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“I want to know how Damian met a Pixie,” Phebes demanded as we set up camp beneath an overcast sky.
Wyanet tied a rope between two trees. “What are you talking about?” She took a spare blanket and tossed it over the rope, creating a makeshift tent. “Stargazer is a Sprite, not a Pixie.”
I smashed the fire striker against my knuckles.
Phebes dropped an armload of sticks beside me. “No. I’m pretty sure I saw a Pixie with him back in Delara.”
Wyanet set large stones on the corners of the tent. “You must be mistaken. It was dark down there.”
“What do we have for supper?” I blurted out.
Wyanet pulled out the canvas food bag from Ineni. “The bread is stale, but it is still edible, more so if you eat it with jam.” She sifted through the bag. “Half a chunk of cheese, some strawberries, and the mushrooms we found yesterday.”
“What about the jerky?” Phebes sat on a log beside the fire pit.
“We should save it for as long as possible. We do not know how long we will be on the road for.”
A spark landed on my tinder ball. I tossed aside my flint and steel and coaxed the spark to a small flame. “Let’s finish the bread, and make a soup out of the mushrooms.” I grabbed a pot from my mess kit. “I’ll get some water and see if I can find anything else to eat.”
“Perhaps it would be a good idea to slow down tomorrow, and forage for some more food as we go.”
“I’ve… never foraged before. Is it hard? I’ve only ever bought my supplies.” Phebes confessed.
I left our camp and found a small stream nearby. Small clumps of cattails and wild rice dotted the stream bed. I filled the pot from the cool stream and collected a few handfuls of edible plants. I stuffed a couple of cattail heads in my tinderbox and headed back to the camp.
A spit rested over a crackling fire. I hung the water-filled pot and tossed in the mushrooms and cattails. We ate our meagre dinner as the sun set and pale moonlight filtered through the tree canopy.
I wiped out my dinner bowl. “Who’s taking first watch?”
Phebes played with the bland soup in her bowl. “Do you think we need one? There isn’t anyone around for miles.”
“I will not sleep in the wilds unguarded. You know how dangerous that can be.” Wyanet scolded. “I will take first.”
“I’ll go last.” I looked over at Phebes. “Get some sleep while you can. Dawn always comes too early.” I pulled my shirt off and crawled into the tent.
Hours later, Phebes shook me awake. The Eastern horizon glowed a softer blue. Everything felt wet. I put my shirt back on and sat on a log beside the fire pit. Dying embers radiate heat into the bracing air. I kindled the fire back to a small blaze and waited for the bottom of the sun to kiss the horizon before scraping scraps together for breakfast.
Wyanet woke up first. Without saying anything, I passed her a cup of pine needle tea, and we waited for Phebes.
“Ca, c, can, can you, can you help me?” A little, puffy-eyed, Elf boy sobbed as he stumbled into our camp.
Wyanet and I jumped at the sound. Silver and Gazer both tugged at my hair. The boy walked up to Wyanet.
Wyanet went down to one knee. She wiped away the boy’s tears with her thumb and brushed back his violet hair. “What is the matter, little one?”
“My kitty is stuck in a tree. I can’t get her down. Can you help me?” The boy wiped his nose on the back of his hand.
Wyanet looked back at me. “I think we can do that.” Wyanet took the boy’s hand. “Show us where your kitty is.”
“Okay.” The boy lead Wyanet into the forest.
I jumped up from my log and kicked out the fire. “ Phebes! Get up! Time to go!”
Phebes grumbled and pulled her blanket tighter around her.
I yanked her blanket away and balled it up. “Let’s go. Wyanet and I are leaving. Get up now, or we’re leaving you behind.” I grabbed her rucksack and slung it next to mine.
Phebes sat up, her eyes half-closed. Twigs clung to her hair. “Hey, those are mine.”
“You’ll get them back when you catch up.” I broke into a light jog heading in the same direction Wyanet went.
Five minutes East of our camp, I entered a clearing. Phebes clattered up behind, struggling to pull her armour on.
“What are we doing?”
“A little boy lost his cat up a tree. We’re going to get it down.” I strolled into the clearing, wading through wild phlox and clover. An ancient, gargantuan, oak tree loomed over the centre of the clearing.
“Something doesn’t feel right.” Phebes chased after me. “Where did the kid come from?” She paused for a moment her gaze flitted about the air. “Do you hear humming?”
Wyanet circled the tree ahead of us and examined the branches.
Gazer and Silver pushed against my chest. “I don’t know. Ask him yourself. He’s right there with Wyanet.” I dropped mine and Phebes bags with Wyanet’s at the base of the tree. “Do you see it?”
Wyanet pointed to a branch ten feet above the ground. “I’ve never been good at climbing trees, but you might be able to get him.”
I slipped my sword from my belt. “I can certainly try.”
“What city are you from?” Phebes asked the violet haired Elf boy.
“My grandparents are from Baile an Bhaile. My parents moved to an enclave near here before I was born. Please get my kitty down.”
“I’ll boost you up.” Wyanet laced her fingers together and put her back to the tree.
I stepped into her hands. I jumped as she threw me upwards. My hands caught a lower branch and I pulled myself up. I took a deep breath, mapped my path in my mind, and launched towards the next branch.
“What is your name?” Phebes asked.
“My name is, um, Dae.”
“And your cat’s name?”
I caught the branch. The cat, another leap away, mewed at me. I jumped. A bee stung my neck. I swatted at it, throwing off momentum. I scrambled to grab the next branch. My fingertips hooked onto the tree limb, my arm popped, I screamed and lost my grip. I plummeted to the ground.
“Please get my kitty.”
I scooted back against the tree, panting. Wyanet knelt down beside me and popped my arm back in the socket. “I can do it. A bee stung me and I lost focus.”
Phebes slid her new sword from its scabbard.
I jumped back to my feet. I rolled my shoulders. “Let’s try this again.”
Phebes crept closer to Dae.
Wyanet cupped her hands again.
“Please get my kit…”
Phebes slashed her sword across Dae’s chest. The boy screamed and collapsed to the ground. A gaping slice from hip to clavicle spurted blood.
Wyanet yanked her dagger from her belt. “What are you doing?”
“This doesn’t feel strange to you?”
I stepped around to Phebes’s flank. “Phebe’s, you just killed a little kid, for no reason.”
“I didn’t kill a kid, look.” Phebes pointed at Dae’s vacant stare. “Did I?” Her voice faltered.
“You should have said something to us if you thought something was wrong.” Wyanet circled to Phebes’s opposite flank.
“But I didn’t kill anyone.”
I extended my hand. “Give me your sword, Phebes.”
“We do not wish to hurt you.”
Tears bubbled up in Phebes’s eyes. “But he wasn’t real.” She dropped her sword.
“Do drop the charade before they hurt the poor girl.” A naked Elf woman with flawless amber skin extracted herself from the oak tree. A gentle breeze played with her nutmeg brown hair but touched no one else.
Silver dropped her invisibility. She spread her arms and legs as far as she could, floating between me and the Dryad.
“She is more clever than we gave her credit for, isn’t she?” a bassy voice whispered into my head.
“Who said that?” Wyanet frantically searched for the speaker.
“Why, I did darling.” The cat sitting in the tree transformed into a miniature dragon. The violet of the dragon’s scales matched the colour of Dae’s hair. The dragon took wing and landed on a lower branch.
Grazer dropped his invisibility. Rapier in hand, he hovered between me and the Faery dragon.
“I see you travel in fair company. Cordelia, perhaps we should let them pass.” The dragon whispered in my mind.
Phebes flopped to the ground, a sobbing muttering mess.
Wyanet kept her dagger in hand. “Why were you trying to trick us?”
“I agree Gildas, we should let them go.” She passed between Wyanet and me. She knelt beside Phebes and wrapped an arm around her. “Tricking our own kind is not as enjoyable. A shame, that honey sounds delicious.”
Wyanet put her back to mine. “A child is dead. How is this a trick?”
The curious smile on Gildas’s face shifted to a snarl. “Do not anger me, deary, or I might change my mind.
Cordelia gestured to where the body of Dae lay. “There never was a child. Gildas is the master of illusions.”
Dae’s body had vanished, the grass and wildflowers stood undisturbed. No blood soaked the soil.
“I propose we make a deal,” I announced in Sylvan.
The four Fae all stared at me.
Cordelia left Phebes. She wrapped an arm around my waist and drummed her fingers on my chest. “The angel boy speaks our tongue.” She leaned in and whispered in my ear. “That’s delicious.”
“What is it you desire?” Gildas mind-spoke.
“What are you saying, Damian?” Wyanet whispered to me.
I stared into Gildas’s eyes. “I will get you some honey.”
Gildas perked up. “And what do you want in return?”
“My friends and I get to leave here, unhindered, with as many acorns as we can carry, and a human drinking cup full of honey.”
“That isn’t a fair trade. What else can you offer?”
“What else do you desire?” I said. Silver tugged on my collar. “That is within my power to give?”
Cordelia pressed closer to me. “I will allow you to take my acorns, for a moment of my pleasure.”
I looked down at her. “I will trade a kiss with you for however many acorns you deem fit.”
“I will settle for that.”
Gildas arched his back and spread his wings. “I agree to the terms of this deal.”
“What are the terms you agree too?” Silver squeaked.
“Your friends are clever.” Gildas grinned at me. “For a human cup of honey, safe passage for you and your friends, and an allocation of acorns, you will collect the honey for us, and give a kiss to Cordelia.” He flew back to the branch he sat on before. “I’m waiting for my honey.”
I nodded and pushed Cordelia away. “Wyanet, get a fire going.” I dug the cattail heads from tinder box.
“No,” Cordelia said in Common. “You will get the honey. Those are the terms of our deal. You don’t get to ask anyone for help.”
I sighed and rolled my eyes.
Cordelia put her hands on her wide hips. “Get to it. We’re waiting.”
The story will continue, October 24th.
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