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Tale the Fourth

Tales of the Seekers
Part 1: Ikmos
Tale the Fourth: Wind Rises

Awareness returned slowly and gently, like the gradual lifting of mists on a warm spring morning. Mateo lay still for a few moments, just allowing himself to feel comfortable. It was a rare thing in his life.

At last, though, something prodded him to open his eyes and blink at the sunlight that filled the room. It was midday, and cheerful voices drifted in to him from what sounded like a lot of activity going on outside.

"Feeling better, young one?"

Mateo turned toward the voice. Wari sat there, smiling at him as Arandfel had smiled at Joqirl. Mateo blinked owlishly, trying to remember what had happened. It was important, he knew it was . . .

"Don't worry if you're confused. It will come back soon enough. Would you like something to drink? And you'll feel better after some food."

Mateo nodded and the Seeker stepped out of the lean-to. When he returned with a tray, Rascal the kit on his heels, memory returned with him. Mateo jerked to a sitting position, his eyes wide, his breath stolen.

"I wouldn't advise that," Wari said, setting down the tray. "Lie back, Mateo, before you faint again."

Dizziness confirmed his words. Mateo leaned back against the wall, letting Wari prop him with pillows. "I remember," he got out between gasps. "Water, lots and lots of water. You caught me when I jumped. And there was debris in the water. Were you hurt?"

"Not seriously. I'm a little more beaten up than before, but well enough. You will be pretty well, also, as soon as we get some food in you. I thought perhaps you had re-injured your leg--again--but it looks like the worst of it is your hands."

Mateo looked down at them. The scratches and cuts were scabbed over, and the swelling of the more severe scrapes had subsided. They felt raw and sore, but he could use them. His head also ached, and his arms and legs, but the discomfort was negligible. "I managed to land on my good leg when I slid down the cliff. I'm not hurting badly, hardly at all, even. I've felt much worse on many mornings."

Wari placed a cup in his battered hands. "Drink. Neuma has been quite astounded by your ability to sleep through a great deal of commotion, first at Nirok's and now here, but it was good for you. And here's the meal Mistress Vemáley sent. She was quite voluble in her good wishes for 'the poor lad,' as she calls you."

Seeker Wari chatted companionably as the boy ate, always seeming to know his questions before he asked them. The sheep were fine. They'd gotten to higher ground before the dam gave way. Nirok's hay field was ruined, but this early in the year he could plant again, and get at least one cutting at harvest, if not two. He might not have surplus to sell in winter, but his large family would not suffer, nor would his purse, overmuch.

Those holding the rope had stepped far enough up the slope that the water missed them when the dam gave way, and no one was hurt. Thanas's lamb, Jeshera, had only gotten very wet and cold, apparently unharmed by his fall. No serious damage had been caused by the storm beyond a couple of old, dead trees in the common wood that had finally fallen.

The fallen trees had been requisitioned for the activity going on outside--the repair of the damaged outbuildings. A large crew of neighbors had shown up with materials and equipment, and they would be finished within an hour. The women of the shepherd families were busy preparing a midday feast in which the Seeker and his apprentice were expected to participate, so Mateo was warned not to eat too much just yet. Tomorrow the people would do what they could to rebuild Nirok's dam.

Rascal the kit claimed Mateo's attention when he finished the light meal, and Wari removed the tray. When he returned, Mateo was stroking the small animal's fur, his face thoughtful.

"It was foolish of me to go off yesterday without telling anyone, wasn't it?"

Wari sat back down, his weathered face mirroring the boy's seriousness. "Yes, it was. You and Thanas could have gotten lost or hurt, and no one would have known where you were. Moreover, those so-called 'collectors' could have been lying in wait for someone to come after the sheep. We must no longer expect them to be without cleverness in their planning. And you were in dire danger, Mateo. Had Teacher Arandfel not alerted me to the King's warning, I might have lost you."

Mateo stared at the Seeker, startled. Was that fear in his voice? Something had happened to Wari.

But that did not detract from the matter at hand. "Forgive me."

"Already done. I understand, and Thanas told me what you said--you are used to being alone and acting as you see fit. It will take some time to adjust to being an apprentice, with someone always concerned for your well being. Also, I have noticed that when you act impulsively, you act to rescue. The kit in the tree, the lost sheep . . . That trait is more worthy of praise than blame."

Mateo looked down at this hand, moving slightly with Rascal's contented purring. "You are the same, I think," he said softly.

Wari laughed and leaned forward, his eyes twinkling. "Listen to me, young one," he said, half-serious, half-jesting. "I never, never act rashly. Well, maybe I did when I was younger--" He waved a hand in a so-so gesture. "--but not anymore."

"Of course not." Mateo smiled.

Wari leaned back, serious again. "I'm curious about something . . . . You woke briefly during the walk back last night, and said something about me saying the same words Thanas used to calm the sheep. Do you remember that?"

Mateo thought back. "No . . . I don't remember waking . . ." he answered slowly. "The last I remember is gray, and rushing, the smell of water. Your voice was telling me that all was well, and I was safe." He looked at the Seeker. "They were the same words Thanas told the sheep, but I didn't mind. I felt safe." He looked back at Rascal. "I felt safe," he repeated in a whisper.

Wari nodded, understanding in his storm-colored eyes, and a quiet happiness. For a moment the two were silent, just enjoying each other's company.

"Something is troubling you," Mateo said suddenly. He scratched under Rascal's chin. "Underneath the, the rest of it. I don't know the right words."

The Seeker smiled faintly. "I know what you mean. Second Sight is often difficult to describe."

"But you are troubled."

Wari smiled again, crookedly. "Yes, I am troubled. The King has been whispering, and since Teacher Arandfel's admonition, I have been listening."

Mateo blinked, surprised to realize that the Seeker had become distracted, however briefly. He said nothing, though, and Wari went on.

"There are larger doings than these we have been dealing with here in Ikmos. A new threat has come. I do not know who or what it is, nor how dangerous. I am not afraid--I trust my Maker. But I dislike not knowing."

Rascal pressed against Mateo's hand, demanding attention, and he stroked her absently. "What will we do?"

That was new, also. For the first time, Mateo was thinking of the Seeker and himself as a team, not asking, 'what will you do?' but 'what will we do?'

Wari noticed the change--he smiled, genuinely this time. "We are still needed here, perhaps even more than before. But I am tired of simply reacting to the collectors' attacks. I will try to push matters to a head."


"Oh, I think I might just pay Servant Hyran a visit. I've heard so much about him, and he has no doubt learned all about me--perhaps it is time we met."


"Surely you didn't expect it to be easy."

Servant Hyran's smooth, urbane voice had a hard edge to it, like frost stiffening a down comforter. His eyes, that changed color like the sea and had won the attention of so many townswomen, were flint-gray.

Chief Constable Gordath ceased his restless pacing and halted, leaning on his knuckles on the Servant's desk, his face close to the other man's. He bit hard on each word, as if spitting out pebbles he had found in a dish he'd expected to relish. "I want him dead. Both of them. And that hill woman. And everyone else who dared to defy my collectors."

Hyran did not lean away from his companion's bad breath, though he did raise a hand to rid his face of Gordath's spittle. "You're over-reacting, my friend. Your attempts so far have been too quickly conceived and carried out. We must have a little more patience, and more deliberation in our plans."

Gordath grunted as he straightened. As always, he pleasured in the rippling muscles of his arms as he clenched and unclenched his fists, testing their strength. "That is why I have come to you, oh one-who-must-control-everything."

"Sit down, Chief Constable. I must think about this."

Gordath plopped into an overstuffed chair and watched the Servant, absently flexing his muscles. He had expected Hyran to be angry that he had not been told about the Seeker earlier. The constable had to admit this was pretty far into the game to finally let him know.

But he tired of Hyran's insufferable compulsion to be in total control of everything, at all times. It was he who had orchestrated their authority over Ikmos, though even higher men had convinced the ailing Prince Domyle of Hyran's worthiness to be a Servant. It was Hyran who had named Gordath Chief Constable, and organized their collectors and the distribution of what they collected, intimidating the townsfolk while Gordath and his men kept the farmers in line.

The Servant had done a good enough job, making no mistakes until a year ago, when he named that prude, Tyat Morelo, as constable. They hadn't yet found a good enough charge to drum her out, though, nor an opportunity to make one up. She was a vexation, but a tolerable one.

But now, with the coming of the Seeker and his apprentice, things had changed. Suddenly the winds were no longer in their favor. The ambush that first night had failed miserably, though Gordath accepted that, as poor Constable Ingfred hadn't been expecting a Seeker to fall into his trap. Everyone knew that ambushes of Seekers always failed.

Their inability to slay the little apprentice yesterday, though, was more worrisome. And now it appeared that Tyat Morelo had joined the Maychorian and his brat, and the shepherds were rallying together to repair the damage done their neighbors' holdings. Unacceptable.

Gordath thought he saw the same thoughts drift through Hyran's changing eyes. At last he paused and folded his hands on his desk. He looked at his subordinate with eyes, now ice blue, which caught light as on the edge of a blade, glittering harshly. "I hope you have learned your lesson, Gordath. I make plans. You carry them out."

The constable clenched sinewy hands on the puffy arms of his chair. "Would you have done any better? We need to make it look like an accident. The boy was in the gorge, the dam was already strained. It was an opportunity, and I took it. Would you have done differently?"

Hyran leaned back. "Your way is far too likely to outrage the people against us, rather than subduing them. Kill the apprentice, an innocent lad? Had you consulted me yesterday, I would have advised you to get far, far away from there."

Gordath grumbled, tipping his chair back on two stubby legs as he flexed the muscles of his own.

"I don't care how much you like your way better; it would never work," Hyran scolded. "Had you managed to kill the Seeker two nights ago, an investigating party would have been up from Maychoria within a month. Seekers know when one of their comrades is murdered. And killing the apprentice would not have driven the Seeker off, but pushed him to vengeful wrath, shortening our days yet further. And for pity's sake, Gordath, don't ruin my chair."

The constable sullenly let it back down on four legs. "You've still given me no pleasing alternatives. Time is on their side."

"Nay. It is on ours, as long as they do not travel down to meet the Princess and her party."

"You make no sense." Gordath paused and looked at his companion thoughtfully. "Unless you know something you haven't told me."

The Servant grinned suddenly, like a Katamobic wolf, following the bidding of its black master. "He is coming."

"He? Who he?"

"You know. That he."

Gordath had to think about it, but abruptly he mirrored Hyran's grin, even more widely and whitely. "Oh. That he." He chuckled, then chuckled again. "I see. There will be blood aplenty."

"Indeed, my friend. You need not seek it out."

Gordath broke off in mid-chuckle, his face straight again. "You still haven't told me what we're going to do about that thrice-cursed Seeker."

Hyran stretched expansively, as if he had finished a physically demanding task in solving this puzzle. "We need only delay them for--"

"Servant Hyran! Servant Hyran!"

The excited voice was accompanied with over-enthusiastic knocking on the door. Hyran sighed. "I certainly hope you took off your spike-knuckles before pounding on my door like that, Ingfred," he said as Gordath opened the door to let him in.

Constable Ingfred flushed and looked ruefully at his hand. "I forgot to put them on this morning."

"Never mind," Gordath said gruffly. "What news?"

Agitation heightened Ingfred's voice as he remembered what had brought him. "The Seeker! And his little apprentice! They're in the village, sir, I think they're coming to see you!"

To the red-faced constable's surprise, Servant Hyran smiled.


The Servant's council-house was not among the wealthiest in the village, as Wari had expected it to be. This showed surprising restraint on Hyran's part. The Seeker again warned himself to be cautious, and watch the corrupted ruler with the eyes of an eagle.

A constable was standing guard at the door, the same man to whom Wari had returned the knife. He flushed deeply at the sight of them. The Seeker stuffed down a grin--the man was as easily discomfited as poor Mateo.

He glanced at the boy, but Mateo seemed absorbed in looking about the quiet village street. A woman shaking out a rug in her yard waved jovially, and the lad tentatively raised a hand, then locked his eyes on the ground before him and didn't raise his head again. Well, perhaps Mateo was a little worse.

At the door Wari paused to give the constable a friendly wink. Scarlet as roses in summer, the man cleared his throat and called shakily, "Visitors for you, Servant Hyran!"

"Let them in, Constable Ingfred!"

The man pulled a face like he was eating one of Tyat's sour cherries and obeyed.

The furnishings inside were plush, but no more than in any other Servant-office Wari had visited. A muscle-bound guard sitting in the overstuffed chair scowled blackly at them, but the man behind the desk smiled as he rose to greet them. He was not rotund, but trim and well built, his face that of a player in a traveling troupe.

"Come in, come in," he said, the epitome of hospitality. Wari watched him carefully, searching for deception, and saw none. Was the man truly happy to see them? "Welcome to Ikmos! I am Servant Hyran, as you must have guessed. You must be Seeker Wari. And who is this charming lad? Your apprentice? But I heard you had refused to take another!"

Mateo shot the Seeker a startled glance. Wari put a hand on his shoulder and left it there, pressing gently. I'll tell you later, he tried to say with his eyes, and looked back at the genial Servant. "Mateo is indeed my apprentice. Whatever I might have said, the High King had other plans, and I am not the slightest bit sorry."

"My, my, not the Mateo, son of the once-mighty Droc? You look a bit pale, lad, have you been ill recently?"

Mateo shifted from foot to foot, reddening, and Wari began to answer, but the Servant kept going.

"Oh, I've heard tales about Droc and his temper. No one had seen his son for years, people said. The boy was so busy fighting Katamobic creatures in the Mingled Forest while his useless father drank dry all the taverns within riding distance. Marvelous things we've heard of your skill in the woods. That must have infuriated your father, being so easily bested by a callow child, his own son. But after being ill so long, perhaps you are out of practice?"

"If you wish, Mateo will be delighted to demonstrate his archery skills," Wari cut in firmly. "Later."

Mateo's lips were pressed in a flat line, his shoulder quivering almost imperceptibly under the Seeker's hand. Wari squeezed it, steadying him, and Mateo said nothing.

"Of course, of course. Oh, but I am neglecting my duties as host. Would you like something to eat, some scones, seed-cakes?"

"We just ate, thank you."

"To drink, then? Wine, perhaps? We have a wonderful vintage from the Tappuan Western Colony, and trouble it was to get it through the Wilders. Beer, or something more manly? Oh, nay." His blue eyes looked the Seeker up and down, twinkling merrily. "You're a cider drinker, are you not? And that will do for your apprentice, as well." Without a word of consent, he snapped his fingers at the guard in the chair. "Go fetch some cider, constable. Don't forget cups for Constable Ingfred and the boy."

The muscular fellow got stiffly to his feet and stalked out, without the slightest indication of a courteous bow. Wari saw the Servant eyeing Mateo again, as if readying his arrows to attack the weakest part of a fortress.

"Perhaps you had better watch outside," Wari said abruptly to the boy. "Not that I don't trust Constable Ingfred, of course."

"Yes, Seeker," Mateo said gratefully, and let himself out.

Servant Hyran hid his disappointment well. He gestured suavely to the chair his constable-guard had vacated. "Won't you sit down?"

Wari sank gingerly into the chair. He hated these overstuffed monstrosities. No support at all. It was like trying to sit on a vat of custard. "Perhaps you know, Servant, that some of your outlying citizens have been troubled by raiders."

"Aye." Hyran shook his head regretfully. "Those terrible thieves. They must have a very good hiding place in these hills. The hills are so honeycombed with caves. My constables are having a dreadful time."

Wari watched carefully. Yes, there was a flicker of deception around the Servant's mouth in the ether of the Spirit Dimension, the Middle Zone. The Servant was lying admirably well, if such a thing could be called admirable, but the Seeker could see it.

More confident, he sat forward on the edge of the chair and leaned elbow on knee, chin on hand, as he studied his adversary. "Indeed, the thieves are hidden very well in these hills. But not well enough."

Hyran's smile didn't look forced, but Wari knew it was. "Oh, have you found them? Certainly is it a great boon, having a Seeker join our search, if you have solved it so quickly! Where are they?"

"Oh, I did not find them." The Seeker smiled indolently. "I recognized them."

The flesh around the Servant's left eye twitched almost invisibly, as if he was trying not to squirm on his embroidered cushion. "Truly? The senses of a Seeker are indeed marvelous."

"Indeed." Wari picked up a terracotta sculpture of the palace in Phelturn from the desk and turned it over in his hands. It was one of the few personal touches in the room, and very well made. He held it to his face and inhaled the earthy scent of kiln-baked clay as he peered through the tiny windows looking in on the throne room. In breathtakingly minute detail were the throne, crown and scepter lying ownerless on the floor, and Tappuah's banner behind it depicting a leaping fish with the most delicate strokes of silver to accent it. "Beautifully done. May I ask the artist's name?"

"Kalindi of Phelturn, the one called Raiolai."

"Reflector of Loveliness. Appropriate surname, is it not?" Wari set the sculpture back down and looked thoughtfully at the Servant. He knew that response was truth, having recognized Kalindi Raiolai's mark, and it had been shown as such in the Spirit Dimension. He was getting the feel for Hyran's unique sense; he would most likely be able to tell truth from falsehood hereon.

"Kalindi does amazing work," Wari continued. "I have watched her at her craftshop in Phelturn. Gorgeous pieces, but expensive. She offered me a horse-sculpture I admired, but I had nowhere to keep it. I use the bowls she gave me instead--finely balanced, no heavier than sparrows, with lovely designs."

"Truly. I'd love to see them sometime."

"When did you purchase your sculpture? Must have cost a goodly amount."

The Servant leaned back, tense again. "It was a gift."

A truth. "From whom?"

"Norkalith, my former mentor."

Part truth, part falsehood. Wari frowned. No, that was truth, but only part of it. What else had Norkalith been?

The name was familiar, itching at the edges of the Seeker's brain. Years ago, Norkalith had been . . . someone important in Tappuah. In Phelturn. Who? What had he done? Something good, or something bad?

No, it was lost in the distant reaches of his memory. For a moment he considered taking the time to search it out right there in Hyran's office, but he decided not to. The Servant was nervous enough, with this long empty place stretching in their conversation.

Wari could see that Hyran was used to controlling conversations, as well as everything else he could lay his well-tended fingers on. When the Seeker and his apprentice had come, the Servant had expected to control that meeting, too, and anticipated much pleasure in it. His plan had succeeded well at first, ripping open Mateo's still-fresh wounds, but once that opportunity was removed, things had not gone Servant Hyran's way.

Wari reminded himself to have a long talk with Mateo as soon as possible. Perhaps he had made a mistake bringing the boy today, despite the whispers he had thought he'd understood, urging the contrary. The Servant's words had been too caustic, too . . . acidic.

He hoped the boy wasn't letting it bother him too much, sitting out there with only the remarkably incompetent Constable Ingfred for company.

The muscular guard returned at that moment, bearing a tray with cups and a jug of cider. Even without Second Sight, Wari would have been able to see Servant Hyran's relief. He hesitated to drink the cider he was handed, but Hyran smiled reassuringly.

"It's not hard," he said, and took a generous gulp of his own. "Don't worry, Seeker. It's quite safe."

Truth. Wari raised the cup to his lips.


It must have infuriated your father, being bested by his own son.

For a moment after he escaped from the stifling atmosphere of the Servant's office, Mateo could only lean against the wall in weak-kneed, trembling relief. On the other side of the step, Constable Ingfred watched him with diffident curiosity. Mateo ignored him.

Infuriated your father . . . his own son . . . infuriated . . .

Was that true? Had his father been . . . been jealous of his skills? It didn't seem possible. Yet it made perfect sense.

Mateo pushed it away, rubbing a wrist angrily at his eyes, and straightened. That was another thing he was used to--disregarding the hurtful words of others. It would probably return even more powerfully, but for a little while, at least, he could forget it had even been said.

Mateo looked toward the common green where they had left Xakor and whistled low, then high. His signal was slightly shaky but loud enough. The stallion whinnied and began moving toward him.

Mateo had been embarrassed to ride, and when they approached Ikmos he had suggested they switch, as it would look bad for the apprentice to ride while the Seeker walked. Wari had laughed and said it would look even worse for the strong, healthy-looking man to ride while the pale-faced, limping boy walked. Mateo had protested that his leg could hold up, and they had finally agreed to leave the stallion in the common. Now the boy needed Xakor's presence, and he was glad the horse was willing to answer him. The stallion was perfectly capable of refusing anyone but the Seeker, but he seemed to have taken a liking to Mateo, as most animals did.

Mateo rubbed Xakor's nose, drawing strength from his friendly snorts, the scent of hay and the baby carrots Neuma had insisted on feeding him. Constable Ingfred continued to watch with wide-eyed interest--Mateo gave him a crooked, hesitant smile and retrieved his pack from Xakor's back, behind the saddle. There was darkness in the man, but a touch of light as well, as if he wasn't really sure what he was doing, just following someone else.

But Katamobi follow another, too . . .

Mateo sat down on the step and casually, deliberately began repairing his arrows, glad he had thought to bring them. Absorbed in his task, he didn't notice Xakor wander off to someone's yard and start eating flowers off the well-tended bushes. For a long, comfortable interval, there was silence.

When Constable Ingfred cleared his throat, Mateo suppressed a weary sigh. He had known it couldn't last, but it was nice while it did. "Aye, constable?"

Ingfred pointed tentatively at the arrow in the boy's hand. "Do--do you ever use those?"

Mateo felt the shaft for cracks, turning it over in his fingers. "Aye." There was a small one, in the middle. He picked up his resin-brush from the jar and dabbed a bit on the crack, then squeezed it shut and wiped away the excess. When it was stuck well he set it aside to dry and picked up another one.

Ingfred said nothing for a little while, apparently rebuffed. A stray dog barked at them from across the street, and Mateo put down his arrow to hold out a hand. The dog hesitated, but its tail began wagging, slowly. The boy said nothing, but got on his knees in the damp earth and whistled softly, once.

The dog waited no longer. It trotted over so Mateo could rub its shoulders and chest. Ingfred looked uneasy.

"He's a wild one, that dog," he said. "Steals what he can, runs away at a footstep. Never let anyone touch him before."

Mateo shrugged. "There's nothing wrong with him."

"Not mad, then?"

"The only disease this dog has is fear."

"Oh." The constable did not look entirely assured.

Mateo sat back on the step and picked up his arrow again. The dog put his wedge-shaped head on the boy's knee and sighed in canine comfort, his tail thumping on the dirt. Mateo gave the back of the floppy ears a gentle scratch and lifted the arrow to his eye to check the shaft's straightness.

A heavy footstep on the road nearby, and the dog started up and fled. It was the muscular guard, returning with the cider. He smiled at the constable and the boy, but Mateo stared back, expressionless. This man was dark, and nothing but dark. He had a streak of cruelty, too--the reason for the dog’s fear of humans in general and this one in particular was suddenly painfully obvious.

"Here you are, Ingfred," the guard said, handing the other constable a cup. "Lad." Mateo accepted it and stood so the man could go in.

"Not like you to be doing women-chores, Gordath," Ingfred said in what he probably thought was a comradely tone.

Gordath frowned. "That's Chief Constable to you, dimwit. I do what I need to do. Keep your mustache out of your cup."

Ingfred looked mournfully at his cider and wiped a hand over his mouth as the Chief Constable stepped inside. Mateo sat back down on the step, sniffing suspiciously at his drink. It seemed all right.

"Aren't you going to drink your cider?" Ingfred asked.

"I'm not thirsty." Mateo set it on the ground by his bow.

After a moment he realized the constable was still staring at him. He looked up in exasperation. "Do you want something?"

Ingfred flushed. "Well, I heard, that is, I wasn't eavesdropping, well, maybe I was, but--are you really Mateo son of Droc?"

Mateo stood up and backed away. "Yes, I am." Without further prompting on his part, his lips were suddenly moving. "I don't care what stories you heard, the Katamobic dragon wasn't that big, and there were no elven maidens involved. It wasn't a pack of Katamobic wolves, it was only two, and it was twilight, not midnight, and I had plenty of arrows with me, and my flint did not fall into a bottomless lake, so I did very well and there was nothing miraculous about it. The wildcat was protecting kits so I can't really blame her, and I'm sorry I had to kill her--she was beautiful.

"I've never met Kataphage or the ghost of the Witch Ryoo, and I can't see Elinrómi or sprites, I just know they're there, that's all. The most I've ever caught in a day is two score and six, not four score and twelve, and I can't talk to beasts or call them to me--they come when they feel like it. My father taught me everything I know, and I haven't lived in the Mingled Forest all my life, just the last seven years, when Father got tired of wandering and wanted to settle down.

"And yes, I am only fourteen summers old and I'm not seven feet tall, nor can I lift enormous boulders with one arm, or even two. When I'm scared I can jump pretty high, but I've never gone as high as you heard, except when climbing. I don't glide like a flying brushtail and yes, once in a while I do make a noise. Does that answer all your questions?"

Constable Ingfred waited a long beat before replying, somewhat hesitantly, "Well, aye."

Embarrassed by his tirade, Mateo plopped back down on his step and ignored his surroundings until a plaintive whine raised his head once more. The stray dog sat near, head almost touching his knee, tail thwacking the pile of arrows.

Mateo smiled and patted his dirty head. "Don't like people, do you, boy? Scared, are you? Me, too."

The dog licked his hand, tail thwacking at an accelerated rhythm.

"You thirsty, boy? I've got some cider here I don't intend to drink."

He held it up for the skinny creature to lap. The dog sniffed it, then looked up at the boy with big, liquid eyes and whined again.

Mateo frowned. "What's the matter? You not thirsty either?" No, the sun was hot despite the humidity, and the dog's tongue was hanging out. Perhaps a better question was: why wasn't Mateo thirsty?

Mateo sniffed the cider himself and was almost bowled over by the revelation. The dark man, Chief Constable Gordath, he did what he needed to do, he had gotten the cider himself, and he had taken somewhat longer than strictly necessary . . .

The boy leaped to his feet and threw the door open, dropping his cup in the dirt. "Seeker, nay! Don't drink the cider!"

--end tale the fourth

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