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Fixing the Post

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It was unusual for the Red Company—for we were the Red Company again, though fewer in number—to return to the same place twice, let alone so soon. But the meanders of fate had returned us to Ragnor Bella, not a month after that first memorable visit. The town was much quieter, as it was not a market-day (and there were no respectable citizens loudly divorcing in the main square, more's the pity), and we attracted only a dozen or so interested looks on our way through the town.

Jullanar had gone to visit her children, Pali to visit with a nearby student of hers from Stoneybridge. Masseo had declined to accompany me to the bookshop, saying in that quiet teasing way I was yet to fully acclimatize to that he knew how long I would take in the shop, and would return with plenty of time to do his own browsing in an hour, or perhaps two.

So I was left alone, still a marvelous sensation, to make my own way to Elderflower Books in the main square. The well-appointed storefront looked much as we had left it, and evidently had not burst into flame or been beset by a dragon in Jullanar's absence. The bell on the door chimed pleasantly when I opened it.

Jemis Greenwing was behind the counter, head bent over a broadsheet of some kind. As he looked up I could see it was open to the crossword, though he did not appear to be solving it by the traditional means.

He stopped in surprise when he saw me, did one of his delightfully elaborated bows, and exclaimed, "You're back, sir! Is, ah— Mrs. Etaris back as well?"

"Only for a visit," I assured him. "I'm certain she'll stop in here before we leave again." I started for the natural history section, as I had come for a specific tome on the magical properties of Alinorel granite, which we did need rather urgently and which Jullanar had assured me the shop possessed. On the way I found my eye caught by what looked to be a wonderfully illustrated volume on Voonran architecture and paused to peruse.

Behind me, Jemis Greenwing cleared his throat. "Actually, if you don't mind, I had a question for you— With all the excitement during your last visit, I didn't think of it until after you'd left. Will your travels take you to Zunidh, sir?"

I turned back to him in mild surprise; it was not the sort of question I'd expected. "Alas, I've just come from there, in fact. I do plan to return, but not for some time."

"Oh." He looked unaccountably disappointed for a moment, then brightened. "Come to think of it, that may be nearly as good. There is a Zuni man in the village of St.-Noire, in the Woods Noirell not far from here, who has lived on Alinor since before the Fall. He's seeking word from his family on Zunidh, or a way to contact them. The village was placed under an enchanted sleep for several years, and— well, he thinks perhaps their letters may have gone astray, but he's not even certain they survived. His home is quite remote, but I wonder if you have any news you might be able to give of the V—" He paused, marshaling his tongue, and then managed a tolerable attempt at the correct pronunciation: "Vangavaye-ve." 

I had let him prattle on, though I had been reasonably certain what he would say, but my heart still leapt at the familiar word. I grinned at him. "Not only can I give you the news you seek, that the Vangavaye-ve did not merely survive, but is thriving—and not only can I tell you that I am well-acquainted with his family, who are likewise well—" I paused for effect, and flourished with the book I was holding "—but I can tell you that his cousin is one of my dearest friends, and in point of fact bade me to seek word of Basil Mdang the innkeeper on Alinor."

The young man's face broke into a wide and genuine smile, and I was glad to see that Basil had acquired such a staunch supporter. "That's wonderful, sir! I will bring him the news as soon as I'm able. Unless you'd prefer to visit him yourself?"

"Oh, I would very much like to meet him." Indeed, Kip would never forgive me if I didn't! Although— "The Woods Noirell, did you say? Knowing my own tendencies, I think perhaps I'd do better to give this to you to deliver safely, in the chance my route is— circuitous." From my bag I drew out the packet of letters from the Mdangs, which had heft enough to rival many of the books in the store. The main was from Kip, who said he had been adding to the letter for many years, but a large number of sundry Mdangs had included missives of their own. Jemis Greenwing's eyes grew wide as he took the packet.

"That's quite a lot of letters, sir."

"There are quite a lot of Mdangs."