Chapter XXIV – Bargaining With Magic

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Am I of “the ken,” this old woman wants to know. Sounds like being of the ken is a privileged position. Since I’m not, I go for what privilege I have. “I don’t know your ken, but I am the apprentice to Court Magician Sarton, and if you don’t want him to destroy you with lightning bolts, you’ll let me go.”

The old woman doesn’t look very impressed. She steps forward and takes a closer look at me. “Sarton’s whelp, are you? He’s not here, boy. I am. And since you’re not of the ken, you shouldn’t be here. So why are you here?”

“None of your business,” I reply.

The next moment, I scream as every nerve in my body lights up in pain. It only lasts a moment. But a moment is too much.

The old woman nods contentedly at me. “Don’t get lippy with me, boy. Answer the question.”

“I needed a drink and a woman,” I reply. And wait to be struck with pain again.

I’m not. The old woman cackles. “You’re a pretty one to be so hard up. Still, it’s an honest reason. So your penance will be light.” She reaches into a pocket in the red jacket she’s wearing over her gown, and pulls out a small box. Holding it out, she says, “Here, boy, deliver this to Bjarn at the Red Foxtail. Tell him Zella sent it. Then you will have discharged your penance, and may leave Gehulia freely and without further harm.”

I reach out to take the small box, and find I’m no longer chained to the post. This woman is some sort of magician herself, clearly. I take the box. It’s not much bigger than my palm. “May I know what’s in this box, madame?” I ask in polite tones.

She appears mollified by my tones. “No. And best no one but Bjarn tries to open it.”

“And how do I find the Red Foxtail?”


I should have asked where Bjarn is. Because I’ve been to the Red Foxtail. To Bjarn’s house. To his workplace; he’s a tanner. (Ugh!) Every place I go, I’ve been told he’s somewhere else.  Finally, I was assured he was at the Dry Gulch, a tavern noted for its salty food. But the directions I was given were faulty. I’m lost.

City alleys can hide robbers . . . or washwomen. (“Alley” by Jules de Bruycker (1870 – 1945))

So I step into a dirt alleyway and summon Tavartet again, to tell me where the Dry Gulch is. Instead of getting a map in my head, I hear Tavartet’s voice. “For a second consultation in a day, you need to give me an offering.”

Trying not to attract any attention from anyone who might be nearby, I whisper, “I will actually make two offerings to you, one for the first consultation, one for this one, once I get home.”

“I require but one: three dragon’s teeth.”

What is it with dragon’s teeth? First Sarton, and now an immaterial spirit wants them. I make a counter-offer, “One. That’s all it’s worth.”

“I think not. Three.” The spirit’s voice is smug.

“All right, three,” I promise.

Immediately, a visionary map of the neighborhood appears in my head. My location is clearly marked. So is the Dry Gulch’s. It’s at the other end of the alley I’m standing in.

It is all I can do to restrain myself from calling Tavartet a bunch of hard names before I dismiss him.

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