Dale was waiting on the porch when Kheri came outside. “Tell me what this is.” He opened his hand and held out the papers he’d found in the pocket.
Kheri’s eyes widened and his mouth fell open. “Wow!”
Dale arched his eyebrows. “I assume by your reaction it’s either something very good or very bad. Which is it?”
“Uh… good. Definitely good. Where did you get that?”
“I found it in these pants. What is it?”
“You don’t know what money is?”
Dale placed his fists on his hips. “I know what money is,” his tone bordered on impatience. “But this doesn’t look like anything I’m used to.” He held the paper back out where Kheri could see it. “What is it?”
“Oh. Um… well, that’s probably enough to buy my aunt’s whole farm.” He picked up one of the pieces. “This is a one doran note. They’re worth five-hundred gills. You don’t have any of those, but they’re worth two-hundred minigills. Those things.” He pointed at some of the other pieces.
“And a minigill? How much would it buy?”
“A pint of watery ale. Or a night in the inn’s cheap room.”
Dale examined the pieces of paper in his hand then stuffed them back into his pocket. “All right, which way to the Tucker farm?”
Irritation crept back into the tone of Dale’s voice. “Because I need to give this money back before we do anything else.”
“Oh.” Kheri bit back a protest and pointed down the road. “That way, first farm we’ll come to.”
“All right, let’s go.” Dale stepped down off the porch and strode toward the gate.
Kheri jumped off the porch and ran after him. A curious feeling crept over him as he stepped out onto the road and he suddenly felt he would never see his aunt again. He stopped and turned around, fighting a wave of homesickness. Memories of years gone by flooded through his mind and he felt a pang of regret. I wish things had turned out different. I hope you’re still here when I come back… if I ever get to. He stood staring at the house for almost a minute then turned back to the road.
Dale was standing not far away, his arms crossed, watching him.
Kheri avoided eye contact, shoved his hands into his pockets, and strode down the road in the direction of the Tucker farm.
The road wandered lazily past open land covered with wild flowers of various shades. Kheri waited until the farm was out of sight, glanced over his shoulder, and then tossed the meat pie into a field.
“Not fond of her food?”
Kheri dusted his hands on his pants. “Not her meat pies. She likes ‘em burnt. Besides, Maw Tucker always gives me more food than I can finish when I stop at her farm.”
Kheri snapped a twig from a bush as he passed and looked over his left shoulder at Dale. “What?”
Dale was gazing out over the fields. “The Gorg are usually pretty single minded but there’s always the possibility that if they can’t find me…” He turned toward the younger man, a serious expression flickering over his face. “That they might pick other targets.”
Kheri stopped walking and stared at him. “Other targets? Like my aunt?”
Dale stopped walking as well and crossed his arms, locking gazes with Kheri. “Or the Tuckers. Or anyone else in the area.”
“It’s a very slight possibility.”
Kheri clenched his fists and glared at Dale, fighting the urge to turn and run back to his aunt’s farm. “You could have said this last night!”
“I spent most of last night remembering everything I knew about them. I only remember one recorded incident of the Gorg kidnapping random people who weren’t their designated targets.”
Kheri’s eyes flashed and he fought with rage that threatened to consume his self-control. “All right,” he growled through gritted teeth. “But if anything happens to my aunt, I’m holding you responsible for it!”
“If anything happens to your aunt, I’ll fix it if I can.”
Kheri’s emotions over-rode his common sense. “Why couldn’t you have been stranded somewhere else?” he snarled, glaring furiously at Dale.
Dale’s voice took on a hard edge and he narrowed his eyes. “I had all I could do to keep from being torn apart by the forces I was trying to control. Choosing which planet to land on was the last thing on my mind! Besides,” he prodded Kheri in the chest with his finger. “I’m not the one who was robbing drunks and breaking the law in the dark.”
Kheri returned Dale’s gaze for a few seconds then dropped his head and stared at the road, defeated once again. He took a deep breath and unclenched his fists. “Sorry.”
Dale uncrossed his arms. “Can we continue now?”
Kheri nodded, skirted around Dale and set off once more toward the Tucker farm.
The road topped a swell in the land a while later and the Tucker farm loomed into view. It was quite a bit larger than Matilda’s, with a rambling farmhouse surrounded by trees and a yard full of dogs. They bounded up to Kheri as he approached, engulfing him in a mass of barking fur. He laughed, scratching one of the dogs behind the ear, and attempted to push his way through them.
Paw Tucker sat on the porch steps whittling on a gnarled stick, his back propped against a post. He took in the scene, a bit of a smile playing about his face at Kheri’s obvious discomfort, before whistling. Panting dogs piled onto the porch and flopped down, their moist pink tongues dangling out the sides of their mouths. He tossed the stick aside and stood, folding his knife and shoving it in the hip pocket of his overalls as Kheri and Dale followed the dogs onto the porch.
“You boys are out early this morning. How’s Matty feelin’?”
Kheri squatted and scratched a couple of the dogs on the back of the neck. “She’s fine. Up making the beds and kicking us out to get fresh air.” He grinned up at Paw while petting a third dog.
Paw chuckled at the thought. “So what can I do for you boys?”
Dale pulled something out of his pocket. “I found this in the pants you gave me and I thought you might like it back.”
Paw’s face lit up and he took the money Dale offered. “Well now, don’t that beat all? Who’d a thought I’d left anything like that in those pants.” He handed one of the doran’s back and pocketed the rest. “I’m much obliged. Why don’t you boys come in and have breakfast? Maw should be settin’ it on the table right about now.”
Dale smiled as he took the money and hid it away. “Thanks. We didn’t have the chance to eat, so we’d be happy to join you.”
Paw reached over and opened the screen. The dogs erupted from the porch and dashed into the house, followed closely by Kheri.
Dale didn’t move. “There is something else I need to talk to you about, if you’ve the time.”
Paw shut the screen door, hitched his thumbs under his suspenders, and nodded. “Certainly. What is it?”
“Kheri’s aunt suggested you might have a couple horses you’d be willing to sell.”
Paw stroked his chin, nodding slowly. “I might at that.” He opened the screen door again and stood aside. “Let’s eat breakfast first, before there’s none left, and then we’ll go take a look.”
The table was loaded with food and crowded with members of the Tucker household. Paw ambled over and took his place at the head, gazing around at his family. “Now you young’uns watch your manners this morning,” he said, wagging a finger around the table as Dale sat down in the only empty spot. “We’ve got guests.” He picked up a platter of biscuits and took one.
The table exploded with activity at his signal. Silence, broken only by requests to pass things, reigned for several minutes while everyone concentrated on the rapidly vanishing food.
At last, Paw pushed his plate back and gave out a loud belch of satisfaction. “Good breakfast, Maw,” he patted his stomach. “That’ll hold till lunch.”
Maw Tucker gave her husband a smile as she and some of the younger children began clearing the dishes.
Paw stretched and pushed himself away from the table. “Well now, shall we go look at the horses?”
Dale looked up in surprise and stood, leaving part of his food unfinished. “Lead the way.”