Chapter Eighteen

Like a horse at the Kentucky Derby, Wyatt was out of the room with the hem of his nightgown slapping his ankles and the goat not far behind. Before I could think better of it, I followed the two into a cold courtyard where a fountain stood in the center.

I knew water features were en vogue but how is it that people who don't have indoor plumbing love so many damn fountains? And by fountains, I don't mean the little peeing angel ones they sell at Walmart but giant ones that could overshadow the deTrevi in Rome or anything a person from small town Missouri could imagine.

Wyatt and Cam—at least that's what I think he called the talking goat—circled the fountain, whispering to each other. I stood, alone and confused, off to stage left with my arms folded across my chest, shivering in an unfamiliar cotton nightgown.

"Why so sulky? You're in the hub of all ripples!"

I turned and saw a great dog with a chunk missing from his left ear. His eyes widened and tail wagged, "Isn't that some fountain? Have you ever seen anything like it?"

I shook my head. The dog's tail stopped moving and he looked out to the fountain. For a while we stood in silence until I felt something small and furry rub against my calves.

The dog rolled his great eyes and asked the newcomer ("Rime" what business he had trying to break my ankles.

"She's fine…Len, what's Wyatt on about? The fountain's fine." Rime purred.

"You know, there's a reason he chose Cam to watch the fountain."

"Cam has no sense of free will."

"Cam's the most conscious of us!"

"I think you're jealous."

"I'm jealous?!"

"So good of you to admit it. Now would you please stop fussing—the lady's unnerved by it."

"Rime…"

I stood quietly watching the cat and dog fight like…well, cats and dogs. But what was that the mutt said about the hub of all ripples?

"Excuse me, fellas, ma'am? Wyatt would like a second opinion. Could you follow me?" the goat asked as he plodded across the courtyard.



Naturally surprised, all I could think to do was fall in step with the genial, talking barn animal. At the other side of the court yard, we found Wyatt pouring over a tureen of fizzing liquids.

"Wyatt…?" Cam ventured.

"Hush!" Wyatt hissed with a backwards wave, "Valdise…talk to me!"

Valdise? Hadn't he called me that earlier? I took one look at cam and walked closer to the sputtering basin.

"Wyatt! Thank Kore! I thought you were—there's been an accident. The other fountain…"a woman's voice boomed only to fade out into what could only be described as radio static.

"No! Damnit!" Come back Valdise!" Wyatt howled and knocked the tureen on its side.

Curious pale liquids spilled onto the cobblestone and Cam back stepped in disgust. In the hazy light, I could see a woman's face—lips moving but making no sound.

"What?" I mouthed.

Hands came before her lips and she mimed drinking. Before I could ask, she faded into the shiny cobblestone.

"Damnit! Cam! Where could she have gone?"

The goat hesitated, "I don't know."

"But you do! Why won't you tell me, your master?"

"Because she is the mistress."

"But…"

"Wyatt, wasn't there something you wanted to ask her?"

"But Valdise—"

"Her!"

I then realized that Cam meant me and Wyatt was is, the man who kidnapped me last night. Our eyes met and his turbulent gray ones narrowed.

"Do you know what has happened?"

Careful not to break eye contact, I shook my head. His lips became a thin pink line, "What were you doing last night, alone in the forest?"

"Seeking refuge in the village across the river."



"Why?"

Here we go again. Let's try this time to sound a smidgeon more intelligent than the time before when I was asked, "There was a great chance I would be tried as a whore."

Those thin lips curled, "And what proof did they have?"

"None, but I'd imagine they wouldn't be bothered with facts—only condemned to burn at the stake." I shrugged.

"You don't say." His eyes crinkled. "So in order to avoid this painful death, you thought you'd try your luck in the wild?"

"Not the wild per se, just the next village over."

"Ahh but why aren't you desperate to go home?"

What a question. Why indeed? "Perhaps home is a long ways away."

"Can't be too far. A girl like yourself looks like the sort that comes from Austrich, horrible lips and the like."

"Sir, if I came from an ostrich, I believe that by now I would be molting."

Cam and Wyatt laughed raucously. When the latter recovered, he choked, "Perhaps from the West, you have the very scowl of a British merchant."

"Not a scowl but a glower courtesy of my great-great-great grandfather upon immigrating to America."

"Is that what they're calling it these days? I must say, the Fourth Estate had a better ring to it."

"Whatever happened to the first, second and third?"

"Enough. We must now find a way to bring Valdise back. What do you know of this land?"

Like a loud burp, it was out before I could think better of it, "Beside the fact that no matter how handsome the men are they will forever be idiots? Not much, really."

He nodded and I took a chance, "Why are you so set on bringing this Valdise back—couldn't she just want to be left alone?"

The cat and dog ambled over and Cam whispered something in their ears. They slunk off, behind the fountain and left me with Wyatt.

"Nonsense. She loved it here, she loved…"

Like all "passionate" figures, Wyatt trailed off before snapping, "No matter. What have the creatures told you of this fountain?"



I bit my lip and said, "Nothing really—only that it's broken."

And nothing else?"

"Nothing."

His eyes swept over me like an x-ray. After a moment he stalked off, leaving me by my lonesome.

The courtyard was quiet but for the fountain's gurgle. I took my time to circle the fountain and make professional-sounding grunts every so often.

When I finished my fifth turn about the fountain, I sank to my knees to survey the base. There was nothing new to see—all that changed was the feeling in my calves. Len and Rime shuffled over.

"No luck?" Rime asked.

"Nothing's the matter—as far as I can see." I concurred.

"I've told Cam over and over but he won't hear reason."

"But the two of us can't be crazy."

"But can't you?" Len croaked.

"I think it's a conspiracy—something to keep Wyatt occupied while Valdise is off in Kore knows where." Rime assented as he washed his paws.

"Cam wouldn't—"

"He wouldn't for just anybody but Valdise isn't just anybody, is she?"

"No." the dog conceded, "But he wouldn't do it if it weren't for a good reason."

"Such as freedom?"

The cur whuffled and I found myself laughing. What kind of mad house is this?

"He could never be freed—we're all bound to Wyatt by the word of Kore."

"And that makes the idea of freedom so much more tempting."

"Cam's not as self-absorbed as you. Now was there anything you wanted to say to the lady?"

Rime took one long look at me, flicked his tail and stage whispered, "Get out while you still can!"

"RIME!"

"Come on, we better tell Wyatt before he heads out to the lesser well."



The critters lit off back the way I came in with Wyatt. After a moment's internal debate, I sprinted after them.