Oh, Kassie gulped; am I the only one to remember that?

Cat's eyes were so wide you could see all the whites while Loi's lips moved but no sound came out. Sian, dwarfed by her mass of wet blonde hair, had her lips half pursed in a silent 'Oh'.

'Whoa! Hey, let's not think about that. Food, let's think about food, ' Kassie gabbled the words, worried all three might have a meltdown at once.

I'm only just keeping it together myself, she thought while smiling through clenched teeth at the others; you guys are NOT allowed to do this to me!

'Food, ' she uttered again, nodding as soothingly as she could manage, coaxing the others to say it. They finally snapped out of it, mumbling in agreement while they stood—Sian's tears long forgotten—to go get changed.

GOOD IDEA, THOUGHT Loi and she banished the hysterical voice in her mind that kept shrieking at Kassie's reminder of why they were here; food. She headed to her pile of clothes and pulled them on, working the pant legs over her still damp limbs. The boots she left loose, bunched around her knees, then sat to dry her hair, watching the others while they fussed around getting ready and Cat gave Audi a good clean.

Audrey had a lovely coat, her fur almost fully black with light tan markings on her lower legs and muzzle and two rather comical slashes above either eye, like eyebrows. Those two slashes helped emphasize the sooky, miserable expression she made sitting there in the tub as Cat soaped her up, rubbing firmly until the dog looked gray with suds. Sian helped with the dunking when Audrey made an aborted attempt to lunge from the tub and Loi couldn't help laughing at the sight. Eventually they rinsed all the soap from Audi's fur then Cat commanded her out.

The moment the dog's feet hit the floor she started to race around the courtyard as if possessed; shaking, yelling, zooming around their feet while Cat rushed after her, a drying sheet held wide like a net. Loi grinned at Kassie, both of them watching.

The dog froze at the sight of the net and in the corner Sian hurriedly finished changing, knowing what came next. Audi charged at the sheet and Cat wrestled her to the ground while the dog scrambled to get away before charging at the out-spread sheet again; the drying clearly her favorite part. Cat ended up fairly damp while Loi, Kassie and Sian laughed hard watching the spectacle. Audi sat back on her haunches to yell at them too. That was their term for one of the dog's many barks. Audrey had a rather decent vocabulary—it varied from whining, grumbling, talking and yelling when excited—like at the moment. The furious barks and snarls the dog made when they fled from the elgrids was the first time Loi had ever heard her really bark.

WE MADE OUR way to the kitchen as instructed then Henja led the way up a narrow staircase and along a corridor to our rooms.

'Did you see the dragon? Such a big one too, what a good example for your first time.' She beamed at us while we made appropriate remarks but all I could really think about was food. The smells that wafted from the kitchen almost made me dizzy with hunger.

Henja opened one door with a key from a laden iron ring and ushered us in.

'I have given you two rooms that have an adjoining door, so you don't have to go out into the corridor. As you can see you will have to share two to a bed and please,' she pointed at Audi beside me then to Lucky in Kassie's arms. 'No animals on the beds.'

I nodded in agreement along with Kassie and Henja smiled, satisfied.

'Well, I will go get your supper.'

She disappeared back down the corridor. Sian and Laura took the other room and Kassie and I the first. I wandered around the small room. Nothing extravagant but it had a couple of windows and a little stove, nice and cozy. I pulled my boots off as the room was quite warm and then sat, taking a moment to rub a drying sheet over my damp hair. Audi sat straight in front of me, ears perked up as she eyed the sheet, her black tail swishing across the floor, the white tip catching the fading light from a window.

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