The Case of the Short, Short Prince

by Geron Kees

Chapter 6

Sedwick provided them with a wagon and driver to take them back to town. The driver, one Dorf, was a young man with a friendly, talkative air about him; but also an alertness that was not lost on either passenger. Dorf was dressed in simple working man's clothing, brown leather tunic and cloth pants, and black boots that hugged his calves. But the pants were of fine fit, and not homespun, and the boots equally well-made, a dead giveaway that Dorf was a man of some means. He also wore a short sword at his belt, a weapon that looked both well-kept and well-used, and after being with the man for less than an hour and listening to him talk and seeing his manner, neither Jamie nor Garvin felt any doubt that Dorf would be a good man to have around in a fight.

That he was also nice-looking, and pleasant company, was a sure sign that the man was a favorite of the prince himself. Dorf's brown eyes were nearly golden in nature, and they moved quickly about as the wagon rumbled along the road, examining everything as he talked, with far more of the sure alertness of a soldier on the prowl for the enemy than the more stolid appraisal of the working man tending to the road. Dorf's blond hair waved in the small breeze generated by the wagon's movement; what bit of hair there was to wave, that is, as the man kept it fairly short, as would any good soldier. He also wore a gold ring in his left ear - a small one - that somehow was quite enchanting, and added a roguish flair to the man that had made Jamie smile on first seeing him. Dorf looked every bit the adventurer that Jamie felt he himself wished to become: bold, sure, able to handle whatever situation might come along.

They sat upon the wagon's wide seat, three-abreast, with Jamie in the middle, shoulder comfortably pressed against Garvin's, the other boy's reassuring warmth only adding to Jamie's enjoyment of the ride. This wagon, in the service of the royal house, was equipped with flexible iron springs that did much to change the ride from the bump-and-jolt variety that Jamie was familiar with from unsprung carts in town, to a gently swaying, comfortable ride that had less of the contours of the road in it than it did the soft air above it.

In the back of the wagon, beneath it's heavy tarp cover, Snave reposed, having simply laid himself back in the air of the castle ward before floating himself inside. Dorf had watched the move with interested eyes, but said nothing about it, only reaffirming Jamie's assessment that the man was not some ordinary wagon driver.

And now they were an hour on the road, and covering good ground.

"A fair walk you had to the castle," Dorf said, nodding at the road ahead of them. "We will return in half the time, at the very least." Ahead of them, the harnessed tyrbeast looked briefly back over its shoulder at them, as if agreeing that its gait was superior to that of any human. The beast gave a soft snort, and then went back to watching the road before them.

Jamie smiled. "It was an interesting trek, certainly. Two fellows of sullen nature tried to waylay us on the road, and were shown the errors of their ways."

Dorf looked over, smiling. "I can see how that might happen. You two have a look that is less than fearful in nature." He seemed to think about it, and then looked briefly over his shoulder at the tarp-covered enclosure behind them. "Although were I to come upon you on the road, and you with that wooden fellow you travel with, I think I would be more polite than threatening, indeed."

"They thought him a simple statue, being delivered to the prince," Garvin put in, grinning around Jamie. "They did not see their error until too late."

Dorf smiled. "Poor observation on their part, I think. The wooden one has too much a look of purpose about him for my taste." He grinned. "Of course, I have been about in the world and seen a few things. Perhaps a pair of simple thieves would be less wary." He looked at Jamie again. "Did you harm them much?"

Jamie shook his head. "Put them to flight, is all. Turned their cart to ashes and sent their tyrbeast packing, and they themselves running on foot for their lives." He shrugged. "They had done nothing then to warrant their deaths."

Dorf's eyebrow raised. "Ah, but what would they have done? I assume you were not then dressed in princely raiment as now? In all honesty, neither of you likely looked of wealth to be worth robbing."

Jamie frowned. "One made mention of perhaps poking my friend in the rear," he said slowly. "They were lucky that I am kind under my skin, for that was enough to set me going."

Dorf frowned himself. "That would upset me as well. They were lucky to escape so easily. I am not certain I would not have lopped off a piece or two of each, just as a lesson in manners."

The day was warm, and they proceeded without incident. Most other wagons and carts they passed coming towards them held single drivers, and the occasional pair. All waved and smiled, or hailed.

Until the last one, whose driver waved to pull them up. He was big, barrel-chested, with a balding crown and the slightly worn-in scowl of a cynic on his face. But he seemed kind enough, when he spoke. "Going into Lyrix, are you?"

Dorf nodded. "Yes."

"Trouble of some kind in the west quarter. I was already outside the limits when they slammed the gate behind me, but I could see smoke and hear a commotion of voices."

Jamie paled. The Master's shop was in the west quarter. If there had been a fire, or something had happened, while they were away --

"Thank you for the word," Dorf said, raising a hand in short salute. "We'll be careful going in."

The other driver nodded. "Cannot be too careful these days. Odd things afoot on the roads."

Dorf looked interested. "We've just come from the castle. I've heard nothing of the roads. What odd things do you speak of?"

The other leaned forward. "I've come from Bastion, in the south. Word is that travelers and their wagons have been going missing along the crags. Came by there myself before I heard the warning, and encountered no trouble. Can't tell if the warnings are overblown, or if I was just lucky."

Dorf considered. "What cargo do you carry, if I might inquire?"

The other driver smiled. "Aye, I considered that, too. I was empty on that leg. I was to pick up a load of iron pots in Pratt and move them to Bastion, and then a load of potatoes in Bastion and ferry them to Lyrix. But I broke a wheel before Pratt and arrived a day late. The load went to another, and so I was empty between Pratt and Bastion, past the crags. I have just offloaded my potatoes and picked up my new load in Lyrix, though, and am on my way north to Fafhrd. Quite glad, I am, to be away from these parts, trouble or not."

Dorf looked over at Jamie, then back at the other driver. "Any notion of the loads the missing wagons were carrying?"

"No, none. Not even for sure that wagons are truly even missing. The wag that told me in Bastion was the clerk at the transport office, but he is known for talk, too, and not always good talk. So I was wary, but it proved for naught. None bothered me or my cart past the crags."

"Thank you for the word," Dorf repeated. "I can tell you that the road to our rear, as far as the castle, was untroubled. Beyond that I have not heard, although daily reports at the castle had already been released, and no mention was made of trouble on the roads north."

The bald one sighed, leaned back and made himself comfortable in his seat. "That, at least, is something." He smiled. "I enjoyed the chat, believe it or not. One gets bored with no one to talk to for hours on end but a tyrbeast. They are not known for their conversational skills."

Dorf smiled. "I wish you a pleasant journey. My thanks again for bothering to stop us and offer advice."

"Not at all. I hope you and your fine sons have a safe trip. I'll be on my way, then." He nodded, gave his reins a toss. "Onward, Gwahlur."

Jamie grinned at their mention as Dorf's sons. "We should be off, father, to see what is amiss in town." Garvin just grinned, poking Jamie with his elbow.

Dorf grunted. "I could do worse for sons, most surely." He smiled at Jamie then. "Even though I have heard that you, sir, are actually a grumbly, bewhiskered old mage with the ability to revert himself to youth. So likely, it would be I who is the son, and you who is the father, and not the reverse."

Jamie nodded. "Very well, then. Let us move on, dear son."

Dorf laughed pleasantly, and gave the reins a flick. The tyrbeat grunted, and they were off again.

"What do you suppose is the trouble in town?" Garvin asked, as the hard-packed road once again passed beneath them.

"I don't know," Jamie replied. "But I worry of the shop's safety when I hear it is in the west."

Garvin looked startled. "Oh! I did not think...but, would not Snave know if anything was amiss there? It was he who sealed the place in a pocket of time."

Jamie snapped his fingers. "You should be the mage and I the apprentice, sometimes!"

He turned, pushed aside the tarp curtain separating them from the rear of the wagon. Snave's head was just the other side of the low partition behind the seat. Jamie laid a hand on the gargoyle's brow. "Snave, is the shop okay? You would know, would you not? How can you say to me there is not trouble there?"

He heard the gargoyle's wooden body creak, and the head tilted slightly back so that the eyes seemed to look upon him. And then there was another creak, and the gargoyle smiled.

So did Jamie. "I take that as sign that all is well in the shop. Thank you, Snave." He patted the gargoyle's brow fondly, and then pulled the tarp curtain back between them.

"You saw?" he asked Garvin.

"Yes. Truly wonderful to have him with us." Garvin leaned against Jamie. "Is there nothing in your magicks that could let Snave converse? I think he would have much to tell if he could."

Jamie shook his head. "The lens upon my chest only gives me access to the things I have read in the library at the shop. I have not even read everything there. Only once has the lens shown me something new, writ upon a blank page in my mind." He rubbed himself unconsciously against Garvin, thinking. He lowered his voice. "Surely, the Master would have given Snave speech if he could do so."

"One would suppose," Garvin admitted, a bit sadly. Snave was a mystery to them, falling into the category of things unasked about or much spoken of around the Master. That the gargoyle was a friend somehow to Thorvil, as well as a protector of his interests, they knew; but how the gargoyle came to be, and the nature of the spirit that dwelt within the ancient wood - that was still unknown. The Master was sensitive about it, they had found, and Snave was a subject best left to one's imagination, lest the inquisitive's rear be singed by the old mage's displeasure.

But Garvin brightened. "We have time until town. It cannot hurt to let the lens consider the problem, can it? I have much faith in you, Jamie."

Jamie smiled. The expression on his friend's face begged for a kiss, but Jamie was still uncertain of Dorf's tolerance for such things, and so he resisted. "You are right. I will put the question, and see what transpires."

Dorf was intent upon the road ahead, not paying much attention to them. Jamie smiled as he felt Garvin squeeze his hand briefly and release it.

For just a moment he focused his attention not on Snave, but on his friend. Garvin was warm and sure beside him, the most important single factor in Jamie's life. He loved the other boy more than that life, even, and could not get over how much just the trust of his friend to solve their problems inspired him to do just that very thing. That Garvin had somehow managed to get the nether lens to grant him his own unique powers of speed and deftness, just so that he could remain at Jamie's side to assist and protect him, thrilled his heart at the deepest level. Such love and faith must always be answered by the will to perform at Jamie's best level, to meet their problems head-on, and to put solve to them that would result in things being always better and never worse.

Jamie closed his eyes, considered the problem. The gargoyle was made of the wood of the crypticon tree, which, to Jamie's knowledge, no longer existed in the world. The properties of that ancient wood were also mostly to be guessed at, as other than a few snatches here and there in old volumes and scrolls, the sure knowledge of it had passed from memory after the trees themselves had vanished. So even if Snave himself was but the Master's age or so, the wood in which his spirit dwelt was likely on the order of thousands of years old.

So, what had come first? The spirit in the wood of the tree, or the gargoyle from the wood, and the spirit after? Somehow, Jamie knew that the difference was important. On reflection, it seemed that the gargoyle must have come first, with the spirit added after. For, if the spirit had been interred into the wood of the tree before it had been carved, would not the removal of material in the carving also damage the spirit within?

What little he did know of crypticon trees indicated that interred spirits permeated all of the body of the wood, filling each tiny part of the wood's nature much as water would fill every convolution inside the most twisted of urns. And that Snave was a magical spirit also would seem to run counter to allowing the wood to be reshaped after he had entered. Snave would know that to pare away parts of the body would also pare away parts of his spirit.

So, then, the gargoyle had come first.

How much of the original spirit's abilities went into the wood was a mystery. Obviously, wood was not made to stretch and move about like a warm-blooded body could do. That Snave could move at all was likely allowed only by the power of the magicks he controlled.

To speak was a human gift. It involved mouth and tongue and teeth, and spaces within the body that formed and modulated sound. None of which the wooden body of one like Snave could possess. And yet...

There was a precedent, he suddenly saw. In the nether, when they had encountered Flitch, they had been able to not only hear him, but understand his words. Yet Flitch had no mouth, and it seemed truly to be their thoughts that were exchanged. Was this solely a property of the nether? Or could such things be brought about in the world of men?

Thoughts, of course, were traded with minds. Snave must have a mind within his wooden body...certainly he must. Yet Jamie could not hear his thoughts, nor could anyone else, to his knowledge, even the Master. Why, then, not?

Because the mind was too different? Or because the mind did not think in words like a man did? Yet, Snave seemed to easily understand Jamie's words, so he must also understand language, so he must also be able to think in language - ach! It was a puzzle that would give a master a headache. Surely, it must have, or the Master would have already given the gargoyle the ability to speak.

Still, somehow he felt that thoughts were the key.

Thoughts were the key!

Jamie relaxed his mind, directed his thoughts at the lens upon his chest.

You there, can you hear me?

In his mind, he heard no words, but somehow could see that odd swirl of colors that once before had signified an affirmative.

Do you think?

Again, the colors said yes.

Does Snave think?


Can you hear him?


Why cannot I hear him?

The colors this time were intense and subdued, and right upon the edge of Jamie's understanding. Almost he could get them...but no.

But he did understand one thing: in this world, thoughts could not be shared. He could not hear Snave's, and he could not hear the voice of the lens. But he had not been able to hear that within the nether, either. The lens communicated with colors there, too. Why?

Jamie looked at Garvin, who noticed and smiled at him.

He could not hear Garvin's thoughts. Nor could he hear the thoughts of any person he knew.

So why could he hear those of Flitch? Why?

There was only one way to find out. He must ask the nether being himself.

He looked over at Dorf, who gave him a questioning look in return.

"If you notice that Garvin and I seem silent a moment, just ignore it. I don't think you will, but I just wanted to prepare you, in case."

"Very well," Dorf said, his eyes full of questions his tongue was too well-trained to ask.

Jamie found Garvin's hand beside him and grasped it.

There was an odd feeling, and once again they stood in the darkness of the nether. Jamie willed his eyes to see, and the strange, ghostly landscape appeared around them.

"You know you but have to wish it to see this world, right?" he asked his friend.

Garvin nodded. "I figured that out last time we were here." He smiled. "We are here to see Flitch?'

"Yes. Do you see him about?"

"No. Perhaps we must call to him. Flitch?"

There was an odd fluttery feeling, and Jamie was certain he felt a burst of warmth from the pearl inside his secure pocket.

And then Flitch was there, his golden eyes looking down at them from the otherwise blank expanse of his face.

"I did not expect your return so quickly."

Jamie smiled. "I needed to ask a question of you: how is it that we can hear your thoughts?"

The golden eyes blinked. " is you that supply this ability, not I."

Jamie was stunned. "I?" He looked at Garvin. "And what of my friend?"

"He also supplies the gift. It comes from within both of you, that yourselves and I can converse."

But -- "How?"

Flitch peered at them. "When we first met, I was aware immediately that you could hear my thoughts, and I yours. It seems a quality of your minds."

Jamie shook his head. "Yet in our world we cannot hear the thoughts of anyone."

"I cannot quite understand your world. I see parts of it in your minds, and the confluences of events in the making. Yet there are barriers of all sorts there in your world, natural in their placing, that likely deter such abilities as mind-touch. A protection, likely, as while the exchange of thoughts between just the three of us is pleasant enough, I would imagine it would be quite impossible to deal with if assailed from all sides by the masses I see living there."

Ah. Now that made some sense.

"The one we call Snave - do you see him in my mind?" Jamie formed a mental picture of the gargoyle inside his head.

Flitch moved closer. "Fascinating. A life transferred to such as these." One of his appendages raised and waved at a nearby ghostly tree. "He was as you, once."

Jamie was stunned. "Snave was once human?"

Flitch's thoughts signaled agreement. "Yes. His life was moved to preserve it, for the container such as you both wear now was dying."

Jamie and Garvin looked at each other.

"Ah." A hint of humor appeared in the nether creature's golden eyes. "Always you dance about your subject, until I finally see your meaning. You wish to communicate with the life inside the the odd container you imagine."

Jamie nodded. "Is there a way? Likely, the same barriers you speak of that prevent Garvin and I from exchanging thoughts in our world..." he broke off, looking at his friend. "Say something, Garvin."

"What would you have me say?"

Garvin's mouth moved, and the words seemed to come out as normal.

"Now," Jamie said, "I wish you to say something, but not voice it aloud."

"Not voice it aloud?" This time, Garvin's lips did not move.

Jamie laughed. This time, he simply thought what he wished to say next. "Oh ho! I heard you, Garvin! You did not speak, yet I still heard you."

Garvin grinned. "Your mouth does not move yet you are just as clear as always."

Jamie nodded. "We can hear each other's thoughts here, as easily as we can hear Flitch's thoughts."

Garvin frowned. "Why did we not notice before?"

Jamie had a suspicion on that. "We hear only purposeful, direct thinking, not the inner thoughts, not the private thoughts. We hear nothing from Flitch but what he directs at us, yet surely he has other thoughts inside his head." He grinned at Garvin. "In our case, every time we purposefully exchange thoughts, we also speak, as is our habit. But now I see that the physical action is not necessary."

Garvin's eyes opened wide. "So if we could somehow bring Snave here --"

"-- we could talk to him, yes," Jamie finished, nodding. "But how to do that...hmmm. Garvin, I forgot something important. Coming to the nether is supposed to be an individual process, as entry is really only with the mind, not the physical body. You should not be here at all. Yet you are. I imagined before that it was somehow that we were bound by touch that allowed it, even though there are no precedent for that that I can discover."

Garvin laughed. "Yet I am here, with you."

"Yes. So I wonder, if I were to touch Snave and then come here --"

In a flash, they were sitting in the cart again. Dorf was there, still looking at Jamie, and Jamie realized that no time had passed for the man.

He smiled. "Just one more thing."

He swung towards Garvin, releasing his hand, and took his friend's hand back into his left one. Then he took his freed up right hand and reached back through the tarp curtain behind them and laid his fingertips against Snave's brow. And then...

They were back in the nether, standing again before Flitch. Garvin and Jamie both looked to their right --

Snave was there, with them.

"Snave?" Jamie asked.

"Oh. So long has it been since I have had a true voice." The speech sounded deep, a little raspy. Unused.

Garvin squeezed Jamie's hand. "I heard him, Jamie!"

Jamie tightened his fingers, now somehow on the wood of Snave's arm. "Snave? It is Jamie."

"Jamie? I see you there, and Garvin. And - one I do not know? A friend?"

"This is Flitch," Jamie supplied. "Yes. A true friend."

"We are deep in the nether," the gargoyle returned. "It was here you forged that which you wear upon your chest. The Merry One."

Jamie sensed a swirl of color from the nether lens. "Yes. Here it was born."

"A marvel of magick, Jamie. Thorvil will be proud to see how far you have come, so quickly."

Jamie felt a warm glow. But this was not why they were here. "Snave, we needed to talk to you, which is why I have brought you here. I have been trying to find a way to allow you speech in our own world as well."

"Such a thing would be a gift, indeed, Jamie. But I do not know how to assist you."

Jamie nodded. "Here, there are no barriers to the exchange of thought. We must find a way to overcome those barriers in our own world as well."

Snave laughed. "I know the barriers of which you speak. I have struggled against them these hundreds of years, to no avail."

Jamie nodded. "I think I see that that will not be the way to go with this, Snave. Barriers usually have their reasons. Like castle walls, I suspect these barriers are here to protect us from each other."

It was an apt analogy, but even as he imagined it, another followed. "Hmm. Yes, castle walls. There to protect those that live within. And yet, those within must also be able to get out and then return again. "He grinned at Snave. "That is why we build doorways in them."

Snave's thoughts made a sound like laughter. "I have thought of this as well. But how to do it?"

For a moment Jamie was side-tracked, a sudden burst of curiosity overcoming him. "Snave...who are you?"

There was a moment of silence. "I am all that remains of Snave of Condegrast, son of Wilfred of Condegrast. Brother of Thorvil of Condegrast."

Jamie heard Garvin gasp, though knew there had been no sound. He himself was also stunned. The Master's brother!

And Condegrast...Jamie had read of it, knew of the place. Condegrast was far, far to the west, beyond mountains and valleys and rivers and plains. It was a realm of the same nature as was the Castle Cumberstone and its faithful town of Lyrix, a place of merit, surely. On maps he had seen it upon it was at the very edge, such a travel that few local drawers of maps had been even that far, let alone to the lands beyond.

"The Master's brother?" he thought, now a question.

"Yes. Thorvil's brother." If wood could sigh, that was what Jamie now heard. "So long ago, it seems. So far away in place. Thoughts I have not dwelt upon in many a decade, surely."

"Your body...died?" Garvin asked, in what seemed a hushed tone.

"Yes. I was wounded in battle, gravely. A battle with an old and very fearsome enemy, Lodda, of the ancient house of Ohr. " Snave's tone seemed to carry a trace of anger in it now. "Lodda the Stain. Wizard of the Black Thrushes, follower of the One in the Dark. Mage of the Tharin Mages, and Thief of Ages."

"Sounds formidable," Garvin said softly.

"And he was." Snave gave out a silent laugh. "Oh, Thorvil and I, we were young and full of fire. Flush with our successes with the magicks, brazen to the point of idiocy, we were. Taking on Lodda was an error in judgment, for neither of us had the strength to defeat him. But, in our youthful heads, we thought that the two of us might. Or, rather, I thought so. Again, we were wrong. Thorvil escaped with his life, bringing my body with him, not yet dead. And I escaped with my life as well, into this, the shell you now see."

"Thorvil placed you so?" Jamie asked, knowing it would require help to have placed Snave's spirit into the wood of the Gargoyle.

"Yes. To save what was left of me. And he has never forgiven himself for letting me talk him into challenging Lodda."

"That you are special to him in some fashion has long been apparent," Garvin said, smiling a little sadly.

Jamie nodded. "Too, apparent, that he was reluctant to speak of you. In my naivete, I asked him about you once." Jamie smiled, remembering. "'Have you not dust to be after, boy!', he snapped at me, those eyes of his full of fire. I learned then not to raise the subject of the one that lived inside the ancient wood."

"It was never his fault," Snave said, and Jamie could hear the sadness in his voice. "He knew, brash as I was, that if he did not accompany me after Lodda, that I would go alone. So he went along, grumbling in his usual fashion. Fortunate that he did, for had he not, I would be no more."

Garvin cleared his throat. "May I ask, Snave...what do you do with your time there, inside that wooden gargoyle?"

Snave laughed. "Think, mostly. I have refined the magicks I know to a razor's edge. I have learned much more from being with Thorvil." He laughed again. "Though I must admit to much boredom throughout the many years. But of late I have had more to observe. I have watched the antics of the two boys that my brother has taken in, and grown to love as his own sons."

Jamie was surprised at that. "The Master loves us?" He looked over at Garvin, who also seemed surprised.

"Certainly he does." Snave's laughter rang out again. "Ah, I know how he is, grumbly and sometimes harsh. As a boy myself I was unsure of my big brother's love, until I finally learned to see it there among the gruffness. So I recognize it truly now when I see it directed at the two of you. Far worse, the two of you could have done, than to find employ with my brother."

Another thought came to Jamie's mind. "Snave. You are aware of the - the closeness - that Garvin and I share?"

"Of course."

"And you do not condemn us for it?"

Jamie almost felt the smile in the gargoyle's thoughts. "Could I? Surely not, for I was like you two when I was flesh."

Jamie and Garvin gasped as one. "You liked other boys?" Garvin's thoughts were like a whisper.

Snave sighed. "It is not something you choose, young Garvin. We are all born a lover of one sort or another. With me it was my own kind, just as it is with the two of you. I know, you feel it a secret thing, and you fear it at times. But I tell you now, there is far, far more of it a-walk in the land than you can know. You have many brothers who feel just as you."

"I wondered, at your smile, when we asked to briefly close the shop," Jamie said, nodding. "I sensed your approval somehow, even then."

"I see the love between you, even as my brother does, Jamie. Thorvil knew of my own desires, and while he did not understand them, he never ceased his love for me. Likewise, he has not let his knowledge that the two of you are in love stop him from loving the two of you. In this, my brother will always be a wonder in my heart."

Jamie and Garvin grinned at each other. "And I do love this one," Jamie said softly. "More than my own life."

Garvin looked briefly vulnerable; but the smile that came after was strong. "And I, as well, love you, Jamie."

Flitch, who had been listening in silence, finally spoke. "The strength of what you describe is evident. But is it what we must be focused upon just now?"

Jamie laughed, looking up into the nether creature's golden eyes. They were not without compassion, he decided, even though he also recognized the practical streak underlying the other's gaze. "True, Flitch. There will always be time later to speak of love."

He cast a last, fond look Garvin's way, and then turned back to Snave. "You hear us, in the shop, when we speak. See us as well. I know this is true, else how else could you respond?"

"Yes," Snave agreed. "Sound is but vibrations in the air. These vibrations strike my wooden form and cause it, too, to vibrate, although gently. There is some mechanism at the smallest level within the structure of this wood that allows these vibrations to become my thoughts, so that I can hear. The same mechanism, apparently, that allows my thoughts to reside here in the first place. The same is true of this wood's relationship with light. All light that strikes my body, I can see as sight. It was a puzzle to me at first, for when I first awakened to find myself within the gargoyle, I felt assaulted by a sense of far-off sound that I almost could hear, but not quite. It took me some time to learn to amplify those vibrations, until I could hear well. And my sight, while mostly apparent to me centered in my eyes, seems often to come to me from the rear, or the side - other places than where my gaze is cast."

Jamie blinked. "But then, if there is a mechanism in place within the structure of the wood to change sound to thought, can you not reverse this process, and cause the wood to vibrate in return with your speech, so as to communicate back to us?"

Snave's thoughts laughed. "But Jamie, you see I have no voice. Thoughts themselves do not create these vibrations. A voice or another sound must. I have no way to create vibrations within my wooden body. And though I have tried, I have been unable to amplify my thoughts through the small mechanism that allows me to hear, into sound. Sound, in comparison to the power of my thoughts, has great energy, and is far easier to amplify. The reverse of this process has produced no results for me. The energy of my thoughts is too small to cause vibrations within the wood."

But Jamie was already thinking. Thoughts and sound, both, then, must be energy, albeit in different forms. Was there a way to convert one to the other? In a human body, thoughts caused certain body parts to move: the chest and diaphragm, to expel air; the chamber within the throat that converted that air to sound; the jaw, the tongue, and muscles of the face, to modify that expulsion of air into sound with language. In that respect, the body served as a sound generation and modulation device for the thoughts. But could some other device serve the same function for Snave's thoughts? Maybe what he needed was not a doorway after all. Maybe a window would suffice.

Inside Jamie's head, there was a flutter. He sensed a warmth from the lens upon his chest, and then the by now familiar sense of pages turning within his mind at furious speed. He closed his eyes, almost made dizzy by the speed at which the pages fluttered past in his mind.

Then, all of a sudden, they stopped turning, and a single page appeared in Jamie's mind. He peered at it, reading.

Once, a millennia ago, there had been a mage who loved butterflies. Obsessed over them, might be a better description, Jamie decided, as he read. This mage had not been content just to watch butterflies, nor to cage them and have them about. He had wanted to hear the thoughts of butterflies, so that he could converse with them.

Converse with butterflies! Jamie had to smile at the very idea. Did these tiny creatures even have thoughts as a human did?

They must have, reasoned the ancient mage. Butterflies flew from flower to flower. They actuated their wings to do so, just as a human would actuate his or her legs to walk to the nearest shop. Butterflies looked to talk among themselves, some how, some way. And they ate, and they reproduced, and they sometimes fought each other. There must be thoughts of some kind there.

It took the mage years of study, a lifetime, in fact. But finally, he had developed a magick that turned the thoughts of butterflies into sound. A tiny sliver of esoteric, enchanted matter, that, when placed to the butterfly's body, melded itself to its flesh, and rendered all thought impulses inside the body into sound.

The sounds of a butterfly thinking!

Jamie marveled at the very idea. The study of magick produced some very remarkable things!

And what had become of the experiment? The mage had produced his tiny magick, and placed it to the body of his favorite butterfly companion. And had heard sound! Tiny, complex sounds, amazing sounds.

Absolutely none of which he could understand.

Butterflies, if they truly thought at all as we understand the concept, did so in a language all their own.

So the mage never did learn to talk to his cherished butterflies. But he did learn to hear their thoughts.

"I may have something," Jamie said, suddenly aware that both Garvin and Flitch - and probably Snave, too - were silent, watching him.

"A remarkable thing you have created, what you wear upon your chest," Snave said. "It smiles with good humor, that Merry One. It loves you, you know. It is based in the love you and Garvin have for each other."

Jamie knew that in part. That he and Garvin had both been involved somehow in the formation of the nether lens was something he understood already. But he did not wish to be distracted at this point. He opened his mind, explained to Snave the page of magick that allowed butterflies to speak.

"Amazing," the gargoyle said softly. "To think that a possible solution was there, all along, in my brother's library. sense...this may not work for me."

Jamie felt an odd thought, and then was seeing a complex knot within his mind. Snave was somehow sending him a picture of what he was thinking!

"This magickal lock is formulated for something tiny, and of different substance than my wood. I see parts of its structure that will fail when applied to myself."

Jamie had no such analytical ability as yet. He had enough skill that he could perform the magicks he saw within the pages of his mind, but dissecting them to their basics was still beyond him. It was Snave's years of experience showing here, that he could look upon the magic and see its very construction.

Jamie felt a sense of disappointment.

It was Flitch who spoke next. "Perhaps if constructed here, of nether material...?"

Jamie blinked. Could that work? Make the new magic of the same substances that Jamie had used to forge the lens upon his chest?

"I could try," he offered. He looked down at the lens upon his chest. "Is that possible?"

Colors swirled, somehow laughing. Yes.

To create what he imagined would require the tying of the lock while the nether machines created the physical form of the device. It must all come to completion simultaneously. By now, Jamie was getting a feel for creating and altering the nether machines in rapid form, and as he set them to work harvesting materials, combining them, shaping them, and finalizing them, he worked the knot of the lock in his head, slowly tying it as it blazed ever brighter, and managing to see as he tied it what each segment would perform in the totality of the magicks in the making.

All the while, he felt the small, soft, warm presence of the nether lens entity inside his mind and among his thoughts, darting here and there, refining, organizing, bolstering, and aligning his mental processes, helping Jamie to form them into things of stability and acuity that he never would have managed on his own.

In the background of his mind, he was aware of the intensity with which Garvin and Snave and Flitch watched him. He could feel the somewhat stronger inner presence of Snave, who used his own abilities to somehow watch more closely what Jamie and the lens were doing.

This was a master making. Jamie could feel it. Not on the order of his creation of the nether lens, surely; but a piece of magic also beyond the ken of most mages, made possible only by the dual talents of Jamie's innate ability - his knack - and the power of the nether lens to order that knack into a formidable making utilizing the otherworldly materials present only here as part of the alien landscape.

Jamie huffed. He was feeling warm inside, feeling the flow of energies as he slowly tied the knot, watching with a smaller part of his thoughts as the nether machines flicked through their various incarnations nearly as swiftly now as Flitch himself could manage.

It was coming. The final machine popped out a drawer, revealing a small, circular ebony shape that twinkled like a gem and issued forth a wail like a newborn child, seeking purpose like that newborn child would at the touch of a loving mother. Jamie pulled the last of the knot through its complicated loops, settled his thoughts on the new creation in the drawer, and drew the knot tight to completion.

A flare of yellow light burst inside his head, and the bottom of the drawer in the nether machine opened and dropped the new jewel to the ground, even as the nether machine evaporated back into the darkness.

Jame took a breath, worn out mentally, and opened his eyes.

Everyone was looking at the ground, where the flattened orb of the dark and glittering new device lay, soft and unreal twirls of muticolored light dancing in the air above it.

"None may touch it save Snave," Flitch warned, as Jamie moved forward.

"Huh?" Jamie looked at the nether creature, about to ask why; and then understood. Like the lens, this creation would need to bond with the first thought stream that touched it.

He looked back at Snave. "You simply need touch it, Snave."

The gargoyle floated forward, settled to the ground, inched over, and bumped against the stone.

Like a mouse racing after dinner, the dark stone suddenly launched itself to the top of Snave's clawed wooden foot, bolted up his body as if it had legs, and settled into the middle of Snave's muscled wooden chest, there to somehow sink into the wood with a flash of golden light. All in the blink of an eye, and Jamie and the others were left gaping in astonishment.

"It moved!" Garvin finally said, then smiled at the lateness of his own declaration.

Jamie approached Snave, looked closely at the dark gem. It appeared now to be inlaid in the center of the gargoyle's chest, as if fitted by the same carver that had created the gargoyle itself from the trunk of an ancient tree.

"How do you feel?" he asked, looking up into Snave's eyes.

"Unchanged," the other said. "I cannot say I feel any different at all."

Of course. The stone, if it worked at all, would have no effect in the nether, where they all communicated with thoughts, anyway.

"We should go back," Jamie decided, looking over at Garvin, who nodded.

"Fascinating, the things your people do," Flitch said, watching them. "I am learning new things each time we meet. You will go now?"

Jamie nodded. "We will be back, though, I promise."

"I cannot wait to see your next creation."

Jamie stared at the nether creature. "There will be another one?"

"Oh, yes. Several more, I think." Flitch backed away, his eyes seeming to hold humor. "Until then, young mage."

Jamie blinked. They were back in the wagon. Jamie's right hand was still upon Snave, his left still held tightly by Garvin.

He pulled his hand back from the gargoyle. "Snave?"

For a moment there was only silence, and Jamie's heart sank.

But then: "I hear you, Jamie."

The voice was odd, deep but raspy, as though cloaked in a dry wind. But it was there. Snave could be heard!

Jamie grinned ear-to-ear. "And I hear you, Snave."

"Oh! It worked! "Garvin exclaimed, landing a hand on Jamie's shoulder and giving him a fond squeeze.

"What's going on?" Dorf asked then, reining in the tyrbeast. "I didn't know your wooden friend could speak."

Jamie turned to look at the driver. "You heard him?"

"Of course. May I ask what is happening?"

Jamie waved a hand towards the grassy field to one side of the cart. "Can you pull over a moment, Dorf?"

The driver sighed, but nodded. "As you wish." He flipped the reins, started the tyrbeast again, directed it to pull the cart off onto the grass.

Jamie and Garvin piled out the moment the cart drew to a stop, and ran around to the back.

Each untied one of the tarp curtains and pulled it aside. "Come out, Snave."

The wooden gargoyle gave a slight groan of wood against wood, lifted, and floated out of the back of the cart. Once fully clear, Snave turned himself upright and settled to the ground.

Jame moved closer, looked at where the odd stone had placed itself on Snave's chest in the nether. Here, in the real world, there was no stone, just a glassy circle of perfect proportions in the center of the gargoyle's chest, just beneath where The Master's four charms hung against him.

"It looks different," Garvin observed.

"Yes, just as my lens does here," Jamie said, comparing the two in his mind.

"I have a voice," Snave said, sounding oddly emotional. "Again, I can speak. Thank you, Jamie."

Jamie put a hand on the gargoyle's arm. "You're my friend, Snave. I would move worlds for you, if needed."

"You have done that, Jamie. You have taken me from the world of the dead, and placed me back among the living. I...I cannot ever repay you."

Jamie smiled and shook his head. "Your assistance has saved us more than one time, Snave. I think the balance a fair one."

There was a creak of stressed wood, and Snave's head turned downward. His dark, polished eyes seemed to fix on Jamie. There was another, softer creak, and the gargoyle smiled.

Garvin came up behind Jamie, leaned against his back, laid his chin on Jamie's shoulder, wrapped his other arm gently about him. "See why I love you, Jamie?" he whispered. "Again, you have done a goodness to someone."

Jamie turned his head, smiling, found Garvin's eyes close and bright. He wanted so badly to kiss the other boy, so he did.

It was a long kiss, warm and full of nice things. Jamie closed his eyes and enjoyed it, enjoyed the love of his very best friend, the warmth of him close, the feel of his life as the other boy pushed against him.

"Perhaps a more private place?" Dorf suddenly said, and Jamie jerked his eyes open.

The driver stood but an arm's length away, watching them. But his face showed no revulsion, only patience.

Garvin pulled back, looking apologetically at Jamie. "I'm sorry. I got carried away."

"No need," Jamie said, grinning. He looked over at Dorf. "I am sorry, if we offended you."

The cart driver smiled then. "I am never offended by love, when I see it so obviously shared." He waved a hand back at the road. "But others passing might not be of the same mind. No need to have a confrontation when it can be avoided."

"You're right. We should be on our way. I am anxious to see what transpired within the town." Jamie looked back at Snave. "Will you get yourself back into the cart? As far as I can tell, that which has been placed upon you can never be removed in this world. Perhaps, not even in the nether. It is a part of you now, Snave." He grinned. "Do not be afraid to use it."

They heard real laughter this time. "Wait until my brother hears me. He will surely faint from surprise!"

All returned to the cart, and soon they were on their way.

Jamie's eyes kept darting over at Dorf, as he still wondered what the man's mind was when it came to two like Jamie and Garvin sharing love. Finally, he could wait no more.


The driver looked at him, and smiled. "You wish to know if I find you two dark and depraved for loving one another?"

Jamie couldn't help grinning. "Something like that." He leaned closer. "Are you married?"

Dorf laughed, and grabbed at the hilt of his sword. "Only to this. I am far too busy with life yet to settle down and raise a family."

Jamie felt a small disappointment. "That is what you will do? I mean, someday? Find a good woman, and raise a family?'

Dorf looked ahead at the road a moment, his smile widening. "Perhaps."

Jamie sighed at the other's opaqueness. "You know what I am asking."

Dorf turned his smile back to Jamie. "Perhaps I will have a family some day. Perhaps not. Perhaps I will find myself a handsome lad like yourself, but somewhat older, and settle down with him for a while, too. My whims take me where they will." His eyes twinkled. "Just where, I do not think I can say, just now."

Jamie smiled, looked over at Garvin, who smiled back.

The road ahead was clear. They settled back into the comfortable swaying of the cart on its marvelous springs, enjoying the ride as the tyrbeast drew them back towards Lyrix. Garvin leaned against Jamie, and Jamie took the other boy's hand down low, out of sight, and squeezed it.

In the cart behind them, Snave laughed. It was a full and pleasant sound, indeed.

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