Written in Red Page 139

The girl took Meg’s hand in her own, and her joyous laugh made a few of those delicate wildflowers bloom at her feet.

“You are our Meg,” she said. “I am Spring. I usually wake for a few days while Winter still reigns, although not quite this early. But we wanted to give you something as thanks for saving the ponies, and it’s not appropriate for Summer or Autumn to rise yet, so I’m here.” Her laughter sparkled in the air.

“I’m glad I was able to help.” And I’ve wondered whether someone tried to poison them because I was here. “You’re visiting for a few days?”

Spring nodded. “In another day or two, I’ll sleep again. Not so deep as before, but I’ll sleep most of the time for a few more weeks. Winter has kept a list of the new books that have come to our library since I danced in the Courtyard, and she says if I make a list of the ones I want to read, you’ll deliver them. This is true?”

How could she resist the girl and that smile? “Yes, it’s true.”

More laughter. More flowers blooming around them.

Then Spring turned serious. “The warmth awakens, but it also weakens. Beware, our Meg.” She pointed to the creek. “Do you see? The ice has yielded in some places. In other places, it is solid but weak. Not a place to walk or skate now. It will harden again in a few days, although maybe not all the way.”

“Why will it harden?” Meg asked.

“A storm is coming from our brothers and sisters in the north. By Watersday, it will cross Lake Etu. I will return to my bed, and Winter, Air, and Water will rule for a while longer.” Spring smiled at her. “I’m glad to have met you. I look forward to seeing you again.”

I hope I do see you again. “I’d better get going. If I’m late getting back, Mr. Wolfgard will send the whole pack out looking for me.”

She had meant it as a joke, but Spring’s reply was serious.

“Of course he would,” Spring said. “Namid has given you to us, and we value the world’s gifts.” Giving Meg one more smile, she ran and hopped and skipped down the road.

Meg returned to her BOW and drove back to the office. She ate her lunch in the spotlessly clean back room while reading a chapter of the latest book she’d borrowed from the library.

If I’m late getting back, Mr. Wolfgard will send the whole pack out looking for me.

Namid has given you to us, and we value the world’s gifts.

And for the rest of the afternoon, she ignored the words that had produced a light prickling under her skin.

* * *

Asia sat in the Stag and Hare, watching the traffic and the Courtyard’s delivery entrance while she waited for the special messenger. She had gone to an upscale salon yesterday and changed her natural blond to a rich cinnamon. A change in foundation garments softened her br**sts instead of emphasizing them, and a couple of new, looser sweaters completed her superficial transformation. It wasn’t a bad look for her, and she decided to think of this as a test run for a disguise that Asia Crane, SI, might use for an undercover assignment.

The messenger arrived, looked around, then beamed a smile in her direction. When he reached the table, he bent toward her, as if about to give her a kiss. Then he hesitated and touched her hand instead.

He’s something of an actor too, Asia thought. He’d given the hostess the perfect impression of a man who wasn’t yet a lover but wanted to be.

“Anything interesting?” he asked as he draped his short winter coat over the back of the chair.

“Nothing.” She tried to keep the frustration out of her voice. There should have been an uproar in the Courtyard on Moonsday after the ponies ate the sugar, but there had been nothing then and nothing since.

“Nothing easily seen.” He opened his menu, skimmed the insert for the day’s specials, and placed his order as soon as the waiter arrived.

Asia ordered the soup and sandwich special and worked on being polite. She had altered her voice from syrupy to friendly but crisp. That, along with the difference in hair and cle**age, was a sufficient change to make the staff just uncertain enough about having seen her before.

When they were alone again, the messenger leaned forward, looking as if he were doing nothing more than flirting with a pretty woman.

“Someone became uneasy about the sugar and didn’t give it to the ponies,” he said. “The police have it now and will test it for poison.”

“That’s not good,” Asia muttered.

“It’s not significant. Our benefactor made a call and took care of it. The bottom line is humans before Others, so the tests on the sugar have been bumped way down in the lab’s queue. We’ll be gone before anyone gets around to fulfilling that particular request.”

“So it didn’t do anything for us.”

“Oh, but it did. It confirmed that our benefactor’s property is hiding in the Courtyard and using up a valuable asset to help the beasts. Knowing that, we take our preparations to the next stage.”

The waiter brought their meals and topped off their water glasses. The first glass and top off was part of the meal in restaurants like this one. After that, with the water tax being what it was, a glass of water cost as much as a glass of wine.

“The story I’ve spun for the locals is that two dozen men, friends of mine from our university days, have come to Lakeside for a winter vacation—snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, and so forth. There are good trails in the park, and there is an inn nearby that caters to visitors who enjoy winter sports. It even has a parking area just for snowmobiles. This thaw has soured things somewhat for winter sports, but we’re exploring the area and enjoying a chance to catch up with old friends. We aren’t complaining to the proprietors about the unseasonably mild weather, and that makes us good customers.” After giving her another smile, he took a big bite out of his sandwich.

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