Today was the Fifth Day of the Second Moon. Four days remained.

The wind blowing down from the crest brought a chorus of young voices, shouts mixed with laughter. Oliver grimaced. The voices belonged to those he had most been hoping to avoid, but there was no help for it. He marched grimly upward, gripping his kite.

A group of children came into view, all carrying kites. Oliver felt his usual shudder of envy, and a surge of embarrassment for his own kite. For his classmates’ kites were more than just kites; they were brilliantly painted eagles, bats, and dragons. The elaborate kites had hinges and latches that allowed them to be folded flat and carried, and then opened to full size when launched. These were kites that were, without question, worthy of the Festival, and all of the children were brimming with excitement and confidence.

They spotted Oliver. He braced himself.

“Marcus, do you see that?” one of them called, in mock astonishment. “Oliver has gotten hold of another kite somehow!”

Marcus held his eagle kite behind his back as though shielding it. “Oh, Oliver,” he said, shaking his head sadly. “What did that poor, defenseless thing do to deserve this fate?” He turned to his friend. “Alain, do you think there’s room in the trees for another one of Oliver’s kites?”

Alain looked thoughtful. “I’m not sure,” he said. “They’re getting pretty crowded up there. It might be more merciful just to burn this one. Need a match, Oliver?”

Peals of jeering laughter were carried off on the wind as Oliver quickened his pace, leaving the others behind.

All but one. A black-haired girl with a dragon kite broke away and hurried after Oliver. She had a red knit pouch slung over one shoulder, and it bounced on her hip as she ran. He groaned. Of all the humiliating episodes in his ill-fated flying career, this girl represented one of the worst. She had spent months making one of the most beautiful kites Windblowne had ever seen, a school of flying fish fashioned from silk and bamboo. In a moment of poor judgment, she had asked Oliver if he would like to fly it. Unable to resist, he had accepted the reels—and to his horror, had promptly steered the kite directly into the ground, destroying it. The violence with which he had managed to accomplish this was a frequent topic of discussion at school.

“Ilia!” Alain shouted from down the Way. “Better stay away from Oliver! Bad luck before the Festival.”

Ilia ignored him and dashed up beside Oliver. “Oliver,” she said anxiously, “you’re not going to the crest, are you?”

He did not answer. He wished she would stop being so nice about everything. She ought to hate him for what he had done.

“Well,” said Ilia after an awkward pause. “Be careful, Oliver. The night winds are coming.”

“Ilia!” shouted several of the others.

“Wait!” she called. She rummaged in her red knit pouch and produced a tiny golden kite charm on which a name had been etched—Ilia. She offered it to Oliver. “For luck. You can give it back to me tomorrow.”

Oliver shook his head, wounded. Why did Ilia think he needed her luck? “No thanks.”

“Well, good luck anyway,” said Ilia. Before Oliver could react, she pressed the charm into his hand, then raced down the mountain to her friends.

Well, that’s over with, thought Oliver miserably, dropping the charm into his pocket. But then he heard more voices, carried on the wind—more classmates, coming home late from practice. More ridicule. He would have turned around if he weren’t so desperate.

He paused. How desperate? Desperate enough to use his secret path? It lay just ahead.…

No, he reminded himself sternly. That’s only for emergencies. Someone might see!

But the voices were advancing, and the pointer on his handvane was wobbling violently. If anything qualified as an emergency, this was it.

He spied the entrance to the path, hidden behind a seemingly impenetrable wall of brush. He would never have discovered it were it not for two oaks located on either side, like twin sentinels guarding the trail, their lower branches dipping down just so.

Here lies the path, the sentinels seemed to say.

The voices were nearly upon him. He dove into the wall of brush, gliding through an almost invisible gap. From the safety of this hiding place he watched as more children passed, laughing and waving their wonderful kites. He burned at the sight. He burned particularly because he wanted to join them so very badly. When the children were gone, he turned and stumbled up the path.

Although it was a more direct route to the crest than Windswept Way, the path was overgrown and difficult to traverse. Fallen tree limbs mostly concealed what remained of the trail. Oliver crashed along. It must have been years since anyone had walked this old path regularly. He had used it only a few times himself.

A flash of color caught his eye.

Oliver crouched beside a sharp bit of broken oak limb. Hanging from the tip of it was the tiniest scrap of crimson silk. He touched it.

Kite silk.

Someone else had come this way.

Oliver stood, furious. This path was his secret! Now that he looked, he could see other signs—snapped twigs, footprints. Someone else had been through. Not far along he found a low branch that had a torn bit of wool on it, like the wool from which his own flying cap was made.

Oliver began to smash along. Maybe the person was still on the trail. Maybe he could catch up. Perhaps the other person would be willing to keep the secret. It would be better than having all of Windblowne tramping up and down the path every day.…

But whoever it was had not gone to the crest. The trail of snapped twigs and footprints and torn thread ended abruptly, halfway up. Or rather, it didn’t end but turned off the path and went deeper into the forest.

A cascade of dead leaves tumbled past.

Odd! Oliver thought, and for a moment he wavered. Then determination returned as he saw how the twilight gloom was gathering. He hurried up the path, resolving to come back after the Festival and explore this mystery further.

Soon he neared the crest.

As always, Oliver thrilled to the sound of the rising, rushing winds racing through the oaks. Normally he liked to look up into their tossing branches. Not tonight, though. Tonight he kept his eyes fixed firmly on the path. No more distractions, Oliver, he told himself. Focus.

He emerged onto the crest through another invisible gap in the brush. The oakline ended abruptly at the crest

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