Keeli sat by the side of the springs and played with the wooden horse that his uncle had made for him. It was a bright summer day, and turquoise dragonflies flitted about. Suddenly both dogs’ ears perked, and Dunder stood up and faced the treeline. Dunder let out a low growl and his ears swept back. Almost at the same instant Blisser rose to join him and assumed a similar stance.
A moment later a man with a prominent nose and a long forked beard emerged from the trees. He wore a green cloak and coarse brown britches, much like those worn by the Nordlanders. As he advanced he applied fire to end of a long white stick that he had in his mouth. Dunder began to show his teeth and to growl louder. The man responded by drawing his breath deeply through the white stick, and then blew a cloud of blue-grey smoke in the direction of the dogs, both of which immediately lay down and fell asleep.
The man was shorter than Father or Uncle, and had very jerky mannerisms. But Keeli wasn’t alarmed when the man came and sat opposite him at the spring. The fellow leaned towards the lad and poked his large pointed nose in his direction sniffing deeply, then cocked his head sideways with a puzzled expression on his face.
“Are you a boy child, or a girl child?” the man asked, and though Keeli did not recognise a single word that the man uttered, he nonetheless understood his question.
“I am a boy,” Keeli said. “Mother says I am nearly a man, as I am almost five.”
“A boy child, and five,” the strange man said distractedly to himself.
“My Cousin April is a girl,” the lad volunteered. “But she is just a baby.”
“A girl child, a babe,” the man mumbled.
After a pause, the man asked, “What do you have there, Boy-child?”
“It’s a horse. My Uncle Hal made it.”
“May I see it?” the man said reaching a knurled, liver spotted had towards the boy.
Keeli handed the man the toy, and the stranger turned it over in his hands several times before returning it to the lad.
The man tapped some charred substance from a little bowl on the end of his white stick, and then refilled the bowls with brown fibres from a little pouch on his belt. He then reached behind his ear, and a small flaming stick appeared between his fingers. He lit the fibres and drew a deep breath through the stick before blowing smoke into the boy’s face. It tickled his nose, but the scent was not unpleasant. Then Keeli became very weary, and put his head down on the rock next to the spring.
It was very late afternoon when he awoke, and the two hounds stood watch over him. Was it all a dream? he wondered. But then he noticed that his wooden horse was gone, and that an exact replica of it in silver was in its place.