Tarascotti’s wives were taking him to a Trideian manse for the winter. They were travelling by horseback which he found an agreeable luxury, he could rarely afford a horse’s upkeep and would rather keep the coin aside for the lean times anyway. Priestesses, it seemed, had more resources than wandering drui for hire. Katinka was leading the way several horse lengths ahead on a brown mare, while Ellabetta was bringing up the rear on a much heavier black gelding. Sofia rode companionably beside him on a sorrel mare while he was astride a darker chestnut gelding.
He was still getting used to being married. The whole idea of three wives and his presence at the wedding not being necessary still seemed extremely strange to him, but they had certainly nursed him back to health after his near fatal encounter with the bear. Ellabetta had replaced almost all his clothes, the bear having destroyed nearly everything, and he was rather pleased with her efforts. As for spousal relations, well, none of the girls were shy and they didn’t seem to get jealous of each other but Tarrascotti wasn’t used to sustained, interested female company.
They were coming out of the woods into the farmland around the river, the fume from the waterfall just visible at the bottom of the cliff, when Katinka held up her hand signalling a stop. When she rode back to them, Ellabetta having come up from behind, they could see she was worried.
“Willow song,” she spat out in her delightful accent, “and we came this way to avoid Grandfather Willow in the valley above the falls. It doesn’t look like somewhere under a blackheart’s influence, but it’s definitely willow song.”
“Let me see if I can hear what it’s saying,” Tarrascotti offered, climbing down from his horse and walking forward to the edge of the trees. The dip of the river valley lay before him, mainly farmland with the river marked by autumn yellow willow trees. He cast his spell on himself, then listened to the web of wind, root and leaf and finally began to speak what he could hear. “Milking cows stay in your fields and eat your grass; farmer cut here and here for your fence wood and some will grow into a tree in place; basket weaver, take you branches from here and let the light into the tree; wise woman, these are the best trees for the bark you need put aside for winter; and sweet, brown-skinned boys fishing for your dinner, don’t let the old pike pull you in!”
“It’s a whiteheart,” Katinka took a deep breath in, “I’ve never seen one before.”