“My kite!” he finally screeched. “My poor kite! What has he done to you?” He snatched the kite from Oliver. “He broke you, didn’t he! How dare he!”

“I didn’t break it!” said Oliver, hurt.

Great-uncle Gilbert shook his head. “Not you. Him! The evil me!”

“I’m sorry,” said Oliver, trying to keep his voice from trembling. “I tried to stop him.”

“I’m sure you did,” Great-uncle Gilbert said, patting Oliver absently on the shoulder. “But what could you have done? Even I was fooled at first! And if he fooled me, then what chance could you have possibly had?”

“Hey,” said Oliver crossly, “I—”

But Great-uncle Gilbert was trotting away, muttering “Tried to warn him … did my best to keep him safe … and do I get a word of thanks?” His feet sent up clouds of dust that swirled away in the breeze.

Oliver rushed after him. He could barely keep up with the old man as he strode rapidly along, twisting and turning expertly through the desert scrub. “Can you fix the kite?” he asked anxiously.

“Can I fix the kite?” Great-uncle Gilbert replied haughtily. “My dear boy! My kitesmithing skills are unparalleled! I—”

“Well, can you?” interrupted Oliver.

“No.”

Great-uncle Gilbert halted suddenly. He held the kite close to his face. His expert fingers danced, tenderly, across every inch of silk. When he came to Two’s makeshift spine, he snarled, “Amateur!”

Oliver felt unexpectedly defensive. “He didn’t have much time!”

“Time?” said Great-uncle Gilbert. “Time is just a construct!”

“What?”

“Never mind.” The old man set off again. “I can’t fix the kite.”

“But why not?” panted Oliver, jogging after him.

The old man sighed. “Insufficient materials!”

“But what about the riven oak?” said Oliver. “It must have an equivalent in this world. You could use bits from it to fix the kite!”

His great-uncle stopped short. “Why, yes,” he said, surprised. “How do you know about that?”

“Oh, I’ve learned a thing or two the last few days,” said Oliver smugly.

“Perhaps you have,” Great-uncle Gilbert said. “Yes, in my talented hands, the kite can be repaired with a spar from its home oak. But you see, wonderful as these trees are, they are too small to fashion spars of suitable length.” He started off again in a swirl of purple robe, leaving Oliver in a cloud of dust.

Coughing, Oliver reached for his pack. “Wait!” he shouted. Oliver removed one of the branches he had collected in the last Windblowne and caught up to his great-uncle. The kite began to shake in his great-uncle’s grasp. The old man jolted to a stop, gaping at the kite. Oliver stuck the branch in his face. “Here!”

Great-uncle Gilbert’s eyes widened, then narrowed, then widened. “Astonishing!” he cried. He tossed his walking stick to the ground and yanked the branch out of Oliver’s hands. He sniffed it all along its length. He gave it a shake. Finally he snorted and looked away.

“Well?” asked Oliver.

“Remarkable,” said Great-uncle Gilbert with a sniff.

“Never have I seen such a potent specimen of oak.” This admission seemed pulled from him with great difficulty.

“I have more,” said Oliver. “I got them from a world where the oaks were twice as high—”

But the old man was in motion again. The branch had disappeared somewhere within his robes, and he and his walking stick were barreling through the desert.

Oliver caught up and panted alongside his great-uncle. Great-uncle Gilbert seemed to know exactly where he was going, but Oliver felt as lost as he had when he landed on the world with only one moon. He turned around and around until the twisted little oaks snapped into place like the majestic trees of the other Windblownes. It wasn’t easy, but soon he had a map of his own Windblowne. He knew where they were and where they were heading—to his great-uncle’s oak, or rather, the oak that held his treehouse in the other Windblownes.

“So you’ve got the branches. Now you can fix the kite, right?”

“Only partly,” huffed Great-uncle Gilbert. His voice did not sound quite so rude. “Nothing can be done about the rips in its sails. I have no silk.”

“Wait,” said Oliver. This time his great-uncle waited. Oliver rummaged again. He produced the silken half-tail that Ilia had given him. He had promised Ilia that he would give it to her Oliver, but this was a special situation.

Great-uncle Gilbert accepted the tail without snatching or yanking. He appraised it carefully. He coughed and puffed for a minute, then patted Oliver on the head. “Well done,” he said, and the tail went away somewhere in his robes, too.

“So—you can fix the kite?” Oliver demanded for the third time.

“Possibly,” said Great-uncle Gilbert, taking off again. “There is a sickness that infects these samples.” He twirled a finger in his hair. “Still, there may be a way around that problem.”

Oliver had the impression that his great-uncle had not fully considered the implications of repairing the kite. The old man had the mildest expression on his face, as though he were simply enjoying a midsummer dash. Meanwhile, a thousand miles of howling hell-world loomed emptily in all directions. Oliver reminded himself that his great-uncle was mad.

Gently, he said, “So Lord Gilbert trapped you here. But we can escape once the kite is fixed.”

Oliver seemed to have earned a little grudging respect, for his great-uncle answered in a way that suggested normal conversation.

“Unfortunately for you,” he said with a smile as they wound their way across the rocky slope, “even if I can repair my dear little kite, it will not be able to fly you out. The night winds on this world are not strong enough. There’s no leaving here!”

Not only did Great-uncle Gilbert not seem upset about the prospect of being trapped in the hell-world, he seemed oddly cheerful about it. Oliver started to feel less gentle and more irate. “Aren’t you worried about spending the rest of your life imprisoned in a hell-world?”

Great-uncle Gilbert cackled. “A hell-world? I suppose that old fool did see it that way. But my dear boy, I am not imprisoned. I like it here!”

Oliver looked around. He saw desert landscape, endless sand, and distant dust devils roaring across the parched landscape. “How could you like it? Don’t you miss the oaks?”

“Miss them?” cried Great-uncle Gilbert. “Why ever would I! They’re all around!” He waved his hand vaguely around his head.

“Yes, but … look at them. They’re stunted. They’re not really oaks at all.”

Great-uncle Gilbert chuckled. “They’re not? Lad, these are the finest oaks I have ever seen! Look closer!”

Oliver sidled over skeptically and peered at the nearest little tree. He looked at the wide-spreading branches, tough bark, and roots snaking out in all directions. He looked at the spiny little protrusions—you could hardly call them leaves—and realized with surprise that these oaks still had them. After the surge that had wiped out the leaves in the last Windblowne, he’d thought every oak in all the worlds must be entirely bare. Yet here they were. Oliver tugged on a spiky leaf. It refused to come off. He looked closer. This leaf was tiny and hard to read, like the script in an ancient book, but he could see that, in another world, this was a sentinel oak.

Oliver looked at the dry sand and cracked rock from which the oaks grew. He looked up at the cloudless orange sky. These snaking roots must grow that way in order to seek out water wherever it could be found. He stroked his hand along the oak’s tough bark. This hard skin would be needed to hold in the little water the roots collected. And the tree’s small size was the most efficient way to grow in desert conditions. The tenacious oaks had found a way to survive in a harsh and unforgiving environment.

“I see,” said Oliver simply.

Great-uncle Gilbert beamed. “Well done, then.”

“One of our world’s oaks couldn’t survive here at all, could it?” said Oliver. “These oaks really are stronger.”

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