“Do you think he’ll wake by noon?”
Josephine’s teasing voice floated into the small bedroom where Keith lay curled in bed. Faintly was he aware of warm sunlight trailing over his body from the room’s single window. The bed he slept on was never unmade, having fallen asleep as soon as his mental probe returned. You were warned, was the last of Osha before he had blacked out. Now as the smell of breakfast flooded his nostrils, Keith recalled why his energy had depleted without warning.
You pulled me back. The Healer inhaled deeply and let out a sigh. Slowly, he let his body uncurl and stretched. Muscles relaxed while his aching spine popped. “Forgive me,” he whispered to the ceiling.
Footsteps nearing turned his attention to the opened doorway.
Upon seeing his stirring guest, Josephine gave a wide grin.
“Hungry? A good meal always does the trick. How’d you sleep?”
“Don’t pressure him!” his grandfather scolded in the background, though it did little to deter the young man’s good humor.
Keith yawned and wiped a hand across his brow to rid sleep from his eyes and last night’s failure.
“How late did I sleep?” he asked. Gripping the sheets, he managed to pull himself into a sitting position before sliding to the edge.
“Late enough,” Josephine piped. His curious gaze trailed over the still-made bed, and he chuckled. “Not used to blankets? Sleep under the stars, is that it? I’d love to be able to do that.”
“Will you quit pestering him and get in here!” The serious tone only widened the young man’s grin. With a shrug, he stepped away to set the table.
Sounds of sizzling caught Keith’s attention, and he rose to investigate the type of breakfast being prepared.
“You know, having a metal shop next door really helps with cooking,” Josephine continued. He reached for drink glasses on an upper shelf. While holding two in one arm, he grabbed a third and set them carefully on the table. “Have a seat. It should be ready soon.”
“Smells good,” Keith said. “May I ask the menu?”
Josephine laughed. “Nothing too fine or fancy, I’ll admit.”
The opened door between home and shop allowed a glimpse at some of the ship’s metal work. It was also the source of sizzling, though it was not long before the sound lessened and Mr. Phine tromped through the doorway carrying a tray of steaming food.
“Eggs and toast,” the older man said. He set the tray in the table’s center before pulling off a glove used to carry it. “Toast for you. Don’t know if you like eggs.”
“No bacon?” Josephine asked with disappointment.
“As expensive as meat is?” his grandfather shot him a look. “Didn’t you even hear what I told you last night?”
“Oh!” the young man’s face suddenly reddened. “Sorry.” He handed Keith a plate. “Do you care for eggs? They are good.”
Keith accepted the plate with a nod.
“I take it you told your grandson about me?”
“Nothing personal,” the man replied, “but I felt he needed to know so he wouldn’t sound stupid this morning about the bacon.” He eyed his grandson, whose cheeks still burned with embarrassment.
Keith chuckled. “Eggs are fine, and toast please.”
“They’re not really meat, are they?” Josephine scooped some eggs on Keith’s plate and handed him a piece of toast.
“You have a very good memory of us,” Keith said to Mr. Phine.
Josephine’s grandfather scooped a helping of eggs onto his plate, followed by his grandson.
“Like I said before, I have an eye for detail. Of all the things I saw them eating, it was never meat.”
“What’s wrong with meat?”
“Do you ever shut up?” Josephine’s grandfather grumbled.
Keith cracked a smile. “Actually, it has to do with a balance between us and Nature.” He took a bite of eggs, then reached for his drink, forgetting it was empty until he tried to take a sip.
A slap to the back of Josephine’s head was the reply.
“You oaf!” Mr. Phine scolded. “It’s one thing to set out drinks, but when you don’t fill ‘em – go get the good stuff!”
Josephine was up in an instant. Too fast, his knee slammed the underside of the table. The next instant he was on the floor crawling toward the shop in haste.
Mr. Phine just lowered his gaze and shook his head.
“Is it too much to ask?” he mumbled.
Keith cleared his throat. “I could heal that, if you want.”
“No no! This happens all the time, really.” Josephine grasped the edge of the counter to hoist himself up, then limped into the shop. After much clatter and banging cabinet doors, he finally limped back to the table with a bottle of Falconberry Wine.
Attempting to open it, he nearly sent it bouncing to the floor when Keith stopped its crash-course landing with a thought. Gesturing to the table, the bottle lifted itself up, uncorked the top and poured out three glasses.
Mr. Phine said nothing while Josephine stared in amazement. Already, his throbbing knee was long forgotten.
“Can you do that with people?”
“Can you mind your manners a bit more?” Josephine’s grandfather shoveled in a spoonful of eggs, then bit off a piece of toast. His loud chewing cracked a smile on Keith’s face.
“The last time I tasted Falconberry Wine was at Luxor Castle.” He raised his glass and let the sweet fragrance fill his nose before taking a sip. He licked his lips several times. “Just as I remember.”
“Doesn’t Luxor float?” Josephine asked. After brushing a few crumbs from his stunning blue vest, he took a long sip.
“It does,” Keith answered.
“Which we’ll never see,” Mr. Phine commented. “Poor folk like us don’t see very much. And with that storm brewing up north,” he flicked his gaze to Keith, “that’s what keeps us poor.”
“I have a friend who’s there now.” Keith kept his voice stern and white eyebrows lowered in serious expression.
“There’s someone there?” Josephine asked. “Is that possible?”
“Apparently if you have relations with a magic-user, it is,” Keith replied. “But the whole goal is this: I’m hoping he will discover a weakness to all this mess. That way when I contact him, I’ll have a better answer. I have nothing to go on right now but theories.” He glanced at Josephine. “By the way, how’s that knee of yours?”
The young man looked down and felt around the spot of impact.
“Huh. Funny. I can’t feel it anymore.” He looked up. “Did you..?”
Keith shrugged. “It’s the least I could do for the time being.”
“Great!” Mr. Phine kept a straight face as he stood and brushed off his shirt. He reached for the stained apron hanging beside the door. “Shouldn’t have a problem going to town then. Day’s wasting and there’s much to be done. Josephine, clean up this mess. And you?” He bowed his head to Keith. “I bid you good day.”
The slam of shop door behind him left the two men alone. It was not long before hammering started.
Josephine glanced at Keith, a sly grin spreading across his lips.
“Do you think you could do that trick with the dishes like you did the wine bottle?”
Josephine proved quite the chatterbox as Keith accompanied him from Harbor’s Point. The one-way conversation allowed the Healer some time to better take in his surroundings. An ear flicked toward the sound of gravel crunching beneath their boots on the wide dirt road, though he did not show his ears for long and quickly replaced the illusion to hide them. Being in human territory meant more than mere chance acquaintances.
He stole a quick glance at Josephine. Showing his ears had dominated the better part of his companion’s chatter, and he hoped it would not become the main conversation in town. Yet Josephine was easily amused. With a simple suggestion, the subject quickly switched to town history. The mention of the Shevolsky family held Keith’s attention while continuing to observe the many rolling hills and valleys.
When they reached the top of a hill, Keith breathed a sigh of relief. Just ahead, the town of Trully rose into the golden afternoon sunlight while Josephine carried on.
“It’s not like Lexington, I’m afraid,” he said. “Lexington changes merchants from day to day. Here, it’s just the same stuff. But there’s a lot of it, for sure. You can get just about anything, and probably more of it since no one’s been traveling lately.”
“And where—” Keith started, but Josephine cut him off.
“The Shevolsky’s live off the main road. We took the side road, though you’ll still find them wandering into town now and then.”
“Grandfather won’t come into town by himself, though. He’ll send me instead.” He grinned. “Can you imagine seeing him running up the road at his age? Wouldn’t happen.”
The young man paused briefly to search the ground, then pointed at a set of rocks placed on either side of the road.
“See those? This marks the edge of the Shevolsky territory.”
“You said they lived off the main road,” Keith replied.
Josephine laughed. “Sure. But they always seem to stop chasing you at this point.” Grinning, he moved on while Keith pondered his words a bit more.
“You mean they used to chase you, right?” Keith quickened his pace to catch up to his friend.
“Oh, I’m pretty sure they’ll chase anyone they can. They’re like dogs, see? Dogs like to chase things.”
Keith cracked a grin. “You don’t seem to be too concerned.”
“Na. Only when you leave. That’s when they start gathering in the street like they been watching ya all day or something. They want what you buy, see? That way they don’t spend any money on their own.”
“Who are they anyway?” Keith asked.
“Peter’s eldest of six brothers. Their father’s remarried several times. Maybe had more from different wives. Who knows? They’re one big family, and they’re very close.”
They two came up besides a brownish-gray building with a welcome sign pointed toward anyone traveling from Harbor Point. In the center of town the road widened. Two story buildings lined the dirt street on either side. Most were the same with worn paint peeling off sideboards and missing roof shingles. Keith guessed the insides were just as shabby from leaks and no business.
And no money to fix things because the Shevolsky’s have it all.
Keith tried reading some of the faded signs hanging upon each entrance. While the letters were still legible, their presentation was not. Upon close inspection, he noticed an array of different colored paints faded over time.
“Well, hello there!” a woman’s voice called cheerfully from behind a counter. “Saw you with Josephine. Not many travelers come this way. Least ye ain’t one of those Schevolsky boys.”
Keith turned toward the stout woman dressed in a brown and red ruffled skirt. A white apron tied around the back of her neck and came down across her chest. It tied again at the waist before flowing out and stopped where the skirt ended.
“Come for some pies, dear? Or just looking?” The woman sighed over the young man’s pale appearance. “Not from around here, are ya? No, thought not. That Josephine – don’t know where he finds ‘em, but he always manages to bring along someone now and again. Oh well! Good for business, I suppose.”
“It smells delicious,” Keith replied with ease. “I take it Josephine comes often?”
The little woman chortled and came around the side of the counter to the window. From inside, they could see Josephine busily gathering tools for his grandfather and stuffing them in a large basket.
“He’s such a dear! Poor thing.” She turned to Keith. “You two best hurry before those Schevolsky’s come round! Don’t want ‘em catching ya unprepared. And here.” She picked up a steaming pie sitting on the counter. “This is for his lovely grandfather. He requested one last week but those boys got to it first.”
“I’ll make sure he gets it,” Keith promised before heading out. He waved to his friend.
“Oh, you picked it up for me. Great!” Josephine grinned. “Here, there’s room.” He placed the warm pie on top of the new tools. “Was wondering when I’d get the chance to pick this up. Grandfather does love his blackberries.”
“The woman from the shop said the Schevolsky’s got the last one,” Keith said.
Josephine nodded. “Yep.” He waved to the man standing at the shop window.
Keith noticed a few others at their windows too, though no one attempted to come outside.
“I guess being outside for people is enough for trouble,” he said.
Grabbing up the basket, the young man attempted to carry it with both hands. Yet with a twitch of the wrist, Keith placed it within his traveling crystal.
“What the...?” Josephine bewildered look made Keith laugh.
“Well now we don’t have to worry about pies being taken,” the Healer held up the sapphire stone,” unless they take this.”
“Should have known you’d do something…unexpected.” Josephine glanced around the area. “We should get going.”
At a hand to Josephine’s shoulder, the young man turned with puzzled expression.
“Jose, relax,” Keith reassured. “I won’t let anything happen to you. You know that, don’t you? Using thought to lift a couple of plates is nothing compared to what I’m truly capable of. Trust me.”
He felt the young man relax, then breath a sigh of relief.
“No, I trust you. It’s just…well – no one likes dealing with their father. He’s a stern man. You mess with his sons, you mess with him. And once he’s angry…watch out! There’s no stopping a madman!”