A quest to the Mountain of Life to save what remained by humanity from the machines that were bent on destroying them.
Mouse stirred the stew in the small iron pot. There wasn't much of it. She sniffed and said:
'You could have stolen a bigger joint. We'll go hungry before the next town.'
'Uh huh,' Ciaran grunted lazily.
Anger began to curl in Mouse's eyes.
'I suppose it's all right with you if we run out of food,' she said sullenly.
Ciaran leaned back comfortably against a moss-grown boulder and watched her with lazy gray eyes. He liked watching Mouse. She was a head shorter than he, which made her very short indeed, and as thin as a young girl. Her hair was black and wild, as though only wind ever combed it. Her eyes were black, too, and very bright. There was a small red thief's brand between them. She wore a ragged crimson tunic, and her bare arms and legs were as brown as his own.
Ciaran grinned. His lip was scarred, and there was a tooth missing behind it. He said, 'It's just as well. I don't want you getting fat and lazy.'
Mouse, who was sensitive about her thinness, said something pungent and threw the wooden plate at him. Ciaran drew his shaggy head aside enough to let it by and then relaxed, stroking the harp on his bare brown knees. It began to purr softly.
Ciaran felt good. The heat of the sunballs that floated always, lazy in a reddish sky, made him pleasantly sleepy. And after the clamor and crush of the market squares in the border towns, the huge high silence of the place was wonderful.
He and Mouse were camped on a tongue of land that licked out from the Phrygian hills down into the coastal plains of Atlantea. A short cut, but only gypsies like themselves ever took it. To Ciaran's left, far below, the sea spread sullen and burning, cloaked in a reddish fog.
To his right, also far below, were the Forbidden Plains. Flat, desolate, and barren, reaching away and away to the up-curving rim of the world.