Chapter Seven

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ISIILDE RARELY REMEMBERED how she got anywhere, most especially to bed. She assumed that some sort of little known band of kindly creatures carried anyone who fell unexpectedly asleep to their respective beds. She had spent many a night feigning sleep in hopes of luring them out of their concealment. But to her considerable disappointment, her efforts were counterproductive, because she always fell asleep before she could spring her trap.

Whenever she questioned Oenghus about these creatures, he grunted, rolled his eyes, and muttered something rude under his breath. On the other hand, Marsais admitted that there was a definite possibility of their existence (she tended to side with Marsais on such matters). In any event, she didn't know how she'd got to her bed the previous night, but she did know when she was being woken up too early.

"It's time to get up, Sprite." She cracked a reluctant eye open. The kilted giant looming over her bed bared his teeth in a smile.

"The sun isn't out," she moaned, pulling the covers over her head. Besides, it was impossible for her to get out of bed because Mousebane was purring contentedly against her stomach. If she got out of bed, he might attack her, and the threat of angering such a fearsome beast was reason enough for the nymph to stay exactly where she was.

"It's three hours walk to Drivel, and if we wait until midday then the Glass Goblet won't get my brew in time." It was too early in the morning for such sound reasoning.

"Can't you load the wagon first?" Her request was muffled by the blanket.

"Already done," Oenghus grunted. "The Scarecrow is by the wagon, awaiting you at your leisure, your highness."

"Tell him I'll be up at midday."

"I, on the other hand, wait for no one's leisure. Up with you, ya lazy girl."

"Oen," she growled, fighting to retain her covers. "Have you no respect?"

"I'm your guardian, not your bloody nursemaid."

"One more hour," she bartered.

"If you want to spend it in the trough."

"You wouldn't!" the nymph gasped, throwing off the covers to glare at him.

"Wouldn't I?" Sapphire eyes glittered darkly in challenge. "Look, if you want to go to the festival then you have to get ready—otherwise you can stay here with the Scarecrow and miss out on the whole celebration. Your choice, Sprite." He turned to leave.

Isiilde muttered sourly, recognizing defeat as it stomped determinedly away.

"Can you at least bring me my clothes?" The boots stopped, then stomped back into the room. Fabric rustled, Oenghus muttered, and a pile of clothes were deposited on top of her warm haven. When the door closed, Isiilde smiled. A small victory was still a victory.

It was cold enough to make her bones ache so she dressed beneath the covers, awkwardly donning woolen leggings, shift, skirt, and bodice while Mousebane expressed his irritation. As she wrestled with her clothes, she endured the feline's claws, all for the sake of staying warm.

Eventually, Isiilde stumbled out the front door, gazing in dismal wonder at the dense fog. She decided the heat of the day before had been some fanciful dream.

"Good morning, my dear," a familiar, welcome voice drifted from the fog. She followed the sound to its source. Marsais was leaning against the wagon. His grey cloak blended with the mists, making him seem an apparition.

"I wouldn't call this morning and I most certainly wouldn't call it good," she muttered, stumbling over to the wagon.

"It's called dawn," Oenghus grunted, checking the lashings on his kegs for the fourth time. Isiilde noted the heavy warhammer hooked onto his belt. The weapon made her uneasy. He only brought Gurthang along when he expected trouble. She tried to pretend that he used it to pound fence posts, but even for a nymph, that was a strained stretch of the imagination.

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