The Seven Shards of Saradacil

by David C Lawrence

The Cordins of the Canton
Chapter the First

The four bedraggled travellers plodded on quietly along the muddy track – a huddled figure in a grey, ground-length robe and three smaller figures wearing brown travelling hoods following on laden ponies. The road climbed gently upward as it continued southwest while huge, newly green trees climbed the steeper slopes at the roadside. Evening was falling early and the dark clouds that had been dumping barrels of water on the group showed no signs of breaking.

"Are you sure you wouldn't favour a ride?" asked the first rider of the walker in front.

The walker kept a steady pace forward and did not even trouble a look back as he answered, "My dear halfling, your pony struggles as it is. Your short legs would have you sunk to your shoulders before you could get your eight steps. Remember, dear friend, everyone in the world is not a halfling."

`Isn't that the truth,' thought the rider. He looked at the ground behind the walker; not a print to be seen. Halflings travel lightly, but even they leave prints in thick mud.

The travellers continued on to the sound of the continuing drizzle falling through the canopy of branches above. Darkness began to envelop them as they plunged into a ravine, and the voice of the second rider rose weakly above the monotonous pounding of the rain.

"I think we should consider setting camp near the top of the next hill. Pity the clouds are still here; the moon waxes full tonight."

The smallest rider in the rear shifted in his saddle and muttered to himself with a bowed head. "Set camp? If we post in this ravine, we shall drown; and the winds at the top would have us blown all the way to Council without another step. There's not a dry spot between. I should die from nature before the Black Minister gets his try." The young halfling lifted his head and his voice. "This is all your fault," he called to the walker. "You drag us out here for an adventure and instead we get barroom fights and very wet hoods."

The walker stopped and faced the group. "What is my fault? The rain? You give me more credit than is my due if you believe I could accomplish such a feat. Remember, I did not drag you out here, nor even suggest any but Branwin accompany me to Council." The three halflings bowed their heads quietly and the travellers stood a while without words. The walker finally cleared his throat to gain the riders' attention, and when they looked up, he flashed a gentle smile and spoke. "Think back to the legends of Gorbodoc. Do you imagine he enjoyed his adventures as sporting? By protecting the Canton, he was doing what was necessary for survival. And between his spectacular deeds, his life was just as ours. Come, now, and let us make for the top of the hill as Caradoc suggested, for I see a rocky knoll to the left where we may be able to find a dry spot."

He started out of the ravine with the halflings following once again. The first two riders went abreast, talking lightly about the prospect of locating a dry spot, while the smallest rode a little further back than he had been while he thought back six days to what had him out here to begin with.


In the Canton there was an area called West Bailiwick, and this area was a town called Dider. In this town there was a tavern, The Tavern in the Hill, and this was where the Cordins of the Canton relaxed. The Cordins relaxed there because they didn't have very many better things to do, for they were the Defenders of the Canton from Outside People. Except very few Outside People knew of the Canton and those who did didn't much care. Since there was little defending to do, the main services of the Cordinry came along the lines of catching run-away cows or judging the vegetable contests of Tindal. In spite of their low-effort jobs, they received high respect. No one in the Canton could remember when it was necessary to be protected, but they realized that a Cordin spent the Watch alone, and for a halfling that meant something brave. It wasn't brave because of the danger, which was almost non-existent, but because a halfling alone stood an excellent chance of putting himself to sleep.

Not that halflings didn't like sleep – most had it in the top two hundred of their Favourite Things List, a respectable place in any halfling list. They didn't like unplanned sleep; about the only thing they disliked more was missing one of their five daily meals, which was often the result of unplanned sleep.

So the halflings of the Canton didn't take much notice if the Cordins did seem to relax a lot. In fact, at any given time between dawn and dusk, excepting meal time, eight of the sixteen Cordins of the West Bailiwick Watch could be found in The Tavern in the Hill playing sneak or tossing darts. That was where Tom Tuck, the Head of the Canton Cordinry, was when a young halfling came looking for him one spring morning.


When Pidge entered the pub, he looked around hopefully for Tom and then anxiously approached the bar. Tom wasn't to be seen, but if anyone knew where he was, the plump, jolly halfling in the green skirt-apron behind the counter would. Bolton Balflour ran the best pub in the Canton and he treated his good customers right. Bolton could be counted upon to know where his regulars were even when they weren't there, and when they were there, he probably knew where they were going to be.

"Hi, Bolton!" said Pidge.

"And a fine hidey-ho good morning to you, too, little Pidge!" said Bolton with as wide a smile as any halfling could give. "Come and sit and talk to me, my little friend."

Pidge frowned, forgetting why he had originally come in. "Couldn't I just be your friend, and not your little friend?" He looked sheepishly at the ground and scuffed his feet on the hardwood floor. Bolton was puzzled but slowly a look of understanding came to his face.

"Let me see ... you were thirty-eight then the month ago, and you've still got an Anniversary before your Coming. Well, okay. You can be my friend. Now then, what will you be having?"

"Uh ... I didn't come to have a drink." Pidge hedged around his purpose. After all, he was only thirty-eight as Bolton helped remind him.

Bolton still smiled and tried again. "Fine then, what have you come to talk to me about?"

Pidge hesitated. "I ... er ... I didn't come to talk to you." He knew how Bolton loved to talk, and that's what people who didn't come to drink came to do. And now, on top, Bolton just made him his full-fledged friend. He felt bad and Bolton was visibly saddened.

"What did you come for then? You know I don't allow layabouts." Pidge felt even worse. Now Bolton thought he was a layabout.

"Do you ... know where Tom is?" Bolton smiled widely once again and Pidge suddenly felt much better.

"Now then, you'll be here looking for Old Adlar's job,right?" Pidge smiled weakly. "I'm sorry I called you a layabout then. Tom's in the Cove with some of the fellas. I'll take you back to 'im."

Jack was the first to see Bolton leading Pidge back to the Cove – a dimly lit round room in the underground half of The Tavern with a large round table in the middle and two large round windows bored through the hill to facilitate a view down to the fields. "Crikey! Now what does he want back here?!" whispered Jack. "Tom! Bolton's got Pidge and I think he's coming for you."

Tom glanced out toward the bar and grimaced. He signaled another drink and looked despisingly into the one he was finishing off. With a mutter and a quiet, futile laugh it was gone and he stared at the table.

Jack looked at him in anticipation. "Well, Tom?" Tom muttered unintelligibly under his breath.

Crispin, a curly headed halfling about twelve years older than Pidge, was confused. "What's wrong with Tom today?" he asked Andy, another Canton Cordin.

Andy eyes lit-up as he started to explain; he liked to see other halflings have a little harmless fun and Tom was about to get his. "Well, you know Old Adlar just retired, right?"

Crispin smiled. "I should. It made the Head of the West Bailiwick Watch."

"Right! Well, when you moved up, you left a spot open. Three years ago, Pidge pestered Tom so much that Tom told him he could have the next job that opened up. As how Adlar was only one-thirty then, Tom figured he had another ten or eleven years before the oldest retired. Then Pidge would have been past his Coming and he would have to have started some other job. But Adlar gave up early on Tom and now Pidge is here for that job."

Crispin liked Pidge, for he was his eighth cousin and that number alone was something significant. "What is Tom so upset about? Pidge will do a good job. And he is the best darter in the Canton."

Andy laughed and went on joyfully. "That is one reason. You know as well as I how much our good fellow Tom likes being second. And you know as well as I that Pidge can be a nuisance, always yammerin' till he gets what he wants. This'll be real fun watchin' this one."

Bolton and Pidge reached the table and Andy laughed quietly into his folded hands. Bolton gave him a menacing glance. "Get your elbows off the table, now then, Andy." The Cordin quickly complied without a word, but continued to smirk to himself. "Fine. Now then, Mister Tocaman Tuck. It is my pleasure to present to you Master Parlon Tindal, inquiring on the matter of a position in the Cordinry." Bolton stood smiling and Tom just muttered again under his breath. Bolton's smile fell a little and he turned to head back to the bar. "I'll be getting you that drink, now then, Tommy."

Pidge stood bashfully with his hands in his pockets. He was subconsciously playing with a short metal rod that his uncle had loaned him for good luck. After a while, he realized he had the rod and, being as Tom wasn't talking, he ventured speak, with hope for some of that luck. "Hi, Mister Tuck ... I ... uh ... I heard that Old Adlar just quit." He shuffled his feet and blushed a little. Tom mumbled gruffly in recognition while the rest of the Cordins sat quietly looking back and forth among one another and Tom and Pidge. The young halfling shuffled a little more and rolled his eyes up from his bowed head. "Mister Tuck..?"

Tom looked up from the table. Finally getting his attention didn't make Pidge feel much better. "Addie didn't quit, he retired. And too early at that. He was only one-three-three." Tom folded his small, stocky hands on the table, grumbled in disgust, and looked towards the bar for his drink.

Pidge lifted his head and frowned uneasily. "Mister Tuck, do you remember when you said I could have the job, do you? You said that when a spot opened up, I could have the job. Do you remember, Mister Tuck?"

Tom stayed silent. Pidge trudged onward. "I remember, Mister Tuck. You said that as soon as somebody left, I could have a position. Well, Mister Tuck, do you remember?"

Tom lowered his brow and stared deep into Pidge's eyes. "I'm not sure you can handle it. You know every one of us has the adventuring spirit in our body. That's not normal for a halfling. I don't think you've got what it takes."

"But he has it, too," chimed in Crispin. "His line goes through the first children right back to Evers."

"Oh. I'd forgotten," grumbled Tom. "Well, what about a Watch? Think you're not to pimping to handle it? You are kinda young and you wouldn't want to be caught napping."

"Tom, you were just three-seven when you started," Crispin interrupted. The comment was not well received by Tom.

Andy leaned to Crispin with a laugh starting to emerge from his lips. "He remembers when he fell asleep on his first Watch and Adlar wouldn't let him hear the end of it," he whispered.

"Listen," said Bolton, who had returned with Tom's ale. "Why don't you just let him try it for a Watch?"

"Sure, Tom," offered Andy with a wide grin. "You could set him up in Two-League House right now. Eddie's out at Five-League and he'll stop anyone comin' off the mountains – although it's not as though anyone ever does."

"It really isn't such a bad idea, Tommy," Bolton said with a note of compassion for Pidge's cause.

The rest of the Cordins in the Cove agreed happily. When their enthusiasm had subsided, Tom drained the whole mug of ale in one shot. He put the empty mug forcefully on the table and avoided looking at anybody. Through the mixed voices encouraging him to give Pidge a chance, Tom could sense the anxiety of the little halfling. "Alright then," he finally acceded. "You head on out to Two-League and take Talbot with you. He's out under the bush."

"Thank-you, Mister Tuck! I really mean it!" gurgled Pidge with exuberance. "I really do! You can't imagine how much. You won't regret it, Mister Tuck. I'll do a good job. I won't fall asleep. I'll keep Outsiders out. You can count on me! Than ..."

"Just get going," Tom sighed as he rubbed his temples.

Pidge went running happily out the front door and all except Crispin, Bolton and Tom sat laughing in their seats. Wondering whether he had done the right thing, Tom just looked despairingly into his empty mug and groaned.

The plump tavernkeep put his hand on Tom's shoulders and tried to console him. "That was a good thing you did, Tommy."

"Yeah, I know," the Head of the Cordinry said with a wry note of sarcasm. "I'm just such a big-hearted guy."

The rest of the Cordins erupted into gut-wrenching laughter, and even a half-smile came to Tom's face.

Outside the sun was shining brightly on the sprouting fields as Pidge went running for his pony. His eyes followed a squirrel running up a rock wall toward his uncle's manor on the hill. Smiling broadly, he thought 'I did it!' Pidge rushed right over to his pony and began to untie it from a black iron that was set into one of the porch posts.

"C'mere, Talbot! Let's get going!" he yelled, and a happy-eyed basset came running from beneath the hedge.

"Well, shoot," said a tired halfling who was on the porch, leaning his wicker chair against the tavern. "I hain't never seen him do anythin' like that before."

Pidge whirled around to see who had spoken. "Hoomee! What brings you all the way out here from Boodin? It's great to see you again."

The farmer set all four chair legs on the porch and leaned his elbows on his knees, clasping his hands together. "Well," said Hoomee in a slow drawl, "it's a long story with a happy ending.' He thought a moment. "Well, a short story about a long chase with a happy ending. One of the cows got out here and we just caught her about an hour ago. I just put her in the pinfold 'round the side."

"She got out here?!" Pidge gaped in amazement. "That's over twenty-five miles!"

The farmer laughed in exasperation. "You're tellin' me? It ain't like I never chased one further than that before." He motioned to the dog standing and wagging his tail at Pidge's side. "When did he start doin' things like that? Tain't normal for that moody pup."

"I don't know ... about a year ago, I guess. Never really thought too much of it." The wide smile returned to his face. "Anyway, Mister Tuck just made me a Cordin. I mean he's giving me the chance to be a Cordin. I've got to get out to Two-League House if I want to be doing my job right." Pidge looked at the dog at his side and cradled his arms. "Talbot! Up!"

The dog jumped up to Pidge's arms and was promptly placed in one of the pony's side packs. Pidge pulled himself up to the saddle and turned the pony around to face the halfling on the porch. "Until we see again, and keep the cows in tight." He turned the pony to the west and headed off at full gallop.

Hoomee tipped the chair back again, folded his arms, and shut his eyes. "And good job to you, dear friend."

A little over half of an hour had passed before Pidge reached Two-League House – a brown, one roomed, cellared shelter with a long slope roof. The little halfling dropped off his pony and tied him with a slipknot to the pony-ring that hung by the door. Talbot jumped out of the the pack and was told to watch the road to the west so that Pidge could go in to set things in order for a day's Watch.

The building had not been used in many years, for the few Outsiders that did come over the border were usually checked as soon as they entered the Canton. Any that might have slipped in unnoticed were, in the eyes of the Cordinry, almost sure to be noticed soon enough without the aid of another posted Cordin. Though the outside of the building was kept attractive as a matter of halfling visual nicety, the inside was another story altogether. Stringy cobwebs lurked in dark corners, dust covered the sparse furnishings, and large chunks of burned wood lay jumbled in the fireplace. Pidge swung up the longboard that shuttered the large front window. Reaching up the chimney, he opened the damper to help the musty odor leave more quickly. The dart cabinet that hung on the back wall was also quickly attended to. Opening the cabinet revealed twenty-four good yewdarts. Eight of them were nocked for use with a slinger, but the slinger that sat in the center of the cabinet had a broken string.

Pidge grabbed a lantern and dropped down the stairwell to the cold, damp cellar in search of a broom. He came up shortly thereafter with his treasure in hand. Twenty minutes of work had the room free of the dust and cobwebs that had accumulated over a decade. The broom was returned to its resting place in the cellar. Pidge sat down behind the window in a tall chair with a stout back and began reading some parchments he had found on the shelf beneath the counter.

Date Checker Group Charge of Race Reason
88/1/10Adlar1LaslingisHumanExamine Gorbodoc's Records
88/2/21Branwin1LaslingisHumanTalk to Me
88/3/7Tom4PerwicDwarfMissed Turn for Dwarfhome
88/4/35Branwin23GullinGnomeTindal Vegetable Contest
88/5/14Tom1LaslingisHuman"Enjoy your Beautiful Land"
88/5/27Peledoc7CarawicDwarfBoodin Cattle Sale
88/7/40Adlar1LaslingisHumanBranwin's Anniversary

Pidge read the pages beneath the top sheet for the records before the closing. Halfway through the stack, Talbot began making a terrible fuss outside and Pidge was instantly up with sixteen darts ready in a leather strap. In one move, he untied the pony and jumped to the saddle as he watched the figure of a bent, old man hurriedly make its way down the road.

Talbot kept barking, even until the man had reached the House. Pidge finally told him to quiet down as the man stopped and stood before them. They faced off quietly for a moment, the man watching the mounted Cordin finger a dart while the anxious halfling scrutinized the Outsider.

Wizened features and a stern brow were accompanied by a long white beard and bushy lashes. He supported his frail body on a gnarled oaken cane and his hooded grey cloak swept down to the ground. The hood spread loosely across his back, revealing a full head of well-weathered white hair. A distant star glimmered deep in his eyes as he began to speak. "Hello, Master Tindal. I see they have reopened Two-League, and made you a Cordin for it." He smiled a gentle smile and awaited a reply.

He did not get one; instead, Pidge sat bolt upright and nearly dropped his dart in surprise. After a moment of hesitation, he crouched a little lower in the saddle and fingered the dart more menacingly, urging the old man to speak on.

"No need to worry about having to use that," the man said, referring to the yewdart. "I don't come for trouble. Where is the register?" He headed for the window.

Pidge looked down at Talbot and the dog indicated that he trusted the man. One thing still bothered the Cordin. "How did you get on this route without being checked? Where is your pin?" The Cordins issued small brown pins in the form of a yew sapling for all visitors to wear, and this visitor was obviously not wearing his.

"Your fellow was having a spot of a nap at Five-League and I did not want to be the one who disturbed him."

"Talbot?" Pidge saw that the basset still had confidence in the man. "All's well, then. Come and register." Pidge dropped off the pony and retied him and then swiftly entered the building, leaving the door open behind him. Reaching under the counter, he pulled out an unmarked parchment, a duck quill and a small, dusty bottle of ink. "What is ...?"

The man started right in without waiting for Pidge to finish his question. "Today is the twelfth, I am human, the name is Laslingis and I am here to see your uncle. I think you know the last bit."

Pidge looked at him with glazed eyes. "What? ... Oh, yes. The checker is Pidge." Laslingis smiled in mild amusement. Pidge gained his composure and made a mental connection. "So you are the Laslingis who has been recorded here nine times as often as any other visitor, come to fill another entry." He dipped the feather in the bottle to discover only a scraping of dried, powdery ink. "I'm afraid the bottle is dry. Why don't I just give you your pin and sign you down later."

He went to the back wall and reached up for a box marked "Yewpins" which rested on a narrow shelf. Like the ink bottle, the wooden pin box was also empty. Pidge walked back to the window where Laslingis was waiting patiently. "I'm afraid our pin box is dry, too." He sat in the chair heavily and pondered what to do.

His uncertainty was sensed by Laslingis, who offered a suggestion. "You could bring me back to the tavern and let Tom check me himself. Then I could go my way up to your uncle's."

I think that would be best, as more visitors are not likely to come. It seems as though you were the most likely to arrive, and now you are here." Pidge put the dart strap back in the cabinet and took the slinger to mend it later. He swung the longboard down again and set the papers back in order. Outside, the basset was once again placed in the side pack, along with the slinger. After untying the pony, he motioned to Laslingis and began heading east for Dider.

Laslingis strode quickly to his side and admonished him, "You would do better to ride, young friend."

Hesitating with a reply, Pidge did not want to offend the aged man. "I do not want to make you tired; I realize you must have come a long way."

"I have wandered many, many miles on these feet," Laslingis laughed heartily, "and I should hope they can tolerate many, many more. Ride and be rested." The warm tones of the man's voice soothed Pidge.

Stopping the pony, he hoisted himself to the saddle and then continued east. Laslingis, much to Pidge's surprise, held even stride with the quickly moving mount. They went on without speaking for about a furlong when Pidge finally spoke. "I realize that you are a frequent visitor to the Canton, or at least you were twenty years ago, but I do not know how you know me, or, even more oddly, how you know I wanted to be a Cordin."

Laslingis kept on forward while answering. "You are correct. I was a frequent guest twenty years ago, but another's suspicions has kept me away for many years. I visited only six times in the ten years following the closing of Two-League, and even less in the past eleven. I have known you since you were only half of a halfling, but the last time I spoke with you, you were not yet seven. You loved to hear tales of adventure then and awaited the day you would become an explorer. Where else in the Canton could you find anything close to that than as a Cordin? I was not at all surprised to see you as a Cordin, but I was surprised to see you as a Cordin at Two-League. I never really expected to see it opened again after Adlar had it closed so long ago. You were almost seventeen when that was so, and I had only seen you about in the decade between. After the closing, I tended to make my visits a little less visible, coming to Adlar or your uncle after dusk and leaving by the twilight. The last time I saw you was just four years ago." The old man lapsed into silence, leaving Pidge with a few thoughts to consider.

Pidge made the mental leap from his subconscious to his awareness. "You!" he said excitedly. "You're the Tale-Teller. I remember your stories. Evers in the wilderness and Gorbodoc and the Trolls and Lancobin fighting Orc hoardes and great kings ruling wide realms and the majestic Thelion soaring far over great peaks and the Dwarves hoarding their gold and Gnomes making sneaky traps and beautiful Elves in great, green woods and ..."

"All right, all right. Enough already. I am glad to see my tales did not fall upon deaf ears." He laughed heartily again with fullness that was surprising for his age and form.

They walked on quietly as Pidge was preoccupied with memories of the grand stories. They traveled on without word for a nearly a league and as they got nearer and nearer to Dider, more and more creatures – birds, rabbits, squirrels, and even foxes – greeted their friend Pidge and the young halfling quietly greeted them back. These unusual doings did not go unnoticed by the eye of the tale-teller.

"Tell me," he said after about ten minutes of animal approach, "what are they saying?"

Pidge looked at him quizzically. "How should I know? I'm not a bird or a rabbit. I'm just friendly with them."

"I think you could know," Laslingis reproached him. "When the next bird comes, ask it to look over the next hill for you and tell you what it sees."

Pidge looked at him more strangely. "How? I don't know bird-speak. And why? I know it's only a field."

"Just use normal speech; no need for bird-speak. Concentrate and hear what the bird has to say." Almost as soon as Laslingis had finished, a jay flew nearby and chirped a shrill tone at Pidge. The halfling did as the old man had said. The bird flew high over the hill and circled down to Pidge. It let out a lengthy stream of chatter and Pidge listened intently. When the bird was done, the Cordin thanked it and let it be on its way.

Pidge turned with an excited expression to Laslingis. "I never realized something with a head so small could see so much. It was so full of beauty. There were daffodils and dahlias, bluebells and buttercups, sunflowers and stock, and even the dandelions and milkweed were lovely. They all filled a bowl-shaped hollow and went on to cover the next hill further below. Butterflies lighted on yew saplings that were growing near a rock wall and two hedge-dogs were even playing chase among the thistle." He smiled with delight at the still-vivid picture that the jay had given him. His smile was widened as he realized that he had understood the chatter at all.

Laslingis felt equally satisfied with Pidge's understanding. "Well done, Parlon. I would not be so quick to make comments about the size of one's skull, though." He reached into the folds of his cloak and produced a short mithril rod. "Have you ever seen a rod like this?"

The halfling's eyes opened wide as his hand went deep into his pant pocket. "I have one just like it," he said as he pulled out a similar rod. The rod was silver coloured, only about four inches in length, and it tapered from end to end. It was a simple cylinder with no markings of any sort, but Pidge had always felt a sort of fondness for its perfect form and smoothness. "How did you know I had one? Or," he said with wonder filling his voice, "now that I see you have one, what are they to begin with?"

Laslingis put his rod away and stood at the roadside. "That is not where we will start. To begin with, I must know how you came about it." It was now the tale-teller who was interested in Pidge's story.

"It's my uncle's," Pidge shrugged. "He lets me hold on to it." It wasn't exactly the type of story Laslingis had expected.

"So why do you?"

"I don't know," he shrugged again. "I just like it."

Laslingis thought to himself. After a few moments, he started hustling toward Dider. "Come, we must go and check in with Tom. From there I will go to your uncle's manor, for I need an urgent word with him. Then you shall know, or at least have an idea, as to what that rod is that you have."

The old man moved quickly down the road and the pony had to struggle to keep up. They went up and down the green hills the four miles that remained to Dider. Not another word was spoken for the half-hour that it took to reach The Tavern in the Hill. Hoomee was still asleep when Laslingis breezed past him and headed straight for the Cove, much to the amazement of Bolton. The tavernkeep had not seen the tale-teller for over a score of years and started right after him to hurry the troublemaker out of his tavern.

Outside, Pidge stumbled up the stairs, not even bothering to tie the pony and leaving Talbot sitting puzzled in the bag. When the young halfling rushed by, Hoomee got lackadaisically up, tied the pony and helped the dog out of the pack. Tying the pony was not necessary, as it would have stayed anyway, but the farmer's experience with cows led him to be cautious.

When he got inside, Pidge nearly knocked Bolton over as they both headed for the Cove. Tom looked up from his mug to see Laslingis standing in the entranceway and the rest of the Cordins sitting dumbfounded. Before anyone could say anything, Pidge barreled into the old man and collapsed on the floor. Bolton came bustling in with a suspicious eye to Laslingis.

Raising his eyebrows to wrinkle his forehead, Tom started to nonchalantly bang his head on the table. "Why? Why, why, why?"

Crispin displayed his usual curiosity as to what made Tom so uptight. "Andy?" The other halfling sat by without saying a word, frozen in fear.

Bolton knew what he wanted to say. "Listen here, sir. We don't want any troubles in here, now then. Why don't you just find your way out and let us keep the peace."

Jumping up and brushing himself off, Pidge grabbed the tavernkeep's arm and pleaded with him. "No, wait Bolton. He didn't come for trouble; he only wants to see my uncle. Talbot thinks we can trust him. Please, Bolton, don't be nasty."

The Head of the Cordinry slumped back in his chair and groaned. "I knew something like this would happen. I just knew it."

Bolton was still suspicious. Eyeing the old man carefully, he spoke to Pidge shrewdly. "If he wants to see your uncle, what is he doing in here?"

"Only checking in," Laslingis answered in somber tones.

Pidge smiled weakly at Tom, who did not seem at all happy with his work. "Well, Mister Tuck, the ink was dry and there wasn't anything in the pin box. I thought it was best to have him check in with you."

Tom grimaced and hit his head on the table again. "Okay," he said as he lifted his head. He reached into his green waistcoat and pulled out a yewpin. The Head Cordin flicked it to Laslingis, who caught it deftly and fastened it surely to his cloak. "You're checked," said Tom. "Now get on your business, and don't be starting any troubles."

"To be sure," said the tale-teller and he turned and left as quickly as he had come. Pidge gave a bewildered expression to the Cordins. Scampering out of the tavern, he went hurriedly up the hill to where Laslingis already stood knocking on the door in the late day sun.


Chapter 2