“Your clothes appeared to unravel themselves. It was fascinating to watch, if a little off-putting. It’s just as well. You had sweated in them profusely while you were quiet. Then you started casting and you . . . you almost looked like you were glowing and floating. You weren’t, of course. I checked. But you seemed to be. And then you clothes unraveled and the strands floated off in streams and disappeared.” A pause. “A bit of your hair did, too. I’m sure it will grow back.”
“Help me up. I need to walk.” Narnemvar’s voice was still coarse.
“Satbada will be packed in a few minutes.”
“No. Now. I need to move. Please.”
Postlavanderon helped his friend rise. It was a more involved process than he has expected. Narnemvar was shaky and clumsy. Each movement had several false starts.
“Get me going. It’ll be slow. Shortbread will catch up fine.”
“I suspect you’re correct. Why do you need to hurry?”
“No hurry. I just need to be moving. It’s pulling at me and I need to leave it alone. I need to rest.”
Postlavanderon chuckled. “So you’re walking in order to rest? How like you.”
A smile and puff of exhale was as much of a chuckle as Narnemvar could manage.
“Need distraction. Need to not think of it. Need to rest the magic and the thinking. The body isn’t tired. It’s been resting.”
“It doesn’t look all that rested. But we’ll keep you going. Would you like some water? I have a bit of brandy tucked away as well.”
“I probably do need water. But later. Get the legs working first. Ohhhhhh.” The last was almost a whine. “Talk to me, please.”
“Distraction,” said Postlavanderon. “must mean slippery, since it is the opposite of traction. To be devoted is to have no say in the matter. And I’ve often wondered what the opposite of undulate is? Would dulate be a synonym for straight?
I suppose an arrow could dulate toward its target. But would a very straight path be dulate? Or would it have to be a dulation?”
Narnemvar smirked. “D’you think it really matters?” Then his face fell.
“It’s not working. I keep thinking about it and reaching for it. It’s like a scab that I can’t keep from picking.”
“Why don’t you try telling me about it. You always say that magic is hard to describe. And you’re not talking that easily now, even about normal things. Mind the rock.”
“It might be like scratching another place to keep from scratching an itch.”
Narnemvar considered. Then, haltingly, he started to explain what he had experienced. He babbled a good bit and swore when thinking about the curse made it hard for him to describe the curse.
Postlavanderon chuckled when he realized that his friend was cursing at a curse.
Narnemvar looked at him strangely. “I remember laughing,” he said and then stumbled along silently for awhile.
“Perhaps now would be a good time to offer an underwrap?” Satbada enquired.
“Perhaps soon. If he looses his concentration he could just unravel again.”
“Not to mention the possibility of pissing myself. No one mentions it to civilians, but apprentices are always being asked if they remembered to go before the session starts.”
“Indeed. You will pardon me if I move ahead, to check for other travelers? ”
“Not at all, dear Shortbread. I promise to dress at least partly if you find any witnesses.”
Postlavanderon chuckled again and considered the oddity of his lifted spirits. He still didn’t know what had been gnawing at him before, but it seemed to have gone, whatever it was.
“So, how dangerous is it?”
“I think we’re safe for a few days. Assuming no one else tries to tap the damn thing, which I can’t guarantee. The sausage of pustulent vileness that’s now powering the curse isn’t likely to burst, at least not from the back end. I probably ought to check it along it’s full length, but it wasn’t leaking when I went by it the first time.”
“So conceivably we could travel northward until the pouch is empty.”
“Assuming it’s not too big.”
“Too big? Are you saying it might be big enough to not be empty by the time we reach the glacier isles?”
“It might not be empty by the time we reach the other side of the globe. It’s hard to say how big it is. And the tubes emptying it are tiny. That’s the main thing. It empties really slowly compared to its capacity. Of course I could. . .” And here he started writhing as he walked and hitting at the air and mumbling curses.”
“Of course you will do something to make the situation better.” Lavvi’s voice was placating. “Don’t even bother thinking about it now. First you will find a way to empty the sack. Then you will remove the curse. And then you will explore this island of vileness that you have found floating where the fearful can tap it.”
“With the possibility that someone created it deliberately.”
“Yes. With that. The location first, I think. You can get that without touching it much, yes?”
“Yes. It would have to have a connection to a physical location. The physical location might not be all that big, depending on how it was made, but it must exist or our weak little curser couldn’t have found it.”
“The location will be a clue to how it was formed and who might have formed it or known that it was forming.”
“True. Thank you. It’s starting to be a little easier to leave it alone. Did I mention that I crimped the tubes? It leaks ill very slowly now. Satbada can probably sleep the night and only get ill enough to feel like a hangover in the morning. He’d probably heal it off like a hangover, too. Of course, then he’d need to keep walking north. Stopping would still be a bad thing.”
“I see. I must congratulate you. Things are much better than they were this morning. I’m sorry that it’s hurting you.”
“It’s not pain, really. Not physical pain. And I’ve been in this state before, so it’s not really worrying me. It’s just. . . It’s just so frustrating.”
“Yes. I think you’d deal with physical pain more easily.” A pause. “I must also apologize for causing this difficulty. Although I must confess that I am glad that we found the larger danger. I don’t like the idea of big dangers waiting to damage the Worldshore. I have a proprietary interest.”
“How could you have caused this? It was the silly villagers who set it up and Shortbread who triggered it. You’re not thinking that you should have been walking at the head of the line or something, are you?”
“The fear, my friend. You said that it was a fear of contagion and death and loss of control. You said that we had probably transgressed a taboo.”
“I might have said that. It feels like a long time ago.”
“Yes. It seems like a long time ago to me as well. But I do remember being shaved. And I remember that everyone was gone when it was over. Even the pigs had left.”
“Oh,” said Narnemvar. There really wasn’t much else to be said.