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.Toopka sighed.“Aren’t we going to do anything?”“Yes, we are,” answered Lyll.Toopka’s ears perked up.Lyll turned away from the scene of the wagon and its load of villains.“We’re going back to the tavern and report to Wizard Cam and Dar.”Toopka’s shoulders slumped.Kale suppressed a giggle when she saw Regidor’s shoulders do the same.With Lyll in the lead, the comrades crept out of the wooded area and circled the village to enter from the other side.They found Dar and the two wizards sitting out on the benches in front of the tavern.Kale furrowed her brow in puzzlement.Knowing the councilmen of River Away, she couldn’t imagine Dar had been able to bring them to a decision this quickly.Dar lifted a hand in greeting as they approached.“No, Kale,” he said.“They are not convinced, but Librettowit has taken over for me for the time being.He’s giving them the history of the problem.”Kale planted her fists on her hips and turned to Lyll.“Does he read my mind?”Lyll laughed, a hearty laugh unlike the musical tinkle of the other mother’s.“I can’t answer that.I will say doneels are not known to be mindspeakers, but are renowned for their diplomatic skills.I imagine their success in diplomacy stems from an acute discernment of others’ temperaments.”Wizard Cam laid a hand on the sleeping wizard next to him.“Fen, wake up, old man.We have news of the culprits.You won’t want to miss this.”“Who are you calling old?” The voice rumbled out of the leaves, but Fenworth did not resume his manly form.“You,” answered Cam.“Come now, Fen.We have work to do.”Kale watched as the wizard opened his eyes.His other facial features emerged from the bark, moss turned to hair, sturdy branches to arms and legs.Leaves became cloth and a pointed hat.No wonder the mariones of River Away are goosy about having wizards around.Cam leaves a puddle of lake water wherever he pauses for more than five minutes.Fenworth transforms into a tree.And he always has small creatures skittering about, climbing through his hair and clothing, some flying out at unexpected moments.I think a year ago, I would have cowered at the sight of him.“Precisely so!” said Fenworth, looking her straight in the eye.“I’m almost as much of an oddity as you are.Tut-tut.How narrow we are in our thinking! Tut-tut, oh dear.”“The report?” prodded Dar.“Ladies first.”He stood up and gestured for Lady Allerion to take his seat.When she was settled, she took Fenworth’s hand as she spoke.She didn’t direct her words to him in particular, but clasped his hand in a friendly manner.The old man beamed at her, and Kale remembered Fenworth had said Lyll had once been his apprentice.“We have found the culprits.There are two marione men and two ladies.One woman is also a marione.The other is our meech.She has a tremendously strong personality.She believes in what she is doing.Her drive to succeed is reinforced by her insatiable desire to win Risto’s approval.” Lyll turned to Kale.“Kale?”“The marione woman is bitter and angry.She resents the devotion her son and husband show to the meech.” Kale turned to Bardon.“The two men respond to the meech differently.” Bardon reached up and pulled a lock of dark hair.He smoothed it over his ear, a gesture Kale had seen him do many times.Now she understood the subconscious habit had a significance that probably even Bardon didn’t realize.I’m glad Grand Ebeck sent him with us.Bardon has secrets, and I think he’ll be better off once he gets rid of them.I have secrets too.Only my secrets are hidden from me as well.She looked at the woman who claimed to be her mother.There’s one mystery.“The father,” continued Bardon, “is motivated by greed.The son adores the meech with an unnatural devotion.”Regidor unclenched his fist and rubbed his palm down the rough material of the clerical robe.“Her name is Gilda.She’s proud, vain, and deluded.She believes Risto is the savior of the people of Amara.She derives pleasure from her power over men and dragons.She enjoys giving orders to destroy.”Kale’s mind had been puzzling over a problem, and she had to ask her question.“How does she influence the dragons as a fortuneteller?”“She sets up the farmers to distrust their dragons.She foretells the dragons’ defection.She warns of their treacherous ways coming to the surface.Then at night, she visits the dragons and sows seeds of discontent.She has a poisonous tongue.” He grimaced.“She then confuses their thoughts so her victims have no clear memory of where they acquired these errant ideas.”Regidor shifted his feet and took in a deep breath.“What I find most disturbing is the smile on her face as she contemplates evil.”“You could see her face?” asked Toopka.“No, I could feel the euphoria in her physical being as her mental images conjured up destruction.”“Not a nice lady,” said Toopka.“But one Paladin wants us to rescue,” said Bardon.Regidor clenched his fist once more.“It would be easier to destroy her than to change her mind.”“Well then,” said Fenworth as he came to his feet, “let’s go.Sounds like a delightful challenge before supper.Stimulate the appetite, or kill it.Interesting either way.”48CONFRONTATIONWhen the companions reached the market field, they discovered two tents had been set up.One sold potions.The other, an elaborate green-and purple-striped canopy over yellow sides, was marked Fortuneteller.“She’s in the fortuneteller tent,” said Regidor.“I suggest,” said Dar, “that Regidor and Kale go in to have their fortunes told.”Lyll raised an eyebrow at the two.“I take it you do not believe in such nonsense.”Both Regidor and Kale shook their heads.“Good!”Dar looked up at his two warriors.“I’m sending you because you have the best chance of influencing Gilda.Regidor, obviously, because he’s a meech.Kale, because she’s the Dragon Keeper.Take the minor dragons with you.”Lady Allerion placed a hand on Kale’s shoulder.“Gilda’s clever, and she’ll likely uncover your true identity quickly.Deal in truth, and she cannot hurt you.Any deceit will give her the advantage.”While the wizards, Bardon, and Dar went to the potions tent, Regidor and Kale approached the fortuneteller.Regidor stopped at the opening, held the flap up, and gallantly gestured for her to proceed.“After you,” he said with a twinkle in his eyes.“Thanks,” said Kale and stepped into the gloomy interior.With relief, she felt Regidor follow.His tall presence behind her gave her courage.The veiled figure sitting at the back of the tent did not move.In front of her, one lantern sat in the middle of a black table.The flicker of the flame reflected in the highly polished top, making the table look as though fire danced beneath its surface.“So you are the mighty Dragon Keeper.” The meech dragon’s sultry voice floated across the room.“I am disappointed.”Kale took two steps forward.In spite of the fact she knew Regidor had not followed her farther into the tent, she spoke boldly.“Paladin sent us to find you.He doesn’t want you to live in bondage to Risto.”“Oh, I see.He wants me to be in bondage to him.How nice.”“If you choose to break away from Risto, Paladin offers you freedom.He does not offer another form of slavery.”“Strange, but your words seem attractive.” She remained motionless for a moment, long enough for Kale to wonder whether or not she should say something to fill the silence.But Gilda spoke again.“Perhaps this inexplicable attraction is the lure that makes you the Dragon Keeper.However, I am not overwhelmed by your influence.”The shadows in the room pulsated with her words.Although the lantern had not dimmed, the darkness grew [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]