To begin at the beginning, click on Prologue in the Table of Contents, then on Chapter One, etc.


Before Taraval could recover from his astonishment and respond, the gypsy woman was gone in the swirling current of fairgoers. He plunged into the throng after her, craning his neck to catch sight of the shimmering rose and gold and silver of her gown.

His heart pounded as he darted among the crowd, teased by fleeting flimpses of dark hair and golden skin that then disappeared like mist at sunrise. In front of a glass-blower’s booth he saw a black-haired woman in a pink dress and caught her by the shoulders, but the smiling eyes she turned on him were not the topaz ones he sought. Then he was certain it was the gypsy woman he saw riding in a brightly painted cart trundling away from the fair. He began to chase it, but he stumbled over a tree root, and when he caught his balance and looked again, the cart was gone.

Young women smiled at him, noticing his tousled golden hair, flushed cheeks, and eyes alight with excitement, but he was unaware of their admiring glances.
Finally, breathing heavily, he leaned against a tree in front of a silversmith’s booth to catch his breath and collect his thoughts. What was going on here? The gypsy woman was a complete stranger to him. Why would she know anything about Orchis? And even more mystifying, how could she know about his dreams? He had mentioned them to no one, not even Uncle Terwilliger or Friar Biophilus.

He sat down on the ground, back against the tree, and buried his head in his hands. The events of the past week had been so bewildering: first the burning blue light and the cascade of notes that had made his discovery of the tandaril trunk seem tinged with magic; then Terwilliger’s difficulties in making the lute – though he was Ilahee’s best instrument maker – followed by the unexplained breaking of his lutestrings; and now the baffling appearance of this gypsy woman who seemed to be reading his mind.

Interwoven through all thisk were his dreams of Orchis – at first calling his name and then beckoning to him. Were those dreams a key to the rest of the mystery? There had been no magic in Ilahee for the last forty years, but if the stories were to be believed, Ilahee’s tandaril years had been full of the enchantment that was Orchis’ legacy, and the reappearance of magic suggested her hand at work again. Taraval looked up at the sky. If any shred of her spirit still in habited this world, then maybe it – she? – knew of Ilahee’s impending fate. It was up to him to save Ilahee, and himself, if he could find a way. Perhaps the spirit of Orchis was trying to show him the way. If that was so, he must find out whatever the gypsy woman knew.

Well, then, he simply had to find her and have her tell his fortune! With renewed vigor he leaped up and started weaving his way through the crowd again. Then a thought stopped him so suddenly that a butcher carrying the carcass of a pig almost slammed into him: What would it matter whether he found the gypsy if he hadn’t the money to pay her? He picked up a stone and hurled it into the oak grove, where it ricocheted off a tree trunk with a sharp ping. Never before had Ilahee’s poverty caused him such frustration.

He would not ask his uncle for the money, for that would force an explanation he did not wish to give, and he had nothing worth selling except the ring of Ilahee, which he had vowed never to part with. No, he must get it some other way. He stood with his brow furrowed in thought as clusters of people flowed around him like a stream flowing around a rock. It took only a moment for him to decide what he must do. He stood up on the tips of his toes, rocked back and forth to test his balance, and tried lunging this way and that. After a few minutes he was satisfied with his practice and set his shoulders, then walked back toward the throng that still hovered around the two men on the log, swinging their sacks at one another.

As he neared the booth a cheer of victory went up. One of the contenders had been toppled form the log, and the winner – a strapping red-haired tradesman a little older than Taraval – claimed his purse. With a grin the youth surveyed his potential challengers as the booth keeper, still in his buffoon costume, worked the crowd.
“Step right up and try your skill! Who is man enough to try the winner? Who will accept the challenge? You? Or you?” But the bravest souls in the crowd had already tried their luck, and the rest needed more coaxing. As the booth keeper scanned the crowd looking for a likely contender, his eye caught Taraval’s.

“You, sir?” he challenged. The men around Taraval backed away a little, but he heard one of them say, “No, he wouldn’t, he’s royalty.”

Taraval stood fast in his small clearing, his eyes bright with anticipation. Then a bald-headed cobbler wearing a leather apron said, “Royalty, all right, but he looks game,” and he addressed Taraval with an exaggerated bow.

“Noble sir, will you join us in our sport and try your skill with the lad?”
Taraval locked eyes with the red-haired youth. “I would be pleased to test my skill against his,” he said.

When they saw that the young nobleman had taken up the challenge, the crowd murmured their approval and parted to let him through. The recent loser, a gap-toothed man with a mop of curly black hair and a large belly, handed him the weighted sack and Taraval, his pulse quickening, stepped onto the log.


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