She couldn't be certain of this. She was no doctor.
Of one thing she was sure, though. With his arrival, the mood of
the Grasstrail Train changed. Why? Perhaps this: If the poor creature had been
beaten to within an inch of his life, and lived, there might be hope for all of
them. Think about it: His face hadn't been scraped. People relaxed. The nasal
buzz of prayers around the supper campfire gave way to a quieter mood. Song
returned, in time.
We'll make it. We deserve to. The privilege of life has been
accorded us, see? We've been saved. Must be for a reason. Spines straightened,
eyes grew bright and moist in a rapture of gratitude at the plan of the Unnamed
Another week and they had rounded the landmark rocks that marked
their U-turn north, and they left behind them in the Disappointments the
greatest threat of ambush.
In this month of Summersend, the wind flicked the strands of
oakhair in the forest that grew between the lakes. Squirrels spilled nuts on the
skarkskin roofs of the wagons. The air was more watery, too, though both lakes
were out of sight beyond the miles of woods on either side.
As the oakhair forest thinned and they reached the Shale
Shallows, the shady surround and homely walls of an old settlement solidified in
the middle of walnut-colored fields. The first stone building they'd seen in
six weeks. Despite its steep, aggrieved gables and pinched outbuildings, despite
its battlement defenses, nothingnot even the Emerald Citycould seem more
welcome a sight just then.
"The Cloister of Saint Glinda," they buzzed. "How
holy it appears."
The maunts who lived within were divided into ranks. Some took
vows of silence and lived cloistered. Others took vows of indulgence.
Under the Jackal Moon
They indulged in teaching, tending the sick, and operating a
hostelry for those traveling between the southern Kells and the Emerald City. So
the broad carved doors were swung open when the Grasstrail Train pulled up. The
welcoming committee, a band of three middle-aged maunts with well-starched
collars and bad teeth, stood at attention.
They greeted Oatsie with frosty politeness. They were suspicious
of any unmarried woman who had found a way to live single, apart from female
community. Still, they offered her the traditional wipe of the face with sweet
rosefern. A fourth maunt, sequestered behind a screen, played a welcoming
anthem, poorly. Harp strings snapped, and the sound of a most unmauntish oath
The travelers didn't care. They were almost in heaven. To
anticipate beds!and a warm meal!and wine!and a captive audience, ready
to thrill at the story of their journey!
In this last item, though, the maunts gave bad value for money.
At once their attention was riveted by the invalid. They carried him into the
loggia and hurried to collect a stretcher so he could be hauled upstairs to the
The maunts were beginning to shift the fellow to private
quarters when the Superior Maunt wafted by, fresh from her morning devotions.
She greeted Oatsie Manglehand with the least of nods, and glanced upon the
broken lad for a moment. Then she waved her hands: Remove him.
She said to Oatsie, "We know him. We know this one."
"You do?" said Oatsie.
"If my memory hasn't begun to fail me," the Superior
Maunt continued, "you should know him, as well. You took him from us some
years ago. Fifteen was it, twenty? At my age I don't apprehend the passage of
time as I ought."
"He'd have been a child twenty years ago, an
infant," said Oatsie. "I never took an infant from a mauntery."
"Perhaps not an infant. But you took him just the same. He
traveled with a disagreeable novice who served for several years in the hospice.
You were conveying them to the castle stronghold of the Arjikis. Kiamo Ko."
The foregoing is excerpted from Son of a Witch by Gregory Maguire, pages
rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written
permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY
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