He didn’t care anymore what Kermilla wanted. Her appeal had soured at a devastating speed once she had control of a court, and despite having months left in his contract, he was already counting the days until he wasn’t hers to command.

A dog barked. Laska hurried toward the sound. Then he turned a corner, stopped, and swore under his breath.

There were Scelties here all right, the first ones he’d seen. But he was on the main street of the damn village, and there were an awful lot of people out and about.

Maybe that would work to his advantage. With so many people milling about, who would notice him in a crowd? And he wouldn’t have to go all the way back to the landing web. Courtesy and formality dictated that landing webs be used when arriving or leaving a village, but people could catch or drop from the Winds anywhere along the way. He didn’t even need to catch the Summer-sky Wind. Any of the lighter Webs would do. There wasn’t a thread of any Wind he could access running over the main street, but he’d be able to findsomething between here and the landing web.

He could grab a Sceltie and be gone from this village before anyone realized the dog was missing. And once Kermilla had a special little friend, he would be allowed to go home.

With that in mind, Laska retreated and circled round to approach the main street from the other direction.

Breathing in that first scent of autumn, Ranon stopped at Elders’ Park and looked at the main street of Eyota, his heart aching with pride.

They had done so much. The businesses owned by Daemon Sadi were in operation. The Lady’s Pleasure—named, he’d been told, for Lady Angelline’s enjoyment of the beverage—served coffee imported from Kaeleer, which was much smoother than the rough drink he’d always known as coffee. They also served small cups of thick hot chocolate—frightfully expensive, but a drink a young man bought a lady he wanted to impress. Small sandwiches and pastries were also served.

The coffee shop provided a playroom and a fenced outdoor play area for young children so that mothers could have a quiet moment to visit with friends. The shop had hired two young witches to watch the children, as well as Kharr and Bryant, two Warlord Scelties with a no-nonsense attitude when it came to herdinganything.

The shop had been open a week, and it already was an important gathering place, as was Whistler’s Tavern. The tavern also served food—mostly sandwiches in the warm weather, but it would serve soups, stews, and meat pies once the season turned colder.

Merchants, the variety shop managed by Lord Careth, had received its first shipment of practical goods from Kaeleer, along with a crate of books that would have made Gray whimper in lust if four crates of books for the loaning library hadn’t arrived at the same time. Gray had spent an evening helping the newly hired librarian sort the books just so he could look at them.

And then there was Heartbeat, the music shop, where Ranon was meeting his grandfather to look over the instruments. Yairen wanted to hear the Scelt whistle, an instrument similar enough to the Shalador flute. Being made of metal instead of wood, the Scelt whistles were less expensive, and Yairen wanted to consider if they could be used as a beginning instrument for youngsters here.

“I’m going up the street to see Yairen,” Ranon told Khollie. “You’re going to stay here for story time?”

*Yes.* Khollie wagged his tail. *Wynne is here, and Vae and Darcy are here, and Mist is coming soon.*

“All right. If I’m not at the music shop when story time is done, I’ll be nearby.”

Shaking his head in amusement, Ranon continued up the street. Next month, when the weather turned colder, the weekly afternoon story time would move to the room in Heartbeat where performances and lessons would be held. Indoors or outdoors, hearing Shalador stories told in public was a strange experience for the whole village.

Having Scelties in the audience who wouldn’t tolerate children misbehaving and interrupting the storyteller was also a strange experience. Not that there was much misbehavior but, somehow, it was more shaming to be nipped by a Sceltie than cuffed by an adult.

Hurt more, too.

He entered the shop and nodded to the Shaladoran couple who had been hired to run the shop and teach music. Laithan taught Shalador flute and the fiddle. He had been one of Yairen’s students—one of the last to learn from the Tradition Keeper before the old man’s hands were broken for good. Jade had a lovely voice and ran two classes to teach the traditional Shalador songs. Mostly, though, Jade ran the business end of the shop.

And Lizzie, the Sceltie who had claimed the music shop asher place, ran everyone.

“There you are, grandson,” Yairen said. “Laithan has given me some of his time to hear the drum that came from the Isle of Scelt. Now it is your turn so I can hear the metal flute.”

“I don’t think our traditional songs sound right on the Scelt whistle,” Laithan said, “but Dena Nehele folk songs suit the instrument’s range. Jade has sorted out most of the music that arrived. I’ll see if there is anything that was written specifically for these whistles.”

Ranon picked up a whistle. It was shorter and half the circumference of a Shalador flute, but the finger holes were the same. Setting his fingers, he blew a note.

A different sound than the wooden flute. A sharper sound. But pleasing all the same. He tried a piece of a traditional Shalador song and then a folk song from Dena Nehele. Laithan was right; the folk songs sounded better than the music of Shalador.

“Here,” Laithan said, returning with several sheets of music. “Try one of these.”

Ranon looked over the music. Folk songs, he guessed. One had a lively pace; the other was slower. He chose the slower piece—and he understood why the Shalador people might find common ground with the music of Scelt.

Bright and yet bittersweet. A sound that slipped past the mind and spoke to the heart.

“It’s good,” he said a few minutes later, setting the whistle on the counter.

“A gift,” Laithan said, “along with this music.”

“Laithan . . .”

“In exchange for you coming to play here once or twice a month.” Laithan laughed. “Don’t make such a face, Ranon. You won’t have to perform alone. I’ve kept one of these whistles for myself because I want to become acquainted with this music too. One night of Shalador music and one night of Scelt to teach and entertain our people through the winter months.” He held out his hand. “Deal?”

Ranon shook hands. “Deal.” Then he vanished whistle and music and looked at his grandfather. “Would you like to—”

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