The Treasure of Totowa Hills
© 2000 Melissa K. Michael
The Treasure of Totowa
by Melissa Katherine Michael
The common room of the sea coast inn was
crowded and noisy, full of smelly men in drabby clothes, yet Jenora
had a table to herself and her bottle of wine. She’d been
there for hours trying to decide what to do. Westport’s only
wizard wasn’t at all interested in a journey, even if he could
have attempted it, so old and decrepit was he.
The innkeeper approached her table, not, she allowed herself a sigh
of relief, to eject her, but to usher three odd women to share it.
The dwarf adjusted her battle ax as she sat on the bench then promptly
dropped her head to the table as if to sleep despite the din of
over a hundred men celebrating workday’s end. The other two
were of a height and thin. One had short-cut mousy brown hair. She
looked like a normal girl, perhaps a bit undernourished which was
certainly normal. But the other, the swordwielder, had white hair
and red eyes. On second glance, one was red and the other a brilliant
blue. Her white hair, thin, limp, and uncut hung a little past her
shoulders. Jenora had seen an albino rat once with hair and eyes
like that. Scared her, as did this young girl. Despite the strange
coloring, Jenora saw the hard edge to the flesh around her eyes,
the thousand-league-stare the child had, they all three had. So,
they’d been blooded, had they?
Jenora spoke up in her usual abrupt fashion, “Might you be
knowing where one wizard be?”
The albiness and the other who had not yet taken the hood from her
short hair, stared.
“Uh, that be, er, Jenora me called.” She stuck out a
hand and tried to grin. Smiles were more and more difficult to manage
as one’s purse grew flat.
“I’m Arlin,” the albiness said, taking Jenora’s
hand with an answering attempt at a grin. “This is Honeysuckle,”
she gestured to the girl beside her whose stare had not moved, then
the sleeping dwarf, “and that’s Corry. She’s tired.
What do you want with a wizard?”
Jenora was taken back, not at all prepared to reveal the words that
slid from her lips, “A dying woman’s wish.”
Honeysuckle’s eyes blazed with interest. A serving maid brought
steins of clabbered milk. Corry roused long enough to drain hers
then laid her head back down.
“M-m-my backmate, you know, my closest . . .” Jenora
held up crossed fingers.
Arlin nodded. Corry was her own backmate, through thick and thin,
hell and high-water, and recently, both.
“She . . . she told me to find a wizard.” Jenora looked
from Arlin to Honeysuckle and back.
Arlin seemed to be waiting and only returned her gaze.
“You’ve found one,” Honeysuckle said softly but
so intense was her voice that Jenora jumped in her seat.
“B-but.” Why did her voice fail? She, a veteran of twenty
campaigns, why was she frightened by these children?
“She’s the wizard,” Arlin said casually, easing
back in her seat to nurse her stein. “I’m just a freak.”
It was a common mistake.
Dinner arrived. Corry roused, veritably inhaled her food then returned
her head to the table. Honeysuckle and Arlin were more reserved,
trying each dish in turn and enjoying it with the relish of the
Jenora knit her brows in consternation looking back and forth between
Honeysuckle noticed her suspicious scrutiny and asked, “What
will convince you that I am a wizard? Conjuring gold?” A pile
of gold coins appeared in her hand. “No, any illusionist can
do that.” They vanished. “You’ve piqued my curiosity.
How do I convince you I’m a wizard so you’ll tell me
Jenora took a deep breath and squinted as though considering. Then
her face clouded like a hailstorm approaching on the horizon. “Bring
Nail back,” she said and hung her head and bawled into her
Arlin looked to Honeysuckle who shrugged and finished her meal.
When Jenora had composed herself, Honeysuckle said, “I can’t
do that or I’d be a necromancer.”
Jenora nodded, and seeing her chance, Arlin asked, “Do you
have a room here? Innkeep said he was full due to the ship bringing
so many people from across the Sea.”
Jenora nodded. “From the 99 Isles come me.”
“Might we share your room? We could talk privately there.
We’d be fine in the barn but it is going to rain and you can
see how tired we are.” Arlin gestured to Corry’s limp
“Oh surely you be stay with me. And let us our way there make.”
Arlin nudged Corry and let Jenora lead the way cradling her wine
and cup. She let them in and Corry threw her pack down, unrolled
her blanket and lay upon it muttering, “At least she’s
not another damned virgin. Maybe she can lead us into some healthy
Honeysuckle threw two magelights up to the ceiling then saw about
arranging her pack alongside Arlin’s.
Jenora stared in wonderment at the blue glowing balls suspended
by nothing. She looked to Honeysuckle. “Truly you a mighty
wizard be. Nail me said to find such. On me own me try, but stumped
Arlin hurriedly shut the door to damn the flood of words rushing
forth into the hall.
“Me use me last bit of coin to cross the Emerald Sea. But
now me said Mr. Harbormaster, the Totowa Hills hundreds of miles
be, and worst, not a one go there from here, and has never, but
me tell no one for why.”
“Can’t imagine why,” Arlin drawled softly to Honeysuckle,
her mismatched eyes glowing blue and violet in the magelight. “Could
be either the swamp, or the desert, or the jungle where they eat
people.” Then her striking eyes fixed on Jenora. “We
were just there and turned back.”
“Just where? Totowa?”
“No. The Great Canyon. We came down the Ice River and stopped
there at Dry Run where they said it was the last village before
the Sea on account of the floods and the Swamp. But it’s not,
they’re jealous of Seula, who gets their business because
it’s not at the bottom of a canyon. We were going to head
east, but they told us in Dry Run that civilized folks don’t
go that way.”
Arlin sat on the edge of the bed with a deep sigh before continuing.
“I’m a guide by profession, but I’m from up north,
not around here, and I haven’t seen a map of anything east
of the Ice.”
Into the silence Honeysuckle asked in the quietly disconcerting
way that was her habit, “Why have you traveled all this way
to go further east?”
Jenora dug into her shirt front. “This it be. Nail give it
me when she died. Been in her family eons, said she. Holding the
Tackies off our lord were we, so that he could bolster up the line
and drive them out. Only, not, did he. Used the time Nail bought
him by dying to steal the gold candlesticks and run off, did he.
Then, I stay and Tacky be, or follow this what she give me,”
Jenora held out a paper. “This me said, Nail did, ‘Promise
me you’ll take a wizard. You’ll never find it without
a wizard.’ And true ‘tis. Gone me money and got only
me feet for walking all that way yet.”
When she finished speaking, Honeysuckle narrowly scrutinzed the
paper in the otherwhere before taking it, running a spellcheck.
She unfolded it then spread it out on the room’s bed, the
only furniture, so that Jenora and Arlin could see.
“Hm,” she said. “There’s the Ice, but that
says Singing Desert, where it’s called Sighing now. And look,
the Thriving Swamp is split into three and named Thrice Swamp on
this map. This is our coastline,” she said tracing it with
her finger down to where the Ice made a delta and entered the Sea,
back along the Big Turtale River through the swamp to, “Turtle
Lake is the same name. And they called this jungle the Maneater
Jungle when we were in Dry Run. But what’s this?” She
pointed to an odd symbol in the bottom right corner under the Totowa
“That treasure be. This map in Nail’s family be for
hundreds of years. Me said she sometime the younglings went after
it but nobody come back. Me said she must a wizard to get along.
But I guess two more for the treasure, too.” She gestured
uneasily to Arlin and Corry. “Good swordarm at my back me
“Hm,” Honeysuckle said drawing the attention of Arlin
as well as Jenora. “These rivers might have changed course
somewhat in hundreds of years. And how did you propose to carry
this treasure back all that way? You’ll need a team of asses
and a handler for them. And what about this?” She pointed
to the decorative scrollwork bordering the map on four sides. “This
looks like Sanskrit. You need a priest to translate it before going
any further. And you need a priest for the journey too. Yes, with
a mule handler, that’ll make six, and the priest will make
seven. This journey calls for a company of seven.”
“What me say?” Jenora demanded. Suddenly the quest was
no longer hers. “Only fancy decoration be. Priest no need.
Wherefrom jackass money be? No have I. And--and, me count four of
we here. And you a wizard be unknown to me, how can trust you me?”
Honeysuckle and Arlin shared a chuckle and Arlin got up to lay out
“I hardly need to steal your gold, Jenora,” Honeysuckle
said gently then, lifting her arm, and let a shower of gold coins
fall and roll into the corner. “That’s for the ass train,
“Horses for us to ride,” interjected Arlin and pretended
not to notice Honey’s sour grimace.
“Although I think we can buy the asses in Canyon City,”
she continued. “And that’s not decoration,” she
said tapping the map’s edge. “It’s very important
instructions, I’m sure. I recognize the script as that of
a dead language, one that only the vaishnavas read now. You’ll
never find it without knowing what it says.”
Arlin reached into her shirt and pulled out a sleeping sprite then
laid it gently into her bed.
“Wh-what that be?”
“That’s a who. Not a what. She’s Heide,”
Honeysuckle answered. “The sixth member of our party. Now,
Arlin and Corry and Heide will want their share, but I only want
first choice of any magical artifacts. Then there’s the ass
handler and the priest’s shares. But that can be discussed
tomorrow. First you must locate a vaishnava who can read this. There’s
no use in starting out until then.”
She began folding hte map. “I suppose the best route is through
Dry Run and into the jungle. There’s no use going through
the swamp or the desert.”
Honeysuckle looked up sharply toward the door. She looked into otherwhere
which permitted her to see what lay on its other side. Her eyes
narrowed in anger as she leapt up. Arlin was beside her with a drawn
sword that glowed with unholy orange flames. Honeysuckle drew back
her hand in a claw as Arlin jerked open the door.
“What?” Jenora began but she was cut off by Honeysuckle’s
bloodcurdling scream of, “Misstanifllitvey!” as she
threw her hand forward like lightning as though hurling a stone
at an attacker.
Jenora followed Arlin and Honeysuckle into the hall and watched,
her own sword at the ready, as Honeysuckle bent over a fallen man.
He could have been one of the many from the common room downstairs.
Presently Honeysuckle stood. “He heard nothing of consequence,”
she said and swept past Jenora and returned to the room.
“But, but what him you do?” Jenora asked in fear.
Honeysuckle regarded her a moment before answering. “I froze
him still then looked into his memory to see what he knew about
us and our plans. All he heard was that we need a priest. He’ll
roust in an hour or so with a splitting headache and think he fell
down drunk. I took all knowledge of us from his mind. He won’t
remember why he followed us to our room.”
Arlin, her blade glowing with only the normal sheen of good steel,
set about stroking it with a whetstone, more to calm her nerves
than any need of sharpening.
“But how me find an honest priest, and how me know he read
this sure?” Jenora asked with a poke toward the map where
it still rested on the bedstead.
“There’s plenty of them in the market everyday selling
their books and sweetmeats,” Honeysuckle answered patiently.
“You’ll find them at their temple very early. And you
ask if they can read it.”
With that, Honeysuckle curled up in the middle of the bed and fell
asleep. Jenora thought better of protesting and unrolled her own
blankets on the floor.
“Why sneak away at this ungodly hour?” Corry asked with
a yawn as she saddled her golden-haired pony.
Arlin was helping Honeysuckle saddle a black mare, her own grey
gelding standing patiently outside the barn, saddled and ready to
start for Canyon City.
“She really believes she has a treasure map, and doesn’t
want anyone else to know,” Honeysuckle answered, glancing
doubtfully at what seemed to her, a huge monster just waiting to
throw her and stomp her with its deadly hooves.
“Look,” Arlin called her attention. “Knee it in
the ribs while cinching up the girth, see? They always puff out
their belly, and if you don’t get it tight enough you’ll
slide over while you’re riding.”
Honeysuckle nodded dubiously. She liked walking plenty fine. They’d
walked from Dry Run, why did they have to ride back?
The three led their mounts out of Westport’s main gate and
found Jenora astride her roan gelding, purchased with Honeysuckle’s
gold, and a stranger in Jenora’s hooded cloak atop a matching
“Let’s go,” Jenora said and wheeled her horse
about to walk along the road that led to Piketon Road.
Arlin and Honeysuckle exchanged glances but mounted their beasts
without comment. Corry had ridden from the stable. She liked being
able to keep up with the taller people by riding. While walking
she had to jog on her own short legs to keep pace with their longer
Honeysuckle clicked her truthtell on, then leaned over to the new
addition to their company and asked, “Are you a vaishnava?”
The woman nodded without meeting Honeysuckle’s eyes.
“And you can read the Sanskrit on the map?”
Another nod. What she could see of the woman’s face led her
to believe she was no more than a child. But it was a hard world
where children often attempted the deeds of adults. Lord above knew
she herself had, what to speak of Arlin and Corry.
The misty morning on white dunes of scraggly seagrasses quickly
gave way to a sunny day over rolling meadows. Arlin taught Honeysuckle
the rudiments of horsemanship; heels down, toes in, holding the
reins, and posting while trotting while the new girl looked on and
copied as best she could in a full-length dress, until finally with
a scowl, Jenora called a break and gave the girl trews to put on.
After that the horses covered miles and crossed three rivers and
as many shallow streams to get the party in to Piketon just after
The girl was reticent to speak and Honeysuckle never could seem
to get her away from Jenora to question her privately. Another day’s
pleasant ride under a bright sun led them to Canyon City which overlooked
the Great Canyon. Jenora and the new girl stared in amazement at
the deep cleft in the earth herself. The canyon was so huge and
deep that several mountain ranges rested comfortably in its bottom.
But they were dead mountains, beautiful spires of barren orange
and black stripes. The level striations could only be visible at
such a distance if they were nothing but bare rock. Vegetation would
smudge and green the eerily elegant lines.
“Never looked down at a mountain before?” Heide asked
from Arlin’s shoulder.
“Down that go we?” Jenora asked after giving herself
Arlin looked at her oddly. “Yes,” she answered. “We
go down that.”
“Just as soon as you get us a team of donkeys with a guide,”
Honeysuckle said. “Do you have enough gold?”
Jenora felt the weight of her purse and smiled.
“Someone who can get us down to Dry Run, across the Ice, and
is willing to go to Totowa Hills with us,” Honeysuckle detailed.
Jenora nodded and left Arlin to care for her horse as soon as they
arrived at Canyon City’s only inn. Ice River trade and traffic
mostly bypassed Dry Run and went on down to Seula, where it didn’t
have to be transported up several miles from the bottom of the Great
Canyon. Thus Canyon City and Dry Run were relatively small and slow
villages. Everything in Seula was built to weather the yearly spring
flood of the Ice by moving to the second story.
“What did you say your name was?” Honeysuckle made use
of Jenora’s absence to approach the girl.
“I didn’t,” she said and looked about as if for
Jenora’s timely return despite the fact that negotiations
for a pack team could take hours.
“Please, I--” she began then bit her lip. “Jenora
said I wasn’t to talk to any of you. I-”
“Why on earth not?” Honeysuckle asked thunderstruck.
She’d been thinking the girl simply didn’t like them,
being a devout spiritualist thrown in with a group of devout materialists.
“Do you--” Honeysuckle stammered in confusion. “Did
you want to come with her?”
The girl only looked around in fear.
“Come along,” Honeysuckle said and drew her into the
inn’s stable where Arlin and Corry were assisting the stableboy
in unloading their animals with the advice of an excited Heide bouncing
on Arlin’s shoulder.
“Tell me what you’re doing here. Start from the beginning,
when you met Jenora,” Honeysuckle said. “You should
know by now that I can easily protect you from her.” Although
actually, the girl couldn’t have seen her do much more than
start the cookfire for Corry by magic.
The girl took a relieved breath and closed her eyes. “I know
that, yes, but I didn’t think that you’d want to,”
she said and opened her eyes to meet Honeysuckle’s for the
first time. The girl’s were bright green. Wisps of blonde
hair framed her face where it had come loose from her braid.
“How old are you?” Honeysuckle asked in a voice gone
Honeysuckle nodded and held her anger. Jenora was its target.
“She spoke to me in the market and showed me the map asking
if I could read it. I told her yes, I could read the devanagari,
that’s the script. Sanskrit is the language. I even recognize
the verses but there were words wrong and I wanted to check my dictionary
before giving her the translation. She said to bring my books and
meet her the next morning, during our first service, an hour before
sunrise. When I found her she threatened to kill me-”
At this Honeysuckle sucked in her breath and a fierce light shone
in her hazel eyes.
“-if I didn’t come and speak nothing to any of you.”
Arlin with Heide on her shoulder and Corry at her side stepped forward
away from their mounts to hear more.
“I’m-I’m betrothed to Yashomati Nandana, but he-he
won’t take me now that I’ve been out of my father’s
house overnight.” She burst into tears. “I thought it
would be nice, you know to have treasure, to take care of myself.
But if she’d asked me I might have prepared, and told my mother
not to worry, and broke it off with Yashomati Nandana. I don’t
really like him and I don’t want to become a cow like my mother
and my sisters, but I don’t know how to do it like you all.
I can’t even ride a horse.”
Honeysuckle put her arms around the girl and let her bawl into her
shoulder. After considering the girl’s words she burst into
laughter. “I’ve never ridden a horse before either,
you know,” she said. “We’re making this up as
we go along.” Honey looked around to Corry, Heide, and Arlin
who nodded with agreeing smiles.
The girl pulled away to see her expression.
“Corry’s running away from your same fate. She’s
King Goldenlight’s only daughter. Though he has sons to take
the throne, she’s supposed to act as a brood mare and be sold
off to the highest bidder. I’m trying to become a wizard but
my teachers keep throwing me out or dying on me. Heide already had
sons to insure the succession of her father but didn’t love
any of the fathers. Neither did they want to marry her. Arlin’s
the only true hero. She weilds the Sword of Light by divine right,
and has saved two wizards of which I am the second, and put to an
end many evil-doers.”
Arlin rolled her eyes at the accolade but remained silent.
“What is your name anyway?” Honey asked abruptly.
“Surya. It means light. Sunlight, or godly light. It’s
in one of the verses on the map, actually.” In the warmth
of Honeysuckle’s attention, the young girl seemed to blossom
with congeniality and to lose any self-consciousness, or Jenora-consciousness.
“Na tad bhaasayate suuryo,” she recited. “Suuryo
is a form of surya. Only,” she paused. “The last line
of that verse is missing.”
“Perhaps it was miscopied,” Arlin offered.
“That would seem so, but one word in the first verse has been
“You’re sure of that?” Honeysuckle said.
Footsteps sounded outside the stable and Jenora entered with a scowl
on her face.
“We were just asking Surya here,” Honeysuckle said rising
to face the Islander squarely, “how it was that she was kidnapped
and threatened to come on this quest against her will.” Honey
let tension fill a small silence. “Very foolish, Jenora. Hiding
a secret from me. Very foolish. Dangerously foolish.” She
let her own threat hang in the air. “So. That was quick. No
Jenora debated whether to take her offer of a change of subject
as though nothing had happened, then did so. “Ah yes. Leave
at dawn we. A pack of twenty wanted she, but told her ten be fine
me. Said lose them all in the jungle we.”
“Did you tell her you have a wizard along?”
“Only way agree she. To meet you soon come she. But all ready
by dawn said she.”
“But we haven’t even gone over a list of supplies,”
Corry said with fervor.
“All in Dry Run be,” Jenora said.
Honeysuckle turned to Surya. “You can go back if you like.
We’ll pay you for your translation of the map’s legend.”
“But-but,” Jenora sputtered. “You say me must
have a priest go we.”
Honeysuckle turned on the older woman, a dangerous glare in her
eye. “Yes, we do. And we’ll wait right here or at Dry
Run until one floats by and joins our party willingly.” Her
whisper was like the warning hiss of a poisonous serpent.
Jenora blinked and quieted.
“She can’t go back by herself,” Arlin said.
Honeysuckle whirled to face her, bewildered by Arlin’s tone
of disgust. “Two days on horseback,” she pointed out.
“She’s never ridden before. Can she remember the crossings
and forks on the road? Can she feed herself if she gets lost? Can
she defend herself if someone attacks her, a defenseless young girl
“I want to come along,” Surya said in a small voice
like a child when its parents argue about its welfare as though
it wasn’t there.
Honeysuckle’s mouth clapped shut on an angry retort. “You
Surya nodded while looking at the stable’s straw floor, drawing
into herself now that Jenora was back and everyone seemed to be
“Tis good be,” Jenora said.
Honeysuckle echoed her words with a sigh.
After a restful night inside, the company started out early and
met Perie Ann, their guide and ass handler, (“All my donkeys
are male and haul as much as any she-mule.”) at the head of
White Falls Trail. The descent was steep but the path was solid
beneath the hooves of their animals which was fortunate, for a thick
heavy fog billowed off White Falls and wrapped the company in a
blanket of moist cotton.
“It’ll burn off by noon,” Perie Ann promised,
to Arlin, to whom she confided all the necessary details of keeping
the asses calm and out of the mouths of the wild boars they’d
meet in the jungle. Arlin had given up the attempt to convice the
woman that Honeysuckle, and not she, was the wizard and needed to
hear these details. Was she branded a witch for life by her odd
hair and eyes? And dammit if Heide didn’t go all spooky on
her, trying to act like a familiar.
The trail switched back and forth, back and forth, almost as though
they were pacing instead of descending. Gradually the fog receded
and Arlin could see twenty paces ahead of her. There were scraggly
trees growing off and on along the trail, a large clump stood ahead.
Then she blinked, for a group of men astride hardy mules such as
their baggage animals were not, filed out from behind the trees.
“Oh shite,” Perie Ann cursed softly. “We’re
in it now.”
“In what?” Arlin demanded. “Should I call Honeysuckle?”
She was back to the rear trying to establish rapport with the beasts
of burden while Perie Ann guided.
Surya perked up behind them.
“No, but you can bet they’re up to no good.”
The two lead men stopped ten paces from them, blocking the trail,
and appeared to confer. Perie Ann kept her ass moving. Arlin turned
in her seat and was about to call to Honeysuckle softly when Surya
burst into song.
“Namaste Narasimhaya, Pralaadhalaada-dayine.”
The men looked up to see the source of the sound.
Surya’s voice was clear and high, piercingly sweet like the
bite of a lover. “Hiranyakashipur vakshaha, shila tanka nakalaye.”
The men looked at each other nervously.
“Ito narasimho, parato narasimho.”
They warily pulled their mounts to the side of the trail and let
the party pass.
“Yato yato yami tato narasimho,” Surya sang.
When they were out of earshot, the women pushed around Surya demanding
what she’d done.
“You didn’t use magic,” Honeysuckle said, her
tone somewhere between a homage and an accusation.
“It’s a song we sing for protection about a horrendous
demon that was trying to kill a devotee. The Lord incarnated to
protect him and tore the demon to shreds and made a garland of his
Corry cocked her head in interest.
“But I thought you vaishnavas were pacifists,” Honeysuckle
said in confusion.
Surya looked at her strangely. “Whatever gave you that idea?”
Perie Ann clucked at the pack asses to get them started again. The
sun was a high white, hot disc. Honeysuckle had the asses tied to
the back of her own saddle so that Perie Ann could lead. Then came
Arlin with Heide sitting atop her saddle horn, Corry, and Surya.
Jenora brought up the rear behind the asses, grumbling occasionally
about green turds and black piss.
Reaching out with her mind, Honeysuckle could easily feel the seismic
energy of the water’s thundering fall to the north of the
trail and Mother Earth’s gentle enjoyment of the pounding,
a relieving scratch on the little patch of dryness on her skin,
the hundred-and-fifty-mile-long canyon and its surrounding areas.
Below her horse’s hooves, Honey felt the dry earth. Easily
she reached down and saw the age of the multi-hued rock layers making
up the canyon and far below she felt the rich and endless vital
force of the earth. These she understood and tapped easily. A slight
breeze stirred the short hair at the back of her neck. Wind was
a product of the sun’s action on air. Heat came from these
and was stored in wood. Light also. Readily, dozens of heat and
light spells leapt to her mind. With a sharp shake of her head,
she tossed these imaginings away and tried again to find the jackass
energy. A line of ten of the beasts lumbered along behind her and
so dull was she to their vital force it was as though she rode alone.
Jasper, the dwarf wizard who’d called her to take his dying
breath, thus giving her his long life’s knowledge willingly,
had ridden ponies, like Corry. He had a few general soothing spells
cast as he gave the beast (or human, or dwarf) a friendly pat. It
only worked on that one being. Honeysuckle tried it on her horse.
It breathed a sigh. There were healing spells that worked as well
on animals as humans, and some having to do with cows’ five
stomachs, falcon wings, and cat whiskers. And Sheba, the wizard
she’d killed defending herself, had left Honeysuckle a roomful
in otherwhere of ultimate control spells. Yes, the little asses
would do her bidding, but how to make it known to them? She didn’t
want anything more from them than that they follow behind, and that
they were doing willingly. She just had no feel for this. Protect
them from dangers that attacked the party, that would have to be
good enough. That decided, she went back to making curlie cues and
rainbows with the rushing waterfall and sunlight.
By the time the sun set, they’d reached Dry Run but the day
never cooled. It was much warmer at the bottom of the canyon than
the top, and stayed that way year round.
The next day was spent crossing the mighty Ice River which flowed
strong, swift, and deep, being the accumulation of rivers from its
source in the Ice Mountains many leagues north, the Greenwood Hills,
the Black Mountains and South Mountains, the Rolling Hills and all
rivers in between, to even the White River which flowed from the
Seacoast Hills and which they’d followed since Piketon. The
donkeys were used to the great rafts towed along ropes that spanned
the Ice, but the horses were skittish and required careful attention
and a calming spell by Honeysuckle. She took two at a time with
a hand on each nose.
“I’m just no good with animals,” Honeysuckle lamented
after the third trip. Neither Sheba nor Jasper had kept animals
as pets and Honeysuckle had never had a pet herself either.
“Shush, you’re doing fine,” Perie Ann said as
they rode the raft back for another load of asses.
After lunch, Perie Ann suggested they go ahead and make a late start.
There was a campsite a few miles away. They reached it by sunset.
“This slow, two weeks ride up we be,” Jenora grumbled.
Climbing the canyon was much more difficult for the animals than
coming down had been. Honeysuckle tried her best to encourage the
beasts. Still, after a full day of riding the party made the top
and were back on a flat plain that showed a green line on the eastern
horizon. to the north, the scraggly scrub land gave way to true
desert. To the south it gave way to marshland but that was further
than the eye could see.
“It’s still hot,” Arlin observed as they made
camp that night on the canyon’s rim. She would ever remember
the beautiful, breathtakingly colorful vistas it held.
“Hot on this side,” Perie Ann agreed, dashing Arlin’s
hope that the tempertaure would cool as night fell.
After three days of slogging it; back across the mighty Ice, up
the canyon’s steep face, and across scraggly scrubland, the
party entered the steamy shade of dense jungle only to be greeted
by aborigines charging with deadly spears.
“The asses! Don’t let them get my asses!” Perie
Ann cried, distracting Honeysuckle.
“Oh my God!” Surya shouted, her faith in divine protection
Arlin drew her sword and her horse reared. Flames shot forth from
the naked blade though she felt no heat. Heide held onto the saddlehorn
for dear life. Corry pulled her double-headed ax from her saddle
thong and raised it for a roundhouse swing.
The attackers ran forward on foot screaming some hideous curse in
their strange grunting guttural, their pale skin covered head to
toe with dirt and clay, their hideously huge, misshapen lips painted
red as blood. Human finger bones hung in the matted locks of their
hair and the foremost warrior had a garland of infant hands preserved
by some dastardly process adorning his chest.
Arlin used her sword to parry his spearthrust and swung back to
decapitate him. His head flew from his shoulders turning and turning
in the air, slinging blood over his fellows. Those close enough
to witness his death howled with rage and turned and fled, but others
who had not seen quickly replaced them in the mad charge against
Even astride a pony, Corry still managed to duck beneath her adversary’s
thrust and bring her ax around to cut into his midsection. A shocked
expression on his face, the savage slowly dropped his spear and
crumpled to the ground.
Which way to go? What to do? Honeysuckle sent her mind to otherwhere
searching, looking, while pushing herself to come up with something
quickly. There. This band of fierce savage warriors was from the
south, just across the river they called Jwala. They were a hunting
party venturing out of their normal and at present depleted hunting
grounds. Human or horse, both were rare delicacies for these hideous
“Back! Back!” she cried to Perie Ann and Surya. Why
hadn’t she detected their approach and avoided all this?
Without pause, Arlin kicked her horse forward to dodge the two spearmen
charging from her left. Then she yanked the reins savagely and wheeled
around to present her right arm with the Sword of Light burning
forth from it with a flame of death. The first flinched and her
swing cut across his shoulder. The horse’s momentum carried
her around to the second who jabbed at her mount. Arlin thrust for
his face and connected. He wheeled away with a scream and Arlin’s
horse reared, screaming in pain from its wounded shoulder.
An ass brayed in pain, it’s throat cut by a rusty cannibal
blade. Corry’s feisty little pony reared once and like a flash
of lightning, its hoof lashed out across the attacker’s face.
With a crimson splash he fell back. Corry whipped her head around
to meet the next attack but there was none. The clay-covered devils
had vanished. Those that could. Her eyes met Arlin’s. Honeysuckle
and the others were gone.
This way, came Honeysuckle’s voice, but not to their ears.
They trotted back the way they’d come, back to where trees
met dry brushland, where there was no water to spare for cleaning
a bloody sword or an ax. Arlin used her own drinking water. Corry
Perie Ann went through the ass team one by one and checked that
all gear was still secure after their flight.
“Where is Jenora?” Honeysuckle asked Arlin who dried
Arlin shrugged. “She was rearguard. I haven’t seen her
since the piss hit the pot.” Her blade rode home in its scabbard
with a savage clap before she met Honey’s eyes.
“Oh dear,” the wizard murmured unable to meet Arlin’s
fierce gaze. Normally she was not at all usettled by the albiness’
mismatched eyes. Normally, there wasn’t bloodlust in them.
“That was terrible. We’ve got to figure out what we’re
doing here,” Honeysuckle continued as she touched Arlin’s
horse with a calming spell. She sank into otherwhere and called
upon a visionary trance to aid her sight of the horse’s injury.
A ragged rip of muscle and other tissue revealed itself to her inner
eye. Ah, their blades are dull and dirty. Drawing from poor dead
Jasper’s stock of healing spells, she quickly set the horse
While still in the trance of existence that was the only existence
in otherwhere, Honeysuckle sought the familiar energy of the 99
Islands woman, Jenora. There she was walking a lathered horse not
far back into the scrubland surrounding the Great Canyon. As Honey
observed unseen, the woman turned the horse and headed back toward
“She’ll be here soon. Her horse must have bolted when
the cannibals attacked.”
No one met her eyes.
“They were screaming,” she said.
“A heel in the ribs’ll make a horse bolt, too,”
a voice muttered that sounded like Perie Ann’s who’d
been back with Jenora since they had reached the trees and her duties
had reverted to sole ass handler.
“She leads from now on,” Arlin said. “I want her
up front where I can watch her. Corry, you take rearguard.”
The dwarf nodded.
“Well, I’ll be more on guard, too. We won’t be
caught like that again,” Honey promised.
Surya looked from face to face as each spoke.
“Do you even have a knife?” Heide asked her sourly from
her customary perch on Arlin’s shoulder.
She shook her head. “No. Do you?”
Heide laughed. “I don’t need one.” Then she turned
to Arlin’s ear. “Can you help her out?”
“Why didn’t we think of this in Dry Run? Or better yet,
back in Westport?” But she reached into her sleeve and fiddled
a moment before coming up with a small knife in a tie-on sheath.
“Tie it on your ankle, like this,” she said, lifting
a trewsleg to show the one she had on each side of her ankle. “It’s
nothing but iron, so keep it dry and oiled. You ever fight with
“Oh, no,” Surya shook her head vigorously with large
Corry sniffed and went to stand a little away from the others. She
scanned first the trees, then the scrubland, listening. She knelt
down and felt the earth, being a dwarf she was an earth daughter
and was attuned to her mother’s speech, but there was nothing
abnormal in this particular clearing.
“Don’t take it out until they’ve got you,”
Arlin spoke to Surya. “Your only advantage is surprise. Pull
it out where your attacker sees and he’ll take it from you.”
Surya made experimental jabs in the air.
“Like this,” Arlin said and wrenched the hilt away with
Surya gasped in consternation.
Arlin handed the little knife back. Then she pulled another out
from her other sleeve. “Put this on your other leg. I never
use the ones in my arms. As soon as they see you going for a sleeve,
they jump. Wait for your chance, then stab them in the gut and twist
it around. Then run like hell.”
“But, isn’t it better to get them in the heart right
away?” she asked, perplexed.
“Of course, but it’s difficult to hit when they’ve
got two arms protecting it. Go for the gut, or better yet, the family
jewels. They’d never expect that from a nice lady like you.”
Surya’s head cocked over in wonder.
All heads turned to observe Jenora’s approach. She had the
grace to look sheepish. “Guess me horse spooked.”
“Is that what you told your backmate what give you the map?”
Arlin asked in a cold dry voice blown in from somewhere north of
the Ice Mountains.
Before Jenora could respond from her stunned expression, Honeysuckle
spoke up. “We need to plan and organize better. I now know
that the locals live in tiny villages to the south of the Jwala
River some miles south of us, what we would call the Ingot that
feeds into the Ice just below Dry Run. Their appearance here was
a fluke which may have been a fortunate warning for us. They’re
far from their village due to poor hunting in that area. And . .
. they are maneaters.”
Surya gasped. Perie Ann nodded gently.
“Come Corry, you’re part of this council, too.”
Arlin laughed and looked over to the dwarf who couldn’t bear
to make a decision.
“I’m standing watch, a practice I suggest we institute
from hereon out. Count my vote with Arlin’s.” With that,
she turned her back on them and started pacing around their resting
“We have to use their trails,” Perie Ann offered. “When
the jungle gets thick there’s no getting through any other
Honeysuckle frowned. “Jenora, let’s see the map.”
Jenora frowned in Arlin’s direction, but pulled it out of
her tunic and spread it on the ground before her. Honeysuckle studied
it for some time.
“If we follow the Ingot east we’ll have to cross all
these rivers coming out of the Farview Mountains and the Totowa
Hills when we turn south. If the jungle is bad as you say with tangles
of vines and wild boars and poisonous snakes, then I’m almost
sure these maneating savages must live all along the Ingot.”
Honeysuckle was spoke as if to Perie Ann alone, who although admitting
to nothing more than rumors, had heard more of this land than any
of them. “Are you sure it’s too marshy to go around
the southern side of Turtle Lake?”
Perie Ann shrugged and shook her head. “Not sure of anything,
Honey blinked at the title. Although not very formal or regal, it
was an honor, a courtesy to which she was unused. She bent her head
to the map in embarrassment. Had she proved herself by the information
gleaned from the savages mind? Or was it that she’d acted
to protect Perie Ann and her precious asses along with Surya whom
she knew couldn’t fight?
There was no help for it. “Let’s camp here,” she
said, raising her hand to forestall protest. There were several
hours of daylight left. “I’m going to attempt a farsee
of the Lake, and maybe even beyond.”
The companions broke up to attend their routine chores.
“I remember someone saying that something like 800 years ago,
our ancestors came out of the east, from across the canyon,”
Surya said as she helped Perie Ann unload the asses and Honeysuckle
set up her witching circle. “They were fleeing some terrible
conquerors that came down out of the Farview Mountains. I’d
be just as glad if we didn’t go that way.”
Finished with the asses, she spoke to Arlin who stood watch nearby
while Corry started a cook fire. “I never heard of any treasure
left behind but I imagine the temples were hidden and the Deities
put to sleep. I guess they continued on across the sea to her islands
but a lot must have stopped at the coast.” She gestured to
Jenora who sat near Honeysuckle mumbling, though ready to assist.
“People are nice there, in Westport. They accept us. I suppose
those Deities could have had some treasure. We get ours nice silver
platters sometimes, from the South Mountains, and They have a few
gold bangles and earrings.”
They watched as Jenora drew her sword and left Honeysuckle’s
preparations to head for one lone rock. Heat shimmered in the afternoon
air though their camp was shaded by short trees. Jenora’s
gait grew stealthy as she approached the rock closely. Her blade
lifted slowly then fell almost swifter than the eye could follow.
Her laughter floated to them on the heavy, heat-ladened air. Beyond
her, a large reptilian body flopped about for several minutes before
it stilled, similar to the nonmoving lizards they’d seen occasionally
sunning themselves since rising from the canyon.
Surya started and turned her face away. “Could you teach me
more about the knife?” she asked Arlin. “So that I could
use it before someone captures me?”
Arlin studied the young girl. She saw someone ripped from all the
security she’d ever known trying to learn the stroke and make
a go of it, instead of being dragged under by the current. She nodded.
“You’ll need a short sword to begin with. Build up your
arm. Then you can learn a real sword. You still have some growing
to do, if I’m not mistaken. Best age to start, I believe.”
“But you need your short sword,” she said anxiously.
“Yes, but I know where to get another.” With that cryptic
comment Arlin walked over to Honeysuckle, knelt and whispered a
moment. The wizard looked over to Surya in surprise. Surya tried
not to flinch. Arlin spoke again then Honeysuckle gave a quick nod
and smile and Arlin returned.
“Who’s she going to share that with, or even cook it
with?” Arlin asked in an amused tone as Jenora approached
the camp carrying the gutted lizard carcass. “Maybe she’ll
make boots of it.”
“No one eats meat?” Surya asked.
“You don’t, do you?” Arlin countered.
“But I’m a religious fanatic,” she said with a
smile. “What’s your excuse?”
“My parents are farmers. Cows give milk, bulls till the land.
We always had more than enough to eat without bloodletting.”
She shrugged. She’d had stews with fish or chicken in it upon
occasion. Made her stomach hurt.
She continued, “Corry loves mushrooms, being a cave-dwelling
dwarf, you know. Heide was raised on honey and flower nectar. Honeysuckle
can hear a death since she became a wizard and won’t cause
anything to be killed because of it. Dunno about Perie Ann. Wish
we’d brought along a milk cow. I sure do miss my milk and
butter, I can tell you that.”
“And curd and yogurt,” Surya agreed.
They watched Corry shaking her head repeatedly until Jenora stomped
off to make her own fire.
The next morning Honeysuckle announced that indeed there were maneater
villages along all the five major rivers between their position
and the Totowa Hills. Corry raised an eyebrow at Surya’s new
short sword of obvious South Mountain crafting, but said nothing.
“The marsh is firm enough this time of year to the west and
south of Turtle Lake. While no maneaters live thereabouts, probably
due to yearly floods from lake drainage, there was some presence
that I couldn’t quite understand. Something from the marsh
I suppose. Now is the driest time of year, so perhaps we have little
to fear from that direction. Still, I agree with Corry’s suggestion
to keep a watch at all times.”
“Good,” Arlin said.
Jenora and the others nodded, then made ready to leave. Jenora helped
Perie Ann load the mules.
“You stay back with Corry on rearguard,” Arlin said
handing Surya a pair of rocks the size and shape of goose eggs.
“What are these?” she asked.
“While you’re riding, drop the reins and hold them out
like this.” Arlin extended her arms straight out to either
side. “Then do this a hundred times.” She lifted her
arms until the backs of her hands met above her head.
“What ever for?” Surya asked.
Corry tried to hide a snort of amusement.
Arlin extended a fist in front of herself. “Put the rocks
down and hit my hand. Try to knock it.”
Surya laid the rocks down and with an uncertain smile she hit at
Arlin’s hand. It did not budge though it was so far from her
body, her center of mass.
“Harder,” Arlin said.
Surya tensed her lips and made a fist then swung for all she was
“Ow!” she cried and cradled her hand between her legs.
Corry gave up and laughed uproariously in her throaty giggle. Arlin’s
hand hadn’t moved. “When you can do that,” she
said, “you can hold a sword. You’ll never be big and
strong as a man, and it’s more than likely to be a man to
attack you.” Arlin’s face was grim as her voice. “So
be as strong as you can.” Then she smiled. “And Corry
and I will show you a few tricks.”
They rode south for days through wet, sucking mud after swimming
the Ingot before sighting the great Turtle Lake. Though what they
could see had many trees in it, its waters seemed to stretch so
far away east and south as though it were a sea. After a night on
its banks, they crossed the western portion of the Big Turtle River
that threaded its way through the Thriving Swamp to meet the Ice
as it joined the Emerald Sea.
Honeysuckle rode ahead of the asses with Arlin and Jenora. Perie
Ann moved about fretting among her charges and Corry and Surya brought
up the rear as they had since the fracas with the maneaters. The
wizard kept a repel spell going ahead of the party set especially
for snakes and anything bigger than a baby warthog.
“Seems like you’d have a familiar. Arlin does,”
Jenora said with a cross frown. The nearer they got to their destination,
the more irritable she became. “You’re a wizard aren’t
you? I always heard a wizard had to have a familiar.”
Honeysuckle’s voice cut the thick moist, superheated air with
bright cheery peals of laughter. Jenora only scowled at her, sure
she was the butt of some joke. Arlin rolled her eyes.
When she calmed, Honeysuckle said, “I guess Corry will do
for that,” in a serious whisper which she ruined by laughing
Jenora looked nervously to the back of their train where Corry and
Surya sang together. Then she swatted at her neck where something
had bitten. “Shite! The stinger’s still in.”
“Let me look,” Honeysuckle said bending over in her
saddle and reaching out a hand, a smile clenched between her lips.
But then a small black splinter appeared on her own hand and stung
mercilessly. Immediately, while all around the women and animals
began crying out as similar thorns rained down on them, she looked
into otherwhere for the source of this sudden rain of madness.
“Heide, no!” Arlin yelled, as Heide jumped for a branch
of the tree she’d run to for shelter. But Heide, the sprite
she was, leapt away and was gone in a flash of green leaves.
Arlin had drawn her sword but saw no enemy. Numbness spread from
each of the tiny wounds the darts inflicted on her. She looked to
Honeysuckle and beyond her to locate Corry and the rest. Then the
arrows stopped as unexpectedly as they had begun. A high-pitched
tirade rang out among the tree trunks that could only be Heide throwing
a whopper of a tantrum. Arlin kneed her horse closer to the trees.
“Yes! Bow down your worthless shite-filled head to me, you
insufferable little worm-dung! It is I! Princess Sharilla Heide
Fjordhill, eldest daughter to King of all Greenwood Hills and Emperor
of all sprites throughout the land His Imperial Highness Jocktaw
Lerrew Fjordhill the Fourth!”
Honeysuckle had returned to this where. “A savage tribe of
sprites,” she gasped out to Arlin. Her shrug said, just as
eloquently, that she couldn’t prepare for everything. “If
we take no more thorns we should be all right.”
“What wretched vassals you all are for father! What a pitiful
excuse for a sprite! I’m ashamed! Ashamed I tell you, to belong
to the same race!”
“I think we should head on and let her catch up,” Arlin
said to Honey’s gasp of amazement. “If they haven’t
killed her by now, they’re not going to,” Arlin said
“And look at you! Fithier than a pigsty, all of you! You’ve
taken lessons from the swamphogs, I see! My father will be so disappointed
when he hears about this!”
“You’re sure?” Honeysuckle questioned.
Arlin nodded then signaled the others to move out.
“He’ll probably send a special detachment of kitchen
scrubbers to dip you all into a lyebath so offensive is your aroma!”
A few moments after they were out of earshot Heide dropped out of
a tree and into Arlin’s lap and lay there panting.
“That’s fortunate they spoke your language,” Jenora
ventured to the weary little sprite.
“Oh no, they couldn’t understand a word I said,”
she answered between pants.
“Then how . . . ?” Honeysuckle asked, thunderstruck.
“It was regal my manner what did the trick,” she answered
with a dignified sniff.
Arlin smiled at Honey, “That’s my Heide.”
Once past Turtle Lake the companions followed the course of the
Totowa River as it meandered northeast while keeping to her south
side to avoid maneater villages that Honeysuckle perceived with
her farsight spells. Where the map showed the shortest distance
to the Dead River, the party slogged through thick jungle, hacking
at vines by turn with short swords that Honey conjured after a night
spent in a magic circle looking ahead to their goal. She detected
no living entities along the Dead River or in the southern parts
of the Totowa Hills to which they were headed. Between the Totowa
and Dead rivers, the jungle changed gradually from the dense and
dim canopied affair to a thinner version with trees of a height
they knew from the west that permitted beams of sunlight to play
over their path. And it hadn’t rained all day. A brief though
fierce shower had wet them every afternoon since entering the jungle.
New and strange trees cropped up, one appeared to have roots growing
upward and branches growing down. It was a gnarled twisted oddity
and barely recognizable as a tree rather than a great uprooted bush.
“A banyan!” Surya cried in excitement and jumped from
her horse to bow down in the forest mold. “That must be one!”
She looked around to the companions. “I’ve never seen
one. They don’t grow in Westport.”
“How very odd,” Honeysuckle remarked to Arlin and Jenora
at their place ahead of the mules and rearguard. “There’s
another,” she said pointing ahead. They were easy to distinguish
from the strange things with no leaves or branches until their tops
with had a huge cactus and large green fruit. When inspected on
the ground the fruit proved hard and intractable as rocks. Perhaps
they could be somehow cut or cracked in twain and used for bowls.
Jenora, her mood dour and impatient, demanded, “How will we
ever find which banyan tree?”
“It will have a feel of great age about it,” Honeysuckle
said. “Like around 800 years worth. Let’s call Surya,”
she said to forestall another sour comment.
Surya led her mare past the asses and tried to ignore Jenora’s
scowl. The woman’s mood had steadily worsened, far beyond
anything monthly trials could account for.
“Uurdhva-muulam adhah-shaakham,” she recited. “‘There
is a banyan tree which has its roots upward and its branches down
and whose leaves are the Vedic hymns.’ Now, the original verse
ends, ‘yas tam veda sa veda-vit.’ ‘One who knows
this tree is the knower of the Vedas.’ Our scriptures. But
the last line on the map ends with aishvaryam, great treasure. ‘One
who knows this tree is the knower of great treasure.’”
The others all seemed to be looking to her for direction so she
said, “We just keep going toward that place on the map then
look around that area--”
“All 400 square miles of it,” Jenora growled.
“--and look for a banyan tree big as a house.”
A day later the Dead River narrowed and the party crossed where
it came from uphill and was shallow. They were officially in the
Totowa Hills and surrounded by forest though no sign of a banyan
The day after that, Perie Ann announced during thier noon break
that they’d better start half-rations. Luckily, the asses
and horses had plenty of forage even if they broke odd-smelling
wind because of it. The humans had found fruit but nothing fresh
would keep long in the heat. The hills were gone and the party traversed
a wooded plain.
They mounted up and continued trudging between the trees, going
slow to spare their horses a twisted fetlock.
“Oh my,” Arlin breathed and pulled her mount to a halt.
“It must be,” Jenora echoed Arlin’s awe.
Before them, through a thick stand of trees rose a banyan the size
of King Jonish’s castle, twisted roots and branches of thicknesses
ranging from fingersize to something a horse could walk through
grew in every direction. Its leaves ranged from palm-size to broad
as a dinner platter. At the outermost edge of the great tree, they
dismounted and left Perie Ann with the asses. Corry insisted on
staying to watch and survey the far side of the banyan though Honeysuckle
detected no immediate threat in the vicinity.
“Surya get up here!” Jenora demanded from deep within
the tangle. “See what this says!”
Surya, Arlin, and Honeysuckle struggled to reach her side through
the mass of tangled branches while Heide lightly flitted above as
though on a path made specially for her alone. The excitement in
Jenora’s urgings impelled Surya to great feats of strength,
pulling herself over and through the maze until she stood panting
before a stone slab. She saw the devanagari carved where Jenora
pointed and held back vines.
“Sattvam, rajas, tama iti gunaah prakriti-sambhvaah. That’s
the three modes of material nature.” She frowned, puzzled
and stepped back to look at the door. Arlin and Honeysuckle helped
pull back more vines to expose the full block.
“Well!” Jenora demanded.
The stone slab was inscribed with faint pictures Surya recognized
as demigods, humans, and demons. Brahma, greatest of the demigods
and presiding deity of the mode of passion, appeared in the upper
foreground atop a protruding lotus flower. So did Vishnu and Shiva,
the presiding deities of goodness and ignorance, among their human
and demon subjects.
“Press the three lotuses at once!” She cried.
Jenora pushed past Honeysuckle to press two while Surya presssed
one. The huge slab slid inward to reveal a dark tunnel with a golden
glow at the end.
“But there is no opening above, only that hill,” Jenora
said, perplexed, pointing to the rise behind the banyan tree.
Surya quoted the runes on the map, “That place is not illumined
by the sun or moon, nor by fire. One who reaches it never returns.”
“Wait!” Honeysuckle exclaimed. “Let me check!”
But Jenora paid no heed and disappeared into the dark tunnel.
Honey looked into otherwhere and ran a spellcheck. After a moment
she recieved the clear, no magic was waiting to trap them. Then
she and Surya followed Jenora in.
“I’m going to scout out here and find where that light’s
from,” Arlin said ignoring Surya’s interpretation of
The tunnel was short and opened into a large stone hall that glowed
by its own illumination. No openings were present and the air smelled
musty and stale. The walls and all adornments appeared covered with
ages of mold and slime. As their eyes adjusted to the gloomy illumination,
they cautiously approached the far end.
“Deities!” Surya exclaimed and pulled off her shoes
and knelt in the slime to offer obeisances. “It looks like
Radha Krishna.” She couldn’t be sure but went forward
to take a rag and some water to Their faces. She started on Krishna
while Jenora strode the perimeter of the grand hall, looking for
any openings and Honeysuckle went back out to inform the others
and start camp. A thorough exploration would take days. Jenora went
in and out of several passages before Surya had Krishna’s
face recognizable. The water and rag had brushed his flute several
“Look, the flute looks like gold, and Their eyes are made
of huge gems,” she smiled happily and stepped aside to work
As Jenora made to step onto the altar Surya warned, “Take
off your shoes.”
“In this muck be?” Jenora sneered and hopped up and
pulled Krishna’s flute from His hands.
Surya gaped in astonishment, as Jenora eyed it critically. “All
here only be,” she mumbled. “Splitting this seven ways
me not be.” With that she drew her dagger and buried it to
the hilt in Surya’s chest.
Surya’s lungs strained to draw breath for a scream of agony
and terror but a tremendous trembling and grinding of the stone
beneath their feet drowned out every other thought and sound. The
figures of Radha and Krishna moved forward. The altar and all its
supporting marble, still for over eight hundred years, toppled over.
Jenora jumped from the altar at the first grumble and made haste
toward the tunnel entrance.
Outside, Honeysuckle and the others ran forward to see as the entire
hill behind the banyan tree collapsed forward onto it, tearing and
uprooting its massive spread, and covering the tunnel entrance.
They ran to where Arlin had been searching for another entrance
on the far side of the hill, above where Jenora and Surya had been.
Honeysuckle was the first to spot Surya lying far away from what
used to be the altar. She stumbled and slid down the combination
of shattered stone and upturned earth to Surya’s side. Grasping
the hilt of Jenora’s dagger, Honeysuckle spoke the blood staunching
spell before drawing it forth. She bent her head nearly to touch
Surya’s wounded chest and sent her mind wandering the pathways
of Surya’s vitality. Drawing on Surya’s own energy,
strong and healthy for she was young, the wizard knitted flesh and
At last, Surya was safe and Honeysuckle could look up to see the
result of the untimely earthquake. The huge statues lay in thousands
of pieces all about the temple room, as Surya had called it, now
open to the afternoon sky. Perie Ann watched from above and Arlin
and Corry stood over Jenora’s limp form. Finally, Corry shrugged
and gave a pull on the beautiful, shining, golden flute embedded
in Jenora’s chest. She took it away to wash.
As she turned away, she stopped in shock. Honeysuckle rose to her
feet to see what new horror threatened. Perie Ann gasped from where
she looked on from above, speechless. Arlin and Honeysuckle quickly
joined Corry at her side. Where the altar had fallen forward, the
Deities bases had lifted to reveal a storeroom of raw and cut gems
Honeysuckle made a snap decision. “Let’s load the mules
and get out of here by sunset.” She paused then said in a
loud voice as if addressing unseen listeners, “With the idea
that we will take nothing unless and until Surya gives us permission.”
Then in a normal tone, “She’ll sleep a couple hours,
then hopefully, be fine. Corry. Why don’t you cook us something?
Unless there are some particular pieces you wanted? Let’s
see, we still have seven mules. Load four, all right?”
She looked around. “I only want a few gems of power. There
probably is nothing here of the requisite purity and clarity. Heide
wants nothing. That leaves an ass each for you four and the other
three for our gear. Agreed? I’ll stand watch until you’re
The others nodded, dazed by their sudden wealth and Jenora’s
sudden, vicious death apparently on the heels of her sudden, vicious
Corry called them to eat when she finished cooking and spoke with
a miner’s approval of their choice of small cut gems and finished
jewelry. Some of the stones were so huge there would be no dealer
who could afford them. Thus it was pointless to carry them out.
Arlin and Perie Ann rested while Corry and Honeysuckle took a look
at the store room. A pattern caught Honeysuckle’s otherwhere
eye. She reached down and closed her physical hand on a stunning
silver necklace. Within it were stones of many different colors
and properties arranged in a powerful magic-channeling fashion.
On the wearer, three black stones rested on the right shoulder,
onyx, hematite,and blackband. Next to it were three each of the
six major colors until three white rested on the left shoulder;
pearl, moonstone, and opal. “Some long-dead wizard’s
offering to his god,” she murmured. But no magic-user would
part with such an artifact. Another mystery. What had happened here
800 years ago? And could it happen again, further west?
“This looks like what you’re wanting,” Corry called
after using her mine-trained eyes to hunt among the piles of gems.
In her hand she held forth a black diamond of such purity and clarity
that Honeysuckle gasped and nearly lost her breath. That was just
the stone needed to make a staff of elemental water power. If she
fashioned it correctly, it would allow her to control the weather,
change tides, and stop a river’s flow.
“Surya’s waking,” Perie Ann called. Heide sat
on the ground beside her playing with a few gems that were big as
Honeysuckle jumped up and trotted to the wounded girl’s side.
“Lie still. Don’t try to move yet. What’s your
“Surya,” she replied crossly. “What’s your
“Do you remember it?” Honey asked, looking into otherwhere
to see that all of Surya’s vital lines were connected and
functioning. “Do you remember what happened?”
“Yes. I was . . . and then Jenora . . .”
But then the pain had stopped as suddenly as it had started. She
remembered quite clearly how Radharani had lifted her and borne
her away from Jenora, away from the roar of the crumbling altar.
How She had enfolde her in Her sweet spiritual love and whispered,
like a mother who holds its tiny baby close, that, “A great
destiny awaits My dear devotee Surya.” She shivered remebering
the sweet spiritual sound of that voice, like a silver stream of
“Jenora was killed in the crash,” Honey said, snapping
Surya back into the present.
Surya regarded her as if she’d gone dumb. “Of course
she was! She entered the Deity room with shoes on and didn’t
offer obeisances!” Then Surya’s face clouded. “And
then . . . then she shed blood . . . attempted a killing on the
altar. How horrible!”
“So,” Honeysuckle blinked and deliberated a moment.
“Underneath the altar, was the treasure.” She held up
her necklace. “Is it all right for us to take some of it?”
“Surely,” Surya nodded. Then seeing Honeysuckle’s
uncertainty she explained what was self-evident to her, “The
Deities left. They don’t want it anymore. Take it all. But
I want Krishna’s flute and staff. Did they survive the crash?”
Corry brought the brilliantly effulgent flute from the back of one
of the mules. “I’ll see if I can find the staff among
the ruins,” she said.
“You did great with that, Corry,” Surya said as she
took the flute. “And so quickly.”
Corry turned away, without replying that she’d only rinsed
it in water and that it had been shining as though new when she’d
drawn it from Jenora’s bloody breast.
Surya considered the flute. “It’s His remnants, you
know.” She looked at Honeysuckle. “It’s all Their
remnants.” She raised her voice to address all the conpanions,
“So, don’t let any of it touch your feet.”
“Oh no,” Arlin assured her with a laugh. “We won’t
let any of it touch our feet.” So saying, she tucked a clear
emerald big as her thumbnail into her pouch.
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