Chapter 10.1

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Though it lay at the city's heart, people avoided Flag Wood. It was wild and strange, with impenetrable thickets, and tracks that wound about and came to dead ends, and holes where the ground had subsided into ancient stairwells, and clearings littered with half-buried masonry. Bareheepians were fearful of olden things, and to be seen in Flag Wood seemed to infer guilt. So it was a quiet place. On a Sinday there was only the sound of birds, and the rustling of leaves, and the muted roar of the nearby market.

"Did they actually say they were coming?" Mildew said from atop a great lintel.

"Not exactly," Ward said, as he paced about below.

"Prolly jerking your chain."

"You can go if you like."

Mildew was about to retort, but then a boy's voice drifted through the trees.

"Leif doesn't like this place. I don't either."

"Harden up Rupe. Leif's no baby."

A girl, a boy, and a fel emerged into the clearing.

"Hi," Ward said.

"Hi," Slops said.

Mildew and Carmen said nothing.

"Who's Leif?" Ward said.

"Oh," said Slops, and began to forage in his sweater. This struck Ward as odd, but then the boy's hand emerged with a straw-coloured thing with a pink nose.

"Oh, it's a gerbil," Mildew said.

"He's a gillywig," Slops said. He seemed at a loss for words then, and busied himself with putting Leif back in his sweater instead.

"We didn't think you were coming," Ward said.

"Got held up," Carmen said. "My Aunt and Uncle were on the way over, so we had to bring Grim and Leif with us – well we had to find them first." She sat down on a piece of masonry and crossed her arms. "Okay. We're here."

"Oh," Ward said. He glanced at Mildew, who was staring off into the trees, then at Slops, who was looking expectantly at him. He'd figured Mildew would be the one to take charge.

"Well I suppose I asked you here because – um, I'm looking for something."

"I see," Carmen said slowly.

Ward looked at Mildew again, but she was still ignoring him. He turned back to Carmen and Slops. "The Oliphant," he said.

Carmen's eyes widened.

"You know what it is?" Ward said.

"It's the horn that wakes the Seven Sleepers," Slops said. "It was a myth used to subjugate the masses."

Carmen paid no attention Slops, as if he said things like this all the time. "I thought you were looking for avory?"

"It's made out of avory," Ward said. "I mean, it might be."

"Oh."

"There's more though." And he told them how Nick had discovered the Dark Traveller itself in the old museum. When he had finished even Mildew was staring at him.

"But that's – crazy," Carmen said. "How do you know he didn't make up the whole thing?"

"The Kidsman doesn't make things up," Mildew said, and turned to Ward. "He told you to find it. He told me to help you. That's all I need to know."

"Slops?" Ward said.

"Oh – um. Carmen, what do you reckon?"

"I wasn't asking her."

"Oh gee. I don't know. Should we Leif?"

Now he's asking the gillywig, Ward thought. He wondered if this boy was playing with a full deck of cards. "Slops, I'm asking you."

"Well I – do you think it might be true? Cos my Mere and Pere'd -" He glanced nervously away to the east, as if his parents could hear him. "But what if I'm wrong? I'm wrong about lots of stuff. Oh gee."

Ward crossed his arms.

"O-okay," Slops stammered.

"Carmen?" Ward said.

She said nothing. Far away a bird sang and a costermonger bellowed. Even Mildew was watching her now.


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