Gresh eyed the carpet critically. “Will that thing really hold us?” he asked.
“Oh, yes,” Tobas assured him. “It’s quite safe.”
“No, it isn’t,” Alorria said.
“It isn’t! It’s amazing none of us have ever fallen off, and we’ve gotten hit by birds and gotten bugs in our eyes….”
“Shut up, Ali,” Karanissa said. “We haven’t fallen off, and we aren’t going to, because part of the spell on the carpet is to adjust its shape to hold us upright and to adjust its path through the air to keep us on it.”
“It’s hard to fall off a flying carpet,” Tobas said.
“But it can be done,” Alorria insisted. “And we do run into birds and bugs, and there’s no protection from wind or rain….”
“I’m sure Gresh can handle riding it,” Karanissa replied.
“I’m sure I can,” Gresh agreed, but he had some doubts. The carpet was only about six feet wide and nine or ten feet long, and it was a long way to the Small Kingdoms, well over a hundred leagues. He and Tobas would presumably want to sleep on the way. Put the two of them on that carpet, along with their baggage and supplies, and…well, it would be cozy.
He had asked Tobas to bring it over so he could see how much room he would have for supplies, and he was not happy with what he saw. The carpet was nicely patterned in blues and reds and hovered steadily a foot off the hard-packed earth of East Road, but it really was small and didn’t look very sturdy. Gresh tended to think Alorria was right about its safety.
“The four of us flew here from Ethshar of the Sands on it,” Tobas said. “It wasn’t bad.”
“It was crowded,” Alorria said. “I was frightened the whole time that I was going to drop the baby.”
“But you didn’t,” Tobas said. “Really, it wasn’t bad.”
From Ethshar of the Sands to Ethshar of the Rocks was about fifty leagues. “How long did that take?” Gresh asked.
“Oh, half a day.”
Gresh threw Tobas a sideways glance. “Half a day?”
“That’s the point,” Tobas said.
“Well, yes,” Gresh acknowledged.
“It’s going to be crowded,” Alorria said. “It was bad enough with four of us.”
Gresh looked at her, startled. “What?”
“I said it would be crowded,” Alorria said.
“But you aren’t coming!”
“Oh, yes, I am! You think I’m going to miss a chance to show our daughter to her grandparents? They haven’t seen her yet, you know. And I am not about to let Tobas strand me and the baby here with a bunch of strangers. I don’t know anyone in this city! We’ve been staying at an inn near Eastgate, and I am not going to stay in a place like that without my husband to protect me. Not to mention that caring for a baby is a lot of work, and I expect Tobas to do his share of it, and he can’t if he’s in Dwomor and Alris is here, can he? I am definitely coming, Gresh the Supplier, and don’t you think you can prevent it!”
“We may be able to leave her and the baby with her parents in Dwomor while we’re out in the wilderness,” Tobas said apologetically. “Or if the trip is too strenuous, perhaps in our home in Ethshar of the Sands.”
“Or our other home,” Alorria said.
“As far as anyone in this World can tell, that is in Ethshar of the Sands,” Karanissa said.
Gresh was not at all sure what homes they were talking about, but the details didn’t really matter. “So we’re going to crowd all four of us and our baggage onto….”
“Five,” Karanissa said.
Gresh turned to glower at her.
“I’m afraid my wives don’t like it if I travel with only one of them,” Tobas said.
Karanissa glared silently at him, while Alorria said, “No, I don’t like it if you try to go off alone with her, and I don’t mind saying so! I know you married her first, and you’re both magicians, but you’re my husband, all the same, and I’m not going to let you run around with another woman, even if she is your wife! Especially not now that I have the baby.”
Gresh closed his eyes wearily.
“It’s going to be crowded,” he said.
“We can hang the luggage from the sides,” Tobas said. “It won’t be that bad.”
“I’ll need to re-pack my things,” Gresh said.
“Honestly, it can lift several tons,” Tobas said. “You’d be amazed. We moved half our household from Dwomor to Ethshar on it, in a single load. Secure everything with a few ropes, and we’ll be fine.”
“All the same, I prefer to rearrange,” Gresh said. He did not say so, but what he now intended to do was to stuff everything into the magical bottomless bag Dina had made for him years ago, as much to keep Tobas’s wives from poking into his belongings as because he was concerned about the carpet’s capacity. It would make unpacking much more of a job, since everything had to be removed from the bag one item at a time in the exact reverse of the order it went in, but he would feel more secure.
He really hoped Akka’s dance did some good. Her group had gathered the other night and danced until they were dripping with sweat, and Gresh hoped the effort hadn’t been wasted. It had certainly felt invigorating, as if the dancers were pouring energy into him, so presumably it had done something.
“Can you be ready to leave in an hour and a half?” he asked.
“We’re ready to leave now,” Alorria said.
“No, we aren’t,” Karanissa retorted. “Our belongings are still at the inn, and we haven’t paid the bill or told Kaligir we’re leaving.”
“But everything’s packed up, Kara,” Alorria said.”
“We can be ready in an hour,” Tobas said. “We’ll be in Ethshar of the Sands by nightfall.”
“But we’re going to Dwomor,” Gresh said.
“Not today,” Tobas said. “We’ll spend the night at my home in Grandgate, and tomorrow we’ll head for Dwomor. It’s a long day’s flight from Ethshar of the Sands to Dwomor. We’ll want to start bright and early. It’s not much fun flying in the dark.”
That, Gresh was forced to admit to himself, made sense, probably far more sense than trying to sleep on a grossly overcrowded carpet. “An hour, then,” he said.
“We’ll be here.” With that, Tobas and his wives climbed aboard the carpet and settled down cross-legged on the worn wool: Tobas at the front, Karanissa at the rear, and Alorria in the center with Alris clutched in her arms. From the smooth efficiency with which they took their places, Gresh judged they had done this several times before.
The wizard made a sound and a gesture, and the carpet rose smoothly upward, to rooftop level, before turning and heading east down the street.
Gresh watched it go, then sighed and went back into the shop, wondering whether he could stuff his other luggage directly into the bottomless bag, or whether he would need to unpack it and shove everything in piece by piece.
When it came time to try, most of his bags fit just as they were, but the single largest had to be unpacked and fed in piecemeal. Gresh was glad that he had asked Dina to make sure his bottomless bag had a good wide mouth and wished it had been just a little bit larger—that big bag, containing a bedroll and pillow and his formal robes, among other things, had almost fit.
He would need to take all that stuff back out, item by item, before he could retrieve the bag of tools and snares, or the precious box of powders and potions, or the bag of magical ingredients, or the sack of non-perishable food, or the case of wine, or all his other clothing and toiletries. He thought he might want to take the time to arrange things in a better order at some point on the journey, but for now he would make do. The important thing was that he had packed all the supplies he wanted to bring into the one magical bag, the apparent size of a very large watermelon, and the apparent weight of the heaviest single item in it. He was not entirely sure what that item was, though; he just knew how the spell operated and that when he hefted the bag it seemed to weigh fifteen or twenty pounds.
That was quite manageable. He could easily sling the bag over one shoulder and carry it for as far as necessary.
When Tobas’s carpet once again swooped down from the rooftops to hover in front of the shop, Gresh was ready, the bottomless bag at his heel, and five of his sisters—Twilfa, Dina, Chira, Tira, and Akka—standing beside him to say their farewells.
The carpet looked rather different now; instead of a simple flat cloth surface it had taken on the appearance of a miniature caravan, laden with baggage. On either side hung an assortment of bags, valises, traveling cases, and other luggage, suspended from a network of ropes and cords that crisscrossed the carpet itself. These bags didn’t seem to interfere with the carpet’s ability to fly, and the ropes barely indented the carpet’s surface at all—in fact, some appeared to be stretched above the fabric, between edges that curled slightly upward. The passengers were once again seated cross-legged in a row down the center, with the two women crowded together to create a cramped fourth space, carefully kept open, between Tobas and Alorria. Gresh noticed that Alorria now wore a slender gold coronet, and Karanissa had her hair tightly bound into a long, thick braid.
The carpet fluttered in from the east and wheeled just above head-height, setting the dangling luggage swinging, then settled down toward Tobas’s door, stopping the instant the lowest-hanging bundle brushed the dirt of the street. This meant the carpet stayed a good three feet up, perhaps four, rather than the single foot it had managed on the previous visit.
“Hai! Gresh!” Tobas called from his position at the front of the rug, waving. “Are you ready?”
“Yes,” Gresh said, picking up his bag with one hand and giving Twilfa a quick final hug with the other. He stepped forward.
“Just the one bag?” Tobas asked.
“It’s bottomless,” Gresh explained, carefully not expressing his surprise that Tobas had apparently not used anything of the sort himself.
“Hallin’s spell?” Tobas turned up a palm. “I have the instructions for that one, but I could never make it work. Half a day or more!”
“But you have a flying carpet,” Dina said, startled. “Varrin’s Lesser Propulsion takes a day and a half and is at least an order or two higher than Hallin’s Bottomless Bag!”
“Oh, I didn’t make this,” Tobas said. “I bought it. We used to need to do a lot of traveling around Dwomor, so I had some friends find me one I could just barely afford. It must be about a century old—it’s about thirty years into its eighty-year cycle.”
“What?” Gresh said, suddenly worried about the carpet’s reliability. He much preferred dealing with wizards who used their own magic, rather than borrowed or bought devices. They knew how to fix it if something went wrong.
“Varrin’s Lesser Propulsion needs to be renewed every so often,” Dina explained. “When it’s first cast it only lasts for one cycle of the greater moon, from one full moon to the next. But every time the spell is renewed it lasts twice as long, so after a few cycles it’s good for years at a time. What he calls the eighty-year cycle is… let me see… the tenth renewal. It’s really a little less than seventy-nine years.”
“Is that good?” Gresh asked.
“Well, if he’s right, you won’t need to worry about renewing the spell—old flying carpets are worth more than new, because of that; by the tenth renewal they last longer than most owners will live. The thing is, each renewal is more difficult—you need to use certain elements of the original spell, and they tend to get lost after a few cycles.”
“One reason I could afford this carpet,” Tobas said, “is that the original maker’s heirs have mislaid one of the seven white stones, so the spell can’t be renewed forty or fifty years from now.”
“But you’re sure it’s good for years yet?” Gresh asked.
“Mereth of the Golden Door says it is. Do you know a better diviner?”
Gresh looked at Dina.
“She’s not local, but I’ve heard of Mereth,” Dina admitted.
“She lives in Ethshar of the Sands,” Tobas said. “Near the palace.”
“She’s supposed to be good,” Dina acknowledged. She turned back to Tobas. “You can’t do Hallin’s Bottomless Bag?”
“I wouldn’t say ‘can’t,’” Tobas replied. “Let’s just say I haven’t done Hallin’s spell.”
“The Bottomless Bag,” Dina corrected him. “Hallin invented more than one spell, you know.”
Tobas blinked at her. “He did?”
“Yes, he did! The other important one is Hallin’s Transporting Fissure. Seventh- or eighth-order. You never heard of it?”
“Um… no,” Tobas admitted. “I haven’t. But I probably couldn’t use it in any case—I can’t work seventh-order spells with any sort of reliability at all. And I’ve always just heard the Bottomless Bag referred to as Hallin’s spell—after all, it works on things besides bags.”
“I’m sure this is all very interesting for you wizards,” Alorria interrupted. “But some of us would like to get home before dark. If Gresh has all his things in that one little bag, so much the better. He can climb on the carpet, and we can go.”
“Yes, of course.” Gresh handed his bag to Tobas. “Hold this for a moment, would you?”
Tobas accepted it warily. “It won’t explode, away from its true owner, or anything?”
“No, of course not!” Dina said. “I made that bag properly!”
Tobas turned, startled. “You made it?”
Gresh was trying to judge the best way to mount the carpet, whether to climb up the dangling luggage or simply vault onto the carpet. He decided on the vault; he grabbed two of the ropes and jumped.
“Yes, I made it! Did you think Gresh did it? He’s no wizard….”
The carpet felt rather like an oversized feather bed, Gresh discovered as he landed. He rolled forward awkwardly as his eldest sister shouted angrily at Tobas. “Dina,” he said, as he tried to untangle himself from the cords and hoist himself into a sitting position. “Could you please not argue with my other customers?” He put out a hand to right himself and found he was leaning on Alorria’s knee. He quickly snatched his hand away and murmured, “My apologies, lady.”
“Be careful, Gresh!” Twilfa called.
Gresh finally managed to right himself, and smiled. He called back, “Why? If I get myself killed you inherit the business!”
“I’d rather not just yet, thank you,” Twilfa retorted.
“Be careful, Gresh,” Dina said, with a significant glance at Tobas.
“I will, Dina.”
“Good luck, brother,” Akka said. “We’ll dance for you every sixnight.”
“Take care,” Tira said.
“Good fortune and a swift return!” Chira called. She waved, and as she did Tobas did something with the fingers of his right hand, and the carpet began to rise, rotating very slowly.
Then all five women on the ground were waving, and Gresh was clinging to a rope with one hand and waving back with the other, ignoring Tobas’s attempt to hand him his bag. He turned his head to keep watching his sisters and saw that Alorria was holding up one of Alris’s chubby little hands and waving that, as well.
Then the rotation was complete, the carpet pointing east. It began to rise again, and to move forward, gaining speed as it went. In a moment Gresh could no longer see any of his sisters. He turned around to face forward and finally accepted the bag Tobas had been trying to hand him. “Thank you,” he said.
“You’re welcome,” Tobas replied. He glanced back past Gresh’s shoulder. “And people say I’m mad, to have two wives! I heard the one on the end call you brother, and the young one’s your assistant, but that still leaves three.”
“They aren’t my wives,” Gresh protested, as he watched the buildings flash by on either side. The carpet was still rising, so they were now even with third-floor windows or the rooftops and gutters of the lower structures.
“They’re still three women.”
Gresh hesitated, then admitted, “They’re all my sisters.” He looked forward, past Tobas, and saw the towers of Eastgate approaching with frightening speed.
“What, all four of them?”
“All five of them. My assistant Twilfa is the baby of the family.” They were passing over the broad hexagon of New Eastgate Market; the merchants and shoppers were looking up in surprise as the carpet’s shadow swept over them. The wind of their passage whipped at Gresh’s hair, and just as Alorria had warned, an insect of some sort bounced off his cheek.
“The wizard, too?” Tobas asked.
“Dina’s the oldest.” They were past the market and soaring along far enough above East Road that it no longer mattered whether they actually stayed above the street—they would clear most of the rooftops in any case. Gresh had to shout to be heard over the rush of wind. He realized they were passing over the intersection with Wizard Street, and he pointed to the north. “Her shop’s over there.”
When he turned his gaze forward again, Gresh saw that the towers ahead were… well, they were straight ahead, and the carpet was rushing directly at them.
Then they zoomed over Old Eastgate Market, and between the two towers of the gates, clearing the city wall by four or five feet, and they were outside Ethshar of the Rocks and flying east at a phenomenal speed, on their way to Ethshar of the Sands.