he managed to dispose of me so easily. Not an easy task, I assure you.”

This had been bothering Oliver for some time. “That was my fault,” he admitted. “You could have fought off the hunters if I hadn’t distracted you.”

“Not at all, my boy!” announced Great-uncle Gilbert heartily. “My fault entirely. I shouldn’t have sent you away. I should have told you everything, brought you into my confidence. You could have been of great help to me! Now tell me all that has happened to you. I want to hear everything.”

Now we’re getting somewhere, thought Oliver. He told Great-uncle Gilbert the entire tale, from the kite’s arrival at his window to his discovery of Lord Gilbert’s Windblowne. He told of his escape and his quest to find and rescue his great-uncle. (Oliver thought he detected a glistening tear during that part of the story, which Great-uncle Gilbert tried to hide by draping a piece of silk over his head.) He told of his adventures across the other Windblownes and how he had learned to leap with the night winds. During it all, Great-uncle Gilbert worked on the kite with ferocious intensity, reaching into the recesses of his robe and finding silken thread, needles, packets of paste, more knives, and handfuls of chicken feed.

“Amazing!” said Great-uncle Gilbert. “Remarkable! To think you are able to use the oaks as a map to get around the mountain. And to identify the precise oak from which a leaf has fallen! All of that requires powers of observation even keener than my own.”

“Does it?” said Oliver, puzzled. “I thought everyone could do that.”

“Everyone can’t,” said Great-uncle Gilbert firmly. “You notice things, lad. You know how to pay attention to the world. A very valuable talent. Now—” He held up the kite, which was looking much better.

“It’s still not moving,” Oliver said.

“Not to worry.” Great-uncle Gilbert slipped the spine from its braces. “The boy almost had it. Almost. But it requires the touch of a master!” He seized the branch he had taken from the desert oak and clipped a bit from one end. Then he flourished his carving knife and went to work, the knife glinting in the sun. Within moments, he was done. Carefully, he slid the modified spine into place. It fit perfectly.

“There,” said Great-uncle Gilbert. “That should do—”

But before he could finish, the crimson kite leapt from his hands and shot into the air. Oliver whooped and cheered as the kite turned delighted loops. Then, with a sudden swoop, the kite flew down and settled in Oliver’s hands, fluttering its sails happily.

“Well, there’s gratitude for you,” Great-uncle Gilbert said petulantly, but he had a smug smile.

Oliver grinned. “It’s good to have you back,” he said to the kite, and with a whirl he sent it flying, its long tail swirling behind it.

“Not just back,” said Great-uncle Gilbert, swelling with self-satisfaction, “but better than ever. The kite is now composed of materials from four worlds and has been given the strengths of each. The verdant potency of one world! The stubborn persistence of another! Truly extraordinary.”

Oliver took the old spine. “Now we have to destroy this,” he said. “The hunters are using it to track the kite.”

“Very forward-thinking of you, lad,” mused his great-uncle. “We’ll put it in the fire on which I’ll cook our lunch.”

For lunch they feasted on a kind of watery soup made from Great-uncle Gilbert’s stores of roots and berries. Oliver didn’t think he had ever enjoyed a meal more. They watched the kite fly high overhead, exploring the sky. Oliver wished he could fly with it. Great-uncle Gilbert said the night winds would not be strong enough for that, but Oliver was determined to give it a try anyway.

“I have to find a way off this world,” he said. “We’ve bought ourselves a little time, but it won’t take Lord Gilbert long to figure out that I’ve destroyed the spar they were tracking, which means the kite is fixed, which means I’ve found you. He’s sure to send the hunters here.”

“Agreed,” said Great-uncle Gilbert. “We need a defense.”

“How can you defend against anything?” Oliver asked. “You didn’t get here by kite. Lord Gilbert can pull you back through the machine anytime he wants.”

Great-uncle Gilbert smiled and patted Oliver on the head. “I learned much from that first encounter.” He shrugged aside his robe to reveal a latticework of short desert-oak branches, woven together in a kind of armor over his shirt. He tapped one of them. “Fool me once, not twice! This will disrupt his infernal signals. He won’t take me so easily this time. And I know enough now to fend off those three hunters!”

Oliver shook his head. “Sixty-two hunters, at least, and maybe more.” He described the massive leaf-death on the world with one moon.

“Sixty-two, eh?” Great-uncle Gilbert looked concerned. “Then I—that is, we—had best get started.”

For the rest of the day, Great-uncle Gilbert worked on his defense, and Oliver helped him, or at least tried to. His great-uncle believed the hunters could be fought using a system of nets and catapults, which he had constructed from available materials. Oliver rather doubted this. He tried to help anyway, but never having been handy with tools, he kept making mistakes. He had the impression that his great-uncle thought he was getting in the way more than helping, but at least he was being nicer about it. While they worked, Great-uncle Gilbert babbled on in the most interesting way about the history of Windblowne, its old legends, stories that Oliver had never heard. For example, his great-uncle claimed that many centuries ago, before there had been a Windblowne in the trees, people had lived in a system of caves under the mountain.

“Where are the caves now?” asked Oliver.

Great-uncle Gilbert shook his head. “Don’t know. I’ve never been able to find them.”

Oliver was impressed. Windblownians had always considered themselves to be the first people on the mountain. Oliver gathered that the ancient book he had seen in Great-uncle Gilbert’s treehouse came from the age before there was a town on the mountain, and that his great-uncle considered it very precious. “My books are the one thing I truly miss,” he told Oliver wistfully.

“Even my father’s books?” Oliver asked.

“Ah yes, your father’s histories! A bit long-winded but fascinating all the same. His description of old Windblownian legends launched my own research.”

“What about your kites?” asked Oliver. “Don’t you miss them, too?”

“Yes. But I can make new kites. I have ideas for miniature kites, which can be made from these oaks. The books, however—there is far more to these worlds than it seems, and those ancient texts are the key. The books are irreplaceable.” He sighed heavily.

For supper Oliver shared the last of the sandwiches he had gotten from Ilia, and they drank the clear water of the spring. At sunset, their work on the defensive measures complete, Oliver and Great-uncle Gilbert sat comfortably as the winds sighed over them. Under the light of the two moons, they looked out over the vast black desert, the winds bringing smells from the other side of this world and, Oliver suspected, from other worlds as well.

Soon he decided the time had come to test the kite. Seeming to sense what he wanted, the kite flew to him, and he made excuses to his great-uncle, who sat quietly, staring into the vastness.

Oliver picked his way to the crest under a sky full of stars. Distant mountains made jagged silhouettes on the horizon. The night winds whistled gently. “Ready?” he said to the kite. It responded with a determined shake. Oliver launched it into the sky.

Though the kite did its best, tugging at Oliver from every angle, there was not nearly enough wind to lift them both. Oliver even tried a few running jumps, but it did no good. He wasn’t going anywhere.

The kite flew near him, sails drooping in shame. “It’s not your fault,” Oliver protested. “There just isn’t enough wind.” But the kite drifted away, low to the ground, back toward the house.

Great. Now everyone’s depressed. Oliver crouched on the crest, thinking furiously. There had to be something he could do.

All around him blew the whispery winds of the desert night.

Your talents lie elsewhere, Great-uncle Gilbert had said to him, in a time that seemed long ago.

Oliver closed his eyes, listening, paying attention to the world. The winds’ touch was featherlight and cold. It was the only thing he could hear. There were no birdcalls, no sounds of animals hunting, nothing rising up from the mountain below.

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