The Dragons of Arbor
Chapter 16: Trails and Tribulation

Copyright© 2011 by Sea-Life

Back in Seacroft again.

Dad had given us our lift and River and I gave him our account of why we were there and what had led up to it.

"Slavers! You should have let me know sooner."

In the amount of time it took to say those words, he had kicked it into full High Wizard mode. The news that we were tracking potential slavers was all it took to make that happen, both at the High Wizard and McKesson level.

<Give me your thoughts> He asked in my mind. I did of course. Everything I knew.

"Wait here." He said and disappeared.

Within minutes people began appearing. The first was Trellis Valse. Next was Firetree, Lord Esterhal's Royal Wizard. With the jump bracelet Dad had given him, he was soon jumping people in as well. I recognized Seablaze Marco and Skyblaze Rambol, but there were at least another dozen wizards I didn't recognize at all.

Weaver McKesson, High Wizard of Arbor acted with his typical brute force and overwhelming style. He threw me a jump bracelet, knowing I didn't really need it, but obliging my desire for that part of my life to remain buried for now.

"In case we need to move separately, since you know how to use one." He said by way of cover for me.

We had to leave Spray and Scatter behind, to their immediate protest, but dad wouldn't accept their participation.

"Trellis, I need a prison." He called. "There!" He pointed with a finger to an empty area to the side of the Kilber house, where he had jumped us all. Trellis gave a casual gesture and a large band of shimmering violet sprang up immediately, a hundred feet across and thirty feet high. Suddenly, people began appearing in it. I saw recognition in River's eyes over several of them.

"That takes care of the locals who are involved." Dad said. "There are wards over the remote plants. We can get in, but I can't jump the captives out directly.

"Firetree, you're in charge of group two. Secure your plant and give me a whistle when you're done!" At Firetree's nod, He and six other wizards disappeared.

"Seablaze, you're group three, same deal." A nod and another six wizards were gone.

"Trellis, you are going to have to set up some place to receive the people we free. Many of them will probably need medical attention."

With her nod, Dad jumped us all, and suddenly, we were somewhere else, standing on a large platform open to the weather. There was a dock at one end and a large building at the other. I recognized the kind of fish processing line I'd seen in the Peninsula Shipping plant.

"I'll take care of whoever is running the show. You guys get the cells open and get everyone out. Gather them back here." Dad commanded.

There is an advantage to the whirlwind approach. The guards and free overseers were taken completely by surprise. Trunk, River, a wizard named Phasehand and I went through a door to the right of the platform and down a narrow stairs. There were rooms here, almost decent ones. Half of them were empty, but those that weren't had women in them, shackled to a bed. They cried out when they saw us.

The women's cries attracted the attention of a guard, who came out of one of the rooms further down the narrow hallway, still buckling his leathers. River's anger, already boiling at seeing the state of these women, flashed into white hot rage at that point and she launched herself at the guard before I could even draw a breath. No need for river-drawn power here. Her rage fueled her instead, and her moonstone staff stuck first, knocking the pot-bellied little guard ten feet down the hall. Her second blow broke an arm, I heard it and her third broke his jaw and sent teeth rattling across the floor. While she was attacking that guard, two others came running up the stairs at the far end of the hallway past her, swords drawn.

Trunk and I were on them before they had a chance to close with River. It took two feints before I had the one in front of me panicking, and he turned right into my swing, knocking himself out trying to flee the swing he thought was coming, by running right into the one that actually did.

Trunk was a little more economical and just slashed the sword arm of the man he faced, and then gave him a nice whack with the butt of his sword.

We let River free the women while we tended our captives and tied their hands behind their backs. We handed several of the women the swords the guards had been carrying.

"Stay here with these scum while we work to free more of your fellows." Trunk said. "We'll stop for you on our way back up with the rest."

The woman nodded and we were moving down the hall and towards the stairs. The stairs led to a lower level, and here the cells didn't even try to pretend to be rooms. The doors were simple but heavy wooden grates, and the rooms beyond the grates were sunken below the level of the floor in the hall. It gave the captors an immediate advantage whenever they had to open a cell door.

Each cell door was locked with a simple wooden padlock. I didn't even bother looking for the key, I simply smashed the first one with my staff, and the magic in the moonstones took care of the rest, splintering the wood in an explosion of energy.

Trunk had a close call then as he moved to the far end of this hall, finding a regular door, kicking down the door, he soon discovered it to be the guard barracks. He stumbled into eight men, all already busy arming themselves in response to the noise of the shattering locks. He killed the first three to close with him, but the remaining five were threatening to overwhelm him when Phasehand stepped in.

"It was weird to see them fall." Trunk said later. "They would just go sort of semi-transparent, like stained glass, and then just collapse."

There was another, lower level, a dank and dismal place, close to the sea beneath it and smelling of rotting fish and human waste. There were only three men here, but they needed a good deal of support even to get up from the filthy pallets they were on.

We brought the slaves and captured guards out to the open area. Dad was already there with a fat, bald man in red leathers who squirmed at the end of Dad's grasp.

"A Jessian Runecaster!" I heard Phasehand say out loud. He quickly took charge of the captured wizard while Dad began sorting and transporting the rest.

Dad began questioning the prisoners, along with several other wizards, including Runesmoke, the Norsea Royal Wizard, who was somewhat chagrined to discover such things occurring practically under his nose. By the end of the day Captain Halico would have a complete list of everyone involved with the operation, local and otherwise, including details on their part of the operation. All the information would go to the King of Norsea who would need to close down the remote ends of the operation.

Copper Indra had been in the thick of it, and his former stable in the heart of the city was Trellis' pick for the treatment center for the almost two hundred slaves that had been in the processing plants.

The wizards who still remained were working with local healers to get the freed slaves back to health, and eventually, back to where they wanted to go. A lot of them hoped to stay and take over the operation of at least one of the remote processing plants. Mr. Kilber was with some of them now, meeting with Captain Halico and Trunk, who was representing Gurmot, Gurmot and Sons as potential investors, prepared to step in and keep at least one of the plants open, if it looked workable, and financially sound.

The whirlwind was over though, and we were gathered to see my Dad off.

"Thanks again for the lift Dad."

"Your welcome Son. Congratulations to the both of you. I may still be a little close-mouthed now and then, but I won't be hiding out as much anymore, okay?"

"Good!" I said with some emphasis, maybe more than I'd expected myself. "I've hated things the way they were."

"Me too, but I can't argue with the results."

"Thank you." I said again, flashing a smile. River flashed past me and had my dad in a hug.

"Thank you, sir." She said.

"For the staff?" Dad asked with a smile.

"For everything." She said, reaching to touch the skystone where it rested under her leathers.

"You are very welcome, and you might as well call me Weaver. I have a feeling it won't be too long before even that will be too formal."

"Yes sir." She said automatically.

"We'll work on that one Dad." I said, over everyone's laughter.

"A pleasure meeting you sir." Scatter said.

"Both of us." Spray added.

"And you as well. Everywhere I go on Arbor, it is the young people who remind me of what a marvelous place it is. You and the other young boys and girls, becoming men and women of Arbor are its true Magic. What I wield is fleeting and ephemeral in comparison."

At that, and with a dramatic swirl of Needlethorn, my father was gone. We all stared collectively in to the empty space where he had just been for a long, silent moment.

"Is it always like that when he's around?" Scatter finally asked.

"Not at home." I said. "There he was always just Dad to me, and Weaver to everyone else. Get him out in public though, particularly away from the few public places he goes to regularly, and he seems to wind up wrapped in some sort of larger than life energy that I don't think he even realizes is there. Spirits only knows what you call what he is wrapped in when there is actual danger around."

"What about your mother?" Scatter asked. "What's it like having the Wind of Arbor for your mother?"

"Most of the time its pretty normal too." I answered. "Its more of a conscious thing with her. She's either being The Wind of Arbor, or she's not." The degree of difference is much sharper, but its on or off with her, she doesn't ramp up on it in degrees."

"And she spent time with the Zadaru, as I did?" River asked.

"Yes, but only a moon or so, and she was completely adopted at the beginning into the Copper Canyon clan. There were far more politics involved with her time there."

"Does she really ride a winged horse?" Scatter asked.

"Yes, her name is Grendel."

The afternoon sun on the large raised veranda at the front of Kilber Manor had been perfect for saying goodbyes and having a last chance to chat with Dad before he jumped back to the tower. It was just as perfect for a place in which to catch our collective breaths and gather our thoughts.

A lot still remained to take care of as far as getting things back to normal went. River had already let Bright Ewren know that the vacation was over and there would be a sales day at the market in the morning. We were going to have a load of Marsh Lizards that had come in this afternoon, as well as two complete clutches of Banded Bush Kittens. We even had a couple Doe Noses to round out the list. A pretty easy accomplishment when you had four experienced hunters out working. The last few days had been a whirlwind, and we were all thinking about what had happened, I'm sure.

During all this time, Pleasant Kilber was working hard to keep Seacroft society focused on what was important. The Captain's Ball was still going to happen as scheduled, if Pleasant had to play the fiddle herself!

"Would anyone like more punch?" Flutter asked as she came out of the Kilber's front door with a pitcher. "Oh! Where is the High Wizard? River they're ready for your final fitting."

"Flutter, I think your loosing it a little." River teased. "Pull it back a little and keep smiling!"

The poor woman could hardly keep from smiling, despite the slaver stories pervading the town. Life was looking rosy for her. Captain Halico had asked to escort her to the Captain's Ball. She had become Pleasant Kilber's companion and confidante. She had met the High Wizard of Arbor.

River gave me a kiss and headed inside. We had not yet found the opportunity to consummate our self-made vows, but the Captain's Ball was tomorrow, and tomorrow night, after the dancing and socializing, that was when we told ourselves we would give ourselves to each other completely. Of course it was odd. We were probably the most unique pair of virgins on Arbor!

River was working hard to get Scatter and Spray under Pleasant's umbrella of attention. I knew what she had in mind. When it was time for us to move on, the young couple would be the perfect fit to assume River's business, and hopefully her place in the Kilber's lives.

"I'll have more punch Ma'am, thank you." Scatter said, holding out his glass. It was good punch, I held out my glass as well.

"Me too, please." Spray said.

There was a stir in the air, and looking up, we spotted Trellis, floating in on her now familiar titanium disk. Of course it wasn't called that here. Titanium was beyond the technological capacity of the Arborian's to produce. I had been the one who had made a gift of it to her. I had pulled the metal from Arbor's flesh like pulling a thorn from a paw.

"Good afternoon Trellis!" I called into the air.

She settled her disk onto the dusty ground to the side of the house and walked over to us.

"Good afternoon everyone. Did I miss your Dad's departure Sid?"

"Yes, but just barely."

"I just finished bringing Trunk, Trip, Captain Halico and a couple of the local plant managers back from the black rock plant. Its the last one that needed inspection."

"Are they about done then?" I asked.

"They had me drop them at the Peninsula Shipping offices. They're borrowing them to complete their work, but it was mostly a matter of writing down a few things and then some signatures here and there."

"Good news then?" Spray asked.

"Well, they have decided it will make economic sense to keep one of the plants open. They'll probably scavenge materials and supplies from the rest to bring it up to the standards that Lord Kilber has required as part of the deal."

"Lord Kilber?" I asked. Flutter had a tendency to call people Lord and Lady, but there were no actually titled people in Seacroft.

"Word has come via Wizard's Tube that King Artful has raised Trip Kilber up, ennobling him with a title. He will become the permanent representative of the Royal government here. But its a secret for now, okay? The Wizard's guild will be assigning someone here permanently as well, but we don't know who yet. Someone from Norsea it is presumed."

"You are just full of news this afternoon, aren't you?" I said.

"Theres more!" She said brightly. "Trunk has asked to escort me to the Captain's Ball, so I am staying a little longer myself."

"You had best head inside then. News that you will need a ball gown will thrill Pleasant."

"Oh yes my dear! Come inside, quickly!" Flutter said. "Can I offer you a glass of punch?"

The two of them disappeared inside the house. I wondered at my womanizing friend's brass in asking a full-fledged wizardess to attend the ball with him. Still, Trellis was no teenager. She would keep Trunk in line, or she wouldn't. I'm not sure where her thoughts were on that, and had no intention of trying to find out.

Trunk and I would be fitted into our newly made finery tomorrow morning while River took Spray and Scatter to the market for their first market sales day.

By the time evening meal came around, all the fittings were over, Trunk and Trip were back from the shipping offices and had brought Captain Halico with them to join us for the evening meal. He sat next to Flutter and was the very picture of a solicitous and gallant gentleman. His attentions had Flutter – well, all a-flutter!

I noticed Trunk sitting with Trellis, and being quite the solicitous gentleman himself. We were served a Gully Hog, roasted whole with an apple glaze. There were piles of cherry tomatoes, radishes and sweet peppers, along with a large bowl of baby potatoes and steamed carrot slices. The wine was a full-bodied Sidelian Red. Spirits at the table were high and the mood was light and airy.

Our servers had no sooner gotten the gully hog sliced and on our plates when Trunk stood, raising his glass.

"A toast!" He called.

"Here! Here!" Trip replied.

"Here's to friendships made, to families forged and to the Spirits!"

"To the Spirits!" We all responded in the typical Arborian manner.

The morning workout was well attended, as Sid and I led Trunk, Spray and Scatter in a good bit of stick work. Flutter, Captain Halico and Trellis Valse were all up and attending, cups of Cintosara in hand. Scatter and Spray were still sucking up everything we threw at them like sponges. There were some interesting mental side trips almost every morning as Sid revealed a philosophy of the staff that we had not even known existed. He credited his own teacher, Master Jo, but it was his calm vision of it that so easily brought us in. Every morning started with a meditation session as well, and I was finding that practice as welcome as the rest of it, maybe even more so.

Once the stick work was done, Sid and Trunk would step right into a session of sword work. This morning was no exception, and I could see Sid's competence with the sword, but I didn't see the joy there that you saw when he had his moonstone staff in his hand.

Moonstone staff! Spirits, I loved my new staff! Sid had explained the basics of it to me, how the moonstones had been bound into it with Magic, and that they in turn held magic that acted to protect itself and its holder. I loved my new staff!

We rushed through getting showered and ready for the day. Spray, Scatter and I had to be at the market and ready well before morning meal, so we left everyone else as soon as we were ready, headed for the Seafoam cottage.

Yesterday's shipment of Marsh Lizards were all ready to go, but we had the Banded Bush Kittens to prepare. These were not really felines, nor were they immature. They were more a kind of rodent than anything else. Small, ugly, smelly little rodents that lived in tunnels beneath the roots of the gumweed tree. Of course the gumweed tree wasn't really a tree, just a large bush that grew as ground cover on certain southern facing hillsides. It made perfect sense to have kittens that weren't kittens living under trees that weren't trees.

As usual, most of the Marsh Lizards were already spoken for, and the inns and taverns that they were destined for sent people to pick them up while we were working on the bush kittens.

"How do you find out what things will sell?" Spray asked.

"I visit regularly with the chefs and managers at most of the upscale places, as well as some of the private family chefs. Master Argoun is one of my best sources. He is the chef for Tiremus Henethin, the head of the local ironworker's guild. His memories of what he has seen served as a delicacy somewhere in the past is almost worth paying him for."

"How do you recognize something that you come across as having potential?" Scatter asked.

"Ah! Well, it something you've never been exposed to, growing up in Oereia. Remind me tomorrow and I will introduce you both to the Seacroft Public Library."

The market, our market, which was the central but not the only market square in Seacroft, seldom saw much activity until an hour before morning meal. Some of the vendors here were selling food, and for people on their way to the docks, warehouses and the fish plant, a quick stop at the square to grab something hot to start their day with was a daily ritual. Those same early risers were likely to want a cup of Cintosa as well, and there were several vendors in the square who offered it, including Oaf Tarmiins, who sold nothing but Cintosa and Cintosara from his little stall on the northern corner of the square. It was one of my rituals on market day to stop at his stall and buy a cup each for Bright and myself. I'd grabbed my cup and Bright's, from under the counter of our stall, but I would need to buy cups for Spray and Scatter.

The cups Oaf had on his rack were hand made by his wife Plume, and they always featured some sort of cute, whimsical creatures or bright ornamental designs painted into the glazing. I spotted two cups, both in the same colors, one with moons and the other with stars and grabbed them both.

"Four cups of your finest this morning, Oaf." I said when I got to the counter, grabbing the two cups I'd spotted.

"four? Are you expanding yet again River?" He asked.

"Well, I have a couple helpers for now, but they may be more permanent than I am, you now how it goes."

"The world never stops moving and life never stops changing." We both said together. It was a running joke with the two of us.

Oaf made fine Cintosara, fine indeed, and I knew I would miss his skills when the time came to move on. In the meantime, it was time to expose my two young protégés to his artistry.

Bright accepted his cup with enthusiasm, and I gently placed the two new cups on the counter as I finally had a chance to sip my own.

"An interesting haul for sale today." Bright said.

"I agree. I have no idea how you would cook a bush kitten, but there are enough here for a decent group to be able to enjoy them."

"I believe they are best when grilled with caper root and pin seed glaze." Bright said. "I should make sure I have plenty of both out front, and the crystallized honey as well."

Scatter found Bright's racks of spices interesting, and as he helped the older man rearrange his display, he asked Bright questions about this or that spice. I was only paying partial attention, but I was surprised at some of the questions he thought to ask. I certainly wouldn't have thought to ask them.

"Anyone feel like butternut crepes for morning meal?" I asked.

A round of agreement sent me off to Clove Endre's stall a short distance away. The smell of the hot oil in his pans and the sound of the crepe batter hitting the oil had been calling to me since we'd arrived.

"Good morning Clove, eight please."

"Good Morning River." Clove returned. "A larger crew today?"

"some friends of mine. Former students from up on the north shore."

"Not mixed up in this slaver nonsense I hope." He said.

"No, there are a few folks we're going to have to have a talk with, but these two had completely different problems, mostly due to their being my students."

"Well they're a cute young couple."

"It is pretty obvious, isn't it?" I said.

"I hear you have a little romance in your life now too. Are the rumors I've been hearing true?"

"I don't know what rumors you've been hearing, so I can't say if they are true or not. I do have a man in my life now, and love, and its all too new and amazing to say anything else about."

"Will you be showing him off at the Captain's Ball then?"

"Oh we will definitely be showing each other off at the ball."

"Hah! " Clove laughed. "Don't tell my wife I said this, but I'd pay money to see you in a fancy ball gown."

"Bring her to the ball then, I'll introduce you both to Sid and maybe I'll even let you have a dance."

"My days of attending balls are long since past precious girl, but this old man thanks you for the offer."

My order had been processed swiftly and efficiently the entire time we'd been talking, and with my coins in his hand and his crepes in mine, I bid my farewell and headed back to our own stall. Everyone was happy to see me, and even happier to see the crepes. We were still happily feasting on them when Hedge, one of the Kilber's staff stopped by.

"Pleasant wants to remind you and the young lady that you have to be back at least an hour before midday meal to be on time for the hairdresser."

"Bright, if Spray and I have to abandon the two of you, will you be willing to show Scatter back to the Manor?"

"Of course." Bright said. "I suspect the young man knows the way already though, don't you?" At Scatter's nod, Bright said, "Don't worry about the end of the day stuff, I'll get the cart back to the cottage and everything cleaned up and put away. Captain's Ball doesn't happen every day."

"We may be abandoning you here entirely." Came Sid's voice from behind me.

I spun, spotting him walking towards us. Funny how I managed to find my way out from behind the counter and into his arms so quickly. The kiss that followed was not lingering, but it was good.

"What are you doing here?"

"Trunk and I are set to go to the clothiers this morning and realized that we had forgotten to arrange for Scatter's final fitting when we made our own appointments."

"Final fitting?" Scatter asked.

"Yup. Now that the clothes are made, they need to be fitted to you and the finish sewing done. Nothing but the best for the Captain's Ball after all." Sid answered.

"So you're stealing him away from us?" Spray asked.

"Sorry, but if you want him looking dashing and handsome tonight, sacrifices will have to be made." Sid said. "Come along Scatter, Trunk is alone in a room full of tailors and seamstresses. They are in danger and we must rescue them."

A quick kiss apiece, Spray's for Scatter and mine for Sid, and they were gone.

Master Argoun, Spirits bless him, saw my clutch of bush kittens and nearly soiled himself.

"I must have them!" He said. "Name your price."

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