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Queen of the Wild Range, Chapter 4
Eryx ran his hand over the boards that would eventually be his kitchen wall. Evening was fading, and only a faint light reached through the canopy. He had to stop for the night.
He sat back on his heels, proud of the progress he, Gil, and Diza made that day. The platform was complete, and they had framed a few walls. He had been sleeping in Silas’ extra room, which was fine by him. But now that he had built this platform with his own two hands, he seriously considered sleeping on the hard floor that night.
He looked up when he heard footsteps. Ganya stood with a basket over one arm. “Won’t you join us for dinner?” she asked. “You’ve been working hard all day, and you skipped lunch.”
“No, thank you, ma’am,” he said, fumbling with his mallet. Her kindness made him uncomfortable. “I’ll find dinner on my own.”
“No neighbor of mine will ever starve to death,” she said firmly, putting the basket down. “You can’t say no forever. I’ll be here when you give in. And bring the basket back to me tomorrow.” She went home.
His stomach growled as he eyed the basket.
“I need to talk to you,” Silas called from his neighboring home. Eryx looked up to where the voice came from, and he saw Silas slip back inside his studio.
Eryx tossed a few scattered tools into Gil’s tool box and grabbed Ganya’s basket. When he entered the studio, Silas was painting. His brush hovered over the form of an animal, and his head was tilted to one side. The walls were nearly covered with scenes and colors and shapes, and there were tall piles of canvases in the corners. Splatters of paint covered every surface; and there were countless little glass jars of paint, water, and brushes.
“What do you want?” Eryx asked. He sat down at Silas’ table and unpacked the basket.
“I have a big job for you.” Silas put his brush down and sat on a stool, spinning so that he faced Eryx. “Ah, Ganya’s turkey pie,” he said. “You’re a lucky man.”
Eryx put a bite in his mouth. He had to agree.
Silas grabbed a fork from his kitchen and helped himself to the crusty, tasty morsels on the other side of the tin. “You’re going to bring Tali home. And I’m going to hold the waters so you make it home before the flood.”
Eryx looked directly at Silas as he chewed. There were several moments of silence as a war raged within Eryx. He had been walking the tricky line of avoiding Tovi while living next door. He had refused Ganya’s offers of meals on the porch. He walked the other direction when he saw her coming. He even averted his eyes when she looked toward his growing house. It was necessary. Being near her was pure misery. Her flower-picking, sunset-watching sweetness stood completely counter to his temper bent on destruction. He must stay away for her sake. And his own.
Yet Silas was giving him the chance to make Tovi happier than she had ever been. He could saunter back into Adia with Tali, making her wish come true. She would throw her arms around him and—
He stabbed the pie with his fork much harder than necessary. “Where is he?”
“You’ll follow the river southeast to the sea. He is there, a short way from where the river meets the ocean. You’ll have to travel east along the shore to get to their cove, but it isn’t far. You’ll find two huts on the sand. They will be expecting you.”
“Yes, Tali, Thomae, and Lena.”
Eryx leaned forward and stared at Silas. The candle in the lantern flickered several times, and the only sounds came from the frogs and crickets outside.
“Thomae and Lena are alive?” Eryx asked.
“And Tali is with them?”
“Why not bring them back yourself?”
“I have my reasons.”
“Why do they need someone? Just give them directions to follow the river upstream.”
“I need to send Lena and Thomae somewhere else, and I don’t want Tali traveling alone. There are too many people looking for him.”
“Even with the curtain?” he asked through a mouthful.
“Then why not send Tovi? She wants to go.”
“She isn’t ready. And I don’t want her to be alone on the way there for the same reasons.”
Eryx looked away. “I can’t do it.”
“I’ll be the judge of that.”
“So, I have to?”
“You never have to. But I want you to, and that should be enough.”
Eryx let his gaze wander over the paintings that covered the walls of the treehouse. Most meant nothing to him, filled with people he didn’t know and places he had never been.
“Is that him?” he asked, nodding to a scene of a man with navy blue hair. He was standing on a platform near the top of a tree taller than all the others in the surrounding forest.
Silas nodded. Eryx took another bite.
“I want you to go,” Silas said.
“How about this: I promise to tell you when you get back.”
Eryx studied the painted walls a little while longer and finished the pie before asking, “When do I leave?”
“In a couple of days. I’ll help you gather what you need.”
“Does Tovi know Tali will be back?”
“No, and it’s important that you don’t tell her either. It will be a chance for her to learn what can happen when she asks for something and waits patiently for the answer.”
“Patiently?” Eryx asked, one eyebrow cocked. He snorted and took another bite of Ganya’s pie. “I can’t wait to see that.”