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“Our breakfast. Bread leaf and sour pear. Looks like you have a fire going for the fish.”

He glanced back to the little blaze that Greft tended. Jerd had come from somewhere to join him. She leaned against him quietly as he broke dry bits of root from the end of the snag and fed it to the small fire he’d kindled in the main nest of roots. “It wasn’t easy to get it going. And the fear is that if we succeed too well, it may spread to the rest of the debris pack and send us fleeing again. We don’t have much security here, but at least we’re still afloat.”

“And the water is going down. But if we must, we would take to the trees. Here. Hold your shirt out.”

Tats lifted the front of his shirt to form a sling, and Thymara reached down her own shirt front to extract the sour pears she had carried inside her shirt against her belly. The wrinkled fruit were no relation to true pears, but she had heard that the flavor was similar. When she had emptied her shirt into his, she followed him back to Greft’s fire. She feared there would be awkwardness when she got there, comments or mockery, but Jerd only turned away from her while Greft said simply, “Thanks. Any chance of more?”

“These are past the season, but I could probably find more on the tree. And where one bread leaf vine grows, there are usually others.”

“That’s good to know. Until we know more of our situation, we’re going to have to manage whatever food we can acquire carefully.”

“Well, there’s plenty of dead fish floating in the river. The current is pushing the floaters up against the debris pack.” This was from Sylve. She and Harrikin carried a line of fish suspended by a stick shoved through their gills.

“They won’t be good much more than a day or so,” Harrikin observed quietly. “The acid in the water is already softening them. We probably shouldn’t try to eat the skin, only the meat.”

Thymara removed her garland of bread leaf vine and began to strip the leaves from them methodically. Tats had already divvied the fruit into piles. Now he began to deal the leaves out as well. With the fish, each keeper would have an adequate breakfast. There was no sense worrying about dinner just yet.

Greft seemed to have the same thought. “We should hold some food back for later,” he suggested.

“Or we can give each keeper a share and tell them, ‘that’s it for the day, ration yourself,’” Tats countered.

“Not everyone will have the self-discipline to be wise about it,” Greft spoke the words, but it didn’t sound like an argument. Thymara suspected they were continuing an earlier discussion.

“I don’t think any one of us has the authority to ration the food,” Tats said.

“Not even if we’ve provided it?” Greft pushed.


She turned her head to Alise’s voice. The Bingtown woman teetered awkwardly along one of the logs. Thymara winced to look at her. Her face was pebbled with blisters and her red hair was a tangled mat that dangled halfway down her back. Always before, Alise had been so clean and well groomed. “Where did you go?” she demanded when she was still most of a log away.

“Out to look for food.”

“By yourself? Isn’t that dangerous?”

“Not usually. I almost always hunt or gather alone.”

“But what about wild animals?” Alise sounded genuinely concerned for her.

“Up where I travel, I’m one of the larger creatures. As long as I watch out for the big snakes, tree cats, and little poisonous things, I’m pretty safe.” She thought briefly of Nortel. No. She didn’t intend to mention that incident at all.

“There are other dangers besides wild animals,” Greft observed darkly.

Thymara glanced at him in annoyance. “I’ve been moving through the trees all my life, Greft, and usually much higher in the canopy than I went today. I’m not going to fall.”

“He’s not worried about you falling,” Tats said in a quiet voice.

“Then someone should say plainly what he is worried about,” Thymara observed sourly. They seemed to be talking about her and deliberately making the words go past her without meaning.

Greft glanced at Alise and away. “Perhaps later,” he said, and Thymara saw Alise bridle. His words and look had pointed her out as an outsider, someone not to be brought into keeper affairs. Whatever it was that was chafing him, Thymara already wanted to defy whatever older, male wisdom he intended to inflict on her. From the look on Jerd’s face, he had annoyed her as well. She shot Thymara a look that was full of venom, but Thymara could not master the coldness to be angry at her. Grief for her missing dragon had ravaged Jerd. Her tears had left scarlet tracks down her face. Impulsively, she addressed her directly.

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