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.Rhys rose to his feet, his emmide in his hand, his dog at his side.A day’s walk would take to them to the town.Night would introduce them to Zeboim’s gift.8The burial ground was an old one, dating back to the founding of the town.Set apart from the town in a grove of trees, the cemetery was well-maintained, grave markers in good condition, weeds trimmed.Flowers had been planted on some of the graves and they were in bloom, their perfume scenting the darkness.Some of the graves were decorated with objects dear to the departed.A rag doll lay on one small grave.Rhys stood in the grove, keeping to the shadows, wanting to view this mysterious personage first before speaking to him.Atta dozed at his feet, snoozing but watchful.The night deepened, nearing the midpoint, the cross-over from one day to the next.Bats skimmed through the air, feasting on insects.Rhys gave them his grateful thanks, for the insects had been feeding on him.An owl hooted, making known this was her territory.In the distance, another answered.The graveyard was quiet, empty except for the slumbering dead.Atta rose suddenly to her feet, ears up, body quivering, tense and alert.Rhys touched her lightly on the head and she remained quietly at his side.A person entered the graveyard, wandering among the markers, sometimes touching them with his hand, giving each a small, familiar pat.Rhys was taken aback.He hadn’t known what to expect-a cleric of Zeboim; possibly a necromancer or even a black-robed wizard, follower of the dark god, Nuitari.In his wildest imaginings, Rhys had not foreseen this.A kender.Rhys’s first thought was that this was Zeboim’s idea of a joke, but the goddess did not strike him as the sort to indulge in a light-hearted prank, especially when she was so intent on the search for this Mina.He wondered if the kender was really the person he was supposed to meet or if his arrival was coincidental.Rhys discounted that after a moment’s consideration.People did not generally flock to graveyards in the middle of the night.The kender had arrived at the appointed hour, and by the way he walked and talked, he was a frequent visitor.“Hullo, Simon Plowman,” said the kender, squatting down comfortably by a grave.“How are you tonight? Doing okay? You’ll be pleased to know the wheat is up about six inches now.That apple tree you were worried about doesn’t look so good, however.”The kender paused, as if waiting for a reply.Rhys watched, mystified.The kender heaved a dismal sigh and stood up.He moved on to the next grave, the one with the rag doll, and sat down beside it.“Hullo, Blossom.Want to play at tiddle-winks? Maybe a game of khas? I have my board with me and all the pieces.Well, most of the pieces.I seem to have misplaced a rook.”The kender patted a large pouch he wore slung over one shoulder and looked with hopeful expectancy at the grave.“Blossom?” he said again.“Are you here?”He sighed dolefully and shook his head.“It’s no use,” he said, talking to himself.“No one to talk to me.They’ve all gone.”The little fellow seemed so truly sad and heart-broken that Rhys was moved to pity him.If this was lunacy, it had certainly taken a strange form.The kender did not appear to be insane, however.He sounded rational, and apart from looking rather thin and pinched, as if he hadn’t had much to eat, he seemed healthy enough.His hair was done up in the typical kender topknot.The tail straggled down behind him.He wore more subdued colors of clothing than was usual with kender, having on a dark vest and dark britches.(In this Rhys was mistaken.In the darkness, he mistook them for black.He would later come to find out, in the light of day, that they were a deep, but vibrant, shade of purple.)Rhys was curious, now.He walked toward the graveyard, deliberately stepping on sticks and shuffling his feet through the leaves so that the kender would hear him coming.Her nose twitching at the unusual smell of kender, Atta ranged alongside him.“Hello-” Rhys began.To his astonishment, the kender leapt to his feet and retreated behind a tall grave marker.“Go away,” said the kender.“We don’t want your kind here.”“My kind?” Rhys said, pausing.“What do you mean-my kind?” He wondered if the kender had something against monks.“The living,” said the kender.He waved his hand as though he were shooing chickens.“We’re all dead here.The living don’t belong.Go away.”“But you are alive,” said Rhys mildly.“I’m different,” said the kender.“And, no, I’m not afflicted,” he added, offended, “so wipe that pity-look off your face.”Rhys remembered hearing something about afflicted kender, but he couldn’t recall what and so he let that pass.“I am not pitying you.I am curious,” he said, threading his way around the grave markers.“I mean no disrespect to the honored dead, nor do I mean them any harm.I heard you talking to them-”“I’m not crazy, either,” stated the kender from behind his grave stone, “if that’s what you’re thinking.”“Not at all,” Rhys said amiably.He sat down comfortably near the grave marker of Simon Plowman.Opening his scrip, Rhys drew out a strip of dried meat.He broke off a share for Atta and began to chew on a piece himself.The meat was highly spiced and the pungent smell filled the night.The kender’s nose wrinkled.His lips worked.“Odd place for a picnic,” the kender observed.“Would you like some?” Rhys asked and he held out a long strip of meat.The kender hesitated.He eyed Rhys warily.“Aren’t you afraid to let me get close to you? I might steal something.”“I have naught to steal,” Rhys answered with a smile.He continued to hold out the meat.“What about the dog?” the kender asked.“Does he bite?”“Atta is a female,” Rhys answered.“And she harms only those who do harm to her or those under her protection.”He held out the meat.Slowly, cautiously, his distrusting gaze on the dog, the kender crept out from behind the stone.He made a dart at the meat, snatched it from Rhys’s hand, and devoured it hungrily.“Thank you,” he mumbled, his mouth full.“Would you like more?” Rhys asked.“I- Yes.” The kender plopped down beside Rhys and accepted another piece of meat and a hunk of bread.“Don’t eat so fast,” Rhys cautioned.“You’ll give yourself a belly ache.”“I’ve had a belly ache for two days,” said the kender.“This tastes really good.”“How long has it been since you’ve had a proper meal?”The kender shrugged.“Hard telling.” He put out his hand and gave Atta a gingerly pat on the head, to which Atta submitted with good grace.“You have a nice dog.”“You’ll forgive me for saying this,” Rhys said.“I don’t mean to offend, but usually your people have little difficulty acquiring food and anything else they want.”“You mean borrowing,” said the kender, growing more cheerful.He settled down comfortably beside Atta, continued to pet her.“Truth is, I’m not very good at it.I’m ‘all thumbs and two left feet,’ my pap used to say.I guess it’s because I hang around with them all the time.” He gave a nod toward the graves.“They’re much easier to get on with.Not one of them ever accused me of taking anything.”“Who do you mean by ‘them’?” Rhys asked.“The people who are buried here?”The kender waved a greasy hand [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]