After dinner Box and Spar took Ogg with them to the barn. Arrangements had been made when they spoke with the man who served the dinner. They could sleep in the barn with their horses. Box had given the man some coppers.
They showed Ogg how to unsaddle the horses and how to put the saddles back on. He would get to saddle the horses by himself in the morning they said. Ogg was well familiar with horses and was proud that he was being taught this new thing. He had been troubled about having to knee the horse in the stomach to tighten the cinch, but Spar explained that horses would try to trick you and you had to do that to out smart them. Ogg had never felt like a horse had tried to trick him, but he knew that horses could be ornery because he used to take care of Daddy’s horses and was usually responsible for hitching and unhitching them at the start and end of the workday. So he did as he was told.
After satisfying themselves that Ogg could take care of this chore, Box and Spar wandered to the doorway of the barn and looked out over the yard. Ogg joined them.
“Where’s your axe Ogg?” Box asked as Ogg came to stand beside them.
“I left it with the horses.”
“You need to keep it with you.” he said. It was an order that caused Ogg to hurry back to get the axe. He wondered if there were chores yet to do. When Ogg returned to the doorway with his axe, he caught the last of a comment Spar was making.
“…got to catch up with her soon. She knows we’re still after her.” He stopped when Ogg came near.
They stood quietly for a moment. Ogg looked around, following the example of Box and Spar. Besides the barn and the eating-place there were a few houses with little gardens like at home and some other buildings like the store at Keeper Twill’s. Ogg wondered if they might have candy in them. He was unsure and reluctant to ask. Better to keep quiet and just listen.
Spar glanced at Ogg, who was pretending not to be paying attention. He turned and spoke quietly to Box, “We can’t be more than one day behind her. She couldn’t have stayed here, not with the Storyteller and his crew hanging around. If we don’t get to her first, we get nothing.”
“She’s headed to Sunflower.”
“What’s there? You think that’s where she’s from?”
“She’s got family there. If she gets there we’ve lost her.”
Ogg knew that a sunflower was a kind of big yellow flower that always had ants crawling on it. This was different. They were talking about a place. A place he had never heard of. Of course, he had never saddled a horse before either. Ogg was pleased he had met these friends. He thought he might be on an adventure like some of the stories Daddy told.
He remembered the Storyteller. It was getting dark and the eating-place door was filled with the shadows of men. Was the Storyteller there already? Ogg glanced at Box and Spar. They too were looking at the doorway of the eating-place.
“Can we go hear the Storyteller?” Ogg asked. They had been silent for a while, so he figured this question wasn’t ‘interrupting’. That was forbidden.
Spar looked at Box. Box shrugged and spit wetly in the dust. “You two go on,” he said. “I’ll walk around a bit, I may come in later. Save me a chair.”
“I’ll come with you.” Spar offered.
Box shook his head. “No, you go on. You can listen to the talk at the tables, maybe hear something about… besides stories for children.”
Spar nodded, showing a serious face to Box. He looked at Ogg, still serious and gestured toward the busy doorway. As they walked away from Box, Ogg noticed that Spar was smiling.
“You like stories?” Ogg asked. He felt a bit more at ease with Spar, with Box left behind. It was like when he and Queedle or Bosco had done their chores and Daddy was off working with his secret ingredients. Ogg could speak aloud the words that came to him in his head. Sometimes his brothers would be easy with that. Sometimes not.
Spar nodded as he walked. “Sure. I know lots of them, but when a Storyteller comes, they have new ones.”
Ogg knew some stories too. Ones that his Daddy told. If the snow blocked the door Daddy would drink poteen and tell stories. But he didn’t do that much anymore. “You boys are grown.” he would say. “These are children’s stories and you heard them all before.” And he would just drink his poteen without telling any stories. No complaining was allowed.
They were on the porch. The doorway was clear and the eating-place was bright and noisy. Spar stopped and turned to Ogg. His serious face was back.
“You ever heard a real Storyteller?”
“Just my Daddy.” Ogg replied.
“Well, there are rules. You got to be quiet.”
“I know that!” Ogg was well acquainted with that rule.
“And you can’t eat or drink. You have to watch and listen only. And don’t fall asleep.”
“Are we going to eat again?” Ogg was pleased by the prospect of another dinner. It was more than he could have hoped for.
“No.” Spar seemed to think this was a stupid question. Ogg regretted asking. “Nobody eats. You pay attention and listen and watch and everybody just sort of falls into the story. Some…sometimes it seems strange, but it’s okay. The story is more real that way.”
“Okay.” Ogg put the prospect of another dinner out of his head.
They went into the crowded room. There were tables still unoccupied near the door. They were far from the warmth of the fire and with the door open the chill from outside made these tables less sought after. There was a group of men standing near the fire. Ogg thought maybe one of them was the Storyteller. The one with a red coat. Dusty came in with an armload of wood, and was directed to build up the fire.
Spar had taken a seat at the last table available. It was away from the fire and Ogg was glad. The tables that Box and Spar liked were usually too warm. If it was too warm he would get sleepy, and he didn’t want to miss anything tonight. He sat with Spar, leaning his axe against the wall nearby.
“Don’t put that there.” Spar warned. “The Storyteller will walk around. And it might be in his way.”
Ogg reached over to the axe and brought it to the table, leaning it against his leg so it wouldn’t be in the way.
The door was closed and the room was crowded. All the tables were full. A man came to the table he and Spar sat at and asked if he could take one of the two unoccupied chairs.
“No.” Spar’s voice was sharp. “We’re saving it for someone.”
The chairless man stood frowning.
“Isn’t that right Ogg?” looking at Ogg and then back to the chairless man.
Ogg nodded agreement. There were two empty chairs and Box would only need one, but Spar’s tone didn’t leave any room for discussion.
The chairless man looked at Ogg and at the axe resting against his leg. “I’ve not seen you two around here before,” he said. “Do you know there is no saving chairs in here?” His voice was raised. He looked over his shoulder to some men sitting at another table.
Other voices from other tables called out “Quiet.” and “Sit down.” and someone made a loud “Shhhhh.” sound. Ogg knew what that meant. So did the chairless man. He glared at Spar, not looking at Ogg. He turned and walked to the area by the kitchen where he sat on the floor next to Dusty. There was a laugh from someone and another “Shhhhh” noise.
Ogg looked expectantly at the only man still standing. The man in the long red coat. He held a tall stick with something shiny on the top that he rested in the crook of his arm while he placed his finger tips together and nodded and smiled.
Everyone in the room did the same. The greeting. Ogg remembered. He did the greeting too, noticing that the fingertips were pointed at the Storyteller, not at the roof beams. Ogg made the necessary adjustment, thinking that he had done it wrong before. He looked around. He was doing it the same as the others now. No one laughed at him like they had at the chairless man who had to sit in the children’s corner. Ogg felt sorry for the chairless man for a moment. But the greeting was over and there was a clearing of throats and scooting of chairs as everyone settled in.
There was a feeling in the room. Ogg saw that everyone was on the edge of his chair. Everyone who had a chair. Not easy and relaxed, like when Daddy told stories. Ogg decided he better pay attention. These stories must be special indeed.