In front of the fireplace in the library of his comfortable city home, Spanakopitus sat enjoying a postprandial snifter and drawing on a cigar, Polaris Two by his side. Across from him sat Spanakopitae, knitting a winter doo-dad. Contentment flowed between them, warm as honey.

Suddenly from the outside of the fireplace's rock wall came the most horrible CRASH, followed immediately by a dull thud. The two locked eyes in alarm and instantly scurried out the library door.

There in a crumpled heap lay Bang!opolis, his eyes still whirling in opposite directions, steam escaping from his ears.

"Is he dead?" asked Spanakopitae, trembling.

"Don't think so. Give me a hand, dear. I've got his shoulders. You lift his legs. Let's get him inside on the couch and pour some brandy into him."

As through his poor scrambled brains seeped the single word "brandy," Bang!opolis groaned.

"Nope. He's not dead," sighed Spanakopitae with relief.

And so Spanakopitus and Spanakopitae ministered gently to the rescuer turned victim, till he was sufficiently restored to witness that yes, indeed, the TrailMaster was alive and well and waiting out winter, well fed, with his dog beside him and his horse in the barn.

At the start of all this commotion, Wise Old had flapped into the yard, followed shortly by CawCawJoe, and from a discreet distance they had sat listening. Wise Old smiled when he heard that the TrailMaster was safe, but his little owl ears really perked up upon hearing about TM's horse in the barn.

"Did you hear that?" he asked CawCawJoe.

"Yup. So what?"

"So this, my friend: Where there is a horse, there are oats. And where there are oats, there are mice."

"Dinner bell!" cried CawCawJoe. And they flew cawing and hooting all the way to the barn of the farmhouse of the property at the outpost way past the overflowing river of the Ridge of Receding Dreams.

The horse was as glad to see them as the TrailMaster had been to see Bang!opolis, for it does get lonely when one is snowbound, no matter how snugly. Immediately Wise Old caught a mouse that had grown fat on the grain the horse had dropped. CawCawJoe ruffled out his feathers, enjoying the barn the horse's body had warmed.

So Wise Old and CawCawJoe were fed and snug, the horse was happy to have someone to talk to, and the TrailMaster was content to wait it out. All was well at the Crow 'n Bear.

13: Advice at a Price