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So. Thromar took the long way back from the factory one afternoon. A nice day with oblong puffs hanging in the sky above the flat horizon. He walked through the part of the prairie that used to be a park (and that before that was a dump, and before that a granite quarry), running his hands through thin fronds of wildflowers and grasses. The cobbled footpaths had grown over, giving the place a haunted, ruined, wild feeling.

Thromar thought about Ingrallar, who had left to see if she could find her family out west. She had promised that she would be back soon. That was about a month ago. When the caravan that she left with arrived in town, it had looked strong. It was full of capable men with stout frames and the hardened eyes of folks who had seen enough things. Women traveled with them too and carried as many weapons as the men.

Ingrallar had come to Thromar's site only six weeks before that, so Thromar had no real claim on her attention or affections -- forget about an ability to dictate to her about whether to go west. The news from anyone coming back from there was never good, and he made an effort to reminder her of that. Boldar returned missing a hand and an eye; Tubar shook so badly for half a season that he could hardly feed himself; and Pinfar ate a bunch of pills and threw herself into the river about two weeks after getting back.

Ingrallar had been patient. She didn't cut short Thromar's stammering attempts to change her mind. Then she explained that she was not Boldar or Tubar or Pinfar. That things had gotten safer, and that it was a good caravan -- the best chance that she might have. She held Thromar's hand and told him that she was going to go, but that she would hope to be back soon enough that he wouldn't have forgotten about her.

Thromar came out of the park and found Mladar picking his teeth with some grass just outside the boundary line.

"Hai," said Mladar, throwing the grass to the ground. And they hugged.

"Yo hai too," said Thromar. "What gives? Waiting here for me?"

"Yeah. Have a drink?" Mladar asked.

Thromar nodded and looked up at the sun in its falling arc. They had an hour or so before it got too dark to be drunk and wandering outside a site.

"Okay, let's do it," Thromar said.

They walked over to a place owned by their friend Trindar, a wiry little guy with eyes turned purple with the crazy good booze he made. Great stuff. Folks came from sites all over to hunker down way past lock-up time and cavort over Trindar's booze. To lose themselves in loquacity, and stories from the bad old days of the wandering. And came out the next morning into the sun with purple stains on their faces and a good burn going in their chests.

Thromar and Mladar walked into Trindar's place.

"Yo hai," said Mladar as they slid back the door into the candle-lit darkness.

"Yo hai too," said Trindar, putting down a half-gallon jug. He smiled purple. "You dogs. Bet I can keep you here past lock-up tonight."

"Don't count on it, slick," said Thromar.

"Well, what if I said that songs reached us from the west this morning?" said Trindar, smiling bigger, more purple. "News of that caravan that Ingrallar left with a piece back."

This, Thromar thought, was something unexpected.