I WOKE TO an unpleasant ache in my ear and jaw and groggily went to push up to sitting then froze when everything wobbled, abruptly remembering the cot bed beneath me. Slowly I lay back down and shuffled about, managing to lie full on my back without tipping the bed over and stared at the green canvas ceiling. Sunlight shone hard on the tent, glinting through pinprick-sized holes in the fabric, warming our room to the point of stuffiness. The others still slept and I couldn't hear the men in their part of the tent. Audi crept out from under the cot and stood next to it, laying her head beside mine and gave me little kisses on the nose. I giggled and reached a hand up to rub her ears when she started to whine at me.

'Shhhh, we don't want to wake the others,' I scolded in a quiet voice. Carefully this time, I sat up again and a gasp of pain slipped out. I winced, feeling bruises practically everywhere and had to resist yelping when I twisted, placing my feet on the ground. The cot bed wobbled again and I steadied myself, spreading my feet wider then groped for my boots, slipping each one on then lacing the backs.

'It's much easier to do when you're sitting,' I whispered to Audi. Her tail thumped on the ground.

Wriggling my jaw, I realized the ache I'd woken to was due to sleeping so heavily in one position. I don't think I moved once since my head first hit the pillow. Gingerly, I drew a sleeve up, staring at the dark blotches all over my arm.

'Oh goody,' I muttered at the sight of those bruises, knowing all too well that the rest of me probably looked like that too. Letting the sleeve slip down, I pushed up to standing, staying still until the nasty pounding in my head abated. Not so much a headache, just my body demanding more rest. My stomach, however, growled loudly making Audi cock her head. Spotting my filthy clothes and weapons, I scooped them all up before hunting down the bar of soap Sabyn had left us. Pushing our way out of the tent, Audi and I stopped when the sun hit us.

What a truly stunning day, I thought, squinting, such a contrast to last night. The ground felt soft underfoot but the worst of the mud had dried out already. A voice called and I turned. Smiling while he strode toward me, one of the men spoke softly so not to wake the others.

'Good morning, we thought you might all sleep the day away.'

'I wish,' I said with a rueful smile, my brain clicking through the names until it registered; Daron. 'But I'm feeling a bit hungry. And if I want to wear these ever again I better wash them.' I held the washing pile away and wrinkled my nose at it.

I held a hand up to shade my eyes and watched Daron laugh, unable to resist grinning at the jovial sound. The horrors of last night felt hard to comprehend at the moment in the sunshine and feeling of civilization that the campsite provided.

'Gragnoll gunk isn't nice, but it washes off and as for food, Gredel and Sabyn cooked a giant breakfast and left some aside for you all,' Daron said then looked down at Audrey. 'Even some for you,' he cooed at her.

Audrey ducked her head at his voice and gave him her best coy look then rolled over demanding a belly rub.

'Honestly, Audrey,' I scolded teasingly. 'You're such a flirt.'

Daron looked up from where he crouched beside the dog and grinned, making his brown eyes crease over strong cheekbones.

'She knows a sucker when she sees one.'

I laughed, watching the two for a moment longer then spotted Sabyn and headed his way.

Breakfast consisted of bacon crisped till nearly black, mounds of shredded potato fried in the bacon fat and fresh but chewy bread rolls with an underlying tang like sourdough, toasted and generously buttered. A far better meal than I would have anticipated and I thanked Sabyn who waved it aside as he piled another mound of potatoes on my plate. He looked both out of place and totally at home; another well muscled man with longish blond hair tied back in a plait, a frying pan in one hand and a carving knife in the other, as he slid more slices of bacon into the pan with an ease of motion that suggested plenty of practice.

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