Roy gently took Andrew Blythe from his seat on O’Hara’s bushwalker and set the boy on the ground, sleepy and unsteady but otherwise fine. He’d spent most of the trip asleep, like his brother. The ordeal the Blythe boys had gone through had taken a lot out of them but didn’t seem to have done any serious harm. There was one curious side effect, though.
Roy watched as Andrew and River Reeds walked into the Blythe house in perfect synchronization. “I’m pretty sure that will wear off in another few days,” he said to Nora. “But if it doesn’t Grunt can put the word out and we’ll see if we can find a true blue medicine man to look at it.”
“Thank you, Mr. Harper,” Nora said. “You’ve been very kind. This wasn’t part of what you were hired for.”
“Not a problem, ma’am.”
“But not necessary either,” Oldfathers put in. Roy couldn’t help but note that he’d linked arms with the widow. “I’ll be travelling for a few days to gather up some loose ends, but I plan to come back once I’m done. I’m thinking of settling down here. I’m getting too old to sleep in the open for weeks on end.”
Grunt and O’Hara looked surprised at that but Roy took it in stride. There were consequences to tampering with magic on the scale they had and Oldfathers had assumed duties that bore significant consequences, whether he’d realized it at the time or not. The old druid knew magic and its costs better than any of them and Roy had confidence Oldfathers would see them out.
“Sounds like you’ll be well looked after, Mrs. Blythe,” Roy said with a warm smile. “Hopefully you never need my services again.”
Nora laughed. “Getting involved with one legend of the west would be enough for a lifetime and I’ve already seen two. I got no appetite for a third.”
Roy chuckled. “Hopefully if you do it will be more benign than the Yose and Mete twins or General Oldfathers.”
She glanced at the general out of the corner of her eye. “Who, him? He belongs to the east.”
Roy’s brow furrowed. “Then what’s the second? Or are you counting the Brothers separately?”
Nora smiled and shook her head. “Take care of yourself out there, Mr. Harper. If you ever visit Mr. Grunwald here in town be sure to stop in, you hear?”
It sounded like a dodge but Roy couldn’t figure out why she would so he let it go. “Of course.”
Roy waited as a few more quiet words passed between her and the general then they set out for Grunt’s house. O’Hara parted ways when the passed the main street in order to take her bushwalker back outside the walls, leaving Grunt with a whispered promise to visit later. That left Roy with Grunt and the general. The three men walked in silence for a while, then Oldfathers said, “I appreciate your not taking me in.”
“I’m not an officer of the law,” Roy said. “I don’t have an obligation to bring in bounties.”
“Not even an old Lakeshire officer?”
Roy shrugged. “It’s been a long time, General. I’m not saying I would’ve done what you did in your situation but you’ve earned a little grace, at least. And…” His glance drifted up towards the mountain top. “I’m not sure how Yose and Mete would react if their new father left so soon.”
The general grunted something that might have been a laugh. “As you say. Well, I suppose I can take the pieces of that nawonota off your hands, if you want. I have a stash where I can bury them for a few decades at least.”
“It’s all right. The Packards have an Iron Room for dangerous magic items set up in Hardwick. It’s a day’s travel each way and that’s easy enough to work into my route back to Leondale. I’d rather the pieces of that thing sit on iron until all the magic’s leached out of them than just bury them out in the wilderness.”
Oldfathers chuckled. “And the Railway Detectives will just take an unknown artifact – or the pieces of one – off your hands because you say so?”
“And because I work for them from time to time.”
“And Allen Packard is his uncle,” Grunt added.
“And that.” Roy hefted the bundle holding the nawonota’s pieces. “Don’t worry, General. This will be well taken care of. And I’ll get that fulminite crystal out of the slag you made of my falcatta and send it back to you.”
“Keep it,” the General said. “I think you’ve earned it and you never know when it may come in handy out there. You’re going to have more chances to use it than me anyway.”
They rounded the corner to Grunt’s house and the big man ducked in the door to retrieve Roy’s travel bag. “Tell me something, General,” Roy said as they waited. “How are you going to pass on that journal of yours if you’re settling down here? Do you think someone will just come through and take it off your hands? It doesn’t seem like the best strategy, this being the end of the rail line and all.”
Oldfathers tapped his hexwood staff on the ground once which set it to unfolding in to its full sized tree form. “The journal will tell its owner when and where to find the next person in line. I’m not worried about passing it on. Never was.”
Grunt returned and handed Roy his bag. “Half an hour before the last train leaves,” he said. “Anyone up for a last drink?”
“No, thank you,” Oldfathers said.
“Gave it up, remember?” Roy tipped his hat in the general’s direction. “General Oldfathers, as much as it surprises me to say it, it’s been a pleasure.”
“Likewise. Take care of yourselves, Mr. Harper. Mr. Grunwald. Stay true to the Quest and it will bear fruit, in time.” The hexwood was unfolded to its full twelve foot height and its branches gathered Oldfathers up, allowing him to partially recline against its trunk.
“May Our Lady guide you to warm hearthfires,” Grunt said.
“Hearthfires, gentlemen. And Roy.” Oldfathers tapped his jacket’s left breast twice, winked and then whisked away on the frantic churning of the hexwood’s roots.
Confused, Roy patted his jacket in the place Oldfathers indicated.
Felt something solid there.
And pulled out Pellinore’s Journal.
“Dust and ashes,” Roy muttered.
Grunt burst out laughing.
“This isn’t funny.”
“Oh, I’m sure it’s serious as dead iron, Roy.” Grunt got control of himself. “But you have to admit it’s at least a little funny, too.”
Roy sighed and put the journal away. “Fine. Fine. Let’s go, the last train leaves in twenty five minutes and I need to stop by your local sundries supplier.”
“Sure.” Grunt locked his door and pocketed the keys. “What do you need?”
“Paper and ink. It seems there’s some writing in my future…”