Long tendrils of blue smoke twisted slowly from the fire pit and dissipated into the bite of winter air. Frost carpeted the scattering of fallen leaves and the wooden buckets outside the partially open door of the smithy had a skim of ice above the water. From within came the rattle of tools--Isidro preparing for another day.
Ricóre stood for a moment, absorbing it all, savoring the tang of burning wood, completely oblivious to the cold. She knew without looking that Pedrín still slept in the adjoining cabin, one thumb hooked loosely between his teeth and his knees drawn up below the pile of blankets. A faint smile touched her lips and she turned to enter the smithy.
The dreamwalker materialized directly in front of her. "You have no time for this, Ricóre."
"Aulofu. Get out of here."
"You are not yet ready. There is business to take care of."
"Then do it somewhere else."
They studied each other, calculating their long acquaintance which had never consisted of anything remotely connected to friendship, while everything around them became less substantial.
"Look around you," Aulofu directed. "It will save you trouble later."
"Is that all you had to tell me?"
"Look around you. There is business to attend to."
The smithy and its setting faded. Ricóre opened her eyes and glared silently into the haze of predawn light beyond her window. In the next room, a muffled thunk announced Pedrín’s preparations for a new day.
It will save you trouble later... That had been a warning. Distaste curdled on her tongue and she sat up, reaching for her clothing. There is business to attend to... Pointless, as observations went; there was always business to attend. One shoe slid under the narrow cot beyond her reaching fingers and she hit it with a sharp spell of retrieval. "That miserable creature had better keep to herself."
Ha! muttered her conscience. The miserable creature is not Aulofu.
Well, she acts like it. She shoved her foot into the wayward shoe and simplified matters by zapping its mate into place.
Does she now? Dishing up the hypocrisy a little early this morning aren’t we?
Oh, keep quiet! Something didn’t feel right. During her deliberations she’d spelled her dress on over the sleeping garment. I’ve got trouble enough already!
"Pedrín, did you dream anything last night?" she asked a little later, properly attired and only using a little magic to help with breakfast.
Her eldest looked up with a grin. His coming awake had changed nothing. Majíca still danced in his mind, her hair floating out to meet her gown; her head thrown back in the magic of the music. Firefly lanterns lit the clearing in a place he’d never seen before, and the evening still promised to go on forever.
"Nope," he returned cheerfully. "Should I have?"
Trey jerked upright, not quite certain what had happened but complete positive that the strange old shade at his bedside did not belong there. "What on earth are you doing in here?"
"Ever wonder where you came from, Elf?"
"I’m more interested in where you came from." He didn’t like her--he was sure of that already.
"You have never been curious? Never wondered if you’re the only Wood Elf in the land?"
"You’ve never been taught manners? Never thought common courtesy would get you farther?"
"I do not travel on politeness."
"And a good thing too! Otherwise, we sure be stuck with you forever!" He swung his feet onto the floor and stomped off toward the kitchen. Ricóre sure had some weird friends. Something about this one made his skin crawl.
The roan ignored Darvón completely, and the wizard perched on the top bar of the animal’s stall to give it some thought. Somebody’s blocked out his memory. Somebody with enough power. It was still Briger in there, he’d insinuated himself and checked most carefully, but Briger with no memory access whatsoever. Now just who else around here could do that?
It posed an interesting question. There had been plenty of traffic in and out of the stable, but nobody who even remotely resembled another wizard. And it hadn’t been Ricóre--he’d have heard about it for sure if she had fixed it. Karl Strange? Maybe. But Karl would have blabbed to Ricóre and again he would have heard about it. And Karl would have demanded payment for the keep of Briger’s body. So.
The sound of a tin bucket doing full battle alerted him to the approach of an armored Sir Scat and he swiveled on the rail so he could watch the man in his attempted progress across the yard. Scat had never gotten the hang of walking with his sword properly in its scabbard and was waving it in front of himself like some sort of semi-lethal antenna.
"Good morrow, Sir Scat! What brings you questing to the stable at this early hour, pray?"
"A mount for to...." The helmet visor clanged down, cutting off the rest of his sentence and quite possibly the end of his nose. The knight stopped, sword slowly waving at the neat stacks of hay, and pushed it back up. "I am in need of...."
"A horse," Darvón finished for him, sliding down to the floor. Conversations with Scat could take fascinating turns, but he’d just noticed something odd between the stable and the Inn that demanded his immediate attention. "Help yourself to this one. He’s vacant, believe me."
The sun was warm in the valley, blanketing the landscape with a golden glow that stretched from one side to the other. After checking the fight pit to make sure he wasn’t missing anything important, Ricóre’s oldest flopped himself at the base of the nearest tree and closed his eyes.
"Pedrín, son of Isido," Aulofu said softly.
There was a gnat somewhere; he could hear it in the background. It didn’t disturb Majíca of course, the clearing was sacrosanct and he had no intention of ever permitting a distraction. She twirled, and he did, and the music of the stars beamed down upon them. After a while the pest went away.
Darvón tipped his head one way and studied her, then the other and did it again. She was old, older than Ricóre from the looks of her, and a whole lot thinner. The thing was, she didn’t appear to be...substantial. There was something vague about her that just didn’t fit with the reality of the Talos.
"Gotten lost?" he asked her. It didn’t seem reasonable, but she seemed to be sort of...dispersed...and he didn’t know how else to put it.
She solidified suddenly, as if she’d pulled herself together, and the pale eyes that glared up at him from her seat on the chopping block were anything but welcoming. "No."
"Oh. Well, have a good time then." He looked back toward the stable. She was magic, that was certain, but she had more of it than he was willing to mess with at the moment.
"Great decisions are in the offing."
"Really?" An odd flame of energy jumped into existence near the bottom of his stomach. "Is that a promise?"
"It is a warning."
"Warnings I don’t need. Any idiot can give those. What have you got in the way of power?"
"Go with caution, wizzling. Greed and envy follow you."
"Yeah, I know." She hadn’t answered his question. Just how much power did she have? And what kind? Maybe if he just peeked at what was in there....
And then he just had to try it.
Gees, it was cold! Any other observation would have to wait until he could orient himself...things kept spinning around...he kept spinning around...scenes and people and creatures and sounds all caught in an icy vortex....
Let him go, Aulofu. That was Ricóre’s less-than-pleased voice. Somebody was in deep--
I do not hold him. And that one rang inside his own skull... He was long past dizzy and whirling beyond seasick, spiraling down and down and down....
Unless you plan to have him always, do it now. Ricóre was growing dim, lost within the maelstrom of noise and chaos. Cities flashed before him. Creatures. People and countries....
He entered uninvited. It was his decision. Frigid...that voice was so...frigid....
The action was his, but the results will be yours. Ponder that, dreamwalker. You will be cursed with him forever.
The blast that ejected him nearly shattered his skull.
"Feeling better, Little Wizard?" The badger sat back on its haunches, paying absolutely no attention to Sir Scat who was struggling to get upright, and eyed the gelding tethered firmly in the stall. "Head still achy? Upset stomach?"
Yes, his head hurt. And there was something clanging around in his backbrain about familiar surroundings... "What’s it to you?"
"Can you take it someplace else then?"
"Probably. And I will. Once the time is right, of course."
Ah. A wiseacre badger. Marvelous. Now if he could just-- "Hey!"
No! It can’t be! His boots weren’t down there! Just straw and two hooves!
Yes, it can.
"Briger’s gone, Darvón."
If his stomach hadn’t been upset before, it sure was now. He turned his head, half sick at the effort of it, to stare at the badger. "Ricóre."
"You were expecting someone else, dear?"
"No, not really." This wasn’t fair--it wasn’t! "Are you going to let me go now?"
"I don’t think I can, son. I didn’t put you there. It’s not my magic."
"Well, I didn’t do it!"
"My, my, imagine that." The badger appeared something less than sorrowful. "Might be that the old bat slapped you with one of your own misdeeds."
Bats? There were bats in this too? Well, it seemed to be the day for it. "What bat?"
"You were conversing with Aulofu. Before you inclination to theft half killed you, anyway. Did you enjoy it?"
"The old woman?"
"My, that’s a polite way to describe her--I do believe that you’re improving."
"Huh." He didn’t believe this for a minute. None of this was real and he was going to wake up in his own bed after a while. Yes. "Another witch friend?"
"Hardly. Aulofu shows up with very cryptic messages which are impossible to decipher and deadly to ignore. But a witch she is not. We wouldn’t have her."
Well, this was all very enlightening but totally beside the point. "So how do I get out of here?"
The heavy body shuffled around to face the door, then completed it’s circle and returned to face him. "It’s open. Walk through it, I suppose."
"I mean this horse’s body!"
"Oh, that. Well, how did you expect Briger to do it?"
"I didn’t expect Briger to do it! I wanted him in a horse’s body!"
"Then I think you’re on your own, dear." The badger’s head swung slowly from one side to the other as if testing the wind. "Your body is in your bed all safe and sound--the dreamwalker was quite emphatic in her desire to get you out of her mind. Which reminds me, how did you like your glimpse of eternity?"
"My glimpse of what?"
"Eternity. She holds the knowledge of all history and all possible futures. I’d of thought you’d find it fascinating."
"I found it cold, to tell the truth."
"That too, I would imagine. She makes few judgments and very little sense. But...there she is."
"So." Something bit him, hard, and he jumped, hardly aware that he’d done it until the slap of his own tail whacked him on the nose. "How do I get out of this thing?"
"Now that I really couldn’t tell you." She shifted her weight to all four feet and glanced back over one shoulder at the knight who had almost succeeded in pulling himself up straight by use of the hay bales. "But there really isn’t any hurry. You directed Scat to use this mount, and it’s hardly his fault you’re inside it."