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


When he reached the inn, Taraval went immediately to his room, where he sat on his narrow cot with his head in his hands, trying to subdue his anger. After a while he pulled the lute form its case and held it across his knees, stroking the satiny surfaceof the tandaril wood. It was a magnificent instrument and he would never consider selling it, even if it hadn’t a trace of magic in it.

Its magic, indeed, was at times a liability, as he had learned last night when Featherbroom’s antics had almost disgraced him. Still, despite her fickle temper, when he sensed her fear of Philip Carbold he felt the same concer for her he felt for the helpless orphaned animals he had often tended at Uncle Terwilliger’s. How had he developed such strong protective feelings for this mischievous and willful little wood nymph when he had never even seen her?

Those feelings laid another weights on his shoulders, for they made him responsible for her welfare now, as well as Segway’s. And what kind of protection could he provide her? Certainly nothing like the safety and shelter she had had in Terwilliger’s carved chest for forty years.

He tried to imagine what it was like to be wood nymph, and what kind of life she had had, locked up in that chest with the dead trunk of the tree as her home. He wondered if she had been lonely. Had there once been others of her kind and, if so, could they, singly or together, have been the source of the tandarils’ magic?

But what good did it do to even ask such questions? The past was past, and he had to deal with the present. The little wood nymph’s power had already saved his life and Segway’s and, in spite of her mischief, had earned him far more money last night than he could have earned on his own. But she was totally unpredictable, and he could not risk a recurrence of the outrageous behavior she had displayed. He must win her good will, and the only way to do that was to learn to communicate with her. He’d already experienced her power to read his thoughts and feelings. Did she also understand his words?

I shall have to find out, he thought. Gently he laid his hand against he rose-carved sound hole and concentrated on sending her the images in his mind. “Featherbroom?” he said softly. “May I call you Featherbroom.”

The lute vibrated briefly with a faint humming sound, then fell silent.

“Well,” said Taraval, “that seemed like a positive response, since a ‘no’ most likely would be a shower of those blue sparks of yours. I’ll assume a hum means ‘yes.’”

The lute once again hummed softly, then one perfect note reverberated through the room. Taraval laughed with pleasure. His first attempt at communicating with the sprite had gone better than expected.

Gently he returned the instrument to its case and slipped the strap over his shoulder, then went to the stable, where he found Segway repairing a bridle. Briefly he told the boy about Carbold’s attempt to buy the lute.

Segway’s eyes widened when he heard of Carbold’s threat against them, but he asked only, “Now where are we going to get the waterskin and pack, m’lord?”

Before Taraval could answer, the door of the stable opened and Lisa entered, followed by a burly man with a bushy blond beard. Taraval was astonished to see that it was Thomas Carbold, Philip’s brother. Carbold waited by the door, twisting a leather belt in his hands, while Lisa approached Taraval and spoke softly to him.

“I didn’t want to bring him here, minstrel,” she whispered, motioning toward Carbold, “but he said he wanted to talk to you and I… I didn’t know what else to do.” She dropped her head, then lifted it and looked up at him, her hazel eyes filled with concern. “If it is something to do with his brother, and what happened last night… you… I want you to know…” She bit her lip, and he saw that her cheeks were flushed. “Just don’t fight with Philip,” she pleaded, touching his arm hesitantly. “It’s none of your responsibility.”

“I think if Phlip Carbold were planning to fight with me, he wouldn’t send his brother to arrange it,” Taraval said, smiling at her. “And I doubt he’d give me the courtesy of a warning.”

Lisa flashed him a look of gratitude, then left the stable, keeping her head lowered as she slipped past Thomas Carbold and out the door.

Taraval greeted him. “Good day,” he said cordially. “Is there something you wish of me?”

Segway busied himself with his chores at the opposite end of the stable, but Carbold kept his voice low, as if he feared someone might be listening. “There’s nothing I wish of you, minstrel, but I have information I hear you are seeking.”

Taraval looked at him keenly, trying to determine whether he had come looking for money.

Carbold read the expression and shook his head. “I am not expecting to be paid, minstrel. I only came to say that, if it’s important to you, I can tell you where to find Ansel the woodcutter.”

The offer surprised Taraval. “Yes, it is important to me,” he replied. “I am curious, though, why you are going out of your way to do me this favor.”

Carbold stroked his beard. “I don’t want you to think that Landshut is full of barbarians,” he said. He looked at the floor, scuffing the toe of his boot in the straw, then back at Taraval with an urgent look. “There is some risk in my coming here.”

Taraval nodded, thinking of his encounter with Philip Carbold only half an hour earlier. “I understand,” he said, “and will not keep you. Where will I find Ansel the woodcutter?”

Carbold took up a long-handled brush that hung on the wall nearby and with the handle cleared the straw away from an area of dirt floor. Quickly he drew a crude map, describing the landmarks, which he marked with exes on his drawing.

“It’s an hour’s ride each way, perhaps a little more,” he said. “But even if you leave after lunch, you should be back well before dinner.”

I thank you for the information,” said Taraval. “Only I wonder how it is that of all the tradesmen at the market, only you know where the woodcutter lives.”

Carbold’s eyes hardened. “Whatever is to be known in Landshut, my brother and I know,” he said. It was not spoken as a boast but simply as a statement of fact. Then he rubbed out his drawing with the toe of his boot and scattered straw over the bare space. “I must go.”

He walked away a few steps, then turned and spoke again, his brows knitted together. “You understand, I hope, that for your sake as well as mine, you must never let my brother know I told you this.”

“You may trust me in that,” Taraval replied.

Carbold nodded. “One thing more,” he said. “The woodcutter has two friends you should beware of.”

“How will I know them?”

“One is tall and tin, with red hair, and the other has a big belly and is missing a finger.” He held up his right had with the forefinger bent down. “If I were you, I wouldn’t let either of them get between me and a door.” Having issued this warning, Carbold slipped out of the stable.


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