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I knew a shocking moment of greenest envy.

“I wish you all the joys of your home,” I said quietly.

“Thank you. You do understand this parting?”

“I do. Fare you well, Starling. Fare you well.”

I sat on the bench and watched her leave me. She did not walk, she glided, her arms across her belly as if she already held her unborn child. My greedy, raucous little bird was a nesting mother now. I felt a twinge of loss to watch her go. In her own way, she had always been someone I could turn to when my days were hard. That was gone now.

I thought about my days with Starling on the walk down to Buckkeep Town. I wondered, if I had not given my pain to the dragon, would I ever have given anything of myself to Starling? Not that I had shared much with her. I looked back at how we had come together and wondered at myself.

The Pelican's Pouch was in a new part of Buckkeep Town, up a steep path and then down, and half-built on pilings. It was a new tavern, in the sense that it hadn't existed when I was a lad, yet its rafters seemed well smoked and its tables showed the battering of most minstrel taverns, where folk were prone to leap to a tabletop either to sing or declaim an epic.

It was early in the day for minstrels to be up and about, so the place was mostly deserted. The tavernkeeper was sitting on a tall stool near the salt-rimed window, gazing out over the sea. I let my eyes adjust to the perpetual dimness and then saw Hap sitting at a table by himself in the corner. He had several pieces of wood in front of him and was moving them around as if playing some sort of game with them. He'd grown a little beard, just a fringe of curly hair along his jaw. Immediately, I didn't like it. I walked over and stood across the table until he looked up and saw me. Then he jumped to his feet with a shout that startled the dozing tavernkeeper and came around the table to give me a big hug. “Tom! There you are! I'm so glad to see you! Word went out that you were missing. I came to see you when I heard you'd turned up, but you were sleeping like the dead. Did the healer give you the note I left for you?”

“No, he didn't.”

My tone warned him. His shoulders sagged a bit. “Ah. So I see you've heard all the bad news of me, but not the good, I'll wager. Sit down. I'd hoped that you'd read it and I wouldn't have to tell it all again. I get weary of repeating the same words over and over, especially since I do it so much these days.” He lifted his voice. “Marn? Could we have two mugs of ale here? And a bit of bread too if there's any out of the oven yet.” Then, “Sit down,” he said again to me, and took a seat himself. I sat down opposite him. He looked at my face and said, “I'll tell it quickly. Svanja took my money and spent it on pretties that attracted the eye of an older man. She's now Mistress Pins. She married the draper, a man easily twice as old as me. And wealthy, and settled. A substantial man. So. That's done.”

“And your apprenticeship?” I asked quietly.

“I lost it,” he replied as quietly. “Svanja's father made complaint about my character to my master. Master Gindast said I must change my ways or leave his employ. I was stupid. I left his employ. I tried to get Svanja to run away with me, back to our old cabin. I told her things would be hard, but that we could live simply with our love for each other to make us rich. She was furious that I'd lost my apprenticeship, and told me I was crazy if I thought she wanted to live in the woods and tend chickens. Four days later, she was walking out on Master Pins's arm. You were right about her, Tom. I should have listened to you.”

I bit my tongue before I could agree with him. I sat and stared at the tabletop, wondering what would become of my boy now. I'd left him on his own just when he'd needed a father the most. I pondered what to do. “I'll go with you,” I offered. “We'll go to Gindast together and see if he will reconsider. I'll beg if I have to.”

“No!” Hap was aghast. Then he laughed, saying, “You haven't given me a chance to tell the rest. As usual, you've seized on the worst and made it the only. Tom. I'm here, amongst the minstrels, and I'm happy. Look.”

He pushed his bits of wood toward me. The shape was rough yet, but I could see that, pegged together, they'd make a harp. I'd been with Starling long enough to know that the making of a basic harp was among the first steps toward becoming a minstrel. “I never knew I could sing. Well, I knew I could sing, of course, but I mean I never knew I could sing well enough to be a minstrel. I grew up listening to Starling and singing along with her. I never realized how many of her songs and tales I'd got by heart, simply listening to her of an evening. Now, we've had our differences, Starling and I, and she doesn't approve of my taking this path at all. She said you'd blame her for it. But she vouched for me, and she let it be known that I could sing her songs until my own came to me.”

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