By Ann Maxwell

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Too long. We lost some drifs. We thought that all the animals flushed themselves clean at the river. ” Lhar measured the taman’s sullen stance. “We’ll wait as long as we can. ” Kaffi licked her lips delicately. Taman were too valuable to be used as meat animals except on rare occasions. Their flesh was a delicacy. ” “Then I’ll—” “No, no,” laughed Kaffi. “My words are bigger than my stomach. ” Kaffi looked at him in puzzlement. ” Kaffi’s yellow eyes gleamed. “It’s our custom that the honored guest eats alone.

Here,” she said, throwing him a ball of sand-colored soap. ” Lhar caught the soap, tested the water, sighed, and stripped. He submerged, then stepped out and rubbed the soap briskly all over his body. ” “That,” said Lhar, indicating the river. ” Lhar grinned and tossed the soap at her. “Your turn. ” The icy river brought a smothered yelp from Lhar, but he set his teeth and rinsed himself anyway. As he emerged, one of the drifsen came to investigate the source of all the yelling and splashing. Lhar did not stop to explain.

As Lhar broke the contact he received a distinct image of Kaffi answering questions beneath the persuasive hands of the guardian. Lhar walked slowly, but with growing strength. He led his stumbling taman away from the river under the flat white eye of a rising moon. With clumsy hands he stripped off the riding harness and bridle and bent to hobble the taman. “Vanish,” said Lhar when he was finished. The taman whuffed in his face. Lhar laughed silently and groped in his pockets for leftovers from the long ride.

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