/ Language: English / Genre:antique

Spellsinger 03 - The Day of the Dissonance

Foster, Dean

antiqueFoster,AlanDeanSpellsinger 03 - The Day of the DissonanceengFoster,AlanDeancalibre 0.8.1820.12.2011befb054e-0323-4994-9113-579189a7aac01.0

"I'm dying," Clothahump wheezed. The wizard glanced

to his left. 'Tm dying and you stand there gawking like a

virginal adolescent who's just discovered that his blind

date is a noted courtesan. With your kind of help I'll never

live to see my three-hundredth birthday."

"With your kind of attitude it's a wonder you've man-

aged to live this long." Jon-Tom was more than a little

irritated at his mentor. "Listen to yourself: two weeks of

nonstop griping and whining. You know what you are,

turtle of a wizardly mien? You're a damned hypochondriac.''

Clothahump's face did not permit him much of a frown,

but he studied the tall young human warily. "What is that?

It sounds vaguely like a swear word. Don't toy with me,

boy, or it will go hard on you. What is it? Some magic

word from your own world?"

"More like a medical word. It's a descriptive term, not

a threat. It refers to someone who thinks they're sick all

the time, when they're not."

"Oh, so I'm imagining that my head is fragmenting, is

that what you're saying?" Jon-Tom resisted the urge to

2     Alan Dean Foster

reply, sat his six-feet-plus frame down near the pile of

pillows that served the old turtle for a bed.

Not for the first time he wondered at the number of

spacious rooms the old oak tree encompassed. There were

more alcoves and chambers and tunnels in that single trunk

than in a termite's hive.

He had to admit, though, that despite his melodramatic

moans and wails, the wizard didn't look like himself. His

plastron had lost its normal healthy luster, and the old eyes

behind the granny glasses were rheumy with tears from the

pain. Perhaps he shouldn't have been so abrupt. If

Clothahump couldn't cure himself with his own masterly

potions and spells, then he was well and truly ill.

"I know what I am," Clothahump continued, "but

what of you? A fine spellsinger you've turned out to be."

"I'm still learning," Jon-Tom replied defensively. He

fingered the duar slung over his shoulder. The peculiar

instrument enabled him to sing spells, to make magic

through the use of song. One might think it a dream come

true for a young rock guitarist-cum-law student, save for

the fact that he didn't seem to have a great deal of control

' over the magic he made.

Since the onslaught of Clothahump's pains, Jon-Tom

had sung two dozen songs dealing with good health and

good feelings. None had produced the slightest effect with

the exception of his spirited rendition of the Beach Boys'

"Good Vibrations." That bit of spellsinging caused

Clothahump to giggle uncontrollably, sending powders and

potions flying and cracking his glasses.

Following that ignominious failure, Jon-Tom kept his

hands off the duar and made no further attempts to cure the


"I didn't really mean to imply that you're faking it," he

added apologetically. "It's just that I'm as frustrated as

you are."

Clothahump nodded, his breath coming in short, labored


gasps. His poor respiration was a reflection of the constant

pain he was suffering, as was his general weakness.

"I did the best I could," Jon-Tom murmured.

"I know you did, my boy. I know you did. As you say,

there is much yet for you to learn, many skills still to


"I'm just bulling my way through. Half the time I pick

the wrong song and the other half it has the wrong result.

What else can I do?"

Clothahump looked up sharply. "There is one chance

for me, lad. There is a medicine which can cure what ails

me now. Not a spell, not a magic. A true medicine."

Jon-Tom rose from the edge of the pile of pillows. "I

think I'd better be going. I haven't practiced yet today and

I need to..."

Clothahump moaned in pain and Jon-Tom hesitated,

feeling guilty. Maybe it was a genuine moan and maybe it

wasn't, but it had the intended effect.

"You must obtain this medicine for me, my boy. I can't

trust the task to anyone else. Evil forces are afoot."

Jon-Tom sighed deeply, spoke resignedly. "Why is it

whenever you want something, whether it's help making it

to the bathroom or a snack or someone to go on a

dangerous journey for you, that evil forces are always


"You ever see an evil force, boy?"

"Not in the flesh, no."

"Evil forces always go afoot. They're lousy fliers."

"That's not what I meant."

"Doesn't matter what you meant, my boy. You have to

run this errand for me. That's all it is, a little errand."

"Last time you asked me to help you run an errand we

ended up with the fate of civilization at stake."

"Well, this time it's only my fate that hangs in the

balance." His voice shrank to a pitiful whisper. "You

wouldn't want me to die, would you?"

"No," Jon-Tom admitted. "I wouldn't."

4     Alan Dean Foster

"Of course you wouldn't. Because if I die it means the

end of your chances to return to your own world. Because

only I know the necessary, complicated, dangerous spell

that can send you back. It is in your own interest to see

that I remain alive and well."

"I know, I know. Don't rub it in."

"Furthermore," the wizard went on, pressing his advan-

tage, "you are partly to blame for my present discomfort."

"What!" Jon-Tom whirled on the bed. "I don't know

what the hell you've got, Clothahump, but I certainly

didn't give it to you."

"My illness is compounded of many factors, not the

least of which are my current awkward living conditions."

Jon-Tom frowned and leaned on his long ramwood staff.

"What are you talking about?"

"Ever since we returned from the great battle at the

Jo-Troom Gate my daily life has been one unending litany

of misery and frustration. All because you had to go and

turn my rude but dutiful famulus Pog into a phoenix.

Whereupon he promptly departed my service for the dubi-

ous pleasures his falcon ladylove could bestow on him."

"Is it my fault you've had a hard time replacing him?

That's hardly a surprise, considering the reputation you got

for mistreating Pog."

"I did not mistreat Pog," the wizard insisted. "I treated

him exactly as an apprentice should be treated. It's true

that I had to discipline him from time to time. That was

due to his own laziness and incompetence. All part of the

learning process." Clothahump straightened his new glasses.

"Pog spread the details of your teaching methods all

over the Betlwoods. But 1 thought the new famulus you

finally settled on was working out okay."

"Ha! It just goes to show what can happen when you

don't read the fine print on someone's resume. It's too late

now. I've made him my assistant and am bound to him, as

he is to me."

"What's wrong? I thought he was brilliant."


"He can be. He can be studious, efficient, and eager to


"Sounds good to me."

"Unfortunately, he has one little problem."

"What kind of problem?"

Clothahump's reply was interrupted by a loud, slurred

curse from the room off to the left. The wizard gestured

with his head toward the doorway, looked regretful.

"Go see for yourself, my boy, and understand then what

a constant upset my life has become."

Jon-Tom considered, then shrugged and headed under

the arched passageway toward the next chamber, bending

low to clear the sill. He was so much taller than most of

the inhabitants of this world that his height was an ever-

present problem.

Something shattered and there was another high-pitched

curse. He held his ramwood staff protectively in front of

him as he emerged into the storeroom.

It was as spacious as Clothahump's bedroom and the

other chambers which somehow managed to coexist within

the trunk of the old oak. Pots, tins, crates, and beakers full

of noisome brews were carefully arranged on shelves and

workbenches. Several bottles lay in pieces on the floor.

Standing, or rather weaving, in the midst of the break-

age was Sorbl, Clothahump's new famulus. The young

great homed owl stood slightly over three feet tall. He

wore a thin vest and a brown and yellow kilt of the Ule


He spotted Jon-Tom, waved cheerily, and fell over on

his beak. As he struggled to raise himself on flexible

wingtips, Jon-Tom saw that the vast yellow eyes were

exquisitely bloodshot.

"Hello, Sorbl. You know who I am?"

The owl squinted at him as he climbed unsteadily to his

feet, staggered to port, and caught himself on the edge of

'the workbench.


Alan Dean Foster

"Shure I remember you," he said thickly. "You... you're

that spielsunger... spoilsanger. ..."

"Spellsinger," Jon-Tom said helpfully.

"Thas what I said. You're that what I said from another

world that the master brought through to hulp him against

the Pleated Filk."

"The master is not feeling well." He put his staff aside.

"And you're not looking too hot either."

"Hooo, me?" The owl looked indignant, walked away

from the bench wavering only slightly. "I am perfectly

fine, thank you." He glanced back at the bench. "Is just

that I was looking for a certain bottle."

"What bottle?"

"Not marked, thish one." Sorbl looked conspiratorial

and winked knowingly with one great bloodshot eye.

"Medicinal liquid. Not for his ancientness in there. My

bottle," he finished, suddenly belligerent. "Nectar."

"Nectar? I thought owls liked mice."

"What?" said the outraged famulus. For an instant

Jon-Tom had forgotten where he was. The rodents here-

abouts were as intelligent and lively as any of the other

citizens of this world. "If I tried to take a bite out of a

mouse, his relatives would come string me up. I'll stick to

small lizards and snakishes. Listen," he continued more

softly, "it's hard working for this wizard. I need a lil'

lubrication now and then."

"You get any more lubricated," Jon-Tom observed

distastefully, "and your brains are going to slide out your


"Nonshensh. I am in complete control of myself." He

turned back toward the bench, staggered over to the edge,

and commenced a minute inspection of the surface with

eyes that should have been capable of spotting an ant from

a hundred yards away. At the moment, however, those

huge orbs were operating at less than maximum efficiency.

Jon-Tom shook his head in disgust and returned to the

wizard's bedside.


"Well," asked Clothahump meaningfully, "what is your

opinion of my new famulus?"

"I think I see what you're driving at. I didn't notice any

of the qualities you said he possesses. I'm pretty sure he

was drunk."

"Really?" said Clothahump dryly. "What a profound

observation. We'll make a perceptive spellsinger out of

you yet. He is like that too much of the time, my boy. I am

blessed with a potentially brilliant famulus, a first-rate,

worthy assistant. Sadly, Sorbl is also a lush. Do you know

that I have to make him take a cart into town to buy

supplies because every time he tries to fly in he ends up by

running head-first into a tree and the local farmers have to

haul him back to me in a wagon? Do you have any idea

how embarrassing that is for the world's greatest wizard?"

"I can imagine. Can't you cure him? I'd think an

anti-inebriation spell would be fairly simple and straight-


"It is a vicious circle, my boy. Were I not so sick I

could do so, but as it stands I cannot concentrate. Past two

hundred the mind loses some of its resilience. I tried just

that last week. All those methyl ethyl bethels in the spell

are difficult enough to get straight when you're at the top

of your form. Sick as I was, I must have transposed an -yl

somewhere. Made him throw up for three days. Cured his

drinking, but made him so ill the only way he could cure

himself was by getting falling-down-drunk again.

"I must have that medicine, lad, so that I can function

properly again. Otherwise I'm liable to try some complex

spell, slip an incantation, and end up with something

dangerous in my pentagram. It's hard enough making sure

that idiot in there passes me the proper powders. Once he

substituted lettuce for liverwort, and I ended up with a

ten-foot-tall saber-toothed rabbit. Took me two hasty re-

traction spells to bunny it down."

"Why don't you just conjure the stuff up?"

"I do not possess the necessary ingredients," Clothahump


Alan Dean Foster

explained patiently. "If I did, I could just take them, now,

couldn't I?"

"Beats me. I've seen you make chocolate out of garbage."

"Medicine is rather more specific in its requirements.

Everything must be so precise. You can make milk choco-

late, bittersweet chocolate, white chocolate, semisweet

chocolate: it's still all chocolate. Alter the composition of

a medicinal spell ever so slightly and you might end up

with a deadly poison. No, it must be brought whole and

ready, and you must bring it to me, my boy." He reached

out with a trembling hand. Jon-Tom moved close, sitting

down again on the edge of the soft bed.

"I know I did a bad thing when I reached out into the

beyond and plucked you hence from your own comfortable

world, but the need was great. In the end, you vindicated

my judgment, though in a fashion that could not have been

foreseen." He adjusted his glasses. "You proved yourself

in spite of what everyone thought."

"Mostly by accident." Jon-Tom realized that the wizard

was flattering him in order to break down his resistance to

making the journey. At the same time he felt himself

succumbing to the flattery.

"It need not be by accident any longer. Work at your

new profession. Study hard, practice your skills, and heed

my advice. You can be more than a man in this world. I

don't know what you might have been in your own, but

here you have the potential to be a master. // you can

wrestle your strengths and talent under control."

"With your instruction, of course."

"Why not learn from the best?" said Clothahump with

typical immodesty. "In order for me to train you I need

many years. One does not master the arcane arts of

spellsinging in a day, a week, a year. If you do not fetch

this medicine that can cure this bedamned affliction, I will

not be around much longer to help you.

"I need only a small quantity. It will fit easily into a


pocket of those garish trousers or that absurd purple shirt

that foppish tailor Carlemot fashioned for you."

"It's not purple, it's indigo," Jon-Tom muttered, looking

down to where it tucked into the pants. His iridescent

green lizard-skin cape hung on a wall hook. "From what

I've seen, this qualifies as subdued attire here."

"Go naked if you will, but go you must."

"All right, all right! Haven't you made me feel guilty


"I sincerely hope so," the wizard murmured.

"I don't know how I let you talk me into these things."

"You have the misfortune to be a decent person, a

constant burden in any world. You suffer from knowing

right from wrong."

"No I don't. If I knew what was right, I'd be long gone

from this tree. But you did take me in, help me out, even

if you did use me for your own ends. Not that I feel used.

You used everyone for your own ends."

"We saved the world," Clothahump demurred. "Not

bad ends."

"You're also right about my being stuck here unless you

can work the spell to send me home someday. So 1

suppose I have no choice but to go after this special

medicine. It's not by any chance available from the apoth-

ecary in Lynchbany?"

"I fear not."

"What a lucky guess on my part."

"Teh. Sarcasm in one so young is bad for the liver."

Clothahump raised himself slowly, turned to the end table

that doubled as a bedside desk. He scribbled with a quill

pen on a piece of paper. A moment passed, he cursed, put

a refill cartridge in the quill, and resumed writing.

When he finished, he rolled the paper tight, inserted it

into a small metal tube which hung from a chain, and

handed it to Jon-Tom.

"Here is the formula," he said reverently. "She who is

to fill it will know its meaning."


Alan Dean Foster

Jon-Tom nodded, took the chain, and hung it around his

neck. The tube was cool against his chest.

"That is all you need to know."

"Except how to find this magician, or druggist, or

whatever she is."

"A store. Nothing more." Clothahump's reassuring tone

immediately put Jon-Tom on his guard. "The Shop of the

Aether and Neither. It lies in the town of Crancularn."

"I take it this Crancularn isn't a hop, skip, and a jump

from Lynchbany?"

"Depends on your method of locomotion, but for most

mortals, I would say not. It lies well to the south and west

of the Bellwoods."

Jon-Tom made a face. He'd been around enough to have

picked up some knowledge of local geography. "There

isn't anything well to the southwest of here. The Bellwoods

run down to the River Tailaroam which flows into..." he

stopped. "Cranculara's a village on the shore of the


Clothahump looked the other way. "Uh, not exactly, my

boy. Actually it lies on the other side."

"The other side of the river?"

"Noooo. The other side of the ocean."

Jon-Tom threw up his hands in despair. "And that's the

last straw,"

"Actually, lad, it's only the first straw. There are many

more to pass before you reach Crancularn. But reach it you

must," he finished emphatically, "or I will surely perish

from the pain, and any chance you have of returning home

will perish with me."

"But I don't even know how big the Glittergeist is."

"Not all that big, as oceans go." Clothahump strove to

sound reassuring. "It can be crossed in a few weeks. All

you have to do is book passage on one of the many ships

that trade between the mouth of the Glittergeist and distant


"I've heard of Snarken. Big place?"



"A most magnificent city. So I have been told, never

having visited there myself. Grander than Polastrindu.

You'd find it fascinating."

"And dangerous."

"No journey is worthwhile unless it is dangerous, but

we romanticize. I do not see any reason for anticipating

trouble. You are a tourist, nothing more, embarked on a

voyage of rest, relaxation, and discovery."

"Sure. From what I've seen of this world it doesn't treat

tourists real well."

"That should not trouble an accomplished spellsinger

like you."

The wizard was interrupted by the sound of another

crash from the nearby storeroom, followed by a few

snatches of drunken song.

"You also have your ramwood staff for protection, and

you no longer are a stranger to our ways. Think of it as a

holiday, a vacation."

"Why do I have this persistent feeling you're not telling

me everything?"

"Because you are a pessimist, my boy. I do not criti-

cize. That is a healthy attitude for one embarked on a

career in magic. I am not sending you after trouble this

time. We do not go to battle powerful invaders from the

east. I am asking you only to go and fetch a handful of

powder, a little medicine. That is all. No war awaits. True,

it is a long journey, but there is no reason why it should

be an arduous one.

"You leave from here, proceed south to the banks of the

Tailaroam, book passage downstream. At its mouth where

the merchant ships dock you, board a comfortable vessel

heading for Snarken. Thence overland to Crancularn. A

short jaunt, I should imagine."

"Imagine? You mean you don't know how far it is from

Snarken to Crancularn?"

"Not very far."

"For someone who deals in exact formulas and spells,


Alan Dean Foster

you can be disconcertingly nonspecific at times, Clotha-


"And you can be unnecessarily verbose," the turtle shot


"Sorry. My pre-law training. Never use one word where

five will fit. Maybe I would've ended up a lawyer instead

of a heavy-metal bass player."

"You'll never know if you don't return to your own

world, which you cannot do unless ..."

"I know, I know," Jon-Tom said tiredly. "Unless 1

make the trip to this Crancularn and bring back the

medicine you need. Okay, so I'm stuck."

"I would rather know that you had undertaken this

journey with enthusiasm, willingly, out of a desire to help

one who only wishes you well."'

"So would I, but you'll settle for my going because I

haven't got any choice, won't you?"

"Yes," said Clothahump thoughtfully, "I expect that 1



He wasn't in the best frame of mind the morning he set

off. Not that anything was keeping him occupied else-

where, he told himself sourly. He had no place in this

world and certainly no intention of setting himself up in

practice as a professional spellsinger.

For one thing, that would put him in direct competition

with Clothahump. Although the wizard thought well of

him, Jon-Tom didn't think Clothahump would take kindly

to the idea. For another, he hadn't mastered his odd

abilities to the point where he could guarantee services for

value received, and might never achieve that degree of

expertise. He preferred to regard his spellsinging as a

talent of last resort, choosing to rely instead on his staff

and his wits to keep him out of trouble.

In fact, the duar provided him with far more pleasure

when he simply played it for fun, just like his battered old

Fender guitar back home. Now he played it to ease his

mind as he walked into town, strumming a few snatches of

very unmagical Neil Diamond while wishing he had Ted

Nugent's way with strings. At the same time he had to be

careful in his selections. Diamond was innocuous enough.



Alan Dean Poster

If he tried a little Nugent—say, "Cat Scratch Fever" or

"Scream Dream"—there was no telling what he might

accidentally conjure up.

At least the weather favored his journey. It was early

spring- Deep within the Bellwoods, so named for the

bell-shaped leaves which produced a tinkling sound when

the wind blew through them, there was the smell of dew

and new blossoms on the air. Glass butterflies flew every-

where, their stained-glass wings sending shafts of brilliant

color twinkling over the ground. Peppermint bees striped

in psychedelic hues darted among the flowers.

One hitched a ride on his indigo shirt. Perhaps it thought

he was some kind of giant ambulatory flower. Jon-Tom

examined it with interest. Instead of the yellow-and-black

pattern he was accustomed to, his visitor's abdomen was

striped pink, lemon yellow, orange, chocolate brown, and

bright blue. Man and insect regarded one another thought-

fully for a long moment. Deciding he was neither a source

of pollen or enlightenment, the bee droned off in search of

sweeter forage.

Lynchbany Towne was unchanged from the first time

Jon-Tom had seen it, on that rainy day when he, a strange-

to this world, had entered it accompanied by Mudge tl

otter. It was Mudge he sought now. He had no intention

striking out across the Glittergeist alone, no matter ho

much confidence Clothahump vested in him. There was

still far too much of the ways and customs of this place he

was ignorant of.

Mudge's knowledge was of the practical and non-

intellectual variety. Too, nothing was more precious to the

otter than his own skin. He was sort of a furry walking

alarm, ready to jump or take whatever evasive action the

situation dictated at the barest suggestion of danger. Jon-

Tom intended to use him the way the allies had used

pigeons in World War I to detect the presence of poison


Mudge would have considered the analogy unflattering,



but Jon-Tom didn't care what the otter thought. Despite his

questionable morals and wavering sense of loyalty, the

otter had been a great help in the past and could be so


Luck wasn't with Jon-Tom, however. There was no sign

of Mudge in the taverns he normally frequented, nor word

of him in the eating establishments or gambling dens. He

hadn't been seen in some time in any of his usual haunts.

Jon-Tom finally found mention of him in one of the

more reputable rooming houses on the far side of town,

where the stink from the central open sewer was less.

The concierge was an overweight koala in a bad mood.

A carved pipe dangled from her lips as she scrubbed the

floor near the entrance.

"Hay, I've seen him," she told Jon-Tom. Part of her

right ear was missing, probably bitten off during a dispute

with an irate customer.

"I'd laik to know where he gone to much as you, man.

He skip away owing me half a week's rent. That not bad

as some have dun me, but I work hand to run this place

and every silver counts."

"Only a few days' rent, is it?" Jon-Tom squatted to be

at eye level with the koala. "You know where he is, don't

you? You're feeding me some story old Mudge paid you to

tell anyone who came looking for him because he paid you

to do so, because he probably owes everyone but you."

She wrinkled her black nose and wiped her paws on her

apron. Then she broke out in a wide grin. "You a clever

one, you are, man, though strange of manner and talk."

"I'm not really from around here," Jon-Tom confessed.

"Actually my home lies quite a distance from Lynchbany.

Nor am I a creditor or bill collector. Mudge is my friend."

"Is he now?" She dropped her scrub brush in the pail of

wash water and rose. Jon-Tom did likewise. She reached

barely to his stomach. That wasn't unusual. Jon-Tom was

something of a giant in this world where humans barely

topped five and a half feet and many others stood shorter.


Alan Dean Foster

"So you his friend, hay? That make you sort of unique.

I wasn't aware the otter had any friends. Only acquain-

tances and enemies."

"No matter. I am his friend, and I need to get in touch

with him."

"What for?"

"I am embarked on a journey in the service of the great

wizard Clothahump."

"Ah, that old fraud."

"He's not a fraud. Haven't you heard of the battle for

the Jo-Troom Gate?"

"Yea, yea, I heard, I heard." She picked up the bucket

of wash water, the scrub brush sloshing around inside. "I

also know you never believe everything you read in the

papers. This journey you going on for him. It going be a

hard one, where someone might get deaded?"


"Hay, then I tell you where the otter is and you make

sure he go with you?"

"That's the idea."

"Good! Then I tell you where he is. Because I tell you

true, man, he owe me half a week's rent. I just don't want

to tell anyone else because maybe they get to him before

me. But this is better, much better. Worth a few days'


"About that rent," Jon-Tom said, jiggling the purse full

of gold Clothahump had given him to pay for his passage

across the Glittergeist.

The concierge waved him off. "Hay nay, man. Just

make sure he go with you on this dangerous journey. More

better I dream of him roasting over some cannibal's spit in

some far-off land. That will give me more pleasure than a

few coins."

"As you wish, madame." Jon-Tom put the purse aside.

"Only, you must be sure promise to come back here

someday and regale me with the gory details. For that I

pay you myself."



"I'll be sure to make it my business," Jon-Tom said

dryly. "Now, where might I find my friend?"

"Not here. North."

"Oglagia Towne?"

"Hay nay, farther west. In Timswitty."

"Timswitty," Jon-Tom repeated. "Thanks. You know

what business he has there?"

She let out a short, sharp bark, a koalaish laugh. "Same

business that otter he have any place he go: thievery,

deception, debauchery, and drunkenness. I wager you find

him easy enough you keep that in mind."

"I will. Tell me. I've never been north of Lynchbany.

What's Timswitty like?"

She shrugged. "Like heah. Like Oglagia. Like any of

the Bellwoods towns. Backward, crowded, primitive, but

not bad if you willing stand up for your rights and work


"Thank you, madame. You're sure I can't pay you

anything for the information you've given me?"

"Keep you money and make you journey," she told

him. "I look forward to hearing about the otter's slow and

painful death upon you return."

"Don't hold your breath in expectation of his demise,"

Jon-Tom warned her as he turned to leave. "Mudge has a

way of surviving in the damndest places."

"I know he do. He slip out of heah without me smelling

his going. I tell you what. If he don't get himself killed on

this journey of yours, you can pay me his back rent when

you return."

"I'll do better than that, madame. I'll make him pay it

himself, in person."

"Fair enough. You have good traveling, man."

"Good day to you too, madame."

Jon-Tom had no intention of walking all the way to

Timswitty. Not since Clothahump had provided him with

funds for transport. The local equivalent of a stagecoach

was passing through Lynchbany, and he bought himself a


Alan Dean Poster

seat on the boxy contraption. It was pulled by four hand-

some horses and presided over by a couple of three-foot-

tall chimpmunks who cursed like longshoremen. They

wore dirty uniforms and scurried about, wrestling baggage

and cartons into the rear of the stage.

Jon-Tom had the wrong notion of who was in charge,

however. As he strolled past the team of four, one of the

horses cocked an eye in his direction.

"Come on, bud, hurry it up. We haven't got all day."

"Sorry. The ticket agent told me you weren't leaving for

another fifteen minutes."

The mare snorted. "That senile bastard. I don't know

what the world's coming to when you can't rely on your

local service people anymore."

"Tell me about it," said the stallion yoked to her.

"Unfortunately we were bom with hooves instead of

hands, so we still have to hire slow-moving fools with

small brains to handle business details for us."

"Right on, Elvar," said the stallion behind him.

The discussion continued until the stage left the depot.

"All aboard?" asked the mare second in harness. "Hold

on to your seats, then."

The two chipmunks squatted in the rear along with the

luggage, preening themselves and trying to catch their

breath. There was no need for drovers, since the horses

knew the way themselves. The chipmunks were loaders

and unloaders and went along to see to the needs of the

team, who, after all, did the real work of pulling the stage.

This would have been fine as far as Jon-Tom and the

other passengers were concerned except that the horses had

an unfortunate tendency to break into song as they galloped,

and while their voices were strong and clear, not a one of

them could carry a tune in a bucket. So the passengers

were compelled to suffer a series of endless, screeching

songs all the way through to Timswitty.

When one passenger had the temerity to complain, he

was invited to get out and walk. There were two other



unscheduled stops along the way as well, once when the

team got hungry and stopped to graze a lush meadow

through which the road conveniently cut, and again when

the two mares got into a heated argument about just who

boasted the daintier fetlocks.

It was dark when they finally pulled into Timswitty.

"Come on," snapped the lead stallion, "let's get a

move on back there. Our stable's waiting. I know you're

all stuck with only two legs, but that's no reason for


"Really!" One of the outraged travelers was an elegantly

attired vixen. Gold chains twined through her tail, and her

elaborate hat was badly askew over her ears from the

jouncing the stage had undergone. "I have never been

treated so rudely in my life! I assure you I shall speak to

your line manager at first opportunity,"

"You're talking to him, sister," said the stallion. "You

got a complaint, you might as well tell me to my face."

He looked her up and down. "Me, I think you ought to

thank us for not charging you for the extra poundage."

"Well!" Her tail swatted the stallion across the snout as

she turned and flounced away to collect her luggage.

Only the fact that his mate restrained him kept him from

taking a bite out of that fluffy appendage.

"Watch your temper, Dreal," she told him. "It doesn't

do to bite the paying freight. Rotten public relations."

"Bet all her relations have been public," he snorted,

pawing the ground impatiently. "What's slowing up those

striped rats back there? I need a rubdown and some sweet


"I know you do, dear," she said as she nuzzled his

neck, "but you have to try and maintain a professional

-attitude, if only for the sake of the business."

"Yeah, I know," Jon-Tom overheard as he made his

way toward the depot. "It's only that there are times when

I think maybe we'd have been better off if we'd bought

ourselves a little farm somewhere out in the country and


Alan Dean Foster



hired some housemice and maybe a human or two to do

the dirty work."

He was the only one in the office. The fox and the other

passengers already had destinations in mind.

"Can I help you?" asked the elderly marten seated

behind the low desk. With his long torso and short waist,

the clerk reminded Jon-Tom of Mudge. The marten was

slimmer still, and instead of Mudge's jaunty cap and bright

vest and pantaloons he wore dark shorts and a sleeveless

white shirt, a visor to shade his eyes, and bifocals.

"I'm a stranger in town."

"I suspect you're a stranger everywhere," said the

marten presciently.

Jon-Tom ignored the comment. "Where would a visitor

go for a little harmless fun and entertainment in Timswitty?"

"Well now," replied the marten primly, "I am a family

man myself. You might try the Golden Seal. They offer

folksinging by many species and occasionally a string trio

from Kolansor."

"You don't understand." Jon-Tom grinned insinuatingly.

"I'm looking for a good time, not culture."

"I see." The marten sighed. "Well, if you will go down

the main street to Born Lily Lane and follow the lane to its

end, you will come to two small side streets leading off

into separate cul-de-sacs. Take the north close. If the smell

and noise isn't enough to guide you further, look for the

small sign just above an oil lamp, the one with the carving

of an Afghan on it."

"As in canine or cloth?"

The marten wet his lips. "The place is called the

Elegant Bitch. No doubt you will find its pleasures suita-

ble. I wouldn't know, of course. I am a family man."

"Of course," said Jon-Tom gravely. "Thanks."

As he made his solitary way down the dimly lit main

street, he found himself wishing Talea was at his side.

Talea of the flame-red hair and infinite resourcefulness.

Talea of the blind courage and quick temper. Did he love

her? He wasn't sure anymore. He thought so, thought she

loved him in return. But she was too full of life to settle

down as the wife of an itinerant spellsinger who had not

yet managed to master his craft.

Not long after the battle of the Jo-Troom Gate, she had

regretfully proposed they go their separate ways, at least

for a little while. She needed time to think on serious

matters and suggested he do likewise. It was hard on him.

He did miss her. But there was the possibility she was

simply too independent for any one man.

He held to his hopes, however. Perhaps someday she

would tire of her wanderings and come back to him. There

wasn't a thing he could do but wait.

As for Flor Quintera, the cheerleader he'd inadvertently

brought into this world, she had turned out to be a major

disappointment. Instead of being properly fascinated by

him, it developed that she lusted after a career as a

sword-wielding soldier of fortune and had gone off with

Caz, the tall, suave rabbit with the Ronald Colman voice

and sophisticated manners. Jon-Tom hadn't heard of them

hi months. Flor was a dream that had brought him back to

reality, and fast.

At least this was a fit world in which to pursue dreams.

At the moment, though, he was supposed to be pursuing

medicine. He clung to that thought as he turned down the

tiny side street.

True to the marten's information he heard sounds of

singing and raucous laughter. But instead of a single small

oil lamp there were big impressive ones flanking the door,

fashioned of clear beveled crystal.

Above the door was a swinging sign showing a finely

coiffed hound clad in feathers and jewels. She was gazing

back over her furry shoulder with a distinctly come-hither

look, and her hips were cocked rakishly.

There was a small porch. Standing beneath the rain

shield, Jon-Tom knocked twice on the heavily oiled door.

It was opened by a three-foot-tall mouse in a starched suit.


Alan Dean Poster



Sound flooded over Jon-Tom as the doormouse looked him


"Step inside and enjoy, sir," he finally said, moving


Jon-Tom nodded and entered. The doormouse closed the

door behind him.

He found himself in a parlor full of fine furniture and a

wild assortment of creatures representing several dozen

species. All were cavorting without a. care as to who they

happened to be matching up with. There were several

humans in the group, men and women. They moved freely

among their intelligent furry counterparts.

Jon-Tom noted the activity, listened to the lascivious

dialogue, saw the movement of hands and paws, and

suspected he had not entered a bar. No question what kind

of place this was. He was still surprised, though he

shouldn't have been. It was a logical place to look for


Still, he didn't want to take the chance of embarrassing

himself. First impressions could be wrong. He spoke to the


"I beg your pardon, but this is a whorehouse, isn't it?"

The mouse's voice was surprisingly deep, rumbling out

of the tiny gray body. "All kinds we get in here," he

muttered dolefully, "all kinds. What did you think it was,

jack? A library?"

"Not really. There aren't any books."

The doormouse showed sharp teeth in a smile. "Oh, we

have books, too. With pictures. Lots of pictures, if that's

to your taste, sir."

"Not right now." He was curious, though. Maybe later,

after he'd found Mudge.

"You look like you've been a-traveling, sir. Would

you like something to eat and drink?"

"Thanks, I'm not hungry. Actually, I'm looking for a


"Everyone comes to the Elegant Bitch in search of a


"You misunderstand. That's not the way I mean."

"Just tell me your ways, sir. We cater to all ways here."

"I'm looking for a buddy, an acquaintance," Jon-Tom

said in exasperation. The doormouse had a one-track


"Ah, now I understand. No divertissements, then? This

isn't a meeting house, you know."

"You're a good salesman." Jon-Tom tried to placate

him. "Maybe later. I have to say that you're the smallest

pimp I've ever seen."

"I am not small and I am not a pimp," replied the

doormouse with some dignity. "If you wish to speak to the


"Not necessary," Jon-Tom told him, though he won-

dered not only what she'd look like but what she'd be.

"The fellow I'm after wears a peaked cap with a feather in

it, a leather vest, carries a longbow with him everywhere

he goes, and is an otter. Name of Mudge."

The doormouse preened a whisker, scratched behind one

ear. For the first time Jon-Tom noticed the small earplugs.

Made sense. Given the mouse's sensitivity to sound, he'd

need the plugs to keep from going deaf while working

amid the nonstop celebration.

"I recognize neither name nor attire, sir, but there is one

otter staying with us currently. He would be in room

twenty-three on the second floor."

"Great. Thanks." Jon-Tom almost ran into the mouse's

outstretched palm. He placed a small silver piece there and

saw it vanish instantly.

"Thank you, sir. If there is anything I can do for you

after you have met with this possible friend, please let me

know. My name is Whort and I'm the majordomo here."

"Maybe later," Jon-Tom assured him as he started up

the carved stairway.

He had no intention of taking the doormouse up on his


Alan Dean Foster



offer. Not that he had anything against the house brand of

entertainment. His long separation from Talea plagued him

physically as well as mentally, but this wasn't the place to

indulge in any lingering fancies of the flesh. It looked

fancy and clean, but you never could tell where you might

pick up an interesting strain of VD, and not only the

human varieties. In the absence of modern medicine he

didn't want to have to count on curing a good dose of the

clap with a song or two.

So he restrained his libido as he mounted the second-

floor landing and hunted for the right door. He was

interrupted in his search by a sight that reminded him this

was a real place and not a drug-induced excursion into a

dreamland zoo.

A couple of creatures had passed him, and he'd paid

them no mind. Coming down the hall toward him now was

an exceptionally proportioned young woman in her early

twenties- She was barely five feet tall and wore only a

filmy peach-colored peignoir. The small pipe she smoked

did little to blur the image of prancing, bouncing femininity.

"Well, what are you staring at, tall-skinny-and-hand-


It occurred to Jon-Tom this was not intended as a

rhetorical question, and he mumbled a reply that got all

caught up in his tongue and teeth. Somehow he managed

to shamble past her. Only the fact that Clothahump lay

dying in his tree along with any chance Jon-Tom had of

returning home kept him moving. His head rotated like a

searchlight, and he followed the perfect vision with his

eyes until she'd disappeared down the stairs.

As he forced himself down the hall, that image lingered

on his retinas like a bright light. Sadly, he found the right

door and knocked gently, sparing a last sorrowful glance

for the now empty landing.

"Mudge?" He repeated the knock, was about to repeat

the call, when the door suddenly flew open, causing him to

step back hastily. Standing in the opening was a female

otter holding a delicate lace nightgown around her. Her

eyebrows had been curled and painted, and the tips of her

whiskers dipped in gold. She was sniffling, an act to which

Jon-Tom attached no particular significance. Otters sniffled

a lot.

She took one look at him before dashing past his bulk

down the hallway, short legs churning.

Jon-Tom stared after her, was about to go in when a

second fur of the night came out, accompanied by an

equally distraught third otter. They followed their sister

toward the stairs. Shaking his head, he entered the dark


Faint light flickered from a single chandelier. Golden

shadows danced on the flocked wallpaper. Nothing else

moved. Two curved mirrors on opposing walls ran from

floor to ceiling. An elegant china washbasin rested on a

chellow-wood dresser. The door to the John stood half-


A wrought-iron bed decorated with cast grapevines and

leaves stood against the far wall. The headboard curved

slightly forward. A pile of sheets and pillows filled the

bed, an eruption of fine linen. Jon-Tom guessed this was

not the cheapest room in the house.

From within the silks and satins came a muffled but still

familiar voice. "Is that you, Lisette? Are you comin' back

to forgive me, luv? Wot I said, that were only a joke.

Meant nothin' by it, I did."

"That would be the first time," Jon-Tom said coolly.

There was silence, then the pile of sheets stirred and a head

emerged, black eyes blinking in the darkness. "Cor, I'm

'aving a bloody nightmare, I am! Too much bubbly."

"I don't know what you've had," Jon-Tom said as he

moved toward the bed, "but this is no nightmare."

Mudge wiped at his eyes with the backs of his paws.

"Right then, mate, it is no nightmare. You're too damned

big to be a nightmare. Wot^the 'ell are you doin' 'ere,


"Looking for you."


Alan Dean Poster

"You picked the time for it." He vanished beneath the

linens. "Where's me clothes?"

Jon-Tom turned, searched the shadows until he'd located

the vest, cap, pants and boots. The oversized bow and

quiver of arrows lay beneath the bed. He tossed the whole

business onto the mattress.


"Thanks, mate." The otter began to flow into the

clothes, his movements short and fast. " 'Tis a providence,

it is, wot brings you to poor oF Mudge now."

"I don't know about that. You actually seem glad to see

me. It's not what I expected."

Mudge looked hurt. "Wot, not 'appy to see an old

friend? You pierce me to the quick. Now why wouldn't I

be glad to see an old friend?"

Something funny going on here, Jon-Tom mused warily.

Where were the otter's usual suspicious questions, his

casual abusiveness?

As if to answer his questions the door burst inward.

Standing there backlit by the light from the hall was a sight

to give an opium eater pause.

The immensely overweight lady badger wore a bright

red dress fringed with organdy ruffles. Rings dripped from

her manicured fingers, and it was hard to believe that the

massive gems that encircled her neck were real. They

threw the light back into the room.

A few curious customers crowded in behind her as she

raised a paw and pointed imperiously at the bed.

"There he is!" she growled.

"Ah, Madam Lorsha," said Mudge as he finished his

dressing in a hurry, "I 'ave to compliment you on the

facilities of your establishment."

"That will be the last compliment you ever give any-

one, you deadbeat. Your ass is a rug." She snapped her

fingers as she stepped into the room. "Tork."

Bending to pass under the sill was the largest intelligent

warmlander Jon-Tom had yet encountered. It was a shock



to see someone taller than himself. The grizzly rose at

least seven and a half feet, wore black-leather pants and

shirt. He also wore what appeared in the bad light to be

heavy leather gloves. Their true nature was revealed all too


Now, Jon-Tom did not know precisely what had tran-

spired in the elegant room or beyond its walls or between

his furry friend who was slipping on his boots in a

veritable frenzy and the badger who was clearly the owner

of the house of ill repute, but he suspected the sight of the

full-grown grizzly adjusting the brass knuckles over his

immense paws did not bode well for the future.

"I understand your concern, luv," said Mudge as he

casually recovered his bow and quiver, "but now that me

mate's 'ere everything will be squared away."

"Will it, now?" she said. The grizzly stood rubbing one

palm with a massive fist and grinning. His teeth were very

white. The badger eyed Jon-Tom. "Does he mean to say

that you'll pay his bill?"

"Pay his bill? What do you mean, pay his bill?"

"He's been up here for three days without coming

down, enjoying my best liquor and girls, and now he tells

them he hasn't got a silver to his bastard name."

Jon-Tom glared back at Mudge. The otter shrugged,

didn't appear in the least embarrassed. "Hey, at least I was

honest about it, mate. I told 'em I was broke. But it's all

right, ain't it? You'll pay for me, won't you?"

"You are his friend?" inquired the badger.

"Well, yeah." He brought out the purse Clothahump

had given him and jiggled it. The gold inside jingled

musically, and the badger and the bear relaxed.

She smiled at him. "Now that's more like it.. .sir. I

can see that you are a gentleman, though I don't think

much of your choice of friends." Mudge looked wronged.

"How much does he owe you?"

She didn't even have to think. "Two hundred and fifty,

sir. Plus any damages to the linen. I'll have to check."


Alan Dean Poster

"I can cover it," Jon-Tom assured her. He turned to

look darkly at Mudge, hefting his ramwood staff. "If

you'd be kind enough to give me a moment alone with

him, I intend to take at least some of it out of his hide."

The badger's smile widened. "Your pleasure is mine,

sir." Again she snapped her fingers. The grizzly let out a

disappointed grunt, turned, and ducked back through the


"Take your time, sir. If you need anything helpful—

acid, some thin wooden slivers, anything at all—the house

will be delighted to supply it."

The door closed behind her. As soon as they were alone,

Jon-Tom began to search the room. There was only one

window, off to the left. He tried to open it, found it

wouldn't budge.

" 'Ere now, mate," said Mudge, ambling over, "wot's

the trouble? Just pay the old whore and let's be gone from


"It's not that simple, Mudge. That money is from

Clothahump, to pay for our passage at least as far as

Snarken. And I lied about the amount. No way is there

two hundred and fifty there."

Mudge took a step backward as Jon-Tom strove to

puzzle out the window. "Just a minute there, mate. Wot's

that about payin' our way? Snarken, you said? That's all

the way across the Glittergeist, ain't it?"

"That's right." Jon-Tom squinted at the jamb. "I think

this locks from the outside. Clever. Must be a way to

break through it."

Mudge continued backing toward the bed. "Nice of you

to come lookin' for me, mate, but I'm afraid I can't go

with you. And you say 'is wizardship is behind it?"

"That's right. He's sick and I have to go get him some


"Right. Give the old reptile me best wishes, and I 'ope he

makes a speedy recovery. As for me, I've some (ravelin' to do

for me 'ealth, and salt air doesn't agree with me lungs."



"You're not going anywhere unless it's with me,"

Jon-Tom snapped at him. "You take one step out that door

and I'll call the madam. I saw the look in her eyes. She'd

enjoy separating your head from the rest of you. So would

that side of beef that came in with her."

"I ain't "afraid of no bag of suet wot communicates in

grunts," Mudge said.

Jon-Tom turned from the window. "Then maybe I ought

to call them. I can always find someone else to accompany


Mudge rushed at him. "Take it easy, mate, 'old on. To

Snarken, you say?"

"Maybe beyond."

"Ain't no place beyond Snarken."

"Yes there is. Little town not too far inland from

there." He fumbled between the windowpanes, was rewarded

by a double clicking sound. "Ah,"

He lifted the window slowly. Halfway up, something

loud and brassy began to clang inside the building.

"Shit! There's an alarm spell on this thing!" The

sounds of pounding feet came from the hall.

"No time for regrets, mate, and you'd best not stand

there gawkin'." Mudge was over the sill in a flash and

shinnying down the rainpipe outside. Jon-Tom followed

more slowly, envying the otter his agility.

By the time they reached the pavement, faces had

appeared at the open window.

"You won't get away from me, otter!" Madam Lorsha

yelled, shaking her fist at them as they ran up the side

street. At any moment Jon-Tom expected to hear the

grizzly's footsteps behind them, feel huge paws closing

around his throat. "I'll hunt you to the ends of the world!

No one runs out owing Madam Lorsha!"

"Funny what she said about the ends of the world,"

Jon-Tom murmured as he followed the otter down endless

alleyways and turns. He was sure Mudge had memorized


Alan Dean Foster

this escape route before stepping inside the brothel. "That's

where we're going."

"There you go again, mate," said Mudge, "usin' them

words like we and us."

"I need your help, Mudge."

They reached a main street and slowed to a walk as they

joined the crowd of evening strollers. Timswirty was a

good-sized town, much bigger than Lynchbany. It was

unlikely Madam Lorsha's thugs would be able to find

them. Jon-Tom tried to hunch over and mask his excep-

tional height.

"Clothahump is deathly ill, and we must have this

medicine. I'm not any happier about making this trip than

you are."

"You must be, mate, because I'm not goin' to make it.

Don't get me wrongo. You just 'elped me clear out of a

bad spot. 1 am grateful, I am, but she weren't worth

enough to make me put me life on the line for you, much

less for that old word-poisoner."

They edged around a strolling couple. "I need someone

who knows the way, Mudge."

"Then you needs some other bloke, mate. I ain't never

been to Snarken."

"I mean someone who knows the ways of the world,

Mudge. I've learned a lot since I've been here, but that's

nothing compared to what I don't know. I need your good

advice as well as your unconventional knowledge."

"Sure you do." Mudge puffed up importantly in spite of

knowing better. "You think you can flatter me into goin',

is that it? Or did you think I'd forgotten your intentions to

be a solicitor in your own world? Don't take me for a fool,


"I have to have someone along I can trust," Jon-Tom

went on. The otter's expression showed that was one ploy

he wasn't expecting.

"Now that ain't fair, guv'nor, and you knows it."



"There will also," Jon-Tom added, saving the best for

last, "be a good fee for helping me."

That piqued the otter's interest. " 'Ere now, why didn't

you come out and say that t' begin with instead of goin' on

with all this twaddle about *ow 'is poor old 'ardheaded

curmudgeonly 'oiiness was 'aving an attack of the gout or

whatever, or 'ow badly you need me unique talents." He

moved nearer and put a comradely arm around Jon-Tom's

waist, as high as he could comfortably reach.

"You 'ave a 'ell of a lot to learn about life, guv'nor."

He rambled on as the evening fog closed in comfortingly

around them, explaining that though he didn't know how it

was in Jon-Tom's world, here it was gold that spoke

clearest and bought one's trust. Not words.

Jon-Tom allowed as how things indeed were different,

deferring to the otter's claims while privately disagreeing.

It did not matter who was right, however. All that mattered

was that Mudge had agreed to join him.

Mudge managed to steer them into a tavern in a high-

class district. Having already flashed Clothahump's gold,

Jon-Tom couldn't very well claim he didn't have the

wherewithal to pay. So he went slowly through his own

meal while the otter devoured a gigantic banquet more

suitable to the appetite of Madam Lorsha's bouncer. As

Mudge explained between mouthfuls, he'd burned up a lot

of energy this past week and wanted to make certain he

embarked on their long journey at full strength.

Only when the otter had finished the final morsel did he

lean contentedly back in his chair.

"So you say we're goin' to distant Snarken, wot, and

beyond, and I say there's nothin' beyond. Wot did 'is nibs

say it would be like?"

"He didn't exactly say." Jon-Tom picked at a sweet

dessert. "Just the town where the store with the medicine

is kept."

"Yeah, I 'eard you say somethin' about a town. 'As it

got a name?"


Alan Dean Poster

Jon-Tom decided the bittersweet berry dessert was to his

taste, finished the last of it. "Cranculam."

"WOT?" Mudge suddenly was sitting bolt upright,

dribbling the last traces of wrinklerry jelly from his lips as

he gaped at the man sitting across the table from him. A

few curious diners spared him a glance, returned to their

business when they saw no fighting was involved.

Mudge wiped at his sticky whiskers and spoke more

softly, eyeing Jon-Tom sideways. "Wot did you say the

name o' this dump was, guv'nor?"

"Crancularn. I see you've heard of it."

" 'Hard of it, you're bloody well right I've 'card of it.

That's a place o' the dead, mate."

"I thought there wasn't anything beyond Snarken."

"Not supposed to be, mate, but then, nobody knows

where this Crancularn is supposed to be either, except that

it moves about from time to time, like lice, and that

anyone who ever gets there never comes back. 'Tis the

entrance to 'ell itself, mate. Surely you don't mean to go


"Not only do I mean to go there, I intend to make a

small purchase and return safely with it. And you're

coming with me. You promised."

"'Ere now, mate, when I made this 'ere bargain,

weren't nothin' said about Cranculam. I'm out." He stepped

off the chair and discovered he was straddling the far end

of Jon-Tom's ramwood staff, which had been slipped

under the table earlier.

"Sit down," Jon-Tom ordered him. Gingerly, the otter

resumed his seat. "You made a promise, Mudge. You

agreed to accompany me. In a sense, you accepted the

proffered fee. Where I come from an oral contract is

enforceable when the details are known to both parties,

and in this case the details are now known."

"But Crancularn, mate. Can't this medicine be got

anywheres else?"

Jon-Tom shook his head. "I pressed Clothahump on that



point repeatedly, and he never wavered. The only place it

can be bought is Crancularn." He leaned over the table,

spoke almost angrily. "Look, do you think I want to go

gallivanting halfway across a strange world in search of

some old fart's pills? I like Clothahump, sure, but I have

my own life to live. What's left of it. If he dies leaving me

stuck here, I might as well be dead. It's interesting

enough, your world, but I want to go home, damn it! I

miss Westwood on the opening night of a Steven Spielberg

movie, and I miss the bookstores on Hollywood Boule-

vard, and the beach, and bagels at the deli, and take-out

Chinese food, and—"

"All right, mate, I believe you. Spare me your memo-

ries. So it's a contract, is it? At least you're learnin' 'ow to

stick up for your rights." He smiled and tapped the staff.

Jon-Tem was taken aback. He'd acted almost exactly the

way Mudge would have if their situations had been re-

versed. The thought was more than a little appalling.

"You'll keep your end of the bargain, then?"

"Aye." Mudge spoke with obvious reluctance. "I gave

me word, so I'm stuck with it. Well, a short life but a

happy one, they say. Tis better than dyin' in one's bed.

Alone, anyway."

"There's no need for all this talk of dying." Jon-Tom

sipped at the mug of cold cider in front of him. "We are

going to get to Cranculam, obtain the necessary medica-

tion, and return here. All we're doing is running an


"That's right, mate. Just an errand." He belched derisively,

to the unconcealed disgust of the well-dressed diners

nearby. "Wot a day it was for me when you tumbled into

that glade where I was huntin' so peaceful. Why couldn't

you 'ave settled on some other poor bloke besides old


"You were just lucky. As for your ill fortune, we don't

know yet who's the fool in this play: you for agreeing to

come with me or me for wanting you to."



Alan Dean Foster

"You singe me privates, mate," said Mudge, looking

wounded, an expression he had mastered.

"A wonder there's anything left to singe, after three

days in that brothel. Finish up and let's find a place to

sleep. I'm bushed."


It took six tries to finally wake Mudge. After three days of

nonstop debauchery and the huge mea! of the previous

night, the otter had to be helped to the bathroom. He got

his pants on backwards and his boots on opposite feet.

Jon-Tom straightened him out and together they worked

their way through Tims witty in search of transportation.

From a nervous dealer badly in need of business they

rented a low wooden wagon pulled by a single aged dray

lizard, promising to drop it off at the port of Yarrowl at the

mouth of the Tailaroam. From Yarrowl it should be a

simple matter to book passage on a merchantman making

the run across the Glittergeist to Snarken.

They succeeded in slipping quietly out of town without

catching the eye of Madam Lorsha or her hirelings and

were soon heading south along the narrow trade road.

Once within the forest Mudge relaxed visibly.

" 'Peers we gave the old harridan the slip, mate."

Jon-Tom's eyebrows lifted. "We?"

"Well now, guv'nor, since 'tis we who are goin* on this

little jaunt and we who are goin' to risk our lives for the

sake o' some half-dotty ol' wizard, I think 'tis fair enough



Alan Dean Foster

for me to say that 'tis we who escaped the clutches of her


"Plural good and plural bad, is that it?" Jon-Tom

chucked the reins, trying to spur the ancient lumbering

reptile to greater speed. "I guess you're right."

"Nice of you to agree, mate," said Mudge slyly. "So

'ow's about lettin' me 'ave a looksee at our money?"

"I'll keep an eye on our travel expenses, thanks. I need

your help with several matters, Mudge, but counting coin

isn't one of them."

"Ah well, then." Mudge leaned back against the hard

back of the bench, put his arms behind his head, and gazed

through the tinkling branches at the morning sun. "If you

don't trust me, then to 'ell with you, mate."

"At least if I end up there it'll be with our money


They stopped for lunch beneath a tree with bell leaves

the size of quart jars. Mudge unpacked snake jerky and

fruit juice. The appearance of the fruit juice made the otter

shudder, but he was intelligent enough to know that he'd

overdone his alcoholic intake just a hair the past week and

that the percentage in his blood could not be raised much

higher without permanent damage resulting. He poured

himself a glass, wincing as he did so.

Something glinted in the glass and he looked sharply to

his right. Nothing amiss. Bell leaves making music with

the morning breezes, flying lizards darting from branch to

branch in pursuit of a psychedelic bee.

Still... Carefully he set down his glass next to the

wagon wheel. The dray lizard snoozed gratefully in a

patch of sunlight, resting its massive head on its forelegs.

Jon-Tom lay in the shade of the tree. All seemed right with

the world.

But it wasn't.

"Back in a sec, mate." Mudge reached into the back of

the wagon. Instead of food and drink he grabbed for his

bow and quiver. The crossbow bolt that rammed into the



wood between his reaching hands gave him pause. He

withdrew them slowly.

"A wise decision," said a voice from the trees.

Jon-Tom sat up fast. "Who said that?"

He found himself staring at the business ends of an

assortment of pikes and spears, wielded by an unpleasant-

looking assortment of furry assailants.

"Me fault," Mudge muttered, angry at himself. "I

'eard 'em comin', I did, but not quite soon enough."

"It wouldn't have mattered," said the voice which had

spoken a moment, before. "There are too many of us

anyway, and though we are instructed to bring you in

alive, it wasn't specified in what condition."

Stepping through the circle of armed warmlanders was a

coatimundi nearly as tall as Mudge. His natural black

striping had been enhanced with brown decorations painted

on muzzle and tail. One front canine was missing, and the

remainder of the long, sharp teeth were stained yellow. He

rested one paw on the hilt of a thick, curved dagger belted

at his waist. The dagger was also stained, but not yellow.

Jon-Tom thought rapidly. Like Mudge's bow, his own

duar and ramwood staff lay in the bed of the wagon. If he

could just get to them.... Well, what if he could? As this

apparent leader of their captors had said, they were badly


"Right. Wot is it you want with us?" Mudge asked.

"We're just a couple of innocent travelers, poor prospects

for thieves."

The coati shook his head and glared at them over his

long snout out of bright black eyes. "I'm not interested in

your worldly possessions, whatever they might be. I've

been ordered by my master to bring you in."

"So Lorsha found us out anyway," the otter muttered.

He sounded wistful. "Well, them three days were almost

worth dyin' for. You should've been with me, mate."

"Well, I wasn't, and they're not worth dying for from

my viewpoint."


Alan Dean Foster

"Calm yourselves," said the coati. "No one's speaking

of dying here. Cooperate and give me no trouble, and I'll

give none back to you." He squinted at Mudge. "And

what's all this chattering about someone named Lorsha?"

Mudge came back from his memories and made a face

at the coati. "You ain't 'ere to take us back to Madam

Lorsha of Timswitty?"

"No. I come from Malderpot."

"Malderpot?" Jon-Tom gaped at him.

"Big town," Mudge informed him, "full of dour folk

and little pleasure."

"We like it," said a raccoon hefting a halberd.

"No offense," Mudge told him.  "Who wants us in


"Our master Zancresta," said the coati.

"Who's this Zancresta?" Jon-Tom asked him.

A few incredulous looks showed on the faces of their

captors, including the coati.

"You mean you've never heard of the Master of Dark-

ness and Manipulator of the Secret Arts?"

Jon-Tom shook his head. " 'Fraid not."

The coati was suddenly uncertain. "Perhaps we have

made a mistake. Perhaps these are not the ones we were

sent to fetch. Thile, you and Alo check their wagon."

Two of the band rushed to climb aboard, began going

through the supplies with fine disregard for neatness. It

took them only moments to find Jon-Tom's staff and duar,

which Thile held up triumphantly.

"It's the spellsinger, all right," said the muskrat.

"Keep a close watch on his instrument and he'll do us

no harm," the coati instructed his men.

"I mean you no harm in any case," said Jon-Tom.

"What does your Zancresta want with us?"

"Nothin' good. You can be certain o' that, mate," said


"So one of you, at least, has heard of our master."

"Aye, I've 'eard of 'im, thVmgh I don't mean to flatter



'is reputation by it." He turned to Jon-Tom. "This 'ere

Zancresta chap's the 'ead wizard not only for the town of

Malderpot but for much of the northern part o' the Bellwoods.

See, each town or village 'as its own wizard or sorcerer or

witch, and each o' them claims to be better than 'is

neighbor at the arts o' magickin'."

"Zancresta is the best," said the coati. "He is the


"I ain't goin' to argue the point with you," said Mudge.

"I 'ave no interest whatsoever in wizardry debates and

functions, for all that I seem to be gettin' repeatedly

screwed by 'em.

"Now, if it's the spellsinger 'ere you're come after, take

'im and let me go. I'm only a poor traveler tryin' 'is best

to make it down the windy road o' life, and I've 'ad a 'ard

enough time makin* ends meet as it is without gettin'

caught up again in the world's troubles."

"It may be true," said the coati, eyeing him unflatteringly.

"But I have my orders. They say I am to bring back the

spellsinger known as Jon-Tom and any who travel with

him. You will have the chance to plead your case before

the master. Perhaps he will let you go."

"And if *e don't?"

The coati shrugged. "That's not my affair."

"Easy for you to say," Mudge grumbled.

Spears prodded Jon-Tom and Mudge into the back of the

wagon, where they sat with their hands tied behind their

backs. A couple of the coati's henchmen took over the

reins. The little procession swung back northward, slightly

west of Timswitty but also in the opposite direction from

Lynchbany and the River Tailaroam.

"This Zancresta 'as a bad reputation, mate," Mudge

whispered to his companion. "Mind now, I'm not denyin'

'is abilities. From wot I've 'eard 'e ain't bad at sorcerin',

but 'e's unscrupulous as 'ell. Cheats on 'is spells and

short-changes 'is incantations, but 'e's too powerful for

anyone to go up against. I've 'ad no dealin's with 'im


Alan Dean Foster



tneself, and I stay clear o' folk from Malderpot. As I said,

they ain't much for partyinV

"From what you tell me about their chief wizard, I can

see why they aren't."

"Right." Mudge nodded past the drivers. "Now, 'tis

clear this 'ere ringtail knows nothin' o' wot 'is master

wants with us. That may be somethin' we can turn to our

advantage. So somehow we 'ave to get clear o' this

charmin' bunch o' throat-slitters before we're brought up

before Zancresta himself. If that 'appens, I 'ave this funny

feelin' that we'll never see the shores o' the Glittergeist or

any other calm water."

"Don't underestimate this one." Jon-Tom indicated the

coati, who strolled along in the lead, talking with a couple

of his band. "He seems more than the usual hired thug."

"Fancy clothes can't hide one's origin," said Mudge.

"No harm in trying." He raised his voice. "Hey, you,


"Shut up," snapped the muskrat from the driver's

bench. He showed a short sword. "Or you will eat your

own tongues for breakfast and can see how your words

taste then."

"I just want a word with your chief. Surely one as

illustrious as he can spare a prisoner a few minutes of his


Evidently the coati's ears were as sensitive as his nose,

because he slowed his pace until he was walking alongside

the wagon.

"I bear you no hatred, spellsinger. What do you wish to

talk about? By the way, my name is Chenelska."

"Don't you have any idea what your master wants with

us? What use has so great and powerful a wizard for a

mere spellsinger like me?"

Chenelska considered a moment, then glanced past Jon-

Tom to Mudge. "Tell me, water rat, is this tall human as

ignorant as he appears or is he making fun of me?"

"No." Mudge spoke with sufficient conviction to per-

suade the coati that he was telling the truth. " 'E's as

dumb as he looks."

"Thanks, Mudge. Nice to know I can rely on your good


"Don't mention it, mate."

"Can it be," said the dumbfounded Chenelska, "that

you have never heard of the rivalry between our master

and the one that you serve?"

"The one I serve? You mean Clothahump? I don't serve

him. I'm not an apprentice or anything like that. He has

another who serves him. We're just friends."

"Indeed. Good enough friends that you undertake a

long, dangerous mission on his behalf when he lies too ill

to travel himself. A mission to cross the Glittergeist in

search of a rare and precious medicine he requires to cure


"How the hell do you know that?" Jon-Tom said


The coati grinned and laughed, a single sharp barking.

"It seems that this Clothahump does have another who

serves him. A true famulus. A fine, intelligent, hard-

working apprentice who serves faithfully and well. Except

when he's been treated to a few stiff sips of good belly-


"Sorbl! That stupid big-eyed sot!"

The coati nodded, still grinning. "Not that we had to

work hard at it, you understand. The poor little fellow

merely wanted companionship, and other servants of my

master provided it, whereupon the turtle's servant grew

extremely talkative."

"I'll bet he did," Jon-Tom mumbled disconsolately.

"It has always been a matter of great contention in this

part of the world," the coati explained, "as to who the

greater wizard is. Clothahump of the tree or my master

Zancresta. It didn't bother my master when opinion was

divided and drifted back and forth. But it has lately

become apparent that outside the immediate environs of


Alan Dean Foster



Malderpot, the consensus is that your Clothahump is the

greater." He moved closer to the wagon and lowered his

voice so that his band could not overhear.

"It's true that saving the whole world is a tough act to

follow. When word came of the victory over the Piated

Folk at the Jo-Troom Gate, and the part your master

Clothahump played in it, there was very little my master

couid do to counteract the great shift in public opinion,

and he has been in a murderous mood ever since."

' 'As if Clothahump saved all the warmlands just to spite

him," Jon-Tom said disgustedly.

"Be that as it may, wizards can be very touchy about

such things. Zancresta dwells on evil spells and prepares

toxic presents and calls down all who cross him. He has

been dangerous to approach ever since this happened. The

only way for him to regain his self-respect and cancel his

shame is to do something to make himself again be

considered the equal of the turtie of the tree. Yet he sees

no way to do this. This Clothahump refuses all challenges

and duels."

"Clothahump," Jon-Tom explained politely, "doesn't

think much of games."

"Word travels that he does not because he is getting


Jon-Tom didn't reply. There was nothing to be gained by

arguing with Chenelska and angering him.

"Therefore, my master is badly frustrated, since there is

no way he can prove that he is truly the most skilled in the

wizardly arts.

"Word arrived recently about this severe sickness

Clothahump is suffering from and that he cannot cure with

his own magic, that he needs medicine obtainable only

from a land beyond Snarken. My master was delighted by


"When we get out of this," Jon-Tom whispered to

Mudge, "I'm going to string Sorbl up by his feet and hang

him beak-first over an open bottle of brandy."

"Mate, I truly 'ope you get that opportunity," said


"Thanks to the information the wizard's famulus pro-

vided, we were able to locate and intercept you," said


"What does your master intend doing with us?"

"I do not know, man. For now, it would seem sufficient

to prevent you from carrying out your mission and returning

with the necessary medicine. Perhaps after he has weakened

enough my master will take pity on him and travel south to

allow him the privilege of begging for his help."

"Clothahump would never do that," Jon-Tom assured

the coati. "He'll spit in Zancresta's face before he asks his


"Then I imagine he will die." The coati spoke without

emotion. "It is of no import to me. I only serve my


"Yes, you're a good slave."

The coati moved closer to the wagon and slapped the

sideboard angrily. "I am no slave!"

"A slave is one who unquestioningly carries out the

orders of his master without considering the possible


"I know the consequences of what I do." Chenelska

glowered at him, no longer friendly. "Of one consequence

I am sure. I will emerge from this little journey far better

ofif than you. You think you're smart, man? I was instruct-

ed in all the tricks a spellsinger can play. You can make

only music with your voice and not magic without your

instrument. If I choose to cut your throat, I will be safer


"As for the water rat that accompanies you, it may be

that the master will free him. If he does so, I will be

waiting for him myself, to greet him as is his due." With

that, the coati left them, increasing his stride to again

assume his place at the head of the little procession.


Alan Dean Foster

"I'm beginnin' to wish you'd left me at Madam Lorsha's,"

the otter said later that night.

"To Tork's tender mercies?" Jon-Tom snorted. "You'd

be scattered all over Timswitty by now if I hadn't shown

up to save you, and you know it."

"Better to die after three days o' bliss than to lie in

some filthy cell in Malderpot contemplatin' a more mun-

dane way o' passin'."

"We're not dead yet. That's something."

"Is it now? You're a fine one for graspin' at straws."

"I once saw a man start a fire with nothing more than a

blade of dry grass. It kept both of us warm through a night

in high mountains."

"Well 'e ain't 'ere and neither is 'is fire."

"You give up too quickly." Jon-Tom looked ahead, to

where Chenelska strode proudly at the head of his band.

"I could put in for a writ of habeas corpus after we arrive,

but somehow I don't think it would have much sway with

this Zancresta."

"Wot's that, mate? Some kind of otherworldly magic?"

"Yes. We're going to need something like it to get out

of this with our heads in place. And let's not forget poor

Clothahump for worrying about our own skins. He's de-

pending on us."

"Aye, and see 'ow well 'is trust is placed."

They kept to back roads and trails, staying under cover

of the forest, avoiding intervening communities. Chenelska

intended to avoid unnecessary confrontations as well as

keep his not always reliable troops clear of civilization's

temptations. So they made good time and after a number

of days arrived on the outskirts of a town too small to be a

city but too large to be called a village.

A crudely fashioned but solid stone wall encircled it, in

contrast to the open city boundaries of Lynchbany and

Timswitty. It wasn't a very high wall, a fact Jon-Tom

commented on as they headed west.

A small door provided an entrance. The prisoners were




hustled quickly down several flights of stone stairs, past

crackling torches smelling of creosote, and thrust into a

dark, odiferous cell. An obese porcupine turned the large

key in the iron lock and departed, leaving them alone in

the near blackness.

"Still optimistic, mate?" Mudge leaned against a dank

wall and sniffed. "Cast into a dungeon without hope of

rescue to spend our last hours talkin' philosophy."

Jon-Tom was running his fingers speculatively over the

mossy walls. "Not very well masoned or mortared."

"I stand corrected," said Mudge sardonically. "Talkin'

about architecture."

"Architecture's an interesting subject, Mudge. Don't be

so quick to dismiss it. If you know how something is put

together, you might learn how to take it apart."

"That's right, guv'nor. You find us a loose stone in the

wall, take it out, and bring the whole stinkin* city down on

top o' us. Then we'll be well and truly free." He slunk eff

toward a comer.

"Not even a chamber pot in this cesspool. I 'ope they

kill us fast instead o' leavin' us to die with this smell." He

moved back to grab the bars of the cell, shouted toward the


"Hey mate, get your fat ass over "ere!"

In no hurry, the porcupine ambled across the floor from

his chair. When he reached the bars he turned his back,

and Mudge backed hastily away from the two-foot-long

barbed quills.

"I will thank you to be a little more polite."

"Right, sure, guv. Take 'er easy. No offense. You can

imagine me state o' mind, chucked in 'ere like an old


"No, I cannot," said the jaiier. "I do my job and go

home to my family. I do not imagine your state of mind."

"Excuse me," said Jon-Tom, "but have you any idea

how long we are to be held in here?"

"Ah, no."


Alan Dean Foster



Slow. Their jailer was a little slow in all areas. It was a

characteristic of all porcupines, and this one was no

exception. That didn't mean he was a moron. Tread

slowly, Jon-Tom warned himself.

"Our possessions have become separated from us," he

went on. "Do you know what was done with them?"

Lazily, the porcupine pointed upward. "They are in the

main guard chamber, to be taken out and sent along with

you when word comes for you to be moved."

"Do you know what's going to happen to us?"

The porcupine shook his head. "No idea. None of my

business. I do my job and stay out of other people's

business, I do."

Mudge instantly divined his companion's intentions,

said sadly, "We were searched before we were sent down

here. I wonder if they found your sack o' gold, mate?"

"Sack of gold?" Evidently the porcupine wasn't all that

slow. For the first time the half-lidded eyes opened fully,

then narrowed again. "You are trying to fool me. Chenelska

would never leave a sack of gold in a place where others

could find it and steal it."

"Yeah, but wot if 'e didn't think to look for somethin'

like that?" Mudge said insinuatingly. "We just don't want

'im to get 'is 'ands on it, after 'im throwin' us down 'ere

and all. If you wanted to find out if we were lyin' or not,

all you'd 'ave to do is go look for yourself, mate. You 'ave

the keys, and we ain't 'ardly goin' to dig our way out o'

this cell while you're gone."

' 'That is true.'' The jailer started for the stairs. ' 'Do not

get any funny ideas. You cannot cut through the bars, and

there is no one else here but me."

"Oh, we ain't goin' anywhere, we ain't," Mudge insisted.

"By the way," Jon-Tom added offhandedly, "as long as

you're going upstairs, maybe you could do something for

us? This is an awfully dank and somber place. A little

music would do a lot to lighten it up. Surely working

down here day after day, the atmosphere must get pretty

depressing after a while."

"No, it does not," said the porcupine as he ascended

the stairs. "I like it dank and somber and quiet, though I

would be interested in hearing the kind of mxisic you could

play. You see, Chenelska told me you were a spellsinger."

Jon-Tom's heart sank. "Not really. I'm more of an

apprentice. I don't know enough yet to really spellsing. I

just like to make music."

"Nonetheless, I cannot take the chance."

"Wait!" Jon-Tom called desperately. "If you know

what spellsinging's all about, then surely you know that a

spellsinger can't make magic without his instrument."

"That is so." The porcupine eyed him warily.

"Well then, how about this? You bring down my duar,

my instrument, but after you give it to me you chain my

hands so I can't pull them back through these bars. That

way if I tried to sing anything that sounded dangerous to

you, you could yank the duar away from me before I could

finish and I couldn't do a thing to stop you from doing


The jailer considered, wrestling with unfamiliar con-

cepts. Jon-Tom and Mudge waited breathlessly, glad of the

darkness. It helped to conceal their anxiety.

"Yes, I think that would be safe enough," the jailer said

finally. "And I am curious to hear you sing. I will see if

your instrument is with your other possessions. While I

look for the sack of gold."

"You won't regret it!" Jon-Tom called after him as he

disappeared up the stairway. As soon as he'd left, Mudge

looked excitedly at his friend.

"Cor, mate, can you really do anythin' tied like that?"

"I don't know. I have to try. It's clear he wasn't just

going to hand me the duar without some kind of safeguard.

I just don't know what I could sing that could help us out

of here before he decided it sounded threatening and took

the duar away from me. Not that I ever know what to sing.


Alan Dean Foster

I had the same problem in my own world. But it was all I

could think of."

"You better think o' somethin', mate, or it'll be two

worlds that'll be missin' you permanent. I don't know

what this Zancresta has planned for us, but as much as 'e

hates Clothahump, I don't figure on 'im bein' overly polite

to a couple o* the turtle's servants."

"We're not his servants. At least, you're not."

"Aye, an' you saw 'ow far that got me with Chenelska,

I'm stuck with the bedamned label just like you are, like it

or not. So think of somethin'. Somethin' effective, and


"I don't know." Jon-Tom fought with his memory.

"Practically everything I know is hard rock."

Mudge gestured at the walls. "Strikes me as damned


"Not like that," Jon-Tom explained impatiently. "It's a

name for a kind of popular music. You've heard me sing


"Aye, an1 I don't pretend to understand a word o' it."

"Then you have something in common with my parents."

Footsteps coming down the stairs interrupted them


"You'd better think up somethin' quick, mate."

"I'll try." He stuck his arms out between the bars,

waiting expectantly. His spirits were boosted by the sight

of the undamaged duar dangling from one of the jailer's


"There was no gold," the porcupine declared sourly.

"Sorry." Mudge sighed fitfully. "About wot one would

expect from a snurge like Zancresta. Still, 'tweren't no

'arm in lookin', were there?"

"What were you two talking about while I was gone? I

heard you talking." The porcupine looked suspicious.

"Nothin' much, mate. Just makin' conversation. We

talk while you're right 'ere, too, don't we?"

"Yes, that is so. Very well." He stepped forward and



made as if to hand the duar to Jon-Tom, then hesitated. "I

do not know."

"Oh, come on," Jon-Tom urged him, a big smile

frozen on his face. "A little music would be nice. Not

everyone has the chance to hear an apprentice spellsinger

make music just for pleasure."

"That is what concerns me." The jailer stepped back

and rummaged through a wooden chest. When he returned

it was to clap a pair of thick leather cuffs on Jon-Tom's

wrists. They were connected to one another by a chain. He

also, to Jon-Tom's dismay, tied a thick cord around the

neck of the duar.

"There," he said, apparently satisfied, and handed over

the instrument. Jon-Tom's fingers closed gratefully over

the familiar wooden surface, lightly stroked the double set

of strings.

The porcupine returned to his chair, keeping a firm grip

on his end of the cord. "Now if you try anything funny I

don't even have to run over to you. All I have to do is pull

this rope." He gave the cord an experimental yank, and

Jon-Tom had to fight to hold onto the duar.

"I need a little slack," he pleaded, "or I won't be able

to play at all."

"All right." The jailer relaxed his grip slightly. "But if I

think you are trying to trick me I will pull it right out of

your hands and smash it against the floor."

"Don't worry. I wouldn't try anything like that. Would

I, Mudge?"

"Oh, no, sor. Not after you've all but given this

gentlebeing your word." The otter assumed an air of mock

unconcern as he settled down on the floor to listen. "Play

us a lullaby, Jon-Tom. Somethin' soothin' and relaxin' to

'eip us poor ones forget the troubles we face and the

problems o' the world."

"Yes, play something like that," asked the porcupine.

Jon-Tom struggled with himself. Best to first play a

couple of innocuous ditties to lull this sod into a false


Alan Dean Foster

sense of security. The trouble was, being mostly into

heavy metal, he knew about as many gentle tunes as he did

operatic arias. Somehow something by Ozzy Osbourne or

Ted Nugent didn't seem right, nor did anything by KISS.

He considered "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" by AC/DC,

decided quickly that one stanza would cost him control of

the duar permanently.

He decided to take a chance with some golden oldies.

Maybe a few of Roy Orbison's songs, even if his voice

wasn't up to it. It seemed to work. The porcupine lazed

back in his chair, obviously content, but still holding tight

to the cord.

Jon-Tom segued into the part of one song where the

lyrics went "the day you walked out on me" and the jailer

didn't stir, but neither did the walls part to let them

through. Discouraged, he moved on to "America" by Neil

Diamond. A few faint images of the Statue of Liberty and

Ellis Island flickered fitfully in the cell, but Jon-Tom did

not find himself standing safe at either location.

Then he noticed Mudge. The otter sat back in the shad-

ows making long pulling and throwing motions. It took

Jon-Tom a moment to understand what his companion was

driving at. In the middle of humming "Won't Get Fooled

Again," he figured the otter's movements out.

The porcupine had tied the cord to the duar in order to

be able to jerk it quickly out of Jon-Tom's hands. If they

could somehow gain control of the rope, they might be

able to make a small lasso and cast it toward a weapon or

even the big keyring lying on the table.

In order to try that, of course, they had to somehow

incapacitate their jailer. Since he seemed half-asleep al-

ready, Jon-Tom softened his voice as much as possible and

sang the sweetest ballads he could think of, finishing with

"Sounds of Silence" by Simon and Garfunkel. That par-

ticularly apt selection set the porcupine to snoozing. To

make sure, he added a relaxing rendition of "Scarborough





Carefully, he tugged gently on the cord. Two half-witted

eyes popped wide open and the line went taut.

"I told you not to try anything," the porcupine growled.

For an instant Jon-Tom was sure they'd lose the duar

along with their last hope. "I didn't mean anything!" he

said desperately. "It's only that playing in the same

position all the time hurts my arms. I wasn't doing

anything else."

"Well..." The jailer slumped back in his chair. "See

that you don't do it no more. Please play another song. I

never heard anything like them. Pretty."

Despairingly, Jon-Tom simply sang the first thing that

came to mind, the theme song from one of the Rocky

films. Maybe it was his frustration, perhaps his sudden

indifference. Whatever the reason, he almost thought he

could feel the power running through him. He tried to

focus on it, really working himself into the useless song in

the hope it might lead to something better.

A faint smell of ozone began to filter into the air of the

dungeon. Something crackled near the ceiling. Mudge

scrambled warily back into the farthest comer of the cell.

Jon-Tom jumped as an electric shock ran up his wrists. He

tried to pull back into the cell, found he was trapped

against the bars by the leather wristcuffs and linking chain.

Oh, shit, he mumbled silently. I've gone and done

something weird again.

Only this time he was trapped up against whatever it

was. Something was materializing in the air next to him.

He tugged futilely at the leather cuffs, dropping the duar in

the process. The instrument was glowing brightly as it

bounced around on the floor like a toad at a disco.

The slow-moving porcupine was on his feet and staring.

He'd abandoned the cord in favor of edging 'round toward

the rack of weapons. Selecting a long spear, he aimed it at

the cell. Jon-Tom was uncomfortably aware of the fact that

if the jailer so chose, he could run him through where he


"What are you doing, spellsinger? Stop it!"


Alan Dean Foster

"I'm not doing anything!" Jon-Tom prayed his hysteria

was as convincing as it was heartfelt. "Untie my hands!"

The jailer ignored him, gazing in stupefied fascination at

the slowly rotating cylinder of fluorescent gas that had

gathered inside the cell. "Don't lie to me. Something is

happening. Something is happening!"

"I know something's happening, you moron! Let me

loose!" He wrenched uselessly at his bonds.

The jailer continued to keep his distance. ' 'I am warning

you, spellsinger. Put an end to this magic right now!"

Keeping his thorny back against the walls, he edged

around until he was standing close to the bars. From there

he was able to prod the prisoner with the tip of his spear. It

was extremely sharp.

"I can't stop it! I don't know what I did and I don't

know what's happening."

"I do not believe you." The jailer's voice had turned

shrill and he was jabbing seriously with the spear.

Suddenly a loud bang came from the cloud of gas. The

glowing cylinder dissipated to reveal a massive, powerful

form at least seven feet tall standing in the center of the

jail cell. It had to crouch to keep from bumping its head

against the ceiling.

Mudge quailed back against the wall while Jon-Tom

thought wildly about his last song. The indifferently sung

song which apparently had been far more effective than all

its anxiety-laden predecessors. The theme song from that

Rocky film ... what was it?

Oh, yeah. The "Eye of the Tiger."

Actually there were two of them, and they glared around

in bewilderment. Jon-Tom had never seen a white tiger

before, much less one that wore armor and stood on two

legs. Leather and brass strips made a skirt which covered

the body from waist to the knees. Additional armor protected

the back of arms and legs, was secured over the legs with

crisscrossing leather straps. A finely worked brass helmet

shielded the head, and an intricate inscription covered the

thin nose guard. Holes cut in the top of the helmet allowed

the ears to protrude.

The huge furry skull glanced in all directions, taking in

unanticipated surroundings. White and black ears flicked

nervously as a quarter ton of tiger tried to orient itself.

Paws dropped to sheaths, and in an instant each one held a

five-foot-long sword with razor-sharp serrated edges.

"By all the nine feline demons, what's going on heah? I

declare I'll have some answers right quick or there'll be

hell to pay." Slitted eyes fixed on the bars. She took a step

forward and glared down at the quivering porcupine.

"You! What is this place? Why am ah locked up? Y'all



Alan Dean Foster



answer me fast or ah'll make a necklace out of yo


"G-g-g-guards," the porcupine stammered. It came out

as a whisper. Aware his cry wasn't reaching very far, he

raised his voice. "Guards!"

"Quit stabling and talk to me." Feminine, Jon-Tom

decided. Thunderous, but undeniably feminine. The conju-

ration was a she. She turned to eye Mudge. "Yo theah.

Why won't he talk to me?"

"You talkin' to me, m'dear?" Mudge inquired reluctantly.

She reached down and lifted him easily off the floor with

one paw, setting her second sword aside but within easy

reach. Fully extended, her claws were nearly as long as

Mudge's fingers.

"Now, who else would ah be talking to, you little


"Blimey, m'dear, I ain't considered the possibility."

"Guards!" Suddenly it occurred to the porcupine that

since he wasn't having much luck obtaining help with his

voice, it might be efficacious to employ his feet. He raced

up the stairs with unexpected speed. "Guards, help me!"

"Hey, yo!" The tigress dropped Mudge, who promptly

retreated to the back of the cell. "Come back heah! Yo

heah me?"

"He thinks you're a threat to him."

"What's that?" For the first time she focused her

attention on Jon-Tom.

"I said, he thinks you're a threat to him. Because

you're in here with us."

"Y'all are awfully big fo a human."

"And you're awfully big period." He continued strug-

gling with the cuffs that bound him to the bars of the cell.

"What is this place?" She turned slowly to make a

more careful inspection of the prison. She did not appear

frightened. Only irritated.

"We're in a dungeon in a town called Malderpot."

"Nevah heard of it," said the feline amazon. "A dun-

geon, you say. I can see that fo mahself, honey." She eyed

his restraints. "Why ah yo tied up like that?"

"I'm a spellsinger," he explained. "I've been doing a

little singing and I think I accidently brought you here."

"So that's it!" Jon-Tom did his best not to cower away

from those burning yellow eyes. She stepped back and

hefted both her swords. "Well then, y'all can just send me


He squirmed against the bars. "I, uh, I'm afraid I can't

do that. 1 don't know how I brought you here. I can try

later, maybe. But not without my duar." He pointed into

the room. "And I can't play it with my hands tied like


"Well, that much is obvious. Ah've got eyes, yo


"Very pretty eyes, too."

"Huh," she said, a little more softly. "Spellsingah, yo

say? Yo sound moah like a solicitah to me." Jon-Tom

didn't inform her about his legal training, not being sure of

her opinion of solicitors.

One sword suddenly cut forward and down. Mudge let

out a half moan, half squeak, and Jon-Tom closed his

eyes. But the sword passed between the bars to delicately

cut the chain linking his wrist cuffs. A couple of quick

twists of a clawed paw and his hands were free. He spoke,

as he rubbed the circulation back into his wrists.

"I still need the duar." Loud noises reached them from

somewhere on the level above, and he hurried his introduc-

tions. '-'That's Mudge, I'm Jon-Tom Meriweather." He

recalled the song he'd sung prior to "Eye of the Tiger."

"By any chance would your name be Sage, Rosemary, or

Thyme?" Somehow Scarborough didn't seem a possibility.

"Close enuf. Ah am called Rcseroar."

Jon-Tom nodded to himself. Once again his songs and

his desires had gotten themselves thoroughly mixed. He

took a deep breath, repeated the gist of a by now familiar



Alan Dean Foster



"We're trying to help a wizard who is dying. Because

of that a jealous wizard is trying to prevent us from doing

so. He had us captured, brought here, and locked up."

"That's no business of mine," said the tigress. "Yo

really think man eyes are pretty?"

"Extremely so." Why didn't Mudge chip in with a

word or two? he wondered. He was better at this sort of

thing. But the otter hugged his comer of the cell and kept

his mouth shut. Jon-Tom plunged on. "Like topaz."

"Yo have a gift of words as well as music, don't yo?

Well, let me tell yo, ah am not subject to the simple

flattery of the male of any species!''

"Of course you're not. I didn't mean for you to think I

was intentionally flattering you, or anything like that. I just

made a simple statement of fact."

"Did y'all, now? Where do yo have to go to help this

dying friend of yours?"

"Across the Glittergeist Sea."

"So ah'm that fah west, am ah?" She shook her head in

wonder. "It's a peculiah world we live in."

"You don't know the half of it," Jon-Tom muttered.

"Ah've nevah been to an ocean, much less the

Glittergeist." She looked out through the bars. "So that's

yo instrument fo making magic?"

"It is. Also, the keys are on the table nearby. If we

could get ahold of the rope attached to the duar, we could

maybe drag the keys over here." He eyed the stairwell.

"But I don't think we've got much time."

"Well, sugah, if it's the keys you want. . ." Roseroar

put one paw on a bar to the left, the other on the bar

immediately opposite, inhaled mightily, and pushed. Mus-

cles rippled beneath the armor.

There was a groan and the metal bent like spaghetti. The

tigress stepped through the resultant gap, walked over to

the table, and picked up the keyring.

"Yo still want these?"

Mudge was already out in the corridor. Jon-Tom was

eht on his heels. He snatched the duar and slung it over

his shoulder.

"I think we'll be able to manage without them. Roseroar,

you're quite a lady."

"Aye,  with a delicate and ladylike touch,"  Mudge

"Ah think ah like you two," she said thoughtfully,

staring at Mudge, "though ah can't decide if y'all are

trying to be funny or flattering." She gestured with the two

heavy swords. "Ah hope fo yo sake y'all are trying to be


Jon-Tom hastened to reassure her. "You've got to take

whatever Mudge says with a grain of salt. Comments like

that are part of his nature. Sort of like a disease." He

turned to bestow a warning look on the otter.

"Ah can see that," said the tigress. "Well, ah don't

know how ah'm going to get home, but ah sure don't

fancy this hole. Let's go somewhere quiet and talk."

"Suits me," said Jon-Tom agreeably.

At that moment the porcupine appeared at the top of the

stairs, preceded by a pair of big, heavily armed wolves.

They saw Roseroar about the time she saw them. She

emitted a battle cry, a mixture of roar and curse, that shook

moss from the ceiling. Waving both swords like propel-

11'' lers, she charged the stairway, which cleared with astonishing


Mudge executed a little bow and gestured with his right

hand. "After you, master o' magic and spellsinger


Jon-Tom made a face at him, hurried to follow Roseroar

upward. From ahead sounded shouts, screams, frantic

cries, and yelps. Above all rose the tigress's earthshaking


"Don't be so quick to compliment me," Jon-Tom told

the otter. "She's not what I was trying to conjure up."

"I know that, guv'nor," said Mudge, striding along

happily in his companion's wake. "It never is, wot? But


Alan Dean Poster

even though you never get wot you're after with your

spellsingin', wotever you gets always seems to work out."

"Tell me that again when she finds out there's no way I

can send her home-"

"Now, mate," Mudge told him as they started up to the

next level, "wot's the use o' creatin' worry where there

ain't none? Besides," he went on, his grin widening, "if

she turns quarrelsome, you can tell 'er 'ow beautiful 'er

eyes are."

"Oh, shut up."

They emerged into the main guardroom, which looked

as if a modest typhoon had thundered through it. Every

table was overturned and broken furniture littered the floor.

Broken spears and pikes sopped up spilled liquid from

shattered jugs. A couple of the guards remained, decoratively

draped over the broken furniture. None offered a protest as

Jon-Tom and Mudge began to search the still intact chests

and drawers.

One .yielded Mudge's longbow and arrows, another

Jon-Tom's ramwood fighting staff. There was no sign of

the full purse Clothahump had given him, nor did he

expect to find it. Mudge was more disappointed than his

companion at the absence of the gold.

"Bloody bedamned stinkin' thieves," he mumbled, ig-

noring the fact that he'd lifted a purse or two in his own


"Be quiet." Jon-Tom led him up the next flight of

stairs. "From the way you're carrying on, you'd think this

was the first time you'd ever been penniless."

"I'm not sayin' that, mate," replied Mudge, putting a

leash on his lamentations, "but when I gets friendly with a

bit o' gold or silver and it ups and disappears on me, I feel

as if I've lost a good friend. The loss strikes me to the


"One of these days it'd be nice to see you get so

emotional over something besides money."

"You do me an injustice, mate." Mudge carried his bow



in front of him, a hunting arrow notched and ready to fire.

If the fates were kind they'd give him one clear shot at

Chenelska or his bullyboys. Nothing would please him

more than to be able to give the coati the shaft.

"You want emotional?" he continued as they climbed.

"You should've seen me at Madam Lorsha's."

"I'm talking about honest emotion, about caring. Not


"Cor, you mean there's a difference?"

The third landing was the last. They emerged into a

small open square lit by torches and oil lamps. To their left

was the city wall, to the right the outermost buildings of

the town. The light danced wildly as sources of illumina-

tion were hastily moved to different positions. Shouts and

yells filled the air.

Jon-Tom ducked as a wolf whizzed over his head. It

pinwheeled once before striking the wall with a sickening


Roseroar's efforts threw everything into confusion. Horns

and shouts were beginning to rouse a whole section of the

community. Lights were starting to appear in nearby windows

as residents were awakened by the commotion.

Mudge bounced gleefully up and down, pointing at the

evidence of the chaos the tigress was causing. "Wot a

show! The poor buggers must think the 'ole bloomin' city

is under attack."

"Maybe they're right." Jon-Tom started forward.

"Hey, you two!" Roseroar called to them as she idly

batted aside a large rat armed with a short sword who had

tried to sneak under her guard. The rodent went skidding

across the paving stones, shedding bits and pieces of armor

and flesh as he went. "Ovah heah! This way!"

They ran toward her. Jon-Tom placed his staff in front of

him while Mudge ran backward to guard their rear, his

short legs a blur. As they ran they dodged spears and

arrows. Mudge responded to each attack individually, and


Alan Dean Foster



they were rewarded as one figure after another fell from

the wall above.

Snarling, a hyena draped in heavy chain mail headed

right for Ion-Tom, swinging a viciously studded mace over

his head. Jon-Tom blocked it with his staff, and the

ramwood held as the mace's chain wrapped around it. He

pulled and twisted in one motion, bringing the knobbed

end of the staff down on his assailant's helmet. The hyena

dropped like a stone. They ran on, Jon-Tom unwrapping

the chain from his staff.

Then they were up against the thick wooden door in the

city wall. Crossbow bolts thudded into the wood or splintered

against the rock as the wall's garrison struggled to regroup.

Mudge inspected it rapidly. "Locked, damn it, from the

other side!"

"Pahdon me," said Roseroar. While they covered her

she put her back against the door, dug her feet into the

pavement, and shoved. The door broke with a snap, the

wood holding but not the iron hinges. It fell with a crash.

The trio ran out, pursued by yells and weapons. No one

chose to pursue beyond the city wall in person. The tigress

had demonstrated what she could do at close range, and

Malderpot's soldiery had taken the lesson to heart. They

held back, waiting for someone higher up to give the

necessary orders, and praying those directions would take

their time arriving.

Before they did, the fugitives were deep within the

concealment offered by the Bellwoods and the night.

Eventually they located a place where several giant trees

had fallen, forming a natural palisade, and settled in

behind the wooden barricade nature had so thoughtfully


The long run hadn't troubled Jon-Tom, who was a

good distance runner, nor Mudge, who was blessed with

inexhaustible energy, but Roseroar was tired. They waited

while she caught her breath.

There in the moonlight she pulled off her helmet, undid

the thick belt that held both swords, and put it aside. Then

she leaned back against one fallen trunk. Her bright yellow

eyes seemed to glow in the darkness. Physically she was

unharmed by the fighting, though her armor showed plenty

of cuts and dents.

"We owe you our lives," he finally told her.

"Yes, ah expect that's so. Damned if ah know how

ah'm going to collect on that debt. Yo told me yo didn't

mean to conjuh me up in the first place?"

"That's right," he confessed. "It was an accident. I

was trying to put our jailer to sleep. When it didn't work I

got upset and spellsang the first thing that came to mind

and—poof—there you were."

"Ah was the first thing that came to yo mind?"

"Well, not exactly. Matter of fact, I've never seen

anybody like you. This kind of thing happens to me a lot

when I try to spellsing."

She nodded, turned to look to where Mudge was already

searching the bushes for something edible. "Is he telling

the truth, squirt?"

"Me name is Mudge, lady o' the long tooth," said the

voice in the bushes, "and I'll make you a deal right now.

You can like me o' not, but you don't call me names and

I'll respond likewise."

"Ah favor politeness in all things, being a lady of

refined tastes," she replied evenly.

Mudge restrained the first reply that came to mind, said

instead, "Aye, 'e's tellin' you the truth. A powerful spellsinger

'e is. Maybe the most powerful ever, though we ain't yet

sure o' that. 'E certainly ain't. See, 'e 'as this bad 'abit o'

tryin' to do one thing and 'e ends up doin' something total


Jon-Tom spread his hands in a gesture of helplessness.

"It's true. I have this ability but I don't seem able to

control it. And now it's caused me to go and inconve-

nience you."


Alan Dean Foster

"That's a fine, politic way of putting it, sub. Going to

the Glittergeist, yo said?"

"And across it. We have to get to Snarken."

"Ah've heard of Snahken. It's supposed to be an inter-

esting place, rich in culture." She thought a long moment,

then sighed. "Since yo say y'all can't send me home, ah

guess ah maht as well tag along with y'all. Besides, ah

kind of like the way you have with words, man." Her eyes

glittered and Jon-Tom felt suddenly uncomfortable, though

he wasn't sure why.

"Oh, Vs a fine one with words 'e is, luv," Mudge said

as he reappeared. He was carrying an armful of some

lime-green berries. Jon-Tom took a few, bit into one, and

found the taste sweet. More out of politeness than any

expectation of acceptance, the otter offered some to the


"Bleh!" she said as she pulled back. She smiled widely,

displaying an impressive array of cutlery. "Sun, do ah

look like the kind to enjoy weeds?"

"No you don't, luv, but I thought I'd be polite, since

you place such store by it."

She nodded thankfully as she scanned the surrounding

woods. "Come the morning ah'll find mahself something

to eat. This appeahs to be good game country. Theah

should be ample meat about."

Jon-Tom was glad she wasn't looking at him when she

said that. "I'm sure we'll run across something edible."

He turned to the otter. "What about our pursuit, Mudge?"

The otter responded with his ingratiating, amused bark.

"Why, them sorry twits will be all night just tryin' t' get

their stories straight. From wot I saw on our way out, most

of 'em were your typical city guard and likely ain't in

Zancresta's personal service. It'd be that arse'ole Chenelska

who'd be put in charge o' organizin' any kind o' formal

chase. By the time 'e gets the word, gets 'is conflictin'

reports sorted out, and puts together anythin' like a formal

pursuit, we'll be well out o' it."



"Then you don't think they'll be able to track us


"I've been seein' to the coverin' o' our tracks ever since

we left that cesspool o' a town, mate. They won't find a

sign o' us."

"What if they do come after us, though? We can't

conceal all of Roseroar's petite footprints."

Mudge assumed a crafty mien. "Aye, that they might,

guv. They'll likely comb a wide front to the south, knowin'

that we're to be headin' for the ol' Tailaroam. They can

run up every tree in the Bellwoods without fmdin' sign o'

us, because we ain't goin' t' go south. We'll fool 'em

inside out by goin' west from 'ere. We're so far north o'

the river we might as well do it anyhows."

Jon-Tom struggled to recall what he'd been taught of the

local geography. "If you go far enough west of here, the

forest disappears and you're into the Muddletup Moors."

"You got it, mate. No one would think t'ave a looksee

for us there."

"Isn't that because no one ever does go in there?"

"That's right. Wot better place o' safety t' flee to?"

Jon-Tom looked doubtful as he sat back against a fallen

trunk. "Mudge, I don't know about your thinking."

"I'm willin' enough to entertain alternative suggestions,

m'lord warbler, but you're 'ardly in shape for some straight


"Now, that I won't argue. We'll discuss it in the


"In the mornin', then. Night to you, mate."

The thunder woke Jon-Tom. He blinked sleepily and

looked up into a gray sky full of massive clouds. He

blinked a second time. White clouds were common

enough in this world, just as they were in his own. But not

with black stripes.

He tried to move, discovered he could not. A huge furry

arm lay half on and half off his chest while another curved

behind his head to form a warm pillow. Unfortunately, it


Alan Dean Foster




was also cutting off the circulation to his throbbing left


He tried to disengage himself. As he did so the thunder

of Roseroar's purring was broken by a coughing snarl. She

stirred, but her arms did not budge.

Another shape moved nearby. Mudge was sitting up on

the bed of leaves he'd fashioned for himself. He looked

over toward Jon-Tom as he stretched.

"Well, don't just sit there, damn it. Give me a hand


"Wot, and interrupt a charmin' domestic tableau like


"Don't try to be funny."

"Funnier than that?" He pointed at the helpless spell-

singer. "Couldn't be if I tried, mate."

Glaring at him, Jon-Tom tried again to disengage him-

self, but the weight was too much for him. It was like

trying to move a soft mountain.

"Come on, Mudge. Have a heart."

"Who, me? You know me better than that, mate." As

he spoke Roseroar moved in her sleep, rolling partly across

Jon-Tom's midsection and chest. He gasped and kicked his

legs in a frantic attempt to extricate himself. The tigress

purred thunderously atop him.

Mudge took his time getting to his feet, ambled lazily

over to eye the arrangement thoughtfully. "Our dainty lady

friend sounds 'appy enough. Best not to disturb 'er. I don't

see wot you're fussin' about. It's not like she's got a 'and

over your mouth. From where I stands it looks almost

invitin', though I can't say as 'ow I'd trade places with

you. I'd be lost under 'er."

Jon-Tom put a hand on the tigress's face and pushed.

She stirred, moved slightly, and nearly bit his fingers off.

He withdrew his hand quickly. She'd moved enough for

him to breathe again, anyway.

' 'Any signs of pursuit?''

" 'Aven't smelled or 'card a thing, mate. I think they're

still too disorganized. If they are tookin' fq_r us, you can be

sure 'tis to the south o' Malderpot and not 'ere. Still, the

sooner we're on our way, the better." He turned, began

gathering up his effects.

"Come on now, lad. No time to waste."

"That's real funny, Mudge. How am I supposed to get

her off me?"

"Wake 'er up. Belt 'er one, mate."

"No thanks. I like my head where it is. On my shoul-

ders. I don't know how'd she react to something like that

in her sleep."

Mudge's eyes twinkled. "Be more interestin' to see wot

she might do while she's awake."

There was no need to consider extreme action, however.

All the talking had done its job. Roseroar snorted once and

opened those bottomless yellow eyes.

"Well, good morning, man."

"Good morning yourself. Roseroar, I value your friend-

ship, but you're breaking my arm."

Her expression narrowed. "Suh, are you insinuatin' that

ah am too heavy?"

"No, no, nothing like that." Somewhere off in the

bushes Mudge was attending to necessary bodily functions

while trying to stifle his laughter. "Actually, I think you're

rather svelte."

"Svelte." Roseroar considered the word. "That's nice.

Ah like that. Are you saying I have a nice figure?"

"I never saw a tiger I didn't think was attractive," he

confessed, honestly enough.

She looked mildly disappointed as she rolled off him.

"What the fuzz-ball said is true. Yo ah at least half


Jon-Tom rolled over and tried shaking his left arm,

trying to restore the circulation at the same time as he was

dreading its return. Pins and needles flooded his nerves

and he gritted his teeth at the sensation.


AlaA Dean Foster

"I did study some law in my own world. It might be my

profession someday."

- "Spellsinging's better," she rumbled. "Svelte?"

"Yeah." He sat up and began pulling on his boots.

"Nice. Ah think ah like yo, man."

"I like you, too, Roseroar."

"Svelte." She considered the new word thoughtfully.

"Want to know mah word fo yo?" She was putting on her

armor, checking to make sure each catch and strap was

fastened securely. She grinned at him, showing six-inch

fangs. "Cute. Yo ah kind o' cute."

"Gee." Jon-Tom kept his voice carefully neutral as he

replied. "That's nice."

Mudge emerged from the woods, buttoning his shorts.

"Gee, I always thought you were cute, too, mate."

"How'd you like your whiskers shoved up your ass?"

Jon-Tom asked him softly.

"Calm down, mate." Somehow Mudge stifled his laugh-

ter. "Best we get goin' westward. We've given 'em the

slip for the nonce, but sooner o' later the absence o' tracks

o' mention of us south o' 'ere will hit 'im as distinctly

peculiar and they'll start 'untin' for us elsewhere."

Jon-Tom slung the duar over his shoulder and hefted his

staff. "Lead on."

Mudge bowed, his voice rich with mock servility. "As

thy exalted cuteness decrees."

* Jon-Tom tried to bash him with the staff, but the otter

was much too fast for him.


It took several days for them to reach the outskirts of the

Moors, a vast and, as far as anyone knew, uninhabited

land which formed the western border of the Bellwoods

and reached south all the way to the northern coast of the

GHttergeist Sea. After a day's march into the Moors'

depths, Mudge felt safe enough to angle southward for the

first time since fleeing the city.

Transportation across the ocean was going to present a

problem. No ports existed where the ocean met the south-

ern edge of the Moors, and Jon-Tom agreed with the otter

that it would be a bad idea to follow the shoreline back

eastward toward the mouth of the Tailaroam. Chenelska

would be sure to be looking for them in ports like Yarrowl.

As for the Moors themselves, they looked bleak but

hardly threatening. Jon-Tom wondered how the place had

acquired its widespread onerous reputation. Mudge could

shed little light on the mystery, explaining only that rumor

insisted anyone who went into the place never came out

again, a pleasant thought to mull over as they hiked ever

deeper into the foggy terrain.

It was a sorry land, mostly gray stone occasionally



Alan Dean Foster

stained red by iron. There were no trees, few bushes, a

little grass. The sky was a perpetual puffy, moist gray.

Fog and mist made them miserable, except for Mudge.

Nothing appeared to challenge their progress. A few mind-

less hoots and mournful howls were the only indications of

mobile inhabitants, and nothing ever came close to their


They marched onward into the heart of the Muddletup,

where none penetrated. As they moved ever deeper into

the Moors the landscape began to change, and not for the

better. The last stunted trees disappeared. Here, in a place

of eternal dampness and cloud cover, the fungi had taken


Enormous mushrooms and toadstools dripped with mois-

ture as Jon-Tom and his companions walked beneath

spore-filled canopies. Some of the gnarled, ugly growths

had trunks as thick as junipers, while others thrust deli-

cate, semi-transparent stems toward the sodden sky. There

were no bright, cheerful colors to mitigate the depressing

scene, which was mostly brown and gray. Even the occa-

sional maroon or unwholesomely yellow specimen was a

relief from the monotonous parade of dullness.

Some of the flora was spotted, some striped. One

displayed a checkerboard pattern that reminded Jon-Tom of

a non-Euclidian chessboard. Liverworts grew waist-high,

while lichens and mosses formed a thick, cushiony carpet

into which their boots sank up to the ankles. Clean granite

was disfigured by crawling fungoid corruption growing on

its surface. And over this vast, wild eruption of thallophytic

life there hung a pervasive sense of desolation, of waste

and fossilized hope.

The first couple of days had seen no slowing of their

progress. Now their pace began to degenerate. They slept

longer and spent less time over meals. It didn't matter

what food they took from their packs or scavenged from

the land: everything seemed to have lost its flavor. What-

ever they consumed turned flat and tasteless in their



mouths and sat heavy in their bellies. Even the water

which fell fresh from the clouds had acquired a metallic,

unsatisfying aftertaste.

They'd been in the Moors for almost a week when

Jon-Tom tripped over the skeleton. Like everything else

lately its discovery provoked little more than a tired mur-

mur of indifference from his companions.

"So wot?" muttered Mudge. "Don't mean a damn


"Ah'm sitting down," said Roseroar. "Ah'm tired."

So was Jon-Tom, but the sight of the stark white bone

peeping out from beneath the encrusting rusts and mildews

roused a dormant concern in his mind.

"This is all wrong," he told them. "There's something

very wrong going on here."

"No poison, if that's wot you're thinkin', mate." Mudge

indicated the growths surrounding them. "I've been care-

ful. Everythin' local we've swallowed 'as been edible,

even if it's tasted lousy."

"Lucky yo," said Roseroar. "No game at all fo me.

Ah find mahself reduced to eating not just weeds, but this

crap. Ah declah ah've nevah been so bored with eating in

all man life."

"Boring, tired, tasteless.. .don't you see what's hap-

pening?" Jon-Tom told them.

"You're gettin' worked up over nothin', mate." The

otter was lying on a mound of soft moss. "Settle yourself

down. 'Ave a sip o' somethinV

"Yes." Roseroar slipped off her swordbelt. "Let's just

sit heah and rest awhile. There's no need to rush. We

haven't seen a sign of pursuit since we left that town, and

ah don't think we're likely to encounter any now."

"She's right, mate. Pull up a soft spot and 'ave a sit."

"Both of you listen to me." Jon-Tom tried to put some

force into his voice, was frightened to hear it emerge from

his lips flat and curiously empty of emotion. He felt sad

and utterly useless. Something had begun to afflict him


Alan Dean Foster

from the day they'd first set foot in the Moors. It was

something more than just boredom with their surround-

ings, something far more penetrating and dangerous. It

was a grayness of the heart, and it was digging its

insidious way deeper and deeper into their thoughts, kill-

ing off determination and assurance as it went. Eventually,

it would ruin their bodies as well. The skeleton was proof

enough of that. Whatever was into them was patient and

clever, much too calculating, it occurred to Jon-Tpm, to be

an accident of the environment.

He tried to find the enthusiasm to fight back as he

turned to scream at the landscape. "Who are you? Why

are you doing this to us? What is it you wan??"

He felt like a fool. Worse, he knew his companions

might think he was becoming unhinged. But they said

nothing. He would've welcomed some outcry of skepti-

cism. Instead, the sense of hopelessness settled ever deeper

around them.

Nothing moved within the Moors. Of one thing he was

fairly confident: this wasn't wizardry at work. It was too

slow. He had to do something, but he didn't know what.

All he could think of was how ironic it would be if, after

surviving Malderpot, they were to perish here from a

terminal case of the blahs.

So he was startled when a dull voice asked, "Don't you

understand it all by now?"

"Who said that?" He whirled, trying to spot the speak-

er. Nothing moved.

"I did."

The voice came from an eight-foot-tall mushroom off to

his left. The cap of this blotchy ochre growth dipped

slightly toward him.

"Not that I couldn't have," said another growth.

"Nor I," agreed a third'.

"Mushrooms," Jon-Tom said unsteadily, "don't talk."

"What?" said the first growth. "Sure, we're not loqua-

cious, but that's a natural function of our existence. There



isn't much to talk about, is there? I mean, it's not just a

dull life, man, it's boring. B-o-r-i-n-g."

"That's about the extent of it," agreed the giant toad-

stool against which Roseroar rested. She moved away from

it hastily, showing more energy than she had in the

previous several days, and put a hand to the haft of each


"I mean, give it some thought." The first mushroom

again, which was taking on something of the air of a

fungoid spokesman. Jon-Tom saw no lips or mouth. The

words, the thoughts, came fully formed into his mind

through a kind of clammy telepathy. "What would we talk


"Nothing worth wasting the time discussing," agreed

another mushroom with a long, narrow cap in the manner

of a morrel. "I mean, you spend your whole existence

sitting in the same spot, never seeing anything new, never

moving around. So what's your biggest thrill? Getting to

make spores?"

"Yeah, big deal," commented the toadstool. "So we

don't talk. You never hear us talk, you think fungoids

don't talk. Ambulatories are such know-it-alls."

"It doesn't matter," said the second mushroom. "Noth-

ing matters. We're wasting our efforts."

"Wait." Jon-Tom approached the major mushroom,

feeling a little silly as he did so. "You're doing something

to us. You have been ever since we entered the deep


"What makes you think we're doing anything to you?"

said the spokesthing. "Why should we make the effort to

do anything to anyone?"

"We've changed since we entered this land. We feel


"Different how, man?" asked the toadstool.

"Depressed. Tired, worn-out^ useless, hopeless. Our

outlook on life has been altered."

"What makes you think we're responsible?" said the


Alan Dean Poster

second mushroom. "That's just how life is. It's the normal

state of existence. You can't blame us for that."

"It's not the normal state of existence."

"It is in the Moors," argued the first mushroom.

Jon-Tom held his ground. "There's some kind of telepa-

thy at work here. We've been absorbing your feelings of

hopelessness, your idea that nothing's worth much of

anything. It's been eating at us."

"Look around you, man. What do you see?"

Jon-Tom turned a slow circle. Instead of the half-hoped-

for revelation, his gaze swept over more of what they'd

seen the past dreary days—rocks, mushrooms, lichens and

mosses, mist and cloud cover.

"Now, I ask you," sighed the first mushroom, "is that

depressing or what? I mean, it is de-press-ing."

Jon-Tom could feel his resolve slipping dangerously.

Mudge and Roseroar were half-asleep already. He had the

distinct feeling that if he joined them, none of them would

ever wake up again. The sight of white bone nearby

revitalized him. How long had it taken the owner of that

skeleton to become permanently depressed?

"I guess you might consider your existence here


"Might consider?" moaned the toadstool. "It is de-

pressing. No maybes about it. Like, I'm afiingus, man.

That's depressing all by itself."

"I've eaten some mushrooms that were downright excit-

ing," Jon-Tom countered.

"A cannibal, too," said the tall toadstool tiredly. "How

depressing." It let out a vast telepathic sigh, a wave of

anxiety and sadness that rolled over Jon-Tom like a wave.

He staggered, shook off the cobwebs that threatened to

bind his mind. "Stop that."

"Stop what? Why sweat it? Just relax, man. You're full

of hurry, and desire, and all kinds of useless mental

baggage. Why knock yourself out worrying about things

that don't matter? Nothing matters. Lie down here, relax,



take it easy. Let your foolish concerns fly bye-bye. Open

yourself to the true blandness of reality and see how much

better you'll feel for it."

Jon-Tom started to sit down, wrestled himself back to an

upright stance. He pointed toward the skeleton.

"Like that one?"

"He was only reacting sensibly," said the toadstool.

"He's dead." Jon-Tom's voice turned accusing. "You

killed him. At least, this place killed him."

"Life killed him. Slain by dullness. Murdered by mo-

notony. He did what comes naturally to all life. He


"Decayed? You flourish amidst decay, don't'you? You

thrive on it."

"He calls this thriving," mumbled another toadstool.

"He went the way of all flesh, that's all. Sure, we broke

down his organic components. Sometimes I wonder why

we bother. It's all such a waste. We live for death. Talk

about dull, man. It's, like, numbsville."

Jon-Tom turned and walked over to shake Roseroar,

shoving hard against the enormous shoulder. "Wake up,

Roseroar. Come on, wake up, damn it!"

"Why bother?" she murmured sleepily, eyeing him

through half-closed eyes. "Let me sleep. No, don't !et me

sleep." The feeble plea hit him like a cry for help.

"Don't worry, I won't. Wake up!" He continued to

shake her until she sat up and rubbed at her eyes.

He moved over to where Mudge lay sprawled on his

side, kicked the otter ungently. "Move it, water rat! This

isn't like you- Think about where we're going. Think of

the ocean, of clear salt air."

"I'd rather not, mate," said the otter tiredly. "No point

to it, really."

"True true, true," intoned the fungoid chorus of doom.

"I'll get up in a minute, guv'nor. There's no rush, and

we're in no 'urry. Let me be."

"Like hell, I will. Think of the food we've enjoyed.


Alan Dean Poster

Think of the good times ahead, of the money to be made.

Think," he said with sudden alacrity, "of die three days