"Where did your family move to when you left Mirrorvale?" I asked, steadying myself on his strong arm.
Belak loped easily beside me, his muscular legs accustomed to such long distances. "My father heard of a good prospect in Jimmel, not far from here," he answered. "His business partner found a—market, I guess you'd call it—with the villagers there, and so Dad moved us to help his partner set up shop."
A whisper echoed by my ear. "Righteousness and pennies is better than injustice and riches." I caught that there was something about his father's situation that he wasn't telling me. Then I wondered where the idea had come from; in all the years I'd known him, Belak had never given me cause to mistrust him. Why would I start now? A golden glow distracted me. I looked back and saw that Larryn had produced a lantern from her satchel and lit the large candle within. Greyna was digging through a satchel as she walked.
"—sweet as stolen water?" I heard over my shoulder.
I turned back to Belak. "What was stolen?" Had I heard him right?
His eyes registered alarm and then confusion. "I didn't say anything about stealing. I was only telling you about my father's business." He grabbed my hands as his face filled with concern. "Are you feeling all right, Shereya?"
In answer, my gut grumbled very loudly. I grimaced, "I think we should stop and eat; I think I am hungry." I looked back toward the girls just as Greyna walked up with the satchel in her hands.
"We have a problem," she said with horror on her pale face.
"What is it?" Belak demanded, leaning forward.
Greyna held out the brown satchel. "There's no food. We're going to starve before we reach the next town." She pointed over Belak's shoulder, and for the first time I saw a signpost. It gave the names of several towns and their distances—but they were all too great for four empty stomachs.
"Wait a minute!" Belak pointed to a sign that read ABERON 3. "I know a family who lives outside of Aberon. Their house is only a mile away. We can eat there!"
Larryn wrapped both arms around her stomach. "Anywhere is good, as long as there is food!" she groaned.
Belak accepted the lantern from Larryn and grabbed my hand. I found considerable comfort in the warmth of his skin. He strode off down the path. "Come on, girls!"
We heard the house almost in the same instant we saw its lights twinkling in the darkness. The voices from within the house nearly drowned out the voices whispering from the tapestry in my satchel—but not completely. As we drew near enough to distinguish voices in the house, I heard a soft murmur in my ear.
"Better a few sprigs and berries in peace than a four-course meal with bickering and strife."
I turned my head. Greyna walked behind me, head bent as she watched her feet to take her mind off her hunger.
"What did you say?" I used the same tone to speak to her.
Greyna picked up her head. "What?"
For the second time, I had mistaken the tapestry voice for one of my friends and thoroughly embarrassed myself. I faced forward again. "Never mind."
We followed Belak to the house. It sounded like they had a large gathering going on—and not a happy one. The shouting echoing over the valley below was full of anger and belligerence. I couldn't hear the tapestry anymore.
I shrank away as Belak approached the door. "Maybe we shouldn't—" I began, but Belak had already rapped on the door. "Nonsense!" he cried. "They're always like this; just stick with me." He wrapped an arm around my waist and charged inside without waiting for someone to open the door.
Immediately, I felt myself caught in a whirlwind of toys and voices and faces and small bodies. It was a madhouse inside! I flinched as a round ball sailed right for my head, and nearly collided with a young girl who had come charging in our direction at full speed—though her target was the young boy hiding behind us and wagging his tongue at her. At the center of the house, near a large kettle steaming over a hearty fire sat a sour-faced woman who was busily chastising four children at once.
"The answer is no! Now why did you do that? Idiot child, were you raised in a barn? Morgan, don't you dare hit your sister! What is wrong with you?"
She saw Belak and me, and stood up, rolling her eyes. "Pierson!" She bawled in my face, "Intervene and take care of YOUR children!"
"Junea, it is good to see you!" Belak hollered over the din.
She left off stirring the soup and shook the ladle at him. "What is the meaning of traipsing in here like you own the place? You think I don't have enough mouths to feed? STOP THROWING THINGS!" She didn't even pause for breath before she started roaring at her children again. "I'm warning you," she glared at the miscreant, "if you try that again I'm going to swat you like there's no tomorrow!" She eyed us carefully and picked out four bowls. "Here, if you're hungry, have some!" We hadn't even asked, and she was treating us like we had demanded it of her. She wore a sour expression as she yielded the bowls to our care.
"You can sit at the table, if you can find a seat," she groused.
The last thing I wanted was to try and put food into my tight stomach. I caught Belak's glance. "Please can we go somewhere else?"
The five children started in on yet another squabble. I couldn't figure out what it was about, but there was a good deal of swatting and hair-pulling and pandemonium. Junea was back to hollering for Pierson again. He didn't show, and that didn't surprise me. There was nothing anyone could do in the face of such a cacophony. Belak helped us get to the back of the room, where a staircase against the back wall led to a second floor. Larryn snagged a candle on the way up, so we would have light by which to eat. When we reached the top of the stairs, Greyna stopped and pointed. Ahead of us was another lit candle. A man hunched near it, slurping from his own bowl of soup. He flinched as we all slunk in to join him.
"Do I know you?" he glanced from one face to the next in confusion.
"Hello, Pierson," Belak said as he sat on the floor across from the man.
Pierson's face broke into a relieved smile. "Well, if it isn't Belak Sardisen! How are you, lad?"
Belak bobbed his head and winked at me. "Well enough," he allowed, "just introducing some friends of mine to your family downstairs."
"Ah, yes," Pierson groaned, "we were hoping for the apples to fall a little further from the tree, if you get my meaning. One or two unruly children I might manage—but six children and a wife to contend with?" He set his empty bowl on the little table with a bang. "It is too much!" Pierson transferred his gaze onto us. "Please, Belak, let us talk of more pleasant matters. Who are these lovely friends of yours?"
Belak gestured to each of us in turn. "These are my friends Shereya and Larryn, and their friend—" he hesitated as Greyna's name escapes his memory. "Gerda," he guessed.
Larryn soon set him right. "That's not her name! It's Greyna."
"And did you come all the way out here just to meet me and my family?"
Before any of us could speak, Larryn was off again. "Not really; Belak just joined us on our quest. We are traveling to Gramble to see about an Inkweaver who might be there, because she used to live in our village."
Belak glanced at me sharply, and I wished I could have relived those last two minutes, so that I could have prevented Larryn from speaking.
Pierson shook his head, "I don't believe in such things, but I confess I am tempted to ask to join you, if only to gain respite from—"
On cue, a crash from below shook the floor as matters escalated.
Pierson winced. "That," he finished. The look on his face was hopeful, adding suggestion to his words.
At that moment, Greyna yawned so loudly that the urge passed through each of us.
Belak took charge again. "Actually, Pierson, we were hoping to rest for the night. May we do so here?"
Pierson paused before answering.
"You may," he began slowly, "but not here." He stood and beckoned for us to follow him. He carried the candle to the back of the attic, where we saw a short ladder leading closer to the roof. Tucked into the corner of this second attic was a mattress, a pillow, and a blanket. Being so far from the rest of the house, I noticed that the raging voices downstairs had been reduced to a dull roar.
"I spend the night up here when the noise gets to be too much," Pierson admitted. "It's cold and distant, I know—but Junea... I mean, when she gets mad, she tends to express her insecurities and thought processes as a way of unburdening herself before sleeping."
I recalled the hardened wrinkles of Junea's face—not the complexion of one who sleeps well. "Does it help?"
Pierson shook his head grimly. "Not really, and it usually ends up making her more angry, and frustrated at me, which induces her to talk even more—but as long as I can stay out of the way, she never comes up here after me." He glanced at the single bed, and then back at the four of us. "I'm sorry I don't have better accommodations—"
"Nonsense!" Larryn cried benevolently. She tossed me her satchel. "Here, Shereya; I packed plenty for all of us."
I stared straight at her, but she deliberately avoided my gaze. No, Larryn, I thought, I watched you pack. There is no way you could have predicted that we'd need bedding for four people when this journey started with only two. I could feel at least one object, and I figured I would show her the mistake once Pierson left. He returned to the lower attic, taking his bedding with him.
I pulled out the object—a blanket—after he left.
"See?" I told Larryn. "There isn't enough—" I shook the satchel as I spoke, and when I felt the weight of a bulky, soft object still inside it, I dropped the blanket and reached in again. There was a pillow, and I felt a second blanket behind it. I kept pulling things out till we had enough to make beds for all four of us. I handed the satchel back to Larryn. My body felt numb, and I could not comprehend what I had just witnessed. I gazed at the pile of pillows and blankets and sleeping mats. All that, in one satchel? Impossible—yet they were real. I lay down and covered myself with the blankets. The warmth from them, and the softness of the pillow seemed to seep right into my body. I fell asleep almost instantly.
The minute I dozed off, I began to dream. There was a woman sitting before me, with my golden hair, Larryn's face, and she wore Greyna's dress, the blue one with the white lace trimmings. She spoke to me in a deep, rich voice I recognized from somewhere I could not place, telling me many things. I couldn't move or speak; there was nothing around us but a light that seemed to radiate from the woman. It was different from the other dreams I'd had on this journey in that the story didn't seem to have anything to do with an account of someone else; it was my story. I sat and the woman talked—and I realized where I had heard her voice before. It had been a long time ago, when Larryn and I were about eight years old...
It was the voice of the Inkweaver.
Proverbs of The Inkweaver:
“.....If you have given your word, you must see it through; a promise in haste is like a man who walks about with his eyes closed; danger and safety alike, he cannot see either of them. Beware lest you elevate yourself above your station; it is better for your superior to invite you to a better seat, than to take it for your own and be forced to give way to another. A quiet, simple life is better than a showy, shallow one. In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty. Better a few sprigs and berries in peace than a four-course meal with bickering and strife. A king’s wrath is a messenger of death, but a wise person will appease it. The right word at the right time is like a custom-made piece of jewelry, And a wise friend’s timely reprimand is like a gold ring slipped on your finger. Righteousness and pennies is better than injustice and riches. Don’t hang out with angry people; don’t keep company with hotheads. Bad temper is contagious— don’t get infected. It is better to be wise than strong. As water bears the reflection of a face, so a man’s heart bears the reflection of his true nature. Sloth and destruction are brothers; where one is, the other is surely not far off. Even a fool is thought wise if he holds his tongue....”