“I’m glad she’s on our side, then,” Rabbit said. “We wouldn’t really want to have her as our enemy, would we?”
“Not even a little bit, friend Rabbit,” Longbow agreed.
“Do you suppose we could talk about something else?” Rabbit said. “Just the thought of that kind of power makes me go cold all over.” He frowned. “Did I hear it right? As I understand it, you’ve actually visited the part of Dahlaine’s territory he calls Tonthakan.”
“I’ve gone up there a few times, yes,” Longbow replied. “I’d pretty well thinned out the bug-people in our territory, and I was sort of wondering if I’d frightened them so much that they’d started to sneak around off to the north.”
“Dahlaine says that they’re archers—just like you and Red-Beard. Are they any good at shooting arrows?”
“They’re not bad,” Longbow replied. “They’re good enough to keep eating regularly, at any rate. There’s a man up there—Athlan, his name is—who’s quite skilled. He’s a funny sort of fellow, and I like him. I’m sure he’ll be delighted with these bronze arrowheads you’re forging for him.”
“A man should always help his friends, Longbow,” Rabbit said. “We’re getting a start on this, but as soon as we go ashore in that place called Tonthakan, we’ll set up an arrow factory like we did at Lattash, and then we’ll be able to turn out bronze arrowheads by the thousands. I don’t think the bug-people will like that very much, but we can’t please everybody, I guess.”
Since the Maag fleet was sailing north along the coast at a good rate of speed, it seemed to Rabbit that autumn was coming on much faster than it should. There were birch trees and oak scattered among the pines and firs of Zelana’s Domain, and their leaves were changing color now at what appeared to be an unnatural speed as he worked at his anvil.
“Would it be all right if I stayed out here with you for a while, Bunny?” Eleria asked after she’d come out of Sorgan’s cabin about noon one day. “I’m getting very tired of all the talking that’s going on in Sorgan’s cabin. All they want to do is talk-talk-talk.”
“They’re making plans, baby sister,” Rabbit told her.
“No, they’re just wasting time. We won’t know what’s really going to happen until one of the Dreams comes along.”
“Are you going to do the dreaming again this time, baby sister?” Rabbit asked her.
“I don’t really think so, Bunny,” she replied. “It’s possible, I suppose, but I think it’s just about time for Lillabeth to do her share of the work. Yaltar, Ashad, and I’ve been doing all the dreaming so far, so I think it’s Lillabeth’s turn.”
“Won’t that be just a little inconvenient? I mean, if she’s way off to the east and we’re on up north, it’s going to be a long way from where we are.”
“Distance doesn’t really mean anything, Bunny,” Eleria replied. “You should know that by now.”
“Well—maybe—but I think we’d all be a lot happier if you or one of the boy-dreamers were telling us what was going to happen. Zelana’s sister won’t be very happy if her Dreamer is the one who tells us that we’ll be fighting the next war up north instead of off to the east. You don’t need to tell Zelana I said this, but I don’t really like her sister very much.”
“You don’t have to like her, Bunny. The only one you’re supposed to like is the Beloved. She is the one who’s paying Hook-Big, after all.”
“Are we still playing that tired old ‘Hook-Big’ game, baby sister?” Rabbit asked with a faint smile.
“The old ones are the best, Bunny,” Eleria replied with a toss of her head. “Do you think you might be able to spare me a kiss-kiss along about now?” she asked then.
“Oh, I think so,” Rabbit replied. “I’ve got quite a few of them stored up in the little room where I keep my hugs and kisses locked away so that nobody can steal them.”
“Oh, goodie!” Eleria said, clapping her little hands together.
And then they both laughed, and Rabbit picked her up and kissed her soundly several times.
What’s afoot?” Rabbit asked Kryda Ham-Hand, the second mate of the Seagull, a couple of days later when they veered off from the main fleet and anchored just off the beach of a small village about three days to the north of the bay of Lattash.
Ham-Hand shrugged. “Longbow wants to go ashore and have a few words with his chief. He’s fairly sure that Chief Old-Bear will know if anything’s happening on up to the north of here. As I understand it, the natives of the coastal region of Lord Dahlaine’s country stay in touch with Old-Bear’s tribe, so if anything’s happening up there, Longbow’s chief will know about it. The cap’n thinks it might not be a bad idea to find out if the bug-people have started to move yet. Red-Beard’s just going along for the ride. It shouldn’t take them very long, and the information could be very useful.”
“It makes sense, I guess,” Rabbit agreed. “Good information can sometimes be worth more than gold when you’re fighting one of these land wars with the bug-people.”
“Bite your tongue, Rabbit,” Ham-Hand said. “Nothing’s worth more than gold.”
“Could you accept ‘almost worth more than gold’?” Rabbit asked.
“I’d have to think about that for a while,” Ham-Hand said. “I’ll get back to you about it—one of these days.”
Longbow and Red-Beard paddled back on out to the Seagull after about an hour or so, and they went directly to Captain Hook-Beak’s cabin to report. Longbow’s face seemed to be just a bit bleak, but there was nothing particularly unusual about that.
After a while, though, Red-Beard came out of the cabin alone and joined Rabbit near the anvil.
“Are the bugs moving yet?” Rabbit asked him.
“Not so far as Chief Old-Bear knows,” Red-Beard replied. “A few things cropped up, though, that you should probably know about.”
“It seems that there’s been an old story floating around up here in this region that has to do with Longbow’s ‘unknown friend.’ Chief Old-Bear was just a little surprised when Longbow mentioned her. If the myth—or story—or whatever you want to call it—comes anywhere close to being truth, Longbow’s ‘unknown friend’ can do things—or arrange to have them done—that Zelana’s family couldn’t even come close to doing. It was Dahlaine who came up with the idea of the Dreamers, I guess, but ‘unknown friend’ tells the children what they’re going to dream about. Zelana’s family has some fairly rigid limitations, but she—whoever she is—doesn’t. The story mentions ‘strangers’—you, Sorgan, Narasan, and all the others—who’ll come here to help, but I guess there’ll be times when she’ll deal with the bugs all by herself. That’s why she kept telling Longbow to get out of the way. When you get right down to it, all we were doing was cluttering things up. Back in the first war, she gave Eleria the flood dream and Yaltar the fire-mountain dream, but during the war in the basin above the Falls of Vash, she didn’t even bother with the Dreamers. She made that ‘sea of gold’ to drive the church armies crazy, and then when the church-soldiers started to run all over the bug-people, she told that river to turn around and go the other way—and it did exactly what she told it to do. She killed all of our enemies and created an ocean with little more than a snap of her fingers.”