|When they returned in the morning, the space the vendor's stall had
occupied was empty. Only the very faint glow of Meta's prism showed that
it had ever been there.
"The meaning of the sign is obvious," Conan said, "This vendor's spells
commune with the OCLC. If we are to find the stolen AACR2, we must turn
our path towards Dublin."
"I disagree," Meta stared at the ground where the vendor's stall had
been. "The hyper-cats who stole our sacred text must have brought it here.
The vendor may secretly be a dealer in stolen relics. We must follow him."
Conan scowled and Meta continued, "If there is a link with the Oracle of
Dublin, he will be able to tell us."
In the end, Meta's argument prevailed and so they set off again leaving
the town behind, following the prism's glimmer, so faint now that only
Meta could see it. They passed houses with neatly kept gardens. These gave
way to farms and golden fields of summer wheat. As the sun approached its
zenith, they left even the farms behind. Coming over a small rise, they
saw the land spread out before them in a great plain. The road became a
track through the knee-high grass. The few morning clouds had burned off
and the air was dry and hot. The tops of the grasses waived restlessly
in the vagrant breezes. On the horizon, an old tree spread low branches
to form the only shade for miles.
The track lead toward the tree. Meta unfurled the rain shelter she had
received at the marketplace and found it did excellent duty as a sunshade.
When they were halfway there, Conan suddenly pointed to the right where
a cloud of dust was growing near the horizon.
"What is it?" Meta asked.
"We shall find out soon, and it would be better we were in that tree
when we do."
They ran toward the tree. They could hear a sound of thundering hooves
coming toward them. The hot wind blew up dust that choked them and stung
their eyes as they pulled themselves up onto the low branches. Looking
back they saw a great herd of zebra cross the track they had just passed
over, skirting the tree by only a few yards. Close on the heels of the
herd were at least a dozen horsemen, their white garments and colorful
sashes billowing in the wind. Conan and Meta watched as the riders quickly
passed into a dust cloud on the other horizon.
"Who were they?" Meta gasped as she dropped to the ground again and
straightened her garments. She picked the umbrella up from where she had
dropped it and found it undamaged.
"From the look of their costumes, they were Cossacks," Conan said, straightening
"You are correct," said a deep, raspy voice to their right. "Now identify
yourselves and state the business that brings you to the Dukedom of Edoc-rab!"
© 1993, by Hadley V. Baxendale