'It's a long climb for legs.'

You may have wings,” Myrddin panted, “but it’s a long climb for legs.”

Dantalion smiled. “Feeling your age, old man?”

“No,” Myrddin snapped.

“Now, you don’t wish to be seen with me, do you?” Dantalion purred. “How would you explain that to your Abbot?”

'How would you explain that to your Abbot?'

“What do you want? Don’t try to tell me you found the saltiest grain of sand already.”

“I know where it can be found.”

“On the shore! Where you should be!”

“It is not there. Therefore neither am I.”

The man’s eyebrows lowered into a wary scowl. Now, unless Dantalion could rile his temper, he would not be easily tricked.

He would not be easily tricked.

“Where?” Myrddin growled.

“Here in this valley, I should think.”

“Where?” he cried.

Dantalion leaned over the man and spread his wings like a tent over their heads. “Beneath the lake,” he whispered.

'Beneath the lake.'

The effect was as amusing as he had hoped: the mild blue eyes went wide in shock, making the irises seem to shrink inside a growing ring of white.

Before the old man could speak, Dantalion said, “She came to the shore and took it.”

“She – came?” Myrddin choked.

“The moon was not even full!” Dantalion shook his head slowly. “What a risk she took! If only you visited me more often, my friend, you might have taken her that night.”

“You saw her?” Myrddin squeaked.

'You saw her?'

“I even spoke with her!” Dantalion said grandly. “Fear not! She is as lovely as ever. The moonlight on the water was no more beautiful.”

“But – why did she come?”

“I wonder…” Dantalion thoughtfully tapped a claw against his lip. “I wonder whether it wasn’t to annoy you. Perhaps she thinks of you still.”

'Perhaps she thinks of you still.'

“What did she say?”

“Very little. She only wished me to understand that she had taken the saltiest grain of sand.”

“But she…” The eyebrows came down again. “Is this one of your tricks?”

'Is this one of your tricks?'

“I am no trickster, Myrddin,” Dantalion scowled. “I am here, am I not? Therefore I have either completed my task, or it has been rendered impossible.”

The jinni put on his most imperious, most disdainful expression, and held it. This was the critical moment. Unworthy of his majesty as it was, he had to trick the old man into releasing him from his task. He also had to remember not to lift his foot from the small stone he had brought from that shore.

He had only come to the valley to remind Lar who was his master, for he would surely need to use these elves again. However, he had scouted around enough among the men to have observed that many of them who passed before the Saint Margaret chapel paused to think it a shame that Father Brude had died.

It was no time for Dantalion to be trapped on a windy Welsh shore.

If Araphel had gone all the way to Rome with that body, there had to be a reason. If he had then given it up or had it taken away from him, there had to be a reason. It was no time for Dantalion to be trapped on a windy Welsh beach.

“She has it, you say?” Myrddin asked.

“She took it away with her. I assume she kept it.”

“But if it is not at the shore,” the old man smiled, “then it is no longer the saltiest grain of sand on the shore.”

'It is no longer the saltiest grain of sand on the shore.'

“Ah, but if that is so, then even had I found the saltiest grain and attempted to bring it to you, it would no longer have been so. Therefore the task would have been impossible. Therefore I need not have performed it.”

The logic was good, but there were several points in this reasoning to which Myrddin could backtrack and trick him from another angle. However, he did not. Dantalion reminded himself that Nimea was as much a weakness of the old man as his temper.

“You know I never truly wanted the sand,” Myrddin grumbled.

“I did find it odd that you would interrupt my search for Nimea in order to send me off in search of salt for your ‘fish spell’.”

'I did find it odd.'

“By my beard!” Myrddin howled, seized again by his temper. “I can’t have you showing your face to every man, woman, and child in this valley! One of these days I might need you to go among them!”

Dantalion deigned to bow his head slightly. “I understand.”

“Return to your first task! Find her for me! But I warn you: if you begin going among the men again, I shall find you another task more tedious yet! I can do without you and her for ten or fifteen years while I’m finishing my work.”

'I can do without you and her.'

“Do you absolve me of this task of finding sand?” Dantalion studied the backs of his claws in apparent disinterest, but in truth the question was utterly important to him.

“Yes,” the old man huffed. “You know what I want you to find.”

Dantalion smiled and, for the sake of irony, even said, “Thank you, master.”

'Thank you, master.'

He lifted his foot and kicked the little stone down the hillside. He was free. He would be in Rome before the old man had reached the bottom of the hill. He would begin another search, less tedious perhaps than looking for a single grain of sand, but no less difficult.

If Araphel had not taken a new body, he could be anywhere. If he had left the last long enough ago, he could be anywhere even if he had.

If Araphel had not taken a new body, he could be anywhere.