Toliver climbed into the low branches of the tree with the densest foliage. He planned to wait out the day, watch and learn from his hiding place. Initially, he wedged himself into position, with his feet on a branch and his back pressed into the trunk. He still feared he would be found and captured and hauled away, but he was too tired to care. He dozed fitfully until early afternoon, when his eyes snapped open and he became instantly alert. Then, he realized what had awakened him. In the center of the plaza what he had assumed an elaborate sculpture had become fountain. The water sprayed, poured, dripped in disorganized musical tones. Ripples flow from the center out, creating flashes of white and ephemeral rainbows. Toliver thought it the sweetest sound he’d ever heard and that it would drive him mad.
Toliver tried his best to put the sound from his thoughts. The minutes dragged hours long, each one made him more desperate. He reached for an under-ripe fapple from a branch above him. It was just out of reach when he stretched as far as he could. He lifted one foot to lean farther, which almost proved his undoing. His planted foot slid sideways as his fingers closed around his prize. Frantically he wrapped his arms around the narrow trunk. He heaved himself higher, his heart staccato and his breaths coming in gasps. After a near miss, he managed to get first one foot, then the other onto the branch. Slowly, carefully, he eased himself down, finding a second branch for one of his feet, and wedged himself back onto his perch.
Completely awake, Toliver nibbled a small bite from the fapple he had managed to hang onto. His lips puckered and he screwed up his eyes. If he weren’t so desperate foe the moisture he would have spit out the first bite and thrown away his hard-won prize. Tart beyond tolerance, he could barely chew it. What little juice it had helped him raise some saliva. He couldn’t believe how much it stung when he tried to gently moisten his cracked and bleeding lips. Pocketing the remainder of the fapple for a later need he hoped would never come. He watched the water in the fountain with unrequited longing, slipping into a fugue state as the afternoon wore on. The setting sun in his eyes brought him awake once again.
He realized the Wurst’s sat at the tail end of the city. The plaza seemed to be isolated by convention only. He could see people moving about, completing errands, and going into and out of doors that Toliver assumed must be shops. None of the sera he saw appeared particularly well-dressed, but not unwell. The square remained inviolate, except for the gentleman he had espied when he’d arrived. Only the man’s toes were showing, the rest of him hidden in shadow. Toliver continued watching, slipping back into a sleeping stupor.
As the day cooled as much as it was likely to until the sun had been down for many more hours, Toliver came back to life. Though exhausted, desperately tired and thirsty, but he knew he could function, however marginally. As twilight began to lower night’s curtain, he climbed carefully to the ground. He longed to dunk his head in the fountain and drink until he is sick, but knew he couldn’t linger outside. Still, as he moved out of the orchard and toward Wurst’s door, he couldn’t tear his eyes away from the burbling liquid. It might as well have been a mirage. Reluctantly, he turned to the door and raised his fist to knock.