“You look lost, friend.”

The masked man—peculiar, to wear a mask over his mouth and nose even in town, unless—no, nevermind. The masked man shifted in his seat to lock eyes with Allis.

“Oh? I know exactly where I am,” he breathed through the mask.

“Oh, no, no no. No, you do not.”

“I’m outside the Floating Acorn, drinking a sour wine, waiting for the sun to set while the First Flower festival procession passes by.”

“And you are lost, friend! A man of such darkness out here in the bright daylight. A man in the bleak winter of his life who, though he knows it not, seeks the bounties of spring!”

Allis pulled out the chair across from the masked man and had a seat. That caught the man off-guard. It always does!

“My name is Allister. What’s yours?”

“… It’s Cathaoir. What do you want, old man?”

“I want to know why this man, chiseled out of the very glaciers, is drawn so strongly to the first bloom.”

“I know the tavern keeper here, and he serves good wine.”

“And you chose to sit at one of the two tables he set outside, rather than in the empty tavern, where a man of your disposition might ordinarily be found!”

The man’s eyes twitched with realization. Realization! Here was a man that might be willing to turn his eyes upon the truth.

“You know not of my disposition.”

Oh, a shame. He was defensive. Probably to be expected of the ice-man. Not a problem!

“Oh, but I do. You see, there is much knowledge that can be gleaned merely by a man’s eyes, face, and place. You have not yet told me I am wrong about anything, yes?”

Cathaoir replied with bemused silence.

“You see? The facts of your glumness and your proximity to the sweet, mortal warmth of the festivities? In their very contrast they bring answers, and yet, more questions. But questions that themselves are byproducts of knowledge. Questions that themselves must be understood as progress toward further knowledge rather than the lack of it!”

“What if I told you that your senses will fail you, old man? What if I told you that you saw the wrong thing, that your explanation had failed? This ‘glum’ man knows that your eyes will fail you in the wilderness, and so you must not always trust them.”

“No matter. You see, to date, all that I have learned, nothing can be said to be truly inexplicable. The field of stars may change as the seasons pass, and as such new constellations must be drawn—a failed answer means that another one lies in wait!—but never has it—or will it, in my estimation—be truly impossible to see grand arcs above us. Even if many of the stars are invisible without the help of our friends, and even if we see only the tiniest sector of the night sky, even if during the day we cannot see them at all. The stars will be there!”

“… our friends?”

Allister grinned, and he waved his fingers through the air and spoke a few words of power. The pattern was deep and unforgettable.

Three little squirrels, woven from shining light, appeared on the table. Two chased each other merrily, and one hopped up to sniff at the wine glass.

Cathaoir stared.

“Understanding is impossible without them!”

Cathaoir’s eyes twitched again. Realization? Possibly!

“Ah, you had better drink that wine, Cathaoir.”

“… Yes. I can have Tolbert bring you a glass if you like.”

“Oh, of course!”