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Books By Orson Scott Card - Pathfinder - Chapter 3 Pathfinder


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Chapter Three
Nox's Wall

In settled country, even the wildest wood is wound about with paths. Children playing, couples trysting, vagabonds seeking a place to sleep undisturbed. Not to mention the countless practical needs for going into the forest. Mushrooms, snails, nuts, berries -- all will bring people across the fields and into the trees.

Running steadily, lungweary, Rigg could still see the most recent paths. He knew which woods should be empty of people, and those were the paths he chose. Several times he had to abandon wild country and strike out across fields or through orchards, but always he knew from the paths which houses were empty, which roads safe to cross.

He came at last to the back approaches to Nox's rooming house. She kept a large vegetable garden with rows of pole beans, where Rigg crouched to scan the house.

A crowd had already gathered in front of the house. They weren't a mob -- not yet -- but Rigg heard their shouted demand that Nox let them search for "that child-murderer." Because Rigg had taken a roundabout way, Umbo's version of events had had plenty of time to spread through the village. And it was well known that here was where Father and Rigg always stayed.

Of course Nox let them in. Since Rigg really wasn't inside, what reason would she have for refusing them, which would invite them to burn the place down?

Rigg couldn't see the men who searched the house -- they were behind walls -- yet somehow, in a way that blended into vision but wasn't actual sight, he could still track the men's paths through the house. All he could sense was the pace at which new paths appeared, and their position relative to each other and the outside wall of the house.

Yet this was enough for him to know that they were almost frantic in their search. They seemed to run up and down the stairs, and walk all around each room. There was bending, crawling, stretching upward. For all he knew they were slashing open the beds and dumping out trunks.

But of course they found nothing, since their quarry was outside in the bean patch.

And if they widened their search and found him here, they would assume Nox knew he was there. It might go very badly for her.

So as the paths converged again on the front porch, Rigg scampered for the back door and slipped inside the pantry. He dared not go upstairs or to any public room, because the regular residents were there.

From the pantry, Rigg could sense the movement of members of the crowd. They set two men to watch in front and two in back. Several men did indeed search through the garden.

I shouldn't have come here, thought Rigg. Or I should go back out into the wild and wait for a year and then come back. Maybe I'll be able to grow some kind of beard by then. Maybe I'll be taller. Maybe I'll never come back at all -- and never know who my mother is, or find my sister ...

Why couldn't Father have simply told him instead of making him come here? But a dying man has the privilege of deciding his own last words, and when to stop talking.

Rigg tried to imagine what it would be like for Nox, when at last she came to the pantry. If he was standing up and looking at her, she was likely to scream; that would draw attention, certainly of the residents, and perhaps of the guards outside. He needed to be sure she remained silent, which meant she should feel neither shocked nor threatened.

So he sat down in a corner and hid his face in his hands. She wouldn't be startled by seeing his eyes, nor face an unexpected stranger looming over her as she opened the door to the room. It was the best he could do.

It took two hours before Nox was able to calm down the guests, who were, of course, frightened or angry about the intrusion and search. Two of them packed up their things and left. The rest stayed, and finally it was time -- past time -- for Nox to start preparing dinner.

"Too late for soup, no time for anything that takes any time to cook," Nox was grumbling as she opened the pantry door.

Rigg was not looking up, so he couldn't be exactly sure she even noticed him, as she unsealed the flour and sugar bins to draw out the ingredients for quickbread. She had to have seen him, but gave no sign. Only when he lifted his head very slightly, enough to see her, did she whisper, "Stay here till after dinner," though Rigg knew well that the noon meal there hardly deserved the lofty title of dinner. Then Nox was out of the pantry, closing the door behind her.

Dinner was served, during which the two guests who had left came back -- there were no other rooms in town, and after all, the murderer had not been found in the house, so surely that made this the safest rooming house in Fall Ford, since this one had been found most definitely killer-free.

Finally, when Rigg sensed that all the guests had gone out again, Nox opened the pantry, came inside, and closed the door behind her. Her voice was the tiniest of whispers.

"How did you keep them from finding you when they searched the house? You haven't learned how to make yourself invisible, have you?"

"I came in after they searched."

"Well, thanks for dropping by. It's made everybody's day."

"I didn't kill that boy."

"No one in their right mind thinks you did."

"He was hanging from the lip of a stone and I even dropped all my furs so I could try to save him, but Umbo thinks what he thinks."

"People always do. Where's your father?"


That left her silent for a long while.

Then, finally, "I honestly didn't think he knew how to die."

"A tree fell on him."

"And you came back here alone?"

"He told me to. He told me to come to you."

"Nothing about killing an odd child or two on the way?"

For a moment, Rigg thought of telling her about the man from centuries ago that he might or might not have killed as well. But that would mean telling her about his pathfinding, and things were complicated enough already. She'd probably think he was insane and therefore cease believing that he had not killed Kyokay. So Rigg ignored her provocation. "He told me you'd tell me where my sister and mother are."

"He couldn't tell you himself?"

"You say that as if you think he might have explained himself to me."

"Of course he didn't." She sighed. "Trust him to leave the hard jobs to me."

"You've known my mother was still alive my whole life long, and you never bothered to mention it to me?"

"I've known only since he was about to lead you out on this last jaunt," she said. "He took me aside and made me memorize some names and an address. He said I'd know when to tell somebody."

"It's now," said Rigg.

"Fat lot of good it'll do you," said Nox, "with men watching my house."

"I'd rather die knowing."

"First tell me how that boy died."

So Rigg told her what had happened, except that he left out any mention of the man from another time whose hand had covered Kyokay's. He was sure she could sense that he wasn't telling the complete story, but it still seemed better not to tell her about his abilities.

Nox seemed to take it all in stride. "Trust that idiot Umbo to accuse you before trying to find out the truth. And you lost all your furs?"

"I didn't really lose them, since I know where they are," said Rigg. "They're somewhere downriver, hung up on rocks or branches."

"Oh, you can be funny? I'm so glad to hear it."

"It's laugh or cry," said Rigg.

"Cry, then. Give the old man his due."

For a moment, Rigg thought she meant the ancient man at the top of the falls. But of course she meant Father. "He wasn't all that old."

"How can anyone tell? He was coming to this house when I was a child, and he looked no younger then."

"Will you tell me now where I need to go?"

"I'll tell you -- so you'll know what address it was you never made it to. Nobody's letting you out of town today."

"Names," Rigg insisted.

"Are you hungry?"

"I'll be eating the flesh of warmed-over rooming house owner if you don't tell me now."

"Threats. Tut tut. Naughty boy. Raised without manners."

"Exactly," said Rigg. "But I do have a lot of experience with killing animals larger than myself."

"I get it," said Nox. "You're so clever. Your mother was -- is -- Hagia Sessamin. She lives in Aressa Sessamo."

"The ancient capital of the Sessamoto Empire?"

"That very city," said Nox.

"And what is her address?" asked Rigg.

Nox chuckled. "Not a very good listener. Your father always said, 'If I could only get him to pay attention.'"

Rigg was not going to be put off. "Address?"

"I told you, she's Hagia Sessamin."

"And that means she doesn't need an address?"

"Ah," she said. "Apparently your father omitted any explanations about Sessamoto politics. Which makes sense, come to think of it. If you get out of Fall Ford alive, get to Aressa Sessamo and ask for the house of 'the Sessamin.' Ask anyone at all."

"I'm some kind of royalty?"

"You're a male," said Nox. "That means you could fart royal blood out of your ears and it wouldn't matter. It was an empire ruled by women, which was a very good plan while it lasted. Not that most cities and nations and empires aren't ruled by women, one way or another." She stopped and studied his face. "I'm trying to figure out what you're not saying to me."

Rigg said the first thing that came to mind. "I have no money for the journey. The furs were all I had."

"And you come begging an old housekeeper for a few coins from her stash?"

"No," said Rigg. "Nothing, if you can't spare it. If you have a little, I'll borrow it, though I don't know when or if ever it's going to be possible for me to repay you."

"Well, I'm not going to advance you anything, or lend it, or even give it. Though I might ask you for a loan."

"A loan? When I have nothing?"

"Your father left you a little something."

"When were you going to tell me?"

"I just told you." She pushed a stepladder into place against one of the sets of rough shelves and started to climb. Then she stopped.

"If you try to look up my skirt, I'll poke needles into your eyes right through your eyelids while you're asleep."

"I'm looking for help, you give me nightmares, thank you so much."

She was on the top step now, reaching up for a bin marked dry beans. Rigg looked up her skirt mostly because she told him not to, and saw nothing at all of interest. He could never understand why Nox and other women, too, were always so sure men wanted to see whatever it is they concealed under their clothes.

She came down with a small bag. "Wasn't this nice of your father? To leave this behind for you?"

She opened the little bag and poured its contents into her palm. Nineteen jewels, large ones, of more colors than Rigg had imagined jewels could have, and no two alike.

"What am I supposed to do with these?"

"Sell them," she said. "They're worth a fortune."

"I'm thirteen," Rigg reminded her. "Everyone will assume I stole these from my mommy. Or a stranger. Nobody will imagine that I have them by right."

Out of the bag Nox took a folded sheet of paper. Rigg took it, looked at it. "It's addressed to a banker in Aressa Sessamo."

"Yes," she said. "I can read."

Rigg scanned it. "Father taught me about letters of credit."

"I'm glad to hear that, since he never taught me any such thing."

"It says my name is Rigg Sessamekesh."

"Then I suppose that's what your name is," said Nox.

"This is worthless until I get to Aressa Sessamo," said Rigg.

"So live off the land, the way you and your father always do."

"That works in the forest. But long before I get to Aressa Sessamo, it'll all be towns and farms and fields. I hear they whip you for stealing."

"Or put you in jail, or sell you into slavery, or kill you, depending on the town and what mood they're in."

"So I'll need money."

"If you make it out of Fall Ford."

Rigg said nothing. What could he say? She didn't owe him anything. But she was the closest thing to a friend he had, even if she wasn't his mother.

Nox sighed. "I told your father not to count on my giving you money."

"He didn't. He saw to it I had a good-sized bundle of furs -- all I could carry."

"Yes, yes, so I will give you something, but it won't be enough for you to ride a carriage. It won't be enough for you to ride anything. And you'd be wise to keep off the roads for a good long way. I have a feeling that nobody's going to get new shoes or shoes repaired in Fall Ford until a certain cobbler gives up on finding you and gutting you like a fish."

Rigg heard something outside the pantry. "When did we decide to stop whispering?" he asked.

Nox whirled around and flipped open the pantry door. There was nobody there. "We're fine," she said.

Then there came a pounding on the front and back doors of the house, both at once. "We know you have him in there, Nox! Don't make us burn down the house!"

Rigg shuddered with panic, but otherwise he couldn't move, he couldn't even think.

Nox pinched the bridge of her nose. "I'm getting a headache. A big fat throbbing one, relentless as a moth."

She spoke as if it were a mere annoyance that they had realized where Rigg was hiding. Her calmness dispelled most of his fear. "Do you think we can talk them out of this? Or will you try to keep them busy while I climb out on the roof?"

"Quiet," she said. "I'm building a wall."

Since her hands were doing nothing at all, Rigg assumed her wall must be metaphorical. A wall between herself and her fear?

As if he had asked aloud, she whispered an explanation. "A wall around the house. I'm filling it with a will to turn away."

He should have known that Father would have become her teacher because she had some kind of interesting talent. "They're already at the door."

"But nobody will want to come any farther. For as long as I can sustain it."

"How long is that? Minutes? Hours?"

"It depends on how many wills are attacking it, and how strongly determined they are," she answered.

She took her fingers from the bridge of her nose and walked to the back door, then spoke through it to the guards in back. "I'm opening the front door in a moment, so you might as well go around."

"Do you think I'm fooled?" asked a male voice from the other side. "As soon as I leave, you'll come out the back."

"Suit yourself," said Nox. Then, to Rigg, she said softly, "That's how you get people to outsmart themselves. If they think they've found your plan, they'll stop looking for it."

"I heard that," said the man on the other side of the door. "I can do that spell myself."

"We weren't doing a spell," said Nox. "We were just talking."

As they walked to the front door, Nox added, for Rigg's ears alone, "Don't go through the door when I open it."

She opened the door. Standing right there were two burly men. One was the blacksmith, and one a farmer from an outlying homestead. Just behind them, but off the porch, stood the cobbler Tegay, father of the dead boy Kyokay. His face was streaked with tears and Umbo was clinging to his arm, half-hidden behind his father's bulk.

Rigg wanted to run to Umbo and tell him what had happened -- tell him everything, the magic and all, so that Umbo would understand that Rigg was only trying to save Kyokay, and had risked his own life to do it. Umbo would believe him, if they only had a chance to talk.

The two men at the door made as if to come inside -- to burst in, from their posture -- but after a shifting of weight they remained outside after all.

"He was not here when you searched," said Nox. "I did not know he was coming."

"You say," said the farmer.

"I say," said Nox, "and you know my word is good."

"How do we know that?" asked the blacksmith.

"Because I pay my bills promptly," answered Nox, "even when my tenants haven't paid me." Then she called more loudly. "Tegay!"

"You don't have to shout," said the cobbler softly, from behind them. They moved aside a little, so Nox and Tegay could see each other.

"Why do you accuse this boy of killing your son?"

"Because my boy Umbo watched him throw Kyokay over the falls."

"He did not," said Nox.

"I did too!" cried Umbo, taking a step closer to the porch.

"I'm not calling you a liar," said Nox. "I'm saying that you are telling, not what you saw, but what you concluded from what you saw."

"Same thing," said the blacksmith.

"Umbo," said Nox. "Come here."

Umbo stepped back and stood close to his father again.

The cobbler said, "I'm not letting him into that house, not while that child-killer is there!"

"Umbo," said Nox, "what did you actually see? Don't lie, now. Tell us what your eyes actually witnessed."

Rigg knew that Umbo would tell the truth -- he was no liar. Then he'd realize for himself that Rigg hadn't thrown or pushed, but had only reached out to try to save.

Umbo looked wildly from Rigg to Nox and then up at his father. "It happened like I said."

It surprised Rigg that Umbo would persist in his mistake. But perhaps Umbo was afraid to change his story now. Everyone knew how Tegay beat him when he was angry.

"I see," said Nox. "You were supposed to be watching Kyokay, weren't you? Keeping him out of danger. But he ran away, didn't he? Ran ahead of you, and when you got to the top of Cliff Road, he was already out on the rocks."

Tegay's face changed. "Is that true?" he asked his son.

"Kyokay didn't obey me, but I still saw what I saw," Umbo insisted.

"And that's my question," said Nox. "Scrambling up that road, you were out of breath. You had to watch your handholds and footholds so you wouldn't fall. There are moments you can glimpse the falls and see what's happening. But you wouldn't have stopped to look, would you?"

"I saw Rigg throw Kyokay into the water."

"While you were still coming up the road?" prompted Nox.


"And when you got to the top, what did you see?" asked Nox.

"Kyokay was hanging from the lip of a stone, dangling over the falls. And Rigg was stretched out across two stones trying to slap and pry at Kyokay's hands! And then he fell." On that last sentence, a sob burst from him at the memory.

"And then what did you do?" asked Nox.

"I went back to the shore and picked up stones and threw them at Rigg."

"You thought you could avenge your brother with stones?"

"Rigg was having trouble getting back onto his feet. I thought I could make him lose his balance and fall in."

Hearing Umbo admit to having tried to kill him was infuriating. "And you nearly did, too," said Rigg.

Nox hushed him with a gesture. "Umbo, you saw your brother die a terrifying death, falling from the top of Stashi Falls. You thought you understood what happened from the glimpses that you saw. But let me tell you what really happened."

"You weren't there," growled the farmer.

"Neither were you, so keep your mouth shut," said Nox calmly. "Rigg just came back from two months of trapping. On his back he was carrying all the furs that he and his father had gathered. Did you see that bundle of furs?"

Umbo shook his head.

"Yes, you did," said Nox. "That's what Rigg was throwing into the water when you caught a glimpse of him as you scrambled up Cliff Road. That's what got swept over the falls, not your brother. Your brother was already dangling from the rock. Rigg got rid of his burden so he could go and try to save him."

"No," said Umbo. But he did not sound very certain.

"Think," said Nox. "Rigg must have done something with his furs. Where were they? Would he have left them on the other side? What do Rigg and his father always do with the furs they bring to town?"

Umbo shook his head.

"And then you say Rigg stretched himself across two rocks. Why? To slap at Kyokay's fingers and push him from his perch? Why would he need to do that? How long could Kyokay have held on anyway? Did he have the strength to climb back up onto the rock? Was the rock even big enough?"

"I don't know," said Umbo.

"The only story that makes sense is the true one," said Nox. "Rigg was crossing where he and his father always crossed -- far back from the falls. Only a foolish daredevil of a little boy would try to cross on the stones near the edge of the falls."

A few of the men in the crowd murmured their assent. And Rigg's respect for Nox grew. Even better than Father, she knew how to speak patiently, clearly, in a way that created trust, that built up the right story in the minds of these men.

"We all know how reckless Kyokay was," said Nox. "How many of us have seen him walking along roofs and climbing high trees and showing off in a dozen different ways? That's why your father told you to watch him, to keep him from ..."

"From getting himself killed," said Tegay softly.

"Rigg was where you were supposed to be, doing what you were supposed to do, Umbo," said Nox. "Looking after Kyokay. He sacrificed two months of labor, all the goods he had in the world, so he could try to save your brother. He risked his life, stretched out between two rocks, to try to get to your brother's hand and pull him up. But then your brother lost his grip and fell. And there was Rigg, balanced over the rushing water. If he dipped even a knee into that stream, he'd be swept over the falls. And while he's trying to get back from the edge alive, what happens? You throw rocks at him."

"I thought he ... I thought ..."

"You were angry. Someone was guilty of something terrible. Someone had done something wrong and needed to be punished," said Nox. "Someone. But it wasn't Rigg, was it?"

Umbo burst into tears. His father held him close.

"It wasn't Umbo either," said Tegay. "It was Kyokay. He never believed in danger. He wouldn't obey. I don't blame Umbo. I don't blame Rigg, either." He turned to the other men gathered there. "Let no man lay a hand on Rigg for Kyokay's sake," he said.

"Why do you believe her?" asked a man from farther back in the crowd.

"She's a spellcaster," said another. "She's ensorceled you."

"She wasn't there. She talks like she knows but she wasn't there."

Nox pointed a finger at the man who spoke last. "Why do you want to believe the worst? Why are you hungry to do a killing here today? What kind of man are you?"

"He killed a child!" the man cried. Rigg had seen him around the village, but didn't know him. He wasn't anyone very important, until now -- now he seemed to be the leader of the angriest men in the mob. "I say Rigg's father had the furs and it all happened the way Umbo said!"

"That would be a very clever guess," said Rigg, "except my father is dead."

Silence fell on the crowd.

"That's why I was carrying all the furs," Rigg continued. "I was coming back alone."

"How did your father die?" asked Tegay, with a gruff sort of sympathy.

"A tree fell on him," said Rigg.

"A likely story!" shouted a man in the crowd.

"Enough!" shouted Nox. "You searched through my house, causing all kinds of damage, and I bore it for the sake of Kyokay and his grieving family. But Umbo admits he saw only a glimpse here and a glimpse there. Rigg had no reason to kill Kyokay -- there has been nothing but friendship among these boys. Instead Rigg sacrificed his furs and risked his life trying to save him. It's the only story that makes any sense at all. Now go away from my rooming house. If you want blood, go home and kill a chicken or a goat and have a nice feast in memory of Kyokay. But you'll shed no blood here today. Go!"

Even as the crowd began to break up and wander away, the angriest man muttered loudly enough for Rigg to hear: "Murdered his father in the woods and came home to murder our children in their beds."

"I'm sorry your father's dead," Tegay said to Rigg. "Thank you for trying to save my little boy." Then the cobbler burst into tears and the blacksmith and farmer led him away.

Umbo stood alone for a moment, looking up at Rigg. "I'm sorry I threw stones at you. I'm sorry I blamed you."

"You saw it how you saw it," said Rigg. "I don't blame you."

He would have said more to Umbo, but Nox closed the door.

"How did you know all the things you said?" asked Rigg. "I didn't tell you all of those things."

"I know the place," said Nox. "And I already heard Umbo's story when he told it before, during the search."

"The wall you made just now -- what does it do?"

"It weakens everyone's will but mine, so they begin to want a little less of what they want, and a little more of what I want. And just now I wanted peace and calm and forgiveness. And I wanted them to stay out of my house."

"But it didn't seem to affect some of the men," said Rigg.

"My wall had no effect on the men far out in the crowd. Only on the ones who were close to me. It's not really that much of a talent, as the good teacher was fond of telling me, but it worked well enough today. Though it wore me out. If Tegay had really wanted your murder, he could have outlasted me. But he didn't. He knew Kyokay was a foolish boy. Everyone said the child was doomed to kill himself doing some foolish jape, and then he did. Tegay knew that."

"But then magic is real," said Rigg. "You have magic."

"Think," said Nox. "Is the thing you do magic? Seeing the paths of every creature? Thousands of years ago they passed, and you can still see the path? Is that magic?"

So Father had told Nox all about his pathfinding, after commanding Rigg never to trust anyone with the secret. When Father said to tell no one, he apparently meant to be careful and tell only those you could trust. It made a lot more sense than an ironclad rule. "It's a thing I can do," said Rigg.

"But it's not a spell, you didn't learn it, you can't teach someone else to do it, it's not magic, it's a sense you have that others happen to lack, and if we understood it better we'd see that it's just as natural as --"

"Breathing," said Rigg. He knew how to finish the sentence because it was one that Father had said many times. "Father taught you to understand your talent, too."

"He tried to teach me many more things than I actually learned," said Nox. "We didn't tramp together through the woods for hours and days and weeks and months at a time, the way you did. So he didn't have time to teach me the way he taught you."

"I didn't know Father was so old. To teach you when you were young."

"How old do you think I am?" asked Nox.

"Older than me."

"I was sixteen and your father -- the man I knew as Good Teacher -- had been teaching me for three years before he left Fall Ford. He said he had to go get something. I was seventeen when he came back with you in his arms."

"So Father went to the city and fell in love and got married and they had a baby and then he left her and it only took a year?"

"A year and a half," said Nox, "and who said anything about falling in love? Or getting married? He got a child, and it was you, and he brought you back here, and now you have a fortune in jewels and a letter of credit and you'll have most of my meager savings to take with you. You're going to leave on your journey now, today, before it's dark, and you're going to get as far as you can before you rest."


"Because there were men in that crowd who still believed Umbo's first story -- violent men -- and I don't have the strength to build my wall again today."

They went to the kitchen and he helped her make quickbread and then she packed some of it along with cheese and salt pork in a knapsack. Meanwhile, he sewed her little bag of silver and bronze coins to the tail of his shirt, which he then tucked inside his trousers. He tried to give her one of the jewels in exchange, but she refused it. "What would I do with it here? And each one of these is worth a hundred times more than all the coins I gave you. A thousand times more."

While they worked, Rigg thought of his father and how, in all his teaching, he had left out so many things, yet had told them to Nox. It left a bitter feeling in his heart, to know how little Father had trusted him; yet it also made him feel closer to Nox, since she had held so many secrets without ever telling them. Well, now she could certainly tell them to Rigg, couldn't she? "Why do you call him Good Teacher instead of using his name?"

"It was the only name I had for him."

"But his parents wouldn't have given him a name like that," said Rigg.

"I've had guests stay here who had names stranger than that -- given to them by their parents. I had a man whose first name was Captain, and one whose first name was Doctor, and a woman whose first name was Princess. But if you want a different name for your father, try the one he used in that paper -- Wandering Man. That's the name he went by in this place, before I started calling him Good Teacher. Or Wallwatcher, or Golden Man."

"Those are names from legends," said Rigg.

"I've heard people call your father by such names. They took it seriously enough, even if he laughed. Names come and go. They get attached to you, and then you lose them, and they get attached to someone else. Now let me concentrate on making this bread. If I don't pay attention to it, it goes ill."

It wasn't much, but she had just told him more information about Father than he had ever heard from the man himself.

It was still three hours before sundown when he set off.

"Thank you," he said, taking leave of her at the back door.

"For what?" she said dismissively.

"For lending me money you couldn't afford," said Rigg. "For making bread for me. For saving my life from the mob."

She sighed. "Your father knew I would do all that," she said. "Just as he knew you'd have the brains to find a way here without getting yourself caught and killed."

"Father didn't know I was going to try to save a stupid boy on Stashi Falls."

"Are you sure of that?" asked Nox. "Your father knew a lot of things he shouldn't have been able to know."

"If he knew the future," said Rigg, "he could have dodged the damn tree." And after that, Rigg couldn't think of anything else to say, and Nox seemed eager to get back inside the kitchen, because she had a whole supper to prepare for her guests, so he turned and left.

Copyright © 2010 Orson Scott Card


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