Shadow Escape
Chapter 1

Escape comes in many forms. An unlocked cell door or an exhaustively dug tunnel to a prisoner... an afternoon spent hunting dragons to a Princess... a bottle of wine, a plate of still warm tea cakes and a blank scroll to a fat old Do warrior.

The heavy foliage overhead scattered the sunlight into tiny sparkles. The Phoenix Clan garden was quiet, seldom used except for private meetings and more private trysts. The only sound was the tinkling of the fountain and the occasional clink of the wine bottle chilling in it, gently moved around by the water's swirling currents.

Usually, early afternoon would find me relaxing in my own garden. But my wife's sudden wealth won and lost had made us something of celebrities. It didn't quiet down there until nearly sunset, unannounced visitors who always seemed to bring the subject around to money or more specifically, their lack of it.

The clan pretty much treated me as it always had, money didn't interest most of them at all and here, at least, I retained some anonymity.

"Clink," went the bottle and I took that as a cue to refill my cup. The page in front of me remained empty, but I didn't fret about it. I had decided to write some prose, and had managed an adventure story, or two. Today, I couldn't think of anything but the title, "Madmen, Monsters, and Maniacal Mages". It just kept going through my head again and again.


My head unconsciously jerked toward the faint noise, old warrior instincts and enhanced Do senses working together to identify something new, close and well hidden. A quiet whoosh of spell casting came to my ears and once again, I felt alone in the garden.

I smiled grimly and vowed not to be taken unaware again. Too much had happened lately to get caught napping. Leaving the wine bottle, cakes, and scroll, I circled the fountain toward the entrance. There was no sign of my observer.

With my senses magically enhanced, it was almost painful to hear the approach of Primogen Kimpo. The tall Barbarian crashed out the doorway of the Clan Hall, and stomped down the path to where I stood.

"Gareth," he rumbled, clapping me on the back. "Got a moment?"

My spell faded away, making the ambient noise bearable again. Barbarians rarely make any noise moving through brush, but get one on a well-traveled road and they clank, stomp, and creak. It must be special magic. I made a mental note to have my wife look into it. PteriDae was a magic researcher and now that they were building her a place to work, she was getting a great deal more respect and requests for funding, too.

"Of course," I tried to focus my thoughts on my friend. "How may I serve you?"

"You are the cook, Gareth," Kimpo guffawed. "How would you serve Barbarian?"

"Well marinated... " I replied seriously.

Kimpo laughed again, then noticed my expression and stopped.

"Do I at least get to choose my own side dishes?" he managed, straight-faced, then let out a huge belly laugh and I found myself joining him.

"You always find a way to cheer me up, old friend," I smiled and put my hand on his shoulder. "What did you need to see me about?"

"I haven't laughed that hard since the time Helldemon raffled off a date with Princess Lasahn. " The big man seemed on the verge of another burst of hilarity, "WITHOUT asking Lasahn first!"

We both smiled at this memory.

"At least all the money went to charity," I added. "Helldemon might be insane, but his heart is in the right place. "

"We have certainly had some memorable events in our Clan. " Kimpo dug a scroll out of his pack and handed it to me. "In fact, memories are the reason I came to find you. The Princess is having a small get together for some of the young people in the kingdom. I was invited to give a talk with several other 'well-seasoned' Buyans, reminiscing about old times. I can't go, so you are going in my place. "

I was under no illusions that Primogens had easy lives. If Kimpo were just trying to avoid a lecture to a bunch of youngsters, then some other equally onerous task would surely fill the void.

Though I certainly could have requested someone to magically summon me to the Palace, I decided to walk and collect my thoughts.

By the time I got to the gathering, I had decided to speak about the darkest hour of the Phoenix Clan, when during the Shattering, the Clan Hall itself was invaded by dark forces. It was a pretty scary story, and I hoped my young audience wouldn't have nightmares.

The talks had already begun as an Event Host, the famous poet Saland, led me to the guest stands. Seemed to be good attendance, perhaps fifty or sixty youngsters sat on the lawn listening to the speaker. Primogens and Primarchs made up most of the speakers, but I saw a few Elders and Judges mixed in.

The first speaker finished his story about the horrors of Pirate Island, bowed to the applause, and sat down. As I had just sat down, there seemed little likelihood I would speak next, but I tried to be ready.

Saland announced another Primogen, and another scary story began. This one was about a Sonhi invasion. Shamans casting spells poisoning the unwary, and Stickmen even attacking Peasants!

More applause, though a bit subdued, I thought. Perhaps the crowd was getting tired of scary stories?

As the next story ended, an interesting account of the Zibong War, the crowd barely clapped at all. I knew I was in trouble. By the time I got up to talk, the kids would be sneaking out! What I needed was a plan.

"Many years ago, before the Great Shift, long before the Zibong Wars, the Phoenix Clan was founded. This is not a story about that great event, or any event you have likely heard before. Until now, we have never discussed these events outside our Hall."

That got their attention! Some of the kids were actually hushing their noisier friends. I had tried to appear imposing, dressed in flame red clothes, holding my Fairie light- an uncommon staff topped with a plum colored jewel, that I had unfastened from my pack.

I returned to my story.

"In the year fifteen of Yuri's reign, Steihl founded our Clan. The effort nearly consumed him, leaving him exhausted. Somehow a great Darkness began to grow in his soul. Always a proud man, as Primogen of the newest clan, Steihl had gained tremendous status in the land; yet the Darkness gnawed at him.

'It's not enough, ' the Darkness seemed to whisper. 'Phoenix must stand above all others.'

At first the task of running a new clan was sufficient to keep the Darkness at bay. Slowly, as he became comfortable in his position and other Clans began to spring up around the kingdom, his wife, the Honored Wildhair, noticed a change in him. Using a Shaman ritual she had found while researching that Path, Wildhair uncovered the secret of the Darkness in Steihl's soul, but was unable to cast it out.

"In those days, Gods and Immortals walked among men with ease, sometimes merely to visit. The Immortal Hroth, Archon Primogen and Loremaster, often visited the Phoenix Clan Hall, discussing poetry and the Arts with our kindred. Wildhair approached him there and beseeched him to help her save Steihl. "

Although Immortals are forbidden to directly interfere with the lives of men, Hroth was unable to refuse the desperate pleas to save her love. He agreed to help and went to find Steihl.

"It saddens me to say this, Wildhair," the Immortal returned quickly with his head bowed low. He would not met Wildhair's eyes. "There is little hope for your husband. "

"How can that be?" Wildhair wailed. "You MUST be able to stop the Evil that is attacking his soul!"

"If this influence came from outside, yes, I could help him," Hroth explained, spreading his hands helplessly. "It is instead his own ambition and pride that lies at the center of this evil. Whatever caused this has attached itself to that core, and is spreading. "

Wildhair walked to the display wall of the Clan, where the Tribunal's original scroll was displayed, approving Phoenix as the newest Clan and Steihl its Primogen. She touched the framed document lovingly, and then turned back to Hroth.

"There must be something we can do?" she insisted. Even in those early years, Wildhair was a powerful Mage and small flames seemed to flicker behind her eyes, as she stood resolute before the Immortal.

"There is only one hope," Hroth sighed. "Pride and ambition are balanced in the soul with love and honor. Only an act of self-sacrifice will purge the Evil."

"Then we shall find a way to lead him to such an act," Wildhair decided. No objections by the Immortal could sway her.

A few days later there appeared on the threshold of Steihl's door something that looked like a ceramic roasting pan. Sealing the terracotta lid was a note seemingly written in charcoal: "for Steihl, good luck... Wony"

Several kindred gathered around the object, discussing it and waiting for Steihl's arrival. Among the crowd were a large middle-aged warrior and a young poet.

"What do you suppose it is?" asked a poet, from a cautious distance, as no sane person wanted to get too close to something signed personally by one of the Elder Gods, even his constant companion, a paunchy warrior.

"I do not know," the red-clad warrior replied, "but I have no intentions of breaking a seal applied by a God, especially one created by the Wony. Do you?"

"It's a roaster," Blaster, the poet, observed. "Perhaps a turkey? Wony sent Steihl lunch?"

Just then, Steihl's door opened and he and Wildhair entered the meeting area of the Hall. Steihl stepped up to the object and examined it.

"What is this?" he asked, eyebrows furrowed in thought. "From Wony? I don't understand. "

"Perhaps you should open it," Wildhair suggested, reasonably. She seemed somehow, the least surprised of all. "None of the rest dare break Wony's seal. It is for you. "

Steihl looked at his wife suspiciously, and then cast a dark gaze around the room. "I'm not afraid," he said boldly, then cautiously touched the lid of the object. He jerked his hand away.

"It's hot!" he declared. As everyone watched, the seal slowly dissolved leaving only bare terra cotta behind. There was a clear crack running around the lid that wasn't there a moment ago.

"Told you it was lunch," Blaster whispered to Gareth, the warrior in red, as Steihl wrapped his hands in a towel and lifted off the lid. The crowd pressed tighter to get a glimpse of the mysterious contents.

"Sand!" Steihl exclaimed, in disbelief. "Wony sent me a bucket of sand!"

"Some lunch," Gareth whispered to Blaster. "And I was getting hungry, too. "

"You are always hungry," Blaster replied, chuckling.

"Perhaps something is buried in the sand, dear," Wildhair suggested calmly. "Something meant to be kept warm. "

Steihl shrugged, but began scooping hot sand out of the container. "What is this?" Steihl exclaimed in surprise. "Wony sent me an egg?"

"A baked egg?" the ever-hopeful, ever-hungry Gareth leaned forward, catching a glimpse of a huge egg, fully the size of a melon. It was stark white with red splotches. "Maybe it IS lunch, after all?"

A sudden pain in his left arm turned the warrior's attention back to the young healer. Blaster's face was white, but for such a slight fellow, he had a surprisingly tight grip.

"What is it?" Gareth asked. Steihl, too, had noticed the young man's countenance.

"I... that egg... " His voice trailed off.

"What about the egg?" Steihl asked impatiently. If you know anything, speak up!

Blaster took a second to collect himself, and then tried again.

"In a book in the Muse library," he began quietly, "I looked it up when I first decided on a clan. There were pictures of eggs and one small piece of eggshell. It's the same, I tell you!"

"Same as what, boy?" Steihl looked ready to draw steel on the lad. He had greatly changed in the past few months.

"It's the egg of a Phoenix!"

As word of the God's gift got around, the Phoenix clan hall had many curious visitors. Everyone wanted to see Steihl's egg. At first these visits annoyed him. Gradually, as time went on, he seemed to grow more protective of the egg. Poor Blaster had been elected "Egg Nanny" for the times when Steihl was required to be elsewhere. Surrounded by lit braziers, the egg was kept warm in its nest of sand night and day. No one, even Blaster, knew how long it would be before it hatched, though there was talk that it could be five hundred years!

Then one day, while Steihl sat next to the egg, writing notes of apology, declining to attend important events, there came a noise from the sand.


A jagged line thin as a hair appeared across the egg.

"Good Grin!" Steihl shouted to the assembled Kin. "It's hatching!"

Everyone watched as more and more cracks appeared in the egg. Finally, a small chip fell off onto the sand.

"Can you see anything inside?" Blaster asked anxiously.

"No, nothing yet," Steihl answered. Then a horrible thought came to him. "Did anyone find out what a Phoenix eats?"

"The research was inconclusive," Gareth shrugged. "Birds can eat anything, from seeds to each other. I guess we will just have to offer it a number of foods. "

More cracks and chips attracted everyone's attention. The bird inside seemed to have flurries of activity with long rests.

"The fables say it lives off fire and builds its nest with spices," Blaster was not letting Gareth be the only expert in the clan. "Of course, I suspect that this bird is actually only a very rare desert bird, and not magical at all..."

Another flurry of activity inside the egg, and the top half separated. A scrawny-necked bird with a wide feathered crest poked its head out. Red and gold plumage covered every inch of its visible body. With a shudder, the rest of the shattered egg fell apart and the chick sat down exhausted in the hot sand. Almost at once the bird noticed it wasn't alone. Its flame flecked green eyes looked straight at Steihl and everyone gasped as tiny sparks raced around its fluffy body. Like a tiny forest fire, the bird's feathers all ignited at once in ghostly flames. There was a gasp of awe from everyone except Gareth.

"Yes, I agree," he said, sarcastically. "Just some ordinary desert bird. Sure, it is. "

In the days that followed, it was a common sight to see Steihl hurrying about his business with a knee-high ball of ghostly flames waddling after him. Its fiery feathers never actually ignited anything, yet they felt too hot to touch for anyone but Steihl. The question of food was quickly answered. The bird, nicknamed Phoebe by a rotund poet, always slept in its circle of braziers; Steihl ordered them refreshed hourly. Although Phoebe ignored every bird treat brought before it, when the youngster that filled the braziers accidentally dropped some charcoal on the floor, Phoebe pounced on it like a cat, gobbling the fuel down before the boy could react. The baby Phoenix showed no ill effects, though a dozen pair of eyes watched it for several hours after the mishap. Some insisted that it glowed a little brighter!

Steihl ordered a small tray of charcoal be left near the bird's nest. It ate once a day, several briquettes at a time. Not surprisingly, the little Phoenix avoided water.

One night many weeks later, the red clad warrior entered the Hall, rubbed his eyes suspiciously, as he saw bright spots everywhere. His friend Blaster was reading near the circle of braziers around the sleeping Phoenix, which had grown dramatically.

"What is this stuff?" the large warrior poked at one of the spots, a fuzzy glowing ember. It wasn't hot, yet flickered like dandelion fluff blown into a campfire.

"Near as we can tell," Blaster replied, not looking up from his studies, "Phoebe is molting."

"Molting? This stuff is down?" The warrior, attempted to collect a bit of it. He was not usually known for his intelligence. "Think we could stuff a pillow with it?"

Blaster looked up.

"Wouldn't the light keep you awake?" he asked, patiently.

"My wife likes to read in bed," the warrior chuckled. "I thought it would make a good present."

The two friends wandered the Hall, carefully picking up all the glowing fluff and storing it in a cloth bag.

"What is this?" the warrior held up a distinctly different glowing item. This was not a tiny coin-sized bit, but a foot-long plume of flame. Blaster examined the object a moment, and then smiled.

"It's a flight feather!" he exclaimed. "Phoebe must have pulled it by accident while scratching out the molting feathers. I wonder if we could sharpen it, imagine the Phoenix Primogen signing important documents with this!"

The big warrior thought for a moment, and then considered the implications.

"Birds fly... guess that was obvious," he said at last. "Here's a question. If none of us have ever seen a Phoenix before, then who is going to teach her how to fly?"

Both clan members turned to stare at the sleeping Phoenix, and then noticed a figure standing over her. It was Steihl; from the expression on his face, they knew he had been listening.

"Love and self-sacrifice, you said," Wildhair reminded Hroth, as they watched Steihl and the Phoenix playing in the garden. "The bird loves him and Steihl is certainly devoted to her training. Will it be enough to defeat the Darkness?"

The bald Immortal considered the pair, wildly chasing each other with much jumping and arm-waving. Blaster had recommended that Steihl try to get Phoebe to mimic him waving his arms, guessing that would strengthen her flight muscles. So far, it had worked. The Phoenix now did everything Steihl did.

"Love is not enough," Hroth finally admitted. "Steihl cannot DEFEAT the darkness, he can only fill his soul with so much light that Darkness has no place to hide. Then he will escape."

Wildhair watched silently as her husband climbed onto the low stonewall surrounding the Clan's garden. With a great deal more grace, the Phoenix followed him onto the wall. Flapping his arms like a maniac, Steihl jumped off the low wall. 'Follow the Leader' seemed to be Phoebe's favorite game; she jumped off the wall in a flurry of flaming feathers. She landed gracefully in precisely the same spot Steihl had. The Primogen shook his head with a laugh and led the bird off to find another game.

"As much joy as he finds in Phoebe," Wildhair quietly observed, "his Dark side still grows. Yesterday he nearly started a war with Bear clan. A Bear cub, a youth much like our 'fledglings', laughed at him playing with Phoebe. Steihl attacked the youngster. If I hadn't been there..."

She shuddered.

"We can hope," Hroth frowned. Yet there appeared to be little hope left in the Immortal.

I paused my story to gauge the audience's reaction. It was getting a trifle wordy, and I didn't want to bore them. Staring back at me was a quiet group of intent youngsters, including one young lady somewhat older than the rest, dressed in unfamiliar garb. I let my gaze pass over her to where the rest of the speakers sat waiting.

Wildhair smiled at me, and I took that as approval of my highly fictional story. I smiled back.

"Well? What happened to the Phoenix?" a girl in the front row asked. "You can't just leave it like that!"

There were several agreeing comments from the crowd, including one from the oddly dressed young lady. I cleared my throat.

Wandering around the crowd, a young entrepreneur was selling drinks. Either no one was thirsty or his prices were too high, as he didn't seem to be doing any business. I waved to him.

"What are you selling?" I asked, examining his two dozen or more dusky bottles.

"Ogre cider, still cold from the cave," he replied, a line I am certain he had repeated many times to no avail.

"Sounds good! How much?" I opened my pouch.

"No charge to you, sir," he smiled, popped open a bottle and handed it to me. "It's a great story!"

I took a long drink of the tart but refreshing cider.

"How much for the whole case?" I smiled at the youth. His eyes lit up.

"Five hundred coins, I guess," he said sheepishly. "There's twenty five bottles left."

No wonder they weren't selling! I fished a tiny gold coin out of my pouch and handed it to him. He examined it wonderingly. It was worth many times the value of the cider.

"If you would be so kind," I waved my Faerie light staff towards the crowd, its red jewel pulsing slowly with the beat of my heart. "They look thirsty. Just hand them out for me and if you want, go get more and I'll buy those, too."

Saland leaned over to me and whispered, "Buying an audience, Gareth?"

I smiled and quietly finished my cider, as the poor, but thirsty, kids swarmed the happy vendor. When the bedlam finally was back under control, I resumed my story.

Steihl woke in a foul mood. All his attempts to get the bird to fly had failed. Her wings and flight feathers had filled out beautifully, and curiously, when she flapped hard, tiny embers flew off; scattering magic sparks around the Hall. "It's a wonder we haven't had a fire," the Primogen muttered. His mood was at least partly due to his frustration at being unable to shake what his wife called "the Darkness" by sheer willpower alone. As he stomped about the Hall, glaring at his fellow Clan members, he considered his predicament. His raising Phoebe was in some way supposed to help him. That much he had already figured out, but how? Sure, he cared for the little ball of feathers, quite a bit more than you would guess. Phoebe wasn't like a pet, she showed a real intelligence; more like young child than an animal.

"Smarter than a lot of people I know," Steihl said, glancing about the Hall to see whom he had insulted. His glowering presence had scared away most Kin, although one rather large warrior sat with the Phoenix as it rested.

"Stupid Warriors... " Steihl muttered.

Gareth looked up from his poetry and raised an eyebrow.

"Nothing personal," the Primogen stomped over to where the Phoenix had made its nest. His thumping boots became noticeably quieter the closer he got until he walked with a Rogue's silent grace. "I'm just frustrated. I don't know what the Gods want of me!"

The big warrior saw the seriousness in his Primogen and rolled up his scroll.

"Perhaps you are trying too hard. "

Steihl reached over and scratched the softly glowing feathers behind the Phoenix's crest plumage. The bird softly cooed in its slumber.

"I'm just trying to do what I think the Gods want me to," he explained, slumping back against the wall, his head falling forward onto his chest.

"Why not do what YOU want to do?" Gareth reasoned. "What do YOU want most?"

Without a hesitation, the Primogen said, "I want to see the Phoenix fly."

"What's stopping you?"

"We tried jumping off fences," he explained. "She can barely get her wings open. I don't think she quite understands. "

The warrior opened a small cloth sack and filled a dish with small cubes of charcoal. One of the bird's eyes popped open at the familiar sound; with a quick stretch, Phoebe pounced on it.

"Perhaps you should try someplace higher?"

The Primogen's door slammed shut with an echoing crash. Wildhair hurriedly searched the main Hall, her braided hair flying behind her as she peered into the library.

"Where is that meddling warrior?" her voice held more than a hint of panic. The scrap of paper she held slowly crumpled into a ball.

"Gareth!" She yelled so loud that the whole Kingdom heard her.

With a whoosh, the heavyset Warrior appeared in the middle of the Hall. He was dressed all in white with a floppy hat on his head, his arms and face splattered with flour.

"Greetings, Gareth!" Boomed Hearth, the Clan Hall greeter.

The warrior barely nodded in response, as he hurried to Wildhair's side.

"Yes, ma'am?" he tried to wipe some of the flour off his face, but his sleeves and apron were just as white with it. "I was trying to teach the Palace cook how to make something a traveler I met calls 'Blintzes'. He really thinks it might become popular around here..."

"WHAT does this mean?" interrupted Wildhair, shoving her small fist in the Warrior's face. The thoroughly crumpled paper peeked out between her fingers.

"May I?" Gareth plucked the paper out of her hand and flattened it.

"Gareth was right.

If M'hul doesn't stop me,

You may see a wondrous sight.

Know that this is true,

I have always loved you.

S. "

"Steihl and Phoebe are gone! And he left this! His love ring!" Wildhair explained, exasperated, stomping back and forth in front of the confused warrior. "What were you right about?"

Gareth scratched his head; little flakes of raw dough fell like snow onto the floor around him.

"I don't know," he frowned. "The last thing I said to him was that he needed to find a higher fence to jump from. "

"What does Prince M'hul have to do with it?" Wildhair asked, then her face fell and she asked with uncharacteristic quietness, "What would you say is the highest building around here?"

"The Kugnae Palace?" A light finally turned on in his head. "He wouldn't!"

A moment later the only trace left of them in the Hall, was a cloud of flour slowly settling to the floor.

If there had been need for tower guards anymore, along the walls of the Kugnae Palace, in a town that had been at peace for fifteen Yuris, they would have been astounded at the sight of Steihl and Phoebe. A man coaxing a bird one step at a time up the stairs to the top of the castle wall was hardly a typical morning event.

"Last step, Phoebe," the man chuckled, for though Steihl was sweating with effort, the bird's comical progress would make the dourest man smile. "When you get to the top, you won't need to walk down!"

Exhausted, man and bird rested for a time near the crenellations on the wall. From this height Steihl could see far past the north gate into the wilderness beyond. Not much activity this early in town. Shopkeepers were opening their stores, sweeping away the night's dust from their flagstones. Steihl caught a glimpse of Redcap, the messenger, stretching in the morning sunshine, preparing for his usual swarms of customers sending letters and packages.

For one brief moment, the whole kingdom seemed at ease.

"Time for your lesson, Phoebe," Steihl carefully stepped up onto the wall between two merlons, making room for the bird next to him. Phoebe seemed excited and expectant, feeling the wind in her crest feathers.

Doubts suddenly blew across Steihl's mind like a cloud.

"Perhaps I should go back and find a healer," Steihl looked down the wall; a very long drop indeed. "Yes, that would be best. Maybe a Poet that can cast a dozen or so quick Water of Life spells..."

The Phoenix spread her wings and flapped them impatiently. Sparks flew off, scattering on the stones like sparks flying from a smith's anvil.

"You don't want to wait, do you?" Steihl scratched Phoebe behind her crest feathers and all doubt faded from his face. "All right, we'll do it your way. "

Once more he looked down the wall, this time with no fear.

"I'll count to three, then you follow me!" Steihl said to the bird, which seemed to nod.



"Steihl! Don't you dare!" Wildhair's voice called from behind him. She was panting from her run up the stairs, but there was no doubt she was still strong enough to wrestle him to the flagstones if she had to.

"Good timing, dear," the grim-faced Primogen exclaimed. "Don't try to stop me. Who knows, maybe I can fly, too!"

Wildhair scrambled across the walkway towards Steihl, but too late.

"Three!" he announced, and jumped off the tower followed closely by the madly flapping young bird. As he plummeted toward the paved walk surrounding the Palace, Steihl watched the spiraling form of the beautiful Phoenix flying gracefully above him. Joy bubbled up in him, filling his soul, and as all Darkness fled, he laughed.

The audience clapped appreciatively, I thought. But when Saland stepped up to lead me off the podium, several youngsters rushed forward.

"What happened to Phoebe?"

"Did Steihl get Resurrected?"

"Is Wildhair in charge of the whole clan now?"

"Are any of those people real at all? Gareth, Wildhair, Steihl, and Hroth?"

Saland hushed the children.

"Please, we have more speakers," he explained. "If you want, talk to Lord Gareth away from the stage."

I worked my way past the children to the speakers' bench and bowed deeply to the Anamchara Elder.

"Hail, Wildhair!" I said, just loud enough to be heard by the children. "I hope my little story didn't offend you?"

"It was a charming parable, Gareth," she smiled and leaned forward to squeeze my hand. "When did you write it?"

"Just now," I confessed, sheepishly. "Somehow, I didn't see this crowd looking forward to another war story!"

"Good judgment," she admitted. "You know there isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about Steihl."

She sighed delicately.

"He gave me my very first prize for poetry," I reminisced. "Still have it somewhere."

"Is Kimpo well?" she asked.

"Hiding from this crowd, I guess," I scratched the back of my head, embarrassed, "A benefit of being Primogen."

"How well I remember." Wildhair glanced behind me at the eavesdropping children. "I will let you get to your fans. They look impatient."

"It was an honor to speak with you, Elder," I bowed again, and turned to the children. "Who wants another cider?"

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