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Chapter 1
Interlude 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4


     page 34     

When Talon first arrived, he was not disappointed.  His grandpa or Papa as he called him was great company and took advantage of their time together.  But still an old man did not like to play little boys’ games all day and Talon wanted nothing more than to crawl around in the dirt with someone.  Though a bad leg and reliance on a walking staff meant Papa couldn’t get down in the dirt, he recognized Talons longing for companionship and tried to make up for it.  He even showed Talon some of the secrets of the lost arts and, though not one of the great masters, the old man could use the lost arts as a gardening aid.  The lost arts had waned in forgetfulness among the common masses because they had been forbidden for all except the highest aristocracy and clergy.

Being an old dignitary tucked away in the mountains, the local population had adopted his papa as their own sage.  They called him by his old title of Ambassador and often dropped by asking for advice or to settle a civil dispute.  Occasionally, he was even asked to perform a wedding or birthing ceremony.  This suited Papa well because he privately craved the attention that aristocracy provides without the hassle of politics. 

Talon’s grandma also loved the company of the locals, for her delight was to entertain and cook.  It was her “lost art” and she had plenty of time to practice it.  Her sweet nut rolls were Talon’s favorite.  Most of all, when he spent time with his grandma, he didn’t have to eat Janaro roots. 

Every culture has its Janaro root.  It somehow contains a universal substance that crosses all cultural and planetary boundaries.  Every sentient race has a form of this substance that mothers believe cures all ailments and causes children to believe that if it makes you gag, it must somehow be “good” for you -- the converse of course is also true.  Among the people of the Andril Mountains this universal substance took the form of the Janaro root.  Fortunately, grandma did not ascribe to this law. 

In their court days, the other royalty looked down on her homemaking abilities saying that was the responsibility of serfs and not a noble lady of the court.  Being the proud lady that she was, she disregarded these rebukes and kept the origin of her domestic talents a secret.  Talon knew nothing of court politics, only that he loved his grandma’s cooking.  Little known to him, his childlike ignorance of his grandma’s secret origin was about to change.

Something caught his attention up the road.  He saw a tall, cloaked figure approaching.  The man –- he assumed it was a man though he could not see any distinguishing features from this distance to tell him otherwise – walked up the mountain road towards the only residence on this side of the street.  As the man started walking up the footpath to his papa’s door, Talon looked hard and long at him.  No, he hadn’t seen him before, but he couldn’t be sure because the hood hid the man’s features.  Talon was sure of one thing, though: this man didn’t come from Selma.  Talon had never seen anyone wear a hooded cloak before, neither here nor in the big cities.  

“Hello there young Talon,” called out the stranger as he approached.  Talon could not see, but he guessed the man was smiling by the way he sounded.  Talon looked down and didn’t answer, not because he intended to be rude, but because he was timid.  How did this man know his name?  Still sitting, Talon scooted over a little to allow the man to pass.

The man stopped and pulled back his hood.  The sun caught his long white-gray hair and almost made it glow.  As he smiled, the folds of wrinkles on his face deepened.  He had a soft, pleasant expression that almost made you want to hold his hand and ask him to sit down and tell you a story.  Somehow Talon knew he would be good at telling stories.  At the same time, Talon felt this man was a warrior.  He seemed pleasant and polite, yet down to business.  He held himself with the air of a dignitary, standing ramrod straight, eyes focused and clear.  His eyes ... Talon’s favorite color, a crystal clear blue.

Talon smiled back.  He liked this old man already.  How old was he?  Talon couldn’t tell.  Anyone over twenty-five was old to him.  But something about the way he smiled told him that this man was the kind of person that was willing to get down in the dirt and play games with children.

“My name,” the man said presently in his thick accent, “is Firesmyth Mancuso.  Is your grandfather, Endvar, available?"

Talon nodded.  He had rarely heard his papa called by his birth name.  Tradition allowed only equals call each other by their birth name.  All others must use a title.  I didn’t know there was another ambassador around here, he thought.

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