Tothelea: Chapter 9

Trevor woke to Harmony gently shaking his shoulder, and someone knocking at
their door.  "Trevor, you awake in there?" Morton called.

"I'll be right there!"  He got up, and answered the door.  Harmony had
obviously woken some time before, as her blanket was neatly folded and ready
to go.  She took up Trevor's blanket as he crossed the room and began to fold
it as well.

Morton raised an eyebrow at Trevor, who greeted him with his staff in hand.
"Do you always answer the door armed?" he joked.

"I, uh, no.  I leaned it against the door last night.  No locks, remember?"

"Ah.  Well, let's get moving."

Trevor nodded.  "Come on, Harmony," he said, motioning for her to grab the
blankets and their bag of traveling food.  They stopped briefly to put their
things in Morton's wagon before following him to the store.  It wasn't far
away.  But then, in the light of day it didn't look like anything was very far
away in Derey.  It was, unless its appearance was very much deceiving, a good
bit smaller even than White Sands.

"Meet you back at the wagons in an hour," Morton said.  "Don't be late."

Trevor nodded, and they went into the store while Morton went off to attend to
his business.  Other than being small, the store was much like the one back
home.  Trevor appreciated the familiarity of it.  He asked Harmony to find
some waterskins for them to buy while he looked for packs and bedrolls.  And,
he thought to himself, something Harmony wasn't going to like very much.  The
shopkeeper was friendly enough, and he soon had two packs--one larger, one
smaller--and warm wool blankets.  He glanced quickly to make sure Harmony was
still occupied.

He whispered to the shopkeeper, "I need a couple of knives.  One for each of

The shopkeeper raised an eyebrow at the Trevor's secretiveness, but nodded and
showed him where they were.  "Anything particular you're looking for, sir,"
the man asked.

"Something small and sharp for her, that straps onto the leg.  So she can hide
it under her skirts.  Anything with a sheath I can attach to my belt for me."

The shopkeeper picked through his stock and came up with some likely
candidates.  Trevor selected from them, and on impulse added a small folding
knife they could keep in the food bag, to use for slicing cheese and such.

And a sharpening stone.  Looking around the store, Trevor saw many, many
things that were on his list, and had to restrain himself from buying them
all.  No sense buying them here when, he knew, they would probably be cheaper
in Merlon.  Trevor carried the packs and blankets to the store's counter,
while the shopkeeper carried the knives.  Harmony joined them when she had
found a pair of waterskins with straps so they could be carried over their
shoulders.  She put them on the counter, and gave Trevor a suspicious look
when she saw the knives.

"We'll talk about it later," he said.  With the shopkeeper listening, he did
not add "in private."  He paid for the purchases and put the knives into the
larger of the packs.

They were back at the wagon train well before Morton.  Berl and Jagob had
tended to the horses and driven the wagons out from behind the inn and onto
the main road.  Trevor checked quickly, as he and Harmony approached the lead
wagon, that his staff and their food were undisturbed.  They were.  They took
their seats and waited for Morton to return.  They waited for some time, and
Trevor began to wonder if Morton was late, or if something was wrong.  But
then, he reminded himself, we weren't in the store all that long.

"It's about time, boss!" Berl called out a few minutes later as Morton came
into view.  Morton went over to the pair of them, and gave some instructions.
The two men hopped down from their wagon and proceeded to detach the rearmost
wagon from the train.  They led one of the horses over to it and hitched it
up.  Berl climbed into the wagon, cracked the reins a bit, and began to drive.

"Back in a bit," Morton said, as he, Berl, and the one wagon passed them.
Trevor was glad it was Jagob left behind with them.  Ten minutes or so later,
the two men returned.  Morton carried something box-shaped in his arms,
covered in a cloth.  Berl was still driving, but when the wagon passed them
again, Trevor could see that it was now empty.

Morton packed his parcel into the lead wagon, and hollered for Berl and Jagob
to get everything hitched back up the way it had been so they could go.  "The
day's slipping by, lads!" he added.

"Did you find what you needed?" he asked, after climbing back into the
driver's seat.

"Yes, we're all set," Trevor answered, curious as to what was in the parcel.
"We won't need to borrow your blankets anymore."

"Good," he said, shaking his head slightly.  "I can still scarce believe you
left White Sands with hardly the clothes on your backs."

"Like I said, we left in a bit of a hurry."

Berl called back that things were set, and with a "Hya!" from Morton to the
horses, they were off again.

When they were out of town, Trevor took the knives out of his pack.  He fixed
the one onto his belt, put the folding one into their bag of food, and showed
the third one to Harmony.

"This is for you," he said.  She shook her head no.

"Harmony, listen to me.  I know you don't like it.  Really, I know.  But you
need to have something to defend yourself with.  I need to know you have
something."  She shook her head again.

Trevor sighed.  He hadn't wanted to tell her this.  "Morton thinks someone is
following us.  I haven't seen anything, but I think he's right.  Maybe it's
someone from town.  They must have figured out by now that you're alive.
Maybe it's Weilin.  I don't know who it is, but I need for you to have some

Harmony's eyes widened at the news, and fear crept across her face.  It broke
Trevor's heart--she hated it, he knew she did.  She hated hurting anyone or
anything--but he continued.  He sat, and took one of her feet in his hands,
holding it and sliding her dress up a bit.

"This straps on here, to your leg," he said.  He held the knife in its sheath
up to her calf, finding a good spot for it.  He held it with one hand and
clumsily worked the straps and buckles with the other.  It took some doing,
and Harmony refused to help.

When he was finished, he pulled the hem of her dress back down, saying "See,
no one will know it's there.  But if anyone tries to hurt you, and I'm not
around to stop them, you can use it to defend yourself."

She shook her head no again, and tears welled up in her eyes.  He wanted to
take it all back, and promise her that he would always be there, right beside
her, always ready to protect her.  But he couldn't.  This was too important,
and besides, it wasn't a promise he could make.  There would be times when
they would be separated, by accident or by design.  And he needed to know she
had something to fall back on.

"I'm sorry, Harmony.  But it's important.  Promise me you'll wear this?
Promise me you'll always have it with you."  She cowered a bit, and bit her

"Promise me, Harmony!"  He stared into her eyes, holding her gaze until she
nodded.  He knew she was as good as her word.  Whether she would, if pressed,
actually use the knife?  Well, that he had no idea about.  But he knew better
than to make her promise more than he had.

"Thank you, Harmony."  She looked at him crossly, and wiped away the tears.
They sat quietly for a while, nobody saying anything.  Trevor knew Morton must
have heard all of that, and was polite enough to leave well enough alone.

At last, Trevor asked "How long till we reach Merlon?" both because he wanted
to know and to break the silence.

Morton answered quickly.  "It's two days ride.  But as we left late this
morning, we'll be tonight and tomorrow night on the road, and get into Merlon
early the day after.  If we make uncommon good time today or tomorrow, we
could push on into Merlon tomorrow night, but it's not good for the horses and
I don't expect to."

"You've ridden this road a lot, I expect."

"Oh, many times, lad.  Many times."  He paused, recollecting.  "First time, I
couldn't have been much older than you.  How old are you, Trevor?"

"Nearly eighteen.  My birthday's in the summer."

"Well back then--I hate to tell you how long ago that really was--Merlon was a
dry city.  I signed on with a fellow who had a whole operation set up,
smuggling booze into the city.  He had a ship he'd sail over to Volunur, out
in the middle of the Divide, and pack up as much as a ship could hold.  Mostly
wine, but a good lot of fine stuff, too.

"Anyway, he'd sail it South and clear around the West end of Hardal.  Then
back up North a ways and make landfall out in the middle of nowhere.  He had a
bunch of young kids like me working a wagon train to take the stuff from
there, cross country, all the way to the River at Merlon.  We'd put it on
rafts, a few crates at a time, and some other boys would float it on down
river to Merlon itself.

"This fellow--Mersey, his name was, Ross Mersey--he was an importer anyway and
had his own docks there at the port, so as long as the rafts weren't too big
and came in at night, he could get 'em unloaded without anybody knowing.

"That's how I learned to drive a wagon train, anyway.  It would take two or
three trips, from the coast to the river and back, to get an entire shipload
moved.  So we did that part of it.  Didn't pay all that well, and it was
boring as dirt, but there was as much drink as we liked.  Ha!

"Of course, Mersey got caught eventually.  And Lord Coovey--he was governor of
Larad when I was a kid--he eventually figured out that prohibiting wine and
whiskey didn't do any good anyway.  People always find a way to drink, and
outlawing it just made for a lot of outlaws.

"Most of us that worked for Mersey got rounded up eventually, too.  But we got
off pretty easy.  I had to do a couple of months in jail there in Merlon, and
pay a fine which took me a good while to work off.  But it could have been
worse.  Much worse.

"I'm much more careful about what I do, now.  Haven't been in that kind of
trouble since then, and I don't aim to again."

"No more smuggling, then?" Trever asked, jokingly.

"Yes, much more careful."

Morton, now that he had gotten going, spent most of the day regailing Trevor
and Harmony with the wilder tales of his exploits as a wagon man and trader
from one end of Hardal to the other--tales he had obviously held back from
telling before.  One, the time a lady of ease relieved him of the burden of
his coin purse.  Another, the time he'd tried to take wagons over the Eagle
Mountain pass in the winter, trying to save a few days travel, and had gotten
stuck in the snow for a week.  Several stories about bandits on the roads, and
why a wagonmaster needed to hire fellows like Berl and Jagob.

The stories made the long hours on the road pass more easily, but all in all,
left Trevor with the impression that there was an awful lot he didn't know
about the world outside of White Sands.  Listening to the stories, he had
visions of highwaymen robbing him and Harmony, leaving them with no money,
food, or anything out in the middle of nowhere.  Or just leaving them dead.
Visions of muggers in Merlon, slitting his throat and leaving Harmony alone
again.  Of her, forced into a life thieving or worse to support herself.
Visions of Weilin, tracking her down, and no one there to protect her.

Yes, there was an awful lot he was going to have to learn, in a hurry, when
they reached big cities like Merlon.  How to use his staff properly, for one
thing.  Trevor promised himself he would find an able teacher and learn at
least enough to get by, the first chance he got.

That evening, around the fire, he asked Morton whether there was someone in
Merlon that would fit the bill.

"You have me there, Trevor.  Anyone I knew from my ill-spent youth there will
be long gone by now.  You should ask Jagob, though.  He grew up in Merlon too,
and I believe he's handy with a staff.  Someone had to teach him."  Trevor
nodded, saying thank you.  But how to ask Jagob without letting on--or at the
very least, without Berl finding out--that Trevor had no skill to speak of?  He
couldn't risk one of them trying anything if they knew he was defenseless.  He
pondered it for a while, and then decided just to wait till they reached
Merlon.  He would ask just before they parted company anyway.  Yes, that would

Morton wandered over to the wagon and came back with a pair of bottles.  "What
do you say to a bit of wine, then?" he asked, jovially, to the four of them
still sitting there.  "I did a nice bit of business back in Derey, and I feel
like celebrating."

The question was met with hearty approval by Jagob and Berl.  Morton tossed
one of the bottles to them, saying "Go fetch your lute, man, and play us a
tune!"  Berl, who had caught the bottle, handed it to Jagob and got up to get
his instrument.  Morton sat down again and uncorked the other bottle.

"Cheers," he said, taking a swig of the wine.  He made a face.  "Oh, this wine
is hardly fit for celebrating!"

"Has it gone sour?" Trevor asked.

"No, not sour.  It's just... not very good."  He handed the bottle to Trevor.
Trevor tried it, and had to agree.  Admittedly, he hadn't had all that much
wine in his life, but even he could tell that this was not the best.

"This one's fine!" Jagob laughed, after tasting from the other bottle.  Jagob
handed it over to Berl, who had returned and was tuning his lute.

Harmony motioned for the bottle.  Trevor shrugged slightly, and offered it to
her.  "Really, Harmony.  It isn't very good."  Harmony sniffed at the bottle,
and then stood, wandering out a ways from the fire.  The moon was rising--now
mostly full, several days after the night he had looked for her in the
woods--and Trevor could see Harmony searching among the grass and weeds.

"Your wife," Morton began, "she's a bit odd, isn't she?  No offense, I mean.
She's lovely, but..."

"That she is," Trevor said.  It was, after all, difficult to deny that Harmony
was well outside what was normal.  "She's sweet, though, when you get to know

"I suppose you grew up together in White Sands?  Known each other since you
were babes?"

"Yes."  It was true, after all.  Just not how Morton was obviously picturing
it.  "I can't even remember not knowing her."

"What do you think she's doing?" Morton asked, as Harmony seemed to locate
whatever it was she was searching for.

"I honestly couldn't say."

They watched her walk back to the fire, shaking the bottle, holding the palm
of one hand against the bottle's mouth.  She sat down again, next to Trevor.

"Well?" Morton asked, reaching for the bottle.

"Wait," she insisted, pulling it away from him.  She sat, warming her feet by
the flames and giving the bottle an occasional shake.  After a few minutes,
she sniffed it again, gave the tiniest of nods.

"Good now," she said, handing the bottle past Trevor, back to Morton.

Morton took a skeptical sip.  He stared at the bottle, and took a larger
drink.  "I'll be damned," he said, finally.  He handed the bottle to Trevor,
who sipped.  The wine was, indeed, much improved.

"I'll be damned, girl," Morton repeated.  "How did you do that?"

Harmony shrugged, noncommittally.

"Tomorrow, when it's light," he continued, "you show me what you put in
there."  Another shrug.

"Trevor," he added, after another pull from the bottle, "you take this wife of
yours on up to Kostun, to the wine country.  They make all kinds of wine up
there, some good, some bad.  Well, most of it is bad, truth be told.  She can
make you both very comfortable indeed, if she can do this whole barrels at a
time, and there would be no lack of call for her services."

"That's a good idea," Trevor said, nodding.  What he was thinking, of course,
was different.  It is a good idea, he thought, but it'll have to wait.  We
can't settle anywhere until we know we're safe.

Later that night, after bedding down to sleep, Trevor asked her "Harmony,
where did you learn that?  With the wine, I mean?"  It wasn't anything he
could remember their mother doing, although Trevor had never taken any pains
to learn about the things she had done in the kitchen.

"Don't know," Harmony said.  "Just know."

Another oddity about her to add to the list.  Trevor wondered if he would ever
really understand her.  Settling in to go to sleep, he doubted it.

The next morning came, and with it, the familiar routine.  Breakfast around
the fire, pack up camp, and hit the road.  Before they left, Morton made sure
to learn what plants Harmony had put into the wine.  She showed him several.
Trevor watched, amused, while she tried to show Morton the process she had
used as well.  There was obviously more to it than just the plants, and Trevor
doubted that Morton was really getting the whole story.

The rest of the day was much like the days before as well.  Hours on the road,
and more stories and reminiscinces from Morton's seemingly limitless supply of

A little while after lunch, Trevor noticed that the cloth covering the parcel
Morton had picked up in Derey was, after more than a day's jostling in the
wagons, starting to slide off.  Underneath was a very fine wooden box.
Polished, and with ornate carvings decorating its surfaces.  A shiny brass
clasp held it shut.  Trevor scooted towards it.

"Morton," he said, "the cover's coming off this box of yours.  Would you like
me to wrap it back up?"

Morton turned his head to look back into the wagon.  "Oh, uh, okay," he
replied.  And a moment later, added, "Yes, thank you Trevor.  Wrap it tight.
Make sure the sun stays off of it."

Trevor did as he was asked, noticing a vague brownish line on the pale cloth,
as though dirt or dust or something had seeped out a bit with all the jostling
of the wagon.  Trevor touched it, and the dust smeared a bit.  Well, Morton
would just have to clean it off at some point.

He returned to his seat, to find Harmony watching him, her eyes narrowed.  He
gave her a look that said "what?".  She grabbed his hand and inspected his
fingers.  They were, it was true, a bit dusty.  So what?  He started to ask
her what she was doing, but she silenced himwith a look.

She pulled him over to the water barrel, and held his hand out over the side
of the wagon while she scooped up a cup's worth and poured it over his hand.
Then she made him hold out his other hand to be washed as well.

When she had finished, she glanced to Morton, making sure his back was turned.
She whispered in Trevor's ear, so low that he almost couldn't hear her.  "Bad
spice," she said.  "Don't touch."

Whatever was bothering her, he would just have to ask about it later.  Morton
told more stories, ones about people he had known who should have minded their
own business, and glanced rather more often than was really necessary back
towards the box.  Trevor made sure to laugh at all the right places in
Morton's stiories, and didn't ask about what was in it.

By the time they made camp that evening, Morton seemed to have relaxed about
the box.  Somehow, Trevor wasn't reassured.  Whatever was in it--well, that
didn't really matter, did it--Morton's odd reaction put Trevor off his ease.
Part of him was sad, because Morton seemed like a decent enough fellow, and
Trevor would have preferred to trust him.  But he couldn't take any chances.

"How far do you think we are from Merlon?" Trevor asked as he laid out his and
Harmony's bedrolls.

"Oh, not far.  A couple hours, perhaps.  It's a shame to stop so close, but I
won't drive my horses in the dark."

Trevor sighed.  He hoped it seemed sincere.  "I'll be sad to leave you.
You've really been very kind to us."  That much was true, anyway.

"Oh, nonsense," Morton said, brushing off the compliment, "you paid for the
ride, after all.  And an old geezer like me needs someone to bore with his
stories.  Ha!"

Trevor laughed.  "They're not boring.  Think up some good ones for tomorrow,

Morton said he would, and got back to the business of checking the horses
hooves and shoes.

The full moon rose just after sunset.  Everyone bedded down after supper, and
went to sleep.  Except Trevor.  He refused to sleep, and instead watched the
moon as it marked time across the sky.

When it reached its zenith, it was time.  He got up, quiet as he could, and
collected their belongings.  He woke Harmony, as gently as he could, making
sure she could see his face the instant she opened his eyes, and his finger
held to his lips.  Harmony, being Harmony, sat up without a sound.  He
motioned for her to get up, and roll up her blankets while he shouldered his

It took almost no time to get ready to leave.  One of the benefits of being so
poor, Trevor mused.  Not much to pack.  He picked up his iron staff last of
all, and led Harmony away from the camp.  They walked slowly and quietly,
until they were some distance away, before Trevor motioned for them to speed
up.  He made them walk quickly, watching the moon, for what felt like at least
an hour.  He explained while they walked, after they were well out of earshot.

"We have to walk the rest of the way to Merlon," he said.  "What you said
about the stuff in that box, and the way Morton acted about it.  I don't know
what the deal is, but I don't trust him.  And I can't take any chances that he
might try to do us in before morning."

"Okay," was all she said, accepting his decision.

They walked on, and Trevor decided to see if she could tell him anything more.
"What do you know about the bad spice?"

"Bad plant," she said.  "Sap make you very sick.  But very pretty, white

"It was sap that was in the box?"

"No.  Take sap, mix with..." she paused, not knowing the word that came next,
"don't know.  Mix just right, make bad spice."

Poison?  Trevor thought.  It was a big box.  That was a lot of poison.  What
would Morton be doing with that much poison?  Nothing good, that much was
certain.  He had an idea.

"Harmony," he asked, "do you know what the bad spice is called?  What it's
name is?"

She shook her head.  Hm.  That was too bad.

"Do you know how it is used?  I mean, do you put it into food, or into wine?"

"Breathe it," she said.  That seemed odd.  What, you had to blow it into
someone's face and they had to breathe it in?  He asked if that was correct.

"No.  Smoke, with a pipe.  Like tobacco."

That made no sense.  Why would anyone smoke poison?  Confused, he asked "What
else do you know about it?"  She shrugged.

Trevor sighed to himself.  He had to do something about it, but it was going
to be hard with so little information.  It would be good if he at least knew
what to call the stuff!  Well, there was no helping that.  He would just have
to do his best.  Once they got to Merlon, surely someone could help.

Trevor was tired, but made them walk on.  Morton had said they had a couple of
hours left to ride.  But even with wagons to pull, the horses went faster than
walking.  So maybe four hours walking.  He could feel himself slowing down,
though.  Harmony was keeping up with him easily, and he knew that his was now
the limiting pace.  Perhaps he should have slept a little, just a couple of
hours.  But no, that would have been too risky.  What if he'd slept all night?
And besides, he had been too nervous to sleep.  There was nothing for it but
to press on.

Trevor watched the full moon drop towards the west as they walked, estimating
the time until dawn.  He was exhausted.  Finally, the moon touched the
horizon, and gray light appeared in the east.  The light grew, replacing the
moonlight with stronger sunlight as the one set and the other rose.  Even
Harmony seemed to be tiring now, but in the distance, Trevor could see

Merlon.  It had to be.

"Look, Harmony," he said, pointing ahead, "There it is!"

She nodded.  "So big," she ventured.  Even from here, they could tell it was
much larger than White Sands.  The first buildings weren't far away, and
beyond them they could see a strip of water--the River at Merlon--separating
them from the bulk of the city which lay on the river's north bank.

"Listen.  When we get there, I'm going to tell them about Morton and his box
of poison.  They'll stop him, and take it away.  But it's too early now.
Nobody will be awake yet.  I need to sleep, at least for a little bit.  If I
lay down, can you stay awake?"

She nodded yes.  "Good.  Let me sleep for one hour.  Can you mark one hour by
the sun?"  Another nod.  "Okay.  Watch the road, too.  Both directions.  If
you see anyone coming, you wake me up."

"'Kay," she said.  

"Thank you Harmony."  Trevor lay down on the side of the road, not even
bothering with his blanket.  Harmony, bless her, unrolled hers and laid over
him.  He mumbled another thank you as he fell asleep.