I held my breath hoping that whoever was knocking on the door would go away. I wasn’t that lucky. After a long moment, there was another couple of knock, more firm this time.
Sighing my exasperation, I got up and opened the door, ready to tell whoever it was on the other side that I didn’t have time for their drama.
Sol, top hat perched jauntily on his head, stood there. “I forgot to give this back to you.” He held out his hand, palm up, offering me Link.
I snatched up my lucky penny. “Thanks.”
He grabbed my wrist.
Startled, I tried to pull away, but his grip was firm.
“What happened?” he asked, examining the scratches.
He bent over, his lips hovering over my hand as though he was about to kiss it.
Squirming uncomfortably, I tried to tug free of his grasp, but found I couldn’t as a puff of warm air enveloped my hand.
He stood up and smiled at me. “All better.” He let go.
I glanced down and saw that the scratches no longer existed. The skin was unblemished. “How…?”
“Magic,” he murmured, tipping his hat at me.
“I hate magic,” I told him stubbornly, squeezing the penny.
He glanced at Conroy. “You taught her to hate magic?”
“I taught her no such thing,” the owl spluttered indignantly. “She came to that conclusion all on her own.”
Sol raised his gaze to meet mine. “What’s your name?”
I scowled at him. “I told you. It’s RV.”
“Liar,” Sol replied calmly. “I’ll ask you again. What’s your name?”
My heart pounded. I didn’t know the answer to the question. I probably should have, but I didn’t. And that scared me.
“She doesn’t know,” Conroy supplied.
Sol stared into my eyes, searching. “She knows.”
I shook my head. Panicking I reached for the camper door, trying to shut him out. “I don’t. I really don’t.”
“I might be able to help with that,” Glory called from inside, her voice muffled by the pillow covering her.
“Who’s that?” Sol asked.
“She found the dead man’s hod,” Conroy explained.
Sol frowned. “And you brought her here?”
I hesitated, not willing to voice that Valentina had said to hide the pot. Finally I told him, “It seemed like the right thing to do.”
“May I see her?”
“Don’t let him steal the hod!” Mildred meowed, positioning herself in front of the obscured pot.
“I don’t need a hod,” Sol reminded her testily. “I’ve already got one.”
Noticing Ernie, walking stick in hand, making his way toward the office, I ushered Sol inside. “Come in. Come in.”
He stepped inside, knocking his hat off in the process. Instinctively I reached out to catch it as it fell.
“Don’t!” Sol tried to warn, but I’d already grabbed the brim.
That was a big mistake. A wave of energy body-slammed me against the back of the passenger seat.
“Erich!” Sol reprimanded.
Breathless, having had the air bashed out of my lungs, I dropped the hat. My teeth ached from the surge of power that had passed through me.
Sol put a steadying hand on my shoulder and peered worriedly into my eyes. “Are you okay?”
“Your hat attacked me,” I muttered. “Again.”
“She touched me!” Erich complained.
“Sorry about that.” Sol picked up the hat and tossed him into the driver’s seat so that there would be no more accidental contact.
Conroy fussed from my chest., “Hods can be such a menace.”
“I heard that, hooter,” Erich bellowed.
“Cut it out,” Sol ordered his hat. “You owe her an apology. She meant you no harm.”
“Hey, it’s not my fault I have a highly developed defense system,” Erich said.
“We all do,” Glory piped up from behind the pillow. “It’s really not our fault.”
“Is that why you caused the treacherous grit?” Conroy wanted to know.
Sol glanced in the direction of the pillow. “That was you?”
“Yes,” Glory admitted sheepishly.
“You could have killed them,” Sol lectured sternly as he moved over toward the bed.
Mildred hissed at him and unsheathed her claws, but then leapt out of the way.
“I know,” Glory admitted petulantly. “But I didn’t mean it.”
“And she did spit them back out,” Conroy reminded us, coming to the pot’s defense.
“No, I didn’t,” Glory said quickly.
Sol, who’d been reaching for the pillow covering her, hesitated for a moment, and I got the impression he was deciding between revealing or smothering her.
“Of course you did,” Conroy said. “It’s not like this one used the Benevolent Boost. As she’s so fond of saying, she hates magic.”
Sol removed the pillow and squinted at the dinged up old pot. “May I?”
“Yes,” she replied, “You may…but I wasn’t the one that saved them.”
“Then who did?” Mildred meowed curiously.
An uncomfortable hush fell in the camper.
“Well someone did it,” Mildred insisted.
Sol picked up the pot and began to examine her. He let out a low, appreciative whistle. “Oh wow.”
“What?” Conroy asked.
“Yeah, what?” Erich parroted sullenly. “What’s she got that I don’t?”
“She’s marked with the Rune of Spirit,” Sol whispered reverentially.
“Impossible,” Mildred snapped. “That’s an old legend, nothing more.” Still she sidled up to the pot to get a closer look.
Sol held the pot out so that the Siamese could examine it closely. “See for yourself.”
She stared at it for a long moment, back arched, hair on end. “It’s a hoax,” she muttered and then bounded away. “Let me out. Let me out of here right now.”
Not wanting to deal with her, I happily opened the door, setting her free. I quickly slammed it closed before any nosy neighbors could make an appearance.
“I meant no disrespect,” Erich said from the driver’s seat. His normal gruff attitude seemed to have been replaced by adoration for the pot.
Sol carefully put Glory in the middle of the table. “How did you end up here? No wait, how did you end up with Keith? He wasn’t…I mean, he wasn’t, was he?”
I’d had trouble following him, but apparently the magical pot had not.
“No,” Glory assured him with a knowing chuckle. “He certainly wasn’t.”
Sol sank into a seat, obviously relieved. “But how could he…?”
“Not all can see the Rune,” she explained. “Most cannot, unless I choose to allow it.”
Sol bowed his head. “I’m honored.”
“I didn’t make that choice for you,” she said softly. “You have the ability on your own.”
“I knew it!” Conroy hooted victoriously. “He isshuhval!”
I’d been silent through the whole exchange, but now I blurted out, “You keep using that word. What does it mean?”
Glory gasped, alarmed “Please tell me she’s kidding.”
Sol frowned at me. “Apparently not.”
“But how?” the hod asked in amazement.
“Ask her redia,” Sol suggested. “He seems to know everything.” He turned an accusing gaze on Conroy.
I was pretty sure I heard the owl gulp.
“You should probably sit down for this,” Sol told me, patting the other seat.
Everything in me constricted, as I sensed I was about to receive some sort of horrible news. My breathing was shallow, my heart beat fast, and my gut roiled. “I don’t care,” I announced, my voice cracking at my attempt at bravado. “I don’t care what any of this is about.”
Sol raised his eyebrows, steepled his fingers, and took a slow, deep breath as though he were fighting not to lose his temper.
I refused to sit down, wanting to be in the position to bolt if necessary.
“Maybe if you admit to being a shuhval,” Glory coaxed. “It could make things easier for her.”
Sol sighed. “You do know I’m caponem, right? I’m magicless.”
“And yet you used the Benevolent Boost,” the pot mocked.
“You?” Conroy asked. “You used it?”
“That’s child’s play, not real magic,” Sol countered.
“And your hod?” Glory pushed. “You’ve sustained him.”
“We’ve sustained each other,” Erich corrected from the front of the vehicle.
“Using a persject,” Conroy murmured. “That explains the rabbit.”
Sol winced. “Again, not real magic.”
“So what is a shuhval?” I slapped my hand over my mouth, trying to recapture the impulsive question.
“A fairytale,” Sol said tiredly.
“A defender,” Conroy offered.
“A valiant defender of primacy,” Glory declared with reverence.
“You make it sound like there is something to protect,” Sol snapped, his lavender shimmer sparkling with outrage. “Look around you. The world is in chaos. At best, the primacy were defeated. At worst, they went into hiding.”
“Fidian!” Valentina boomed so loudly that for once it wasn’t just me that heard her. The windows of the camper shook as she thundered.
Startled, Sol blinked twice. “Did you hear that, Erich?”
“The whole camp heard it,” the hat confirmed.
Sol leapt to his feet and held out his hand. His hod flew to him. He held the hat in front of his chest with both hands like it was a shield. “Who was that?”
I didn’t answer. I wasn’t sure how.
“Who was that?” Sol demanded again.
The space seemed to grow warmer from the heat of his temper.
“Val…Valentina,” I stammered as I took a step backward, needing room between us.
“What’s your name?” Sol snarled. “And don’t tell me you don’t know.”
“But she doesn’t know,” Conroy reminded him, coming to my aid. “And you’re scaring her.”
“Then you tell me.” The magician reached out and grabbed for the pendant.
But his fingers never touched the owl.
Time slows when I’m fighting, so it was easy for me to slap his hand away and deliver a roundhouse kick to his chest. Before he could react, I’d sent him crashing backward, so that he was splayed out on the bed.
He sat up slowly, massaging his sternum. “I knew it. Knew it the first moment I saw your shimmer.”
I clutched Conroy in my hand, ready to continue battling to protect him. “Knew what?”
“I knew you were magic royalty.”