He immediately regretted his decision. Holly's little dog was running in circles, trying to alert the occupants of the wagon to two men who looked, to Lucius' worried eyes, like bandits. His first impulse was to slam the door shut again, but then Holly, who had apparently risen early, wandered into the clearing to retrieve her dog. She was at an age when she was outgrowing her clothes, as yet without self-consciousness, and her light summer frock barely covered her. She stopped and stared at the two men, who had not seen her yet.
"Good morning, travellers!" said Lucius quickly, in his friendliest tone. "What brings you here so early? I suppose you'll be wanting some breakfast. We haven't started cooking the sausages yet, but I was just about to get the fire going... "
Their worn and ragged clothes were stained with what he suspected was old blood, and the one closest to the wagon was wearing a sword. His eyes were red-rimmed and his face haggard and exhausted, but, even so, he looked in far better shape than his companion.
"Are you Stewart?" The one who could still focus his eyes interrupted Lucius' greeting. "I'm Rusty, this is my old friend Otis. We need to talk to Stewart."
Lucius felt a rush of relief. Rusty was telling him that he and his companion were Waldings.
"There's no Stewart here. Why would we need a Stewart? There's only one wagon here, haven't you got eyes?"
Rusty held out his left hand, palm up, and Lucius slapped hands quickly with him in greeting. He was unsurprised to notice the small tattoo on Rusty's palm. Questor's mark.
Holly had heard the exchange. "Hello, I'm Holly. Will you be travelling with us? We're heading for Kolimba." When the dog would not stop barking, she picked him up, crooning to him softly.
"No, I'm not going that way. Otis will be travelling with you."
Otis, who was swaying on his feet and seemed to be panting slightly, gave no sign of having heard. At the same moment the back door of the wagon opened and Skinner and his younger brother Sparks came tumbling out.
"We've got honey-cakes," said Skinner, with his mouth full. "You want one?"
Loretta, wearing her big hat with the pink roses, followed with more dignity. She settled herself on the steps while the boys swarmed around the strangers, introducing themselves noisily.
"I'm Sparks. I'm four."
"I'm Skinner. Have you come from Outguard? Did you see my father's wagon, the one with the bird paintings?"
"These are Rusty and Otis," said Lucius, more to Loretta than to the boys.
Sparks pulled at Otis' hand with one of his own sticky ones. "What's wrong with him?"
Rusty's eyes remained fixed on Lucius. "Otis is hurt bad, he needs help. Flames are after him," as if he were too tired to be anything but direct.
Holly screamed, and clutched her dog so that he yelped again.
"Fire Masters?! Fire Masters are coming?"
"And you've led them here? Who do you think you are?" Loretta stood up on the steps. "You got no right! You get away from us right now! You take your trouble elsewhere!"
"What did he do?" Skinner gazed at Otis with interest.
"Otis has done a lot of good for the Waldings." Rusty was still speaking to Lucius. "You'll help him. Give him a new name, disguise him. I'll lose the hunters. Flames'll still be here by nightfall, shouldn't wonder. Best think about what you're going to say to them."
"You got no right!" said Loretta again. "Bringing that kind of trouble down on decent folks! Who are you to give orders?" She swirled her skirts and levelled her forefinger at Rusty, looking like a wild avenging spirit. "You think I don't recognize you? You're Cat's boy Oliver, aren't you? I remember you, squalling in diapers in Esmerel when Lucius was no more than..."
"Give it a rest, grandmother." Rusty shook his head. "You got nothing to fear. A hundred wagons between here and Kolimba, and Flames got no reason to suspect you if you're smart."
Sparks, giggling, tried to swing on Rusty's swordbelt. Rusty looked wearily around the clearing. "Don't suppose you have an extra horse?"
"We look like we got an extra horse? Do you see any extra horse? Don't you got eyes, Lucius already asked you? I suppose you'll be wanting to take old Blackie and let us pull the wagon ourselves? But then Questor's boys never did listen to reason... Oh, of course I know what you are, you think I need a hand-slap to recognize one of you trouble-makers?"
"You work for Questor?" Skinner was at a hero-worshipping age. He stopped with a bite of honey-cake halfway to his mouth and stared at Rusty.
"Keep your teeth together, grandmother," said Rusty, without anger.
"You don't tell me what to do, boy. Whose wagon do you think this is? All my own, and I don't give it up without a fight."
"He hasn't come for the wagon," said Lucius, patiently. "Skinner, close your mouth, you look like a half-wit. Why don't you start the fire and we can all eat? Put on some extra sausages."
"I can't stay," said Rusty. "Not without you want the Flames down on you before you've finished breakfast."
"What do we do about Otis? What's wrong with him?"
Rusty shrugged. "Some kind of magical damage. I talked to someone who knows, he said give him silverberry juice. Lots of it. To drink. It will help, might snap him out of it."
Sparks tried to slip his hand into Rusty's pocket. Rusty slapped his hand away without looking.
"You mean like silverberry dye?" said Holly. "I've got a scarf dyed with that, that kind of silvery blue."
Skinner had not moved to start the fire. He was still gazing at Rusty. "Is there something magical about silverberries, then? But it's the wrong time of year. We won't find any growing."
"We'll be in Kolimba soon enough," said Lucius. "They'll have it for sale."
Rusty, starting to trudge back to the road, stopped and half turned.
"Can't do that. Can't buy it in Kolimba."
"There's a big Fire House in Kolimba. Fire Masters know what the stuff can be used for. They'll be looking for anyone buying it."
"What do you expect me to do, then?"
"Find a way. Look after him."
Lucius fought down panic. Sleeping rough had been much easier than the complications of running a wagon.
"Did you see his clothes?" said Holly, in a hushed, fascinated tone. "Did you see the blood on his shirt? It was all stuck to him. I wonder when he last washed his clothes. Or his hair. Almost looked like there were cobwebs in his hair..."
Skinner watched Rusty out of sight.
"I liked him. I'm going to work for Questor sometime. I'm going to..."
"You can quit talking like that right now!" said Loretta. "Run that idea right out of your head. Working for Questor! Rousing decent folks up out of their beds before the sun's up, asking favours, DEMANDING favours, helping themselves to wagons and horses and food and never doing a lick of work in exchange..."
"Come on, Otis." Lucius put a hand under the man's elbow, and guided him to a seat on a log. "Let's get some food and drink in you. Then maybe we can clean you up, make you look a little different like Rusty said."
"And you was a lot of help!" Loretta turned on Lucius. She imitated him. "'Yes, Oliver, anything you say, Oliver, of course I'll look after your old friend after you let the Flames fry his brains.' 'Of course I'll tell lies to the Flames when they show up, we'll be quite safe, it's not as if they ever burned a wagon...'"
"Flames burn whole camps," said Holly, softly. "You know they do, you were the one told us that time outside Oakbridge..."
"We'll be all right," said Lucius. "Skinner, get the fire started, I'm not going to tell you again. Holly, Otis needs a drink. Break out the undercask if we got nothing else strong."
"...and they can come and demand anything, a family's first-born child, if they want, and can't nobody say no to them..."
Lucius could tell it was going to be a long, hot day.
In the end they disguised Otis as an old man, a believable disguise given his present condition. He was docile and allowed Lucius to do what he wanted, even forcing drink down his throat. With his hair whitened with flour, dressed in a long robe, he made a convincing grandfather. As soon as he was tucked into bed, he fell asleep and snored loudly. Whatever else was wrong with him, he was clearly exhausted. Lucius hoped he would be better when he woke.
They hitched Blackie to the wagon and headed out before noon. Loretta drove, with Sparks squirming beside her on the seat on one side and her late husband's crossbow, loaded, on the other. Lucius was initially worried about the crossbow, but, after snatching a moment alone with it, was reasonably sure that it would not fire. In fact he had doubts that it had ever been a working weapon.
He had found his sword in Skinner's bunk, told Skinner not to take it without asking again, and put it away in a locked chest. No point in looking for trouble.
"If they try to take any of the children... If they try to set fire to the wagon... Just let them look out!" Loretta muttered threats as she drove. Lucius walked beside her and tried to be a calming influence. Holly and Skinner wandered the roadsides, scavenging and picking berries, and Loretta occasionally called them frantically to keep up.
Holly suddenly gave a squeak. She released her skirts to point back up the road, and strawberries rolled everywhere. Lucius looked back and saw horsemen approaching. Six -- seven of them, brilliant splashes of red, overtaking fast.
"All right," he said. "We knew this was going to happen. Pull over and stop, carefully, Loretta. Carefully! If we tip the wagon we'll be good and noticeable, won't we?"
The wagon jerked to a stop on the side of the road, and Blackie immediately began to sample the grass. Loretta ordered the children out of sight, and Holly lifted Sparks down from the seat and disappeared into the wagon with him. A moment later she emerged long enough to grab the little dog as well.
"I'm staying here." Skinner planted his feet in the road and watched the approaching riders.
They came up at an gallop and reined abruptly to a stop, dust swirling around them. Their horses were lathered with sweat. Only one rider was wearing the red robe of a wizard; the others were guards, with chain mail under their stained red cloaks. The Fire Master himself looked calm and cool. He eyed Lucius, as if he were matching him against some mental criterion and was disappointed that Lucius did not measure up.
"Greetings, travellers." Lucius bowed deeply, and Skinner did the same, sweeping off his plumed hat. "You seem to have been travelling hard. We're honoured that you have stopped. Did you hear of our wonderful sausages in Outguard, and come after us to try them?"
"We're looking for someone. A Walding. A Walding on the run, perhaps heading for Kolimba. He is about your age, but broader and taller. The last time he was seen, he was wearing a brown cloak and green breeches."
"We've seen many Waldings matching that description. You know there's a fair in Kolimba? Just an hour ago I saw a juggler all in green, and he appeared to be in a great hurry..."
"A brown cloak?" Skinner came closer. "Hey, Lucius, you remember that man we saw in Tucker's Grove this morning? We saw..."
Lucius told the story at the same time, in different words.
"That's right. Just this morning, in the oak forest near Tucker's Grove, we saw a man in a long brown cloak, with a raven on his shoulder. The Fire Masters would be very interested in that, I said to myself. If we see any Fire Masters, we'll have to be sure to tell them..."
"A short brown cloak," said the Fire Master, cutting both of them off. "The man's name is Otis."
"That's a common Walding name," said Lucius. "I've a cousin Otis. And then there's Star's youngest, she called him Otis, didn't she, Loretta? I'm not sure, it's been a while since we've seen..."
"Otis, that's right," said Loretta. "I always get him mixed up with Tally's boy? Is it Marcus?"
"Star's eldest is Marcus," said Skinner. "Don't you remember, he was the one got sick eating green apples that time in Niringshold?"
Lucius did not see the Fire Master give a signal, but his guards dismounted, heavy in their armour, and moved to surround the wagon. Their horses stood passively where they were, sides heaving.
"We also sell pottery," said Lucius. "We have some beautiful stuff right now. If you'd just let me show you..."
"Stay where you are," said the Fire Master. One of the guards jerked open the back door of the wagon. Another was right behind him on the steps. Holly's dog, barking frantically, ran between their legs and almost tripped them both.
"You be careful in there!" Loretta shouted.
"My father's in the wagon. He's sick... Of course you're welcome to look" -- Lucius accepted the inevitable -- "we got nothing to hide."
"This Otis is a wizard." The Fire Master watched Lucius' face.
"A wizard! Oh, well, of course, you said he's a Walding, and lots of Waldings call themselves wizards. Really they got no more magic than I do, but you know how people are -- like to believe Waldings can tell the future, and are willing to pay for it..."
"A real wizard?" asked Skinner.
"Real, and very powerful," said the Fire Master, grimly. "Better pray you don't meet him."
"Don't worry. We don't want to tackle a wizard on our own."
There was the crash of broken pottery inside the wagon, a growled order from a Fire Guard, and a squeal from Sparks.
"You leave those children alone!" Loretta jumped down from the seat and raised the crossbow. The nearest guard belted her across the face. She shrieked and the crossbow went flying, though the bolt remained firmly attached. Skinner clenched his fists and tried to run at the guard, head down. Lucius grabbed him on the way.
"Filth! Pond-scum!" Loretta hobbled after the crossbow and picked it up again. "Who do you think you are? Hitting an old woman! I hope you're proud of yourself, I hope you can sleep at night, you and all your..."
The dog, barking constantly, ran in circles around the guards. One of them caught it with the side of his heel and sent it yelping into the road. Holly screamed in indignation and ran after it. Otis was brought out of the wagon next, tottering like a sick old man. Sparks followed more slowly, trying to talk to one of the guards. "Do you know my name is Sparks? That's like a fire name... Ow! I'm coming!"
Loretta screamed with rage and tried to raise the crossbow again. Lucius dropped Skinner on the ground on his back, reached Loretta in two strides, and wrenched it away. He tossed it into the trees. To the Fire Master, he said, "My mother is a little... ouch!" Loretta had kicked him in the shin with a booted foot.
One of the guards snickered. The Fire Master glared at him. Two guards were now searching the wagon noisily.
"Get the crossbow!" Loretta hissed at Skinner.
Skinner scrambled to his feet and ran to obey, with Sparks behind him. Some pottery came flying out of the wagon.
"My butterfly bowl! I was going to sell that for five crowns!" Loretta stopped glaring at Lucius and rushed to the back of the wagon.
"I'm sorry about my mother. She don't mean no harm," said Lucius to the Fire Master. He was glad to see that the crossbow had lodged in a tree, and that Skinner was climbing up to get it, with Sparks at the bottom shrieking encouragement.
"I think she'd disagree with you," said the Fire Master. Lucius wondered if this might be a joke, but was not certain, and was saved from forming a reply as Skinner fell out of the tree with a loud crash and Sparks began to howl. With Sparks' wails added to the dog's barking and Loretta's cursing, conversation became impossible. The Fire Master gathered up his reins with a gesture of annoyance.
The two guards who had been searching emerged from the wagon. Sweat streamed down their faces. They shook their heads and indicated that the search had been unsuccessful.
"Let's go," said the Fire Master.
"Wait a minute! Who's going to pay for my pottery? How are my children going to eat...?"
The guards mounted their horses. Skinner returned to the wagon, dragging Sparks with him. "I didn't mean to hurt him. I fell out of the tree and landed on him. I kicked him in the head. I didn't mean to. You better have a look..."
The Fire Master and his guards turned their horses and rode away. For a moment Lucius stood still, letting relief wash over him. Then he went with Loretta to examine Sparks.
Sparks had a cut on his head, but he gradually calmed down as Loretta rocked him and sent Skinner to get cloth for a bandage. Lucius helped Otis back to bed. Holly hovered in the doorway, watching.
"You think he's really a wizard?"
"Of course not. They was trying to scare us. If he was really a wizard, they'd have known, right? Flames can tell about these things."
By the time they had finished making Otis comfortable, Sparks' head had been bandaged, and he and Skinner were helping Loretta gather up shards of broken pottery.
"Hey, Lucius, think they'll go riding all the way back to Tucker's Grove?" Skinner looked up at Lucius and grinned, a wide relieved grin. "Think they'll find the old fellow with the raven?"
Lucius grinned back. "Good luck to them."
"Never wish good luck to Flames!" Loretta was still indignant. "Nothing but bad luck, that's what I wish them! They didn't have to smash things. Didn't I tell that Oliver he was bringing us trouble?"
"They was a nasty bunch." Holly cradled the dog.
"That dog is nothing but a nuisance," said Skinner, and then dodged as Holly threw a piece of pottery at him.
"Any Walding on the road got trouble today," said Lucius. He was going to leave the crossbow stuck in the tree, but Loretta looked so furious when he suggested it that he climbed up and fetched it for her.
They had barely got started again when they saw another wagon approaching. This one was recognizable as a Walding wagon a long way off, the sunlight glittering off polished stones attached to the top and sides, and colourful ribbons fluttering in the breeze. The group was bigger; at least half a dozen adults walked beside the wagon, one of them playing a flute. A large white dog came bouncing to meet Holly's little one.
The two groups talked while the wagon drivers manouevred the wagons past each other. Lucius asked one of the men,
"You hear the Flames are looking for someone?"
"We heard. They're looking for the great Walding wizard Otis."
"They stopped us and searched the wagon."
"Likely they'll stop us, too. But we'll have more trouble. We got the Walding wizard Otis with us."
"Right here." The man pointed. A child of ten smiled widely at Lucius under a green floppy hat.
"Watch yourselves," said Lucius. "Flames are in a bad mood."
They encountered other Waldings several times, and before the end of the day met two other "Walding wizard Otis"'s. One was a girl-child, the other an old woman. Rusty had definitely been this way before them.
Skinner and Holly spent much of the day trying to teach Holly's dog to flip a coloured ball off his nose and catch it in his mouth. Sparks, with his bandaged head, seemed somewhat subdued and dozed beside Loretta on the seat.
As they approached Kolimba and the fair, and Blackie began to put more effort into his pulling, Lucius saw what he had least wanted to see.
They were riding straight toward the wagon. Had he said something wrong the first time? Had they remembered something about Otis, later?
"Holly! Skinner!" he called back, frantically. The children grabbed the coloured balls and began to run toward him with the dog chasing them, barking excitedly.
"You're jumpy, boy." Loretta was calm now. She steered the wagon to the side of the road. "Look at the way they're riding. They're not in a hurry. They're not interested in us. Here, Skinner, throw him a ball! give him something to calm his hands."
Skinner tossed a ball to Lucius, and Holly tossed another, just as the guards arrived. Lucius began juggling, trying to look nonchalant. As Loretta had predicted, the guards rode by without stopping, though they gave the wagon a long stare.
One of them turned at the last moment and looked back.
"Hey! What are you selling?"
"Sausages!" Loretta yelled.
"We'll be back!" said the guard.
Loretta grinned triumphantly at Lucius, who shrugged. "You were right."
A few minutes later, as the wagon reached the outskirts of the fair, he saw three more uniformed Fire Guards. Two were buying darts, about to throw them at a target and try to win a ribbon, and another was buying a dipperful of sweet milk. It was early yet, but already the fairgrounds were filling up, with townsfolk as well as Waldings.
Lucius walked in front of the wagon, as Loretta guided Blackie carefully through the crowd. Holly and Skinner darted off to greet friends. In the midst of a group of Waldings, dressed in rags and ribbons and munching on melon slices, Lucius found himself close beside a man who spoke to him.
"Hi there, just arrive? I'm Stewart."
They slapped hands, and Lucius thought Stewart looked relieved after they had done it. He had apparently thought that Lucius might be one of Questor's men.
"Hi, I'm Lucius."
Loretta leaned down from the wagon. "Loretta. We've got sausages, and some pottery, though some of it got broke earlier. Hope we're not too late to join the fair. We sell the best sausages you've ever tasted; big, juicy ones." We need help, was what she was actually saying. No Walding is ever too late to join a fair.
"Good to see you. Don't be silly, always room for another wagon, and I think I've heard about Loretta's sausages. You got a boy Stevie? No? Must be another Loretta. You should check out that left back wheel, looks like it's loose to me. See the way it's wobbling?" Are you in immediate danger? Are you being watched?
"Let me take a look." Lucius walked around to the back. "Go on, Loretta, drive, let me see the wheel. You're right, it might be a little loose. You got anyone in camp can fix it?" No, we're safe for now.
"We had some trouble today, might take us a little longer to find someone. Russ, he's usually good at that kind of thing. Tell you what, you join us for supper, I'll have him look at your wagon. We can do without your sausages for one night."
"Sounds good," said Lucius. "We had some trouble, too; some of our pottery got smashed. We might need help cleaning up our wagon." We've got someone with us we don't want found.
"Sure. You can put your wagon over there. See the strong man lifting rocks? Behind there, two rows back, ask for Teller. It's quiet back there. Teller's pretty old, but he can keep an eye on your stuff if you need it. Come right back after. Maybe we'll have time for a game of Slip before supper."
Lucius relayed the good news to Loretta. While she parked the wagon, he dragged back Skinner and Holly, and asked them to feed and water the horse.
"And one of you stay with the wagon," he added, "Loretta and I'll be back before long and then you can have the rest of the evening to do as you like."
Stewart had set out dice and cards for the game in a grassy spot among the wagons, not far from the mud wrestling pit, which would be very noisy later. With Lucius and Loretta, there were six Waldings to start the game. Some of the people who wandered by asked what was going on, and Stewart explained Slip in complicated terms. Even so, three townsfolk joined almost at once. One was wearing a uniform, and Lucius wondered if he were a Kolimban town guard or just some rich man's bodyguard. He stayed a long time, and seemed to enjoy the game, so the Waldings let him win quite a bit.
The Waldings talked all the time. Each related stories, and occasionally they threw in questions or comments about each other's stories. They were all experienced players, and knew which conversation to actually listen to at any given moment.
Lucius told a long story about the man with the raven, elaborating on the little bit he had come up with before. Loretta talked about various relatives, in this camp and out of it. Both of them, in snatches, passed on the information about Otis the possible wizard. Stewart, in turn, made it clear to them that another, safer wagon would be found for him, and that they would be free of their dangerous cargo tomorrow morning.
It was Loretta who finally raised the subject of silverberry juice.
"...not to mention all the things we still need for the sausages. It's been too hot in Stonebolt this year, some things haven't grown, they say it'll be a hard winter. Have you heard of putting silverberry juice in sausages? -- just a little, of course. It doesn't turn them blue, like you'd think, but it does give them a little extra kick. But we haven't been able to find..."
"I got seven! Your turn! You're looking for what? Silverberry dye?"
Lucius had a sudden inspiration. He deliberately caught the eye of the guard, who had been following one of the meaningless conversations.
"It's going to be in short supply in town, of course, because of the Blue Festival tomorrow."
One of the other Waldings took his turn and said. "Six. I'm going to win this round. I don't think most people have bought any dye yet. I know I haven't."
"I'd forgotten all about it," admitted Stewart.
"Blue Festival?" said the guard to Lucius, right on cue.
"Yes, haven't you heard of it? Every year right at this time, we hold a festival to celebrate the clever escape of the Walding Arlo from the evil wizard Sneldrake. Haven't you heard the story? It's a good one. See, Arlo was the youngest of six children, and the last. One by one, over the years, his older brothers and sisters had mysteriously disappeared. Everyone thought they had wandered into the marshes and drowned..."
Ten minutes later, Lucius wrapped up his tale.
"...and so the vat floated down the river, out of Sneldrake's lands, and eventually fetched up far to the south. Arlo climbed out, sick and dizzy and of course still blue, and started the long walk home. Sneldrake still believed he had seen a demon. He left the marshes the very same night, and was never seen in those lands again.
"But Arlo couldn't get the dye off, however hard he scrubbed. He remained blue for the rest of his life, and became known as the Blue Walding."
"I've seen a wagon called that!"
Lucius grinned. He had noticed the wagon on his way into camp.
"It was named after Arlo. So this time of year Waldings dye their wagons and their clothes, and sometimes even their hair, blue, to celebrate..."
"I think dying hair is going a little far," Stewart put in.
"I did that last year. It was fun," said one of the other Waldings. "It washed out; not like Arlo's. Is there silverberry dye in town?"
"Well, I expect so, but by tonight it might all be..."
"My uncle has some, I know," said another townsman. "He has a shop by the river, sells all kinds of things like that. He'd still be open. You want me to go take a look?"
"He could bring some of it out here. Lots of Waldings'd be willing to pay for it." Stewart threw a quick glance at Lucius.
"I'd like some myself," said Lucius. "And I fully intend to win this round."
If one of Questor's men had said that, Lucius knew that his luck would suddenly be very good indeed. He was unsurprised when his own pile of coins began to grow.
Before the game was over, the first purchase of silverberry dye had been made. Lucius bought it with some of his coins. In his next throw, he lost the whole pile to Stewart. He stood up, cursing the fact that he was out of money, and headed back to his wagon with the bottle of dye.
Although it was not yet full dark, the fair was definitely underway. Lucius skirted a raucous footrace, wove his way through a tent festooned with ribbons and full of gamers, ducked under a canopy and squeezed apologetically past a couple locked in an embrace. Half a dozen children, including Skinner and Sparks, were sitting on and around Loretta's wagon, but they scattered as Lucius approached.
"Go on, have fun," he said.
Otis was still lying passively in bed.
"I've got something for you." Lucius shut the door behind him. He filled a cup with silverberry dye, helped Otis to sit up, and gently fed it to him.
For the first few seconds there was no reaction. Then Otis choked, gasped, and suddenly looked straight at Lucius. He seemed to try to speak. Then he doubled over, shivering violently. Lucius pulled the blanket off the bed and wrapped him in it, so that it concealed his face and hair, and led him outside. Fortunately, Teller had a fire going, though it was a warm night. Lucius pulled Otis over to the fire, and Teller asked no questions. After a while, Lucius fed Otis another cupful of the dye.
Loretta showed up with another bottle and some money, which she flashed in front of Lucius. "I did all right. How is he?"
Otis managed to say, between chattering teeth, "Who in the Singer's name are you? What's going on?"
"Loretta. It's my wagon you've been travelling in all day."
They were away from the main fairground, but still strangers were wandering in and out of the firelight, and Lucius and Loretta did not tell the story directly. But gradually Otis learned what had happened that day. He was obviously frightened, but unsurprised, to learn that the Flames had been hunting him.
Bottles of silverberry dye kept arriving all night. Holly came to tell Loretta that she would be joining another family's wagon. Sparks and Skinner went off sleepily to bed. Loretta dozed by the fire. By daylight, Lucius noticed with interest that Otis' skin was starting to turn blue.
"I think I'm all right now. I'd like to get some sleep," said Otis.
As he and Lucius quietly entered the wagon, Otis saw the bandage around Sparks' head. "What's the matter with the boy?"
"He got kicked. Nothing real bad." But Lucius was a little worried. Sparks' face was flushed and he appeared to be sleeping deeply.
"Mind if I take a look?" Otis unwrapped the bandage. Sparks kept on sleeping. "You're right. It's not serious."
He moved his hands over the cut, and Lucius felt something move in the wagon, something he could not see, or put a name to. He made a little sound of protest.
"You're a healer," he said, softly. "You're a wizard. But... why didn't Flames know?"
Otis was still concerned with Sparks. "What was wrong with me -- I think it blocked it. Lucky for all of us."
"Don't tell the others what you are," said Lucius. "They'd only worry."
"I don't intend to tell no one."
As Loretta had predicted, one of Questor's people arrived unreasonably early, before noon, to take Otis away with him. Otis and Lucius said quick good-byes. Loretta went back to sleep afterward, but Lucius found he could not do the same. The children were already up, and he wandered out into the bright sunlight to join them.
Most of the cloth-covered wagons surrounding Loretta's were now blue. As Lucius stood on the steps, he saw Sparks run by, sticky-faced, chasing another boy around the wagons. The other boy was wearing a hat with sweeping blue feathers. By the milk wagon, three attractive young women with blue hair were talking and laughing.
Just across from Teller's wagon was a new one, which must have arrived this morning. It had "The Walding wizard Otis" painted in bright blue letters on the side.