“The best medicine maker in the district is at New Moon,” Tavia continued, “but I don’t think he’s taking apprentices.”

“That would be Arkady Waterbirch?” Fawn hazarded. “The one they say is a groundsetter?” That last had been a new term to Fawn, but the local Lakewalkers seemed to set great store by it. At the redhead’s raised eyebrows she explained, “I’ve been asking around for the past few days, whenever I saw a Lakewalker in the market. They always start by telling about the makers in their own camps, but they all end by mentioning this Arkady fellow.”

Tavia nodded. “Makes sense.”

“Why is he not taking apprentices?” Fawn persisted. All the medicine makers she’d ever met had seemed hungry to find new talent for their craft. Well, unless that talent was trailing a farmer bride. “Is he full up?” She added conscientiously, “Not that Dag’s looking to be an apprentice, necessarily. He might just want to, um, talk.”

The two women exchanged guarded looks. Neeta said, “You’d think Arkady would be looking for a new apprentice, about now.”

“I’m not so sure. He was pretty upset about Sutaw. He took a lot of shafts about it.”

“He wasn’t even there!”

“That’s the complaint that stings the most, I gather.”

Uncertain if the girls would explain this camp gossip to a mere farmer, Fawn nudged Remo. He cast her down a pained look, but dutifully asked, “What happened?”

Tavia rubbed her round chin and frowned. “A couple of months back, one of the youngsters at New Moon was badly mauled by a gator. When his friends ran to the medicine tent for help, Arkady was out seeing another patient, so his apprentice Sutaw went to take the boy on. He groundlocked himself, and died of the shock when the boy did.”

Remo winced; Fawn quelled a chill in her belly. Remo said, “Wasn’t there anyone else there to break the lock?”

“The boy’s mother, but she waited too long. Some other youngsters, but of course they couldn’t realize. There was a lot of bad feeling, after, between the parents of the mauled boy and Sutaw’s tent-kin, but it’s pretty much settled down now. Arkady’s been keeping to himself.”

“Not that you can tell the difference,” said Neeta. “He always was as grim as a knife maker. Maybe a new apprentice would be good for him.” She smiled at Remo. “Your friend could ask, I suppose. But you’d likely better warn him old Arkady’s kind of… difficult, sometimes.”

“Yeah?” Remo shot an ironic look at Fawn. “That’d be right interesting.”

The two girls from New Moon Cutoff were picturing Dag as a young patroller like Remo, Fawn realized. She decided not to try to explain the more… difficult aspects of her Lakewalker husband. He’s not banished, not really…

The New Moon man finished counting coins into his wallet from the farmer, slapped the horse on the rump in friendly farewell as it was led away, and turned back toward his companions. Fawn was reminded that her market basket ought to be piled high and handed off to Remo to lug by now.

“Well, thank you.” Fawn dipped her knees. “I’ll pass the word along.”

The two returned nods, the shorter girl’s bemused, the taller blonde’s a trifle grudging, though both watched after Remo with considering glances as Fawn led him off across the square once more. But their attention was soon diverted as another potential customer strolled up to eye the horses.

Remo looked back over his shoulder and sighed in regret. “Barr would have charmed their socks off.”

Fawn dimpled. “Only their socks? I’d think Barr would be more ambitious. Least to hear him tell it.”

Remo blushed again, but protested, “They’re patroller girls. They’d keep him in line.” But after a longish glum moment, added, “If they wanted to.”

Fawn shook her head, smiling. “Come on, Remo, cheer up. We got us a wedding party to fix.” A flash of color caught her eye, and she stepped along to a fruit cart to bargain for blocks of dried persimmon and bright round oranges packed in straw, both astonishing southern fruits she had tasted for the first time only a few days ago. Another Graymouth woman sold Fawn a jar of molasses, sweet as the maple syrup cooked up on the Bluefield farm each spring, if with a much stronger, stranger flavor. It would go well with biscuits, Fawn thought, or maybe with something using up that last barrel of wrinkling apples that had ridden with them all the way from Oleana.

“So,” said Remo thoughtfully as they made their way to the next vendor on Fawn’s mental list. “If Dag wants to find himself a medicine maker that much, why isn’t he doing the asking around?”

Fawn bit her lip. “You’ve heard him talking about it, haven’t you?”

“Oh, sure, couple of times.”

“He’s said even more to me. But Dag’s a doer, not a talker. So if he keeps talking, but doesn’t do… it seems to me something’s wrong somewhere.”


Her steps slowed. “He’s scared, I guess.”

“Dag? Are you joking?”

“Not physically scared. Some other kind of scared. I don’t have the words for it, but I can feel it. Scared he won’t get the answers he wants, maybe.” Scared he’ll get the answers he doesn’t want.

“Hm,” said Remo doubtfully.

As they wended back to the riverbank and up the row of flatboats to where the Fetch was tied, Fawn’s thoughts reverted to the horrific tale of the groundlocked apprentice. That could be Dag, all right. A youngster in danger, a desperate fight for survival-despite being partnerless, he would dive right in and not come out. With him, it wouldn’t even be courage. It’d be a blighted habit.

When Dag had first talked about giving up patrolling to become a medicine maker to farmers, it had seemed a wonderful plan to Fawn: it would be a safer line of work, it wouldn’t take him away from her, and he could do it all on his own, without needing other Lakewalkers.

Without needing other Lakewalkers to accept her, to put it bluntly. All of these promised benefits appeared to be untrue, on closer look-see.

My thoughts are all in a tangle, Dag had complained to her. What if it wasn’t just his thoughts? What if it was his ground, as well? Which would be no surprise after all the chancy groundwork he’d been doing, lately. Miracles and horrors. Maybe he really needed another maker to help straighten it all out.

Groundsetter. Fawn rolled the word over in her mind. It sounded mysterious and promising. Her chin ducked in a firm nod as her feet rapped across the Fetch’s gangplank.


The wagon roads from the lower to the upper halves of Graymouth wound around the far ends of the long bluff, but several sets of stairs zigzagged more breathlessly up the steep slope. They were built, inevitably, of old flatboat timbers, generously enough for folks to pass four abreast in places. Dag turned his head for a quick glimpse of the busy riverside laid out below, with the gleaming river receding into level haze in both directions. He breathed in the cool air of this midwinter noon, contemplating the array of people about to officially become part of, well… his family, he supposed. Tent Bluefield. The growth of it had happened so gradually over the weeks of their disastrous quest, Dag was almost shocked to look back and realize how far they’d come, and not just in river miles. Yet here we all are.

The Fetch’s party climbed two by two. In the lead wheezed Berry’s uncle Bo, gnarled riverman, the one member of the young flatboat boss’s family back in Clearcreek who had volunteered to come help her on this long journey. Beside him thumped Hod, an arm ready to boost Bo along, but Dag judged the wheezing misleading; Bo was as tough as the old boot leather that he resembled, and the knife slash in his belly was almost fully healed. Hod had become far more than a mere boat hand after all their shared adventures, being as near as made-no- nevermind to adopted into the Fetch’s family.

Berry’s eleven-year-old brother, Hawthorn, came next, his pet raccoon riding on his shoulder, both boy and animal sniffing the air in bright-eyed curiosity. There had been some argumentation over whether a raccoon was a proper ornament to a wedding party, but the creature had ridden with them all the way from Oleana, and had become something of a boat’s mascot over the downriver weeks. Dag was just glad no one had extended the argument to Daisy-goat, equally faithful and far more useful. A bit more of Hawthorn’s swinging wrist stuck out of

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