The travellers have found three gems. But they cannot rest. The fourth gem is hidden in a shimmering, barren waste, kept jealously by an unknown guardian. Separation, confusion, and strange, terrible enemies await Lief, Barda, and Jasmine in the harsh landscape of the Shifting Sands.
Lief squinted against the shimmering dawn light. Something was rolling through the long grass towards them, shrieking. As it drew closer he realized that it was a little old woman. She was so plump, and so wrapped and bundled in shawls, that she seemed completely round. Thin brown hair was screwed up into a tiny topknot on her head. Her face was creased and crinkled all over like a wizened apple, and red with anger. She was frowning furiously, shaking her fist.
"Thieves!" she shrieked. "Vagabonds! Give them back! Give them back!"
The three companions stared at her, open-mouthed.
"You stole my apples!" the old woman yelled. "You stole my beauties while my guards slept. Where are they? Give them to me!"
Silently, Jasmine passed over the three apples that remained in her hands. The woman clasped them to her chest and glared.
"Cheat! Where are the others?" she shouted. "Where are the other six? Every apple is numbered. Every one must be accounted for. How else can I fill my quota? Nine fruit you took, and nine must be returned."
Barda cleared his throat. "I am very sorry, madam, but we cannot return them. I fear they are already eaten."
The old woman seemed to swell, and went so red that Lief feared she might explode.
"Wewe beg your pardon," he stammered, "We were so hungry and"
The old woman threw back her head, raised her arms, shook her shawls, and gave a terrible, high-pitched cry.
Immediately, she was surrounded by a dark, whirling, humming cloud.
Bees. Thousands of bees. They had been riding on her back, clustered under her shawls. Now they were swarming in the air around her, waiting for the order to attack.
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