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


The solidity of the pouch was comforting, and Taraval was convinced he was only minutes away from finding the gypsy woman and having his fortune told. But the minutes stretched into an hour as he made an orderly circuit of the fair, checking and re-checking inside and behind every booth, only to find no more sign of the gypsy than when he had searched for her that morning. The sun sank lower, along with his spirits, then winked out behind the mountains in the west.

Fiery cloud banners were fading to green and gold as Taraval, weary and disheartened, began wending his way back to Ilahee’s booth. He didn’t understand how, but he was convinced that through this unknown woman he could learn something that would help him save Ilahee. This morning she had sought him out. How frustrating that now that he had the money to pay her, he couldn’t find her anywhere!

Had he not already been thinking about the money, he might not have felt the fleeting brush against his thigh and the feather-fingered tug on the leather thong that tied the pouch to his belt. But more than these slight movements, it was the sudden absence of the reassuring weight against his hip that alerted him – that and an abrupt blur of movement as a black-haired urchin darted away from him into the still milling crowd.

“My money!” Taraval shouted, bolting after the thief. The boy, hair flying, ducked under a wooden fence enclosing the weavers’ black-faced sheep. Taraval vaulted the fence in pursuit but had to dodge among the close-huddled animals, while the much smaller boy had the advantage of a quicker route, leaping onto the back of a sturdy old ram and then skipping lightly from one back to another across the enclosure, skittering under the opposite fence while Taraval was still pushing his way through the stolid sheep.

Taraval leaped the fence in time to see the boy scuttle under a farmer’s cart. “Stop him! Thief!” he cried asa the urchin popped out on the other side of the cart and darted in and out among the fairgoers, as smoothly as a weaver’s shuttle slips between the warp and weft threads. A blacksmith joined him in the chase, but the good man’s age and ample belly made him no match for either pursuer or pursued, and he soon dropped out, panting.

The boy used as many tricks as a fox well practiced in eluding the hounds. When he realized that Taraval was almost upon him, he grabbed the apron of a very fat woman and faulted himself into the air. His momentum spun her around like a top, setting him down in the direction he had come from, and he was off again, sprinting past Taraval as he collided with the fat woman, who rocked on her heels, open-mouthed in astonishment.

Then the thief made what seemed to be a tactical error. He darted off the main thoroughfare toward a single tent huddled in a thin grove of trees a long stone’s throw from the gathered booths and enclosures of the artisans. “I have him now,” Taraval thought. Over this stretch of open ground, with no fairgoers to dodge through, Taraval’s longer legs gave him the advantage. His breath burning in his lungs, he sprinted ahead, gaining on the young thief until he could hear the boy’s panting and feel the pebbles the urchin’s flying feet kicked up pattering against his shins.

Just as they drew abreast of the tent, Taraval threw himself forward and tackled the boy, and the two of them tumbled head over heels, rolling over and over in the dirt.

“Get your hands off me!” the boy snarled, squirming like a wildcat.

“Give it to me!” Taraval snapped. He had the boy from behind, one arm locked around his neck and the other around his belly.

Seeing he was pinned, the boy changed his tactics. “Let me go, please,” he whimpered like a wounded pup.

“Give me my money first.”

“What money?”

“Don’t play the fool with me. It’s in the purse you stole.”

The boy went suddenly limp. “I don’t have any purse,” he said.


“Search me.”

Holding the boy firmly with one arm to keep him from bolting, Taraval carefully searched through his clothing. To his amazement, he found nothing.

Taraval’s stomach knotted. The future of Ilahee might depend on the money in that pouch, and this ragged urchin had thrown it away.

“All right, what did you do with it?” Taraval demanded, shaking the boy hard.

“Is this what you’re looking for?”

The low voice, with its strangely familiar accent, so startled Taraval that he almost let the boy go. His eyes moved up slowly, past the hem of silver crescents and over the shimmering rose and gold gown to the honey tones of the gypsy’s face. There was an amused expression in her almond-shaped eyes as she held out a graceful hand. Dangling from her slender fingertips was Taraval’s leather purse.


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