|"I stood in a field among at least two dozen fresh, clean haystacks..."|
Belak! I had almost forgotten about him—almost. “Where did he go?” I asked her. “Where did you send him?”
“I did not send him, dear,” Jacqueline was dangerously close to becoming the aggravating woman she was at first. “He did depart in pursuit of his gift.”
“But where?” I repeated.
Jacqueline actually turned away from me as she cleared the tea tray and prepared to wash it, as if her conversation with me was purely inconsequential.
“Part of the skill of a Writer is the ability to hear the Telling of any Wordspinner,” Jacqueline gave as a non-answer to my very direct question. “Just listen, and you’ll find it. Hurry; he’ll want to find it as soon as possible, and he won’t unless you help him. Be his Eyes, Shereya.” She disappeared into the back room and did not emerge.
“What is that supposed to mean?” Confound propriety when a strange woman has just spirited away your dearest friend! I charged right back there after her—
And entered an empty room. Root and bulb edibles hung from the rafters. The walls were lined with shelves of pots and cups and bowls and vases of every shape and color. I saw the colors radiating from them like the light from inside a gem. As the lights danced over my eyes, the whispers seeped into my ears. So Jacqueline had made her escape—no matter! There wasn’t much I could do about it now. I found my way to the door at the back of the room. Once I reached the street and closed the door, the whispers faded. I sighed with relief. Would I ever get used to it when such a thing happened?
I had silence for several wonderful seconds—then a voice, clear and faint, as if from some great distance in among the crags of the valley, radiated over the breeze. Whatever it was, I heard it loud and clear. The Tale very clearly meant for someone like Belak. It did not call to me like Tales were supposed to call the ones they were meant for—but based on what I knew of Belak, I knew that once he started hearing that Tale, he probably would follow it right into the teeth of danger.
“Yes, you’re probably right,” Jacqueline stood right behind me, talking as if she could read my mind. It just wasn’t possible, and I think we both knew it—but that didn’t stop her. It only meant that she found me very predictable. I turned and looked at her, my mind still trying to figure out where the sound was coming from, and what I should do about it.
Jacqueline made a “shoo” motion with her hands. “Well, go on then! He’s never going to make it without you.”
I rolled my eyes and started off toward the wide plains at the back of the valley.
When I reached the place where the sound was the loudest, I stood in a field among at least two dozen fresh, clean haystacks—and at least half a dozen more that had already been torn down and scattered. Another haystack collapsed, and I saw Belak: shirtless, humming to himself in time with the Tale I was hearing, digging through each straw and watching it closely as he decimated the stack. Finally, he looked up and saw me.
In the bright afternoon sun that filled the sky over Moon Valley, the sweat on his shoulders glinted as he stood.
“Well?” he asked.
“Well what?” I responded; was there some sort of enchantment I didn’t know about?
Belak kicked over the lump of hay in front of him and slid down to the ground. He wiped the sweat from the end of his nose with the back of his hand.
“Are you going to help me, or what?” he panted.
He seemed to know more about what was going on than I did—which was a first.
“What exactly are you doing?” I asked him.
Belak snorted and gestured to the field. “Well, Shereya, what does it look like I’m doing?” He rubbed the back of his neck and turned back to the half-demolished pile of straw. “I’m trying to find a needle in one of these haystacks!”
My mouth actually dropped open. Belak stretched, and the muscles in his shoulders rippled. He turned to survey the field, squinting like he always did when he was making a strategic plan.
"Wait," I said, "You're not serious, are you?"
He was pawing through the hay again, tossing it into the air and watching, I assume, for the glint.
"Of course I am!" Belak told me. "You heard Jaqueline: there's a prize in it for me!" He stopped digging and winked at me. "If you help me, I will split it with you."
I stepped through the strewn straw and started sifting away beside him. Not that I wanted any part in whatever prize awaited him; I just wanted to be closer to those dark eyes.
Thinking of Belak's eyes reminded me of what Jacqueline had said about mine. Writer's Eyes... Some extra perception might be good in a situation like this, but how was I going to use a skill I did not understand?
"Belak," I began as we moved on to the next haystack, "have you ever heard of something called a Writer?"
Belak squinted at me. "I'm not sure I have," he said. He pulled an armful of hay out of the side and the top of the mound tumbled over our heads. We shared a laugh, especially at the way the straw stuck in Belak's thick dark hair.
"You, sir, have been well and properly thatched!" I joked.
Belak shook his head and sent pieces of straw flying far and wide. "There," he said, smoothing his coif. "Better?"
I reached over and plucked a stubborn stalk out of the dark tangle. "Much," I said.
His skin felt rough and unexpected as he reached up and took my hands. My heart jumped in my throat and suddenly I was aware of how close together we were.
"I'm really glad you're doing this with me, Shereya," he said softly.
I had no words to respond. I could almost taste his breath as we sat there under the haystack. I pushed against the prickly pile beside me to take my mind off the rush of emotion.
"Of course I would help you, silly!" I told him. "You're my friend, and I know you would do the same for me."
"Absolutely," he replied, turning back to the haystack and combing through it with his fingers. "So about how long do you figure it should take us to find the needle?"
I sighed as I saw the twenty other stacks we still had not searched. "There is no telling how long—I mean," I gestured to the scattered hay, "it could be in a stack we haven't searched yet, or it could have just as easily slipped through your fingers."
He snorted. "Careful now, you sound like you're speculating."I shook my head. "Not speculating, just... observing."