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Chapter Two

A year and a day later, Keith went calling on Holl.

From the basket of his conveyance, he leaned out and addressed the crowd gathered on the pavement around in the middle of the Midwestern University experimental farm. The handful of students, variously dressed in lab coats or filthy jeans, watched him with interest and thinly-disguised amusement. The ground crew, two men in blue jeans, jackets, goggles, and gloves, walked the balloon at shoulder height, as if carrying a sedan chair, to the designated launch point.

“To the Scarecrow, by virtue of his enormous brain,” Keith said, gesturing grandly, “to the Tin Woodsman, by virtue of his Heart.…” The rattan basket tipped slightly as he leaned over the side, and he stepped back in alarm.

“What are you doing?” demanded the other man in the balloon basket, turning away from the gas jet he was adjusting. Frank Winslow’s vintage WWI flyer’s helmet was jammed down over his head, pushing out the goggles standing on his forehead that made him look like he had four round and glassy blue eyes instead of two. “Are you weird, or something?”

“Nope,” Keith replied cheerfully, turning away from his audience. “Just always wanted to do that.” Deprived of their entertainment, many of them left. A few continued to gawk at the balloon. “Anything I can help with?”

“Nope. Just sit tight and stay out of the way. Let ’er go!” The lanky pilot waved to his crew, and they loosed the balloon and stepped back.

The Skyship Iris was an ovoid rainbow as it rose over the buildings of Midwestern University. Keith clung fast to the edge of the waist-high basket until he discovered that the motion was far less than he had expected, milder even than the college library’s geriatric elevator. He felt almost as if the ground dropped away and to the side from underneath them, leaving him hovering in place. The remaining spectators dwindled in size until they resembled grains of rice in the midst of a vast plate of salad.

A ringing sound went off just behind Keith’s back as the balloon gained altitude. There was a loud click, followed by the sound of Frank’s recorded voice. “Hi. This is Skyship Iris. I’m tied up right now, so could you leave a message at the sound of the tone, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. Bye.” BWEEP!

“Good takeoff, Frank,” said the voice of Randall Murphy, one of Winslow’s ground crew. “See you at the other end.” CLICK!

“You got a phone in this?” Keith asked, wide-eyed as the pilot, now with hands free, ran the tape back to the beginning.

“Sure,” Frank said, leaning back against the frame that supported the twin burners. He looked like a skinny stevedore, a full head taller than Keith, and his grin popped out the corners of his narrow jaw. “Gotta keep in touch. Can’t just land a balloon next to a phone booth. You figure you have to be self-sufficient in piloting one of these babies. There’s a lot of zen involved.” He grinned again, showing broad white teeth. “Modern technology don’t hurt, either. I figured out a new valve that makes my tanks last for six hours apiece. Walkie-talkie batteries don’t hold a charge that long. Cell phone’s easier.”

“Great!” Keith exclaimed.

Frank had also brought along a sophisticated-looking but lightweight cooler. “For champagne,” he explained. “Traditional.” Slung by a loop at the basket’s lip was a crank-powered AM/FM radio.

In spite of its high-tech accoutrements, the balloon basket resembled a relic of a past century. It was made of woven rattan with a padded bumper and curved base of leather, a fragile-seeming craft in comparison with the metal-and-plastic jets and small aircraft Keith was used to seeing.

As expected, the air was colder the higher they went. Keith shrugged into his thin jacket, zipping it hastily up to his chin, and wrapped his arms around his ribs. The pilot grinned at him and fastened down the flaps of his aerialist’s helmet.

“Need a blanket? There’s one under the cooler.”

“N—no, thanks,” Keith said. In a few moments, he was acclimated, and his muscles relaxed. He nodded to Frank.

“Fine and dandy,” Frank said. “Enjoy the ride!” The pilot perched on the basket’s edge with his long legs up on the other side, and shifted his close-fitting helmet rearwards to reveal his forehead. “Ahhh.”

Keith, less daring, stayed by the metal frame and gazed at the scenery. It was still a long way down. Frank was completely at home in the air. Nothing seemed to faze him, not even floating around in a craft as fragile as an eggshell. In just a short time, Keith himself had relaxed, and was enjoying the sensation of effortless floating. He leaned back and looked around.

The day was fine and clear. For some this might have been a mere pleasure trip. For Keith, it was business. Emptying his mind of fear, excitement, and any extraneous thoughts that might interfere with his concentration, Keith closed his eyes. Somewhere out there, he was certain, were air sprites, Little People of the air. He tried to visualize what he thought would be out there in the sky. Did they look like dragons? Pixies? Airplanes? In such a formless environment, would they be able to take any shape they chose? He let his mind drift to catch the trail of any elusive magical creature that might happen by within range.

Notwithstanding the occasional strong-smelling fume from feed lots they passed over, the air tasted cleaner up there than it did nearer the ground. Keith reasoned that if he were a creature of the air, he wouldn’t hang out so close to the ground, not with the whole sky to range. Holl and the Elf Master had scoffed at his theory, but they’d never checked, had they? The only one of the Little Folk to attain any altitude had been Holl, on his flights with Keith to and from Europe, but he’d been too preoccupied to sense anything outside his own concerns. Tiron, as a stowaway on that same flight, had been bent double in a suitcase, and would have remembered nothing but the difficulties he’d had in breathing and finding some measure of comfort among Keith’s dirty clothes and souvenirs of Scotland and Ireland.

Still, even if there had been any air sprites around when the two of them had been traveling, they’d have fled screaming from the jet, which Keith felt was too noisy to get close to the sensitive creatures he pictured. He wanted not only to sense the air sprites, but to see them. To do that, he needed to achieve altitude, but in a quiet, non-disruptive fashion. Barring finding wings of his own somewhere, there had to be some conveyance that approximated skyhooks. Gliders were unpowered, and therefore silent, but uncontrollable and too dangerous for an amateur. Helicopters set up too much of a racket. None of the craft with which he was familiar simply allowed him to hang in the air and listen.

When Frank Winslow, a competition balloonist, came to speak at Midwestern, Keith felt a light bulb go on over his head. The balloon was the perfect vehicle to test out his theories. It was almost completely silent, flew slowly and smoothly, hovering in the very wind currents sprites might live in. Keith was in a fever for the rest of the lecture, wondering how he would convince Winslow to go along with him. After the pilot’s talk, Keith took him to a quiet corner of the Student Common Room and laid out his plan.

Upon hearing Keith’s theories of mythological beings, Winslow made it clear he thought Keith was nuts, but decided he liked his company and wouldn’t mind indulging him to test out his ideas. Frank was perfecting the Skyship Iris for a round-the-world race. It cost nothing extra to have an extra body in the basket while he ran distances he would have covered anyway: he’d probably have a passenger along during his long-distance runs. All he asked for was a portion of his propane costs, like sharing gas money. Keith thought that was more than fair. The flat plains of Illinois were as good a place as any to practice sea-level skimming techniques, pretending the land was the sea.

As Keith opened up his senses, he felt disappointed. Both outer and inner sight told him that the sky was empty. The odd bird intruded its neutral presence on his mental radar. He ignored it, feeling further out.

Something flared suddenly into his consciousness. Off in the distance to the north, he sensed tantalizing hints of a presence, a strong one. Tamping down his delight, he concentrated all his thought in following them, projecting as hard as he could thoughts that he was harmless and friendly.

The wave of his mental touch broke over the thing he sensed, and it scattered abruptly into countless alarmed fragments and vanished, losing power and definition as it dissipated, like the sparks from an exploding firecracker. It receded ever further into nonexistence as if it could feel his pursuit. In a moment, there was nothing on which he could put a mental finger. Dismayed, Keith was left wondering if he had just imagined the contact. He sighed, planting his elbow on the edge of the basket and his chin on his hand. Another time. He sent his thoughts around, seeking other magical realities.

There were no more in the air. Below and ahead, the concentrated presence of the Little Folk at Hollow Tree Farm was the strongest magical thing he knew. Anything else seemed unreal and insubstantial, as far as magical traces went. As he got more practice at inner sensing, all the natural things around him acquired a more genuine aura of reality than he had ever known before. A few things just felt more real than others.

“Do you think there’s anything out there?” Keith asked Winslow.

“All the time,” Frank said. “Not sentient magical beings—well not secular ones, anyway. Got my own ideas about the sky, Gods and elementals and stuff like that. Almost holy.” He turned a suspicious eye toward Keith. “You don’t want to hear it.”

“Sure I do,” Keith said. “I’m looking for any kind of clues I can find.”

“Well …” Winslow began to explain haltingly, in his usual laconic style. Soon, he warmed to his subject and began babbling like a brook, defensively hurling forth ideas as if he expected Keith to refute them, talking about gods and forces of nature and sentient spirits. Keith pulled a tattered spiral notebook out of his pocket and began to take notes. Frank’s personal cosmology was as interesting as anything he’d read in mythology books. Keith guessed that he was the first person Winslow had ever opened up to about his ideas. There was something useful in being known as the weirdest person on the block: it made other people feel that maybe they weren’t quite so off the wall when all they were was sensitive or creative.

The sky above them was blue and daubed here and there with cottony white clouds. In the distance, Keith saw birds doing aerial acrobatics, and wondered if Little Folk of the sky would sport like that. Below them, the flat, checkered, green expanse of Illinois farmland stretched out to every horizon. Like a piece on a game board, the miniature shadow of the balloon skimmed from square to square. Winslow pulled the ring on the gas jet for more altitude. The crosscurrent swept them slightly more northeast than north.

“You sure you can find this farm?” Winslow shouted above the roar of the flame. “I mean, most times I put down where they’ve got landmarks.”

“I can find it,” Keith said confidently, then felt a twinge of worry. What if his inner radar suddenly ceased to operate? Tensely, he closed his eyes for a second, then tuned in, throwing his sense outward toward Holl and his friends. There they were, just where they’d been a minute ago. Keith let his shoulders sag with relief.

“You feel sick, Keith?”

“Nope,” Keith assured him, opening his eyes. “Just feeling the basket sway.”

“Won’t fall,” Frank promised him. “Never has yet. Want a brew? Or some champagne? Traditional.” The pilot popped open the cooler at his feet and took out a frosted can. Keith shook his head. “Won’t be through again for a couple weeks. I’m on my way to Florida after today. There’s a race over the Everglades.”

“Sounds great!” Keith said. “I want to stay in touch with you, if you don’t mind. I’d like to go up again when you get back.”

“Oh, yeah, air sprites,” Winslow said with a grin. He jerked on the heat jet tether. The flames roared. “Well, any time I’m in the area, it’s okay with me. You’ve got the number. Heading for South America in November, joining a rally over the Andes. Wind’s too strong for ballooning around here after then.”

Keith pointed out the roof of Hollow Tree Farm. Frank nodded, and started the Iris descending slowly.

Like a beacon, the presence of the Little Folk shone through strongly from one of the homesteads ahead. From above, Hollow Tree Farm looked exactly like all the other farms on the road. It was only Keith’s inner sense that made him signal to Winslow to put down in the right meadow. Feeling a little tired by the effort, he turned off his second sight. Immediately, the auras around everything faded to a nearly invisible glow.

The Iris lowered gently onto the grass between the barn and a field of standing crops. She curtseyed as Keith’s weight left the gently swaying gondola. Immediately Winslow started to feed heat to the envelope.

“See you in a couple of hours,” Frank called, his voice diminishing as the balloon rose. “Truck’ll come and pick you up here!”

Keith waved, and walked off the meadow into the cornfield. The rainbow globe vanished behind the canopy of green leaves.

Corn stood over six feet high in the field behind the house, concealing the individual cottages he knew were standing there. The Little Folk had come up with an excellent system of camouflage. During the growing season, the cottages were hidden by the tall stalks of grain, since each of the little houses stood no higher than the wooden playhouse Keith and his siblings had in their back yard while they were growing up. When the corn was cut, all you could see from the road was the woods behind the settlement. Even in the wintertime the houses defied detection. Their outer walls were dark wood, carved into strand-like patterns and stained to blend in with the County Forest Preserve that stood behind them. Only someone with superior depth perception who knew what to look for could perceive the miniature village, and that only if they could see through the aversion charm the Little Folk had placed on each structure. Keith fairly admitted he couldn’t do it. He relied instead on the white pebbled paths that led through the cornstalks from one doorstep to another until he could make out each home by its shadow.

Despite the protective coloration, each home was very different. Most of the eight that were fully built were occupied by members of Holl’s age group, the Progressives, who had quickly shed the fears of the last four decades and taken off to live in the open air, away from the larger community in the farmhouse itself. As was their thrifty custom, the Folk had used scrap wood of every size as well as whole boards to build, binding the conglomeration with skill and magic. Glass windows, pieced together like stained glass, were backed by small, beautifully woven curtains that Keith guessed had been rags they’d unraveled and blended together again. Little details gave away clues to the identity of the occupants of each house. Marm, one of Holl’s—and Keith’s—best friends, had carved an ornamented trellis-work surrounded by the figures of animals on the wall that faced away from the road. This season, the trellis was covered by climbing green grapevines. Marm’s wife, Ranna, was a celebrated wine-maker.

Without knowing Holl’s personal taste, or Maura’s skill with a garden, Keith would still have picked out the sixth cottage as theirs. Neat as hospital corners, the little borders around the edges of the tiny house glowed with beauty. Garnet tea roses, proportionately accurate for the Little Folk, grew closest to the house, bracketing the dark walls with spots of rich color. Autumn flowers were just coming into bloom. Hummocks of blue asters dotted the dark beds. Most particularly, on either side of the doorposts grew a handful of white bellflowers, a token and a tribute to Holl’s difficult journey overseas to win his lady’s hand. Keith grinned as he rapped on the roof’s edge with his knuckles.

Inside, he heard hubbub, and Holl, his cheeks red, peered out the curtained window.

“It’s you, then,” Holl said, pulling the door open. “Miss here won’t take her sleep. I’ve been walking her up and down for an hour. I think she knows there was company coming.” Without shifting the bundle in his arms he rolled his shoulders to ease them. “Will you take her so I can stretch a bit?”

“Boy, she’s grown, hasn’t she?” Keith said, accepting his ‘niece’ in his two hands. The baby, still hairless and toothless, looked like any baby he’d ever seen, except that her eyes were already turning green to match her mother’s, and no Big baby ever sprouted those ornately-whorled ears. The points were just a little softer than an adult’s, the way a kitten’s ears were rounder than a cat’s. Asrai recognized Keith and cooed at him before her attention wandered off again after the next pretty shadow. He cradled her on one elbow and felt around in his pocket.

“Asrai?” he said softly. “Hey, baldy, I’m talking to you.”

The baby’s cloudy eyes wandered up to his face, and focused just for a second. With surprising speed, her tiny fist shot up and grabbed. She pulled down, trying to get her captured handful into her mouth.

“Aaagh!” Keith breathed, trying not to yell. He put his hand up to get between the baby and his cheek. “Holl, help. She’s got my whiskers.” Keith’s whiskers, a magical Christmas present from the Little Folk some three years before, were tangible but invisible to the average eye.

Holl sprang forward to undo Asrai’s fist, and picked the invisible strands by touch one by one from between her fingers. “There, there. Well, there’s no doubt now she’s got the second sight, is there?”

“You sound pleased,” Keith said, rubbing the sore place where his offended vibrissae were rooted. “Why didn’t you tell me she’d grab?”

“My apologies. She’s always taking handfuls of her mother’s hair,” Holl explained, a little embarrassed, “but yours was too short to catch. I didn’t think of the whiskers. We don’t know what she can see, if you follow. We’re new at being parents. Any fresh discovery is as if it’s the first time it’s ever happened in the world. Is it all right?”

“No problem,” Keith said. “I guess they can’t be pulled out, can they?” He glanced down at the baby, who wasn’t at all upset to have her new discovery taken away from her. He put his hand back into his pocket. “Hey, kid, you know I brought you something for yourself.” The baby’s eyes fixed on his hand as he waved a blue rubber ring at her. “Look. Teething toy.”

“It’s a little soon for that, Keith Doyle,” Holl protested.

“Nope, my mom said teething always starts before you expect it.” Keith fitted the tiny fingers around the ring. They barely closed on the other side. Asrai was so small she looked more like a baby doll than a baby. “Hmm. That was the smallest one I could find.”

“She’ll grow,” Holl said, gruff with pride. The child immediately drew the vanilla-scented ring to her face and put her mouth to the edge. Her little pink tongue explored the bumps on the blue rubber surface, and she looked surprised.

Holl watched her adoringly. Keith glanced up. In contrast to the flower-petal complexion of his daughter, Holl’s face seemed for the first time to be creased and tired. Keith was concerned for his friend, but he made light of it.

“Fatherhood’s made an older man of you, Holl.”

“And it has,” Holl said with a sigh. “For no reason at all the babe wakes in the night and cries. She isn’t hungry, and she isn’t wet, but she cries. It’s amazing to me how loud she can get. I’m glad it’s only Marm next door to us. He never minds a thing when he sleeps, and Ranna can ignore everything, but the wailing keeps us wide awake.”

“Trouble,” Keith said, shaking his head. His eyes danced with mischief “What do your folk say when they’re fed up with their kids? ‘I wish the humans would come and take you away?’”

Holl favored him with a sour expression. “Very funny, Keith Doyle. May I offer you a snack? You’ve come a long way.”

Keith looked around the interior of the cottage. The floor, covered with smooth tiles of wood, was well swept. There wasn’t much in the way of furniture, except for a pair of chairs, a large table and a small one, and bookshelves built cunningly into the walls. Holl caught the sense of his gaze.

“Oh, the food’s in the larder under a hatch in the floor. It’s not too big, just enough for a pat of butter and a drop of milk, or what have you,” Holl said, rising heavily to his feet. “There might be a heel of bread as well.”

With concern, Keith watched him go. Holl looked genuinely tired. Keith’s mother had said that the first six months after a birth were the hardest. At least Holl and Maura were in the back stretch, now that Asrai had hit the three-month mark. He couldn’t believe that this tiny baby who just barely overlapped his hands could yell so loudly.

“Less insulation to hold down the sound, huh, punkin?” he asked her. The baby, wisely asleep with the ring clutched to her cheek, said nothing.

Keith knew better than to trust Holl’s assertion that there was no more food on hand than drops and heels. The Little Folk might eat less in proportion, but they liked plenty of good things to eat as much as their Big cousins. Holl returned with a handsomely carved wooden tray bearing a tall pitcher whose foaming, white contents slopped gently from side to side, and a basket of rolls with a good chunk of primrose-yellow butter on a small dish in the center.

“Keva’s doing,” Holl explained at Keith’s question. “They all knew you were coming for a visit, and she insisted on leaving these to break our fast.”

Keith’s own particular mug, a long-ago present from the Little Folk, was here on a framed shelf beside those belonging to Holl and Maura. He accepted milk and a handful of rolls. “What, no beer?” he asked impishly.

“Not when I’m on nursery duty, if you please,” Holl said, grimacing. “Whew! It was a long night last night down here. A good thing we’re out as we are in the middle of the sky. Under the library, she’d have shouted the stacks down. They’d have thought there was a banshee trapped in the steam tunnels! Maura and I share duties. It’s my shift with the babe. She’s inside the big house helping prepare the lunch before class.”

“She’s not having to cut short her education because of the baby, is she?” Keith asked.

“Oh, no, don’t you fear it,” Holl said easily. “You don’t know the benefits of communal living. When there’s not an adult with time to help us care for the little one, Dola or some of the other medium sized children help out in between. She’ll be here soon, and glad to see you, I won’t doubt.”

Keith smiled. Dola was Tay’s daughter, a sweet, blond child who had a strangling crush on him. She’d accepted Diane’s preeminence with Keith only under protest, and had often expressed herself willing to step in as a substitute should Diane be unable to continue as Keith’s girlfriend. Dola had a special talent of forming illusions on a length of thin cloth. Keith decided that as a babysitter, that wasn’t a half bad knack to have.

“So this is a different thing for you,” Holl said, pouring a mugful for himself. “You’re not in a class, but you’re still earning a grade?”

“It’s called an internship,” Keith explained. “I’m working in the Chicago office of Perkins Delaney Queen, the advertising agency. They’re shuffling me and three other students around the departments until I find the one that will take me for the rest of the semester. I was interested in the business office at first, and then there was research, but I’m having more fun in the design department. If they like me, they’ll let me stay on for the spring term, and maybe there’ll be a job opening after graduation.”

“I am sure you are well liked,” Holl said, the corner of his mouth going up in a wry smile. “You have a way of worming yourself into good regard.”

“I hope I can make it.” Keith sighed. “But it’s a tough business. I miss college. I called Pat to see how it’s going, and he said it’s been a lot quieter without me.” He pulled a face, and Holl laughed.

“You don’t live on the premises?”

“Heck, no,” Keith said, shaking his head. “It’s an office building.”

“Don’t act as if I ought to know that,” Holl admonished him. “We lived in an office building.”

Keith shrugged. “Well, usually people don’t,” he said. “I’m back in my old room at home. I miss living with Pat Morgan. We got along really well, all things considered. My brother Jeff resents like hell having me back. He had our whole room to himself for three years, and now he’s got to deal with having me crowding him for an entire year, if not for good. Jeff’s done everything but draw a line down the middle of the room to mark his territory. I’m glad we don’t have a sink in the corner, like we did in the dorm. I’d end up with half the basin and one tap. If the soap’s on the wrong side, forget it. Laser beam time.” Keith’s finger drilled an imaginary hole into his chest. Holl tilted his head to one side.

“Not literally, I hope. It sounds as if it’s nearly time for you to have a nest of your own, Keith Doyle,” Holl said, nodding. “If you chose, you know you’d always be welcome here, permanently, or whenever you dropped in from above.” Holl pointed toward the ceiling.

Keith smiled, genuinely pleased and touched. “That’d be great, but it depends on what I’ll be doing after graduation. It’s a real temptation. You’ve sure done a lot with the property. It’s shaped up incredibly since last summer. I may take you up on your offer so I can live in a country manor with all the amenities instead of a dinky apartment.”

Holl scowled. “Your ‘dinky’ accommodations might have more to offer you. It is not easy being homeowners. Everything constantly needs repairs. The water continues bad. We allowed a sample to concentrate of the stinking mess we were filtering out, and matched it to the seepage from Gilbreth Feed and Fertilizer Company.”

“What, that place across town?” Keith asked. “How’s their runoff getting over here?”

“We’ve written to ask how it’s possible that we’re getting pollutants from their factory,” Holl said. “But there’s no doubt it’s theirs. Tay and Olanda went over there one night to compare.”

“They’re dumping,” Keith said, frowning darkly. “I wish I could be here to help handle it. Complain. If they don’t respond to you, you can write private letters threatening them with the Environmental Protection Agency.”

“Oh, we’re sending appropriate letters to the editor, and having a fine extended argument with the owner of the company on the side. But let us put the gloomy matters away. The Master would like to see you, if you please.”

Keith felt a momentary surge of guilt at the thought of being called before the formidable little teacher. He was up to date on his mail-in essays; what could the Master want him for? “He would?”

Holl must have guessed his thoughts, because he laughed heartily. “A visit, you impossible infant! You’re not behind in any assignments from him, unless it’s to show your face and be welcomed more often than you are. As soon as Dola comes to look after the babe, we’ll go up to the barn.”

A shy tapping at the door heralded Dola’s arrival. The elf child, now twelve, was on the threshold of young womanhood. Slim and blond, with her elegant ears poking out from the shining tresses of her hair, she would have made a good model for the flower fairies in the books Keith’s mother had read to him as a child. In the hot weather, she wore only a knee-length green shift that softly outlined her body. Keith surreptitiously took note of the subtle changes in her figure, but she noticed. Comfortable though she was with Holl, Dola was self-conscious around him.

“How do I look, then?” she demanded boldly, then blushed at her own forwardness.

“All you need is lacy wings,” Keith said gravely. The compliment pleased Dola. She beamed, the long dimples in her cheeks throwing her high cheekbones and pointed chin into relief. Keith reached out and tweaked a lock of her hair. Dodging away coyly, she pirouetted lightly on her toes, coming to rest before Holl, who gently placed the baby in her arms.

“Dola’s been the most zealous caretaker we could ask,” Holl said over the girl’s head. “She practically attended Maura at the birth. She’ll only share responsibilities with Ludmilla, my babe’s unofficial grandmother, and that not often.” Dola’s chin stuck out defiantly to show that even that sharing was unwilling. She clasped the baby close to her. Asrai, half asleep, roused enough to coo at her babysitter. Dola bent to kiss her on the forehead.

“Well,” Keith said, watching with delight, “even the best babysitters need a day off. They deserve a little spoiling of their own.”

“I wouldn’t mind that now and again,” Dola agreed. She kicked off her sock-like shoes and sat down in Holl’s chair.

“I’ll see what we can arrange,” Keith promised. “Some weekend, okay?”

“Oh, yes! Okay!” Dola said, much gratified.

“We’ll be at the barn, if there’s any need for us,” Holl said.

“There’ll be no need,” Dola assured him. She began rocking. On her lap, the child’s eyes drifted closed, and her breathing slowed. Keith waved at them through the window, and followed Holl down the pebbled path toward the outbuildings.


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