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


Taraval slept restlessly and was awakened at dawn by a rustling sound from inside the lute. It lay on the chest by the window, where he had placed it after making his peace with Featherbroom the night before. He thought at first that she was merely being peevish again, but then he saw that the lute lay near the partially open shutter, and there was an unaccustomed chill in the air.

He picked up the instrument and laid it at the foot of his cot, out of the draft, then pushed the shutters wide open to look at the hillside behind the inn. With a tightening in his chest he noticed that the trees seemed to have taken on fall colors almost overnight.

A cold breeze sprang up, swirling a pile of fallen leaves nearby; a red maple leaf danced through the air in his direction, drifted through his window, and settled on the table. Taraval shivered. He would have to buy Segway a cape and a warmer blanket soon. But first he must get Philip Carbold to make the waterskin and pack they needed.

A gnawing worry gripped him. After what happened last night, would the man still be willing to carry out their agreement? The thought of talking with Carbold was repugnant to him, but it would do no good to torment himself about what had to be done. “Worry makes thin gruel,” Friar Biophilus always said, and it was no substitute for action.

He felt a powerful urge to get on with the purpose of his quest, to begin asking questions and showing the ravenwood leaves to everyone he met. Drawing out the ravenwood box Terwilliger had given him, he took out the ravenwood and tandaril leaves and compared them. They were identical in shape, yet very different in other aspects – the tandaril leaves smaller and more fragile, and with a hint of their greenness remaining, though they were forty years older than the already faded ravenwood leaves. He could no longer remember what impulse had prompted him to bring the tandaril leaves and starflowers, but he was glad he had, for they symbolized to him all that Ilahee had been – it was not just a remote, poverty-stricken kingdom he was trying to save, but one that had once held a place of pride in the world. Ah, he thought, how different things would be if only we had the tandarils back.

Carefully he returned the leaves to the box and put it back in his leather pouch. Seeing there was no way to lock the shattered window, he decided to take he lute along with him. He slipped it inside its leather case and secured the opening, then dressed hurriedly, slung the lute over his shoulder, fastened the leather pouch to his belt, and set out for the marketplace.

Taraval reached the market just as the merchants and farmers were beginning to set up their stalls. Neither of the Carbold brothers had arrived yet, so he wandered among the stalls, watching farmers pile their bins and tables with onions, carrots, beets, and apples. Here and there he recognized a face that had been among the crowd at the inn the night before, and he was greeted by shy smiles or nods, and an occasional hearty salutation.

“Good morning, minstrel!”

Taraval turned to see the broad, grinning face of the carpenter who had passed his hat among the patrons and encouraged them to contribute.

“I see you’ve brought your marvelous lute with you. We’d be pleased if you’d play it for us here at the market.”

Taraval smiled. “I thank you for the compliment, good sir, but I have other things than entertaining on my mind today. Indeed, perhaps you can help me.”

He drew out the box and pulled from it one of the fan-shaped ravenwood leaves.
“Have you ever seen a tree with leaves like this?”

The carpenter looked the leaf over carefully, then shook his head. “I’m sorry, minstrel, but that is like no leaf I’ve seen before. But then I have never traveled more than half a day’s journey from the village. The person you should talk to is Ansel the woodcutter, who sells me wood for my carpentry. He roams the countryside with his wagon and ax, so he knows more about the trees around here than anyone else.”

“Where can I find him?”

The carpenter shrugged. “I don’t think anyone knows where Ansel lives. He shows up here in Landshut once every week or so with a load of wood. He was here day before yesterday, so we don’t expect him again for awhile, but if I see him I’ll tell him to look for you at the inn… He may be of help to you… if it’s worth it to him,” he added.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, what wood Ansel can’t sell for building, he sells for firewood. He’s never been known to give anything away – including information.”

“I see,” Taraval said, thinking of the money he had and of how far he had to stretch it. Then he thanked the carpenter for his help and continued on his round of the market. Now that the tradesmen had finished setting up, he stopped at each of their stalls to show the ravenwood leaves and ask the questions. But the answer was always the same – no one recognized the leaves. Two more tradesmen mentioned the name of Ansel the woodcutter, but they didn’t expect to see him soon either, and they had no more idea where he lived than the carpenter.

Taraval struggled with his impatience. Once every week or so? I can’t wait long for this woodcutter , he thought. He looked out at the stands of red- and gold-tinged maples beyond the village and felt once more a sharp pinch of anxiety about winter’s approach.


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