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    A thin little man, toothless and probably not nearly as old as he looked, nudged the man sitting next to him in the ribs. "Why do you ask?" This man's face was friendly, but his eyes were wary.

    "Nettle says he might carr...essage for me."

    "A message? Who to?" He stretched his left leg, rubbing the knee as if it hurt him.

    "T...ire-eater. Dustfinger is his name. His face .. " CloudDancer drew one finger over his cheek.

    "Three scars...now. What do you want with him?"

    "I want you to take him this." Resa kneeled down by the fire and put her hand into the pocket of her dress. She always had paper an...encil with her; they had done duty as her tongue for years. Now her voice was back, bu...ooden tongue was more useful for sending Dustfinge...essage. Fingers trembling, she began to write, taking no notice of the suspicious eyes following her hand as if she were doing something forbidden.

    "She can write," remarked the toothless man. There was no mistaking the disapproval in his tone. It wa...ong, long time ago that Resa had sat in the marketplaces of towns on the far side of the forest, dressed in men's clothes and with her hair cut short, because writing was the only way she knew to earn her living and writing wa...raft forbidden to women in this world.

    Slavery was the punishment for it, and it had made her Mortola's slave. For it was Mortola who had discovered Resa's disguise, and a...eward she was allowed to take her away to Capricorn's fortress.

    "Dustfinger won't be able to read that," pointed out CloudDancer equably. "Yes, he will...aught him how."

    They looked at her incredulously. Letters. Mysterious things, rich men's tools, not meant for strolling players and certainly not for women. .

    Only CloudDancer smiled. "Well, imagine that. Dustfinger can read," he said softly. "Fine, bu...an't. You'd better tell me what you've written, so tha...an tell him the words even if your note gets lost. Which can easily happen with written words, much more easily than with words in your head."

    Resa looked CloudDancer straight in the face. You trust people far too easil... How often Dustfinger had told her that, but what choice did she have now? I...ow voice, she repeated what she had written. " Dear Dustfinger...m in the strolling players' camp with Mo, deep in the Wayless Wood. Mortola and Basta brought us here, and Mortola" – her voice failed as she said it –

    " Mortola shot Mo. Meggie is here, too...on't know exactly where, but please look for her and bring her to me! Protect her as you tried to protect me. But beware of Basta. Resa. "

    "Mortola? Wasn't that what they called the old woman who lived with the fire-raisers?" The man who asked this question had no right hand...hief– you lost your left hand for stealin...oaf, your right hand fo...iece of meat.

    "Yes, they say she's poisoned more men than the Adderhead has hairs on his head!" CloudDancer pushe...og of wood back into the fire. "And it was Basta who slashed Dustfinger's face all that time ago. He won't like to hear those two names."

    "But Basta's dead!" remarked the toothless minstrel. "And they've been saying the same about the old woman, too!"

    "That's what they tell the children," sai...an with his back to Resa, "so they'll sleep better. The likes of Mortola don't die. They only bring death to others."

    They're not going to help me, thought Resa. Not now that they've heard those two names. The only one looking at her in anything lik...riendly way wa...an wearing the black and red o...ire-eater. But CloudDancer was still inspecting her as if he wasn't sure what to make of her –

    her and her mysterious message. Finally, however, and withou...ord, he took the note from her fingers and put it in the bag he wore at his belt. "Very well, I'll take Dustfinger your message," he said. "I know where he is."

    He was going to help her after all. Resa could hardly believe it.

    "Oh, thank you." Swaying with exhaustion, she straightened up again. "When do you think he'll get the message?"

    CloudDancer patted his knee. "My leg must get better first."

    "Of course." Resa bit back the words she wanted to shout, begging him to hurry. She mustn't press him too hard, or he might change his mind, and then who would find Dustfinger for her...iece of wood broke apart in the flames, spitting out glowing sparks at her feet. "I have no money to pay you," she said, "but perhaps you'll accept this." And she took her wedding ring off her finger and offered it to CloudDancer. The toothless man looked at the gold ring as avidly as if he would like to put his own hand out for it, but CloudDancer shook his head.

    "No, forget it," he said. "Your husband is sick. It's bad luck to give away your wedding ring, I've heard."

    Bad luck. Resa was quick to put the ring back on her finger. "Yes," she murmured. "Yes, you're right. Thank you. Thank you with all my heart!"

    She turned to go.

    "Hey, you!" The minstrel whose back had been turned to her was looking at her. He had only two fingers on his right hand. "Your husband – he has dark hair. Dark as the fur o...ole. And he's tall. Very tall."

    Bewildered, Resa looked at him. "So?"

    "And then there's the scar. Just where the songs say. I've seen it. Everyone knows how he got it: The Adderhead's dogs bit him there when he was poaching near the Castle of Night, and he too...tag, one of the White Stags that only the Adderhead himself may kill."

    What on earth was he talking about? Resa remembered what Nettle had said: And if you're wise, you won't let too many of them, see that scar on his arm.

    The toothless man laughed. "Listen to Twofingers, will you! He thinks it's the Bluejay lying there in the cave. Since when did you believe in old wives' tales? Was he wearing his feathered mask?"

    "How shoul...now?" snapped Twofingers. "Di...ring him here? Bu...ell you, that's him!"

    Resa sensed that the fire-eater was examining her thoughtfully. "I don't know what you're talking about," she said. "I don't know any Bluejay."

    "You don't?" Twofingers picked up the lute lying on the grass beside him. Resa had never before heard the song that he now sang i...oft voice:

    Bright hope arises from the dark

    And makes the mighty tremble.

    Princes can't fail to see his mark,

    Nor can they now dissemble.

    With hair like moleskin smooth and black,

    And mask of blue jay feathers,

    He vows wrongdoers to attack,

    Strikes princes in all weathers.

    He hunts their game He robs their gold

    And him they would have slain.

    But he's away, he will not stay,

    They seek the Jay in vain.

    How they were all looking at her! Resa too...tep backward. "I must go to my husband," she said. "That song .. it has nothing to do with him. Believe me, it doesn't."

    She felt their eyes on her back as she returned to the cave. Forget them, she told herself.

    Dustfinger will get your message, that's all that matters, and he'll find Meggie and bring her here.

    ...
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