountain. But before long, mountain evergreens gave way to the

leafy maples and oaks of the foothills.

 

"It's a straight shot from here to Xak Tsaroth," Gisella

announced, giving the horses their heads. The wagon swayed and bounced

and kicked up clouds of dust as the horses bolted down the road.

Tasslehoff's slight frame was tossed about like a ball, but the kender

giggled with joy at the madcap dash, though he clutched the buckboard

to keep from being tossed to the ground. Brisk wind stung his eyes

into tears of laughter.

 

But suddenly, looking beyond the horses, Tasslehoff blinked

hard. Were his eyes just blurry, he wondered, or did -- ?

 

"Look!" he cried, pointing ahead down the road. Gisella squinted

in the direction of his finger. But her day vision was not as keen as

her night vision when, like all dwarves, she could see partially into

the infrared. Her vision got fuzzy some twenty feet ahead of the

horses.

 

She saw nothing untoward, so she continued on.

 

What Tasslehoff was trying to point out but she could not see

was that the road simply stopped, as if the builders had walked away

before finishing it, some fifty yards ahead.

 

Abruptly the galloping horses skidded unceremoniously into a

swamp, dragging the wagon bearing three unwitting passengers.

Tasslehoff sailed through the air, leggings over topknot, to land

between two squishy lumps of grass-covered ground known as bogs.

Lifting his hands out of four inches of cold, muddy water, he shook

the slimy green swamp gook from them and stood up. The kender looked

sourly at his once-clean leggings.

 

Taking a step toward the wagon, he tripped over an underground

bog and landed face-first in the water. Gods, it was cold! he thought.

Jerking himself out and up again, he held on to the wagon and shook

his head like a wet dog.

 

Woodrow had managed to stay with the wagon when the road

stopped. Now he was scrambling down to calm the hysterical horses, who

were up to their fetlocks in water, their eyes wide with fright.

 

"My outfit! It's ruined!"

 

Gisella's shrieks came from the other side of the horses, to the

left of the wagon. Woodrow carefully picked his way through the bogs,

sometimes sinking as high as his knees in the mud, until he found the

female dwarf.

 

Gisella was sitting in the swamp, legs sprawled, arms propping

her up from behind. She was covered to her ample chest with murky

water. Only two inches of her outfit was still orange. The dwarf gave

a start as a frog leaped from her shoulder into the dark, sludgy

water.

 

Spitting a thick strand of wet, red hair from her mouth and

eyes, she spotted the kender, who had stepped around the wagon next to

Woodrow. Gisella glared at him. "I don't suppose this swamp was on

your map, either? Or is this your idea of a fun little surprise?"

Gisella sat on the top step at the back of the wagon, resignedly

pouring muddy water from her raspberry boots. "They'll never be the

same," she said morosely. "And I traded one of the best nights of my

life --" she caught the kender staring at her "-- uh, never mind what

I traded."

 

She had changed her clothes, putting on a conservative (for

Gisella, anyway) purple tunic with pants and plain black work boots.

Tasslehoff's leggings were clinging to his skin and they itched

horribly, but he did not have a spare pair.

 

"I guess we'll have to turn around and take the southern route

after all," Gisella grumbled. "We can't possibly reach Kendermore in

time for the fair now." She sighed.

 

"My melons, my melons... I could have replaced my wardrobe with

the money they would have brought me...."

 

"I'm not so sure, ma'am,- Woodrow said suddenly, ming around

from the front of the wagon. "About turning back and going south, I

mean. I unhitched the horses and led them forward into the swamp for

quite some distance, and the water didn't get any deeper. In some

places it was even drier." The young man shook his shaggy hair from

his eyes and regarded Gisella.

 

"And?" Gisella's patience was strained. "What does that mean,

Woodrow?"

 

"It means the water doesn't appear to get much deeper than four

or five inches in most places. It means that it would be tough with

these heavy wheels, but if we take it slow and steady, I think we can

make it through."

 

"Through to where? To Xak Tsaroth? How do we know if we're

anywhere near Xak Tsaroth? How do we know this swamp doesn't go on

forever?"

 

"Nothing goes on forever, ma'am," said Woodrow. Gisella gave a

rueful smile at the young man's unintentional philosophy. "My head is

splitting."

 

"I know how to fix that," Tasslehoff said helpfully from inside

the wagon, reaching toward her temples. "You just tie two dead --"

 

"Thanks, but no thanks," Gisella said quickly, ducking from his

grasp and out the back of the wagon.

 

"-- eucalyptus leaves," Tas finished vacantly. "But suit

yourself."

 

Woodrow pointed the horses toward a distant grove of trees.

Holding the horses by their bridles, he kept his eyes on his feet as

he picked a path through the bogs and the bush-topped cattails. Muck

and mud latched onto him with each step. He curled his toes inside his

boots to keep them on his feet. Humidity was high in the wake of the

previous day's rain and heat. Woodrow's dirty-gray tunic clung to his

wiry frame, the hem hanging ragged where he'd ripped a strip of cloth

to use as a sweatband.

 

Between swatting at flies, kicking at water snakes, and staying

on his feet among the slippery bogs, he was keeping busy.

 

Tasslehoff sat next to Gisella, who held the reins and made a

show of steering the horses, despite the fact that Woodrow led them.

 

The terrain alternated between marshy areas that looked

deceptively dry and large expanses of shallow water. Ahead about five

hundred yards was a low expanse of shrubs and trees, which everyone

hoped meant the end of the swamp.

 

"I'd like to know where all this water is coming from," said

Gisella. "We haven't seen any lakes, or even any streams since we

passed Que-shu."

 

Tas rolled out his map. "It's got to be coming from a stream in

this small mountain range just north of Xak Tsaroth," he said,

pointing.

 

Gisella snorted indelicately. "I wouldn't trust that piece of

junk," she said, thumping the back of the map, "for anything more than

wrapping mackerel."

 

Tas was about to retort when Woodrow stopped suddenly and cocked

his head. "Do you hear that?" he asked.

 

Both Tasslehoff and Gisella fell silent and listened. From ahead

came the distinct sounds of crashing waves.

 

"Ah, ha." Tas exclaimed. "There's the stream I predicted."

 

But Woodrow looked skeptical. "It sounds bigger than a stream."

 

"There's only one way to find out," said Gisella, clicking her

tongue at the horses. Woodrow held steady to their bridles again,

until they reached the grove of trees, when he disappeared into the

dense shrubs.

 

He was back in a flash, his face as white as his quilted tunic

must once have been.

 

"What is it, Woodrow?" Gisella asked.

 

"It's no stream, ma'am," he gulped. "There's water as far as the

eye can see."

 

Gisella's gasp was her initial reply.

 

Human and dwarf turned questioning eyes to the kender. Gisella

poked him in the chest. "Your Uncle Bertie forgot an ocean, too?"

 

 

Chapter 6

 

"Order! Order!" Mayor Merldon Metwinger's gavel bounced off the

hard wooden table that served as the Kendermore Council's Bench of

Authority. The council met every fifth Thursday, and every Monday with

a two in its date. Every Friday with an oddnumbered date, the mayor

held Audience, the day when criminal cases were tried and domestic and

community disputes were settled. Today was such a Friday.

 

Rounding up council members to serve as the jury for criminal

cases on Audience Day was a mayoral duty. Though the city books listed

sixty-three elected council members, representatives of the most

important trades in Kendermore, Mayor Metwinger was seated beside just

five council members today. He'd managed to find six of them during

his morning roundup, but one had apparently wandered off on the way to

City Hall.

 

The venerable kender rubbed his forehead distractedly and let

his hand wander up to scratch the scalp under his graying topknot.

Beneath his cheek braids, which marked him among kender as having

noble blood, his skin was flushed from his council member search and

the exertion of calling the meeting to order. Still, he felt chilled

and damp from a draft and pulled his purple, furlined mayor's robe up

closer to his pointed chin. Glancing to his immediate right, two feet

beyond the end of the Bench of Authority, he eyed the source of the

draft. The council chamber was missing its exterior wall. At that

moment, light autumn rain and damp leaves swirled around the mayor's

feet. Before too long, snow would blow in and form a thick bank on the

edge where the wall should be, making it difficult to determine where

the building started and stopped. Metwinger made a mental note to have

something done about it eventually, although he would surely miss the

view.

 

The chamber was only one of many rooms on the second floor of

the four-story building, housing all of Kendermore's public works and

government offices. Located near the city's center, the structure had

been built more than a century before. Following a kender tradition --

or building tendency -- each floor was less finished than the one

below it, so that the top floor looked as if it were still under

construction. The first floor -- two grand ballrooms -- were intact

though had long ago been stripped of anything valuable. The second

floor was basically complete, except for the missing exterior wall in

the council chamber. The third floor had all the necessary outside

walls, but was without a number of crucial doors: kender builders

preferred to complete a room before allowing for doorways, so that

openings might be located for the convenience of the occupant rather

than arbitrarily placed. (More than one kender builder has found

himself trapped inside a room with no doors!) The fourth floor was

mostly exposed beams, window frames, and the occasional interior wall.

 

Not surprisingly, a problem arose with the design of the

building shortly after its completion. The original builders had

forgotten to include a stairway linking the four floors. Occupants of

the upper floors were forced to scale the stone walls and climb in

through tiny windows, which made the missing wall in the council room

something of an asset. Complaints of deaths, though, particularly

among mayors, brought about the construction, some ten years later, of

a very elegant, polished wood central staircase that spiraled upward

in an everdecreasing circle (things got pretty tight up on the third

floor).

 

Kender were a very political people, but they were dedicated to

no cause as stridently as their need for constant change. Mayor

Metwinger was Kendermore's 1,397th mayor. Not all of them had been

kender. Nailed to the wall in the council chamber was a portrait of

the 47th mayor, a leprechaun named Raleigh who reportedly had been an

excellent mayor, having successfully held the post for nearly a year.

Rumor had it that Raleigh resigned after a dispute when a pot of his

gold mysteriously disappeared. Thirteen hundred fifty mayors had worn

the coveted purple mayoral robes in the intervening three hundred or

so years. Merldon Metwinger had been in the position for a little more

than a month, which was longer than average, if no great achievement.

 

Accidentally elected when the populace confused his moneylending

advertisements for campaign posters, he found that he enjoyed the

vaunted position. He particularly liked the purple velvet mayor's robe

with its many secret pockets.

 

Looking out at the occupants of the council chamber, Mayor

Metwinger rubbed his hands in gleeful anticipation; it promised to be

an exciting Audience Day. Two old, white-haired kender were struggling

over a bony, wide-eyed-with-fright milk cow, each tugging on one of

the animal's ears, which poked out of holes in a ratty straw hat.

Metwinger would liked to have watched them get the cow up the narrow

flights of stairs to the council chamber, which no doubt had

contributed to the cow's anxiety.

 

Also waiting for a turn with the mayor were a male and female

kender, obviously married from the way they were glaring at each

other. A matronly looking kender angrily shook a floury rolling pin at

a red-faced child, whom she held by his pointed ear. While Metwinger

watched, another kender, probably in his mid-fifties and looking

strangely content, straggled in and sat quietly. Behind him came two

attractively dressed, angry-eyed misses, clomping and bobbing

awkwardly, since each wore one of an obvious pair of red shoes.

Metwinger couldn't wait to hear their story.

 

"This Audience is now in session," the mayor proclaimed, giving

the table another rap with his gavel.

 

"Who's first, then, hmmm?" he asked eagerly.

 

"Me!"

 

"Me!"

 

"Us!"

 

"Them!"

 

"I'll take the two with the cow first," Mayor Metwinger

instructed. The others sat down with grumbles and thinly veiled

comments about the mayor's mother.

 

The two farmers stepped forward respectfully, both insisting on

keeping a hand on the cow's collar. They introduced themselves as

Digger Dunstan and Wembly Cloverleaf.

 

"You see, Your Honor, Dorabell is mine --" Digger began.

 

"Bossynova is mine, Digger Dunstan, and you know it!" the other

protested, giving the cow's collar a possessive tug. "Dorabell -- what

a silly name for a cow! And take that stupid hat off her! She prefers

feathers tucked behind her ears!"

 

"Well, you should know about stupid, Wembly Clo verleaf," the

first taunted, "you lame-brained, drainbrained excuse for a farmer.

You borrowed her from my field --"

 

"Only after you took her from mine!"

 

"Did not, you oaf!"

 

"Did too, you ogre-lover!"

 

"DID NOT!"

 

"DID TOO!"

 

Rather predictably, a scuffle broke out. The farmers reached for

each other's throats over the bony back of the frightened cow. Soon,

the audience chose sides and got in on the fight; the members of the

council and the mayor cheered them on.

 

It was the cow herself who settled the matter. Mooing

frantically, she bolted through the throng of kender, right past the

Bench of Authority, heading toward the open wall. Splaying himself on

his stomach across the right corner of the table, the mayor managed to

get a hand on her collar and jerk her to a stop just inches before the

precipice.

 

"So," he panted, "you both claim you own her."

 

"She was mine, first!" both of them howled, hurrying forward to

calm their cow.

 

Metwinger straightened his robes and sat back down, wheezing

heavily. Watching them fawn over the cow, he was struck with an idea.

 

"Then you shall both have part of her," he proclaimed, thinking

his decision not only brilliant, but incredibly fair.

 

The two kender looked at him, puzzled. "You want us to cut her

in half?" Digger finally managed.

 

"Oh!" the mayor looked startled. "I hadn't thought of that

solution. Hmmm -- well, anyway, what I meant was that you must share

her. You, Digger, will have her on odd days, and you, Wembly, shall

have her on the even ones."

 

"But her birthday is on an odd day!" protested Wembly.

 

"And All Cows Day is on an even day!" complained Digger.

 

"Well, then I'd say that makes you even," said the mayor, with

an apologetic smile at Digger. "Next !"

 

"Brilliant judgment," whispered council member Arlan Brambletow,

who secretly thought he would look nice in the velvet mayoral robes.

 

Mayor Metwinger beamed with pride at his own cleverness. Never

before had such a brilliant and impartial mayor presided over

Kendermore's council, he told himself. Fairly bursting with

self-importance, he waved forward the next case, the contented-looking

kender, who began to state his complaint against the city.

 

"Well, it's not really a complaint, Your Highness," the kender

began, clearly nervous now in the presence of the mayor.

 

Metwinger flushed with pleasure. "You may call me Your Honor.

I'm not a king, you know. Not yet, anyway." He chuckled modestly.

"Continue with your story."

 

"Well, you see, the city recently completed cobbling a new

street near my home -- extremely near my home."

 

"Let me guess," the mayor began, having heard such complaints

before. "The construction crew was too noisy, too quiet, or too

sloppy. Or perhaps your taxes were raised too much?"

 

The kender looked surprised. "Oh, no, none of those things.

Well, maybe the taxes were a bit high.... But the workmen were most

pleasant, considering that they built the street through the middle of

my home."

 

The mayor slumped back in his chair, suddenly bored. "So what's

your point?"

 

"Your Honor, I don't think the street was supposed to go through

my house," he said. "At least no one mentioned it to me."

 

The mayor sat forward. "The city is very busy, you know, and

can't be expected to contact just anyone about every little thing." He

sighed. "I suppose you expect the city to disrupt its plans and

reroute the street?"

 

The kender looked alarmed. "Oh, no, Your Honor!

 

I've never had so many friends! In, out, in, out -- carriages

from all over the world! What I'd really like is a permit to open an

inn."

 

The mayor shook his head sympathetically. "You're in the wrong

place, then. What you want is the Department of Inn Permit Issuing. Up

the stairs, first room on the right -- or is it left?" The mayor waved

toward the door at the back, in the left corner of the room.

 

But the kender did not move. Instead he shook his head. "Oh, no,

you're wrong. I went there and they told me that you issue permits."

 

"They said that?" the mayor squealed. "Well, what do they do,

then?" He turned to the council members, who all shrugged, except for

one.

 

"Aren't they in charge of new streets'" Barlo Twackdinger, the

bakerman council member, ventured helpfully.

 

Metwinger shrugged. "Well, if they say we do it, then I guess we

do it. OK, you can have a permit. Next!"

 

While the kender with the permit danced happily out the door,

the domestic case shuffled forward, and a balding, paunchy human

slipped inside the room. Phineas Curick sat at the back of the chamber

and tried to calm himself. It had taken him hours to reach this spot.

He thought he knew where City Hall was, but somehow he'd got turned

around and had to stop and ask for directions. Those directions had

led him to the outer fringes of Kendermore -- practically out of the

whole region of Goodlund, he fumed.

 

But he was most perturbed, because his desperation had caused

him to lose his own good sense. He knew better than to ask a kender

for directions!

 

It also galled him that, in the end, he'd only found City Hall

because he nearly ran into it. Head bent, mumbling in disgust as he

marched back toward where he thought his shop was, he'd nearly smashed

into the side of the building. Somebody had run a street right up to

City Hall's west wall! Dazed, he didn't even realize where he was

until a concerned kender, wearing a badge and a uniform that was so

small its buttons were straining, scraped him up and brought him into

the building for a drink of water.

 

"Who in Hades put a building in the middle of a street?" Phineas

had growled.

 

"Oh, all roads lead to City Hall," the kender guard had

explained.

 

Phineas had shaken his head stupidly. "Never mind. Where do I

find the prison?"

 

"Kendermore doesn't have a prison -- no point in it," the guard

said mildly. "Why, are you a prisoner?"

 

"No, I am not!" Phineas sputtered, more than a little

aggravated. The human was sure Trapspringer had said he was a

prisoner! Frowning, Phineas decided to take a different approach.

 

"If Kendermore had a prisoner, where would he be held?"

 

"Well, that depends...," the kender said. "Say, you wouldn't

have any candy, would you?"

 

If it hadn't been for the guard's genuinely innocent expression,

Phineas would have thought he was being asked for a bribe. In the end,

it amounted to the same thing. "I'm not sure, let me look." Phineas

reached into his pocket and pulled out its contents: two steel pieces

and a pocket knife. Sighing, he placed them in the guard's

outstretched palm anyway. "Sorry, no candy. Now, what does it depend

on?"

 

"Huh?" the guard said, his attention riveted by the

spring-action latch on Phineas's knife. "Oh, where he'd be at depends

on what he did and who he did it to. "What's his name?"

 

"I believe his name is Trapspringer Furrfoot, but I don't know

what he did to get thrown in prison."

 

The kender looked at him. "You're not sure where you're going or

who you're going to see, and you don't know what he did."

 

Phineas felt stupid and annoyed at the same time. The only thing

Trapspringer had said, other than that he was in prison, was that his

nephew was going to marry the mayor's daughter. Phineas brightened. "I

think it may have something to do with the mayor."

 

"Considering how little you know, you're lucky I'm around to

help you sort through this," said the guard, puffing up his chest,

straining the buttons to the bursting point. "Today is Audience Day,

so Mayor -- let's see, it's Metwinger this month, isn't it? I'm not

sure, since I'm just sitting in for my brother today. Our honored

mayor is holding Audience on the third floor. If you hurry, perhaps

you'll be allowed to address him." With that, the kender wandered back

outside City Hall, Phineas's knife in his small hands, Phineas's coins

jingling in his pocket. Glowering at the guard's retreating back,

Phineas gulped down his water and rushed up the evernarrowing circular

stairs to the third floor. He searched every room there, growing more

desperate with each, until he reached the last. There he found a

kender cleaning woman, from the mop at her side and the overturned

bucket upon which she sat, who seemed more intent on her game of

marbles than tidying. She told him Audience was being held on the

second floor, not the third. Sure enough, on the second floor Phineas

found the council chamber where Audience was being held.

 

He was not sure how things proceeded, so he sat back to observe.

There appeared to be a number of cases before him anyway, including a

married couple who was presently stating their complaint.

 

"-- So, I said, 'these are my special rocks -- my agates, my

amethysts, and my very reddest rubies' -- I collect them, you see --

'so don't touch them,' " said the wife, a dower-looking kender whose

age was difficult to guess, since her face was very wrinkled but her

hands were smooth. "So what does he do?"

 

"He touched them," the mayor supplied.

 

"Not only did he touch them, but he put them in his rock

tumbler!" Her face was a mixture of outrage and astonishment.

 

"He put them in an ale flagon?" asked the mayor, perplexed.

 

"You know," the husband said merrily, "everyone thinks that when

I tell them I collect rock tumblers." His age was no more discernible

than his wife's. His hair was dishwater brown and wisps poked out of

his tightly stretched topknot, giving him a disheveled look. He had a

slight, stubbly beard, unusual for kender.

 

The husband stepped up closer to the Bench of Authority,

addressing the mayor directly. "Did you realize that the history of

the rare gnome rock tumbler -- a drum-shaped, crank-driven device used

to reduce stones to sand -- is long and very interesting? No, I'm sure

you didn't. In fact, many experts believe that throughout the ages,

rock tumblers have played a large part in the development of the world

as we know it. None of us might be alive if there weren't rock

tumblers! Many people don't know that, but --"

 

"I know it!" the wife complained, clapping her hands to her

ears. "It's all I ever hear, especially after he pulverizes my

prettiest rocks!"

 

The man turned to his wife. "It wasn't my fault that your rocks

got tumbled," he said defensively. "You left them sitting out where

just anyone could take them, so I put them in my tumbler for safe

keeping. Only I forgot they were in there the next time I tumbled some

rocks."

 

"Out where just anyone could find them? They were locked up in

two boxes and hidden under a loose floorboard before the fire!" she

cried, giving his arm a vicious punch.

 

"Exactly!" he exclaimed, rubbing his arm and pulling away.

"Everyone knows to look under floorboards! Nobody would think to look

for gems in a rock tumbler! Don't you agree, Mayor?"

 

"Huh? What?" Metwinger asked, looking up guiltily from under the

table. He'd found their argument tedious and had turned his attention

to the shiny buckles on councilman Barlow Twackdinger's boots. "Oh,

yes. It's obvious to me that one of you must develop another hobby.

Perhaps rock gathering isn't the wisest hobby for a woman whose

husband collects rock tumblers."

 

The mayor was about to suggest a specific solution when, to his

surprise, the couple proclaimed in unison, "A brilliant idea!"

Hand-in-hand they walked through the door at the rear of the chamber,

though their voices could be heard rising even as they descended the

stairs. "Now, honey, you should be the one to find a new hobby," the

wife could be heard saying brightly. "At least my gems aren't

worthless!"

 

"Worthless, dear! Why, rock tumblers are the most valuable

investment --"

 

But the council was on to other business. Phineas looked up as a

kender burst through the door, pushing a wheelbarrow full of bricks,

his brow sweating. The kender began to explain how his neighbor had

been tossing the bricks from his window and into the kender's own

house one story down. It seemed he didn't mind, since he could use the

bricks. However, they had not stopped at his home, but had fallen

through his apparently thin floor to the house below his, and he was

having a difficult time getting them back from the neighbor below.

 

Phineas let his chin drop onto his chest, and he promptly fell

asleep.

 

"Hey, where are my boots?" Barlo Twackdinger demanded suddenly.

He glared down his red-veined, flourdusted nose at the mayor seated to

his right on the Bench of Authority.

 

"Oh," mumbled Mayor Metwinger, surprised to find the thick,

furred boots in one of his many pockets. "You must have put your feet

in my vest, and somehow your boots fell off." He handed them over,

letting his fingers linger on the shiny buckles near the plush toes.

 

"They're very nice, even with the flour on them."

 

"They ought to be," said council member Windorf Wright,

snatching them from Barlo's expectant hands.

 

"They're mine!" claimed the leader of Kendermore's farmer's

union. Stockier than the average kender, his bright red vest looked

too tight to be comfortable. His head was shaved right up to his

thinning topknot to show his delicately pointed ears to their best

advantage.

 

"Not until I get those chickens and turnips you promised me for

these boots!" said Feldon Cobblehammer, a blue blur as he leaped

across the meeting table to pluck the coveted boots from Windorf's

hands.

 

A scuffle broke out on the table, and soon three pairs of boots

were flying. Scrabbling happily among the throng, the mayor found some

pointy animal teeth, sixsided, wooden gaming dice that looked just

like a set he'd been missing, and some tasty-looking sweets. He barely

had them in his pocket before someone grabbed him by the topknot and

conked him soundly on the head with his own gavel. Metwinger sank to

the floor behind the Bench of Authority.

 

Phineas awoke with a startled snort. Looking around quickly, he

realized that he was the only one in the room not involved in the

brawl, which was rolling like a huge, living ball, toward the door --

and his chair! Standing, he dove to his left, away from the door, and

landed on his stomach between the last two rows of chairs -- a scant

distance from the precipice of the open wall.

 

Propping himself on his elbows, he looked behind him toward the

door. The chair he had occupied was smashed into firewood in the wake

of the melee. Bottlenecked by the door, the mass of bodies tumbled

apart, arms and legs flailing to the accompaniment of savage, joyous

shouting. Leaping to their feet in unison, the constituents of the

living ball threw the door open and dashed out into the hallway to

resume the riot.

 

Alone in the chamber, Phineas stood slowly and tried to shake

away the fuzziness inside his head. He'd been led a merry chase, then

nearly crushed by kender, and for what? Nothing! He still had no idea

where Trapspringer might be!

 

"I say, what a splendid Audience Day!" a voice said weakly from

behind the Bench of Authority. A small hand grasped the edge of the

bench and pulled up the owner of the voice. Phineas recognized the

disheveled head of Mayor Metwinger, his topknot completely undone.

 

"Oh, hello!" he said, spotting Phineas at the rear of the room.

 

"Hello, Your Honor," the human said politely. "You mean the

fight wasn't so very unusual?" His tone was incredulous.

 

"Oh, it certainly was. The brawl usually starts after the second

or third case," the mayor responded, his voice breathy as he smoothed

his tangled hair. His head was throbbing, and he didn't feel quite

right. "The last thing I remember is getting thumped on the noggin

with my own gavel." Drawing himself up, Mayor Meldon Metwinger brushed

off his sleeves and noticed that his purple mayoral robe had somehow

been exchanged with a bright blue cape that looked just like one

Feldon Cobblehammer had worn at the start of the Audience.

 

Straightening the collar, the mayor decided the color looked

very nice on him.

 

Phineas hurried forward to take advantage of this unexpected

turn of luck. "Your Honor, I understand you might know the whereabouts

of a, uh --" he treaded lightly, in case the mayor was sensitive on

the subject -- "a person named Trapspringer Furrfoot."

 

"Trapspringer, Trapspringer," the mayor muttered. "I know quite

a number of Trapspringers. Can you describe him?"

 

Phineas's eyebrows puckered as he concentrated. It had been dim

during much of his talk with the eccentric kender. "Um, he wears a

topknot, his face is very wrinkled, I guess, and he's short." Which

describes every kender ever born, Phineas realized with dismay. "I

believe he collects rare bones," he added desperately.

 

"Oh, that Trapspringer!" the mayor said cheerfully.

 

"Why didn't you say so? He's my dear friend and soon to-be

in-law! His nephew is birthmated to my daughter Damaris, you know.

Yes, I know where he is. ' had to put him in prison." Only Metwinger

didn't sound the least bit concerned or remorseful.

 

"You put your daughter's future uncle in prison?" Phineas asked

the question despite the little voice in his head that told him he

probably wouldn't understand the answer anyway. "What did he do?"

 

"Oh, he didn't do anything," Metwinger said lightly.

 

"His nephew is late for the wedding, so we sent a bounty hunter

after him -- standard operating procedure concerning wayward

bridegrooms, actually. We had to do something to ensure that he would

return, so we locked up his favorite uncle. Now, if you don't mind, I

think I have a concussion." The mayor looked toward the door and

swayed unsteadily.

 

"I'm sorry to bother you with this, Your Honor," Phineas said

quickly, blocking his path. "But there's a small matter of a debt

which is owed me."

 

The mayor looked up, his eyes glassy. "If I have a bill, then I

should pay it." He reached into his robes. "How much --"

 

"Not you, Your Honor," Phineas said, willing himself to remain

calm. "Trapspringer Furrfoot. If I could just speak with him, I'm sure

we could clear the matter up."

 

"He's not here," the mayor said, grabbing the edge of the table

as the room began to swim. What pretty colors! he thought.

 

"Yes, I know that, Your Honor," Phineas said with forced

patience. "Where is he being held?"

 

"Prison, dear," the mayor mumbled incoherently, crawling onto

the table. "At the palace. We're having a party tonight. Wear your

blue dress to match my new cape...." Laying his cheek on the cool

wood, he closed his eyes.

 

"Thank you, Your Honor," Phineas breathed in relief. He was

about to dash out the door when he felt a twinge of guilt. He looked

at the snoozing mayor -- could he leave him like this? He was a

doctor, after all -- well, sort of. Phineas didn't think Metwinger

would die; at worst, the mayor's head would feel like a pumpkin when

he woke up. Still...

 

Just then, several giggling kender padded through the door;

Phineas recognized them as council members who'd been seated with the

mayor. Thinking fast, he bolted by them and shouted, "There's been a

terrible accident! The mayor struck his head. Keep an eye on him while

I get help!"

 

Phineas rushed out the door, knowing full well that they'd do no

such thing; waiting patiently was not one of their better skills.

Before long, they'd decide the mayor needed to be submerged, or

perhaps needed a slice of wumpaberry pie, and they'd hustle him off.

Metwinger would be all right. Phineas flew out the door and down the

stairs.

 

He was going to find Trapspringer after all.

 

 

 

"Gee, an ocean?" Tas repeated Woodrow's words. "Are you sure,

Woodrow?" He scrambled down from the wagon and headed for the dense

screen of shrubs and trees.

 

"I wouldn't bet my last silver piece that it was an ocean,"

Woodrow conceded. "It might be a sea," he continued seriously,

following on the heels of the kender. "How do you know, unless you

have a map?"

 

Gisella pushed her way past Woodrow to dog Tasslehoff through

the brush. "Ouch! These damned branches are tearing my sleeves!" she

complained bitterly, swatting foliage from her path. "The last few

miles have almost wiped out my wardrobe!"

 

Tasslehoff burst through the last of the shrubs. He stood on a

flat, dirt-caked, cracked expanse of slate, which met the horizon

about thirty feet away. Waves crashed far below in the distance.

 

The kender hastened to the brink of the barren, rocky cliff and

looked over the edge. Below was the shoreline of a vast body of

gray-green water. Tas scooped up a piece of chipped slate and flung it

out to sea. He lost sight of the stone, and thus concluded that i the

water was very far off indeed.

 

Looking to his left, the kender saw that the cliff cut back

farther inland, obscuring the view of the coastline to the north.

Gulls, their wings tipped, soared and dived around Tasslehoff's head.

 

"Woodrow has a good point," Tas said at last. His eyebrows shot

up. "How does the first person to make a map know if it's a sea, an

ocean, or just a really big lake ?"

 

"You're the mapmaker," Gisella growled near his side. "Why don't

you tell me? While you're at it, tell me where this body of water came

from? Maybe it was hiding behind the mountain range your Uncle Bertie

overlooked! And while you're explaining things, tell me how we're

going to cross this really, really big lake with a wagon?"

 

"Let rr.e think," said Tas soberly, his young face scrunching up

in thought.

 

"Indeed," Gisella snorted humorlessly.

 

"You know, I believe that trek through the swamp caused us to

turn a bit south of Xak Tsaroth," Tasslehoff said. "Maybe someone in

the city knows where this water came from --"

 

"You think that ocean is going to dry up a few miles north of

here?" Gisella shrieked. She immediately regretted showing a crack in

her composure. Painfully digging her fingernails into her fists, she

regained control. "Perhaps someone in Xak Tsaroth could tell us where

we are, and direct us to the best east-bound road. If we can actually

find Xak Tsaroth, that is."

 

Gisella wiped her eyes with the back of her hand in a gesture of

fatigue. "But I can't move another inch tonight. We'll make camp

here," she said, indicating the wide expanse of level slate with a

wave of her hand. "Woodrow, be a dear and get the wagon. My head is

split ting!"

 

"Yes, Miss Hornslager." The straw-haired young man sprinted

across the ledge to the row of shrubs and disappeared.

 

One arm hugged tight to her waist, the other supporting her

chin, Gisella looked down at the distant shore. She smirked

mirthlessly and shook her head.

 

"Isn't it ironic? All that water, and I can't even get to it to

take a bath."

 

Tasslehoff first heard the noises before dawn.

 

Curled up by the smoldering remains of the fire across from

Woodrow, he was having the most delightful dream, and he did not want

to wake up before it ended. He was in a merchant's shop, and its walls

were lined from floor to ceiling with jars of all sizes and colors,

each crammed with more interesting objects than the last. There were

jars of stained-glass marbles and pretty stones, jars with balls of

brightly colored string, jars overflowing with confections and wind-up

toys.

 

There was a whole shelf devoted to jeweled rings, and another

just for ruby-studded brooches.

 

The owner of the shop, who hadn't been in the dream just a

moment before, turned to Tasslehoff and said, "You must take

everything and hide it, before someone steals it. I can trust only

you!"

 

And then Tasslehoff heard the noise again, just at the edge of

his consciousness. He scrunched up his eyes and focused his mind on

the shelves in the shop. But there was that noise again, like raccoons

rattling a trash barrel. He jerked awake against his will, irritated

and out of sorts.

 

In the dim light of dawn, the kender saw three sets of dark,

overly large eyes peering at him from around the edge of the wagon.

Infiltrators! Bandits! They were under attack! Tasslehoff jumped up

and assumed a kender fighting stance, legs spread and braced. Holding

the "v" of his hoopak in his left hand, he pivoted his hips and swung

the straight end of his weapon around with his right hand.

 

"Stay back, whoever you are!" he warned. Suddenly, more sets of

eyes appeared. Without looking down, Tas drove a toe into Woodrow's

ribs.

 

The sleeping human snorted, raised himself on his elbows, and

finally looked up through bleary eyes. He saw only Tas's battle stance

before jumping to his feet and reaching for the first thing at hand,

which was the unlit end of a small, smoldering branch in the fire.

 

Only then did he spot the eyes, glowing like the neutral, golden

moon, Solinari, in the dim light of dawn. There were eyes under the

wagon, at the back of the wagon, on top of the wagon.

 

Suddenly the wagon's back door flew open and Gisella stepped out

in a thin, silky, red wrap. Whatever stood at the rear of the wagon

jumped back and giggled.

 

"Oh, for heavens' sake," Gisella moaned. "What's this, now?

Shoo, shoo, you little beasties!" she clucked, taking a step down and

waving the backs of her hands toward where the eyes had stood.

 

"Miss Hornslager, get back into the wagon!" Woodrow called.

"We're under attack!" He swung his branch at the eyes in a gesture

meant to look brave.

 

"By gully dwarves?" Her voice cracked on a high note. "Don't be

ridiculous. They're as annoying as horseflies, I'll grant you that,

but they're harmless."

 

She turned back to glare in the direction of the stillaproaching

eyes. "I said shoo!" She waved the hem of her nightshirt at them like

a farmer's wife scattering chickens with her apron.

 

"Gully dwarves?" Tas asked, lowering his hoopak. He took a step

toward the wagon and squinted into the darkness. The air was filled

with the sound of uncontrollable giggling. Finally, Tas could see

eleven or more short creatures who looked vaguely like dwarves

gathered before the door. Instead of "shooing," they were looking up

at Gisella expectantly, like pigeons waiting for breadcrumbs in a city

square.

 

Tas knew from his mountain dwarf friend, Flint, that gully

dwarves, or Aghar, were the lowest caste in dwarven society. They were

very clannish, keeping to themselves and living in places so squalid

that no other creatures, including most animals, would live in them.

Which would leave them with a lot of privacy, Tas supposed.

 

Tasslehoff hadn't seen many gully dwarves up close, except for a

few who had been cleaned up and recruited into domestic labor by

ambitious but notoriously cheap merchant middle-class Kendermorians,

as they called themselves. (Gully dwarves made miserable servants, as

they tended to pick their noses continually and attracted dirt as if

by magic.) Their features varied little from one to the next. They

shared a typical thick, bulby nose, scruffy whiskers -- even the

females -- and sported ratty, wild hair that looked like it had been

combed many years before with a stick.

 

The males wore torn, dirty vests and pants cinched up with

frayed rope, and the females wore torn, dirty, sack-shaped dresses,

and they all wore shoes that were three sizes too big.

 

"Get rid of them, will you, Woodrow dear? The little beggars

will undoubtedly steal us blind," Gisella said, drawing her wrap

closer. "And we really must be on the road."

 

In the growing light, Woodrow looked helplessly at the crowd of

gully dwarves continuing to gather around the wagon. They stared with

awe at Gisella.

 

"What would you like me to do, ma'am?" asked the be wildered

human.

 

Gisella, looking exasperated, took a step back from the pressing

throng of gully dwarves. "I don't know! Do something manly, like wave

your sword at them."

 

The human looked dismayed at the suggestion, Vexed by his

hesitance, Gisella jammed her hands on her hips. "So, belch in their

faces; that's manly!" she added with disgust.

 

Woodrow looked from the stick in his hand to the two dozen or

more curious, grubby gully dwarves. They looked at Gisella reverently.

The boldest of the bunch, a male, judging purely from the fact that he

wore shapeless pants rather than a shapeless dress, reached up a hand

to the dwarf's red hair.

 

"Stop that!" Gisella said, slapping his hand away. Holding her

wrap closed, she nearly tripped while scrambling backward up the steps

into the wagon.

 

"Where you get hair?" the gully dwarf spoke at last, not the

least put off by her slap. He leaned forward, his stubby fingers

reaching out. The silly grin on his smudgey face revealed that he had

a big, dark hole in his mouth where one front tooth should have been.

 

"What do you mean?" she snapped. "I grow it, of course!" She

slapped his hand again.

 

The gully dwarf shook his head stubbornly. "Not that hair. Hair

not come that color."

 

Gisella bristled. "I assure you, this is my natural hair," she

said staunchly, giving him an appraising glance. "I might add that

yours would look better if you washed it instead of ripping it out in

clumps."

 

The gully dwarf smiled up at her hair. "It pretty. You pretty."

 

Gisella's eyes shifted. "You like it?"

 

"It pretty," he repeated reverently. The crowd of gully dwarves

chorused his words, then giggled.

 

"Thank you," Gisella said hesitantly. "Your hair ain't so bad,

either," she added generously.

 

"Should I get rid of them now for you, Miss Hornslager?" Woodrow

asked.

 

"I've been meaning to ask you about your hair myself,"

Tasslehoff chimed in. "Is it real -- the color, I mean? Personally, I

see nothing wrong with a little cosmetic overhaul. Why, once, when I

was younger, I drew some lines on my face because I was embarrassed

that I had no wrinkles yet. Of course, they weren't red wrinkles. But

it's the same difference."

 

Gisella only glared at Tas and announced in an icy voice, "I'm

going inside to get dressed now. And when I come out, we're leaving."

 

"Leave?" The male gully dwarf's ears perked up. "I thought maybe

you here for pulley job," he said.

 

"A pulley job? Why, I haven't had one in --" Gisella got all

tingly at the memories of an inn long ago and far away. Well, at least

a week and a hundred miles.... Abruptly she caught the human's and

kender's innocent expressions, and she realized that the gully dwarf

couldn't possibly be talking about the same kind of pulley job.

 

"Pulley job?" she repeated.

 

"Oh, boy!" The head gully clapped his hands in delight, taking

her question as confirmation. "Pulley job! How you pay?"

 

"No, no! I'm simply asking, what is a pulley job?" she explained

with forced tolerance.

 

"Fondu show you," he offered, taking her hand before she could

protest. He led her off the steps, directing her to the north, where

the cliff cut back farther inland, obscuring the view. Woodrow and

Tasslehoff followed closely, the rest of the gully dwarves dancing in

joyous circles around them, their big, floppy-toed shoes slapping

noisily on the slate cliff. A short distance up the coast, out of view

of their camp, Fondu pointed to a huge, lone cypress tree that dangled

out over the edge of the cliff.

 

"So what?" Gisella said, starting to get annoyed.

 

"You led me barefoot over rough ground to look at an old tree?"

Wincing, she steadied herself with one hand on Fondu's shoulder while

she plucked pointy pebbles from her tender heel.

 

Tasslehoff scampered to the base of the tree. Looking up, he

launched himself at a low, sturdy branch, and began scrambling up hand

over foot like a monkey.

 

"Tasslehoff, you get down from that tree this minute!" Gisella

cried in alarm. "You'll plunge to your death, and I'll have nothing

but bloody bones to trade to the council."

 

"So nice of you to be concerned about my health," he said

sweetly.

 

"What do you see up there, Mr. Burrfoot?" Woodrow asked.

 

There was a brief pause as Tasslehoff swung from branch to

branch in the tree. "Well, it's three pulleys... no, it's four

pulleys. Hooked together in pairs. Only really it's six pulleys,

because two of them are two pulleys hooked together side by side. And

they're all linked with ropes as thick as my wrist, only real short.

My guess is it's Fondu's pulley job."

 

Gisella turned to Fondu. "No doubt." But she was doubtful.

Gisella could not believe that a bunch of gully dwarves could have

rigged up such an apparently elaborate system.

 

Fondu's face crinkled up into a glassy-eyed smile. "Many men

come and build pulley job. They funny little men." Imitating them,

Fondu frowned up at the tree, stroking an imaginary beard. Abruptly he

marched around, stumbling over his floppy shoes and swinging his arms.

Giggling, the crowd of gully dwarves marched in small circles,

slapping their feet up and down.

 

"They sound like gnomes, because gnomes like to build things

like this, but they look like dwarves," Tas said, laughing at the

antics of the gully dwarves. He swung down out of the tree.

 

"No self-respecting dwarf looks like that," Gisella scoffed,

watching their parade out of the corners of her narrowed eyes.

 

"These 'men' just put up the pulleys and left?" Woodrow asked

Fondu.

 

The gully dwarf gave Woodrow a calculating stare.

 

"No, they bring up big boxes from there." Fondu pointed to the

cliff and downward. "Then they leave." He suddenly looked suspicious.

"Too many questions! You want pulley job or no?"

 

Gisella shuddered, stretched her wrap tightly around her curves,

and turned back toward the camp. "I hardly think so. Now, if you'll

just point us toward Xak Tsaroth, we won't trouble you further."

 

"You want come to Zaksarawth? You meet Highbulp! No one come to

Zaksarawth since so long!" cheered Fondu. The rest of the gully

dwarves started yelling and flinging handfuls of dirt in the air.

 

Gisella, Tas, and Woodrow ducked away from the whirling dust

cloud. "Why are you acting like that?" shouted Gisella.

 

"We happy," said Fondu. "No one come to Zaksarawth anymore

except Aghar, but you special. You like our city under ground. It

beautiful."

 

"An underground city?" Gisella gulped, turning to Tasslehoff. "I

thought you said it was a big, bustling place!"

 

"It is!" Tasslehoff cried defensively. "At least that's what my

map indicates." He pulled the map from his vest and spread it out on

the ground.

 

Gisella glowered. "Oh, yes, your wonderful map." Woodrow

crouched down next to Tasslehoff. "What does 'P.C.' mean?" he asked,

pointing to the letters inked after the title "Krynn."

 

Gisella snatched up the map and stared at the letters. "

'Pre-Cataclysm,' you idiots! It means preCataclysm! We've been

following a map that predates the Cataclysm!"

 

"Really?" Tas said dubiously. "I thought it stood for

'positively confirmed'."

 

Dazed, Gisella just shook her head. "Serves me right for

listening to a kender. Pre-Cataclysm, indeed!" "That changes things,

does it?" Woodrow asked innocently.

 

"A little," Tas gulped.

 

"A little?" Gisella gaped at the kender. "New mountain ranges

erupted, and whole sections of land slipped into the ground and formed

seas!"

 

Tasslehoff looked subdued. "Well, most of the cities stayed in

the same places," he moaned.

 

"Yeah, those that weren't sucked up by rushing waters,

mountains, and volcanoes!" Gisella rolled her eyes and sighed heavily

in resignation. "Well, that about hangs it -- we can't sail this wagon

on the sea.

 

We're going to have to backtrack, and there's not a chance on

Krynn that we'll reach Kendermore in time for the Autumn Faire. This

is going to set me way back."

 

"Sail wagon on sea," Fondu remarked.

 

Gisella ignored his mocking voice. "Come on, Woodrow," she said

wearily, starting for camp. "We've got a long trip ahead of us."

 

But Fondu stumbled along at her side, tugging at her wrap. "Sail

wagon on sea!" he repeated.

 

She stopped and brushed him off. "Wouldn't that be nice, Fondu,"

she said patronizingly. "Come on, Woodrow, Burrfoot."

 

But Fondu would not be put off. "Wagon no float, but boat

float!"

 

"What are you trying to tell us, Fondu?" Woodrow asked.

 

The gully dwarf scowled at Woodrow. "I tell pretty lady. Your

hair weird -- look like noodles." Fondu grabbed Gisella's hand again

and tugged her to the ledge. He pointed down. "See? Boat."

 

Gisella brushed off her hand disdainfully. "Well, I'll be!" she

exclaimed, looking over the edge quickly. "The little bug-eater -- uh,

gully dwarf -- is telling the truth! There is a boat down there."

 

"Let me see!" cried Tas, moving to Gisella's side, along with

Woodrow. "But why would anyone leave a boat anchored here?"

 

"I don't know," answered Gisella, "and I don't know what

difference it makes, anyway. Everything I own is in that wagon, and

I'm not going to leave it here," she finished firmly.

 

Fondu tugged at Gisella's wrap. "Take wagon on boat."

 

"Woodrow," said Gisella, "would you please try to explain that

we can't possibly get this fully loaded wagon down a sheer, five

hundred-foot --"

 

"Oh, it's got to be at least eight hundred feet -- at least,"

chimed Tas, on his stomach, looking over the cliff.

 

"-- six hundred-foot cliff and onto a rocking boat," finished

Gisella. "You're making me terribly nervous, dear," she added,

addressing the human.

 

Woodrow, who had crawled out on a cyprus limb overhanging the

ledge, cleared his throat. "Excuse me for saying so, Miss Hornslager,

but I'd bet that whoever --"

 

"-- whoever owns that boat made the pulley job!" Tas finished

for him. "They had to get up here somehow, and I'll bet they used the

pulleys. We could use their equipment to go up and down the cliff!"

"Exactly," said Woodrow.

 

"Pulley job! Pulley job!" screamed Fondu, jumping up and down

beneath the cyprus tree.

 

"Wait just one minute," Gisella said, refusing to get caught up

in the excitement so easily. "Do we have enough people to lower a

swinging wagon six hundred feet? And do you think we could then load

the wagon onto the ship and sail it away?"

 

"Maybe," Woodrow said. "But I don't think we should. That would

be stealing."

 

"It wouldn't be stealing!" Tas disagreed. "We would just be

borrowing it. They're not using it now, and we don't know when they'll

be back. When will they be back, Fondu?"

 

"Two day," the gully dwarf said simply, holding up four fingers.

"How long have they been gone?" Gisella asked.

 

"Two day." He held up all his fingers.

 

Gisella, Tas, and Woodrow looked at each other. "How many of you

are there?"

 

Fondu looked at the dozens of gully dwarves and smiled broadly.

"Two."

 

"Oh, boy," breathed Woodrow.

 

"We don't seem to be getting any real information out of this,"

drawled Gisella. "Woodrow, you're good at technical things. What would

we need to do this 'pulley job'?"

 

Woodrow squatted on his haunches and poked at the ground with a

stick, scratching lines at random on the slate. Within moments, all of

the gully dwarves were down on their haunches, scratching and doodling

on the rock in imitation of the human. Tas was enormously amused and

strolled among the pondering gully dwarves.

 

Gisella stood over the human with her arms folded expectantly.

"Well?"

 

After a minute or two, Woodrow tossed his head back and looked

up at Gisella. "Ma'am, I figure we'll need the pulleys there in the

tree, at least four thousand feet of rope, and for muscle, the team of

horses -- plus about a dozen good men. But that's just a guess," he

added modestly.

 

Looking somber, the gully dwarves all nodded their heads in

agreement, pointing at each others' scratchings and chattering among

themselves.

 

Gisella threw her arms into the air. "Well, I guess that's that.

We don't have a dozen good anything, and we certainly don't have four

thousand feet of rope. If I didn't have so many steel pieces tied up

in those rotting melons, I'd push the wagon off the cliff myself and

smash that lousy boat into splinters." She flopped down on the ledge

where she stood, her chin in her hands.

 

Tasslehoff skipped back to the sullen Gisella. "As far as muscle

is concerned," he said, "we've got all the gully dwarves we could ever

want."

 

"And how many is that?" Gisella quipped. "Two?"

 

"I know they're not much to look at and they don't smell very

nice, but I'm sure they'd be willing to help," prodded Tas. "After

all, this was Fondu's idea."

 

Fondu grinned broadly. "We glad to heave-ho. Heave-hoing fun! We

heave-ho lots for funny men. 'Heeeeave ho'," he mimicked, drawing on

an imaginary rope.

 

"That's very nice, Fondu," Gisella said flatly. "Now I don't

suppose you can tell us where to find four thousand feet of rope, can

you?"

 

The gully dwarf's chest swelled with pride. "Fondu have rope.

Big rope. Pulley rope. I show pretty-hair lady."

 

The three travelers stared at Fondu, then looked at each other.

"You don't suppose," mouthed Gisella.

 

"Funny men hide pulley rope," explained Fondu, "but Fondu find

it. Me smell rope, my nose smell big."

 

Gisella batted her eyelashes at Fondu. "And would you show me

where it is?"

 

Fondu grabbed Gisella's hand and yanked her to her feet, nearly

tripping himself in his excitement. "Come come come!" he shouted,

dragging the object of his infatuation behind. Tasslehoff and Woodrow

ran behind the stumbling pair, followed by a tumbling, sweating mass

of gully dwarves.

 

Fondu led the pack to an enormous, hollow tree not quite five

hundred feet from the edge of the cliff. With a quick scramble, he was

up on the lowest branch, and then disappeared through a basket-sized

hole into the tree. His fuzzy head reappeared moments later, and he

thrust the end of a coarse hemp rope back out through the opening.

 

"See?" he shouted. "Pulley rope! You no worry, pretty lady,"

Fondu said, petting Gisella's hair. She batted his hand away,

shivering.

 

In a moment, Tasslehoff was up the tree and had stuck his head

through the hole for a look. When he pulled it back, he was grinning

from ear to ear.

 

"The entire tree is full of rope!" he gushed. "Coils and coils

of rope! I've never seen so much rope in my life, except maybe on the

docks at Port Balifor. Wow! I wish my Uncle Trapspringer was here to

see this."

 

Gisella clapped her hands and rubbed the palms together. "All

right, crew, it looks like we've got ourselves a pulley job."

 

It took the dozen gully dwarves three and a half hours to drag

all the rope out of the tree and arrange it in two orderly lines

leading away from the cypress tree. Meanwhile, using a small length of

rope from the wagon to practice with, Woodrow figured out how the

pulleys had to be set up. When the longer rope was ready, he rigged

two stout loops of rope around the wagon, one lashed to the front axle

and the other to the rear axle. All of that was simpler than

explaining the system to Gisella.

 

"We connect the two single pulleys to the ropes around the

wagon. The two double pulleys are connected to the overhanging branch

of the tree. You've got that part, right?"

 

Gisella nodded. "Of course. I'm not dense." But darned if she

understood it anyway!

 

"We used to rig up a hoist like this on my cousin's farm when I

was a boy," Woodrow said.

 

The dwarf, who was now wearing a simple, green working outfit

and leather gloves, sat down on the wagon next to Woodrow. She looked

at the wagon, then up at the pulleys, and then back at the wagon.

 

"This is everything I own, Woodrow. Are you sure?" Woodrow

looked up. "Reasonably sure, Miss Hornslager."

 

Gisella glanced up at the pulleys again and contemplated the

mass of ropes connecting them to the tree, and the wagon to them. Her

gaze moved on to include the ropes that had been strung to several

boulders to anchor the tree. Then she cleared her throat.

 

"I haven't had much practice trusting people," she said to

Woodrow. "The few times I've tried it, it hasn't worked out too well,

personally or financially. I don't have a lot of choice here, though.

If we go south, I'm ruined by the delay. If we go down the cliff --

well, maybe I'm ruined and maybe I'm not. It sounds like a plan to me.

Fondu! Where's Fondu?"

 

The gully dwarf tumbled out of a knot of his fellows that were

wrestling over someone's grimy cap. "Fondu here," he announced. "You

ready for pulley job?" A pair of hands reached out of the melee and

hauled Fondu back into the writhing mass before Gisella could answer.

Careful not to get too close, Gisella approached the pile of gully

dwarves and, cupping her hands around her mouth, shouted, "Fondu! Line

them up! Line them up!"

 

Several seconds later, Fondu kicked and swatted his way out

again and began hauling gully dwarves out of the fracas. Within

minutes, everyone was sorted and lined up along the two ropes, which

stretched over a quarter of a mile away from the cliff. Gisella

reviewed her company, replete with bloody noses, blackened eyes, and

swollen lips. No sooner did she turn her back than someone pushed

someone else and the whole fray began over again until Woodrow

collared the two troublemakers and held them at arm's length.

 

"All right, Woodrow," Gisella instructed, "you're in charge of

the ropes. With one horse and six gully dwarves on each, you should be

able to lower the wagon nice and easy. Let's have that as our slogan

today, shall we? 'Nice and easy.' Can everyone say that?" A ragged

chorus of "nice and easy," or variations on it, rippled up and down

the two lines of gully dwarves. "Right," said Gisella. "And Tas, you

and your six husky lads have the guy lines. Your job is to guide the

wagon off the edge... " Gisella's throat constricted slightly on the

words"... and then steady it as much as you can on the way down."

 

For a moment, everyone looked at everyone else. Then Gisella

winked at Tas and Tas kicked away the stone that was blocking the

wagon's wheel. Slowly, guided by Tas, the six Aghar on the guy lines

rolled the wagon toward the edge of the cliff. Meanwhile, Woodrow, who

had three times as many gully dwarves to control and therefore three

times as many problems, struggled to keep the lines taut through the

pulleys.

 

Gisella's breath caught in her throat as the front wheels of the

wagon dropped over the edge. The ropes on the forward pulley snapped

tight at once, and the tree bobbed up and down. With its forward

wheels suspended over six hundred feet of nothing, the gully dwarves

inched the wagon ahead.

 

Gisella's heart was pounding. The wagon, the tree, the gully

dwarves, all swam in front of her. Then the rear wheels of the wagon

crunched across the brink, and the vehicle dropped six inches, swaying

to and fro. The gully dwarves on the guy lines squealed and dug their

heels into the packed dirt under the tree as the weight of the wagon,

swinging out into line beneath the pulleys, dragged them toward the

cliff. Gisella's hand shot out to a nearby boulder to steady her

balance, and her knees chattered together like teeth. "Hold on, hold

on!" cried Tas, latching onto one of the guy lines. He realized then

that the gully dwarves were squealing with delight, like children at a

spook show. As the wagon reached its equilibrium the dwarves stopped

sliding and the noise died down. Gisella swayed slightly, but was

relieved that she was still on her feet. The wagon swung gently on its

ropes, twisting slightly in the breeze.

 

"OK," said Gisella, swallowing a lump. "OK, that wasn't too

bad." Cupping her hands to her mouth, she hollered, "Now, Woodrow,

start letting it down. 'Nice and easy,' remember?"

 

"Lice and squeezies," grunted the dwarves in no particular

unison. With a hand on each of the horses' bridles, Woodrow started

walking them backward toward the cliff. After the first twenty-five

feet, Woodrow could no longer see the wagon and had to rely on Tas to

guide him from above, where he lay on a limb in the tree, watching to

make sure the ropes glided smoothly through the pulleys.

 

"OK... OK... slow it down a little... the back end is a little

high... oops, now the back is a little low ...still low... no, the

back is low... the back, the back!"

 

Gisella sprinted to the cliff. "What's happening?" she screamed,

and then she spied the wagon, about one hundred feet down the cliff.

One of the lines of gully dwarves had gotten ahead of the other. The

front end of the wagon was at least four feet higher than the back,

and still rising. "It's all cockeyed!" she shrieked, flailing her

arms. "I can hear bottles breaking! Straighten it out! Straighten it

out!"

 

But the gully dwarves, who had no concept of what was happening,

continued their erratic march to the sea. In desperation, Woodrow let

go of the slower horse's bridle and was hauling vainly on the

fastermoving horse, trying to slow it down. Unfortunately the other

horse, with no one guiding it forward, stopped in its tracks.

 

The wagon lurched suddenly as something inside it broke free and

crashed into the back wall. Gisella clapped her hands over her ears

when a second crash echoed up the cliff face, then frantically slapped

them over her eyes as the wagon's door flew open and a potpourri of

melons, cushions, and personal items tumbled out of the doorway.

Everything she owned spiraled, for what seemed to Gisella like an

eternity, down the hundreds of feet to the sea.

 

By now, the wagon was hanging almost vertically. The door

flapped in the breeze with one of Gisella's nightshirts, caught on the

latch, waving like a flag of truce. Within moments, Woodrow brought

the advancing horse and gully dwarves to a halt and raced back to the

stationary line, then advanced it so the lines were again even. All

this was accompanied by even more smashing and tinkling from below.

Each crash made Woodrow wince, each tinkle made Gisella bite deeper

into her lip.

 

Finally, Tas announced from above that the wagon was level

again.

 

Peering down at Gisella, he called, "Maybe it's not as bad as it

sounded." But when he saw her vacant stare fixed on the horizon, he

gave it up. He shouted to Woodrow, "OK, try it again. You don't have

to be too careful, I don't think there's much left inside." Out of the

corner of his eye he saw Gisella's face twitch.

 

Once again the wagon started down the cliff in jerks and fits.

Gisella no longer watched. Instead, she had positioned herself on an

exposed tree root and was reciting a disjointed monologue that had

more numbers than words in it. She was obviously trying to determine

how she would recoup her losses of the last minutes.

 

"Slow it down, slow it down," Tasslehoff warned as the wagon

neared the ground.

 

Woodrow was glad that the red-haired dwarf wasn't watching when

he was unable to appreciably slow the wagon's momentum in the last one

hundred feet. The gully dwarves clawed and tugged at the rope to

little avail. The human could feel it in the ropes when the wagon

landed with a heavy 'thump!' far below. He squinted up at Tas through

one eye.

 

"Boy, what a landing!" the kender breathed. "The wheels look a

little bowed out, but I think the wagon is OK."

 

Woodrow heaved a sigh and sagged against one of the horses.

 

Tasslehoff spotted Gisella. Climbing down from the tree, he

approached her cautiously. "Well, it's on the shore," he said

unceremoniously. "I guess I'll shinny down one of the ropes and unhook

the pulleys so we can lower the horses and you and everyone who's

going."

 

Gisella nodded her head and inhaled deeply. Tas took that as

approval and hiked back to the tree. Woodrow was waiting for him. "How

is Miss Hornslager?" he asked.

 

"I think she'll be all right," said Tas. "She just needs to rest

for a while. I think it was the nightshirt on the door latch that did

her in. It's too bad you missed it, Woodrow. Stuff was flying

everywhere. Boy, what a sight!"

 

"She'll never talk to me again," Woodrow moaned.

 

"I wouldn't blame her if she fired me and left me stranded here

with these gully dwarves. I don't know how I'd ever get home then."

 

"I could leave you a map," offered Tas. Woodrow blanched. The

kender began tightening his belts, equipment, and pouches in

preparation for his climb.

 

"Anyway, it wasn't your fault," he added. "I'm sure Gisella

won't blame you. She's just feeling lowly. That seems to be sort of

common with dwarves. Apparently they can't help themselves. Whenever

my friend Flint gets depressed, there's no cheering him up until he

feels like being cheered up."

 

Stripped to his tunic, belt, leggings, and shoes, Tas was ready

to climb. He snaked across the branch to the pulleys and then swung

down onto a rope.

 

"Good luck," called Woodrow.

 

"You, too," replied Tas with a wave as he started the long slide

to the boat, six hundred feet below.

 

 

Chapter 8

 

Wilbur Froghair was on the beserted, cobbled

street in front of his grocery shop at dawn, preparing

for the early morning rush. The carrots and onions

were in place on the vegetable carts and he was about

to turn the rotten spots down on the two-day-old to-

matoes when he noticed the body slumped in the

bench before the haberdashery next door.

His first concern was for the human's health. Care-

fully holding one of his small hands before the middle-

aged man's nose, the kender was reassured by the even

breathing. The man looked like he'd had a bad night.

He wore a hat that was too small for his balding head,

his pockets were turned inside out, the knee of his

breeches was ripped, and his face had a layer of street

 

dust on it. But what the kender saw next made him al-

most more concerned than before.

The perfectly good leather boot on the man's right

foot lay carelessly in a puddle.

"He should be more careful with his possessions,"

Wilbur mumbled. "That very nice boot is going to get

wet, and then shrivel up like an old, dried currant. I

certainly can't sit by and watch that happen." With

that, the kender crept forward and gingerly lifted the

man's calf, slipping the boot from his foot. "I'll just

keep it nice and dry in my shop," Wilbur whispered to

himself, satisfied with his good deed. It was such a nice

boot, in fact, that he decided it really deserved to be

kept very safe indeed in the big, locked tin box under

his grocery counter. He was about to take the other

boot to maintain the pair, when the man stirred in his

sleep. Wilbur tiptoed quietly into his shop, holding

one boot.

Phineas Curick drifted half out of sleep, thinking

that his foot felt cold. He tried to ignore the sensation

because he knew his body would ache from top to bot-

tom if he woke up fully. But when he realized his foot

probably felt cold because it was also wet, he awoke

abruptly.

The bone! He'd placed another rat bone in one of his

boots to sell to Trapspringer in exchange for the rest of

the map. He fished around frantically in his left boot

and sighed with relief. The rat bone was still safely

tucked away.

Disaster narrowly averted, Phineas was dismayed

but not at all surprised to realize, too, that his other

boot was missing. He saw his pockets sticking out and

remembered that he had run through or lost all his

money yesterday. He felt a headache coming on, as if

someone had tied an overly tight band around his

head. Reaching a hand up, he realized someone had

done just that. His own hat was gone, replaced by a

small, ratty-looking cap with a hole in the back, pre-

 

sumably for a topknot.

Kendermore was the kind of city in which a person

could spend his entire life -- or a number of years, as in

Phineas's case -- without ever leaving his own neigh-

borhood. Everything he needed was near his home.

When the human had come to Kendermore some years.

before, he had made his home in the first neighbor-

hood he landed in. In the meantime, Phineas had

forgotten how thoroughly confusing the city was.

There was virtually no such thing as a completed, or

even a through, street. Roads just ended wherever

their builders grew tired of them or, more often, wher-

ever someone decided to erect a building. The city was

a maze of dead-end streets that simply ran head-on

into buildings and then started up again on the other

side. Often you had to go several miles out of your

way to continue on a road that you could have hit with

a rock from where you started, if only you could have

seen it.

Kendermore had an extensive street sign program.

There were signs on every corner, naming roads and

pointing the way to numerous landmarks, such as the

homes of local celebrities or public squares. These

signs would have been very helpful if they were up-

dated in a timely manner when new roads were built or

after buildings had been plunked down on existing

roads. It was not uncommon to see a signpost with two

arrows pointed in opposite directions and both read-

ing, "The Palace." Part of the reason the sign changes

came so slowly and inaccurately was the process used

by city workmen to complete these tasks. The pre-

vious day, Phineas had watched a team of kender

workmen replace the sign over a public square.

The foreman stood back from the rest, his arms

crossed while he issued orders. "Now, Jessel, you get

on Bildar's shoulders, Giblart on Jessel, Sterpwitz on

Giblart, and Leverton, you're on top." The foreman

tilted his creased face back and surveyed the distance.

 

Satisfied, he nodded. "Yep, that oughta be tall

enough."

Like members of an acrobatic team, the kender set

about forming a tower of bodies. Phineas knew kender

owned ladders, but they seemed to prefer living ken-

der pyramids. Deft as any circus acrobats, they passed

one another upward until they reached the desired

height and the kender named Leverton was on top.

"Oops, you forgot the hammer," the foreman called.

One by one, the kender passed each other back down.

Reaching the bottom, Leverton took the hammer from

his foremean, and the stacking process had com-

menced again.

Phineas had been reduced to spending the night on a

bench in front of a habberdasher's, having exhausted

the entire day following one sign after another.

Begging an apple from a friendly greengrocer next to

the haberdasher, he limped down the street now, his

left leg more than an inch taller than his bootless right.

He could have sworn he'd passed this way before, for

he seemed to recognize shop fronts and even a little

park across the way, but he followed an arrow that

supposedly led to the palace.

Suddenly, in mid-block, an arrow pointed across the

street and into a candlemaker's shop. Puzzled, Phineas

stood in the stoop under the shop's sign and looked

several times from the arrow to the interior of the shop

strung with candles. Surely this couldn't be the

palace -- could it?

Abruptly the door swung open and a female kender

in a wax-spattered apron stepped out. Kicking a brick

into place to hold the door open, she said, "My first

customer of the morning always gets a special on the

big beeswax candles. Normally one copper a piece, but

you can have three for six copper." She squinted at the

human and added, "You look terrible, mister. Did you

know you're missing a boot? Wanna swap for it?"

"Yes, I know," he said lethargically "And I'm not in-

 

terested in swapping my boot for any candles this

morning, thank you. But I would like to know why the

sign across the street says that this is the way to the

palace."

" 'Cause this is," she said curtly.

"This is the palace?" Phineas barked in disbelief.

"No, this is the way to the palace," she said with ex-

aggerated forbearance. "It's a daytime shortcut when

I'm open. If you want to go the other way, go way back

to City Hall, take a left, then five or six more lefts, and

a few rights after that. It should only take you a half-

day or so to get there." She stepped back into her shop.

Phineas followed her, suddenly earnest. "I'll take

the shortcut, then, thank you. Where do I go, right

through this door?" he asked, pointing to an opening

in the back of the shop.

"Yes, then just crawl out the window there. You'll be

on Mulberry Street -- or is it Strawberry Street? I can

never remember. Keep going until you get to the statue

of somebody or other. Or maybe it's a tree, sometimes

they look so much alike, don't you agree? Anyway,

just go past that and turn right. You'll see the palace at

the end of the street." She held out her hand, palm up.

"That'll be ten copper."

"Ten copper?!" he cried. "For letting me crawl out

your window and telling me that trees and statues look

alike?"

"It's a long way back to City Hall." She smiled.

"The fact of the matter is," noted Phineas unhappily,

"I don't have any cash at the moment."

She looked at his feet. "As I was saying, that's a fine-

looking boot you have there."

"Yeah, it sure was," he muttered to himself as he

pulled it off and handed it to her, secretly slipping the

rat bone into the cuff of his sleeve. "It used to be part

of a matched set."

She rubbed the toe reverently. "This will be a superb

place to keep my money. Here, take a candle, too," she

 

said generously, thrusting a thick, lumpy, beige one

into his hand.

Maybe he could use it for ear plugs, he thought.

Holding the candle awkwardly, Phineas thanked her

and left to find the window at back. Pulling a crate un-

der it, he scrambled over the sill and dropped to the

ground on the other side. Sharp, pointy stones bit into

the tender flesh of his white soles as he hobbled

through a weedy vacant lot toward the nearest street.

For one block, its name was, in fact, Mulberry

Street. Then it became Strawberry Boulevard. The

buildings were coming farther and farther apart, so he

reasoned that he must be nearing the city limits, what-

ever side of Kendermore he was on,

At last he came to a lush, overgrown public square.

The ground was blanketed in fallen leaves of every

color. Perched on a pedestal was a tree. Or was it a

statue? He was beginning to think like a kender! Step-

ping forward, he thumped it. Stone. It was a statue of

a tree. Rounding the corner of the statue, he looked

down the street to the right.

There, at the end of the short street, he saw the most

unKendermore-like setting in the entire city. In the

first place, the palace looked finished, at least from

where Phineas stood. In the second place, it didn't

share that "crates and barrels smashed together on a

grand scale" look that so many architects in Kender-

more seemed to favor. While the "smashed barrels"

style was interesting to look at, it was not beautiful.

But this building was beautiful to Phineas's eye. It

looked more like buildings found in the human cities

he had visited and lived in before, but the flavor was

slightly different, slightly exotic.

Stretching out before the front steps of the structure

was a long, cool reflecting pool, edged by an expertly

shaped topiary garden. Hedges were cut into the forms

of animals, including dogs, cats, horses, and even

mythical dragons. The shrubs were just beginning to

 

turn brown at the tips, which made the animals look

fuzzy.

Unconsciously, Phineas ran over the rough street to

stand at the end of the reflecting pool. Eyes agog, he

looked up at the palace. A central dome enclosed the

body of the building, made of the smoothest white

marble. An inestimable number of turrets surrounded

the big dome, each capped by onion-domed minarets.

Every landing -- and there were dozens of all sizes --

was supported by intricately carved arches that came

to gentle points.

The whole vision was one of such consistent and

soothing symmetry that Phineas could not help but

wonder if he had, in fact, somehow departed Kender-

more.

Then he saw an aged kender wearing muddy, knee-

high boots, with a small hedge-clipper tucked into his

white hair. The kender pushed a wheelbarrow up to a

topiary of a bear and stopped.

"Excuse me," stammered Phineas, still awed by the

building before him. "This... this is the palace, isn't

it?"

The kender released the wheelbarrow's handles and

turned around to look at the human. "This's it, yes,

sir," he said. "Only one like it in Kendermore." Then

his eyes narrowed. "Unless you know of another, that

is."

"No," replied Phineas. "I've never seen anything like

it before." The kender continued to eye him. "In Ken-

dermore or anywhere else," he added.

"Well, that's good to know," announced the kender.

"I like to keep on top of things like that. Enjoy your-

self. Try not to break anything." The kender took the

shears from his hair and snipped twice at the bear.

Nodding with satisfaction, he replaced the clippers,

picked up his wheelbarrow again, and continued on

his way.

"Wait!" shouted Phineas. "Can you tell me some-

 

thing about this place? I've spent two days trying to

find it!"

The kender stopped again and turned around. "Two

days ?" he exclaimed. "Where did you start looking --

Silvanost? There are signs everywhere."

"Yes, I know," Phineas sighed. "I've seen them all.

Unfortunately, the only sign that helped at all was an

unlikely one that sent me through the middle of a can-

dle shop."

"Oh, yes, down on Elderberry Street," said the ken-

der, nodding. "That's an excellent shortcut. I like to

get there first thing in the morning for their big bees-

wax candle special." He spotted a thistle in the grass,

stooped to dig it out, then saw Phineas's feet. "Say, did

you know you aren't wearing any shoes?"

"Yes, I know." The sun was beginning to peak over

the palace, and Phineas had to squint to see the ken-

der. "Is this the mayor's home? It's exceptionally

grand."

"Nope," the kender said with a shake of his head,

"the mayor doesn't live here. No one does, except pris-

oners now and then."

"That's why I'm here!" Phineas exclaimed.

"Oh," responded the kender, "are you checking in as

a prisoner?"

Phineas scratched his chest for a moment, puzzled

by the kender's question. "No," he responded simply.

Spying a bench, Phineas hobbled over to it and

plopped down. He rested a moment under the kender's

curious gaze.

"My name is Phineas Curick," he began. "I've been

trying for two days to find this palace because I need

to talk to Trapspringer Furrfoot, whom I understand is

being held a prisoner within. There. Now, who are

you?"

"Bigelow Spadestomper, your friend and acquaint-

ance." He extended his small, muddy hand. "I am the

groundskeeper and gardener here at the palace, the

 

fourth Spadestomper groundskeeper in as many Spa-

destomper generations. And, yes, there is a Trap-

springer in residence at the moment. I believe that's

him leaning out the window, there on the second

floor."

Phineas looked up and, sure enough, there was the

kender he recognized as Trapspringer Furrfoot leaning

out an arched window, casually cleaning his finger-

nails with a small knife. Phineas paused for a moment,

unsure what to make of this. The human had expected

to find the kender locked in a cell or some similarly un-

pleasant place. Yet here was Trapspringer, lounging

out an open window on the second floor of a palace.

Bigelow caught the baffled look on the human's face.

"Oh, yes, sir, I see you're wondering why he's there

on the second floor," he said. Phineas nodded slowly.

"Unfortunately for Mr. Furrfoot, the grand suite on

the third floor was unavailable, seeing as how it's be-

ing used by some visiting blue bloods in from Balifor.

Still, the second floor is comfortable enough, in an op-

ulent sort of way."

Phineas looked from Trapspringer to the gardener

and asked, "How do I speak with the prisoner?"

Bigelow looked at him strangely. "Why, you just

walk in that door, go up the stairs, and find him. How

do you humans usually talk to prisoners? Say hello to

dear Trapspringer for me. Pleasant fellow, and so

smart! I've finished weeding the flower beds here, so

I'm off. Good-bye!" In a few moments, Bigelow was

engulfed by the blinding yellow sunrise creeping

around the right corner of the palace.

"Good-bye," Phineas said limply, watching him go.

He set off for the door the gardener had indicated.

Passing a flower bed, he noticed that nearly all the

flowering plants had been uprooted and that weeds

grew abundantly but neatly within the confines of the

bed. The human would never get used to that peculiar

kender gardening technique.

 

Phineas walked quickly down the right side of the

reflecting pool to the stairs at the base of the central

dome. The cool marble was soothing on his blistered

feet.

Before long, though, he pressed on up the flight of

pristine, white stairs, which ended at a platform. The

entrance to the palace proper was up one more short

flight of stairs. An ornately carved archway at least as

high as thirty men opened into another one at least

half as tall. There was no door, only a recessed arch-

way.

Abruptly, Phineas found himself inside the elabo-

rate palace. The first thing that struck him was that, if

possible, it looked larger inside than out, yet he was

certain he was seeing only a fraction of the building.

Way off in the distance above him, the inside of the

dome looked like a crystal-clear night sky, either from

black paint splashed with white to look like stars, or

from an absence of light so far from the large but shel-

tered windows. Still, the effect was the same, tranquil

and quiet and ice cold.

To either side of the dome, where the ceiling leveled

off, two softly circling stairways led to the floors

above. Phineas chose a staircase and began climbing.

The marble was smooth and moist in the darkness of

the palace, and Phineas was almost to the first-floor

landing when he heard a familiar voice echoing from

below him.

"Hellooo! Where are you going? Nobody up there

but some boring snobs from Balifor. They aren't

friends of yours, are they?"

Phineas leaned over the railing and looked to the

bottom of the stairs. There stood Trapspringer Fur-

rfoot, still dressed in his midnight-purple leggings and

cape, but with a bright orange shirt and a large, floppy

cap. The human flew back down the steps.

"Oh, it's you." Trapspringer cried upon seeing Phi-

neas's face. He took his hand and pumped it vigor-

 

ously. "How wonderful to see you! And how friendly

of you to come all this way for a visit!"

"You remember me?" asked Phineas, astounded.

Hope blossomed. Perhaps getting the other half of the

map wouldn't be as difficult as Phineas had feared.

"How could I forget the person who saved my life?"

Trapspringer asked, almost offended. "That bone you

gave me is marvelous, almost better than my last one.

I've had nothing but good luck since I got it."

And I've had nothing but bad luck, Phineas thought

to himself, but instead he said, "That's why I'm here,

Mr. Furrfoot."

Trapspringer turned away possessively, his eyes

wide. "You're not here to take it back, are you?"

"Of course not, Mr. Furrfoot!" Phineas assured him

smoothly. "I'm a doctor! I would never jeopardize a

patient's life, no matter what."

"Well, I'm certainly very relieved to hear that. You

shouldn't fool around with a person's good-luck

charm, you know," Trapspringer lectured. "Did you

know that good-luck charms have existed since the be-

ginning of time -- as long as the Towers of High Sor-

cery, anyway. Back then, powerful magicians would

endow worthless pieces of junk with slight magical

abilities, or sometimes just good vibrations." Trap-

springer accompanied his story with appropriately

magical gestures. "Then they would sell them to any-

one who happened by with enough money, just so they

could eat."

"If these magicians were so powerful, why didn't

they just conjure up some food?" Phineas asked,

stumped by the moral of the story.

No kender had ever asked that before. "It's a story,"

Trapspringer replied temperamentally, "it doesn't

have to be logical." But Trapspringer frowned; one of

his favorite items of little-known information had

been rendered suspect.

Sensing that he may have blundered, Phineas

 

rushed ahead. "You're probably right. Anyway, I

. didn't come here to take your luck charm, I came here

to add to it."

The kender turned around and smiled, an interested

gleam in his tilted, olive-green eyes.

With a gesture, Phineas let the bone fragment slip

from his cuff. "I offer you this magnificent specimen,

found frozen and preserved in the cold wastelands

south of Ice Mountain Bay." Reverently, the human

held the bone up in his palm. "The rare sixth

metatarsal" -- was that a bone or a tooth? he

wondered -- "of an extinct Hyloian woolly mammoth.

Nothing short of a mage with great ability can provide

a more powerful luck charm."

Scarcely breathing, Trapspringer gingerly lifted the

bleached white bone and held it lovingly in his hand.

"I can feel the good luck in it! Oh, thank you! How

very nice of you. Say, doesn't it look a lot like my ly-

canthropic minotaur bone?" he asked guilelessly, pull-

ing a necklace chain from under his orange shirt. He

held up the bone at the end for inspection.

"Yes, I certainly see some similarities," Phineas

agreed quickly. "But it's not what the bone looks like

that's important, is it? Its ability to provide good luck

is what you're interested in."

"I see what you mean!" Turning both bones over and

over in his hands, Trapspringer strutted happily.

"Well, thank you very much again," he said in dis-

missal. "If there's ever anything I can do for you, don't

hesitate to --"

"There is," the human interrupted him. "You collect

bones. I collect maps. How did you know that when

you gave me that expertly crafted one as payment the

other night? I was wondering if you had any more

from that period?" Here was where he had to tread

lightly. "Actually, the map you gave me was of only

half of Kendermore. Was that merely an oversight?"

Trapspringer looked genuinely surprised. "Are you

 

sure? I didn't think I had any 'half maps.' That was one

of Uncle Bertie's, you know, although I'm not sure

who he was, or if he was even my uncle. Isn't it rather

odd for humans to collect things, particularly maps?

My nephew's family collects them, but then that's

what they do -- make maps, that is."

Phineas's brain ached. His business was conning

kender, not trying to figure out how kender were con-

ning him.

"Yes, it is a bit of an odd hobby for a human," he

agreed at last. "But I've been living among you kender

for some time now, and I guess your better habits are

rubbing off on me. Next to money, maps just seemed

the most useful thing to collect. Particularly a map of

Kendermore, since I live here. Now, how about the

other half of that map?" Phineas pulled his section out

and showed the kender how streets and their names

were cut off midway along the frayed edge.

Trapspringer lifted his cap and scratched under his

tight, silvery topknot. "Let me check."

Phineas's heart raced as he watched Trapspringer

reach into his cape and pull out a four-inch stack of

faded, folded sheets of parchment. How did he hide all

that in there? Phineas wondered.

Trapspringer was leafing through the maps. "Ends-

cape, Estwilde, Flotsam, Garnet, Lemish -- how'd that

get in here? It's out of order. Fascinating city, though;

have you been there? It's very near Garnet -- Kalaman,

Kenderhome, Library of Palanthas -- a wonderful

place if you're looking for a good book, but they're a

little strict about returning them -- Mithas." He looked

up from the maps. "We've passed the Ks and no Ken-

dermore." He shrugged and moved to put the maps

back in his cape.

Desperate, Phineas reached into the cape and

snatched the maps away, adding a hasty, "May I?"

Faster and faster, he flipped through the sheets. But

none of them seemed to fit with his part of the map.

 

"I tell you what," Trapspringer proposed. "If I ever

find it, I'll be sure to let you know. In the meantime,

take any one of these. My personal favorite is this one

here --" he said, randomly pulling a map out by its cor-

ner.

"I only want the one of Kendermore, and you know

it!" Phineas growled in frustration. He was tired of

this cat-and-mouse game. What did Trapspringer

want from him? "What do you want from me? Money?

A share? Name it! Just stop toying with me!"

Trapspringer stepped back, startled. "I don't want

anything from you. You want something from me, re-

member? You aren't thinking very well, are you? It

must have something to do with that ridiculously

small hat you're wearing. You really should switch

haberdashers. Wearing a hat that's too tight squeezes

all the air out of your brain. Not to mention you aren't

wearing any shoes...."

"I know! I gave them away!" Phineas shouted.

Suddenly, Trapspringer's face lit up. "Gave them

away! That's what I did with the map! Some years ago,

I gave a bunch of my maps away. There!" Trapspringer

looked pleased with himself for having remembered.

"I gave them to my nephew, Tasslehoff Burrfoot. He's

one of the Burrfoots I told you about," Trapspringer

continued, without noticing that Phineas's eyes had

gone blank. "He should be back here any day now.

He's marrying the mayor's daughter, you know. When

he gets back, they'll let me out of this depressing

prison."

Phineas's vacant eyes traveled over the awesome

beauty of his surroundings and his mind stumbled,

trying to calculate its inestimable worth. He remem-

bered the rickety bench where he had spent the night.

Soundlessly, he repeated Trapspringer's last words.

Light dawned in his eyes.

Some kender named Tasslehoff had the map, and he

would be returning to Kendermore any day now.

 

New strength surged through Phineas's veins. He

had only to wait until Tasslehoff showed up, and he'd

have the map! But what if Tasslehoff never came back?

The human remembered hearing, with some relief,

that a bounty hunter had been sent after the wayward

kender. And wasn't the council holding his favorite

uncle? Oh, yes, he'd be back.

Caught up in his daydream, Phineas did not see Bi-

gelow the gardener's approach. He was carrying a sap-

ling in one hand and a note in the other. As he handed

the paper to Trapspringer, the sound of his voice inter-

rupted Phineas's thoughts.

"I couldn't help noticing as I was fetching it up here,

sir, that it says Damaris Metwinger, the mayor's

daughter, has run away," Bigelow announced before

Trapspringer could unfold the message. "She wrote in

a note that she got tired of waiting to marry someone

she doesn't even know and that she's left for the Ruins

and other parts unknown. You're free to go, Trap-

springer, since she's welching on the marriage. Mayor

Metwinger had to either give you a mayoral pardon or

put himself or his wife in prison. Your nephew Tassle-

hoff is freed of his obligation, too, so he doesn't need

to come back either. I'm sure they'll be sending word

to his bounty hunter."

Phineas turned white and clutched at his chest.

"That's too bad," Trapspringer said. "I was looking

forward to seeing him again. Oh, well, our paths will

cross eventually."

"Too bad about the marriage contract," the gardener

said absently, dirt falling in small clumps from the sap-

ling's roots as he plodded through the archways that

led to the steps outside. "Kids these days have no re-

spect for rules. I don't suppose the mayor will be too

keen on sending a bounty hunter after his own daugh-

ter, though." Bigelow disappeared through the last

archway, and his words became indistinct mutterings.

But Phineas's mind was reeling, an idea, desperate

 

and dangerous, forming in his brain. Find Damaris

and haul her back and Tasslehoff will still have to

return -- bringing the map with him. Phineas had no

idea where Tasslehoff might be, but Damaris had said

she was going to the Ruins, a favorite scavenging and

picnic spot among the kender.

Phineas did not notice Trapspringer skipping hap-

pily down the palace steps until he realized he was

alone. He hurried through the vast archs and spotted

Trapspringer's reflection dancing in the rectangular

pool.

"Hey, wait! Where are you going?" the human called

after him.

The kender squatted on the shallow steps leading

into the pool and deftly fashioned a paper boat from

one of the oiled parchment maps in his cape. Wrap-

ping a triangular piece of paper around a thin, straight

stick, he attached it as a mast. Adding three small

rocks as ballast, he gave the boat a gentle shove into

the center of the pool.

"Trapspringer, you said you want to see your

nephew again?" Phineas asked anxiously. "Bigelow

was right. The mayor will never send a bounty hunter

after his own daughter. But if someone else -- say, for

example, me -- were to bring Damaris back from the

Ruins, your nephew would still have to return for the

wedding."

"That's awfully kind of you -- what was your name

again? -- but not necessary. This sort of thing happens

all the time with birthmates. One gets tired of waiting

for the other. They'll either get around to it eventually,

or they won't." He jabbed at the boat with a long stick.

"But I insist! It's no problem, really. It's the least I

can do for that map," Phineas added cautiously.

"Oh, yes, the map." Trapspringer looked up from

the boat and nodded. "Come to think of it, I haven't

been to the Ruins in years. It might be fun."

'You needn't come along," Phineas assured him hastily.

 

"But you'll get lost without me," Trapspringer in-

sisted. "Besides, you don't know what Damaris looks

like, and I do."

All of this was true, Phineas had to agree. "We

should leave as soon as possible. How about this after-

noon after we collect supplies? And we must also make

sure no one sends a message to Tasslehoff's bounty

hunter."

"Don't worry about a thing, I'm a seasoned adven-

turer. Have I told you about the time I nearly went to

the moon?" Trapspringer asked him. Phineas shook

his head. "It's a great story for the road. You just get

yourself ready, and I'll collect everything we need and

meet you at your shop just past noon."

Phineas only hoped he could find his shop by the

time Trapspringer showed up.

Suddenly the autumn wind picked up and sent a

small wave crashing over the side of Trapspringer's lit-

tle boat, sinking it in a second. Phineas wondered un-

easily whether it was an omen or just a little maritime

disaster.

 

Chapter 9

Tasslehoff, Gisella, and Woodrow stood on

the bow of the ship: "the pointy end," as Gisella in-

sisted on calling it. Behind them, her huge wagon was

secured to the single mast, since there didn't seem to be

much else to tie it to. The horses were tethered to the

mast as well and hobbled to keep them from wander-

ing about the deck. Their eyes rolled and their nostrils

flared each time the ship rocked. Not even Woodrow

could calm them completely.

"So, let's go," Gisella announced abruptly. "Let's get

this thing moving."

Woodrow looked apologetic. "I was raised on a

farm, ma'am. I don't know anything about sailing a

boat. I thought you knew how."

 

"Me? she squealed. "Dwarves don't even like wa-

ter."

"I've noticed that," Tas began. "My friend Flint --

you both remember him?Well, not very long ago, he

had a bit of a boating accident. You see, Caramon --

that's our big fighter friend -- was trying to grab a fish

with his bare hands, and he stood up in the little boat,

and it tipped over, and Flint couldn't swim, and when

Tanis fished him out, he was the most incredible shade

of purple! Flint says it was from lack of air, but I say it

was because he got so mad. It gave him lumbago."

"That's too bad," Woodrow said. "What does he do

for it?

"Flint says it helps to stay away from kender as

much as possible," Tas mumbled reluctantly.

Gisella ignored Tas's story. "How hard can it be,

anyway? You just put this cloth up," she proposed, fin-

gering the white sailcloth wrapped around a stout,

rounded piece of wood that tapered at the ends, "and

then the boat goes where you point it, doesn't it?

Woodrow frowned. "I don't think it's quite that sim-

ple, Miss Hornslager."

"Don't anyone bother asking me if I know how to

sail," Tas said petulantly at the edge of their conversa-

tion.

"Well, do you?" Gisella asked skeptically.

"Of course I do!" he said, delighted to have their full

attention. "I used to sail boats with my Uncle Trap-

springer all the time." Tas skipped happily over to Gi-

sella, looped an arm around the mast, and swung

himself in a half-circle, grinning.

"You weren't too far from right, Gisella," he said,

resting his hand on the piece of wood with the sail

wrapped around it. "You raise this thing here -- it's

called the yard -- up this thing here -- the mast -- and

hang the sail from it. But you steer with those sticks

dangling off the back end of the boat."

"I think those sticks at the stern are called sweeps,"

 

Woodrow said meekly.

"I knew that, but I was trying to simplify things for

Gisella," Tas glared at him. "I thought you didn't know

anything about sailing?"

Woodrow raised his hands defensively. "I don't.

Sorry."

"All right then," Tas concluded his lesson. "All we

have to do is figure out which direction the wind is

coming from, catch some of it in the sail, and point our

nose east. Sooner or later we're bound to find some-

thing."

Tas licked his finger and held it in the air tentatively.

He turned it this way and that, licked it again, and

held it up as high as he could.

Gisella leaned closer to Woodrow. "What's he do-

ing?" she asked furtively.

"I think he's trying to find out which direction the

wind is blowing," whispered Woodrow, afraid that

noise would upset the kender.

"I think it's blowing from the north," Tasslehoff an-

nounced at last. He turned to Fondu who, along with a

half-dozen other gully dwarves, had volunteered to

come along as deck hands for the "pretty-haired lady."

The deck hands were busy now spitting over the side

and watching the bubbles drift on the waves. "Fondu,

line up the crew."

With a resounding belch, Fondu grabbed his kins-

men by twos and propelled them toward the wagon.

There, with their backs pressed against the side of the

vehicle, they were able to form a line that was almost

straight.

Hands clasped behind his back, Tasslehoff paced up

and down in front of the ragged ensemble. One of the

gully dwarves -- Fondu had called him Boks -- jabbed

his finger into his ear and was vacantly gouging and

scraping when Tasslehoff spotted him. "Stop that," the

kender snapped, doing his best imitation of a fierce sea

captain. "We'll have none of that when you're in

 

ranks. This is a sailing ship, and you'll act like sailors."

The gully dwarf hastily withdrew his finger, glanc-

ing at it wistfully before wiping it on his shirt.

Tasslehoff began his orientation, walking around

the ship and pointing out each item as he came to it.

"That's the front end up there, and the back end back

there. The sides are there and there. The little house in

back is the cabin. Never mind that, we'll just call it the

little house. That's where we sleep. This big stick in the

middle is the mast. We're going to hang a big sheet of

cloth on it, called a sail. Your jobs," he said, turning

back to face the gully dwarves, "-- and this is really

important -- is helping to raise and lower the sail by

pulling on these ropes." Immediately the crew shuffled

over and began yanking indiscriminately on ropes,

sailcloth, and each other.

"No, no," hollered Tas, "not yet! Wait until I say!"

The gully dwarves shuffled back to the wagon. "You

can't just go hauling on ropes willy-nilly or the whole

ship will come apart. Now, one step at a time, do ex-

actly what I tell you...."

Several hours later, at dusk, a kender, who was un-

accustomed to giving precise instructions about any-

thing, had managed to guide seven gully dwarves,

who were unaccustomed to following instructions of

any kind but especially unaccustomed to precise ones,

through the complicated stages of hoisting a sail, rais-

ing an anchor, and launching an eighty-foot-long sail-

ing vessel more or less across the wind.

Gisella and Tas sat on the roof of the cabin, their

backs against the ship's rail. Because the cabin's roof

doubled as the steering deck, Woodrow stood to their

right, manning the starboard sweep. A gully dwarf

named Pluk manned the port sweep under the human's

watchful gaze. Looking like a boy about to stick his

toe in icy water, Woodrow finally opened his mouth.

"I hate to wilt anybody's crops," he began, "but

without a map, how do we know where we're going,

 

and how do we tell when we get there?"

Tasslehoff popped open one eye. "I've been giving

some thought to that very question."

Gisella groaned.

"There you go again," complained Tas, "criticizing

my ideas before I even utter them. You ought to de-

velop a little more tolerance."

"Oh, let's hear it," Gisella moaned.

"Thank you," said Tas. "It seems to me that we have

a long way to go back to Kendermore, at least five

hundred miles, I would say. The more ground -- or

should that be water? -- whatever -- that we can cover,

the better off we'll be. So I think we should just sail

east, or northeast or southeast, for as long as possible.

When we finally run out of water, we'll know that

we've gone as far as we can."

Gisella turned her head slowly and regarded the

kender. "Those were my very thoughts! Sometimes

you surprise me, Burrfoot," she admitted. "That settles

it, then. We stay with the boat for as long as possible.

Take care of the steering part, will you, Woodrow? Be

a dear." And with that decision made, she retired to the

confines of her wagon.

Woodrow looked to Tas. "For the time being, Wood-

row, just steer away from the cliffs behind us. As long

as they're getting smaller, we're moving away from

them. Once they're out of sight, which won't be for

some time, we'll have to rely on the sun."

"How do you know so much about navigating a

boat?" Woodrow asked ingenuously.

"I don't know anything about navigating boats," Tas

said matter-of-factly. "But I'm a mapmaker, and I rely

a lot on the sun when I navigate on land. If it works on

land, I can't think of any reason why it shouldn't work

on water, too."

Woodrow nodded and watched the cliffs until they

later disappeared in moonlight.

 

Early in the morning of their second day, Woodrow

spied a land mass to the north, and by its narrow shape

he knew it to be either a large island or a peninsula. He

altered course to keep it in sight. "We can chart our

progress by how quickly the land passes," he reasoned.

On the third day they passed through a channel that

was perhaps ten miles wide, between the island and

another spit of land. After narrowing gradually, the

channel suddenly opened wide to the east. After a

vote, everyone arbitrarily agreed that they should al-

ter course again and parallel the east-west shoreline.

That evening, clouds hid the stars.

The sun never really came out the third day. Dawn

was a dull gray, shrouded in fog. There was virtually

no breeze, so the boat, christened Loaner by Gisella,

made little progress. But to everyone's relief, the wind

picked up at midmorning, clearing the fog away and

raising everyone's spirits. The gully dwarves were

happy enough anyway, having engaged in a game of

"Gully Overboard," in which they kept jumping, fall-

ing, or pushing each other off the boat, leaving Woo-

drow and Tasslehoff to toss them a rope and drag them

back to the ship. Even the long-suffering human

threatened to leave them in if they continued the

game. Only a word from the object of their fascina-

tion, Gisella, put a halt to their antics.

The wind continued rising steadily throughout the

morning. By noon, Tas was standing in the bouncing

bow of the boat, the long hair of his topknot flying

over his shoulder, his tunic and leggings soaked by the

spray blowing off the water.

"If this keeps up, we should be somewhere awfully

soon," hollered Gisella, trying to be heard above the

flapping canvas, slapping waves, and groaning ropes

and timbers. Moments later, she retreated to her

wagon to escape the wind and spray.

 

Like ducklings, four of the gully dwarves fell into

line and trooped toward the wagon behind Gisella.

"Where do you think you're going?" hollered Tas, col-

laring one of the deserters.

"Me cold," the gully dwarf bellowed. "All wet and

blowy here. Warm and dry in little house."

"Oh, no, you don't," Tas warned. "You're all sailors

now, and sailors don't abandon their posts because of

a little wind and spray." At that moment, a thunder-

clap rolled across the sea and rain started pattering on

the deck. "Or rain," Tas added doubtfully. He hesi-

tated. "Although rain is a lot worse than a little wind

and spray."

The gully dwarves looked at each other, then back

at Tas, confused as ever. At least they weren't retreat-

ing to the cabin anymore, but neither were they re-

turning to their positions.

Tas suddenly looked excited. "I know! I'll teach you

a sea chanty."

Individually steering the gully dwarves back to their

assigned spots, Tas started singing.

Come all you young fellows who live by the sea,

Kiss a fair maiden and then follow me.

Hoist up the sail and the anchor aweigh,

And run with the wind out through Balifor Bay.

Soon, all the gully dwarves were snorting and

stomping along with Tas's song, singing, "Hoy tup the

bale in the ankle a day," and tossing each other in the

air.

Already straining to control the sweep, Woodrow

was again concerned that the gully dwarves would

start tossing each other over the rail. At the speed they

were traveling, they'd never be able to stop and re-

cover them this time. He was about to warn Tas of the

danger when a flash of lightning struck the sea several

hundred yards from the ship. Moments later, a tre-

mendous gust of wind slammed into the little ship,

 

heeling it over on its port side and sending the pranc-

ing gully dwarves scurrying for handholds. As the

Loaner righted itself, a second gust hit it and with a

loud tearing sound, a three-foot rip appeared in the

sail.

Tas grabbed the nearest Aghar by the shoulder and

hollered, "We've got to get it down! The sail! We've

got to lower it!"

The gully dwarf dashed toward the cabin, too

frightened by the storm's sudden fury to be of any

help. Scanning the deck, Tas saw that his entire crew

was stampeding toward the cabin or crawling beneath

the wagon. The horses reared and snorted and strained

against their tethers, and the wagon swayed menac-

ingly.

Woodrow crouched on one knee with the sweep

tucked under his left arm and both arms wrapped

around the railing. Helplessly, he watched Tas stumble

across the deck.

A third gust of wind sent waves crashing across the

deck, washing several gully dwarves out from beneath

the wagon and up against the opposite rail. They were

crawling back to the wagon when a fourth gust filled

the sail, stretching it like a balloon. The rip widened in

a burst, and then another rip appeared, and then the

entire sail split in half, tearing lengthwise and pulling

free from the yard. The loose end billowed out over

the sea until it reached the end of its sheet, then

snapped, twisted in air, tore free from the rope, and

dropped into the churning waves.

The remaining, shredded half of the sail slapped into

the side of the wagon. The wagon's door flew open and

Gisella appeared, wide-eyed. The wagon bounced and

skidded across the deck, then slammed back into the

mast. Gisella tried to climb down the stairs but the

rocking threw her back into the wagon. Another wave

crashed into the side of the wagon, and two of the

three ropes securing the wagon to the deck burst under

 

the strain.

"Miss Hornslager!" screamed Woodrow. He

watched in horror as the wagon bearing Gisella slid

across the tilting deck, straining at the remaining rope.

But the rope held. Then, with a sound that almost

stopped Woodrow's heart, a jagged, white crack ap-

peared in the mast. The front end of the wagon

smashed through the ship's rail, and the wheels

dropped over the side. The ship rolled beneath the

shifting weight until water washed over the deck. A

second later, the entire wagon disappeared over the

side of the ship, slipping beneath the waves, followed

by the upper half of the mast.

The ship did not right itself, but bobbed and rocked

with its deck awash. The horses screamed and pawed

at the slippery deck. Seeing that the ship was lost,

Woodrow leaped off the steering deck and scrambled

to the stump of the mast. With his knife he sliced

through the horses' tethers so they would not be

dragged down by the sinking ship.

As the water rose in the cabin, Fondu and the other

gully dwarves who had taken shelter there stumbled

up on deck. A massive wave thundered down on the

upturned hull and the deck rotated even more. Tas

heard tumbling and crashing inside the ship as its bal-

last shifted.

"It's hopeless!" he shouted to the gully dwarves.

"The ship is sinking! Jump off! Swim for it!"

Woodrow and the horses were already in the water

when Tas dove after them. The few gully dwarves re-

maining on board were thrown in as well when the

ship rolled belly-up. Moments later, it slipped beneath

the churning surface, leaving only loose planking,

knotted ropes, and a twisted, tattered sail behind.

Kender, human, and gully dwarves clung to the

floating debris in the chilly water. The rain and wind

continued for a short time, then suddenly died away.

Before long, a dim sun poked through the gray clouds.

 

They bobbed on the debris in silence for several

minutes. Neither Tas nor Woodrow wanted to speak,

each thinking of Gisella. Fondu finally broke the si-

lence.

"Where pretty-hair lady?" he asked. He looked first

at Tas, then at Woodrow. "Fondu no see her."

Woodrow blinked furiously and would not meet

Tas's gaze. "She's gone, Fondu," Tas said hesitantly.

"She was in her wagon when it went over the side."

"When she coming back?" Fondu asked.

"I'm afraid she isn't," explained the kender.

Fondu stared at Tas uncomprehendingly for a sec-

ond, then opened his mouth wider than any mouth Tas

had ever seen and started bawling at the top of his

lungs. "Laaaadyyy!" he screamed, with his nose run-

ning almost as much as his tears.

"Fondu, quiet!" Tas ordered. Between Fondu's

wails, Tas was sure he had heard a voice. It sounded

like someone yelling...

"Yoo hoo."

Tas looked over his shoulder. There, a couple hun-

dred yards away, apparently sitting on top of the wa-

ter, was Gisella, waving a soggy kerchief in his

direction, A ragged cheer rose from the bobbing mob

and in short order they were paddling toward her.

As they drew closer, Tas became convinced that Gi-

sella was sitting on top of the water. The mystery was

cleared up when she announced, "Guess what? My

wagon floats!"

Fondu was so happy he broke into a garbled chorus

of "Come maul yo-yo fellows, Shirley by the sea," that

was soon picked up by the rest of the group. Boks spat

a mouthful of sea water at Thuddo and before long the

entire group was singing, laughing, spitting, and

splashing.

Tasslehoff was almost disappointed when Gisella,

standing shakily on the roof of her submerged wagon,

hollered "Land, I see land ahead!"

 

"At last, a good omen," said Woodrow.

"That's no omen, boy, that's land," Gisella cor-

rected. "That's dry clothes and something to eat and a

place to sleep." And with those words of encourage-

ment, they started paddling to shore.

 

Chapter 10

Phineas had little fime in whch to neach his shop

and collect his things. He decided to risk a ride in a ken-

derkart, particularly since he had no idea where his shop

was. Barefoot, Phineas hobbled to the first busy intersec-

tion and hailed one of the kender-pulled, two-wheeled

conveyances.

Trotting between the two long handles that were at-

tached to the cart's seat, the driver came to an abrupt

stop. Phineas gave the kender his address. After jogging

for some time, up stairs and down, and through a school

yard full of kender children, the driver was forced to ad-

mit that he wasn't exactly sure where he was going.

"But a friend of mine has a map of Kendermore that

will tell us everything we need to know," the driver as-

 

sured him.

The kenderkarter met his friend, a vendor of roasted

chestnuts, and after much conferring, several more

flights of stairs, and a trip through the close-set stalls of a

farmer's market with chickens flying in their wake,

Phineas began to recognize the shops of his own neigh-

borhood.

"There!" Unclenching his white fingers from the edge

of the cart, the human pointed to the right. "There's my

shop!" He looked longingly at the familiar storefront,

which he had begun to wonder if he would ever see

again.

The kenderkarter abruptly dug in his heels, sending

the distracted human flying once more. His mouth

twisted. "I wish you wouldn't do that t" The human

jumped down from the cart and headed for his shop.

"Wait a second! Where's my thirty copper?" the kender

asked, setting the handles of the cart down in outrage.

"Thief! Help! Thief!"

Dozens of kender on the street looked up guiltily from

whatever it was they were doing and put their hands

back in their own pockets.

"Somebody get him!" the kender continued. "He's

nothing but a shoeless, orc-faced, cheating, goat-sucker

bird, and he owes me forty copper!"

Phineas, who was most offended by the orc comment,

turned around and snarled, "I live and work in this

neighborhood, if you don't mind! I'm getting your

twenty copper right now."

The obnoxious kender stood at his elbow while

Phineas searched his pockets for the key. It was gone,

which came as no great surprise to Phineas. He knew it

was useless to expect to find any money left in the cash

drawer, but he had a secret place behind a wall board in

the waiting room.

Locating the loose board, Phineas gave it an upward

tug. The board slipped lose and a tin box fell out.

"Hey, that's really neat! I never would have thought to

 

look there!" the kender said, again at his elbow.

Phineas opened the box without comment. It was

empty. "Well, somebody obviously thought of it," he

said. That was all the money he had on hand. He cast his

glance about the room, trying to spot anything that was

left that might interest a kender.

Then an idea struck him. He intended to be rich soon,

didn't he? "I don't have any money. Take anything that

you like." He waved his hand at the room, then stepped

into the dark examining room. "Shut the door behind

you when you leave."

"Gee, thanks!" the kender exclaimed, his eyes wide.

"Wow, look at these --"

But Phineas wasn't listening. He had very little time to

get ready. He moved to a cupboard at the back of the

room and found his spare pair of boots. They weren't

nearly as comfortable as the ones he'd lost, he thought

ruefully, slipping them on in the dark. Next, he took a

satchel from a hook, making note of what clothing he'd

need to gather from his rooms upstairs. Next, he pulled

his half of the Kendermore map from his shirt and placed

it in the satchel, then went upstairs to change his shirt,

add a vest, and gather some other things.

Coming back down with his provisions and a haunch

of dried meat, he decided not to light a candle while he

waited for Trapspringer, so as not to attract customers.

Sitting in the darkness, he started to snooze, weary to his

bones.

A painful moan from the dark depths of the room

brought him to his feet. "Trapspringer?" Shaky hands

popped open the shutter partially, and a dim shaft of

light struck the floor. Heart thumping, he peered in the

direction of the moan.

Slumped in the examining chair, overlooked in the

darkness, was the body of a large, muscular man with

short, bristly hair, small eyes, and a flat, wide nose.

Blood trickled down his right side from under a wad of

red-stained white cloth.

 

"Who are you? What happened to you?" Phineas

gasped, rushing to the man's side. "You should get some

help right away!"

"That's what I'm doing. You're a doctor, aren't you?"

the man managed through clenched teeth.

"Me? Sure. I mean, yes," he stumbled, caught com-

pletely off guard. Phineas tended to the aches and pains

of friendly, city-dwelling kender. He saw lots of bruises,

but precious little blood. This was a rather nasty-looking

human, who was losing more blood each second than

Phineas had seen in months.

Gingerly he lifted the bloody cloth from the man's

side. The patient convulsed as the wet cloth caught on

the raw edges of his wound. Phineas winced. "Sorry."

Opening the shutter wider, he examined the cut, which

was wide, deep, and about five inches long. Though he

had never seen one, Phineas was certain he was looking

at a sword wound.

"Who are you?"

"I'm called Denzil."

"Just Denzil?"

The man looked at him evenly. "Just Denzil."

"Well, what happened to you, Denzil?" he repeated.

"Nothing. Just a little household accident." His voice

was getting weaker.

"You cut your meat with a sword?" Phineas scoffed.

"Who said anything about a sword?" the man named

Denzil said harshly. He propped himself up slightly,

somehow managing to look menacing despite his weak-

ened condition. "Listen, just fix me up and keep your

mouth shut about it."

Phineas looked at him helplessly. "I can't dress a sword

wound. I'm not that good -- I mean, kind -- of doctor.

You'll just have to find a surgeon." He pressed the dirty

rag against the wound again, forcing another convulsion

from the man. "Sorry."

"There is no one else. I wouldn't trust a kender doctor

any farther than I could choke him." Phineas saw the

 

man's fingers flex on the handrests. "Besides, I'm not in

any shape to move."

"You can make it," Phineas said, sounding more des-

perate than encouraging. "Just hold this to your side and

I'm sure --"

"I have enough strength left to choke an uncooperative

doctor," the man said threateningly. Something in his

small eyes told Phineas that this Denzil would happily

spend his last ounces of strength making good on the

threat.

Phineas poured three-day-old water into a wooden

bowl and ripped some cleaning rags. "I'll do my best, but

this really isn't a convenient time for me. My fee will be

very high."

"I can pay it," the man said coldly.

"Would you mind very much paying in advance?" Phi-

neas asked somewhat timidly, still not at all sure he could

help the man. As he figured it though, if he was, well, un-

successful, Denzil would not be around to choke him,

and if Phineas was successful, everyone would be happy.

Still, he was a businessman.

The man scowled at him. But with great effort, he

raised a hand into his jacket and pulled out a pouch.

Emptying approximately half the bag -- at least twenty

steel pieces, a veritable fortune -- he sank back. "Now,

get to work."

Phineas forced his mind away from the money and

onto the man's wound. Seeing Denzil's pale, sweaty face,

he snatched the half-bottle of wine he'd placed in his

satchel, uncorked it, and offered it to the man. Expecting

him to take a swig, Phineas watched as Denzil threw his

head back and downed the contents in a couple of noisy,

splashy gulps.

Phineas searched his mind frantically for ways in

which he could close the wound, or at least stop the

bleeding. His first thought was hot wax, but he dis-

counted that. It might cauterize the wound and stop the

flow of blood temporarily, but wax would fall away the

 

first time the man moved after it cooled.

Perhaps he could wrap it tightly. But how? With the

wound on his side like that, Phineas would practically

have to crush Denzil's ribs to apply enough pressure to

stop the blood.

His eyes fell on the twine the herbalist used to tie the

bunches of fragrant eucalyptus used in Phineas's special

elixir. Hardly stopping to think, he dug around in a

drawer until he located the needle he used to sew patches

over small holes in his boots. Wiping it quickly on his

sleeve, he threaded the needle with twine and set it aside.

Adding a few crushed leaves of eucalyptus to the bowl of

water, he gently cleansed the wound. The man had al-

ready passed out and was beyond noticing.

Pinching the edges of the wound together, Phineas be-

gan at the back, using his most decorative cross-stitch

pattern to draw the raw skin together. He concentrated

on his neatness, because if he thought about what he was

doing, he was certain he would feel the twine pulling

through his own flesh. Sweat dripped into his eyes as he

worked.

Denzil stirred and moaned beneath the needle.

Phineas hastily finished up the last two stitches as his pa-

tient's eyes flew open. Tying a quick overhand knot in

the end of the twine, Phineas stepped back anxiously and

waited for the man's bellows of pain.

Understanding returned quickly to Denzil's eyes.

Within moments even his color had turned better. Winc-

ing only slightly, he looked under his arm at the hemp-

colored twine in his side. "You do pretty fair work for a

quack. Nice, thick stitches." His expression became soft

and peaceful as he said, " 'Where we grow and decay no

longer, our trees ever green.' Quivalen Sath, The Bird

Song of Wayreth Forest."

Either the man was delirious, or astonishingly, he was

in very little pain. His voice was steady, and so were his

hands.

"You're familiar with his work, of course," the man in

 

the chair said. "Greatest poet that ever lived."

"Of course," Phineas agreed vacantly. This man was

strange and creepy and Phineas wanted him out of his

shop as quickly as possible. "I'm sure you'll be just fine

now. I'm just on my way out of town, so if you don't

mind --"

"I think I'll just rest here for a few more minutes," the

man said. "I'm still feeling a little drained from the loss of

blood." He flexed his fingers into fists so that the muscles

in his arms wrippled under his blood-stained shirt.

"Sure, whatever you like," Phineas said quickly,

stifling the impulse to bow as he backed out of the room.

He would simply wait in the outer office for Trapspringer

to arrive; by then this Denzil would probably be ready to

leave.

What was such a man -- obviously a vicious fighter --

doing in Kendermore anyway, he wondered? Probably

just a mercenary passing through. Looking out the small

window, Phineas decided Trapspringer was already late.

Though he expected it of kender, he wished the fellow

would hurry up. He didn't want the trail of the mayor's

daughter, Damaris, to get any colder. And he especially

didn't want to sit around with Denzil.

A short time passed, spent shooing away curious pa-

tients, before Trapspringer Furrfoot arrived. The kender

strolled in the shop's door with a flourish, twirling

around to set his new crimson cape spinning in a colorful

circle.

"Don't you think you're a bit overdressed for a trip to

a place called 'the Ruins'?" Phineas asked.

"Hello to you, too. I always begin each adventure with

new garb," Trapspringer explained. "Actually, the prac-

tice of dressing up for military maneuvers began in

Tarsalonia -- some place like that -- long ago --"

"This is not an adventure," Phineas said firmly. "We're

simply going to find Damaris Metwinger and bring her

back so that your nephew Tasslehoff's bounty hunter will

not be notified that he need not return to Kendermore

 

from someplace named Solace with the other half of my

map," he finished, out of breath.

"That's right. An adventure." Trapspringer's eyes

glanced about the room. "Do you like being a doctor?"

Phineas noticed for the first time that the kenderkarter

had cleared away what was left on the shelves in the

waiting room. "I did." Suddenly he remembered Denzil.

"I'm ready to go," he said, walking toward the dim exam-

ination room. "I just have to release one last patient, then

collect my pack." He stepped into the back room and

looked at the chair.

Denzil was gone.

Where could he have got to? Phineas wondered. There

was no back door, only a small window, like the one in

the candlemaker's shop. He listened for any noise above

in his rooms, but there was no sound through the thin

wooden floor. Denzil must have slipped out the window,

the human decided at last, though he could not under-

stand why. The steel pieces still lay where Phineas had set

them, next to his satchel. The man's disappearance was

easily as odd as his appearance, and that was odd indeed.

Shrugging, Phineas pocketed the steel pieces and took

the leather handles of the satchel. He frowned suddenly,

seeing his half of the Kendermore map sticking out the

top of the bag. I must have pulled it up when I took out

the bottle for Denzil, he concluding, placing the map in

his vest for safe keeping.

Closing the shutters in the examination room, he led

Trapspringer out the front door, made sure the "closed"

sign faced the street, then set off toward the northeast

corner of Kendermore with the elder kender, in search of

Damaris Metwinger.

A dark figure lurked in the doorway for five long min-

utes after the kender and the human left on two small po-

nies. Holding his side to ease the pain of a recently won

duel, the man walked the other way down the street. A

 

mercenary by trade, he had just stumbled upon his next,

and possibly last, job, if the spoils were all that were

promised on the half-map. This time, he would be work-

ing for himself. Collecting his horse, a dark, menacing

steed, from a nearby alley, he purchased enough provi-

sions for one month; enough time, he figured, to find the

village of Solace and a kender named Tasslehoff.

 

Chapter 11

"One, two, three, heave!

"One, two, three, heave!"

Tas, Woodrow, and the seven gully dwarves pulled

with all their might, but the waterlogged wagon refused

to budge. They had managed to drag it about halfway up

onto shore. But now it was thoroughly bogged down in

the mud.

Woodrow, standing waist-deep in the water, relaxed

his grip on the rope and eased up to his full height. The

movement aggravated a pain in his back. "I'm sorry,

Miss Hornslager, but I just don't think we can do this.

That wagon hasn't moved in the last twenty pulls."

"Never give up, Woodrow. Those are words to live

by," responded Gisella, still seated atop the wagon. "Now

 

everybody, one, two, three, heave!"

But even before she got to the word "heave," all nine

heavers had dropped the rope and slogged wearily back

onto the shore. The gully dwarves, who had been in the

shallow water closest to shore, plopped down in a soggy

heap. Tas followed, stretching out on his back on a small

patch of grass growing on the sandy beach. Finally,

Woodrow sat down beside him, resting his head on his

knees.

"What's the matter with you? You're all a bunch of

quitters, that's what's the matter with you!" hollered Gi-

sella. She paced back and forth on the small roof of her

wagon. "Do you think I came all this way to give up

now? Do you think I'm just going to shrug my shoulders

and say, 'Oh, well, things are getting a little tough now,

so I think I'll sit down here and wallow in my own pity?"

"C'mon, Gisella," responded Tas. "We're tired. We just

survived a shipwreck -- let us rest for five minutes, OK?"

Gisella surveyed her ragged crew. "Maybe you're

right. So come and help me down off this thing already."

She held out her hand demurely.

Wearily, Woodrow rose to his feet and splashed back

to the wagon. Gisella sat on the edge of the wagon's roof

and then, with a little hop, slid into Woodrow's arms.

The thin human suppressed a grunt.

"Oooh," she purred, "you're stronger than you look. I

find danger to be incredibly exciting, don't you?"

Woodrow's face flamed to a bright crimson, and he

practically dropped Gisella in his haste to set her down

and retreat to the shore. The dwarf was puffing as she fi-

nally waded onto dry land, several dozen paces behind

the human.

"Really, Woodrow, it was just an innocent little re-

mark. I don't know what gets into you sometimes," she

complained. "Hasn't anyone ever flirted with you be-

fore?"

Woodrow was seated, hugging his knees and staring at

the ground. "No, ma'am, I guess not," he mumbled.

 

This was beyond Gisella's comprehension, so she

dropped the subject entirely and joined everyone else

stretching out on the beach.

Woodrow woke up shortly after dawn. He was disori-

ented at first, until he realized that what everyone had in-

tended to be a short nap had turned into twelve hours of

sleep. Tas was curled up on his side, Gisella was snoring

softly, the gully dwarves were in a heap, squirming occa-

sionally. Woodrow's stomach growled, reminding him

that he hadn't eaten since early the day before. He set off

to the south along the beach in search of something

edible.

The beach extended perhaps a mile before giving way

to rocky outcroppings, gravel, and eroded dirt banks.

Walking along the shore was too difficult after that

point, so Woodrow moved inland. As long as I can still

hear the waves, he thought, I shouldn't get lost.

Before long, Woodrow found a tangled patch of wild

raspberry bushes. He filled his hat with the ripe, red fruit

and sat down for a feast.

His meal was interrupted by the sound of movement

somewhere in the tangle. Woodrow rolled onto his stom-

ach and lay perfectly still, listening. Then he heard the

sound again: the snorting of a horse.

Cautiously, he raised his head. In places, especially

where the berries grew around gnarled trees and boul-

ders, the bushes were taller than Woodrow. Slowly, he

worked his way around the patch, then all of a sudden he

laughed, stood up, and whistled. In the berry patch, con-

tentedly munching, were Gisella's two horses. Eagerly

they pushed their way through the tangled brush to

where Woodrow stood.

"I sure am glad you two are all right," laughed Wood-

row, throwing an arm around each horse's neck. "I was

afraid I'd never see you again."

Both horses were nuzzling Woodrow's pockets. "I'm

 

afraid you've already found something better than any-

thing I could offer you, right there in that berry patch,"

chuckled Woodrow. "Let's gather some of this up and

head back to the others, eh?"

Woodrow refilled his cap and the entire front of his

shirt with berries, holding the latter out like an apron. He

and the hotses turned north toward the beach.

Tasselhoff was just sitting up and rubbing his eyes as

Woodrow arrived-with the horses. In moments, every-

one was awake and noisily slurping up berries.

While the others breakfasted, Woodrow walked the

horses out into the shallow water and started hitching

them to the wagon.

"Oh, good thinking!" hollered Gisella, looking up

from her handfuls of berries. "I can't wait to get my

things dried out so I can put on some decent clothes." She

glared disdainfully at the simple drab work outfit she'd

been wearing since before the shipwreck.

Woodrow finished adjusting the harness and walked

around to the front of the horses. "I don't know whether

pulling the wagon out will work, Miss Hornslager," he

cautioned. "This harness is in pretty bad shape, what

with spending the night underwater. The leather may

split open under the strain."

Gisella crossed her fingers. Woodrow led the horses

forward until they gradually put their entire strength

into the harness. Slowly, the wagon rocked forward,

then back, then forward again, and finally began rolling

after the straining team. The horses picked up more

speed as the wagon moved into shallower water and the

water inside it drained out.

'Whoa," said Woodrow, placing a hand on each of the

horses' muzzles. The wagon stood on the beach, water

still running out through the door and around the floor-

boards.

"Hooray." shouted Gisella, clapping her hands. "We'll

be on our way in no time."

"I don't think so, Miss Hornslager." Woodrow stepped

 

from behind the wagon, shaking his head. "Both rear

wheels are damaged, and the rear axle is cracked really

bad. This wagon won't go more than a mile or two with-

out falling apart."

"Well, can't we fix it?" Gisella waved her arms vaguely

at the wagon. "People fix wagons all the time, right? I

mean, everything looks fine to me."

Woodrow nodded his head. "Yes, ma'am, we could fixit...

"

"Then let's get at it."

"... if we had the right tools, ma'am. Like a forge,

and a sledge, and an anvil. And maybe some jacks and

woodworking tools. But we can't repair it with nothing

to work with."

"Oh."

Gisella let her arms drop to her sides as she looked

sadly at the wagon. Then slapping her hips, she said,

"That's that, then. Let's salvage what we can and get

moving. I still have one cargo left, and it still has to be in

Kendermore by the Harvest Faire." She threw a glance at

Tasslehoff. "I hope it intends to continue cooperating."

The day was more than half over when Gisella finally

called for a short rest. The gully dwarves collapsed in ex-

agerated poses before the dwarf could even slide her leg

over her horse's neck and drop to the ground. Riding the

second horse together, Woodrow waited for the kender

seated in front of him to jump down before slithering off

himself.

The spot Gisella had chosen was the crest of a gently

rolling hill, which continued eastward in ever-taller

waves, becoming mountains within two miles. The hills

were barren except for tall, wavering, wheatlike grass,

and the occasional stark tree. The sun was warm, but

there was a slight chill to the breeze, the only sign of au-

tumn in the austere landscape.

"Pass around those berries, Woodrow," instructed Gi-

 

sella. "But make sure I get some before those gully

dwarves start stuffing their paws into them. And some

water, too," she added as an afterthought.

Woodrow hefted from the horses two of Gisella's

shirts, which had been salvaged from the wagon and

stuffed with berries. The necks and waists had been

knotted shut, and the arms were used to tie the make-

shift sacks to the horses' necks. The human untied a

shirt, paused, and peered into its neck.

"I could have sworn this was full when we started this

morning. We must have jostled an inch of berries out of

the top."

Guiltily, Tas shoved his red-stained fingers behind his

belt. "How surprising," he noted, turning his back to Gi-

sella's tight-lipped glare. But whatever she may have

been thinking, Gisella said nothing, instead helping her-

self to a handful of raspberries.

"Does anything around here look familiar'" she asked

Tasslehoff. "Anything at all? Does any of it even resem-

ble anything on one of those ridiculous maps of yours?"

Tas shook his head. "I'm familiar with a lot of places,

but this isn't any of them. Apparently none of my rela-

tives has been here, either, because I don't see anything

similar on the maps -- no barren hills or tall grass any-

where." Tas's maps were spread around him in a semicir-

cle. "Of course, we haven't traveled too terribly far. All

the really good landmarks may be just ahead."

"Let's hope so," sighed Gisella. "We've got to find some

sort of civilization soon."

Those words were barely out of Gisella's mouth when

Woodrow's head snapped up from his meal and he

cocked it to one side, listening intently for some barely

heard sound in the distance.

But the gully dwarves were getting restless. Taking the

silence as a sign of inactivity, Fondu chose that moment

to start singing the gully dwarves' special version of the

sea chanty Tasslehoff had taught them. Woodrow

flapped his arms frantically at them, trying to get them to

 

stop singing. But the Aghar took his gestures to be a new

verse of sorts to the song, and they began flapping their

arms to the music.

Helplessly, Woodrow looked at Tasslehoff. Acting on

instinct, the kender took matters into his own hands and

leaped in among the dancing Aghar, tackling Fondu. The

two of them rolled across the ground and bumped up

against Gisella's feet, Fondu still singing. But when the

gully dwarf looked up, he saw his lady's face, her lips

puckered and pressed to her finger. Instantly Fondu

stopped singing and bellowed, "Red-hair lady says to

shut up! Shut up! Shut up! -

The singing stopped abruptly, and the gully dwarves

froze in place. Pluk, balanced precariously on one foot,

wavered, jerked, hopped three times, and with his arms

windmilling wildly, collapsed on top of his brother,

Slurp. Both of them struggled back to their feet with their

hands clamped firmly over their mouths.

Once again Woodrow bent his ear to the wind.

Several moments passed.

"Well?" whispered Gisella.

Without turning his head, Woodrow whispered back,

"It's singing. I hear singing."

"Oh, that's marvelous," hissed Gisella. "It's probably

another bunch of gully dwarves. Can't you tell any more

than that?"

"No, ma'am. Either they're garbling the lyrics some-

thing awful, or they're singing in a language I don't un-

derstand, because I can't make out the words. Sounds

like quite a chorus, though," he added.

"I can't see anything through these cursed weeds," spat

Gisella, swatting at the dwarf-high grass surrounding

her. "Woodrow, help me onto my horse."

Woodrow linked his fingers and formed a step with his

hands, boosting Gisella onto the back of her horse. She

shaded her eyes with her hand and scanned the horizon.

"I see a red banner moving across our path -- it looks

like someone's family crest," the dwarf said at last. "It's

 

not too far off. There must be a road farther ahead. Let's

try to catch up with whoever it is."

Gisella's horse loped easily through the tall grass.

Woodrow and Tas hurried their horse to catch up, with

the gully dwarves jogging along behind them.

Tas had an idea for attracting the attention of whoever

was on the road. Twisting around on his horse, he yelled

to the leader of the gully dwarves. "Sing! Fondu, sing!"

The kender broke into the song he'd taught them.

"Come all you young fellows who live by the sea,

Kiss a fair maiden and then follow me."

And then came their reply:

"Hotel this ale and your uncle's a whale,

Wheel run with the Winifred ball of four bale."

Tasslehoff could see that the banner had stopped mov-

ing ahead, and he could no longer spot Gisella. Moments

later, he and Woodrow broke through the grass and

came upon the road. Gisella had dismounted and struck

the same "come hither" pose she'd used in the inn: hands

on her hips, hair tossed back. She was surrounded by a

dozen male dwarves who were all stroking their beards

and fumbling with their hats.

The troop was on foot -- most dwarves distrusted

horses. They stood in two straight lines of six dwarves,

with a lone dwarf at their head. Wearing sparkling, pol-

ished chain mail and knee-high leather boots, each dwarf

had a war hammer at his waist and a coil of rope draped

over one shoulder. The leader of the troop wore an orna-

mental helm with a cluster of green rooster feathers in it.

Gisella threw Tas and Woodrow a coy look and batted

her eyelashes when they at last emerged. "Boys," she

said, "I'd like you to meet Baron Krakold of the village of

Rosloviggen." She turned and blew a kiss to the dwarf

who sported the green feathers. Tas couldn't tell whether

the dwarf blushed -- his already ruddy complexion was

mostly hidden behind his enormous beard. He's not at all

 

the way I pictured a baron, thought Tas, who, if he pon-

dered the subject, conjured up images of shining armor, a

flowing cape, and a prancing white charger.

Gisella hooked her arm around the baron's shoulder

and gave it a squeeze. "The baron -- I just love the sound

of that, don't you? -- and his men just finished some mis-

sion or other and they're on their way back to the baron's

village. They'd love to have us join them. I don't see how

we can refuse such a gracious offer." Gisella turned and

stared deeply into the baron's eyes, simultaneously

grinding her hip against his thigh. The baron's

eyebrows -- which constituted a considerable mass of

hair -- twitched up and down, and a murmur of vague,

manly approval rippled through the troop of dwarves.

Just then, Fondu and his six kinsmen tumbled through

the edge of the grass and onto the road. They froze for a

second, looking at the noble entourage. Gisella closed

her eyes and bit her lip -- she knew that, as a rule, her

own kinsmen were no fonder of gully dwarves than of

horses. But when the Aghar broke into another spirited

chorus of "Balifor Bay," the baron and his men laughed

with delight. After a good round of guffawing and back

slapping, the column was under way.

The procession hiked for several hours. Tas, Gisella,

and Woodrow dismounted and walked in deference to

the horseless dwarves. Woodrow took both sets of reins

and dropped back to lead the animals at the rear of their

party. The ground rose steadily as the road wound into

the foothills of the upcoming mountain range. Tas, who

thought himself uncommonly patient on this trip, finally

voiced the question that had been occupying his mind all

day.

"How much farther is the village? We've had nothing

to eat but raspberries all day."

The dwarf directly ahead of Tas grunted good-

naturedly. "We've a way to go. The town is across that

spur, in the next gorge."

Tasslehoff eyed the spur with awe. "We have to cross

 

that? Those boulders look the size of castles! We'll be at it

for hours!"

"We'll get to the other side, all right," replied the

dwarf, maintaining the brisk pace set by his fellows.

"A friend of mine, Flint Fireforge -- he's a dwarf, too --

told me once to be more concerned about what lies on

the other side of the hill than how I'm going to cross it,"

mused Tas. "I guess that applies right now. It isn't very

often that sayings apply as well as that."

The dwarf grunted again. "It sounds like your dwarf

friend is pretty smart."

The dwarf behind Tas blew his nose loudly, then

asked, "Did I hear you right? You're a friend of Flint Fire-

forge?"

"Certainly," Tas said. "I saw him just a few days ago

back in Solace. But it seems much longer ago than that.

Why, do you know him, too?"

"No, no," replied the dwarf. "But we all know of him,

if he's the grandson of Reghar Fireforge. The baron's fa-

ther, Krakold the First, knew Reghar Fireforge during the

Dwarfgate War. Of course, Krakold was just a young no-

ble then and he's quite aged now, but he's one of the few

who survived the blast of magic that ended the

Dwarfgate War. Oh, yes, he was there the day Reghar

Fireforge died. Fireforge is still revered among our peo-

ple. We don't forget our heroes."

"Wow," declared Tas, scrambling to keep up with the

marching dwarves. "If Krakold was at the final battle of

the Dwarfgate War, then he must be over four hundred

years old. Isn't that awfully old for a dwarf?"

"It is if you fought in the Dwarfgate War. I doubt there

are more than a dozen survivors left," replied the dwarf,

blowing his nose again. "My grandfather and granduncle

were both killed there, too," he added proudly, his chest

swelling with pride.

"Wow," Tas muttered. "It must be neat knowing where

your ancestors went and what they did. I usually know

where I am, but I usually have no idea where my family

 

is, unless I'm with them. Except my Uncle Trapspringer.

He's back in Kendermore, being held prisoner. That's

where we're headed, to Kendermore to free my uncle.

My name's Tasslehoff, by the way. Tasslehoff Burrfoot.

What's yours?"

"I'm called Mettew Ironsplitter, son of Rothew Iron-

splitter," answered the dwarf. "My father was the engi-

neer who designed Rosloviggen's main gate."

Mettew raised his head to shout over the rapidly mov-

ing troop. "Excuse me, Your Grace," bellowed Mettew. "I

was just speaking with this kender fellow, and I've

learned something astounding. This one -- calls himself

Burrfoot -- is a personal friend of Flint Fireforge, grand-

son of Reghar Fireforge."

The rest of the dwarves in the party stopped abruptly

and fell completely silent, then looked toward the baron.

He stomped back along the length of the line to stand be-

fore Tasslehoff.

"Is this true, what Mettew says?" asked the baron.

"Sure," Tas responded. "We're good friends. I was with

Flint just a few days ago. He's a bit gruff, but I sort of

miss him already."

"Well, lad, why didn't you mention you were a friend

of the Fireforges right off?" boomed the baron. "That's

not the sort of thing you should keep to yourself! You're

doubly welcome now. You'll be guests in my home. And

you've come at a good time. Our Oktoberfest begins to-

morrow!" Turning back to his escort, the baron added,

"It's going to be some fest this year, eh?" He was an-

swered with a round of laughter and assent.

"Oktoberfest!" giggled Gisella, clapping her hands to-

gether. "I'd completely forgotten about that autumn

dwarven tradition. This is too good to be true!"

Woodrow leaned close to Tasslehoff and whispered in

his ear, "What's Oktoberfest?"

"I don't know," whispered Tas, "but judging from all of

their reactions, it's bound to be exciting."

 

As they approached the ridge, Woodrow became more

puzzled. "Does it seem to you," he whispered again to

Tasslehoff, "that we're headed into a dead end? Mettew

said we have to cross this ridge, but we're walking right

up to the steepest part of it."

"I did notice that," Tasslehoff agreed, "but I assume

they know what they're doing. Maybe they use ropes

and pulleys to raise themselves up the cliff."

"I'd rather not get involved with any more ropes and

pulleys for a while," Woodrow moaned.

By this time, the group had come to a stop. Looking

around quickly, Tas saw that they were indeed in a box of

sorts. Rugged, brush-covered walls sloped steeply up-

ward on the right and left. Ahead, a sheer cliff towered at

least fifty feet over the kender's head. Below the cliff

were piles of brush and debris that had apparently cas-

caded down from above.

The dwarves went to work. Quickly they pushed aside

a large pile of brush from the base of the cliff, revealing a

roughly carved stone face with an open, gap-toothed

mouth. Mettew rummaged inside his backpack and

withdrew the largest iron key Tasslehoff had ever seen.

"That must weigh at least twenty pounds," the kender ex-

claimed aloud to no one in particular.

"Twenty-two and a half, almost twenty-three," cor-

rected Mettew. "It's nothing for a dwarven key. You

should see some of the big ones we use for really impor-

tant doors."

Tas whistled softly. Mettew slid the key between two

of the face's teeth and, gripping it with both hands, gave

a mighty twist. There was a puff of dust and a rush of air,

then a crack appeared. As Mettew tugged, the crack wid-

ened and two more dwarves grabbed the edge and

pulled. The face swung wide, revealing a dark tunnel

leading into the cliff.

The group filed through the tunnel entrance. Inside,

 

the tunnel was cool and still, but dry. Mettew moved the

key around to the back side of the face, and then the

other dwarves helped him swing the door shut. With a fi-

nal turn of the key, he removed it from the face and slid

the massive tool back into his pack.

The tunnel was now completely black. The dwarves

stood for a moment, allowing their keen dwarven eyes to

adjust. Then, "Let's move." shouted the baron, and the

line set off again.

"Wait!" shouted Woodrow, halting abruptly. Tassle-

hoff collided with Woodrow's backside and dropped his

hoopak. "The kender and I can't see in here. Can we

strike a light?"

"Sorry," said Mettew, stooping to retrieve the fallen

hoopak. "We don't carry torches, because we don't need

them. Just put your hand on the dwarf ahead of you and

you'll be fine. The floor is smooth enough."

Though she could see just fine, Gisella took the oppor-

tunity to rest her hands on the stout waists of two

dwarves, who seemed happy to oblige.

Tasslehoff and Woodrow stumbled along behind the

sharp-sighted dwarves. After some time, the line

abruptly stopped. Tas heard a loud "thunk," and light

streamed into the tunnel ahead. His eyes watered and

smarted as he stepped through another leering face door-

way into the light.

"There it is," declared Mettew proudly, spreading his

thick arms wide. "Rosloviggen. The finest city in the

realm."

Woodrow whistled through his teeth. Nestled deep in

the valley between two steep mountains was a jumbled

city of peaked roofs, gables, steeples, tiny, walled gar-

dens, stone arches, colonnades, monoliths, and winding,

neatly cobbled streets. The town was spotless, the build-

ings straight as arrows.

"This doesn't look like any dwarven town I've ever

lived in," Gisella said, looking around her in awe.

"Where's the roof?"

 

"Rosloviggen is unusual by dwarven standards," the

baron agreed at her side. "My ancestors settled the vil-

lage because of the rich mines in the surrounding moun-

tains. The valley is so steep and protected that it affords

us the comfort and safety of living underground that we

dwarves need, along with the benefits of life on the sur-

face, like sunlight for plants."

The procession set off down the valley, and the

dwarves broke into a marching song of their own. The

gully dwarves hummed and wailed along, but the pow-

erful dwarven voices thankfully drowned them out.

Under the hills the heart of the axe

Arises from cinders the still core of the fire,

Heated and hammered the handle an afterthought,

For the hills are forging the first breath of war.

The soldier's heart sires and brothers

The battlefield.

Come back in glory

Or on your shield.

Out of the mountains in the midst of the air,

The axes are dreaming dreaming of rock,

Of metal alive through the ages of ore,

Stone on metal metal on stone.

The soldier's heart contains and dreams

The battlefield.

Come back in glory

Or on your shield.

Red of iron imagined from the vein,

Green of brass green of copper

Sparked in the fire the forge of the world,

Consuming in its dream as it dives into bone.

The soldier's heart lies down, completes

The battlefield.

Come back in glory

Or on your shield.

 

The ragtag party marched through the massive gates

of Rosloviggen at dusk. The sunset turned the stonework

of the walls a vivid orange, and the mountain range

threw long, purple shadows down the valley. The

marching song of the dwarves mingled with the songs of

the lamplighters, the matrons calling their charges home

to dinner, and the hundreds of dwarves returning home

from the day's work in the mines, the stonecutting and

jewelry shops -- plus the sounds of tailors, weavers, pot-

ters, candlemakers, and the vast number of other arti-

sans, craftsmen, and laborers who made up a city. Tas

was enchanted; Woodrow and the gully dwarves were

overwhelmed.

"How they get so many people to be one place without

fight?" Fondu asked aloud, setting off a rowdy debate

among the gully dwarves.

Though the village was unfamiliar to Gisella, its

sounds made her feel almost as if she'd returned home.

Everywhere were the signs of the autumn harvest festival

known as Oktoberfest, where goods were traded and

sold, and food and drink were plentiful. Houses were

freshly painted in bright colors with new thatch or

shingles, flower boxes in full bloom, and gathered

grains, potatoes, squashes, and gourds displayed in

doorways. Benches had been erected in every square,

and barrels of ale were stacked, ten high in places, await-

ing the celebration.

Woodrow was still holding the horses' reigns, with the

meager possessions that Gisella had salvaged from the

wagon lashed across their backs, when they stopped be-

fore a large, open square. Dwarves from the town were

busy setting up tables and tents.

"As you can see, Rosloviggen's Oktoberfest will be

quite a splendid festival," Baron Krakold said with pride.

"Those workmen are having a time of it," commented

Woodrow, nodding toward a crew of dwarves struggling

in the square with one of the supporting beams of a tent.

Two dwarves were trying to raise a beam upright with

 

the help of a rope slung over a sturdy tree branch, while a

handful more shouted directions.

"Pulley job! Pulley job!" chanted the gully dwarves.

The heavy beam swung round in a wide half-circle,

threatening to crush several dwarves, all of whom dove

to safety while the rest frantically tried to bring the mas-

sive timber under control. Grunting and straining, they

wrestled the wayward beam into place between four

other large supports. The workmen drew a collective

sigh of relief and mopped their brows.

But Gisella's eyes were locked on the half-naked forms

of two young dwarves, their shirts stripped off while

they assembled a wooden bandstand, In addition to the

obvious attractions, she thought the festival would pro-

vide an opportunity to replace her lost trade goods.

"I insist you accept the hospitality of my home," Baron

Krakold boomed, repeating an earlier offer. "We are not

far from it, and I should think that the telling of your

travels over a sizzling haunch of aged beef, buttered

gourd, and candied green apple would amply pay for a

warm feather bed." It was not so much a statement as an

order, and Gisella liked men who gave orders.

"That's very kind of you. By the way, is there a Baron-

ess Krakbolder?" she asked bluntly.

"You could say that, yes," the baron said, his eyes twin-

kling at the dwarf's frankness.

Gisella winked at him, nonplused. "A minor point, re-

ally." She pushed a hand through her matted hair and

straightened her clothing, although she still looked like

someone who had been through a shipwreck. The red-

haired dwarf looped her arm through Baron Krakold's.

Giving her hand a fatherly pat, the baron withdrew his

arm reluctantly. "Not to my wife, it isn't." he laughed.

Gisella's face pouted a little.

"Be of good cheer!" he said. "It is not often we have

such unusual visitors in Rosloviggen. We are eager to

hear how you came to our land."

"I can tell you that," Tasslehoff offered. "I was sitting in

 

the Inn of the Last Home, and --"

"He meant me, and he meant later," Gisella said

tersely.

Tasslehoff pulled a sullen face. "I don't remember him

being that specific," he said. "I'm just as unusual as you

are, Gisella, and I've done some interesting things, too."

"I'll just bet you have," the baron said kindly, "and I'd

like to hear all about them after we've all had a chance to

rest. My trip to the shore has drained me more than I

thought it would."

"Look at that!" Tasslehoff cried. His attention was riv-

eted on a large, circular platform with a round, pointed

roof. A menagerie of brightly painted animals carved

from wood crowded the platform. Each animal was

mounted on a pole that ran from the platform to the

roof. Tas recognized a griffon, a dragon, a unicorn, a

horse with a fish's tail, and an enormous wolf with the

head of a man. Eyes as wide as a full moon, the kender

ran from one to the next, convinced that each was more

beautiful than the last: stroking their manes, peering in

their mouths, counting talons, eyes, and in some cases,

heads.

"I'm most interested in that contraption myself," the

baron said, rubbing his square jaw thoughtfully. "I am

told that it is called a 'carousel.' It is being constructed for

Oktoberfest by a gnome, another unusual visitor to our

city."

"What does it do?" the kender asked.

"I'm not sure," Baron Krakold confessed. "I believe one

rides it." A look of fatigue crossed the baron's weathered

face. "But we can see it in action tomorrow. Now we will

go to my home, dine, and rest before tomorrow's festivi-

ties." With that, Baron Krakold signaled his party for-

ward. Tasslehoff followed reluctantly; Woodrow trailed

silently. Behind them, Gisella was deep in thought. This

was an opportunity of tremendous potential but she had

to make the most of it. The gully dwarves reverently

tripped over their shoelaces in her wake.

 

They wound through Rosloviggen's narrow, immacu-

late streets until Tas was certain they had traveled every

alley in the town. When he was just about to announce

that they must be lost, they emerged into a large, open

space containing only a single house and several out-

buildings. The front yard, like every other front yard in

Rosloviggen, held a neatly manicured garden of small,

flowering shrubs and perfectly shaped trees. The baron's

yard had an additional circular fountain surrounded by

heavy stone benches.

The ground floor of the house was constructed of

enormous blocks of granite, polished to show off the

rocks' natural colors. The upper floors were the more

typical red dwarven brick. White-trimmed gables of all

different sizes poked from the roof of the fifth floor, al-

though the building was the same height as a three-story

human dwelling. The last rays of the day's sun glanced

off colorful stained glass rather than the usual oiled

parchment. Flower boxes filled with multicolored gera-

niums lined every window. Servants in white aprons

were busy closing the shutters on the first floor.

The.baron tipped back his head and planted his hands

on his hips. "This is my home," he said simply. He waved

his guests forward into the neat garden, nodding and

saying, "Welcome," to each. Then a look of surprise

crossed his wide face. "It seems that your poorly dressed

friends have left."

Engrossed by the sight before them, Woodrow and Tas

looked behind Gisella and noticed for the first time that

the gully dwarves were no longer with them. No one was

particularly dismayed, especially the baron, though he

seemed to be inordinately openminded about Aghar.

Still, he was not sure he wanted them running loose in his

village, but he decided that was better than having them

lounging about in his home.

"It's no problem," Gisella said vaguely. "I'm sure they'll

turn up again eventually. Or maybe not."

Woodrow's attention had already returned to the

 

house. "I didn't know houses could be made that tall," he

stammered. "I thought those tree houses in Solace were

something, and now this. Is it held up by magic?"

"No," laughed the baron, "just ordinary stone and

wood and brick. But, of course, it was built by dwarves."

There was no arrogance in his voice.

"Now," he continued, stepping toward the door, "if

you'll collect your things from your horses, some of my

escort will see the animals to the barns for the night."

Quickly Woodrow pulled two bundles from the backs

of the horses, one containing the clothes Gisella had sal-

vaged from the wagon, the other a few of his own and

Tasslehoff's belongings. Several of the baron's guards

then led the horses away around the side of the house.

"Miss Hornslager," Woodrow said, indicating that she

should go before him.

"Thank you," Gisella replied, batting her eyes de-

murely at the baron as she sauntered through the front

door.

Once inside, Baron Krakold instructed servants to

lead the three weary visitors up the sweeping, circular

staircase to their rooms on the third floor. "We'll sup in

one hour," he said, then disappeared into a door below

the stairway.

"Boy, this is like being home in Kendermore again," Tas

breathed as he hurried up the stairs after the somber ser-

vant. The servant raised his eyebrows questioningly.

"All the doors and knobs are at the right height," ex-

plained the kender, stopping to trace a finger over a par-

ticularly intricate carving of a rose on the banister. "This

is very pretty, though my friend Flint would have added

a few more petals, and you would swear you could see

drops of water on his roses. He's a much better wood-

smith."

"Hush!" Gisella hissed, afraid the baron might hear

Tas's criticism.

At the top of the second flight of stairs, the liveried ser-

vant led them into a long, door-flanked hallway. Starting

 

with the first door on the right, he issued rooms to Gi-

sella, Tasslehoff, and Woodrow.

"I'm making it your responsibility to watch Burrfoot

while we're here, Woodrow," Gisella called before she

disappeared behind her door.

"Yes, ma'am, and don't you worry," he answered.

But both human and kender were forgotten when her

sharp dwarven eyes spotted the copper tub in the middle

of the room. Two dwarf maids in gray muslin dresses

poured water from a single, enormous wooden bucket

into the spotless copper basin. A purr of pleasure es-

caped her lips as she flew into the room, already peeling

off her grimy clothing.

Tasslehoff's explorations carried him from room to

room. He was on his third one on the third floor, and just

thinking about heading to a different floor for variety,

when he felt a strong hand grip his shoulder. Tas whirled,

ready to pounce on whoever had sneaked up on him. His

eyes fell on stringy blond hair.

The kender's face reddened with something short of

anger. "Don't sneak up on people like that, Woodrow.

You might have startled me!"

"And you might have thought about staying in your

room," the young human said evenly. 'You know I'm re-

sponsible for you. How am I supposed to keep track of

you if you're running around? I thought we were becom-

ing friends."

"We are friends," Tas said patiently. "But I was so

bored in my room."

"But you weren't even in there for ten minutes,"

Woodrow pointed out. He looked around at the room in

which he'd found the kender. "This one looks just like

yours -- they all look alike, for that matter."

"Really, Woodrow, it's not my fault they're all the

same," Tas sulked. "Nothing interesting in the drawers,"

he said, pulling one out of a dresser and holding it up to

demonstrate. "See? Empty, just like all the others."

He opened his arms wide to show off his new outfit. "I

 

found these clothes on the bed in my room." Tasslehoff

plucked at the sides of the tunic. "It's a bit big, but then so

are dwarves, at least sideways. The trousers sure feel

weird," he continued, giving them a tug as well, "but my

leggings were so dirty that clouds of dust whooshed out

every time I took a step. I washed them in my basin and

left them to dry.

"These pockets are very roomy, though," he added,

jamming his hands into their depths to demonstrate.

Tas's fine brows shot up in surprise. From his pockets em-

erged an elaborate silver candlestick, a delicate, glass

bud-vase, a bar of soap, and a boar-bristle hairbrush.

"Whoever wore these before me sure carried a lot of

stuff in his pockets," he said matter-of-factly. Examining

the items more closely, he added, "I saw some things ex-

actly like these in the other rooms.... Baron Krakold

should be more careful about the people he invites into

his home. Someone might have walked away with all

this if I hadn't found these pants. I'd better keep my eyes

on these until I can mention it to him." Tasslehoff stuffed

the items back into his pockets and started for the door.

"Maybe you should leave them here so Baron Krakold

doesn't think you took them," Woodrow suggested. "Af-

ter all, he's only just met you."

Tasslehoff's eyebrows arched again. "Yes, I suppose

you're right." Almost reluctantly, Tas pulled the items

from his pockets, letting his hands linger on the shiny

vase. He set them on a table near the door.

Heaving a sigh of relief, Woodrow led the way out the

door and down the stairs. He, too, had found in his room

a clean, white tunic, just a little bit short in the sleeves --

it must have been made for an unusually tall dwarf -- and

a pair of black breeches, also just a touch too short.

They met the baron at the base of the stairs. He was

dressed formally for dinner in a stiff, blue tunic with a

red sash and bright red breeches, all layered with tremen-

dous amounts of yellow piping and gold braid.

Shortly, Gisella appeared at the top of the stairs,

 

where she paused momentarily for effect before gliding

down the stairway and alighting with a flourish, swirling

her skirts. Red hair flowed down her back in luxurious

waves, and her round cheeks were flushed with hints of

crimson. The bodice of her saphire-blue dress was cut

dangerously low, and well she knew it.

Everyone was still admiring her entrance when she

threw herself into the baron's clumsy embrace, locking

her arms around his head and nearly stuffing his red face

into her ample bosom. Lifting his head, she kissed him

full on the lips.

'Young woman, I --" blustered the baron.

"Thank you, you wonderful man!" she cooed as he

backed away, coughing and sputtering. "The bath was

absolutely marvelous! How did you know I practically

live for them?" She caught him wiping away traces of lip

rouge from her kiss. "Oh, I'm so naughty and impulsive!

I hate myself, I do!" She charged forward with a silk ker-

chief and began dabbing at his face.

Gisella's performance was abruptly interrupted by a

loud cough from the base of the staircase. Everyone

turned, and the baron's face drained of color and he

gasped. Pushing Gisella's hands away, he rushed to the

side of a broad, squat, bearded, dark-faced dwarf in a

high-necked, drab-colored dress.

"Hortense, dearest." the baron squeaked. "I'm so glad

you're here!" He tried taking her elbow but she held it

tightly to her side.

Scowling, she glanced over at Gisella. "I can see that

you are," she said pointedly.

"Let me introduce our guests," he said, a bit too ea-

gerly. "Everyone, this is my wife, the Baroness Hortense

Krakold." He directed her attention to Woodrow.

But Tasslehoff stepped up first. Thrusting out his small

hand, he said "Tasslehoff Burrfoot, at your service. This

is a very nice place you have here, although I think it

might be improved by removing some walls. Have you

ever been to Kendermore? Also, it seems that someone

 

has been -- ouch! What is it, Woodrow? Stop stepping on

my foot! OK, I'll introduce you!" Frowning slightly, Tas-

slehoff turned back to the baroness. "This is my good

friend, Woodrow... I'm sorry, I don't know your last

name."

"Ath-Banard," the young human mumbled. He ex-

tended his hand awkwardly to the baroness, who ig-

nored it.

This time Gisella coughed behind them and pushed her

way forward. "Oh, yes," said Tas, "this is --"

"Gisella Hornslager," the dwarf announced herself,

locking eyes with the baroness. There were only two

things Gisella liked better than a contest of wit and will,

and those were making money and a good roll in the hay.

Since business was going down the sewer fast and the ap-

petizing baron had turned out to be milquetoast, she de-

cided to channel her energy into a good catfight with the

baroness. The ugly, sour-faced old matron obviously

wore the pants in the family, Gisella thought to herself.

Rubbing her hands with glee, she fell in behind everyone

else as the group followed the baron into the dining

room.

The evening passed very uncomfortably for everyone

but Gisella, as the two women passed barbs across the

dining table, the game table, and finally the sitting room.

All the while the mighty baron squirmed and fidgeted

like a beetle in a birdcage.

"You really must tell me where you do your dress

shopping, Baroness," Gisella gushed, shoveling straw-

berry tart into her mouth. "I find men-leering all the time

so annoying, don't you?" She smiled into the matronly

dwarf's face. "Anyway, I think some dull, drab, high-

necked dresses like yours might help, though I'm certain

they won't be able to hide my obvious attributes."

The baroness pursed her lips and rang a little bell to

signal a servant. "We'll need another ten tarts for our

guest," she told the starched butler. "Speaking of straw-

berries," she turned to Gisella, "do you color your hair

 

that unlikely shade to hide the gray, or simply to attract

attention?" .

Feeling restless, Tasslehoff tried several times to

change the direction of the conversation. He couldn't

quite understand the two women. They smiled at each

other and were polite, but somehow he didn't think they

liked each other much. When finally the baron suggested

that everyone retire for the evening, they discovered Tas-

slehoff already asleep before the fire.

 

Chapter 12

"Ouch!" swore Phineas. "There is absolutely no

comfortable way to sit on this damned, dinky animal."

Phineas stood in the stirrups, raising himself to his full

height, which was at least two and a half feet taller than

the hairy kender pony he was riding. He rubbed his

backside.

Trapspringer chuckled aloud. "Still convinced it's

chewing on you?" he asked. "I'll be happy to trade."

Phineas gave him an acid glance. Trapspringer

laughed again.

"It might help if you could stop laughing about it!"

shouted Phineas. "By the time we reach this place, as-

suming we ever do, I'll be crippled."

"I can't help laughing, Phineas. It's funny. You should

 

see yourself. Why, you're twice as tall as that pony, who

probably is not enjoying this ride any more than you are.

Besides, I thought you said you'd ridden horses before."

"Sure, I've ridden lots of horses before, but this beast is

a first cousin to a night hag. And whoever made this sad-

dle didn't pound the nails all the way in."

Trapspringer whooped and rocked in his saddle at

that. "Nails! Oh, that's funny! I should have met you

years ago. I never would have settled down if I'd had a

traveling companion with such a rich sense of humor."

Phineas gingerly lowered himself back into the saddle

with a wince. With his feet in the stirrups, his knees rose

almost to the level of his elbows. With his feet out of the

stirrups, his toes dragged on the ground. At least with

my feet in the stirrups, he thought, I can massage my

calves more easily. "How much farther do we have to

go?" he whined.

"Not far," replied Trapspringer. "Maybe another hour.

We'll be there by dark."

"Fine. You just lead the way and keep your laughter to

yourself," grunted Phineas through gritted teeth.

"The time will pass better with a story," Trapspringer

announced. "I'll tell you about my expedition to Hylo

and you'll feel better. It was back in 317... or was it

3077 It was the year that mosquitoes infested Darken

Wood so bad that you could hardly inhale without suck-

ing a couple dozen up your nostrils. We had to wear

gauze sacks over our heads just to travel along the fringe

of the woods. Of course, the only place to get really good

gauze was from the elves and they lived in the woods.

Since none of us could speak their language, we had to

hire a translator before setting out. This fellow that we

hired was --"

"Excuse me, Trapspringer, but what does any of this

have to do with Hylo?" asked Phineas. As if I really care,

he thought to himself.

"I'm just establishing what year it took place," he ex-

plained. "Proper chronology is very important to a story

 

like this. If you don't want to know what year it takes

place, I'll just skip the whole story. I know it by heart

anyway. I was telling it for your benefit."

Phineas sighed. There seemed to be no way out of this

situation. He was stuck with Trapspringer until they

found Damaris and returned her to Kendermore. Were

Uncle Trapspringer's whoppers, all with identical themes

and morals, too high a price to pay for the riches Phineas

expected as his rewards Probably not. "Please, go on," he

said stiffly. The words caught slightly in his throat.

As Trapspringer resumed his narration, Phineas's

mind wandered ahead to the Ruins and what he might

find there. Soon Trapspringer's voice had faded into the

background like the multitude of other pains afflicting

Phineas.

The sun was well below the treetops when the two

travelers finally approached the Ruins. The trees cast

long shadows across the tumbled columns and low,

standing walls. The bleached white blocks of stone

stretched away and disappeared in the twilight.

"I didn't expect them to be so -- extensive," murmured

Phineas. He had expected something on typical kender

scale; small, chaotic, and thoroughly vandalized. In-

stead, he found a size and symmetry in the Ruins that

astounded him.

Trapspringer dismounted his pony at the edge of the

area. "We'll camp here for the night. Tomorrow we can

start looking for Damaris."

"Why can't we do some looking tonight?"

"It's too dark already," Trapspringer explained. "This

area's pretty safe in daylight, but I wouldn't want to

wander through it at night. There's no telling what you

might fall into or knock down. Worse still, you never

know what might find you wandering around."

That's reassuring, Phineas thought. Then aloud, he

asked, "What was this place before it became ruined?"

"Now that's an interesting story," said Trapspringer,

collecting sticks for firewood. "Eight interesting stories,

 

actually. The past of this place depends on who you talk

to. Some say that the elves built it as a shelter for their

dead. Others say that it just sprang up as a natural result

of the Cataclysm. I've talked to people who --"

"To shorten what is shaping up as a very long story,"

interrupted Phineas, "what you're trying to tell me, in as

few words as possible, is that no one knows what these

ruins once were."

"That about sums it up," agreed Trapspringer. "I think

it's safe to assume it was once a city of some size,

though." He gathered a load of firewood and let it roll un-

ceremoniously from his arms.

"I'll start the fire," Phineas offered, feeling awkward

and out of his element. The kender handed him a piece of

flint and he found some good, splintered kindling to

catch the spark.

Trapspringer took several paper-wrapped packages

from a pack on his pony. Kneeling, he carefully un-

wrapped the larger one and proudly held up two roasted

rabbits. Stripping the cooked meat from the bones, he

dumped it into a crusted, black iron pot, added some

whole carrots and potatoes from the other package,

sloshed in some water from a skin, and set it to boil over

Phineas's fire.

For once, Trapspringer didn't launch into a story. In-

stead, they ate the stew in silence and fell asleep before

the fire.

Phineas tossed and turned anxiously all night in his

sleep, great fuzzy things flapping at him in his dreams.

 

Chapter 13

Tasslehoff awoke in Baron Knakold's home to

the musical strains of a tuba floating in his window from

somewhere below. Oktoberfest! Leaping up from the

feather bed -- which was a little too soft for his taste -- the

kender ran a hand over his blue leggings, checking to see

if they had dried from their washing the night before.

The few damp spots left would dry quickly next to his

skin, Tas decided, and slipped them on with a satisfied

sigh. He never felt quite comfortable without them. A

night's airing had done the rest of his clothes a world of

good, and he donned them with glee. Finally the kender

strapped on his belt-pack, picked up his hoopak, and

strode to the door.

The hallway was silent and empty as he stole down the

 

stairs. He listened for sounds of life and heard pans rat-

tling somewhere at the rear of the house. None of his

friends seemed to be awake yet, nor did he see any sign of

the baron or his dour wife.

"I'll just go see what's happening with the festival," he

said softly as he let himself out the front door. "By the

time they wake up, I'll have a lot to report. They'll be so

pleased when I tell them where all the best food halls and

magicians are. Maybe I can even find other traders for

Gisella to do business with."

The sky was partly cloudy but it did not look like it

would rain, Tasslehoff thought. He decided to find the

tuba player first and, after stopping to listen for the di-

rection, he set off straight down a cobbled street.

Shutters and doors were beginning to open, and cook-

ing hearths were being stirred to life. Tas paused in front

of a bakery and looked inside for the baker. Not finding

him, the kender counted twenty-eight pies cooling on

shelves just inside the windows. There was blueberry,

cherry, rhubarb, apple, currant, and mulberry -- Tas's

favorite -- plus a large tray of raspberry cinnamon tarts.

A few doors from the bakery, a knife-grinder was set-

ting up his display cases along the sidewalk. Still licking

mulberry from his fingers, Tas paused to admire the keen

edges on the blades of every size and description. His

own little belt knife could use a good sharpening, he

thought, continuing his stroll. A few moments later, the

grinder was puzzled to discover an unfamiliar dagger

with a worn blade sitting prominently in his case where

an elegant, stag-handled clasp-knife should have been.

The tuba sounded very close as Tas rounded a corner

and found himself back on the edge of the square where,

on the previous evening, they had watched the work-

men. His mouth dropped in surprise. Overnight the

square had been transformed from a jumble of timbers

into a wonderland. The bandstand, with its polished,

carved timbers and rounded roof, looked as if it had been

rooted to that spot for generations. The side toward the

 

spectators' bleachers was open, affording an excellent

view of the band.

Actually, 'band' was a bit of an overstatement. Seated

on the stage were two rotund dwarves in colorful, short-

sleeved shirts and black knickers with embroidered sus-

penders. The tuba player's cheeks and moustache puffed

in and out in time with the music. His face was as red as

his hair. The other dwarf, his moplike black and gray

hair and beard bobbing in time, was strapped to an in-

strument like nothing Tasslehoff had ever seen before.

Though straps supporting the instrument criss-crossed

the dwarf's broad back, his stomach was so round that

the contraption rested on it like a shelf. His stubby fin-

gers danced happily over a row of square, wooden keys,

carved alternately from white and black wood. Above

them were round, black buttons, which he would occa-

sionally push or pull. On top of all that, the instrument

was connected to a bellows which the musician had to

pump furiously the whole time he played. Its honking

tone reminded Tasslehoff of a duck in flight.

For the next hour and a half, the kender wandered

around and through the festival grounds, continuously

discovering new things of interest, such as the locations

of all the metalsmiths' booths; where and when the axe-

throwing competition would be held; the judging stand-

ards for the rock-splitting contest; which ale tents were

best; and where the tastiest dwarven stews could be pur-

chased. He even met the oompa band members, Gustav

and Welker, who let him blow into the tuba and play the

instrument Welker called an "accordian."

Tasslehoff was having such a good time that he lost

track of how long he had been at the square. The festival

was now in full swing. The kender stood at one of the ale

tents, slurping from his second flagon, when he felt a tap

on his shoulder.

"Good morning, Mr. Burrfoot."

Tasslehoff spun around, slopping ale on Woodrow's

cleaned and buffed shoes. "Woodrow! I'm glad I found

 

you! I've met the most marvelous people this morning!"

"Found me?" Woodrow's voice cracked, "Mr. Burr-

foot, did you stop to think what Miss Hornslager would

do to me if I lost you? She'd fire me for sure! Not that it's

such a great job, but I need the money."

Tas's voice filled with concern. "Gee, Woodrow, I'm

sorry. I've never heard you sound so angry."

"I've never had to watch a kender before," Woodrow

almost snarled. "When I woke up and couldn't find you

anywhere, I had to lie to Miss Hornslager at breakfast.

Do you know how much I hate lying? I told her you were

still sleeping and that we would meet her here later. Then

I slipped away and prayed that I'd find you."

"Well, here I am. And if you must know," Tas said, try-

ing to sound indignant, "I've been exploring the festival

and talking to people to determine the fastest route to

Kendermore." Or at least I intended to, Tasslehoff rea-

soned.

Woodrow's ire lessened a bit at that news. "What have

you discovered'!" he asked anxiously.

"Oh, I know where the richest ale is -- would you care

for some?" Woodrow shook his head impatiently. "And

I've found a silver bracelet with gold filigree that I simply

must have -- actually, it looks a lot like this one here on

my wrist." He paused, studying a band around his wrist

in puzzlement. "Anyway, I've just had a mug of the tasti-

est stew ever!" Dropping his voice, he added, "Please

don't tell Flint I said that."

"Mr. Burrfoot," Woodrow interrupted, "what have

you found out about Kendermore?"

Tasslehoff fidgeted under his friend's gaze. "I was just

about to start asking people, actually."

The wiry human took the kender by the arm. "Let's

hope Miss Hornslager has learned something, because

she's waiting for us right now over by the carousel."

Excited, Tasslehoff slipped from the human's grip,

dancing by his side. "Have you seen the carousel yet? If

you haven't, brace yourself. It's the most magnificent

 

thing you'll ever see."

Woodrow glared at Tas. "Please, Mr. Burrfoot!"

Woodrow looked so worried that Gisella would find

out about Tasslehoff's solo adventure that the kender

made a mental note not to let the human down. They

found the shapely dwarf glancing around anxiously near

the strange ride. She wore a skin-tight, sand-colored

shirt and slacks that made her look, in certain light, like

she was wearing nothing at all. A broad-brimmed hat

perched on her pomegranate-colored hair shaded her fair

skin from the autumn sun.

"Woodrow, Burrfoot!" Even their names sounded like

a scold on her tongue. "I was beginning to get worried."

Gisella suddenly turned her attention to the festival,

and her eyes scoured the stalls, the tents, and the men.

"I've got a lot of deals to make today if I'm going to come

out of this fiasco with a copper to my name, aside from

what the kender is worth to me. I make my best deals in

this outfit." She was half-talking to herself as she uncon-

sciously smoothed the tight fabric over her rounded

hips.

Suddenly she remembered the kender and grabbed

him by the collar. Her small, dark eyes burned into his.

"This is work, and I need to concentrate. I don't want to

be distracted by fretting about you. So stay close -- but

not too close. Better yet, stay close to Woodrow. Keep

your eyes open and learn something."

Adjusting her hat to a jaunty angle, she strode up to

the first booth next to the carousel, that of a fabric mer-

chant. Tasslehoff and Woodrow both noticed that she

put a lot more wiggle in her walk than before. She

paused for a few moments among the tables filled with

bolts of brightly colored fabric, running expert fingers

over each one.

"Good morning, handsome," the red-haired dwarf

purred to the buck-toothed, hunch-backed dwarf seated

inside the booth. She judged his age to be well in excess

of three hundred years. His crossed arms were so hairy

 

that Gisella couldn't tell where they ended and his beard

began. "May I speak with your father, the proprietor?"

The old dwarf's eyes roamed across Gisella's tightly

clothed form. "I am the proprietor," he announced, his

lips rolling back over his teeth in a grotesque smile.

Gisella's hand flew to her mouth in a masquerade of

shame. Somehow she coaxed color to flood her cheeks.

"I don't believe it! Oh, now I've insulted you! I'm usually

not such a blunderer at guessing a person's age!"

She clucked her tongue and shook her head gravely.

"I've ruined everything. You won't want anything to do

with me, and you have the best merchandise at the fair t

Please accept my apology." She touched his hairy arm

gently and turned to leave. "I won't bother you further."

She took a step from the booth, putting more wiggle in

that one step than either Woodrow or Tasslehoff thought

possible.

"Please, don't be sorry, Miss -- ?"

"-- Matron Hornslager," Gisella supplied, letting a

grateful smile grow on her face as she turned to him

again. This was one of the easiest fish she had ever reeled

in. "Then you will deal with me? Oh, you dear man! To

show you how guilty and grateful I feel, I'll buy twice as

much as I can afford! Mr. Hornslager will surely be an-

gry with me, but I don't care!" she said defiantly.

"By Reorx," he responded, "I'd hate to think of you in

trouble with your husband, whoever the lucky fellow is.

I can't imagine any greater tribute to my wares than for

them to adorn your lovely figure. I'll gladly sell you

twenty bolts for what they cost me, if only you promise

to tell people where you got them."

"Any twenty bolts?" cooed Gisella.

"My shop is yours," he replied, with a sweep of his

hairy hand. Gisella knew his eyes were glued to her

swaying bottom as she brushed past him. Even though

she found him repulsive, she did love the attention.

Now the hard dealing began. Gisella flipped through

the bolts, casting aside anything she judged to be of

 

inferior quality and grilling the merchant over weavers,

cost, dyes, and age.

"This isn't real silver thread!" she snorted, raveling a

strand from the end of a bolt.

As Tasslehoff watched the dwarves bargaining, a

whooshing, clanking, grinding symphony started up be-

hind him. Turning, Tas realized that it was coming from

the carousel! He immediately started forward, but

Woodrow's hand stopped him.

"But the carousel is starting," the kender pleaded.

"Look at it! Animals going up and down and around in a

circle. And it's playing music!"

Woodrow stood fast.

"OK, then come with me and I won't be lost," reasoned

Tas.

Woodrow eyed the carousel, intrigued but unsure. "I

don't know..."

"I do!" Tas cried. "Come on. Gisella will be looking at

cloth all morning. She's still arguing about the third

bolt." He pulled at Woodrow's sleeve. "Just one ride.

We'll be back before she even notices we've left. Come

on, Woodrow!"

At last, Woodrow's own curiosity overcame his better

judgment. He looked back at Gisella, then trailed behind

the kender toward the carousel.

Next to the carousel was a churning mass of gears and

pulleys and knobs and chains that obviously made the

whole thing go. Even though the ride was in motion, a

short, bald gnome wearing an ankle-length, white coat

and goggles on a cord around his neck, scurried to and

fro with a handful of wrenches, twisting this screw, pull-

ing that rod, and banging on that other gear.

"It'snotrightyet; themusicistooslow," the gnome mum-

bled almost incomprehensibly fast, as gnomes do. He

yanked out a knob and the music, a dirgelike stew of

whistles, honks, and clanks, slowed down even more

and went flat. Then suddenly it sped up until it was so

high-pitched that dogs in the city howled in pain. The

 

gnome pushed the knob back in, and the music returned

to its normal blare.

Arms crossed, the gnome stood back and nodded with

satisfaction. His expression suddenly fell. "That'sfixed-

buttheunicornismovingtooslowly. Where'smy wrench;

IknowIleftitrighthere. Someonetookit!" He rummaged

through the pockets inside his long, white coat and pro-

duced the missing instrument, nonplused. He poked it

into the gears blindly, giving another bolt a twist.

As he did, the carousel's wooden statue of a dog-faced

kobold started pumping up and down faster and faster,

moving so violently that the kobold figure's head

smashed through the roof of the carousel, giving its

young dwarf rider the fright of his life and an instant

headache to boot.

The gnome scratched his bald head in puzzlement.

"Thatshouldbetheswitchfortheunicornnotthekobold,"

he murmured, reaching in blindly again and giving an-

other switch a twist. The kobold kept on bashing

through the roof.

"Sorry," he mumbled. "Sorry." He released the lever

and the kobold slowed down. The dwarf on its back

swayed dizzily.

"Where'sthatoffswitch? IknowIputonein." Extending

his arm through the grinding gears in a way that made

Woodrow wince, the gnome groped around in the gear

box and pulled things seemingly at random. The swan

flapped its wings, boxing its rider's ears, while the lepre-

chaun pinched a passing matron and the unicorn bucked

its rider completely off.

"IknowIputoneinheresomewhere. Orwasthatonmy-

boatsharpeningmachine? Ohdearohdearohdear...."

Frantically, he began pulling even more switches, mak-

ing things worse with each tug.

"Maybe it's this one marked 'OFF,' " Tas suggested at

his side.

"Itcouldn'tbethat --" The gnome shook his head, but

before he could say more, Tasslehoff reached out and

 

flicked the lever down with his index finger. The ride

ground to a halt.

"Wellwhatdoyouknow?" The gnome's face stretched

into a surprised smile, which grew as he considered Tas-

slehoff.

"Your carousel is fantastic," Tas breathed, trying to de-

cide which animal to ride. "If you can fix a few things,

like the animals smashing their heads through the carou-

sel's ceiling, it will be perfect. Did you think this up your-

self? Is this your Life Quest?"

Tasslehoff knew that gnomes were born inventors.

Each was assigned a quest at birth -- or inherited it -- that

they were expected to complete before they died so that

they and their ancestors could sit next to their god Reorx

in the hereafter.

"You could say that," the gnome said, deliberately

slowing his speech for Tasslehoff's benefit. "You're a ken-

der, aren't you? I've never seen a kender around here be-

fore." The gnome smiled at Tasslehoff in a strange way,

until the kender began feeling like a bug under a glass.

"I've only seen pictures of dragons and

hippocampuses -- that's the one that looks like a horse

with a fish tail and flippers for feet, isn't it? Your animals

look so real, like you've actually seen them up close, but

of course that's impossible, since dragons exist only in

stories."

"Many people think that, yes," the gnome said ab-

sently. He looked closely at Tasslehoff's face, then

reached out a hand to squeeze his waist, as though check-

ing for something. "You're not very old for a kender, are

you?"

Tasslehoff pushed the gnome's hand away. "Do you

ask everybody this many questions before letting them

on your ride? If you're worried that I'm too heavy, I'm

sure I weigh less than a dwarf, wouldn't you say,

Woodrow?"

The human was looking back with concern at Gisella,

who was nearing the end of the first of two tables of fab-

 

ric. The carousel ride was taking far longer than he'd

thought it would. "I'm sure you do, Mr. Burrfoot," he

said distractedly.

"Are you going to start the carousel up again soon?"

Tasslehoff asked. "I have to be going, and I really would

like to ride on that dragon."

"Of course, right away; let me help you," the gnome

said excitedly, gripping the kender by the shoulder and

leading him onto the platform. "And may I say that the

red dragon is an excellent choice?" He hurried Tasslehoff

halfway around the carousel until they stood next to the

dragon.

Tas knew that, as a race, dragons had been banished

from Krynn by a legendary knight, Huma, long before

he or any of his friends had been born. His eyes opened

wide in wonder as he beheld the statue of the mythical

creature. The dragon had been carved with painstaking

detail. Six long, rubbery-looking bones, linked by fleshy

webbing, formed the creature's mighty wings. Its power-

ful, deadly claws had horned hocks. Spikes ran down its

long, spade-shaped tail and continued up the dragon's

entire length, ending at the base of the horned skull. The

monster's face was a lumpy, frightening mass of bulging

muscles and veins. The jaws were parted in a vicious

snarl, displaying two rows of double-edged teeth, each

sharper than a butcher's axe.

Tas was most taken with the paint job. Each rounded

scale was daubed with such precision that it looked as if

the dragon could lift and flap its wings if necessary. The

ruby-red color was rich, vivid, and glistening. Tas was

reminded of tightly packed, juicy pomegranate seeds.

Looking at the spikes on the dragon's back, Tas was re-

lieved to find a saddle of a sort carved into the creature's

neck. Putting his booted foot into the stirrups that dan-

gled from it, the kender hopped aboard the dragon's

back.

Woodrow selected the centaur statue behind the

dragon so that he could keep an eye on his charge. Set-

 

tling himself on the centaur's lifelike, chocolate-brown-

haired back, the straw-haired young man waited for the

ride to fill up with dwarves so that it could begin.

Standing by the gears, the gnome rubbed his hands

with glee and threw a big lever. The carousel jerked to a

start, and the slightly flat, peppy bell tones of the carou-

sel's music roared from somewhere in the ceiling above

the statues, drowning out all other noise. The animals

bobbed alternately on their poles -- when the dragon

soared upward, the centaur plunged. It seemed that the

gnome had everything under control this time. He

hopped up and down by the gears, clapping his hands

happily.

Tasslehoff was delighted, too. As the dragon rose and

fell, its wings glided upward, then lowered again, as if

the monster were truly flying.

"What fun! I hope this ride never ends," Tas said to

himself fervently. "I'm sure this is how it would feel to

ride a real dragon -- it's too bad there aren't any more on

Krynn."

Just then, Tas felt the dragon statue shift under him

and rock slightly. "The gnome should attach these

statues more firmly," the kender thought. "I'll just men-

tion it to him when I get off."

But to Tasslehoff's surprise, the ride didn't slow down

one bit. Worse still, the shaking and shifting under him

intensified, until it was difficult to stay on the dragon's

back. He wondered if Woodrow was having similar

trouble, so he glanced behind him at the human riding on

the centaur statue. Woodrow's expression was bored,

but turned to concern when he noticed the kender.

"My dragon is coming loose!" Tas called to him.

Tas felt his grip slipping even further. He pressed his

chest to the dragon's back, locked his arms around its

neck, and wrapped his legs around the pole behind him.

Why wouldn't that silly gnome stop the ride? Had he

forgotten where the off switch was again?

Behind him, Woodrow saw the kender's lips moving,

 

but couldn't understand what he was saying. Woodrow,

too, had had more than enough of the ride. He gestured

at the gnome as the carousel spun past. Wearing a

strange smile, the gnome waved back.

Just then, there was a sharp sound of splintering

wood, and the poles connected to the dragon statue

ahead of Woodrow tore loose. Woodrow opened his

mouth to shout a warning to Tas. Then his blood froze as

he saw the red dragon's head swing around to look at the

kender on its back. The human's jaw dropped when he

saw the dragon flick its tail and flex its wings. The mus-

cles in the monster's back rippled beneath its red scales!

The dragon was alive!

Woodrow shook his head, unsure whether he'd imag-

ined the dragon's movement or really had seen it. When

he looked up again, the centaur he was riding was staring

into his face. "The dragon is getting away with your

friend," it said.

 

Chapter 14

Phineas awoke the next morning feeling as if he

had dreamt all night, but unable to recall anything spe-

cific. The sky was overcast, and a strong wind blew. Phi-

neas shivered in the cold autumn air and drew the

blanket tighter around his shoulders. Dry leaves rustled

against his face. Reluctantly, he sat up. His face was cov-

ered with grit, his back ached from the cold, damp

ground, and each tooth felt like it was wrapped in its

own wool sweater. All in all, he was in a foul mood.

Scrubbing a finger vainly over his teeth, he looked to

where Trapspringer should have been sleeping and saw

that the kender had already awakened and packed up the

camp. Peering around, Phineas spotted his 'guide' sitting

nearby on the remains of a stone wall. He was kicking his

 

heels happily while chewing on a stale chunk of thick,

grainy bread.

Hearing Phineas's approach, Trapspringer sang,

"Good morning!"

"That's one opinion," snarled the human, slapping his

arms to warm them up.

"Someone woke on the wrong side of the bed today,"

Trapspringer said glibly, observing the human's dark ex-

pression.

"If I had slept in a bed, I wouldn't be in this mood," was

Phineas's sullen response. "Do you have any more of

that bread?"

Trapspringer broke off a hunk, handed it to the hu-

man, and looked up at the gray sky. "This should be a

great day for exploring the Ruins. Sunny weather brings

out more kender from the city and all sorts of creatures

from underground."

Phineas's open mouth stopped in mid-bite. "Crea-

tures?"

The kender nodded vigorously. "Oh, you know, the

sorts of monsters you find in ruins: lizards, snakes, rats,

bats, beetles, spiders, goblins, giant slugs, norkers,

owlbears, goat-sucker birds..."

"I get the point."

Trapspringer shrugged. "Care for some water?" He ex-

tended the skin to the human.

Phineas swallowed hard. The bread felt like a lump in

his stomach. He took the skin and half emptied it in two

gulps. "Why didn't you tell me about the monsters?" he

asked at last, his voice unnaturally high.

Trapspringer gave him a peculiar look. "What did you

think you'd find in the ruins of a city? The local bakers'

guiid?"

"No! I expected to find empty ruins."

"Oh, this place is lousy with monsters," Trapspringer

said plainly. "Once, out here, I saw an owlbear bite the

head off a pony. And the rider, well..."

Phineas felt the bread coming back up. He concen-

 

trated on keeping it down and on not hearing the details

of Trapspringer's story.

"... But you're a doctor -- I don't have to tell you what

the inside of a person looks like." The kender blithely

jumped down from the wall and took his pony by the

bridle. "Are you ready? Say, you don't look very well."

Phineas pressed two fingers to the bridge of his nose,

trying to massage away a spreading headache. "The

bread just didn't sit well," he said feebly.

"We can go back to Kendermore anytime you like,"

Trapspringer offered. "I've been here plenty of times --

not much left to discover, really."

"Then why did Damaris come here?" the human

asked.

Trapspringer shrugged. "Why not? It used to be a great

place to find relics, but it's been picked clean for decades.

Now it's just a sort of unofficial rite of passage to survive

the Ruins."

"Survive?"

Trapspringer peered closely at Phineas. "You sure are

the skittish type, aren't you?"

"I hardly think it's being skittish to worry about hav-

ing your head bitten off," Phineas sniffed defensively.

"Oh, that," Trapspringer said, dismissing the incident

with a wave of his hand. "The pony probably asked for

it. So, are we going or staying?"

Phineas dug his knuckles into his eyes and rubbed.

He'd come awfully far to turn back now. With Damaris

gone, Tasslehoff had no reason to return to Kendermore

with the other half of the map. The human felt his tenu-

ous grip on the situation, and the treasure, slip away. He

heard himself say in a hollow voice, "Going."

"That's the spirit." Trapspringer said, clapping Phineas

on the back. "I just hope we don't run into any undead. I

forgot my holy water, and skeletons and ghouls and the

like are so persistent." The kender secured his hoopak to

the saddle, squared his shoulders, and led his pony into

the Ruins.

 

Phineas took a deep breath and followed, tugging at

his own diminutive mount.

From what Phineas could see, the city that had once

stood here had been extensive. The ruins stretched for

hundreds of yards in both directions, fading gradually

into the surrounding woods and sloughs. The kender

and the human picked their way along the large, loose

cobbles of an old, weed-choked street. Along the wind-

ing street were the crumbling foundations of ancient

buildings and jumbled piles of rectangular, white stones.

Perhaps one out of every ten buildings was nearly intact,

its walls still standing, doors and roofs missing.

Trapspringer, who was standing with his pony a dozen

or so paces ahead at the junction of two streets, stopped

and turned to wait for Phineas. The street they were

crossing was at least three times wider than the one

they'd been following, and stretched off to the right and

left in a gentle, graceful curve.

"This must have been one of the main streets, back

when this place was alive. It circles all the way around

the Ruins," Trapspringer said. "As long as you can find

this road, you can't get lost, because eventually it will

bring you back to where you started. Remember that in

case we get split up somehow.

Trapspringer set off to the right. "In the meantime, you

watch the far side of this road, and I'll watch the near

side."

"What are we looking for, exactly?" asked a confused

Phineas, pumping his legs to keep up with the nimble-

footed kender.

"Signs of Damaris, of course."

"What sorts of signs?"

"You know, signs! Footprints, hoofprints, turned-over

rocks, bits of trash, campfires, whatever. Just keep your

eyes open."

Phineas shrugged. He'd tracked his little sister through

fresh snow once when he was seven years old and almost

lost the trail. He suspected he was not going to be much

 

help in this search.

They followed the road slowly for some time, finding

nothing but chipmunks and field mice, when Phineas

heard Trapspringer calling his name. He looked over his

shoulder and saw the kender standing several yards

down a side street, motioning to Phineas to follow. The

human led his pony behind Trapspringer as they ap-

proached a large, virtually intact building.

Shortly, they stood among the crumbled columns of a

large portico. "What was this, a temple perhaps?" asked

Phineas, squinting up at the tall stone building. The front

doors were twelve feet high, the side walls at least twenty

feet. Arched windows lined the walls in graceful rows,

and a round window stood out against the top of the

peaked front wall. The roof of slate had survived rentu-

ries of neglect.

"Perhaps. Let's see if Damaris is in here," Trapspringer

suggested. Wasting no time, he took a small lantern from

the limitless pack on the pony, lit it, and strode into the

structure. Phineas followed anxiously, leaving the ponies

behind.

They stood in what must have been a vast, tall ante-

chamber, which looked like it once had a second floor.

Long lengths of pitted stone hung suspended midway be-

tween the ground and the roof. Indirect light from the

gray day filtered through the window holes and lit the

room. Not even a block of stone littered the floor.

"The most intact stones from these ruins are the rage

among builders in Kendermore," explained Trapspringer.

"They come out here in wagons and completely disas-

semble what's left of some of the buildings. I'm surprised

this one's still here." Trapspringer's voice echoed in the

hollow stone room. Swinging the lantern at his side, he

walked to an opening on the far side of the chamber.

The next room was smaller. Less sunlight reached the

ground here, since the windows were smaller, too. Trap-

springer held the lantern over a black square of marble

against the left wall, making the shadows dance. "You

 

were probably right about this being a temple. I'll bet this

is where the altar was." He started toward the next open-

ing at the far side of the room.

"Can't we just call to her from here?" Phineas sug-

gested, feeling less secure with each step. Cobwebs tick-

led his nose annoyingly.

"Sure, if you want everything in the area to know

we're here, go ahead," was Trapspringer's reply. "But me,

I'm the cautious type," he added as he stepped through

the next door.

A thunderous roar rose up in the next room, accompa-

nied by screeching, Trapspringer hollering, a loud crash,

and then both rooms plunged into darkness. Phineas

froze, unable to see or think. Something struck him in

the chest, then struck him again. Suddenly, he was sur-

rounded by a storm of shrieking, flapping, hairy things.

He squeezed his eyes shut and flailed mindlessly at the

unidentifiable horror that assaulted him from every

direction. "Trapspringer, help me!" he screamed. Phineas

felt something settle on his neck. Terror tightened around

his rib cage, and his breath came in shallow gulps. He

slapped furiously in the darkness at the thing on his neck,

nearly knocking himself senseless.

Suddenly, the attack slackened. He felt fewer and

fewer creatures banging into him. He heard their distant

cries as they found their way through the rooms to the

outside.

"Trapspringer?" Phineas said tentatively. He heard

movement to his right. The human froze.

"Wow," breathed the kender's voice at last. "That was

something, eh? Those bats sure were anxious to leave."

The kender struggled to his feet. "The lantern must have

gone out when they knocked me down and I hit my

head. Are you all right?"

Phineas could feel his cheeks growing warm. He

hoped the kender hadn't heard his foolish cry for help.

"Fine, fine," he said lamely. "Don't worry about me."

Trapspringer fumbled with the lantern. In moments, it

 

blazed again. The side of Trapspringer's face was

bruised, his graying topknot in disarray as he looked

around the room. "No more doors. Damaris obviously

isn't here."

"Obviously," Phineas repeated. "Let's get out of here."

"I'm sure it's safe now. Don't I feel silly!" He laughed.

"An experienced adventurer like me getting flustered by

a gaggle of bats," he said, walking back through the tem-

ple and out onto the portico.

"Say, do bats come in gaggles?" he asked, turning back

toward Phineas. "Maybe its a brood. A drove? A herd?

Flock? Hmmmm."

Through the rest of the day, Phineas followed the ken-

der into several more ruined buildings. His body ached

with tension, and he expected something to spring on

him at any moment. But nothing did. The worst thing

they saw was a couple of giant centipedes, which seemed

almost as anxious to leave as the human was to see them

go.

A hazy sun burned through the gray at about midday.

Kender and human looped the ponies' reins around the

stump of a column near what once must have been a re-

flecting pool. They collapsed and nibbled a bit of dried

beef Phineas had brought. Finally, Phineas asked a ques-

tion that had been haunting him the whole, fruitless

morning.

"Is it possible that something has happened to Da-

maris? Could she have... disappeared somehow? Had

an accident?"

Trapspringer considered that, lips pursed. "It's possi-

ble. But more likely she got bored already and left. As

you can see, there's not a lot here anymore."

Phineas thought that the constant possibility of a

monster attack ought to be exciting enough for even a

kender. He asked, "Where would she have gone, then?

Are there more ruins near here?"

"No, this is it," Trapspringer responded. "I take that

back," he corrected himself instantly. "There is one more

 

place she could be near. It's actually part of the Ruins,

but I don't know anyone who's ever actually gotten into

it."

Trapspringer had already jumped up and was leading

them toward a wooded area on the north side of the Ru-

ins. The woods looked like a nearly impenetrable tangle

of trees, brush, brambles, roots, and vines. Phineas

could not see far into the gloom.

"Why would anyone go in there?" he asked Trap-

springer as he followed the kender's lead and tied his po-

ny's reigns to a tree. Trapspringer took his hoopak from

his saddle and started chopping his way through the

green density. Phineas sprang forward to follow.

"I understand that the brush thins out quite a lot once

you get inside," explained Trapspringer unhelpfully.

"What's inside?" asked Phineas, gingerly picking a

thorn-covered branch from his pant leg.

"The tower, of course -- the fifth Tower of High Sor-

cery. It was one of the five original Towers of High Sor-

cery, but it must have been ruined shortly after the

Cataclysm. The tower isn't really the problem. The

problem is that an enchanted grove was planted around

each tower to keep out unwanted visitors. No one I

know of has ever reached as far as the tower."

Phineas stopped dead in his tracks. He turned around

and practically ran back to the ponies. "What are you

doing, leading us into a magical grove? And a Tower of

High Sorcery at its center! Are you crazy?" Just as sud-

denly, he stopped again and gave the kender a skeptical

glare. "I don't see any tower. And I don't see anything

magical about these woods. Besides, how do you know

all this?"

"The grove's effect isn't physical," Trapspringer ex-

plained. "The grove just sort of... makes whatever

you're feeling at the moment seem more intense and hard

to control."

"Gods, that's stupid, Trapspringer! You obviously

think I'm a simpleton!" His eyes narrowed as he con-

 

fronted the kender. "I know what you're up to, though.

You think you can scare me into running away so you

can find Damaris. Then you'll go back to Kendermore as

the big hero and get the map from your nephew for your-

self!" He poked a finger into Trapspringer's chest. "You're

not dealing with some silly kender, you know." Phineas's

head was throbbing fiercely, and he'd never felt so angry

and frightened at the same time.

Trapspringer's almond-shaped eyes grew wide with

unaccustomed fury. "Silly kender! You smelly, bug-

infested sack of straw! You're nothing but a cowardly,

toadying hobgoblin! And I'll bet it comes from your

mother's side of the family! I never thought any human

could be stupid enough to reproduce with a hobgoblin,

but if there was one, he'd be your father! And he'd still be

smarter than you!" Trapspringer raised his hoopak

threateningly.

Phineas didn't wait to see what the kender intended to

do with his forked weapon. The human spun around,

dropped to his knees, and crawled furiously through the

brush and into the depths of the grove. He had to reach

the tower and find Damaris Metwinger before Trap-

springer!

"Phineas, come back!" Trapspringer called, tears well-

ing in his eyes. "Was it something I said? Whatever it

was, I didn't mean it. I haven't meant anything I've said

for years. Except what I just said. I think." Trapspringer

was terribly confused.

The kender's heart was near to breaking. He wiped the

tears away angrily. Phineas is all alone in the grove, and

it's my fault! he thought. Huge, hiccupping sobs racked

his small frame. He crashed through the tangled growth

of the forest after the human, blinded by his tears.

Branches slapped him, thorns tore at his clothing, his

hoopak thumped behind him, banging against his right

heel. Then, "Whooooffff!" All the air exploded out of the

kender's lungs as he slammed into another living, run-

ning creature.

 

Trapspringer was thrown backward by the force of the

blow. He landed on a small bush, its stiff branches stab-

bing his back. His eyes were closed as he struggled for a

few ragged gulps of air. But whoever had hit him jumped

on top of him now, swinging and clawing at him like a ti-

ger.

"Phineas?" he gasped, fending off the blows.

Whoever it was pressed him flat to the ground and

slammed its mouth down on his and stayed there, the

kiss becoming more and more insistent. Trapspringer

hoped his assailant wasn't Phineas. The kender cracked

one eye open hesitantly, gripped by the unfamiliar sensa-

tion of fear.

Damaris Metwinger!

Trapspringer's wrinkled old face spread into a de-

lighted grin. He hadn't remembered her being so pretty,

hadn't remembered her much at all. Her waist-long hair

had the color and scent of meadow buttercups. Though

it was tangled and ratty now, she wore her topknot in six

braids woven with colorful bird feathers. Her eyes were

the pale, pale blue of winter ice on a clear day. Phineas's

arms were around her now, and he could feel that her fig-

ure was slim and well-toned; Trapspringer was certain

she'd have no trouble scaling a building with him.

Her heavy wool vest was matted and dirty, with

dozens of twigs and leaves tangled into it. The sleeves of

her cotton blouse were torn, her red leggings were

crusted with dried mud and covered with burrs.

Her only flaw was that her face had not yet developed

the network of fine wrinkles Trapspringer found so at-

tractive in a woman, but she was still young so there was

hope.

"I don't know who you are, but you're not a bad

kisser," she mumbled. Trapspringer thought her voice

sounded like soft, melodious bells. "But you'd be a whole

lot better if you --"

Trapspringer silenced her with a crushing kiss of his

own, as his passions took over his mind.

 

There was even less conversation after that.

"What was that?" Trapspringer demanded all of a sud-

den. He wrestled Damaris away from his face and tilted

his head to the side. "Don't you hear something?"

"I hear something, all right," she giggled. Damaris

whispered something obscene in Trapspringer's ear.

"Good gods, girl!" Trapspringer breathed in admira-

tion. "You're too much of a handful for my young

nephew!"

Damaris held herself away from Trapspringer and in-

spected his face. 'You're the uncle of that worthless no-

show, Tasslehoff Burrfoot?"

Trapspringer saw the lusty fire in her eyes growing

into an angry blaze. Perhaps he'd made a mistake men-

tioning the name of the kender who'd jilted her.

"Well, sort of," he equivocated. "But we're not close,

really. If you want to know the truth, I don't like him

much, never have! Why, I'd spit on him if he were here

now!" To show his sincerity, the graying kender spat on

the ground in disgust. His hands sought Damaris again.

But his words came too late. Damaris was already well

on her way to boiling over. She thrust his hands away.

"Spitting wouldn't be enough for the likes of him.

Why, if he were here, the first thing I'd do is stake him

out on the ground. Then I'd pluck out his eyelashes and

nails, and then I'd slice off his fingers one at a time so he'd

never be able to pick a lock again!" Her voice was rising

hysterically. Trapspringer scuttled backward like a crab.

"Hmmm, yes, well that should show him you're up-

set," Trapspringer said weakly, not wanting to excite her

further. He wanted only to resume their previous activ-

ity.

Damaris was on her haunches, rubbing her hands in

glee, her eyes glowing with hatred. She smiled at him

maniacally. "That's just the beginning!" She quickly went

on to outline the order in which she would remove Tas-

slehoff's major organs. "Then I'd stuff his nose and

mouth with cloth and watch him blow up!"

 

"Be sure to leave his lungs in for the finale," Trap-

springer pointed out helpfully. He jerked his head to the

side once more. "There it is again!"

At that moment a huge, loping form crashed through

the brush. It might have looked vaguely human if not for

a sloping forehead that led to a pointy brow and greasy,

slicked-back, dark hair. It had unusually long arms, no

chin, and horned feet. That, and it was nearly ten feet

tall. Damaris stared in amazement. But Trapspringer

wasn't amazed at all; he recognized an ogre when he saw

one.

"Too much noise!" it howled. Snatching up a startled

kender under each arm, it advanced a dozen yards

through the brush. Suddenly, Trapspringer saw a gaping

hole in the ground with steps cut into the side. The open-

ing had to be at least six feet across. Certainly big enough

for...

The ogre, without pausing, leaped into the emptiness.

The walls rushed past as they plunged down the twenty-

foot pit and slammed into the packed dirt at its bottom.

The ogre landed on his feet, the kender still safely tucked

under his arms. Twisting around, Trapspringer was able

to see that the ogre was charging down a tunnel. Damaris

was squirming and punching, while Trapspringer was

enjoying the bumpy ride.

The damp, musty-smelling passage poured out into a

round, cluttered room, old but apparently still sound. A

stairway zigzagged upward on one side of the room.

With a grunt, the ogre dropped his burdens to the floor.

Dazed by the wild ride and by the fading effect of the

grove's enchantment, the two kender sat on the uneven,

sandy floor, recovering their wits. In the flickering torch-

light, Trapspringer saw a crude table consisting of a large

board laid over two equally large boulders. Sitting on

the table -- or tied to it, actually -- was Phineas Curick.

The human's head slumped onto his chest. The little halo

of hair that nature had left him at the base of his skull

stuck out wildly now. There were scratches on his face

 

and hands, but otherwise the human looked unscathed.

"What have you done to him!" Trapspringer asked, in-

clining his head toward Phineas.

The ogre drew back as if insulted. "Aw, I barely nicked

him. He was flailing about so much that I had to tie him

down to keep him from hurting himself." He poked the

human, and Phineas groaned. "He'll be OK."

"Wait a minute! How come you can speak the Com-

mon tongue?" Damaris demanded.

The ogre rolled its big, baggy eyes. "I should know by

now not to expect simple courtesy from kender." He

heaved a deep sigh, blowing a puff of foul air through the

gaps between his teeth, and shook his head sadly. "Let's

start at the beginning, shall we? My name is Vinsint.

Who might you be?"

Damaris and Trapspringer looked at each other in dis-

belief. A polite, articulate ogre? This was very interest-

ing indeed.

Trapspringer's hand disappeared in the ogre's meaty

palm. "Trapspringer Furrfoot, at your service," he said

politely. He gestured toward the other kender. "And this

is Damaris Metwinger."

The ogre took her tiny hand. "Charmed, I'm sure," he

said and giggled, sounding like someone choking on a

fish bone. "Get it? 'Charmed'? You just came from the en-

chanted grove!" His mirth turned to frustration. "Never

mind. That one always passes right over kender."

Vinsint moved away and busied himself among some

crates. "Will smoked fish, baby carrots, and bread pud-

ding be acceptable for dinner?" he asked over his shoul-

der. "Oops, sorry, I'm out of bread pudding. How about

fresh, roasted apples instead?"

Trapspringer's mouth watered, but he was a bit wor-

ried about Phineas.

"While that sounds delicious, Vinsint," the gray-haired

kender said, "my friends and I really must be going."

Trapspringer stood, taking Damaris's hand, and headed

for Phineas's unconscious form on the table. "Thank you

 

very much for rescuing us from the grove. We'll be sure

to tell all our friends about it."

"Sit down!" the ogre roared, poking Trapspringer in

the chest and knocking him to the ground. Damaris tum-

bled down next to him.

Trapspringer's eyebrows shot up in surprise. This

wasn't going to be as easy as he'd thought.

"You're going to stay here and keep me company until

I say otherwise!" Vinsint thundered, standing above

them with his legs spread wide, his massive, muscled

arms crossed.

Phineas stirred on the table, choosing that unfortunate

moment to awaken. Expecting that there would be a

scene, Trapspringer almost wished he had something

heavy he could use to put Phineas back to sleep. As it

turned out, he did not need it anyway.

Phineas moaned, squirmed and twisted until he was

sitting upright on the table, and opened his eyes. He

looked at his own bound hands and feet, at Trapspringer

and Damaris, and then squarely at Vinsint, standing to

his full height with his arms folded and the veins in his

neck bulging. Phineas opened his mouth as if to speak,

then closed it again as if he had thought better of it.

Without making a sound, Phineas's eyes rolled back in

his head and he collapsed back onto his side in a dead

faint.

 

Chapter 15

Woodrow watched the animated dragon stretch

its wings below the kender. "That thing will take Mr.

Burrfoot over my dead body," he announced uncon-

sciously. He wished he'd chosen other words as he

sprang forward, the centaur obligingly ducking its

head. The straw-haired man flailed desperately at the

dragon's swishing tail. Rough scales and pointy horns

slashed and scraped at his exposed flesh but he held on,

thinking only that if he lost the kender, Miss Hornslager

would be furious.

The dragon seemed to grow larger as it flapped its

mighty wings and rose higher. Moments later, when

Woodrow came to his senses, it was far too late to think

about jumping off. He clung with all his might to the

 

thrashing, flicking, mighty tail.

Tasslehoff, meanwhile, had already overcome his ini-

tial shock and was sitting upright in the saddle. He hap-

pily bounced and kicked with his heels as the dragon

climbed into the morning sun. Suddenly, the creature

lurched and the wings stopped flapping. Its climb leveled

out and the beast nosed to the left and began to dive furi-

ously back toward the carnival. Tasslehoff squealed and

Woodrow shrieked as the wind screamed past their ears.

Tas's long hair whipped into Woodrow's face, and proba-

bly would have obscured his vision if Woodrow's eyes

had been open. If anything, Woodrow's eyes were shut

tighter than his grip on the dragon's tail.

Faster and faster they dove, straight down toward the

carousel. Dwarves scattered in every direction as the ter-

rifying beast plummeted toward them. At the last mo-

ment, the dragon pulled out of its dive and raced across

the green, raising a cloud of leaves and dust in its wake.

Tasslehoff had spotted the tiny gnome dancing a jig

near his controls. "I guess it's working the way it's sup-

posed to," he hollered to no one in particular. Mere

inches from the ground, the dragon expanded its wings

and pulled up into a nearly vertical climb. Tasslehoff

threw his arms around the saddle to keep from falling off

backward.

The piercing scream from behind alerted Tas that he

was not alone on the wild ride. Twisting in the saddle, he

saw Woodrow, white as an elven shroud, wrapped

around the dragon's tail. Directly behind Woodrow was

the ground, receding at an alarming rate, and Gisella,

shaking a finger at the gnome. "Woodrow! What are you

doing here?" bellowed Tas. "Hey, Gisella looks much

smaller from way up here! Isn't this great!"

But Woodrow knew that if he opened his mouth he

would scream. So he just shook his head furiously, until

he felt himself rolling over on his back. Too frightened to

keep his eyes closed, he opened one to find out what was

happening. He saw the dragon's back, Mr. Burrfoot --

 

who had apparently gone quite insane from terror -- and

the sky, which rolled past from top to bottom. Then the

sky gave way to ground, but the ground seemed to be

coming from above. If I don't scream, I am going to

vomit, thought Woodrow, and I don't have any idea

which way it will fall. He opened his mouth, but all that

came out was a hoarse, croaking sound.

"What did you say?" shouted Tas. As the kender

leaned back in the saddle, the dragon finished its roll and

once again dived straight down toward the ground.

"C'mon Woodrow, loosen up." shouted Tas, tugging at

the human's shirt. The dragon leveled out, eight feet off

the ground, and shot down a narrow street with build-

ings crowding in on both sides. It turned a corner, side-

swiped a row of flowerpots right off a balcony with the

tip of its wing, and then rose just enough to swoop across

the rooftops and slalom between chimneys.

"This is better than going over a waterfall," shrieked

Tas. "What a ride! That gnome is a genius! Here we go

again!"

The dragon climbed steadily, its wings beating rhyth-

mically. Long after Tas expected it to swoop or roll again,

it continued climbing. Tas looked back over his shoulder

and let out a long whistle. "We sure have covered a lot of

ground. I can barely see Rosloviggen anymore."

"Where are we?" Those words were the first Woodrow

had spoken since leaping onto the dragon's tail several

lifetimes ago.

"I'm not sure, but we're way above it," Tas said mat ter-

of-factly. As if that was its signal, the dragon banked

steeply and circled to the right, spiraling down toward

the mountains. Moments later, Tas could make out the

silhouette of a tower against the white snow back-

ground. Then he spotted another tower, jutting out from

the face of a cliff, then three more structures: another

tower, a square keep, and what appeared to be the front

half of a castle, built into the side of the cliff.

The dragon skidded to a stop on top of the second

 

tower. Tas looked back to check on Woodrow, who

raised his head and looked at the kender with swollen

eyes, as if he had just woken up. Both of them blinked at

their surroundings.

The top of the tower, where the dragon had landed,

was flat and surrounded by a raised wall about two feet

high. The tower itself was cylindrical. Rising behind the

tower, however, was a sheer cliff that topped out at least

sixty feet above Tas.

"I think it brought us here on purpose," said Tas.

"What makes you say that, Mr. Burrfoot?" Woodrow

asked weakly.

Tas knocked his fist against the dragon. "Because our

mount is plain, old wood again. I wonder where we are."

The kender swung his left leg over the front of the saddle

and slid down onto the dragon's wing, then jumped from

there to the stone floor. Woodrow followed, clutching

his stomach and leaning against the dragon for support.

"Who'shere?" sounded a hasty, nasal voice from the

far side of the dragon. "Doesmybrotherknowyou've-

beenridinghisdragon?"

Tasslehoff peered around the front of the dragon. He

saw a gnome, dressed in baggy, green pants, a dirty, yel-

low shirt, a blue apron, and an orange hat. A pair of

spectacles balanced on the tip of his nose. The pockets of

his apron were stuffed full of carpentry and stonecutting

tools. He stood near an open trap door, peering over his

spectacles at the dragon.

"Comeon, comeon, thedragonnevercomesbackby-

itself. Youmightaswellshowyourself."

Tas watched from behind the dragon, fascinated. He

knew that kender were distantly related to gnomes, and

he could see a little of it in this one's slender hands.

"You really should speak more slowly, particularly if

you're going to be that bossy," said Tasslehoff, stepping

around into the gnome's view, followed by Woodrow.

"Oh ho!" chortled the gnome. "We seem to have an air-

sick human and a short, wrinkly, humanoid thing.

 

Hmmm, wrinkles, topknot, rude, lots of pouches and

pockets, short; must be either a kender or a meerkimo.

No, meerkimos have been extinct since before the Cata-

clysm. Must be a kender. We've been looking for one of

those for decades -- not many of them around here. You

might as well come in; no sense standing around up here

exposed to damaging sunlight."

"Tasslehoff Burrfoot," said the kender politely, extend-

ing his hand. "And you are -- ?" The gnome took his

hand, peered at it intently, found it empty, and dropped

it without interest. Turning, the gnome clomped back

down the staircase and out of sight.

Tas and Woodrow stood for a moment, trying to di-

gest what was happening to them. The gnome's face re-

appeared above the stairs briefly. "Come on, I said.

There's no other way down except the quick way," he

noted, looking over the side of the tower. "And very few

specimens of any sort choose that." He disappeared

again.

Woodrow cleared his throat, then spoke to Tasslehoff

in a low tone. "I don't have a good feeling about this, Mr.

Burrfoot."

The gnome reappeared again, this time dangling an

apple on a stick toward them. "I've got foooooood," he

chanted, waving the stick from side to side. "Red, juicy

aaaaaaaapples. Caaaarrots. Raaaabbits. Dishes of

buuuuugs. Whatever you kender eat, we've got it. Just

follow me."

"Apples?" Tas was not actually hungry, but he was al-

ways ready to eat. "I love apples. I could use something

to eat, come to think of it." Tasslehoff headed toward the

door.

Woodrow took the kender's arm and swung him

around. "This sounds very bad to me, Mr. Burrfoot," he

whispered. "What kind of place serves bugs?"

"Well, it's not the Inn of the Last Home," Tas conceded;

he liked the gnome. But, noting Woodrow's concern, he

forced himself to be serious. "There's only one way to

 

find out where we are." He stepped through the door be-

fore the human could protest further.

Abruptly, they were in a very narrow, dark stairway

that leveled out into a long stone corridor. Ahead, wav-

ing them on impatiently, was the gnome.

"Come on, come on! I have things to do, too, you

know." He pushed up his spectacles distractedly.

Tasslehoff skipped ahead to his side. "Where are we

goings And who are you, if you don't mind me asking

again?"

"Well, I do. Didn't my brother tell you anything?" the

gnome growled. "He's always leaving that to me. Well, I

just won't do it this time. You'll have to wait until he gets

here," he said petulantly.

"I sure hope he'll be here soon," Woodrow said ear-

nestly, "because we really must be getting back to

Rosloviggen. Miss Hornslager must be very angry with

us for leaving." He followed the gnome and the kender

around a corner into a cavernous room.

"Wow!" Tas gasped. "What is this place? It looks like

the museum in Palanthas."

Every inch of the large room, except for its narrow

aisles, was covered with long, horizontal, glass display

cases set up on high, thin legs. Row upon row of dead in-

sects lay on white velvet cushions inside the cases. There

were five cases filled with nothing but blue butterflies,

each one slightly different, each with its name neatly

penned on a card next to it. Then there were whole cases

of red butterflies and white butterflies, then another case

of red and white ones. Every color in the rainbow was

represented.

There were two cases with black ants.

Two more for red ants.

One for dragonflies.

Ten for wasps.

And on and on.

"Do you collect insects?" asked Tas, running from case

to case, pressing his nose to each.

 

"What makes you ask that?" the gnome said sarcasti-

cally, rolling his eyes. Using his sleeve, he rubbed nose

prints from the cases after Tasslehoff had passed.

Tas opened his mouth to respond when Woodrow

leaned into him and whispered, "I think he was joking,

Mr. Burrfoot."

Tasslehoff's brows knit in confusion. Oh, a joke!

Gnomes sure are funny, he thought.

The gnome hustled them through an archway with a

letter "C" above it at the far end of the room, and into an

even larger room with a ceiling at least three stories high.

The display cases here were much taller and held one

stuffed creature each.

"These are all dinosaurs," Tasslehoff said, breathless

with awe. "I never realized they were so big." He threw

his head back to run his gaze the full length of the largest

dinosaur, its incredibly long, muscular neck fully ex-

tended. He took note of the plaque at its feet: 'Apatosau-

rus.' Next to it was the number 220.

"You collect dinosaurs, too? What does that number

mean?" Tas asked.

"Of course we collect dinosaurs," the gnome said in ex-

asperation. "We collect everything. The number means

that it, uh, came into the collection in the year two hun-

dred twenty."

"But that was more than one hundred twenty years

ago!" Tas gasped. "You can't be that old."

The gnome beamed. "Why, thank you for saying so!"

He lifted his orange hat and slicked his hair back with his

hand. "I'm not." Suddenly his eyes narrowed. "You're

trying to get answers out of me, and I told you you'd

have to wait for my brother."

"You could at least tell us who you are and why that

dragon came to life and what this place is," Woodrow de-

manded, his voice shaking.

In reply, the gnome clamped his lips shut and herded

Tas and Woodrow into a small, torch-lit laboratory off

the dinosaur display room.

 

Water dripped down the cold, stone walls in the circu-

lar room. From floor to ceiling on the walls were shelves.

The shelves were packed with empty glass jars, and

seemed to be organized by color more than shape or

function. Tall, thin, red ones were perched next to short,

squatty bowls, which ranged in size from one inch in di-

ameter to two feet. Every color imaginable was present.

In the center of the laboratory was a tall alchemist's ta-

ble cluttered with more colorful jars, though these were

filled with little creatures of one sort or another sus-

pended in liquid. White wisps of smoke bubbled from

the tops of two beakers. The room had a faintly unpleas-

ant, medicinal smell.

Woodrow looked around aprehensively, feeling a

shiver tickle his spine. "On second thought," he said

hoarsely, "we don't really have any questions we need

answered. If you'd just be kind enough to show us the

door, we'll be on our way back to Rosloviggen and won't

trouble you any further." Latching onto Tasslehoff's arm,

the human began backing toward the door.

"Good!" someone exclaimed from the doorway be-

hind them. Tasslehoff and Woodrow jumped straight up

and spun around as one. "Youmadeitsafely. Whatarelief."

The gnome from the carousel stumbled in, looking ex-

hausted. Removing a pair of tight, black leather gloves

one finger at a time, he collapsed into a chair next to the

door. "Whataday!" he wheezed, his speech slowing as he

relaxed. The gnome pulled a pair of goggles from his eyes

and let them snap down around his neck. "How are we

going to get the carousel back, Ligg? I forgot. It wasn't

working right anyway, then that teleport ring misfired

and I ended up in --"

"Whatdoyoumean?" the bigger gnome with the baggy,

green pants demanded, his voice reaching proper gnome

velocity in his agitation. "Itwasworkingjustfine! You-

weren'tfiddlingwiththemusicagain, wereyou? Well?"

His brother looked sheepish.

"You did!" the second gnome clutched his head and

 

spun around in anguish. "Oooh, that makes me so mad!

Which one did you bash through the ceiling this time,

Bozdilcrankinthwakidorious?" His face fell as a thought

struck him. "Not the kobold?"

His brother looked even more sheepish.

"He was my favorite!" the second gnome cried. "That's

it! From now on I, Oliggantualixwedelian, will get the

specimens!"

"Are those your names?" interrupted Tas.

"And what's wrong with them? They're very common

first names," Bozdil said defensively, toying with his gog-

gles.

"But they're so long," Tas complained.

"Bozdil and Ligg?" the one named Ligg said, puzzled.

Woodrow's mind was locked onto one terrible word.

"Specimens?" he squeaked, repeating Ligg.

The others turned to him, and three sets of eyebrows

arched in surprise.

"What do you mean, 'specimens'? "

Ligg gave Bozdil a perturbed look. "I've been waiting

for you to get back to explain things to them. I think I'll

go build another display room or something." He turned

to the kender and the human. "Nice knowing you."

Bozdil reached out a hand without looking and caught

Ligg's collar as he tried to leave. "You'll forgive my

brother, but this part is always so difficult," he began

with an apologetic smile to Tas and Woodrow. "I know,

we'll show you! I find visual aids so helpful, don't you?"

he asked pleasantly.

"Actually," Woodrow said, looking around the room

frantically, "we would find the front door most helpful

right now. I don't know why you've brought us here,

and I'm not sure I want to know. Live and let live, I al-

ways say." He tried to shield Tasslehoff.

"It's my job to keep Mr. Burrfoot safe. No offense, Mr.

Bozdil, Mr. Ligg, but this is all very strange -- and unac-

ceptable. It would be a good idea if you allowed us to

leave right now, before we have to hurt you." Flexing his

 

muscles, Woodrow wished his voice had not cracked as

he spoke.

'Yeah, you've got a lot of explaining to do!" Tasslehoff

cried, leaping around the human in his excitement. "Like

... like how you made that dragon fly -- did I tell you

how much fun that was -- better than --" Woodrow

jabbed Tasslehoff in the ribs. "Clunk 'em, Woodrow!"

Ligg gave Woodrow a severe look. "There's no need

for any clunking around here. Let's at least be civilized

about this."

"Ohdearohdearohdear," muttered Bozdil nervously.

"We're handling this all wrong! Just come with us, and

you'll understand everything."

"I'd like to understand something!" the kender said,

shaking his head. "Come on, Woodrow, they're not go-

ing to let us leave until we look at whatever it is they

want us to see. As long as we're here, what's the harm of

taking a little peek?

Woodrow pursed his lips. "OK," he said at last. "But

we're leaving right afterward." What choice did he have,

really?

The gnome brothers looked at each other, giggled con-

spiratorially, then grew serious.

"Now, is it under 'K' for kender, or 'D' for demihu-

mans?" Ligg asked Bozdil.

"No, I think it's under 'T' for 'things with thirty-two

ribs,' or perhaps 'B' for 'upright bipeds'. "

"Wouldn't that be 'U'?"

"Oh, you're right, you're right," muttered Bozdil. He

scratched his balding head. "Let's look it up." Moving a

lit candle closer, he pulled a big, cobweb-covered tome

from a shelf, sending dust flying. He coughed, and Ligg

patted him on the back. Chewing his lip, Bozdil flipped

the book open and ticked his index finger down the table

of contents until he found what he was looking for. "Ah

ha!" He licked his thumb and flipped to the appropriate

page. " 'K' for kender!" He let the book thump shut.

"No, that's where it used to be," Ligg said wearily.

 

"Don't you remember? We reorganized everything ten

years ago, so we could keep track of inventory better?

After I built the third tower...?" he continued, trying

to jog his brother's memory.

'Yes!" Bozdil said. "Now I remember! We put it in Dis-

play Room Twelve."

"So is it 'D' or 'U' or 'B' or what?" Tas nearly exploded.

Ligg looked at the kender as if he were a bug. "Why

would it be any of those?"

"But you said -- oh, never mind!"

Bozdil led the way and Ligg brought up the rear

through at least twelve rooms filled with display cases of

all sizes. Tasslehoff stopped in a room that contained

aquatic specimens displayed floating in liquid-filled jars.

He paused before the jar containing an Eye of the Deep.

The evil creature's large central eye in its round, blobbish

body and its two small eye stalks looked so deadly, float-

ing like that in its natural environment, that it brought a

shudder even to the fearless kender.

Woodrow lingered by a display of stuffed and

mounted hunting birds. The hawks reminded him of his

training as a squire, and he stood in front of the rows of

unblinking owls and falcons, remembering his time at his

Uncle Gordon's home.

Tas and the gnomes didn't miss him as they stopped in

a room whose glass cases varied in size, shape, and color.

They walked slowly past stuffed creatures with plaques

proclaiming their species: dryad, gully dwarf, wood

sprite, mountain dwarf, and elf.

Bozdil stopped before an empty display case with a

plaque at its base that read "kender." He smiled ruefully

and said, "Now do you see why it's so difficult?"

"I see an empty kender case," Tas said stupidly.

"Not for long," Ligg sang.

Tasslehoff still looked puzzled.

"Don't make me say it!" Bozdil cried in anguish. "It's

nothing personal, mind you," he continued quickly, not-

 

ing Tasslehoff's growing awareness. "But it's our Life

Quest. One of everything on Krynn, so generations from

now our descendants will know what a kender looked

like, just for instance.

"Oh, don't look so revolted!" he continued, noting the

expression on Tas's face. "You think we like doing this?

This isn't what I would have chosen as a Life Quest! How

about you, Ligg?"

Insulted, his brother snorted, "Certainly not! I'd al-

most rather count the number of raisins in muffins, like

Cousin Gleekfub, for the rest of my life's Hmmphh!" He

lifted his nose imperiously.

Bozdil peered at the captives accusingly. "You have no

idea how difficult this job is. Take trolls, for instance.

What do you do with a troll? It can only be killed by

burning or immersing in acid --," he snickered without

humor "-- and you can well imagine what that does to

their appearance." Bozdil's hands raised in a gesture of

helplessness. "And if we kill one, we certainly can't dis-

play it. So how can we get a proper-looking troll for dis-

play without killing it?" He frowned. "I still haven't

figured out a solution to that one. Have you been think-

ing about it, Ligg, like you said you would?" Bozdil

cocked one eyebrow at his brother.

"Troglodytes!" Ligg barked suddenly.

"I beg your pardon?" said Tasslehoff, startled.

"Troglodytes!" Ligg repeated. "They can change color

at will, you know. If the one we select decides to make it-

self green at the last moment and we've selected a nice

green jar, we'd have to change it." He grew very serious.

"Selection of water and jar color is very tricky, and can

change at the last minute."

"Details, alwaysdetails!" Bozdil had worked himself

into a real frenzy on the subject. His face was beet red,

and he was hopping about in his ill-fitting shoes. "New

breeds, half-breeds -- it's impossible to keep up! But we

have to try."

"You mean you're going to pickle me?" Tasslehoff ex-

 

claimed, sucking in his breath.

"Oh, heavens no," Bozdil kindly reassured him.

Tasslehoff exhaled.

"We always stuff the mammals. Now, I'll need your

full name and date of birth for our records." He watched

disbelief grow in the kender's face. "I told you," Bozdil

said slowly to Tas, as if speaking to a child, "it's nothing

personal -- you seem pleasant enough. But it's what we

do."

"Well, I'm taking it personally." Woodrow squeaked

hysterically from the doorway, his face pale, his eyes

wide.

Bozdil peered darkly at the straw-haired man. "I didn't

even want you -- we already have a human male speci-

men. You just sort of latched yourself onto my dragon

and barged your way in uninvited."

Woodrow didn't know how to react to that statement.

That there wasn't an empty display case bearing a plaque

with his race on it was only marginally good news. He

knew he had to do something. He could think of only

one thing to do.

"Run for it, Mr. Burrfoot!" the human screamed, grab-

bing the kender and yanking him out of the room, into a

hallway. Stunned, Tasslehoff stumbled over his hoopak,

recovered, and then landed on his feet. Woodrow ran

down hall after hall, the kender in tow. Then, he came to

a door, twisted the knob, and flung the heavy wooden

door open. For a moment, he saw sunlight, then he heard

the most awful roaring. Into the doorway shot the open,

drooling maw of an enormous mountain lion.

Woodrow slammed the door shut and leaped away

from it, panting, waiting for either the gnomes to reap-

pear or the mountain lion to shred the door while he

thought.

"What are we running for?" Tasslehoff asked, never

one to flee a fight. "I've got my hoopak -- well send that

lion packing!" Tasslehoff reached for the doorknob.

Woodrow's hand stayed him. "I have nothing to help

 

you but a tiny dagger i A lion would tear us apart and eat

us for dinner, hoopak or no hoopak! No offense," he

panted.

"I'm not afraid," Tasslehoff said, jutting out his chest

proudly.

"That's good, because I'm frightened enough for both

of us," Woodrow said seriously. "What I can't figure out

is where Bozdil and Ligg are."

"They're probably tired from running and haven't

found us yet," Tasslehoff suggested.

"Good guess." Woodrow pulled the kender after him.

Woodrow and Tas tried five other doors and were met

by a crocodile pit, a huge ape with fangs like daggers,

something that looked like a walking lump of garbage, a

five-foot-long scorpion -- Tas wanted to stop for a good

look at that oddity but Woodrow forbade it -- and a

room so filled with spiderwebs that Woodrow did not

even want to know what was living there. They saw no

sign of Ligg and Bozdil.

At last, they entered a large, one-story chamber that

was empty except for huge, regularly spaced support pil-

lars. It appeared to be an unused display chamber.

"There's no way out through here," Tas warned. But

the door had already slammed shut, practically in their

faces. Kender and human rocked back on their heels and

both felt a sense of dread.

"We're sorry you made us do this." Bozdil's whiny

voice filtered through a small grate in the large, wooden

door. "We would rather you had been a little more civi-

lized about all this. You could have remained free to wan-

der about the place and dine with us this evening. We

certainly would have given you a nicer room, too. I

would have liked that -- we don't get too many visitors

who can talk, you realize."

"But you've ruined it by being selfish," finished Ligg in

an accusing, nasal tone. "We can't be blamed." Tas could

see Ligg's shoulders through the grate, shrugging. "Now

we have things to prepare." With that, they disappeared.

 

"I've got to say, Woodrow, that this sure makes getting

married look attractive," Tas sighed, sliding down the

wall into a heap.

Woodrow parted his limp, sweat-soaked hair from his

eyes and collapsed next to Tasslehoff on the floor. "You

could say that again, Mr. Burrfoot." He was quickly

asleep.

For once, the kender seemed to know a joke when he

heard one. Tired beyond caring, he extinguished the

spark in his brain, like a flame snuffed out by wet fin-

gers.

Suddenly, Tas heard something.

What was that noise?

Something was whimpering behind the pillars. Tassle-

hoff crept past Woodrow's sleeping form and tiptoed

from pillar to pillar, peering carefully around each. Near

the back of the dark room, he leaned around a pillar and

gasped.

Lying in the shadows in a disconsolate heap was a

large -- enormous, actually -- hairy elephantlike crea-

ture! It lay on its side, thumping its trunk in an unhappy

rhythm, while tears coursed down its thick, gray coat,

settling in a puddle by its fierce-looking tusks. Suddenly

it raised its head and peered at Tasslehoff around the pil-

lar.

"I'm sorry, I didn't know anyone was in here," it said in

a high-pitched, sing-song voice.

"You can talk!" gasped Tas, stepping from behind the

pillar.

"Of course I can. Don't all woolly mammoths talk?"

Tasslehoff blinked, taken aback. "I -- I'm not sure. I've

never met one before. Still, I'm fairly certain they don't

talk, as a general rule."

A sigh like a trumpet blast erupted from the mam-

moth's trunk. "I've never met one either." The creature's

head dropped back to the stone floor, and a big tear

squeezed out of one large, pink-rimmed, gray eye.

The tender-hearted kender knelt by the animal's mas-

 

sive shoulder and patted it comfortingly. "What's

wrong?" he asked. "Don't cry, you'll flood the place and

we'll all drown!" he giggled.

Another large tear plopped onto the ground. "What

does it matter if we drown? The gnomes'll kill us eventu-

ally anyway," the mammoth moaned.

Tas was beginning to understand. He patted the crea-

ture again. "Don't worry, well find some way out of

here," he said hopefully. "Then Woodrow and I will take

you with us."

The mammoth's eyes opened wider. "You would do

that?" he said shrilly, then slumped back down unhap-

pily. "It wouldn't matter if you did think of a way out.

I'm too big to get through the doors. This is the only

room left in the whole place that's big enough to hold

me."

"Then how did they get you in here?" Tas inquired,

looking from the enormous mammoth back toward the

tiny doorway.

The mammoth raised itself half-heartedly up onto one

knee-joint, and the floor shook. "I was brought here

when I was very little," he said simply, his voice weary.

"How long ago was that?"

"Bozdil and Ligg tell me it was more than fifteen years

ago."

"They've kept you locked up in here for fifteen years?"

Tasslehoff was incredulous.

The mammoth's eyes clouded with concern. "Oh, it's

not their fault," he said unexpectedly. Seeing Tas's confu-

sion, he said, "Let me start from the beginning...."

Tas made no effort to interrupt.

"Bozdil found me on one of his specimen expeditions

fifteen years ago. I was just a pup at the time, wandering

around in the hills south of Zeriak, or so he says, with no

sign of my mother. He brought me back here, and he and

Ligg thought I was too small to be their woolly mam-

moth specimen. So they just decided to let me grow up."

The mammoth let out another buglelike sigh. Tas took a

 

handkerchief from his pocket and held it to the end of the

creature's trunk.

"Thank you," it sniffed. "Anyway, they fed me and

played with me -- so I wouldn't become too flabby to be a

good specimen, they said. And I learned to speak. They

treated me like the family pet!" Another shattering snort

of anguish ripped through the room.

The noise jolted Woodrow awake. Moments later, his

white head poked tentatively around the pillar. "Mr.

Burrfoot?"

"Woodrow, meet -- ?" Tas looked at the mammoth

blankly.

"The gnomes call me Winnie," it said. "Even I can't

pronounce the full name they gave me."

Tasslehoff patted one of Winnie's flat-bottomed feet in

a modified handshake. "Tasslehoff Burrfoot."

"Woodrow," the human said dubiously, eyeing the

mammoth.

"Glad to meet you," replied the long-haired mammoth

courteously.

"Woodrow, we've got to think of a way to help Winnie

escape! Bozdil and Ligg mean to kill him!" the kender

said earnestly.

"That seems to be their overall plan, all right," said the

human. "Us included." He began pacing, his hands

clasped behind his back.

"I know! Let's jump them when they come back with

our dinner, and clunk their heads together!" Tas sug-

gested.

Winnie perked up at that, and his eyes opened wide in

fear. "Oh, I couldn't let you do that to Bozdil and Ligg.

They're all the family I have!"

Tas's lips pursed in irritation. "Well, they're ready to

pack you full of cotton!"

Winnie's large head shook slowly from side to side.

"That's just the problem. They haven't been able to bring

themselves to do it! I can't get out; they can't kill me. But

they still need a woolly mammoth specimen! They ha-

 

ven't spent much time with me lately, so I think the end is

near. Oh, it's all so hopeless!" Winnie pressed his trunk

to the ground and wailed and wailed, until every cloth

Tasslehoff had was soaked with mammoth tears.

This has to be much worse than getting married, Tas

thought unhappily. "We'll do something, Winnie, don't

worry."

The kender only wished he knew what that something

might be.

 

Cpapter 16

"You don't actually expect me to believe this is

real silk," Gisella scoffed, casually tossing a robin's-

egg-blue bolt of cloth to the side, boredom on her

rouged face.

"But of course it's silk," the hairy old dwarf said. He

hefted the bolt and lovingly held a corner of cloth in

his hand. "Look at how few imperfections are present,"

he said, flicking a small, thick, raised nub in the fab-

ric. "You don't usually find such perfection in cotton

weaving."

Gisella knew he was right. Cotton was coarser and

often contained many more thread imperfections,

which professionals called slubs. She wanted that

fabric -- badly. The airy, genuine silk would feel like

 

butter against her fair skin, and its rich hue would

complement her fiery hair. In her mind's eye she saw

herself in a clingy gown of blue-green, not to mention

that she could sell the remaining fabric at a substantial

profit. The vision made her smile like a cat in the sun.

But she didn't want to pay what the merchant was ask-

ing.

She had gulled this old, buck-toothed dwarf, but she

feared he was reaching the limit of his patience and his

greed.

She wanted that fabric.

"OK, three steel, but not a copper more," she ex-

haled.

"Three and a half," he intoned, wagging his head.

"Sold!" Gisella hugged the fabric to her chest. It was

not the best deal she had ever made, but the fabric was

worth the cost. Now all she had to do was get him to

extend her some credit until she could bargain her way

into some cash. She was wetting her lips for the per-

formance, when she heard shrieks.

Woodrow and Burrfoot! She suddenly remembered

them and spun around. They weren't in the booth. She

heard the shriek again and she looked over at the thing

the baron had called a carousel. Dwarves were fleeing

like trolls on fire, jumping from the carousel and run-

ning for their lives. There was an empty slot in the car-

ousel, as if one of the creatures had been ripped from

its place. Hearing more shrieks of terror, she noticed

that more and more people were looking up, so Gisella

raised her eyes.

The beloved fabric slid from her fingers to the dusty

ground. Gisella could scarcely comprehend what she

saw.

Tasslehoff Burrfoot was soaring and diving over the

city on the back of a red, winged creature that looked

vaguely like a dragon from legend, except for the pole

intersecting its body. A human -- her human, she

realized -- clung to the creature's thrashing tail, snap-

 

ping like a weight on a kite's streamer.

"Tasslehoff Burrfoot, I demand that you return here

at once!" the flame-haired dwarf screamed, running

over to stand by the carousel. She shook her fist at the

sky. "You, too, Woodrow! You were supposed to

watch him! You're fired!"

Where on Krynn had the red creature come from?

"Ohdearohdearohdear," a voice moaned nearby.

"Whereisthatring?"

Gisella looked down and saw a bald gnome in baggy

pants and a long, white jacket, with goggles strung

around his neck on a cord. The gnome's hands were

covered by black leather gloves, and he was franti-

cally rummaging through the pockets on the inside of

the coat and turning them inside-out.

"Are you the gnome who owns this contraption?"

she demanded. Without waiting for a response, she

continued, "What on Krynn happened here?" She

snatched him. "I'm holding you responsible. Where is

that thing going with my friends?"

"Ah ha!" The inventor slid out from under her hand

and victoriously held a small ring aloft. "Ireallywould

enjoyexplainingeverythingtoyou, especiallysinceit

appearsIcouldstartanywhere, butImustbegoing." The

gnome deftly lifted his goggles and let them fall into

place over his eyes with a loud "snap." "Anothertime,

perhaps," he added, poking his thumb through a neat

little hole in his right glove. Quick as a flash he slipped

the ring over his thumb, squeezed his eyes tightly shut,

and then was gone!

Gisella's hand dropped uselessly. She whirled

around, scanning the crowd, but she saw no sign of the

gnome. The dwarf squinted up into the sky at the now-

distant, black dot that was Tasslehoff and Woodrow.

Just then she spotted a uniformed dwarf with

strawberry-blond hair and beard doing his rounds and

swaggering in her direction.

"Excuse me, Colonel," she began.

 

The dwarf blushed under his beard. "I'm just a cap-

tain, ma'am." He eyed Gisella appreciatively.

"Isn't that wonderful. I was wondering if you have

any idea where the gnome who owns this carousel

lives?" She sidled up to him, and he blushed again.

"Not officially, no, ma'am, I wouldn't," he said. "I

know of a tower in the mountains to the east, but I

don't know who owns it. You could try the festival of-

ficials, but their office is closed until after Oktober-

fest."

"Well, someone must know who he is!" she ex-

ploded.

"I'm sure someone does," the officer said, "but the

records are locked up for the next three days."

"One of his creatures just flew off to the east with

my friends, and I have to sit for three days waiting to

find out where he lives?" Gisella's face was red with

fury.

"I'm afraid so, ma'am," the officer said apologeti-

cally. "I could send a patrol out after them, though."

She smiled broadly and clapped him on the back.

"That's more like it!"

"But they can't leave for three days, however. The

first team is just ten days into a three-week sweep to

the south. The second team left just last night for three

days to the east."

"This is an emergency! Call them back, or whatever

it is you military types do."

"I'm afraid I can't do that, either, ma'am." The cap-

tain was looking very sad. "By the time anyone

reached the group and returned, the patrol would be

scheduled to arrive anyway. But if you care to lodge a

complaint..."

"Never mind, Private, I'll take care of it myself."

The dwarf officer beat a hasty retreat from the fiery

dwarf.

Damn!" Gisella cursed, stomping her foot petu-

lantly. Now what was she going to do? She couldn't

 

wait three days.

"Excuse me, milady, but you look like you could use

some help," a deep, male voice suggested.

Gisella looked up in irritation. Suddenly, her eyes

widened with appreciation, and she exhaled softly.

The speaker was a tall, well-muscled human. His fea-

tures were strong, his jaw square and jutting, as if the

bones beneath had been chiseled from cool marble.

His eyes, appraising her as well, were deep set and

dark, faintly unfriendly in a challenging sort of way

that excited Gisella. His hair was dark and coarse, al-

most bristly. His clothing -- an olive-colored tunic,

fawn breeches that tucked into calf-high leather boots,

and skirted, scaled brigandine armor -- was expensive

and immaculate.

The only feature she could find fault with -- and she

looked hard -- was his nose. Not that it was bad, she

told herself, just a little less than perfect. Round and

somewhat large, and turned up slightly, it gave him a

slightly porcine look.

"Milady? I am Denzil, at your service." He held his

hand out.

Her eyes snapped up from his biceps to his face.

"Huh?" she grunted, tongue-tied in the presence of

such physical magnificence. "Oh, hello! I'm Gisella

Hornslager." She held her hand and her breath as his

lips lingered over her white knuckles. She giggled like

a schoolgirl and reluctantly extracted her hand.

"Just Denzil?" she asked, batting her eyes coyly.

"Do you require more?"

"N-no!" she stuttered, off balance. "Just curious."

"May I be of some assistance, then?" he offered. "I

could not help overhearing your distress."

The red-haired dwarf blushed.

"Were those your friends on that monstrosity?"

"Yes and no. Woodrow is my employee. The kender

is baggage. I was delivering him to a customer."

"So the flight wasn't planned?"

 

She snorted inelegantly. "Not by me, it wasn't." She

thought about that for a moment. Woodrow was too

naive and innocently loyal to dream up such a plan,

the kender too frivolous. It had to be the work of

someone else. "The strangest thing about it is that no

one is investigating the disappearance. I can't get a pa-

trol to go out for three days! Don't these people think

that flying away on a wooden animal is a bit unusual?"

she finished, gazing challengingly at the unconcerned

crowd.

Denzil's tone was ironic. "No one is ever surprised

when a gnomish invention goes awry."

Her eyebrows rose in agreement. "I've got to find.

them. I could have squeezed some answers out of the

gnome who owns the carousel if he hadn't disappeared

on me."

"Perhaps he left to find and return your, um,

friends," Denzil suggested.

Gisella shook her head firmly. "I can't take the

chance and wait. I must return Burrfoot to Kender-

more in a week. If I have to find him and fetch him

back by myself, I will!"

"He must be very important for you to risk your

own life to find him," Denzil said, watching her

closely.

Gisella laughed with genuine mirth. "I wouldn't say

he's that important, no. He means a lot of money to

me, that's all. I certainly don't intend to die looking for

him."

"Then you must let me help you," Denzil insisted.

"The mountains are no place for a lady alone. There's

no telling what you'll encounter."

Gisella's eyes widened in surprise, then delight. This

was an unexpected turn of events. She was not about

to point out to her attractive new acquaintance that

she had spent most of her life traveling alone.

"I have no money to pay you for your time," she said

coyly. "Perhaps we could make another arrangement

 

suitable to us both?" she said, clarifying her offer with

a suggestive smile.

"I've never found it necessary to trade for that," he

said without bragging. "Anyway, no payment is ex-

pected in this case. I was tracking someone who had a

map that I needed, and my search lead me to Roslovig-

gen. But now I would enjoy the company -- and a new

mystery."

Gisella gave him her most enticing smile, which he

returned. She noticed with a twinge of regret that his

smile did not reach his eyes. It was something she

looked for in a man. However, that he was willing to

help her for nothing more than compensated for his

cold eyes.

"We should waste no time," he stated. "My horse is

just at the edge of the square. We could ride to your

lodgings, collect your things, and be in the mountains

before midday."

Gisella ignored the calls of the fabric merchant,

whom she had no money to pay anyway, and followed

Denzil to a stable just off the square. He emerged with

the largest, blackest horse she had ever seen.

Something about the animal disturbed her. Its nos-

trils were unusually red, and its breath seemed to

steam more than it should, in the cool, mountain air. It

was as if the animal were powered by coal. The horse,

obviously high-strung, pawed the ground. Its lips

moved but no noise came from them, and when it

walked, its hooves did not clatter. The animal was ee-

rily void of sound.

The stable master stood back from the creature,

counting the coins Denzil had pressed into his hands.

Meanwhile, Denzil swung nimbly into the saddle and

patted the monstrous horse affectionately. Then he

held out his hand to the russet-haired dwarf.

Gisella's arms hung at her side. "Is it magical?" she

asked tentatively.

"Yes," he said matter-of-factly. "Scul is a nightmare.

 

Give me your hand and I'll help you if you're fright-

ened."

"I'm not afraid of anything," she said with determi-

nation, taking his hand anyway. He pulled her up be-

hind himself effortlessly, leaving her breathless. She

gave him directions to the baron's home.

Gisella looped her arms around Denzil's waist ar-

mor and leaned into his muscular back. Drawing a

long, contented breath, she filled her nostrils with the

familiar, manly scent of leather and sweat, and some-

thing else -- peculiarly Denzil's. She pressed her face

into the arch behind his shoulder blade and forgot

about anything troubling.

Despite the nightmare's intimidating appearance,

the black animal's ride was the smoothest she'd ever

experienced. Riding Scul was what she imagined it

would be like to ride on a cloud -- a frigid storm cloud.

Beneath her hands and seat, the animal felt as cold as

death, right through the heavy leather saddle. She

snuggled into Denzil, sighing blissfully as they rode.

"We're here." She heard the words rumble through

his chest, and she looked up reluctantly.

Gisella knew the baron and baroness would be busy

with official festival duties all day. She ordered one of

the servants to take care of her horse while she re-

turned to her room, than changed into her most re-

vealing traveling clothes -- a calfskin jerkin worn

without a blouse, and laced pants -- gathered the rest

of her belongings, and hurried back to the front step.

Two of the baron's grooms were flanking her saddled

and bridled horse, trying to keep it calm. Its eyes were

wide, its nostrils flared. Every time it caught sight of

the nightmare it tossed its head and pawed the ground.

"She'll calm down before long," Denzil announced.

"They always do."

With that, he turned and rode from the baron's

yard. Gisella followed, thinking about what the eve-

ning might hold in store.

 

They climbed into the mountains, over a carpet of

crunchy, fragrant pine needles, riding until late in the

afternoon. Long shadows soaked the ground beneath

the heavy, sweeping bows of the mountain fur trees.

Sunlight seldom poked through the thick treetops. No

breeze stirred the branches. No birds chirped. Gisella

became acutely aware of a growing stillness in the air,

which she attributed to the nightmare, although she

could not explain why.

Eventually they stopped in a small clearing. Gisella

shivered in the silence and the cold. "How do we know

we're looking in the right place for this tower?"

"We don't," Denzil said simply. "I watched the

dragon until it was a distant speck. I believe we're on

the right track." His eyebrows knit as he squinted to-

ward the sun, which had dropped below the summit.

"We'll stop here tonight." He swung down from Scul's

back, speaking a few tender words into the anxious

animal's ear. The horse trotted to a nearby tree to

graze.

"That's quite a trick." Gisella's voice was filled with

admiration as she held out her hand demurely.

Denzil took it and helped her down. "Scul and I

have an understanding," he said mysteriously.

Turning his back to Gisella, he took stock of what

needed to be done. There were plenty of pine needles

and dry branches at hand, and before long a small,

cheery fire blazed within a circle of rocks.

Clapping his hands to remove dust and needles,

Denzil rummaged through his saddlebags until he

found the bundles of dried meats and fruits that would

be their dinner. Only when he was finished did he turn

and notice that Gisella was nowhere in sight.

Anger, the only emotion Denzil ever displayed,

flushed his cheeks.

But within moments, the dwarf stepped through the

ring of trees surrounding the clearing, wearing a thin,

red wrap and a smile. "I found a little mountain stream

 

not far from here. The water was wickedly cold, butI-"

 

Denzil strode forward and viciously jerked her by

her wrist into the clearing. "Don't ever do that again."

Gisella's smile fell. "I was only gone for a few min-

utes. Who made you the boss, anyway?" She tried to

pull her arm from him. "Hey, you're hurting me."

His strong fingers tightened around her wrist, until

dark, finger-shaped shadows appeared on her skin.

Stifling a cry, she tugged again, and Denzil released his

grip. Gisella rubbed the bruises, staring at him speech-

lessly.

"Your little adventure was rash and dangerous. You

never know what you'll find -- or what will find you --

in the woods," was his only explanation.

The dwarf's anger and confusion subsided some-

what. Could it be that this handsome human was wor-

ried about her? Setting her chin, she tugged her wrap

more closely and arranged herself on a boulder near

the fire.

"What's for dinner?" she asked, keeping a distance

in her tone.

Denzil tossed her a small, cloth-wrapped bundle of

dried rations. Gisella stared at the unappetizing pile

briefly, poking through it experimentally. While it cer-

tainly looked dull, it didn't look unhealthy, and she

had not eaten since breakfast. Gisella shrugged, and

soon was gnawing absentmindedly on a strip of beef,

made sufficiently tantalizing with spicy thoughts of

Denzil.

Afterward, Denzil settled back on one of the bed-

rolls he'd spread before the fire, picking his teeth with

a small, sharpened stick. Staring into the flames, he

said, "This night reminds me of my favorite poem. Do

you like poetry?" Without waiting for an answer, he

began reciting in a reverent voice, speaking in lively

bursts:

 

Easeful the forest, easeful its mansions perfected

Where we grow and decay no longer, our trees ever

green,

Ripe fruit never falling, streams still and transparent

As glass, as the heart in repose this lasting day.

Beneath these branches the willing surrender of move-

ment,

The business of birdsong, of love, left on the borders

With all of the fevers, the failures of memory.

Easeful the forest, easeful its mansions perfected.

And light upon light, light as dismissal of darkness,

Beneath these branches no shade, for shade is

forgotten

In the warmth of the light and the cool smell of the

leaves

Where we grow and decay; no longer, our trees ever

green.

Here there is quiet, where music turns in upon silence,

Here at the world's imagined edge, where clarity

Completes the senses, at long last where we behold

Ripe fruit never falling, streams still and transparent.

Where the tears are dried from our faces, or settle,

Still as a stream in accomplished countries of peace,

And the traveler opens, permitting the voyage of light

As air, as the heart in repose this lasting day.

Easeful the forest, easeful its mansions perfected

Where we grow and decay no longer, our trees ever

green,

Ripe fruit never falling, streams still and transparent

As air, as the heart in repose this lasting day.

Denzil stopped with a sharp exhalation, still staring

into the flames. " 'The Bird Song of Wayreth Forest.'

Quivalen Sath," he said solemnly.

Gisella watched his stony profile from her own bed-

roll. What a complicated package this man was -- at

 

Chapter 17

Damaris touched the scneaming human's shoul-

der tentatively. "If you don't mind my saying, you sound

a little unhinged, whoever you are."

Phineas was pressed against the wall of Vinsint's

room, still seated on the table, whimpering and gibber-

ing with fear. When Damaris spoke to him, he closed his

mouth and for the first time his rheumy eyes looked up at

her. "Damaris Metwinger, I presume?"

"That's me," she said pleasantly. Her light blue eyes

were as large as her smile. "Who are you?"

Trapspringer hastily made the introductions.

"I'm glad that's settled," the ogre said mildly, continu-

ing his meal preparations as if nothing untoward had

happened. "You'll find the accommodations quite com-

 

fortable, and I'm told I'm a good cook. You'll like it here,

once you get used to it."

"We can't stay." Phineas wailed, frantically straining

against the bonds at his wrists.

"And why not?" the ogre demanded, gnarly hands on

his hips.

"Not now, Phineas," hissed Trapspringer. As a rule,

the elder kender wasn't particularly cautious. But he was

a little concerned that the human's rising hysteria might

bring an abrupt end to what might prove to be a very in-

teresting experience -- the remainder of his life.

"What Phineas means," Trapspringer explained, "is

that we wouldn't want to intrude or take advantage of

your good nature."

The ogre smiled broadly, displaying a mouthful of un-

even, jagged, and broken teeth. "You wouldn't be intrud-

ing! I love company! That's why I'm here!"

"You're here just for the company?" Even Trapspringer

was confused by that.

Vinsint put a whole golden, dried fish on each of four

tin plates. "Indirectly, yes. You see, many years ago, I

came to this area with a raiding party from the Ogre-

lands, just north and east of here." He ladled a steaming

white sauce over the fish. "I was wounded by an arrow

from one of my own people, and they left me to die, I

don't know how long I lay there, delirious with pain.

"Anyway, the next thing I knew, I was lying in the

softest bed on Krynn. Some kender had found me,

brought me to their home just beyond the Ruins, and

were healing me with herbs." Vinsint's eyes misted over

with the warm memory. He shook his head happily, and

a tear splashed onto a plate.

'My wound was serious and took a long time to heal.

The kender treated me like family and taught me their

language, which answers your earlier question," Vinsint

said, looking at the blond-haired female.

'Why didn't you go home after you were healed?" Da-

maris asked, taking a bite of the delicious, steaming fish.

 

Vinsint winced. "You kender certainly are nosy, aren't

you? Well, if you must know, it was no accident that one

of my own people shot me." The thought obviously still

pained the ogre. "Apparently my people thought I wasn't

bloodthirsty enough for an ogre. Killing and terrorizing

is OK every now and then, but I don't live for it the way

they do, you know what I mean?" The ogre hunched his

massive shoulders. "They took the opportunity to get rid

of me." He sighed heavily. "So, you see, there was noth-

ing to return to."

"But that still doesn't explain why you ended up here,"

Damaris pointed out a bit snottily. She didn't like being

called nosy.

Vinsint glared at her and spoke to Trapspringer. "I de-

cided to help the people who had helped me. And what

better way than to rescue kender from the magical effects

of the grove? I'm sort of a self-appointed sentinel."

At the mention of the enchanted grove, each of Vin-

sint's visitors colored and squirmed. Phineas was a bit

hazy on the subject, but he was fairly certain he'd been

barking like a dog when Vinsint found him and dragged

him into the tunnel. The human closed his eyes slowly

now and shuddered.

Trapspringer and Damaris both suddenly realized that

the ogre had caught them in the middle of something

very intimate. Remembering now, the kender locked

gazes, then looked away uncomfortably.

Phineas pushed aside his shame to say, "But I thought

you said you wanted to help kender. Doesn't holding

them captive sort of work against that?"

"I don't keep them forever," Vinsint said darkly. "Be-

sides, I think keeping me company is a small price to pay

for being saved from the grove. I get lonely here! I'm al-

ways polite and friendly, and I serve good food."

"I suppose it's important to be polite when you're plug-

ugly," Damaris agreed with a kender's usual alacrity.

Vinsint looked at her ominously. In silence he laid

out dinner, and everyone but Phineas ate with great

 

enthusiasm.

After dinner, the ogre pushed his tin plate back and

belched loudly. "What shall we do after dinner? Cards?

Dice? Marbles? I have them all."

"Let's play 'Let the prisoners go', " Phineas suggested

under his breath. Trapspringer flashed him a look of

warning.

"You name the game," Vinsint insisted of Trapspringer.

The elder kender glanced uneasily at Phineas. "All

right. Pick-up sticks!"

Vinsint clapped his hands together with a crack that

reverberated in Trapspringer's chest cavity. "I love pick-

up sticks! It's my favorite game!"

The ogre leaped to his feet, knocking over his stool

and rattling the room, then clomped toward a pile of

boxes in a corner. Vinsint pawed through the boxes,

flinging all manner of things to the floor in his haste.

Trapspringer saw manacles, a jeweled necklace, a scroll

case, a chunk of a mildewed saddle, and other things that

he could not identify. When Vinsint stomped back,

clutching an intricately carved ivory tube in his enor-

mous hand, he cleared the dishes from the table with one

swipe of his large hand.

"Ahhhhh," he crooned, easing his bulk back onto his

righted stool. "I'll bet you've never seen a pick-up sticks

set like this one." With exaggerated care, he slid the lid off

the tube. Then, with a flourish, he slowly upended the

cylinder until the long, slim sticks tumbled out onto the

table. "Gold plated!" purred Vinsint.

Damaris, Trapspringer, and Phineas stared at the

painted sticks on the table. After a long moment's pause,

Trapspringer said, "Those aren't gold. They aren't even

painted gold."

Vinsint flicked at the end of his nose self-consciously.

"No, they aren't," he agreed, "except for these two." He

mauled the delicate sticks with his melon-sized hands,

eventually plucking out two that were vaguely gold col-

ored. "The real gold sticks disappeared one by one over

 

the years. These two are all that I have left. But it used to

be a complete set of gold-plated sticks. It sure was some-

thing to see."

Vinsint scooped up the sticks and stood them on their

ends, ready to begin the game. But then his head twisted

to the side abruptly. "Did you hear that?" He smiled and

clapped his hands. "Someone else is walking through the

grove. More company!" He jumped up and began leap-

ing excitedly in circles.

Vinsint stopped suddenly, and his smile fell. "I must

hurry before they somehow find their own way out." He

stomped over to a large cupboard that sat on the floor.

Opening the door, he hauled out yard after yard of

heavy, rusty chain, coiling it about his arm. His three

guests cringed, thinking he meant to tie them up. Instead

he took the chains to the door and dumped them on the

other side, in the tunnel.

"I know what you're thinking," he said in a sing-song

voice. 'You're thinking, 'why does he need so many

chains to lock this door?' I'll tell you. I've left a lot of ken-

der in here in my time. Always when I went into the

grove I'd lock the door, come back not ten minutes later,

and they'd be gone, 'poof.' " He snapped his big-

knuckled fingers.

"Maybe they escaped another way," suggested Trap-

springer.

"There is no other way," the ogre said simply. "The fun-

niest thing is that the kender always lock the chains back

up again, and they don't even look like they've been

touched. So, I add more chains each time. Maybe I can

slow 'em down enough until I can get back."

He took the last of the chains from the cupboard and

slipped through the door. "I'll just be gone a few minutes,

and when I come back we'll have a fifth player for pick-

up sticks. Don't try to get away, now." With that, Vinsint

closed the door, and they could hear chains being strung

on the other side.

Phineas stood up and began to pace nervously. "Do

 

you suppose he'll let us go now that he'll have new peo-

ple to keep him company?"

Damaris shook her head and her blond hair flew in a

half-circle. "It didn't sound to me like he had any inten-

tion of letting us go. You go first," she offered Trap-

springer, pointing to the jumbled sticks on the table.

"Are you just going to sit there and wait for him to

come back?" squealed Phineas.

"No, we're going to play this game," said Trapspringer,

concentrating on lifting a stick perfectly from the tangle.

"Why aren't we looking for another way out?" the hu-

man demanded, glaring at the kender on the floor.

Trapspringer shrugged. "Vinsint said there wasn't one.

But it would be interesting to explore the rest of this

place," he had to admit.

"You're just saying that because you made that

blue stick move and have to give up your turn," sulked

Damaris.

Trapspringer laughed. "I did no such thing! That was a

clean draw."

The blonde kender stuck out her lip in what she hoped

was an adorable pout. "Well, at least I can beat him!" She

pointed at the red-faced human.

Trapspringer's laughter turned into full-blown snort-

ing. He liked the way the torchlight brought out the yel-

low in Damaris's hair. "Sure you could, but humans are

lousy at pick-up sticks. Vinsint could probably beat him,

and Vinsint's hands are bigger than my head."

"That's not the point," she said with mock indignation.

Phineas rolled his eyes in disgust. "If you two would

stop billing and cooing at each other, we might find a

way out of here!" He looked to the stairway. "Those

steps have to lead somewhere!"

Trapspringer helped Damaris to her feet. She self-

consciously rubbed at her cheeks with her sleeves to re-

move any grime and straightened the broken feathers in

her hair.

Phineas and Trapspringer each took a lit torch from

 

the walls. "After you," the human said, jerking his head

from Trapspringer to the steps.

The older kender, holding Damaris's hand, set off at a

carefree pace up the stone steps that spiraled upward be-

yond the reach of the torchlight. Moss and fungus grew

through cracks in the stone walls. Phineas followed

closely, hunched over defensively, his eyes darting every-

where at once.

"You know, from the circular shape of it," Trapspringer

said, "I'll bet this is the Tower of High Sorcery. I don't

know why I didn't think of it earlier." Damaris gave his

hand a squeeze.

"Does it matter?" Phineas asked cynically.

"It means we might run into some leftover magic," Da-

maris said, obviously excited by the prospect.

Phineas stumbled over a loose stone in the ancient

stairs and grabbed for the wall. "Leftover magic? What

does that mean?"

"His voice is getting more shrill than a harpy's," Da-

maris pointed out to Trapspringer.

"This single tower is all that's left of the complex that

was created here at the dawn of time," explained Trap-

springer, "along with the other four Towers of High

Sorcery -- Wayreth, Palanthas, Istar, and some other one

I can't remember now. Several of them are still used as

centers of magic, but this one was abandoned shortly af-

ter the Cataclysm."

"Which means?" Phineas asked impatiently.

"Magic was once performed here regularly. There

might be some of it still lingering, like a spell that never

met its mark --"

"-- Or magical monsters might still be guarding the up-

per floors!" Damaris suggested enthusiastically.

"Spellbooks, scrolls, magic rings, bracelets, potions,

wands, staffs, gloves, swords --"

"I get your point," Phineas gulped. Perhaps he'd been

rash to suggest exploration. They continued spiraling

upward.

 

"Maybe a wicked sorceror, abandoned -- banished,

that's better! -- by his peers lives at the top of the

tower," Damaris continued her daydream. "Lonely and

bitter, he's practicing his art on kender! Maybe well get

magicked!"

"Except for the magic, you just described Vinsint," Phi-

neas scoffed.

"I knew I heard it somewhere," Damaris mumbled.

"I haven't been magicked since I tangled with that

goat-sucker bird," Trapspringer said wistfully.

"You met a goat-sucker bird?" Damaris asked envi-

ously. Goat-sucker birds were legendary among kender.

"I've never known anyone who's seen one! I didn't realize

they were magical. What did it look likel Did it try to

peck your eyes out?"

"Oh, yes!" Trapspringer said, a swagger in his voice.

"Of course they're magical! That's why they're so fierce.

This one came at me out of a murky swamp -- they live in

them, you know. Well, it..."

Phineas's legs ached, and he was finding it difficult to

catch his breath. They'd been climbing for some time be-

fore he thought to start counting, and even without that

he estimated they'd covered more than three hundred

steps without a rest. Wheezing, he collapsed on a step.

"I'm beginning to think Vinsint was right: There is

nothing else in here. Maybe we should turn back. There's

no telling what he'll do if he returns and sees that we've

slipped away." The human shuddered, picturing the

ogre's bulging muscles.

But the eager kender were already out of earshot.

Afraid to get too far behind, Phineas struggled to his feet

and forced himself to continue upward. Holding the

torch aloft, he thought he could see a ceiling at last.

Abruptly, the stairway emptied out into a chamber

that was slightly larger than the one far below. There the

human found Damaris and Trapspringer running to and

fro in the sumptuously appointed room.

Phineas frowned. Wasn't it odd that this place, so ob-

 

viously visited by light-fingered kender for centuries,

still had any furnishings at all? He placed his torch in a

sconce on a wall and looked about the room. One thing

quickly caught his attention.

The human stared, open-mouthed, at the large,

wooden, intricately carved desk against the wall to the

right of the stairs. Behind it was a stuffed leather chair

with a wooden carving of a dragon's head on its high

back. On the desk's blotter was a quill and a dried-up

bottle of ink, a pair of spectacles, and a wine glass, all

covered with an inch of dust.

He looked in admiration at the leather-bound volumes

that circled the room. They were all dust-covered, too,

but undamaged. Twisting his head to read the spines, he

spotted one called "Herbal Medicine," which sounded in-

teresting. He took it down and slipped it under his arm.

Damaris and Trapspringer both were busy tapping

here and there in search of hidden drawers, which they

hoped might hold gems or other interesting items.

Suddenly, Trapspringer snapped his fingers. "Some-

thing about this place looked familiar, and now I remem-

ber what it is. This room looks just like the drawing on

the other half of the map I gave Tasslehoff."

Damaris looked up from behind the desk with a self-

satisfied grin. "I found a lever for something!"

Phineas's eyebrows rose. But before he could form a

question he heard a loud "ping!"

Suddenly, the room filled with roiling, purple mist

streaked with rich emerald green. The mist extinguished

the torch in the sconce, then Trapspringer's as well. But it

produced a dim glow of its own.

"What did you do, Damaris?" thundered Phineas,

crawling behind the desk.

"I'm not sure," she breathed anxiously. Even in the fog

her eyes looked as big as tea plates. "But isn't it pretty?"

A vicious wind grew on the other side of the mist,

evaporating it in seconds, leaving behind a huge burn

scar that seared a large, rectangular hole through the

 

stone wall. Beyond, more purple and green mist roiled in

a shapeless tunnel.

Hand-in-hand, Trapspringer and Damaris were ad

vancing toward the hole.

Phineas watched in horror. He could not move hi,

feet. He could only scream. "Stop! Don't go in there!"

Being kender, of course, Trapspringer and Damaris

did not stop. "We're going to be magicked!" was all they

said as they disappeared into the fog.

Though the human was physically frozen by fear, hi!

mind raced. He saw himself with two options. He could

either go back down the tower and face a very ugly, very

angry ogre who didn't seem to like humans as much as

kender to begin with.

Or, he could throw himself into the mist after Trap-

springer and Damaris, who seemed to be inordinately

lucky, at least where life and death were concerned.

Biting his lip, Phineas ordered his legs to move around

the desk. Unconsciously drawing a deep breath and

holding it, the human flung himself into the cold, swirl-

ing mist.

 

Chapter 18

"Dear Flint," Tasslehoff began, stroking each let-

ter with great relish. He stopped and held the paper up

for inspection. The kender was very proud of his pen-

manship. Tas tapped the tip of the borrowed quill against

his chin, not quite sure what to write next. He'd never

written a "solongforever" letter, as Ligg had called it

when he brought the quill, ink, and parchment Tas had

politely requested.

Woodrow and Winnie lay in the shadows on the far

side of the pillars, still asleep this morning after the pre-

vious night's delicious meal of marinated, grilled

chicken, fresh, boiled turnips, bread pudding, and

home-brewed ale. Actually, Woodrow had passed out,

having finally taken Gisella's advice -- "Let loose,

 

Woodrow!" -- to heart. By his own confession, the fresh-

faced young man had never done more than sip ale at the

family table, so it hadn't taken much to lay him low.

Woodrow's arms stuck out at odd angles, his left cheek

was pressed to the cold floor, and blond hair fanned his

face as it rose and fell with his snoring.

Propped on his elbows on a straw mat, Tasslehoff

kicked a syncopated rhythm against the stone block

wall. The large, empty room was quiet except for the

sound of his boots against the hard wall, Woodrow's rag-

ged snoring, and Winnie's deep, even breathing.

Tas chewed the end of the quill, then pressed its tip to

the parchment again. "So long forever." He shook his

head immediately and scratched through the words. Too

depressing, he decided. Tasslehoff crumpled the paper up

and threw it into the center of the room.

He pulled up the next sheet, quickly penned the greet-

ing, then, "You're my best friend and I'll miss you a lot."

He shook his head again, his topknot bouncing on his

thin shoulders. Too mushy. The gruff, old dwarf would

surely hate that. Tas crushed the note again and sent it

flying.

Flint was a hard one, Tas decided. He would have to

think about the letter to the dwarf a little more before

writing it.

The kender pulled out another sheet of paper and no-

ticed with alarm that he had only three more left.

"Dear Tanis," he began anew. For some reason he

knew that he could say anything to the half-elf, and

Tanis would understand.

Woodrow and I -- you met Woodrow, do you remem-

ber? He's the human who works for Gisella Hornsla-

ger, the red-haired dwarf who came to fetch me back

to Kendermore. He can talk with animals, and he

knows a lot about boats, and he doesn't yell at me like

Flint.

Tas paused, then carefully crossed out the yelling part

in case the dwarf read the note over the half-elf's shoul-

 

der. He could picture them by the fire at the Inn of the

Last Home, tears flooding their eyes, clinking their mugs

together and toasting his memory.

A few interesting things have happened since I last saw

you. We met a bunch of gully dwarves who dumped

everything out of the wagon as it was going down

the cliff, then we got in a shipwreck and nearly

drowned.

But the most exciting thing was riding on a dragon!

You'd like riding a dragon, Tanis. This was not a real

one, it was built by a gnome named Bozdil -- or maybe

his brother Ligg built it. I never asked. They made this

machine called a cara... carus... a round thing that

plays really loud music and has statues of animals that

go up and down and around in circles.

Tas looked over the description of the carousel. He

was not completely satisfied with it but he couldn't think

of an easy way to make it better, and he did not want to

start the whole letter over again.

So I was riding the dragon at Oktoberfest in Roslovig-

gen and it took off! Bozdil won't tell me how he made

it come to life, and I know it didn't really, but it was

neat anyway.

The bad part is that the dragon brought us to this

tower way up in the mountains where those two

gnomes I mentioned live, and they are going to kill me

and put me on display in a glass case to fulfill their Life

Quests. They're going to do the same thing to their pet

woolly mammoth, Winnie, which I think is terrible!

Ligg is bigger and gruffer than his brother, and he

builds everything around here. Bozdil is more sensi-

tive, but he's the one who usually collects the speci-

mens.

I asked Woodrow whether a person could see things

after dying, if he's been stuffed. I mean, will I be able

to see the people who stare at me in my display case

the way I stared at the dinosaurs? Woodrow didn't

think so, but I think the next few centuries might

 

be more interesting if I could.

With only one sheet of paper remaining, Tas decided

to conclude his good-bye.

I'm running out of paper, so I have to go now. It was

really nice knowing you. I had a lot of fun with every-

one (even Raistlin, I guess), while we were all together

in Solace, Please tell Flint that I never believed him

when he called me a doorknob and that I really like

him, too.

Tas read that sentence over and decided he liked the

way it sounded. He knew he was going to have to close

soon, or he'd burst out crying, which would smear the

ink and he'd have to do it all again.

Biting the tip of his tongue in concentration, he signed

it, "Your friend, Tasslehoff Burrfoot." Choking back a

sob, he fanned the last page to hasten its drying, then

stacked the pages and folded them in half as one. On the

back of the last page he wrote "Tanis Half-Elven, Solace."

He knew that someone there would get the letter and

hold it until Tanis returned from wherever he was.

Tasslehoff was not crying because he was afraid of

dying; there was very little any kender feared. Though

they did not welcome it, they thought of death as the last

big adventure. Still, Tas hated the thought of leaving his

good friends, Tanis and Flint, forever.

Just then there came a knock at the door, which

seemed ridiculous considering that the occupants of the

room were prisoners. The wooden door swung open and

Bozdil's head appeared around it.

"Time for the kender's jar fitting!" he said merrily.

Woodrow and Winnie both snorted themselves awake

at the sound of the gnome's voice.

"Jar fittings" Tas repeated dully. "What's that?"

"LiggandIweretalkingaboutwaystoimprovethe-

exhibits, somethingtomakethemmoreinteresting." He

was speaking very quickly, avoiding Tasslehoff's eyes.

"We thought perhaps putting more of the specimens in

interesting-looking jars might help." Bozdil's voice

 

trailed off, and he continued to fidget.

"Uh oh," Winnie mumbled in the shadows. The sound

reached only Woodrow's ears. "This is just an excuse to

get him out of here without suspecting anything. No one

ever returns from a fitting."

Woodrow looked up through bleary eyes and gulped.

"Oh." Woodrow's foggy brain began to slowly clear, and

he was frozen with helpless indecision.

"Come with me, Burrfoot," instructed Bozdil. Seeing

the kender reach for his hoopak he said, "Leave your

forked weapon here. You won't need it where you're go-

ing. You can retrieve it later."

"Where's Ligg?" Tas asked the smaller of the two

gnomes, peering past him into the silent hall.

"He's preparing some things," Bozdil said vaguely, "but

he'll be along shortly."

Tasslehoff set his chin firmly, said good-bye to Winnie

and Woodrow, who seemed to be a bit muddled still,

then followed Bozdil into the torch-lit hall. The kender

walked without his usual bounce, his arm held firmly by

Bozdil's small but strong hand, a torch sputtering in the

gnome's other hand.

"So, how are you going to do 'it'?" the kender asked.

"Bonk me over the head, poison my food, hold a pillow

over my face?" He'd been thinking about "it" very clini-

cally in the last hours.

Bozdil cringed. "Don't you think talking about 'it' is,

well, in bad taste?" He patted Tas's hand. "You're better

off not knowing."

They fell silent. Tas heard a rooster crow in some far-

distant room. He could hear the near-silent "swish-

swish" of a pendulum slicing through air.

The kender did not know how far they'd walked when

they stopped before a closed door. "This is it. The jar-

fitting room," Bozdil said, his voice clipped. He pushed

open the small, simple wooden door.

Tasslehoff ducked his head in hesitantly. He let out a

high whistle of wonder and delight. Multicolored glass

 

from thousands of jars winked and sparkled in the torch-

light.

"They look like gems," he breathed. The kender

dashed into the room and skipped between two rows of

knee-high jars of all shapes and colors, gaping at every

one in unabashed fascination: sky blue, bird's egg blue,

water blue, sea green, grass green, leaf green, amber,

ruby, and dozens of other colors. "I haven't seen this

many colors since the stained-glass windows fell out of

the Rainbow Inn in Kendermore. I didn't know glass jars

came in so many shades!"

"They don't generally," Bozdil said smugly. "We blow

our own glass, so it's very clear and sturdy, but thin

enough so you can still see through it clearly. Nothing is

too good for our specimens. Do you see anything you

like?" He waved a hand to include the whole area.

The room was so full of jars that it was impossible to

tell how large the room was, or even to hazard a guess as

to how many jars were actually there. Tasslehoff sprang

from one to the next like a bee between flowers. He

stopped momentarily by a long, low amber jar with a

wide mouth cocked up at an angle.

"Go ahead, try it on for size," Bozdil encouraged the

kender.

Nodding happily, Tasslehoff hitched up his vest,

leaned over sideways, and slipped a foot into the mouth

of the jar. He was in to his hips when his feet scraped the

bottom.

"I'd have to lie down to fit in here, and I don't think I'd

like lying down forever," he said, looking about for an-

other jar to sample.

"No, no," Bozdil said agreeably. "I'm not sure amber is

your color, anyway."

Tas buzzed around the room and located some taller

jars. He slid into and out of all shapes and sizes. He elimi-

nated the fishbowl shape quickly; he was afraid he

would slop from side to side in it, which was not the im-

pression he wanted to give of kender. He liked the ele-

 

gant design of the ginger-jar. Its narrow bottom gently,

curved out toward the top, then closed back up again at

the mouth. But he hated the way it felt on his neck, like

he was suffocating. He discarded the straight, thin style

as too conventional. Besides, sitting down in it would be

impossible, he reasoned.

Weighing the options carefully, he wandered back to a

jar he had considered early on. It was cobalt blue, with

simple but classic lines: sleek yet roomy, from its slightly

flaired mouth to its tantilizingly rounded bottom. This

was a jar a kender could be proud of. Tasslehoff studied

it and tried to picture himself in it. Would he look happy

in this jar? he wondered.

"Ah, hah!" Bozdil exclaimed, clapping his hands in de-

light. "I thought you'd select blue. It looks so nice with

your leggings. By the way, is this pretty typical dress for

a kender?" he asked bluntly, plucking at Tasslehoff's

clothing.

"Sure. I guess," the kender said haltingly, caught off

guard by the question. But looking at the rich blue shade

made him happy again. "You think blue is my color?"

"Oh, definitely!" Bozdil declared vehemently. He

locked his fingers together to form a step and nodded to-

ward Tasslehoff. "Here, let me help you up."

Enraptured, Tas eagerly placed his foot in the gnome's

clasped hands. He reached for the top of the jar and nim-

bly swung himself up to sit on its wide lip. Then, with his

arms at his sides, he straightened his body and slipped to

the bottom with a sharp "tink."

The kender's breathing echoed in the jar. Tas shuffled

his feet softly, and it sounded as if his feet were right next

to his ears. He pressed his hands and nose to the blue

glass and yelled, "What do you think?" Reverberations

rang in his ears, so he muffled the sound with his fingers.

"Perfect!" Bozdil clapped his hands again happily.

'You don't even need a size adjustment. Absolutely per-

fect!"

"Huh?" Tas squinted through the glass. He could see

 

the gnome's lips moving but all he could hear was a faint

murmuring. Eternity might be a little indistinct and diffi-

cult to understand from inside this jar, Tas decided. But

this thought was interrupted when Tas felt the jar shud-

der, as if the ground, or at least the building, were shak-

ing. The expression on Bozdil's face turned to confusion.

When it happened again, much more violently, the

gnome's expression turned to anger and he spun and

bolted from the room, his puffy sleeves billowing behind

him.

Tas pounded on the glass anxiously. "Wait, Bozdil!

What's going on? Where are you going? I can't get out!"

The sound of his own shouts ricocheted around the in-

side of the jar.

Something exciting was obviously happening, and Tas

was not about to sit inside the glass bottle and miss the

fun. The problem was how to get out. While the jar itself

was roomy enough, the opening at the top was quite

small, barely large enough for Tas to slip through. He

reached up and grasped the edge and pulled himself up.

With his head and shoulders through the opening, there

was too little space left for his arm. No matter how he

twisted and pushed, his elbow just wouldn't fit through

the jar's mouth.

Irritated at the delay, Tas dropped back into the jar.

Pointing his arms straight above his head, he sprang

from his toes. His eyebrows came level with the rim of

the glass, then he dropped back into the jar. Undaunted,

he sprang again. This time his shoulders cleared the lip of

the jar and as they did, Tas threw his arms to the sides,

catching the rim of the glass under his armpits. He then

proceeded to wriggle and squirm his way up and out.

Then, suddenly, the castle shook even more violently

than before, and Tas heard a terrific crashing from some-

where nearby. The jar, now impossibly top-heavy, tee-

tered and rocked menacingly. Tasslehoff froze. The jar

did not. It swayed and tottered, wavered and wobbled

across the small, low shelf on which it stood. Just as it

 

tipped over the edge, Tas sprang clear to land on his fin-

gers and toes. The jar smashed into the floor behind him,

showering Tas with broken fragments of glass.

A hasty inspection proved to Tas that although he was

blanketed with tiny slivers and a fine powder of glass, he

was unhurt. Snatching a polishing rag from a nearby

shelf, he quickly brushed away the splinters, then dashed

through the door after Bozdil.

The gnome stood in the hallway, his back tumed to Tas-

slehoff, his gaze fixed on the end of the hall. There was a

loud thump, the castle shook slightly, and the door creaked

and groaned, followed by a tremendous crash. Pieces of

splintered door showered the floor, along with chunks of

rock smashed from the stone door frame. Through this jag-

ged breach stormed the woolly mammoth, Winnie. The

slight human, Woodrow, was spread-eagled across the

mammoth's back, hanging on by two handfuls of fur.

"Whatisthemeaningofthis?" shrilled Bozdil. "Thisisa-

museum, notanarena! Inthenameofscience, stopthis-

rampage!"

Woodrow sat up unsteadily. "We're leaving," he an-

nounced, "and we want Mr. Burrfoot." The human

shook the kender's hoopak over his head threateningly.

"Youcan'thavehim," Bozdil shot back.

"He'sanexhibit," added Ligg, scrambling over the

wreckage behind Winnie. The skin of some small lizard,

complete with feet, tail, and head, was clasped in his left

hand. "It'sanhonortobeanexhibit. It'slikeimmortality!"

"You haven't pickled him already, have you?" Wood-

row asked anxiously.

"Yes, you're too late," Ligg said quickly.

Woodrow gasped, swallowing a lump in his throat.

"Now give this foolishness up, and we'll deal light!y

with you," the bigger gnome continued, pushing up his

spectacles.

Winnie shook his head furiously, forcing Woodrow to

tighten his grip. "I won't make any deals," the mammoth

said firmly.

 

"Look at all the damage you've caused," implored Boz-

dil. "At least help us repair this and clean up the mess."

"We may be too late for Tasslehoff," Winnie sobbed,

forcing his voice to be firm, "but Woodrow and I are

coming through anyway. I've decided I don't want to be

pickled for posterity. Don't make me hurt you, Ligg, or

you either, Bozdil. You've treated me pretty well these

fifteen years, but I've decided I want to leave, and I'm

taking my new friend with me. I'll do what I have to do

to get free."

Winnie advanced rapidly toward the two brothers,

who were now side-by-side in the hall. Just then Tas em-

erged in the hallway from the jar-fitting room. He could

immediately see how angry the mammoth was. Fearing

for the two gnomes, who stood resolutely in the path of

the charging behemoth, but anxious to get away with his

friends, Tas made a quick decision. Dashing into the hall

behind the brothers Ligg and Bozdil, the kender used his

favorite trick: he knocked their heads together, which

clunked like two coconuts. The startled gnomes slumped

into Tas's arms, and he dragged them to the wall, out of

Winnie's way.

"Tasslehoff!" both human and mammoth cried at the

sight of their friend. "We thought you were dead!" The

woolly mammoth slowed down, allowing Tas to grab

two handfuls of thick fur and haul himself up the ani-

mal's flank. The kender plopped down behind Wood-

row, and Winnie continued to hurtle down the hallway.

"Boy, am I glad to see you guys, too!" Tasslehoff ex-

claimed, craning his head around to get his bearings.

"Which way is out?"

Woodrow grinned foolishly with relief. "We don't

know. But if we try enough doors, we're bound to find

one that leads outside."

"Wahoo!" screamed Tasslehoff as Winnie lowered his

head and smashed through another doorway.

"Uh oh," said both Tasslehoff and Woodrow as the

dust cleared and they saw what was in the room they had

 

just broken into. On the far side of the room was a large

door that appeared to lead outside. Between the door

and the woolly mammoth stood a giant cat -- a mountain

lion, guessed Tas -- connected to the wall by a thirty-foot

chain. "Turn around. We'll find another door," urged Tas.

But Winnie stood fast. "C'mon, Winnie, that's a

mountain lion," pleaded Woodrow. "You've been locked

up in here all your life. You don't know what a mountain

lion can do. Just back up and we'll find another way out."

But Woodrow underestimated the woolly mammoth.

In spite of years of imprisonment, Winnie's instincts

were still honed. He charged straight toward the moun-

tain lion, which had never seen anything as massive as

Winnie. The cat crouched on its belly and slinked to the

side, expecting to leap on Winnie's flank when the wall

forced the mammoth to stop. Winnie passed the lion, hit

the wall, and kept right on going, smashing completely

through the brick and out into the sunlight beyond.

And he did not stop there, either! The frantic woolly

mammoth bounded down the slope, away from the cas-

tle, skidding in the dirt, whooping and hollering and

waving his trunk.

Farther down the mountain, Gisella and Denzil rode

single file, Gisella in the lead, along the narrow, winding

trail. As they rode out from the shadow of a towering

boulder, Gisella looked ahead and spotted the silhouette

of a tower against the morning sky. She halted, waiting

for Denzil to catch up.

They rounded yet another bend in the twisting, rock-

strewn trail. Gisella spotted something and stood in the

stirrups to get a better look. A structure, or series of

structures, like no other she had ever seen -- four towers

thrust upward from the side of the mountain, staggered

irregularly. Beneath the towers, a castle appeared to

grow out of the side of the mountain, or perhaps the

mountain had crumbled down on top of the castle. She

 

thought she saw two figures riding atop a boulder. Then

she realized that the boulder was, in fact, some sort of

enormous, shaggy animal. In a few moments, Denzil

reined up alongside her. He, too, straightened up and

shaded his eyes with his hand.

"Some sort of creature, carrying two riders," he said.

"They seem to be running from that stronghold. Could

they be your companions?"

Gisella squinted. Fortunately, the sun was behind her.

"It's hard to be sure at this distance. The one in front

looks a lot shorter than the other one... and he's defin-

itely carrying a hoopak. OK, that's Woodrow and Burr-

foot. Do you suppose that's another wooden animal

they're riding?" Gisella laughed girlishly at her own joke.

Denzil ignored her question, saying only, "We'll wait

for them here."

"Want to make the time pass more quickly?" Grinning,

Gisella slid her hand across Denzil's leg and patted his

rump.

Denzil lowered himself to his saddle. Gisella snatched

her hand away to keep it from being pinned beneath him.

"No," he replied. With a flick of the reins, he directed his

horse forward to a spot where he could edge off the trail

behind an outcropping.

Pouting slightly, Gisella rode up to him. "What's the

matter with you? You've been acting strangely all morn-

ing."

"Get off the road," ordered Denzil. "Back here, behind

me." He unslung his crossbow and cocked it, then drew a

bolt from a pouch attached to his saddle. "Keep your

mouth shut and stay out of the way."

Gisella's arms dropped to her lap and her petulance

disappeared, replaced by indignation. "When did I enlist

in your army? And what have you got in mind here, any-

way? Those are the people we came up here to rescue.

Start waving that shooter around cocked and loaded --

and you'll end up hurting somebody."

"Hurting people is what I do best!" he snarled. "Now

 

get behind me unless you want to be the one hurt."

"Well, isn't this typical?" fumed Gisella. "Give a guy a

tumble and right away he thinks he's been knighted. I've

got some news for you, Dunce-el. Gisella Hornslager

doesn't bow, scrape, or take orders, especially from

somebody whose eyebrows meet in the middle. Now

you can either change your tone with me or turn around

and trot back to town."

Denzil swung the crossbow to point directly at Gisel-

la's chest. His face betrayed no emotion. "I'm here for the

kender. As long as I leave with him, what happens to ev-

eryone else is unimportant. Whether you live or die is the

same to me. Now toss the little dagger I know you keep

strapped to your thigh on the ground, be quiet, and keep

out of sight, or I will silence you."

Gisella sucked in her lip for a long moment. Was this

real? She had spent a terrific night with this man and a

moment ago she was looking forward to quite a few

more. Now he was pointing a crossbow at her and telling

her he would pull the trigger with no remorse. He was

also talking about Tasslehoff as if the kender was a valu-

able commodity. Was Denzil some kind of bounty

hunter? Gisella decided that defiance might be inappro-

priate, for now. Cursing herself for getting involved with

someone she knew so little about, she obediently

dropped her weapon and guided her horse into the nook

behind Denzil's.

Ignoring her, Denzil pulled a strip of cloth from his

pocket and tied it around the leather protecter on his left

forearm. Fishing a handful of crossbow bolts from his

saddle pouch, he deftly slid them, one by one, under the

cloth band. With growing horror, Gisella realized that

Woodrow and Burrfoot were riding into an ambush.

Heroics were not Gisella's stock in trade. In her trav-

els, she'd had to defend herself more than once. But

drunken guildsmen and starving goblins were a far cry

from a trained killer. Wistfully, Gisella eyed her dagger,

lying on the ground. There was nothing she could do.

 

Tasslehoff was laughing.

"Did you see the look on that mountain lion's face

when Winnie smashed the wall? It was one of the funni-

est things I've ever seen. He looked like he'd bitten into

an overripe skunkberry."

"I wasn't scared!" wheezed Winnie. "I was sure I'd be

scared, but I wasn't. I just put my head down and,

smash!"

Woodrow was twisted halfway around on Winnie's

back, peering back up toward the castle. "I don't see any-

body following us. Why do you suppose they aren't fol-

lowing us? They have a dragon, after all."

"Maybe they're invisible," suggested Tas, twisting

around to see for himself. "I don't see anything either.

That's usually a good sign that something is invisible,

when you can't see it. What do you think, Winnie?

Could they make themselves and their dragon invisible?"

Winnie considered that for a few seconds. He really

didn't know much about invisibility. "Well, I never saw

them while they were invisible. Does that mean any-

thing?"

"It's not definitive," said Tas. "Although, if you'd seen

them invisible, then at least we'd know for sure."

Winnie had been loping along at a good rate since

leaving the tower. Abruptly, however, he slowed.

"There's something ahead of us. I can smell it. It's differ-

ent... There is something alive up there."

Gisella tugged a lock of her hair. Denzil, still seated on

his horse, had his crossbow braced on top of a rock and

was sighting on something. She could not reach her dag-

ger, and she had nothing else to attack Denzil with. But

she had to stop this foul deed.

Suddenly, she had an idea. Gisella spurred her draft

horse forward, waving her arms. Denzil was caught

 

completely off guard.

"It's Miss Hornslager," shouted Woodrow, pointing

down the trail some fifty yards. "She found us! Hooray!"

But even as Woodrow cheered, Gisella grimaced and

clutched her side. The human's joy turned to horror

when Gisella cried out, swayed in her saddle, clutched

her side, then slumped backward and tumbled to the

ground.

"Winnie, get over there, fast!" pleaded Woodrow.

"We've got to see what's wrong with her!"

Winnie took two tentative steps forward, then

stopped. "We don't know what's there."

"Miss Hornslager is there, and she's hurt."

Woodrow swung his leg across the mammoth's back

and slid to the ground. As he dropped below the animal's

furry back, a crossbow bolt whistled past Tasslehoff's ear

and shot harmlessly through the space Woodrow had

just occupied. Tasslehoff had heard the sound enough

times before to know what it was.

"Crossbow!" yelled the kender as he flattened himself

across Winnie's back. Lifting the mammoth's ear, Tas

told him, "Rush forward, Winnie. If we stand back,

they'll pick us off one by one. Rush forward, now!"

The huge animal hesitated for a moment; then, with a

toss of its shaggy head, bounded down the trail. Tas was

almost thrown to the ground by the unexpected burst of

speed. He clutched tightly to the thick fur of Winnie's

back, bouncing furiously.

As they closed in on Gisella's still form, Tas spotted a

face behind a crossbow, perched atop a rock, only a

heartbeat before another bolt was loosed. Tas heard the

"thud" and felt Winnie stumble slightly. Looking down,

he saw the feathered shaft sticking out of Winnie's flank,

just inches from Tas's thigh. But Winnie pressed on, and

in seconds they had covered the remaining distance to

the assassin's niche.

After firing his third bolt, Denzil had dropped the

crossbow and yanked his heavy, curved sword from its

 

scabbard. The metal-shod end of Tas's hoopak whistled

toward his skull. Denzil's scimitar deflected the attack,

knocking a divit from the wooden shaft of Tas's weapon.

But he had no easy means to attack the kender himself,

as the woolly mammoth stood at least four feet taller

than Denzil's horse. The kender's height advantage re-

duced Denzil to fending off attack after attack as his

horse backed slowly down the trail.

Woodrow reached Gisella at last. Her horse was paw-

ing the ground nervously several feet away. Woodrow

knelt beside the dwarf and gingerly rolled her from her

side onto her back. Then he saw the small, red hole in her

wool vest, just below the armpit. At such short range,.

the crossbow bolt had buried itself completely in her

side. Choking on his own emotion, Woodrow pressed

his ear to the dwarf's still chest, then held his cheek over

her mouth, hoping to feel even the slightest breath.

But there was nothing.

Spinning around, Woodrow saw a burly man on a

horrid horse -- a nightmare -- locked in a vicious melee

with Tasslehoff. The man's sword was not long enough

to reach the kender atop Winnie, and Winnie could not

get close enough to the man's thrashing horse for Tassle-

hoff to strike effectively.

Leaving Gisella's body, Woodrow dashed toward the

fight, snatching up the dwarf's dagger on the way. As Tas

aimed another blow at Denzil, Winnie struck out with

his trunk, wrapping it around the man's heavy boot.

With a tug, he wrenched Denzil's foot from the stirrup,

throwing him off balance. Seeing his opening, Tas thrust

the pointed end of his hoopak, spearlike, straight for

Denzil's chest. The metal point struck just below his rib

cage, forcing the air from the man's lungs and toppling

him from his saddle. Armed with Gisella's dagger,

Woodrow stabbed toward the falling body and felt the

blade sink in. Denzil hit the ground with a thump. There

was blood on Woodrow's dagger.

Tasslehoff was ready to slide down from Winnie's

 

spine when Woodrow scrambled back up. "Let's go!" the

human barked. "We've got to get out of here before the

gnomes catch us again. They couldn't have missed all

this racket."

"Oh, oh, I can't be captured again. I just can't," Winnie

moaned, launching himself back down the trail.

But Tasslehoff shouted, "Wait, who was that guy? And

what about Gisella -- don't we have to wait for her?"

"Gisella's dead," spat Woodrow, fighting back angry

tears, "and so is the man who attacked us!"

Tasslehoff looked stricken. "Gisella can't be dead!

How do you know?"

"She's dead, Mr. Burrfoot." Woodrow sobbed. "She

was hit in the side by a crossbow bolt. I stabbed the man

who killed her -- the one you were fighting as you

knocked him off his horse. See, there's still blood on Gi-

sella's dagger! Please, Mr. Burrfoot," he begged, "let's go!

We can't do anything for either of them, so the best thing

to do is get away."

"He's right," Winnie whimpered, sad for his new

friends. "We can't let Bozdil and Ligg find us here."

"I don't care about the gnomes!" hollered Tas. "We

can't just leave her back there. Stop, Winnie! Turn

around!"

But Winnie continued charging down the mountain-

side. "I can't, Tasslehoff. I just can't. It's too risky. The

gnomes...."

"Kender don't leave their friends!" Tas cried in an-

guish. Quicker than Woodrow could react, Tasslehoff

tossed his leg across Winnie's back and was on the

ground, rolling to break his fall. In a flash he was back

on his feet and charging uphill toward Gisella's body.

Woodrow's hands shook as he tried to slow Winnie.

Every nerve in the human's body told him to fly from this

place as quickly as possible. Yet Tasslehoff Burrfoot was

his friend, and if Woodrow could not go back, at least he

would wait.

As Tasslehoff approached Gisella's body, his breath

 

caught in his lungs and his eyes blurred. Her horse trot-

ted forward to meet the kender, who gathered up the ani-

mal's reins. The red-haired dwarf's limp body lay some

ten paces from the man who had shot her. His horse

stood over him. The animal snorted and stamped as Tas

drew near. When Tas saw the wound in Gisella's side, he

knew she was indeed dead. Summoning his strength, he

gently lifted the body of Gisella Hornslager into his arms

and laid it across the saddle on her horse.

His steps leaden, Tas turned and directed Gisella's

horse, bearing her body, back down the trail to where

Woodrow and Winnie waited anxiously. No one spoke

as Tas tied the horse's reins to Winnie's tail and climbed

back on the mammoth, behind Woodrow. Tas could

hear nothing in his mind but the lone, droning drum beat

of a kender funeral procession as they rode to the east

down the mountainside.

They did not look back.

If they had, they would have seen a large man stir on

the dusty road near the gnomes' tower.

They buried the flame-haired dwarf by moonlight in a

wooded clearing within earshot of a babbling stream.

Tasslehoff's voice broke over the strains of the Kender

Mourning Song.

Always before, the spring returned.

The bright world in its cycle spun

In air and flowers, grass and fern,

Assured and cradled by the sun.

Always before, you could explain

The turning darkness of the earth,

And how that dark embraced the rain,

And gave the ferns and flowers birth.

Already I forget those things,

And how a vein of gold survives

 

The mining of a thousand springs,

The seasons of a thousand lives.

Now winter is my memory,

Now autumn, now the summer light --

So every spring from now will be

Another season into night.

"I'm glad Fondu isn't here to see this," said Woodrow.

"He's better off rampaging through Rosloviggen." Wip-

ing away a tear, the human straightened Gisella's auburn

tresses and brushed the dust from her pale cheeks be-

cause it would have mattered to her.

Tasslehoff's hoopak served as a simple marker for the

grave.

"We're going on to Kendermore -- for Gisella."

 

Part 3

 

Chapter 19

Trapspringer reached for Damaris, but he

couldn't find her in the swirling green and purple mist.

He felt as if his lungs were being pushed out the front of

his chest. Butterflies seemed to be swarming inside his

stomach, fluttering their wings all at once and tickling

him unmercifully. He giggled, but he heard no sound.

He could see nothing but roiling, white mist streaked

with amethyst and emerald, as his limbs flailed help-

lessly. Wherever he was, he was not touching ground,

yet he did not feel as if he were quite floating, either.

Suddenly Trapspringer became aware that the hair

on his body was growing, and his fingernails were

stretching. He felt weightless and unattached, but at the

same time an enormous pressure bore down on him.

 

Then, as if a great harness had been unbuckled and the

doors flung open, the pressure and the mist disappeared

and Trapspringer lay sprawled on top of Damaris

Metwinger. She pushed him away frantically, and to-

gether they stood and looked around, unconsciously

holding hands.

Both kender dropped their jaws in amazement, and

Trapspringer shook his head. We've plummeted into a

child's shadowbox diorama, the elder kender thought.

For that is what the land around them most resem-

bled. They stood at the crossing of two narrow, shiny

black streets that looked and smelled remarkably like

anise licorice. Neat little houses of golden brown with

scrolling, white trim -- iced gingerbread? -- were set at

regular intervals along the streets. Every house was

identically landscaped with multicolored gumdrop

bushes, lollipop trees, nut-cookie sidewalks, and all-

day-sucker flowers. Everything was in perfect kender

scale.

Though there was plenty of light, there was no sun --

no sky, for that matter, just a swirling mass of pastel

mists that formed a ceiling of sorts over the strange

landscape. It was as if the town had, in fact, been con-

structed in a box.

Trapspringer and Damaris spun about, their excite-

ment growing.

"Can it be real?" she breathed.

"Only one way to find out!" Trapspringer said

brightly. He led them to a small, pink-and-white striped

bush and broke off a crunchy leaf. Snap! He popped it

in his mouth. "Strawberry and vanilla taffy!" he pro-

claimed, snapping off another piece for her.

"Harkul Gelfig, what do you mean, eating my bush?"

an angry voice called from the depths of the nearest

house. Trapspringer and Damaris jumped back guiltily.

"Why, you're not Gelfig!" The man peered through a

little grate in his taffy front door. The door swung open

and a heavy-set kender waddled down the cookie walk.

 

"The name's Trapspringer Furrfoot, not Gelfig What-

ever-you-said," Trapspringer said pleasantly. "Pleased

to meet you." He held out his hand. "Where are we, by

the way?" He looked around at the small village.

"I'm Lindal Hammerwart." The kender, one of the

most obese either Damaris or Trapspringer had ever

seen, took Trapspringer's hand and broke into a jowly

grin. "And you're in Gelfigburg! Hey, everyone, we've

got newcomers!" he hollered.

It was as if the cry opened floodgates. Doors flew

back, their lemondrop knobs slamming into ginger-

bread siding. The box-world shook as dozens of the fat-

test kender ever seen waddled and jiggled themselves

toward Trapspringer and Damaris. The two were sur-

rounded in no time and bombarded with an unintelligi-

ble stream of high-pitched, excited questions.

"What are your names? The Welcoming Committee

needs them for the cake."

"Are those boots pigskin or cowhide?"

"Are you bothered by indigestion?"

"Where are you from?"

"Do you have any food made from anything besides

sugar?"

"What an interesting color for a cape! May I borrow

it sometime?"

Laughing and shaking hands, Trapspringer tried his

best to answer all the questions, unable to squeeze in

one of his own.

Suddenly a multicolored streak of light shot down

from the swirling clouds above and touched the ground

for a heartbeat or two, as if it was solid. Then, as i

quickly, it receded back into the mist, leaving a very un-

steady Phineas standing a few yards from the cluster of

kender.

"What in hell was that foggy tunnel?" he grumbled,

while jarring the side of his head with the heel of his

hand. He looked at the black licorice beneath his feet

and jumped backward. "And what in hell is this?" Then

 

he heard the chatter and looked up, his face turning

crimson. "Who in hell are you?"

"A human," one of the kender muttered above the

twitter. "I don't think we have one of those, do we? And

a vulgarian! I don't suppose he can help being a human.

Still, didn't we outlaw vulgarity?" The crowd of

weighty kender turned in on itself to discuss the matter.

Phineas pushed his way through the fleshy crowd

surrounding Trapspringer and Damaris. He looked

more than a little relieved at the sight of them.

"Where are we?" he asked, trying hard to control his

voice so that Damaris could not accuse him of sounding

"unhinged."

He had never even imagined such a place. Who

would build an entire village out of candy? Who, in-

deed, he mused, watching the throng of unusually mas-

sive kender. Perhaps this was the stage for a play, and

these kender were but actors with padding in their

clothing? But then how do they get their cheeks to puff

out so convincingly? he wondered.

No, these were genuinely plump kender, he con-

cluded after bumping into a few of them. Then he no-

ticed something that made his breath catch in his

throat. These kender were nonchalantly breaking off

pieces of houses, plants, and fences and stuffing them

into their mouths while they continued their discussion.

"I believe that one there --" Damaris pointed to the

first kender they'd met, the one who looked to be wear-

ing two pair of pants sewn together "-- said this place

was called Gelfigborough, or something like that."

"That's right, Miss," said the very man who'd told

them that, spinning around. "Gelfigburg. Named after

our founder here, Harkul Gelfig." The kender put his

meaty arm around the shoulder of a gray-haired kender

wearing pants similar to his friend's. Both men beamed.

"But where is 'here'? " Trapspringer asked.

The kender named Harkul stepped forward, his face

serious. He rocked back and forth, heel to toes. his

 

hands unable to clasp behind his back. "We're not sure

about that, exactly. There are those of us who think that

we're dead and that this is Reorx's pantry."

"But I don't worship Reorx," said Phineas.

The village's founder frowned. "That's interesting.

Somebody write that down."

"But the human was with these kender when he en-

tered the foggy tunnel," said a voice from the crowd.

"Maybe he was just sucked along in their vortex."

"Another good point! Somebody write that down,

too." Harkul rubbed his hammy hands eagerly. "I think

we're on to something here! We haven't had a good par-

adox in... oh, a long time, I'd say."

"How long have you all been here?" Damaris asked,

noticing the range of ages in the faces of the crowd.

"Three days!"

"A fortnight!"

"One week!"

"Four months!" That came from Gelfig.

"You're the founding father, and you've only been

here four months?" asked Phineas.

Gelfig looked insulted. "It's been a very productive

stay, thank you! Why, I've accomplished more in that

time than that silly leprechaun mayor, Raleigh, has

done in nearly a year."

"You mean 'did' in a year," Damaris Metwinger, the

mayor's daughter, dutifully pointed out.

Gelfig looked annoyed. "Has Raleigh been replaced

already? I knew he wouldn't last the year!"

Damaris looked confused. "But my father, Meldon

Metwinger, has been mayor these last several months.

I've seen the likeness of this Raleigh you mention on the

wall in the council chamber. He was mayor just after

the Cataclysm, wasn't he?"

"That's right," Gelfig agreed. "Personally, I had no

problem with Raleigh; he seemed effective enough, for

a leprechaun. And he once treated me fairly on Audi-

ence Day. You say there's a Mayor Metwinger now?"

 

Phineas was focusing on Gelfig's words. "Are you

trying to tell us you knew Raleigh?" His voice was

barely above a whisper.

"Of course I knew him!" Gelfig snorted. "I was nearly

elected to his council, being one of Kendermore's pre-

mier chocolatiers. Of course, the city is so young, com-

petition isn't too bad yet," he felt compelled to admit.

"What year do you think this is?" Phineas asked, his

eyebrows knitted together.

Gelfig looked at him as if he were an idiot. "Why, it's

6 A.C., of course. What year do you think it is?"

Flabbergasted, Phineas opened his mouth to speak

when five of the stout kender leaped forward to give an-

swers of their own.

"27!"

"45!"

"68!"

"129!"

"234!" the throng of kender chorused.

"Try 346," Phineas said dryly when the hubbub qui-

eted down. "But none of you have been here for more

than four months?"

The kender all shook their heads silently.

"Sounds like a time warp to me," Trapspringer an-

nounced.

"Huh?" Phineas grunted.

"Sure, it's an old trick," Trapspringer explained. "You

take a pocket dimension or a demi-plane, or break a

chunk off a regular plane, surround it in its own singu-

larity, and then either slow down or speed up the local

time. Or even make it run backward."

"So are you saying we're all a lot older than we

think?"

Biting his lip, Trapspringer nodded. Several of the fe-

male kender swooned.

But Phineas ]ooked skeptical. "How do you know all

this?"

Trapspringer pumped himself up proudly, hooked his

 

thumbs in his collar, and rocked back on his heels.

"When I was a prisoner of the frost giants, they locked

me up with a wizard from another dimension. He told

me all about this stuff."

"When were you held prisoner by frost giants?"

asked Damaris, wide-eyed.

"It doesn't matter," Phineas snapped.

"I disagree," joined Gelfig. "I'd very much like to hear

about the frost giants." A murmur of approval swept

through the crowd, along with cries of "Story! Story!"

Trapspringer readjusted his pouches and belts to get

comfortable and seemed about to begin when Phineas

interrupted.

"I would much rather figure out what this place is and

how we get out of it," he shouted. The human glared at

the assembled kender, who grumbled and shuffled their

feet by way of complaint. "Who's been here the long-

est?"

Gelfig raised his hand. "I was the first one here."

"When you first got here, did you find any clues sug-

gesting where all this..." Phineas groped for a word,

waved his arms around him, and gave up. "... all this,

came from?"

"Oh, it wasn't like this then." The kender chorus sup-

plied a round of "No's" and a good deal of head shak-

ing.

"Now we're getting somewhere. What was it like,

'four months' ago?" asked Phineas.

Gelfig plucked a chocolate tulip and sipped the thick

syrup collected in the flower, then launched into his

story enthusiastically. "You should have seen this place

then. What a dump! There was almost nothing here,

nothing at all. Just a flat, featureless, gray nothing."

The kender chorus shook their heads and sighed.

"I wandered around for a few hours and was just

thinking about leaving when I tripped over something.

I might have fallen and broken my nose if not for my

catlike reflexes." Gelfig assumed a stealthy stance, up

 

on his toes with his pudgy arms out, to emphasize his

grace. It seemed to be a crowd pleaser, though at his

current bulk, the pose looked mighty ridiculous to Phi-

neas. The human took advantage of the timely pause to

pluck a tulip, curious himself as to how it might taste.

"I spun around to see what I had tripped on, but there

was nothing there! 'This is strange,' I said, so on my

hands and knees I groped around a bit. And sure

enough, what do you suppose I found?"

"AN INVISIBLE CHEST!" shouted the assembled

kender, startling Phineas so badly that he crushed the

tulip in his fingers. Thick, sticky, chocolate goo oozed

down his forearm.

"That's right, an invisible chest," continued Gelfig.

"Bound with invisible chains and sealed with three in-

visible locks. Now, there was something to do!"

The kender chorus oooed and aaahhed.

"Removing the chains didn't take long; a child could

have done it. The first lock was simple enough, too. I

tripped it open with my needle file."

As he was licking his hand clean, Phineas began get-

ting caught up in the story. He knew the tower was sup-

posed to contain a powerful, magical treasure. And

here was Gelfig, describing an invisible, three-lock box

concealed inside a pocket dimension! What better hid-

ing place could there be?

"The second lock proved a bit more difficult," the

kender continued. "It being invisible only made things

worse. I worked at it for over an hour, and finally I

heard those tumblers click.

"By now, I was getting hungry and thirsty, but there

was nothing here to eat or drink. I cut a flap of leather

from my map pouch and chewed on that so I could con-

centrate. And that last lock took every ounce of con-

centration I could muster. It seemed impervious to

needle files, invulnerable to penknives, invincible

against wires. Finally, the only tool I had left was 'old

number three,' my charmed pick. I gave it a kiss for

 

luck, slipped it into that lock, and gave it a twist."

The group of kender gasped in anticipation.

"Nothing happened. I twisted it left, and I twisted it

right, and I pushed it in and pulled it out, I tried it back-

ward and upside down. That lock was locked and that's

all there was to it.

"At least that's the way an ordinary kender might

have looked at it. But I'm no ordinary kender. I kept,i.

that lock. I had that piece of pouch leather chewi

down to nothing, so I cut off another. I worked until I i

chewed that down to nothing, and another, and a.-'-

other, until I'd eaten my whole map pouch. And still

that lock wouldn't open.

"Then, suddenly, all in a flash, the answer hit me.

Since that lock was invisible, I could see my pick inside

it. That didn't do me much good because I couldn't see

the lock. But in my tool pouch I had a tiny tube of pow-

dered lead. Putting the tube into the keyhole, I blew

into the exposed end and shot just the tiniest bit of lead

into that lock. Lo and behold, for just a second, before

that lead powder turned invisible like the rest of the

lock, it outlined the tumblers! I could see how that lock

worked, and oh, it was a beauty. It took 'old number

three' two flicks and a nudge, and that lock popped

right open."

The crowd of kender stared, their mouths hanging

open, breathing in every word. Undoubtedly they had

all heard this story dozens of times before -- many of

them mouthed the words along with Gelfig -- and they

would hear it dozens of times again, and each telling

would be as exciting as the first.

"What was in the box?" asked Damaris, unable to

stand the anticipation any longer.

"When that lid sprang open, the enchantment was

broken and the whole thing turned visible again. My

hands had already told me what the box looked like; a

smooth pine box with an arched lid reinforced by thick

iron bands. Inside it was a single item: A fine, steel

 

 

chain necklace, with a steel triangle suspended from it. I

picked it up and slid it over my head. That's when it

happened."

"What happened?" prodded Phineas, the hardened

sticky mess on his hand long forgotten. "What did it

do?"

Gelfig straightened up, put his arms at his sides.

"Suddenly I was surrounded by a field of caramel apple

trees. I was terribly hungry, and coincidentally that is

what I'd been thinking about before I put the necklace

on -- caramel apples."

At the mention of food, the tubby kender all reached

without looking, snapped off a piece of landscape, and

popped them into their mouths.

"Without really understanding what was happening,"

Gelfigburg's founder continued, "I thought about how

nice it would be to have some peppermint schnapps to

go with those caramel apples and, poof! A stream of

peppermint schnapps appeared, bubbling right past my

feet. I don't think I need to say that this was pretty ex-

citing!"

Phineas sprang forward and grabbed the short, wide

kender by his tightly stretched lapels. "Where is the

necklace?" he demanded, pawing through the folds of

clothing around Gelfig's neck. "What have you done

with it?"

Trapspringer leaped between the two, prying Phi-

neas's hands loose and pushing the human away. "Settle

down, Phineas," he soothed. "Don't interrupt the story."

Gelfig smoothed down his ruffled shirt and settled his

shoulders while the rest of the kender scowled at Phi-

neas. "It's right here, if you must know. I used to wear

it, but it won't fit around my neck anymore."

Phineas's eyes were as big as Gelfig's caramel apples

when the kender pulled a slender chain from an inside

pocket of his vest. A small steel triangle, no bigger than

Phineas's thumbnail, dangled from it. Phineas turned

white.

 

 

With his voice trembling, Phineas asked, "Could I see

it? I know a little about such things. I may be able to tell

you where it came from," he lied.

Gelfig looked at the chain, then shrugged and ex-

tended it to the human. "Sure, why not?" Phineas

reached out a shaking hand, snatched the chain, and

immediately wished himself into an enormous, gem-

encrusted castle filled with rich tapestries and beautiful

women and servants to cater to his every whim. When

he opened his eyes, he saw Gelfig still peering at him,

saying, "It doesn't work any more anyway."

Phineas collapsed to the ground near some cotton.

candy bushes, squishing an intricate mosaic made of

cream-filled pastries.

"It doesn't work," he mumbled. Then he glared at

Gelfig. "You used it up! How could you use up the

whole thing? What could you have wanted that was so

important you used up all the magic?"

"Hey, look at this place," Gelfig boasted, sweeping hi

arm to take in the whole panorama. "You think this was

easy? It took a lot of tries to get this just right."

Phineas doubled over and hugged his knees, sobbing

gently. He was surrounded by bloated kender in an un-

believable candyscape. He'd risked everything to get

here, and it was all for nothing. Now he was penniless,

homeless, and hopeless.

It wasn't the first time.

The kender drifted away, absorbed in retelling

Gelfig's famous story and devouring the scenery, get-

ting the latest news of Kendermore from Damaris, who,

from her enthusiastic munching, seemed to be fitting

right into Gelfigburg society. Phineas felt a hand on his

shoulder and looked up to see Trapspringer munching

on a piece of cinnamon fence. The kender plunked

down next to him. They sat that way for several min-

utes. Finally, Trapspringer broke the silence.

"That's what you were looking for all along, wasn't

it?" he asked. "I finally put all the pieces together. My

 

nephew, the marriage, the map -- it was all because that

map I gave you said something about 'a treasure of

powerful magic'."

Phineas heaved a heavy sigh.

"Don't take it too hard," advised the kender. "Trea-

sures come and go -- I should know -- but this...," he

said, holding up a solid butterscotch mushroom, "...

is the sort of thing you don't find every day."

Phineas raised his head and stared at the mushroom

through unblinking, red-rimmed eyes.

"I'm leaving," the human said flatly, and struggled to

his feet. "Where's the exit?" He started walking down

the licorice street toward Gelfig and the laughing, jok-

ing cluster of kender, who were trailing bits of pastry

behind.

"Hey, Gelfig," Phineas shouted, "here's your trinket

back. Now, how do I get out of here?"

Suddenly the kender, who had been jovial and bois-

terous moments before, grew sullen and quiet. They

paused before Gelfig's gingerbread house. Gelfig

coughed self-consciously and pretended he had not

heard the question.

"What's the matter?" asked Phineas, suddenly ner-

vous. He glanced at Trapspringer, who shrugged and

looked back to Gelfig.

Finally, Gelfig turned toward them. "Umm, I guess I

forgot to mention this, but we haven't found any way

to leave."

"What!?" screamed Phineas.

"I said, there..."

"There's no way out!?"

"I didn't say that, exactly," explained Gelfig. "I said

we haven't found any way out."

"That's a damned fine distinction to be making at this

point!" thundered Phineas. He turned and stomped

back up the licorice street, then spun back to face

Gelfig. "And I hate licorice!"

 

Chapter 20

The morning after burying Gisella, Woodrow,

and Tasslehoff rode Winnie in gloomy silence. The

Khalkist Mountains gave way to foothills. At dusk the

human and the kender reached the exotic port city of

Khuri Khan, across the Khurman Sea and far away from

their final destination of Kendermore.

The brilliant rose-orange sunset at their backs re--

flected off the gold-leafed onion domes that rose majesti--

cally into the darkening eastern sky. Date and coconut

palms swayed gently in the breeze. Women in colorful,

gauzy outfits hurried through the streets on their way

home, baskets perched on their heads. Merchants in ba-

tik head scarves, wraplike garments, and blousy pants

gathered at the ankles, made their final deals of the day

 

perched from the backs of their elephant mounts.

"See, Winnie, you won't look too out of place in this

city," Tasslehoff pointed out. The mammoth had been ex-

pressing concern since they spotted the city in the dis-

tance. "These elephants don't have nearly as much hair

as you do, but then, I don't know anything that does.

Maybe you can meet more of your own kind here."

"I don't think so," Winnie whined. "Lig and Bozdil al-

ways told me that I was the last one like me." A giant tear

rolled down the mammoth's big, rubbery cheek. The city

frightened him, and being reminded that he was all alone

in the world made him even more despondent.

"That's terrible," Woodrow said, genuinely sympa-

thetic. He gave the mammoth's neck an affectionate pat.

The big fellow had saved their lives twice already, and

the young human hated to see him cry.

"Maybe some food will cheer us up," Tas suggested.

They pooled their resources, which amounted to two

copper pieces from Woodrow and an emerald ring, a

small cut of amber, and some pointy teeth from Tassle-

hoff.

"That looks just like the baroness's ring, from back in

Rosloviggen!" Woodrow exclaimed.

Tas looked surprised, then colored slightly. "Why, I

think you're right. I wonder how it got in my pocket? It

must have fallen in somehow, perhaps when she passed

me a roll at dinner. Anyway, we may as well pawn it," he

said, without breaking stride.

"We can't do that!" Woodrow's shaggy blond mane

shook furiously. "It's not ours! That would be stealing."

"No it wouldn't," disagreed Tas. "Stealing is when you

take something, not when you pawn it." Winnie agreed

with the cockeyed logic.

Woodrow's face was dark. "You're both right, the

pawning comes after the stealing."

"Exactly! Since I didn't steal it --"

"-- it just fell into your pocket --"

"That's right. We'd just be borrowing it. We can buy it

 

back when we have more money, and then return it to

the baroness."

"I don't know," the human hedged.

Tasslehoff grew tired of Woodrow's reluctance. Jutting

his nose in the air defiantly, he said, "Well, do what you

want, but I'm going to sleep in a nice, warm bed tonight,

and Winnie will be staying in some comfortable stable

filled to the brim with... well, with whatever he wants

it filled to the brim with."

"Oh, all right!" Woodrow gave in. Another night in

the woods didn't appeal much to him, either.

Pawnshops were plentiful in Khuri Khan, as was usual

in a port city. Tasslehoff received seventy steel pieces for

the emerald ring, which he thought was much less than

its true value, but still a lot of money. In any case, it

would more than cover their immediate needs.

They found an inn by the waterfront, with a very large

stable around the corner willing to board a woolly mam-

moth. Though frightened to be without his new friends,

Winnie seemed relieved to be sheltered from the noise

and evening bustle of the city.

After a filling repast of curried pork with yellow rice

and exotic plum wine, the kender and the human

dragged themselves upstairs to their quarters above the

taproom, sparsely furnished with two beds and a cham-

ber pot. Both fell into an exhausted sleep, fully clothed,

their breathing in sync with the deep-throated harbor

bells outside their window.

It was well past midmorning when Tas and Woodrow

stumbled out of bed and retrieved an anxious Winnie

from the stable. The day was warm and clear, the sky

azure blue. A strong breeze blew across the wide, central

dock, where they sat eating honey-glazed sweetbuns and

sipping thick coconut milk they'd purchased at a bakery.

Tasslehoff removed his blue leggings and dipped his

toes in the cool, black water. He tore off a piece of sticky

 

bun, stuffed it into his mouth, and licked his fingers with

gusto. Then, after a few moments of pawing through his

pack, he removed his ever present roll of maps. Woo-

drow eyed the bundle skeptically.

"They're not all from before the Cataclysm," Tas said,

noting the human's pained expression. He unrolled the

maps and thumbed through them. "Here's one of South-

ern Solamnia; I know that one's OK, 'cause I made it my-

self when I teleported there with a magic ring. Did I tell

you about my teleporting ring?"

Woodrow was not in the mood for one of the kender's

stories today. "I believe I've heard something about that,

yes," he mumbled, telling himself that this particular lie

was really a very small one.

"I haven't heard it," Winnie said. He was not keen

about water, and particularly disliked the way the dock

groaned when he moved across it. Despite coaxing, he

would not venture far from solid land.

"Sorry, Winnie, but we really should discuss if we're

going to Kendermore by boat or by riding you over-

land."

Tasslehoff's face fell; the teleporting ring story was one

of his favorites. But the kender continued searching

through his pile of maps; it had been a long time since

he'd examined them closely. Nordmaar, Estwilde, the is-

lands of Northern and Southern Ergoth and Enstar -- he

had maps from all over.

Woodrow elbowed the kender suddenly. "I think we

should travel to Goodlund on that," he said, squinting

into the morning sun and pointing to a sleek, two-masted

ship docked at the end of the pier. Its sails were furled,

but a gaudy, red-and-gold flag snapped smartly from the

top of the taller mast. The long, thin ship looked much

more elegant than the round, squat ships that crowded

the quays. Despite the shipwreck, Woodrow thought

longingly of the sea -- he was not keen for any more

bumpy riding on Winnie's back.

"What would we do with Winnie?" Tas asked.

 

"I'm sure we could bring him aboard. Ships carry live-

stock all the time."

'You're going to put me in a compartment with cows

and pigs and chickens that are waiting to be butchered?"

Winnie squealed. A passerby looked at the talking mam-

moth in stunned disbelief, then hurried by.

"That's the wrong attitude, Winnie," Woodrow said in

his most solicitous voice. "Look at it as a chance to save

your feet miles of stumbling over unfamiliar ground."

"All ground is unfamiliar to me. Remember where I've

been for the last fifteen years."

Tasslehoff stood up and stamped his feet on the dock

to dry them. "Let's go find out how much it would cost to

cross the Khurman Sea with a mammoth. Or even where

the ship is headed." Woodrow agreed with this sugges-

tion and stood up to join the kender when Winnie's

frightened voice stopped both of them.

"Wait, Tasslehoff, Woodrow," he said, his tone reluc-

tant. "I don't think I can ride on a boat." The mammoth

looked embarrassed.

Tas hugged one of Winnie's massive legs. "If you're

frightened by water, we'll travel overland so you can go

with us. Won't we, Woodrow?" the kender offered gen-

erously.

The human's "Sure," was not as enthusiastic, but no

less sincere than Tasslehoff's.

Winnie shook his massive head, his trunk swinging

wildly. "It's not just the water, Tasslehoff." The mam-

moth paused as if thinking, then blew a big sigh. "For

years -- ever since I was captured -- I've thought about

where I came from. The gnomes said they found me

abandoned, and I believe them. But I had to have parents

sometime, didn't?"

"But how will you know where to look?" asked

Woodrow.

"I have one clue," said Winnie, taking a drink of water

off the side of the dock. "Bozdil told me that they found

me south of someplace called Zeriak."

 

"South of Zeriak... that's Icewall," Tasslehoff mut-

tered to himself, tapping his chin. "I think I can help

you." The kender took out his roll of maps and found one

that satisfied him. "Yes, here it is, a map of the South."

Tasslehoff rolled it back up and slipped it into the tight

curl in the end of Winnie's trunk. "A farewell present,"

the kender said, swallowing a sniffle. He hugged the

mammoth's trunk and stepped away, his eyes welling.

"I have no gift for you except my gratitude, friend,"

Woodrow said, reaching out to pat the hairy pachy-

derm. "Good-bye, and good luck."

"I'm the one who must thank you," corrected the mam-

moth. "But if I don't go right this minute, I lose my

courage. Thank you, and so long!" Winnie the woolly

mammoth called with a wave of his trunk as he left the

dock and disappeared into the bustling city streets. Bit-

ing his lip, Tasslehoff stood and waved long after the

mammoth had disappeared.

"Shall we see when the ship at the end of the dock

leaves for Port Balifor?" Woodrow suggested gently.

Tasslehoff's blue mood passed as quickly as it ap-

peared at the mention of another sea voyage. Kender and

human hurried down the pier. A gangplank led onto the

ship. Finding no one on the dock, they boarded the ship.

As they crossed the gangplank, Woodrow noticed a

barge floating behind the ship and tethered to it. The

barge was loaded with heaps of wilted produce.

Once aboard, Tas hung back to explore while Wood-

row spoke to the steward, a hunch-backed, grumpy hu-

man in salt-stained, black wool breeches.

With his arms crossed (he thought it made him look

older), Woodrow concluded a deal with the steward,

who seemed reluctant to allow a kender aboard. Wood-

row was looking for Tasslehoff when his eyes focused on

a sight on land at the end of the dock. There, amongst a

small gathering of men, was an unusual but familiar

horse with red nostrils, and its well-muscled owner.

Walking with a bit of a limp, the man and his huge, black

 

horse were striding down the dock toward the ship.

Gisella's killer!

Woodrow made himself small and ducked behind the

large mast, his eyes scanning the deck frantically for the

kender. He swore.

Where was that kender?!

Woodrow wondered briefly how the man they'd

fought near the gnomes' tower and who had murdered

Miss Hornslager could have survived his wounds. Obvi-

ously he had, for there was no mistaking either him or

his frightening horse. But now Woodrow had a greater

mystery to solve.

Such as where the damned kender was, and how both

of them could hide from Gisella's ruthless killer.

Woodrow spotted the kender when Tas suddenly

popped up a narrow stairway near the stern, his mouth

open in an impending exclamation. Woodrow launched

a low, flying tackle and clamped his hand over the star-

tled kender's mouth. He ducked between a water barrel

and the ship's rail, dragging a struggling Tasslehoff

along.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Burrfoot, but I've got terrible news.

That man who killed Miss Hornslager is about to board

this ship with his horse. We can't get off without him see-

ing us, and I can't think of any place to hide where he

won't eventually find us."

Tasslehoff's face burned with anger and he bit Wood-

row's hand, which the human hastily snatched away. "I

thought you said you killed him!" accused Tas.

The human looked sheepish as he rubbed his smarting

palm. "I thought I did. I don't have much experience at

that sort of thing, Mr. Burrfoot."

Tas's anger ebbed somewhat. "I'm not going to hide

from him," he announced firmly. "That troll-spawn is go-

ing to pay for what he did to Gisella!" The kender strug-

gled against Woodrow, trying to get to his feet.

Tas's fearlessness only heightened Woodrow's fear.

The human had seen this stranger in combat and knew

 

that one kender, however determined, and a runaway

squire like himself were no match for such a man.

Woodrow peeked around the corner. Denzil spoke

with the steward, then handed him a small bag full of

jingling coins. He had obviously booked passage for

himself and his monstrous horse.

Fear squeezed Woodrow's heart. He and Tas couldn't

leave the ship without being seen, and they couldn't stay

where they were without being discovered.

Then the human remembered the barge containing

wilted produce. Assuming it hadn't drifted too far from

where he'd seen it, it should be only a few feet away. A

pile of lettuce and carrots would make a soft landing.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Burrfoot, but this is for your own

good." With one arm around the struggling kender's

shoulders and another over his mouth, Woodrow threw

Tasslehoff and himself over the ship's railing, praying

that his aim was true, that the vegetables were as cush-

iony as they looked, and that he didn't land on and

squash the kender.

Woodrow hit the barge with a wet, sloshing slap and

released the kender. Tumbling and rolling side to side, he

slid down a hump of slimy refuse and tumbled up against

the side of the barge. With horror, he realized that the

garbage on the barge was a lot older and more rotten

than he'd thought -- mounds and mounds of rotting let-

tuce, tomatoes, carrots, meat, rags, and worse.

After spitting over the side a dozen times and wiping

his lips and face as thoroughly as possible, Woodrow

scanned about for Tasslehoff. "Mr. Burrfoot?" he whis-

pered loudly, trying not to swallow. "Tasslehoff, are you

all right? Please answer me!"

Woodrow heard a soft groan nearby. Raking through

the awful-smelling garbage, he found the kender lying in

a heap against the side of the barge, a large lump forming

in front of his topknot. Woodrow felt awful, but he was

glad too that the kender was unconscious, because he

would surely kick up a fuss otherwise.

 

Woodrow curled up into a ball in the mess, forming a

plan. He knew from speaking to the steward that the ship

was scheduled to sail as soon as the crew returned from

shore, which would be very soon. If he and Tasslehoff

could remain hidden, the ship would leave and tow them

along. Then they could keep an eye on the man who

killed Gisella without worrying about bumping into him

accidentally. Working as quickly and quietly as possible,

he buried himself and Tasslehoff in the garbage.

Within the half-hour, the crew was reassembled on

deck. Sails were unfurled, the anchor weighed, and

mooring lines cast off.

The sun was just past midday when the ship slipped

away from the dock and headed out to sea, trailing the

stinking barge. Woodrow peeked his head out at the first

sign of movement and caught sight of the evil man stand-

ing at the stern of the ship. Woodrow shivered involun-

tarily. Excitement and fear had left him exhausted. With

nothing else to do, he fell asleep next to Tasslehoff.

A wave slapped over the barge and Woodrow awoke

with a start, gagging on water. A putrid taste clogged his

nose and mouth. His heart pounded furiously until he re-

membered where he was. The sky was bright orange and

white, the sun a giant half-circle on the horizon. He

could see no land in any direction.

When Woodrow looked toward the ship, his panic re-

turned.

A sailor was bent over the rail, a hatchet in his hands.

With a soft "thunk," the sailor's hatchet chopped through

the rope that linked the barge to the ship. Tas's and

Woodrow's garbage barge slowed and fell behind. The

beautiful, two-masted ship glided through the water to-

ward Port Balifor as the barge glided to a stop and rolled

gently on the waves.

"For the last time, Woodrow, I'm not mad!" Tasslehoff

snapped. Tempers were short on the garbage barge. The

 

kender had cleared himself a little, slimy patch of boat,

which he'd rinsed as best he could by scooping up seawa-

ter with his hands.

"I just wish you'd warned me before you tossed me on

my head, that's all." He gingerly touched the bruised

knot that had formed just above his brows. "I'll bet it

looks like a third eye."

"You can hardly see it," Woodrow said kindly, pri-

vately amazed by its size.

"Not see it!" Tas cried. "I can see it myself without

looking in a glass!" To demonstrate his point, he crossed

his eyes and looked up, only managing to look de-

mented. They broke into ridiculous, hysterical laughter,

hiccupping slowly to a stop.

The barge fell unnaturally silent. Not even a whiff of a

breeze crossed their heap of fermenting, rotten, stinking

garbage. The midday sun beat down on them, and the

sea was as still as bathwater.

"I'm hungry," Tas said at last, rubbing his growling

stomach. He remembered their sweetbuns back on the

dock.

Woodrow's boyish face scrunched up in disgust. "How

can you think of eating in the middle of this stench?"

"I eat when I'm bored, OK?" Tas said defensively.

"We haven't been out here that long," Woodrow said.

"How long is long enough?" Tas asked genuinely. "I

wasn't bored during the shipwreck, though." He smiled

fondly at the memory. "Things were flying and crashing

about on the deck, the gully dwarves were, well, being

gully dwarves, and Gisella was rolling off the side in the

wagon --" The kender's eyes misted over at the mention

of their fallen friend. The memory of her sacrifice was

fresh in his consciousness.

"Remember before, how we thought she had

drowned?" Woodrow was trying to sound inspirational.

"It turned out she was just fine!"

"That time," Tas said sorrowfully.

"I miss her, too, Mr. Burrfoot."

 

Tasslehoff set his chin with determination. "I pledged

to return to Kendermore, for Gisella -- to complete her

job -- and to rescue my Uncle Trapspringer." His eyes

sparkled fiercely. "I must!"

"We'll get there somehow," Woodrow promised, his

unblinking eyes staring into the neverending horizon.

Gulls swooped overhead, squawking in their distinctive

voices.

Tas's nose lifted in the air as he sniffed. "Something

smells like my mother's furniture polish. Or maybe it

was her broth." He shrugged. "They may have been the

same thing."

Woodrow picked up the corner of a soiled piece of

parchment. "What could possibly be causing such an aw-

ful smell, anyway?"

"I don't know. Maybe if we find it we can throw it

overboard."

Woodrow picked up a sturdy-looking piece of lumber

and started poking through the refuse. After turning

over several piles, both he and Tas retreated, holding

their noses.

"We must be getting close," Tas said.

Two more reluctant pushes with the piece of wood re-

vealed the gray, decomposing carcass of a beak-faced

owlbear buried beneath the more usual sorts of garbage.

Both Woodrow and Tas dashed for the farthest corner of

the barge and hung their heads beneath the level of the

gunwale.

"We've got to dump that thing overboard, Mr. Burr-

foot," gasped Woodrow.

"I don't think that would be wise," the kender an-

swered. "I'm sure it would attract sharks."

"Would a shark eat that?"

"Oh, yes. Sharks eat everything, dead or alive, but

mostly alive, and mostly humans and kender and such.

And they're enormous and can chew a boat apart if there

is something aboard they want to eat. Which is -- as I

said -- everything."

 

"But we're not in the ocean," objected Woodrow. "This

is the 'Bay' of Balifor. So we're all right, right?"

Tasslehoff flopped back into the bottom of the barge

and inhaled deeply. "They call it a bay, but it connects

right up to the ocean. Ships that sail on the ocean come in

and out of Port Balifor all the time. We're definitely safer

with a dead owlbear than with a live shark."

Wordlessly, Woodrow sank down beside Tas. In the

quiet, windless heat, the stink hung over the barge like a

shroud. Together they sat and stared at the offensive

owlbear carcass and wished themselves elsewhere.

Tas was soon bored again, so he absently watched a

distant dot grow against the horizon. "What is that,

land?" he asked at last, pointing for the human's benefit.

Woodrow squinted down the end of the kender's fin-

ger. "It can't be. We're not moving, but the dot is getting

bigger."

"It's a boat." Tas cried suddenly, his sharp kender eyes

catching a glimpse of movement. Rowers, he guessed

from their constant motion. Tas jumped up and down,

waving his arms excitedly and screaming at the top of his

lungs.

Woodrow stilled the kender's arms and said, "We may

not: be happy to see who's on this boat."

Tasslehoff looked at Woodrow as if the human had

lost his mind. "Not happy? But they can rescue us! Any-

thing has got to be better than riding around on here,

particularly since there's nothing very interesting in the

heap." He squinted at the speck again. "Besides, I think

it's too late. They've spotted us." As the rowers drew

closer, Tas recognized bull-shaped heads -- minotaurs.

Minotaurs were one of Krynn's most unusual -- and

unfriendly -- races. Before the Cataclysm, their history

was filled with prejudice and slavery, first by the Kal-

Thax dwarves, (according to legend, at least), and later

by the Istar Empire. Their bovine appearance and in-

credible strength made them both despised and coveted

as slaves.

 

No one but another minotaur ever called one of their

number beautiful. Both bulls and cows were seldom less

than seven feet tall. Short, black or red-brown fur cov-

ered their heavily muscled, human/bovine frames.

Though they walked upright and had hands like men,

their ankles, or tarsal joints, were the hocks of quadru-

ped animals with cloven hooves. Horns as much as a foot

long grew from their temples or browbones.

Though they usually wore clothing, particularly out-

side their island nation, they were scantily covered by

human standards. Their outfit of choice was a harness

studded with weapons and decorations, and a short

leather skirt.

Before long, the small, gleaming, beautifully crafted

longboat, propelled by sixteen powerful oarsmen, glided

gracefully up to the barge, barely leaving a wake. Every-

one aboard the minotaur boat looked worse than

unfriendly -- angry, almost. They stared unabashedly

without speaking, their collective gaze primarily on Tas-

slehoff.

The kender was beginning to feel like one of the bugs

in Lig's and Bozdil's display cases, and it made him

squirmy. "Hello," he called, flashing his friendliest smile.

"Tasslehoff Burrfoot. And you are --"

"Goar. We've had much trouble of late with the kender

on the Blood Sea Coast." The speaker and apparent

leader, if his lone red harness was any indication, was a

head taller than the other oarsmen. "They are an infan-

tile and thievish race. You are not, perhaps, like the

rest?" His words sounded awkward but were phoneti-

cally correct, as if he had learned the common tongue

from a textbook.

Tasslehoff was too busy staring to hear the insult at

first. Woodrow watched the kender's cheeks grow hot as

the words sank in. He cut in before the kender could

launch into one of his spine-tingling taunts.

"My friend and I are stranded out here, having mistak-

enly boarded this barge without knowing that it would

 

be cut adrift." Woodrow licked his lips nervously, know-

ing that this pronouncement sounded unlikely. "Perhaps

you could give us a ride to the nearest port, or at least

tow us? We would be most grateful."

Goar turned his back and engaged in a loud series of

moans and harsh grunts with his crewmen. Suddenly,

one of them, a red-furred minotaur whose horns

stretched two feet if they were an inch, growled long and

low in the back of its throat. The monstrous creature

shook its heavy head twice, pointing an accusing finger

at Tas, and crossed its arms defiantly.

But Goar's answer was a vicious snort, his lip curled

back in an ugly sneer. The gesture left no room for de-

bate. The other minotaur averted its head in angry

shame and stormed to the back of the small boat.

Goar turned back to Tas and Woodrow, regarding

them as he carefully prepared the unfamiliar words. "We

have decided to believe that you are, indeed, stranded."

Woodrow and Tas waited for the minotaur to con-

tinue, both thinking, What an odd way to agree to help

us! When it appeared the silence would stretch on indefi-

nitely, Tas said, "Well, we are -- stranded, that is. So are

you going to help us or not?"

"We did not say we would, no."

Tas and Woodrow exchanged puzzled looks. "Surely

you can't leave us out here to die!" croaked Woodrow.

"We cannot?" Goar's voice was without guile. "We are

unaware of any law regarding this."

Tas gave an uneasy laugh. "Of course there's no law,

but..."

Goar arched an eyebrow at the kender, who decided to

try a gamble.

"We can pay you!"

Goar's furry ears perked up, but he looked dubiously

at the pile of garbage. "I doubt you have anything we

would find of value." His attention was abruptly com-

manded by a tug on his arm from another of his crew.

Goar turned away from the barge again.

 

"Mr. Burrfoot," Woodrow whispered hoarsely, "I'm

not sure it was a good idea to promise them payment.

Remember, we paid for passage on the other ship, which,

after breakfast, leaves us with next to nothing."

"You shouldn't worry about things so much, Wood-

row," Tas said in that lecturing tone kender used so fre-

quently. "Something will come up. It always does."

"I don't know," Woodrow said slowly. "They don't

seem like the trusting type."

"Human and kender," Goar rumbled behind them. Tas

and Woodrow spun around. "My..." He seemed to be

searching for a word. "... my cook tells me that he de-

tects the scent of seasoned owlbear coming from your

boat. We would accept that in payment for delivering

you to the nearest port."

Tasslehoff and Woodrow were dumbstruck.

"However, if you are unwilling to relinquish such a

valuable item in exchange for your lives," Goar contin-

ued, "regrettably we would continue on our way."

"Take it!" kender and human cried in unison.

Minotaurs made incredible oarsmen, Tas concluded,

watching the strange bull-men pulling at their respective

oars. Driven by the cadence of their leader/coxswain,

their rhythm never faltered, their strength never flagged.

It was mesmerizing to watch, back and forth, back and

forth, corded muscles rippling in their thick arms and

necks.

The ride was smoother than any Tasslehoff had ever

encountered, on land or at sea. The sleek, streamlined

minotaur ship cut through the still waters of the Khur-

man Sea like a hot knife through butter. The speed of sea

travel was difficult to gauge, since there were no land-

marks to follow, but Tas was quite certain he had never

before traveled as swiftly on land. It was more like flying

on a dragon, he concluded.

They had been at sea with the minotaurs through two

 

sunsets and sunrises. The garbage barge had been cast

adrift after the removal of the owlbear. Life aboard the

minotaur ship was all work and no play. When the row-

ers were not at the oars, they were sanding and polishing

the gleaming chestnut-colored deck to remove any im-

perfections in its surface.

The two passengers were treated with barely veiled

distaste by all but the leader, Goar, who seemed to be the

only one able to communicate with them. Tas tried

speaking with the others in fragments of several lan-

guages and concluded that they spoke only Minotaur.

Woodrow doubted from their attitudes that they'd ac-

knowledge a human even if they could understand him.

On the third morning, Goar announced, "We are near-

ing Port Balifor," though neither Woodrow nor Tas saw

any sign of land.

"How long will it be before we reach the port?" Wood-

row asked.

"We will not be reaching the port," Goar growled. "We

have no wish to mingle with human sailors, nor they

with us."

"So you're dumping us?"

"We will provide you with a floating conveyance that

should maintain you until another ship passes by. Many

ships pass this area. You should not have long to wait."

Tasslehoff was about to protest when the minotaur

cook came forward hefting a large, lidless barrel.

'You don't mean for us to float around in that," Wood-

row said, shaking his head in disbelief and backing away.

The minotaur's hairy lip curled up. "It is waterproof.

We can provide you with paddles, if that would assist

you."

"Look at it as an adventure," Tas said to Woodrow, his

eyes sparkling eagerly. "This might be fun. I've never

been set adrift in a barrel."

"An adventure? Haven't you had enough of adventure

for a while?" Woodrow asked impatiently.

"How can you have enough adventure?" asked Tas as

 

Goar lifted him effortlessly. The cook rolled the barrel

over the gunwale and Goar deposited Tas,' and then

Woodrow, into the pitching, bobbing tub.

Tasslehoff splashed merrily in the lapping water as the

minotaurs pulled rapidly away. Before long, they were

once again just a speck on the horizon. Woodrow

slumped down to the bottom of the barrel.

While Woodrow sulked, Tas experimented with the

barrel's balance and buoyancy. He rocked from side to

side, jumped up and down, and made the barrel spin in

slow circles by paddling with one hand.

Occasionally Tas took a break from his research to

scan the horizon for sails. After hours of seeing nothing,

he suddenly began jumping up and down in the barrel

with a purpose, tossing it from side to side and franti-

cally waving his arms above his head. Soon he was

shouting at the top of his lungs, "We're over here! This

way! Are you blind or stupid? We're over here!"

Woodrow leaped to his feet and squinted across the

water. He, too, saw the approaching sail. "You know,

something about that ship looks familiar," he said, grasp-

ing opposite sides of the wildly swaying barrel, trying to

steady it.

"I know!" Tas snapped his fingers. "I recognize the cap-

tain's red flag with the golden cloverleaf symbol. It's the

ship we booked passage on, and then you threw me on

my head!"

Woodrow's blood froze in his veins. How could that

ship have got behind them?

"Paddle, Mr. Burrfoot!" Even as he made the desperate

cry and stabbed his own oar in the water, Woodrow

knew that the attempt was useless. He closed his eyes and

steadied his nerves for the inevitable.

When the human opened his eyes again, he could see

the ship was much closer -- close enough for him to pick

out the dark, sinister form of Gisella's killer at the bow,

looking like its figurehead. His cloak flapped around his

knees, and he was flanked by two sailors who scurried

 

about, one with a long pole with a hooked blade and the

other with a rope.

As the ship approached, it did not reduce its speed. In-

stead, the sailor with the long pole hooked its blade onto

the barrel. The barrel tipped dangerously and some wa-

ter spilled over the rim as it swung toward the ship. As

the barrel bumped against the hull of the ship, the second

sailor tossed a rope down to the two castaways. "Climb

up quick!" he barked. "We ain't got all day."

Keeping one suspicious eye on Denzil, both figures

clambered up the side of the boat. The barrel was set

adrift. Through all of this, Denzil stood in the forecastle

and watched, perfectly playing the role of the disinter-

ested stranger.

The steward, holding quill and parchment, found

them moments after they boarded. The hunch-backed,

grumpy-looking human wore the same black wool, salt-

stained breeches he'd worn almost a week before, when

Tas and Woodrow had first booked passage on the ship.

He recognized them at once.

'You paid for your passage, then disappeared," he

said, his glance suspicious. "If you have enough coin to

be throwing it away, what are you doing sailing Balifor

Bay in a barrel?"

Tas shifted while he thought fast. "See, after we paid

for passage, a friend of ours came along and offered us

the use of his boat. We couldn't say no, could we? But we

didn't think it was right to ask for our money back from

you -- a deal's a deal, isn't it, Woodrow?" The human

nodded his blond head.

"Anyway, neither of us really knows how to sail a

boat, so we ran into a bit of trouble -- a hurricane, I

think -- lot's of wind, anyway. We escaped in the barrel

before the boat sank." Tas finished his story, out of

breath. That one had been a real test of his storytelling

skills.

The steward looked dubious, but he shrugged. "This

close to land, who cares why you're really here? You paid

 

for the whole ride, anyway. You may as well finish it out

with us."

"One more thing," injected Tas artlessly. "That man up

front," he pointed, "standing next to the anchor rope, is a

murderer. He should be arrested and turned over to the

constables in Port Balifor."

The steward was taken aback by the turn in the con-

versation, then at the claim. "You are confused," he ex-

plained. "Master Denzil is a model passenger. I'll take no

action against him on the whim of a couple of casta-

ways." The steward laughed at what he considered to be

a silly request.

Walking away to resume his duties, the sailor shot

back over his shoulder, "We should reach Port Balifor in

a few hours. Until then, stay on this deck and don't

bother any of the other passengers."

"But he's --"

"I said, don't bother any of the other passengers."

roared the steward. Then he turned and strode back to

his post at the stern of the ship.

As soon as the ship tied up and the gangplank was

lowered, Tasslehoff and Woodrow were ordered off.

They retreated into the beehive of barrels, bundles,

sacks, and urns that covered the wharf.

"We can follow Denzil easily in all this bustle without

being seen," proposed Tasslehoff. "Let's wait here and see

what happens."

Shaking his head dazedly, Woodrow kept walking

through the throng. "No, Mr. Burrfoot. I don't mean to

be disrespectful, but I intend for us both to get as far

away from that murderer as possible." Suddenly the hu-

man was dragged to a stop by the surprisingly strong

arms of the kender.

"Wait, Woodrow," Tasslehoff insisted. "That Denzil

guy is dangerous, and we can't just let him walk away. If

not for Gisella's sake, then for our own safety we'd better

keep track of him. He'll be a lot more dangerous if he gets

out of our sight."

 

Woodrow stood silently behind the kender. He was

still jittery, but his friend's confidence soothed his nerves

somewhat.

They watched the ship for several minutes. Denzil em-

erged from belowdecks leading his monstrous night-

mare. He led the huge, black animal down the gangplank

and across the wharf. The crowd parted before him, peo-

ple edging away from the snorting, red-eyed nightmare.

Still within view of the ship, Denzil strode directly past

Woodrow and Tasslehoff, ignoring them, and continued

into the town.

"What do you suppose he's up to?" murmured Wood-

row, tearing a fingernail to the skin with his teeth.

"Maybe he just doesn't care about us," Tasslehoff said,

though he didn't sound convinced himself. "Maybe what

happened outside the gnomes' castle had nothing to do

with us personally. He doesn't seem interested in us at all

anymore."

"Maybe you're right," Woodrow agreed warily.

"Let's follow him anyway," suggested Tas. "Maybe we

can get something to eat while we're at it."

Tas led the way down the street, trailing Denzil. Before

long, however, the kender was absorbed in the sights,

smells, and sounds of the bustling seaport. Strange lan-

guages, exotic dress, people with unusual features and

tattoos, and dozens of merchants all trying to sell him

something (or keep him away from their stalls) proved

too distracting for the irrepressible kender. By the time

they left the second market square, Tas no longer knew

where Denzil was, nor was he very concerned.

Instead, Tas paused to buy some smoked fish, admired

the merchandise in a map seller's booth, and was chased

away by a silversmith after the merchant caught him

making funny faces in the side of a teapot.

Even Woodrow had begun to relax as they passed an

alley, munching on the last chunks of smoked fish. Sud-

denly, two powerful arms shot out and grabbed the star-

tled kender and human. One hand wrapped around Tas's

 

neck, the other grasped Woodrow's shirt. The human

was flung against the wall at the back of the alley. Tassle-

hoff felt himself being hoisted face-down across the pom-

mel of a saddle. The pommel gouged painfully into his

ribs. Then someone else leaped into the saddle beside

him. Woodrow scrambled to his feet, only to be met by

the ringing sound of a sword being drawn.

Denzil!

"This doesn't concern you, farmboy!" growled the as-

sailant. "Stay out of it." With that, the dark-cloaked as-

sailant swung the flat of the sword viciously down on top

of Woodrow's head, and the human crumpled. A power-

ful hand on Tasslehoff's back pressed him tightly to the

saddle as the mount and rider turned and dashed from

the alley.

 

Chapter 21

Denzil threw Tasslehoff on the hay-stewn

dirt floor of a warehouse near the docks. Dusty light

streamed through knotholes in the walls' wide boards.

The room contained only large wooden barrels held

together with rusty bands, and stank overpoweringly

of herring.

With his hands tied together at the wrists, the ken-

der had to struggle to get into a sitting position. He

gave the sinister-looking human a murderous glance.

"You're going to pay for what you did to poor Gisella,

and now Woodrow!"

"Give me your maps."

Tas met his challenging gaze. "I wouldn't give you a

bucket of spit!"

 

"Lucky for me, I'm not asking for one," Denzil said.

He grabbed the kender by the neck of his tunic, lifted

him off the ground, then rummaged around in Tas's

vest until he found what he wanted. Letting his mouth

crack slightly with an expression that was half grim-

ace, half smile, he held a roll of parchment up victori-

ously. Denzil dropped the kender absently and turned

away.

Kneeling on the ground, he unrolled the maps and

regarded them in a stream of light with the tender gaze

of a lover. After scouring the top one with his eyes, he

grunted angrily, then viciously threw the map over his

shoulder. He repeated the scene with each of some six

maps, rose to his feet, then scowled darkly. Turning to

find the kender, he nearly tripped over Tasslehoff,

who had been spying over the human's shoulder.

"Where is it?!" Denzil stormed, reaching for the ken-

der's throat.

Tasslehoff backpedaled quickly. Even he was a bit

alarmed by the murder in the human's eyes. "Where's

what? I'm sure there's a useful map in there some-

where. Are you having trouble reading them? You

needn't be embarrassed. I could read them for you --"

Denzil closed the gap between Tas, and his black-

gloved fingers tightened around the kender's throat.

"Of course you don't need any help reading them,"

gurgled Tasslehoff.

"Don't jerk me around, ken-dirt," Denzil growled. "I

want the other half of a map that covers the territory

east of Kendermore."

"Withh twwr -- ?" Denzil loosened his hold on the

purple-faced kender somewhat. "Thank you." Tassle-

hoff gave a raw cough. "The only area worth mapping

due east of Kendermore is the Ruins. And even that

isn't really worth mapping, since it's ruined." Tassle-

hoff gave a resigned shrug, then another thought

struck him.

"Hey, I once had a small map of the Tower of High

 

Sorcery there, and the magical grove surrounding it."

Denzil leaned into him, his fetid breath fanning the

kender's face. "What do you mean, 'had'?"

"Well, as I recall, there wasn't much detail on the

map -- just a bunch of trees with a beware sign on

them, then this tall, round tower, with lots of steps. I

don't remember how many rooms there were.

"Anyway, one day I was out of parchment and I

wanted to draw a new map -- of Neraka, I think. So I

sorted through the maps I had and I decided to use the

back of the one with the Tower on it.

"So where is that map?"

Tasslehoff shrugged again. "I haven't seen it in a

long time. I must have given it away." The kender

could see the human's hands trembling with rage.

"What's so important about that map? I've got

plenty of others."

"I might as well tell you," Denzil said, "since you're

about to die anyway. I stumbled upon half of that

same map in the office of some quack doctor in Ken-

dermore. Your half of that map showed the location of

a treasure. I want that treasure, and provided some-

one else doesn't already have it, I'm going to get it!"

With that, he pushed the kender to the floor against

the wall and prepared his crossbow.

"Well, then, if you're going to the tower, you're go-

ing to need to know how to get through the grove," Tas

said quickly, squirming away from the crossbow's

sight.

"You're trying to stall me," Denzil said in a dis-

tracted, low voice, his fingers nocking the crossbow

bolt.

Tas kicked and flailed, trying to keep moving. "That

may be true, but it's also true that you have to know

the secret of the grove to get through! Ask anyone!

Every Tower of High Sorcery is surrounded by a magi-

cal grove."

Denzil let the crossbow slip from his shoulder as he

 

considered the kender's words. "What can a bunch of

trees do?" he snarled at last, raising the bow again.

"Plenty!" Tas said hoarsely. "This particular grove

tends to make people go crazy! I'm sure you've heard

how, uh, resourceful kender are when it comes to get-

ting into difficult places. Well, even most kender ha-

ven't been able to get through this grove. Only those

who know its terrible secrets have ever made it into the

tower!"

Denzil lowered the bow again and squinted at Tas-

slehoff. "And I suppose you're one of those kender?"

"I might be," Tas said coyly. "Remember, I saw the

map."

Denzil thought about that for a moment. "If you

know the secret -- if there is one -- tell me now."

Tasslehoff looked offended. "How stupid do you

think I am? I'd tell you the secret, and you'd kill met I'd

rather die without having told you, thank you!"

Denzil wiped his face wearily; he couldn't take the

chance that the kender was telling the truth. Snatching

at Tas's bound wrists, he jerked him to his feet. "I'm

going to kill you no matter what, you know. This way

you'll get a nice, comfortable ride on my nightmare."

His small eyes narrowed to little slits. "And if you're

lying, the quick death I would have given you here will

seem luxurious compared to what you'll get later on."

Tasslehoff swallowed hard as Denzil dragged him

out of the warehouse and to an alley where his black

mount pranced anxiously. This Denzil and his fierce,

fire-breathing creature were enough to make even the

stout-hearted kender wish he really did know the se-

cret to the grove.

They rode on the cold-as-ice nightmare from Port

Balifor, around Kendermore to the north, and to the

Ruins. At least that's what Tas assumed, since he

couldn't see more than the ground as it flew by the

 

nightmare's right flank. Denzil had tossed the kender

before him on his stomach and lashed him to the sad-

dle.

"Wouldn't want you to fall and get hurt," he chor-

tled.

When they reached the outskirts of the Ruins, Den-

zil dismounted. He issued an order to the nightmare in

an ugly, guttural language that Tas had never heard

before. Then, with Tas still tied across Scul's back,

ahead of the saddle, Denzil strode down the main,

rundown road that ran through the Ruins. Tas thought

it strange that they encountered none of the usual ver-

min that inhabited the area, but then he realized that

the nightmare probably scared most of them away.

Satisfied at last, Denzil approached the grove, lead-

ing his monstrous mount.

With a wicked-looking, curved knife, he cut the

rope securing the kender to the nightmare. Tas fell to

the ground like a sack of grain. His back seemed per-

manently rounded and his leg muscles cramped pain-

fully. Denzil jerked him upright by the wrists.

"It's time to reveal the big secret, ken-dirt," Denzil

said nastily. "Put up or shut up, as they say."

I can't tell him something I don't know, Tas thought

grimly. If I did know, he'd kill me the minute I told

him. But if I only tell him a little bit at a time, he'll have

to keep me alive for the rest of the information. Once

we get into the grove, maybe I can get away. Once it

starts to take effect...

"Don't you mean 'put up and shut up'? " Tas re-

torted. "Oh, no. You're just going to have to follow my

lead." Tas took one step into the trees.

"I'm getting real tired of you, Burrfoot," Denzil

growled. He held fast to the kender's bonds, but strode

in next to him. "So what do we have to do?"

"Well, there's a whole series of things that must be

done in the proper order," Tas ad-libbed. "The first is

coming up just inside the grove's edge. We have to

 

crawl on our hands and knees to avoid springing a

trap."

Denzil looked skeptical. "I thought this grove was

magic, that it inspired craziness."

"It does!" Tas said. "But that doesn't mean there

aren't traps, too."

"You go first," Denzil said, slinging his crossbow

across his back. "I'm going to have a hand on your an-

kle the whole time."

So much for losing him in the grove, thought Tas.

Still, there was hope. The kender dropped to his knees

and began crawling awkwardly because of his bound

wrists, Denzil right on his heels as promised. Tassle-

hoff's knees got sore and he stopped. The kender could

feel the grove's magic encouraging him to suggest

crazy things.

"Now, we have to walk backward," Tas announced.

He assumed that the human would still insist on

watching him, which meant Denzil would have to go

first and he'd probably trip.

"If you're playing me for a fool, Burrfoot..." Den-

zil growled. The grove was making him even more sus-

picious than usual.

Tas managed an unconcerned shrug. "Go ahead.

Don't listen to me, the one person who's seen the map

of this grove, and see how far you get!" Secretly, Tas

was more than a little surprised that they'd gotten as

far as they had. The grove's effect had seemed much

stronger the last time he had been there. How long ago

had that been, he wondered -- ten years?

"I'm going first this time so I can keep my eyes on

you," Denzil said predictably. He wound his hand

through Tas's topknot and began dragging him back-

ward, bringing tears to the kender's eyes. Worse still,

Denzil was surprisingly sure-footed. He didn't trip. He

didn't fall. He didn't even stumble. When Tasslehoff

could stand no more, he told the human to stop. Tas

clumsily pulled his hair back into place with his tied

 

hands, massaging his tender scalp with the heel of one

hand,

"I must be doing something right," Denzil said.

"We're more than halfway in."

"You're welcome," Tas said sourly. The human's

smugness brought the next idea into the kender's

mind. He could not see how it would help him get

away, but he could not resist the opportunity to make

Denzil look silly. "Next we have to hop like bunnies."

"Huh." It was no question.

Tas pulled his bound hands up before him, letting

his wrists hang limp to look like rabbit paws. "Hop.

Like bunnies." He lifted Denzil's hands to the proper

position. "Come on!"

Looking at the human's face, Tas wondered if he had

gone too far.

Denzil raised his arms together, fingers locked, and

slammed both fists into Tasslehoff's stomach. The di-

minutive kender flew through the air like a ball, land-

ing in a heap ten feet away. He could not even break

his fall, with his hands still tied in front of him. Eyes

glowing as red as Scul's nostrils, Denzil stalked toward

the dazed kender.

The grove was obviously still working very well.

Denzil launched himself. Reacting with true kender

speed, Tas rolled out of the way and tried to scramble

to his feet. But with his hands tied, the kender could

get no leverage. Denzil was on him in a second.

"I warned you not to lie to me," the wild-eyed hu-

man snarled. "Now I'm going to snap your limbs off,

one by one. This is going to take such a long time, little

fellow, that you can't even imagine how much it's go-

ing to hurt! All I ask is that you don't die before I fin-

ish."

"I didn't lie!" Tas shot back, suddenly enraged. "I

said you couldn't reach the tower unless you knew

how to get through the grove, and that's the truth. I

never said I knew how to do it. Your six-foot-tall greed

 

made you assume that!"

Tasslehoff stuck his nose into Denzil's face. "And

another thing: I'm sick of everyone calling me a liar

and a thief, and putting me down, just because I'm a

kender! Being tall doesn't make you right, and it sure

doesn't make you smart! It doesn't even make you

tough! Why, if my hands were untied, I'd pound you

until you were lumpier and more miserable than a

toad! You'd --"

Denzil's right hand closed around Tas's throat, cut-

ting off his tirade. His other hand tightened around

Tas's upper right arm, and he began twisting, a sadistic

smile on his face. "I'm tired of your voice, kender. But

I'll enjoy hearing your joints pop!"

The pain was intense and growing more acute every

second, but Tasslehoff would not allow himself to cry

out. His eyes were squeezed shut, but the pain and

tears forced him to blink.

It was then that he saw the face appear behind Den-

zil. It belonged to a huge, ugly, hairy creature, as ugly

as anything Tas had ever seen. With a sloping fore-

head, bulging teeth, pockmarked nose -- an ogre! As if

in a dream, Tas watched the creature's enormous,

knob-knuckled hand close around Denzil's right

shoulder. The huge hand twisted and there was a loud

"pop!"

Denzil flopped to the ground in pain and surprise,

releasing Tas's arm at the same time. Before he even

saw his attacker, the human let out a loud, shrill whis-

tle.

The large, powerful human spun around, but his

fury died when he stared up into the face of the even

larger ogre.

And then Scul was there, slicing with his sharp

hooves through the web of brush and vines behind the

ogre. Denzil maneuvered quickly so he was behind the

nightmare. Tasslehoff, still caught up in kender mili-

tancy, rushed forward and kicked Denzil behind the

 

knee. The surprised human toppled sideways. Tas

landed another kick to his lower back, yelling, "That

one's for Gisella!" then scurried away from the hu-

man's reach.

The ogre ducked and dodged away from the wind-

milling hooves. The nightmare, its eyes even wider

than usual -- probably the influence of the grove,

thought Tas -- lunged after its prey, but became mo-

mentarily tangled in the thick undergrowth.

One moment of hesitation was all Vinsint needed.

The ogre swung his massive fist in a roundhouse punch

that caught Scul fully between the eyes. The stunned

animal staggered, almost recovered, and then its legs

buckled and it thudded to the ground at Denzil's feet.

Its blood-red eyes rolled back in their sockets.

Without breaking stride, the ogre plucked Denzil's

crossbow from his back, snapped it in half, and flung

it into the depths of the woods. Then he grabbed Den-

zil himself and stuffed him under one arm. Before Tas

could scramble more than a step, he was scooped up

and slung under the ogre's other arm. The creature

lumbered off into the grove with his two prisoners.

"What shall we have for dinner?" Vinsint asked

pleasantly.

The usual introductions after an abduction had been

made. Vinsint showed them around the small, circular

room that contained a table, a bunch of crates, and a

stairway. The ogre explained his presence in the Ruins

and told the two newcomers what was expected of

them.

"I've been awfully busy here lately," the ogre contin-

ued, "so I'm a little short and there is not a lot of vari-

ety, but I've been told I'm a very good cook." He placed

a tin plate of little sandwiches before Tasslehoff and

Denzil. Tas was reaching for one of the tasty-looking

morsels when Denzil furiously swept the plate from

 

the table.

"I don't need any of your stinking food!" He stood

up and paced furiously.

Vinsint was mildly offended. "Perhaps you don't,

but your friend might have liked some. That was

good, aged skunk!" He picked up several of the mor-

sels, brushed them off, reassembled them as small

sandwiches, and placed them back on the table.

"Though I should have expected this sort of behavior

from a half-orc!"

Denzil froze. His gloved hands clenched and un-

clenched. "You are mistaken. I am a human."

The ogre was unswayed. "Yes, but you're also an

orc." He wagged his finger. "I know my species."

"Yeah." Tas chimed in, studying Denzil's face. "That

nose, those eyes: I always thought there was some-

thing strange-looking about you, but I just figured it

was because you were so mean all the time."

Denzil's face was as dark as a thundercloud, and he

said nothing for a moment, just clenched and un-

clenched his fists. Tasslehoff found that gesture more

frightening than any words he might have uttered. But

when he spoke, his tone was clipped, measured, and a

threat. "I do not resemble that part of my, uh, parent-

age."

"Speaking of animals, where did you get that night-

mare?" Vinsint continued conversationally while he

went on preparing the main course.

"You're such a smart ogre," Denzil said sarcastically.

"You tell me."

Vinsint chose to ignore the sarcasm. "I am rather

smart, aren't I?" He tapped a wooden spoon against

his chin as he thought. "Let's see, nightmares are usu-

ally owned by demons and their kind, but however

bad you may be, you're no demon. So my guess is that

you stole it."

Denzil looked impressed despite himself. "I won it

when I bested the demon, Cthiguw-lixix," he said

 

proudly, continuing to pace.

"Wow! You fought a demon?" Tas breathed. Denzil

ignored him.

The half-orc studied the walls of the circular cham-

ber while Tas and the ogre ate a companionable dinner

of fried onions and pony.

"That was delicious!" Tas exclaimed in satisfaction,

pushing himself away from the feast. "I'm quite a good

cook myself, so I should know."

"Have more, have morel" the ogre invited, ladling

more onto the kender's plate, despite his feeble pro-

tests. "I do so love it when my guests appreciate my

cooking. I had some very nice kender here several

days ago, a pretty, blonde girl and her beau. He was an

older, flashy guy --" Vinsint squinted in the lantern

light at Tas. "Come to think of it, you remind me of

him."

Tas waved his hand merrily. "Oh, we all look alike."

"I suppose," the ogre said, unconvinced as he looked

closely at Tas. Finally he shrugged and began cleaning

Up.

"They had a nasty human with them," Vinsint con-

tinued. He shrugged his broad, bare shoulders. "It

must run in the breed or something. Kender are usu-

ally rude and nosy, but they're seldom nasty. I hate

nasty!"

"There are some who think being nasty runs among

ogres," Tas pointed out, not meaning to be insulting.

He found himself liking the unlikely ogre.

Vinsint nodded. "That's why I left the Ogrelands."

They finished cleaning up and spent the rest of the

evening drinking herbal tea, playing pick-up sticks,

and talking by the fire. Denzil crawled into his own

corner and pretended to fall asleep, actually planning

his escape from the much larger ogre.

When Vinsint asked Tas what such a pleasant ken-

der was doing with such a nasty half-orc, Tasslehoff

told the ogre about Gisella; he had to stop momentar-

 

ily to wipe his eyes. He finished by telling him about

Denzil striking down Woodrow in Port Balifor, and

ended with their trek for the treasure.

"You know, this is the Tower of High Sorcery," Vin-

sint whispered to the kender. "We're in the basement.

But I've never seen any treasure here."

"Have you explored all of it?" Tas whispered excit-

edly, leaning forward. He cast an anxious glance to-

ward the sullen half-orc. Denzil lay on his side in the

distant shadows, his breathing shallow and regular.

"I went about half-way up those steps once," he said,

nodding toward the circular stairway. "But the pas-

sage got tighter and tighter, until it was a real struggle

to squeeze through. And, I don't mind telling you, I

don't like heights! Even though there weren't any win-

dows along the stairs, just knowing I was climbing

gave me the woozies. But I never even came to one

landing, so whatever is up there must be way up, or

ruined like everything else here."

Tas thought about that long after Vinsint fell asleep.

When Tasslehoff himself awoke, it felt like morning,

but he couldn't be sure; there was no natural light in

the chamber, only a single, lit candle. He felt rested

and refreshed. He stood up, brushed off his leggings,

and looked around. Denzil was still sleeping in the

shadows, but Vinsint was nowhere to be seen. On the

table the kender found a folded piece of parchment

with his name awkwardly penned on the front. He

supposed the ogre's big hands were awfully clumsy to

write with.

Tasslehoff unfolded the note. It stated, simply,

"Gone for food. Back soon. Vinsint." He pocketed the

note and picked up the candle.

Everything in the room looked just as it had the

night before. Tas examined the locked doorway. He

counted eleven chains and sixteen locks of all different

sizes and styles. That would take hours to unravel, he

decided. And anyway, why escape when there is an

 

unexplored Tower of High Sorcery upstairs?

Tas took stock of his gear. His hoopak was gone,

marking Gisella's grave. Denzil had confiscated all of

his knives and daggers, and Vinsint had taken them all

from Denzil. His maps were back in his pouch: some-

thing of a gift from Denzil before they set out from

Port Balifor. Sorting through the silverware, carefully

so as not to wake Denzil, Tas borrowed a small fork

and a butter knife that looked like useful tools for

opening the sorts of locks one might encounter in a

Tower of High Sorcery. Vinsint had said there were no

windows in the stairwell, so a candle was also a neces-

sary item.

Thus equipped, and tingling with the anticipation of

impending adventure, Tasslehoff Burrfoot tiptoed up

the stairs.

Beyond the lowest steps, the stairwell was blanketed

in dust. Dipping the candle, Tas saw clearly the prints

of three people ascending the stairs. There were

dozens of others, but these three were fairly fresh.

With curiosity devouring him, Tas bounded up the

stairs so quickly he almost extinguished the candle.

It seemed to Tas that he had climbed far beyond the

tower's apparent height when he finally spotted a door

blocking the stairs. He crept up to it and listened, but

heard nothing. He tried the latch and the door swung

quietly inward, astounding the kender with its smooth

operation after so many years. Without a pause, Tas-

slehoff stepped through the doorway.

The room where he found himself was obviously

someone's study. Light streamed in through leaded

windows in the ceiling. The circular, outside wall was

lined with books, except for a few open spaces where

pictures had fallen to the floor. A heavy desk and

carved chair did not nearly fill the rest of the room.

The footprints Tas had been following now scat-

tered through the room. Picking out the largest set, he

traced them, one step at a time, along a winding course

 

to one of the bookshelves. Just above eye level was an

empty spot on the shelf. "Someone's been taking down

books," Tas said to himself.

The footprints changed course suddenly. Tas no-

ticed an odd thing. All three sets of footprints con-

verged on a bare section of wall, then vanished. The

kender paused for a moment, lost in thought. With a

sudden thrill he realized that among all the footprints

ascending the stairs, both new and old, he had not seen

a single print going back down. He strode over to the

wall and studied the tracks there until he was satisfied

that they did, in fact, end at the wall. Whoever came

up here, he thought, went out right here.

"There must be a secret door!" he cried aloud.

Tas groped across the cobweb-covered surface,

searching for a hidden trigger or latch to open the

door. He prodded and wiggled the bricks, twisted

them and tapped them with the handle of the butter

knife. Nothing happened. After several fruitless min-

utes, he dusted off his hands and decided to try a dif-

ferent tack.

"Perhaps the trigger isn't here at all," he told him-

self, "but somewhere else in the room." He scanned the

room. The missing book? Not very likely. If the book

was the trigger, it would need to be attached to some-

thing and could not be taken from the shelf.

It took several minutes before Tas's experienced eyes

picked out the lever behind the desk. He gave it a quick

flip and looked toward the wall. Already each of the

bricks was outlined with a bright green glow and mist

was pouring through the cracks. Colors swirled across

the floor, up the walls, and around Tas's ankles and

knees. Then the wall disappeared completely, replaced

by a pulsing, flashing, pearl-colored pane. The mist

roiled inside the pane and poured out the edges, blan-

keting the walls and ceiling. Tas's heart thudded

against his ribs. This was no ordinary secret door!

This was magic, and it could lead anywhere! Tas took

 

two quick steps toward the portal but was stopped by

a voice from the stairwell.

"You found it! I knew you'd be good for something!"

Tas turned and saw Denzil, framed by the doorway

and the swirling mist. The pulsing green and yellow

light of the portal made the half-orc's harsh features

even more terrible and cast shifting shadows across his

frame.

"Stay right where you are, ken-dirt," Denzil

warned. "The treasure of this tower must lie through

that portal and whatever it is, it's mine. But before I

claim it, I have unfinished business with your bones."

The snarling assassin advanced across the room to-

ward Tas. Fully aware that he was no match for the

half-orc, the kender took the only other option open

to him. He dove for the portal.

And almost made it.

 

Chapter 22

A rodent -- a lange rat -- scurried across the burn-

scarred, debris-strewn floor. Stealing from shadow to

shadow, the rodent knew it risked its life. Each time it

moved, it glanced toward the far end of the room, to-

ward the cracked and crumbling throne carved from a

single block of volcanic stone, the throne once used by

the Kingpriest of Istar, which now resided in the dark,

evil Abyss. Even after centuries, the fires still flickered

faintly within the throne, casting their red glow against

the pocked surface.

The rodent feared that throne, for on it sat, in her five-

headed chromatic dragon form, the Dark Queen, She of

Many Faces, Mistress of Evil, and one of the three crea-

tors of the universe, along with Paladine, the God of

 

Good, and Gilean, the neutral god who kept the balance.

If a being of such evil power should notice the rodent, the

best it could hope for would be death, sudden and final.

But the Dark Queen was certainly aware of the

rodent -- nothing happened in her chamber without her

knowledge and permission -- but something else was far

more interesting than the fate of a semi-intelligent scav-

enger. The Dark Queen was occupied with other

thoughts.

On the world known as Krynn, on the continent of

Ansalon, just south of the Blood Sea, near the once-

powerful city of Istar, a magical gate was opening.

An intrigued rumbling escaped the Dark Queen's five

reptilian throats as she relished the awareness of the gate.

Writhing, two of her heads spit fire in delicious anticipa-

tion, scorching the tail of the rodent. This gate was very

special, very powerful. It resided in a Tower of High Sor-

cery, and joined that tower to a pocket dimension of ines-

timable age. The Dark Queen craved the power of that

gate. She wanted to slip through it and reenter the Prime

Material Plane, which she had been driven and forbid-

den from entering these many human centuries past. But

Takhisis had no notion or need for time; hours to her

were as centuries to the inhabitants of Krynn. Thus,

though Huma, that detestable Knight of Solamnia who

had led the fight to banish her, had been dead in the

grave for centuries, the wound of her embarrassing de-

feat was still as fresh in her mind as if it had occurred just

yesterday.

Takhisis's many tongues lashed out between her razor-

sharp teeth as she tasted the thought of final victory. She

decided its flavor was even better than the flesh of her en-

emies.

It was an added bonus, of course, that this Tower of

High Sorcery had libraries and laboratories filled with

secrets that might be useful to her in the war she intended

to wage once she secured her return to the Prime Mate-

rial.

 

Ages ago, she had learned the secret of the pocket di-

mension. She had found a 'back door' into the Prime Ma-

terial Plane. The door's use was limited, and pointless

unless the gate was opened. Now, every time the gate

was activated, the secret signs and wards she had placed

there alerted her to its use. But it always stayed open for

such a horribly short time, and her preparations con-

sumed time. But she knew, as certainly as she loathed

Huma, that at some point, the gate would open and re-

main so long enough for her to intervene.

She knew this and had been patient and ever-

watchful, and now her chance had come to pass.

With astounding speed, Denzil's powerful legs drove

him across the chamber at the top of the tower. Snarling,

the half-orc took a swipe at the kender, who was lunging

for the gateway, and managed to snag the shoulder strap

of Tas's pouch. Intercepted in midair, Tasslehoff crashed

to the ground.

Shaking off his surprise, Tas quickly realized that he

was being dragged back across the dusty floor by the

leather thong.

Reaching up desperately, Tas's fingers closed around

the thong and he gav