Chapter Nine

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THE ONLY ORPHANAGE in Drivel happened to be the only stone building in the dilapidated fishing district. Some thoughtful soul had donated a large manor for the children. It was run by Brinehilde, a priestess of the Sylph, who always made Isiilde feel more than welcome. Unlike the rest of the district, it was built on good, solid ground. And on the banks of a small pond in the courtyard's center, sheltered beneath a sprawling oak, was a shrine to the Sylph.

Shrines dedicated to the Sylph were always outside. And while they lacked the formality of the Blessed Order, Oenghus had told her that what mattered most to the Goddess of All was how people lived their lives, not the temples where they worshipped.

Oenghus pounded on the sturdy front door of the orphanage. While they waited for an answer, Isiilde pulled her cloak around her, bracing against the cold ocean breeze.

"Before I forget," Oenghus murmured, rummaging through his pouch. He dropped fifteen silver coins and an entire crown into her hand. "You should be able to get a dress with that, right?" Isiilde nodded with an eager grin.

"Thank you." She tucked the coins safely into her own purse. Then the metal slat slid back on the door and a suspicious green eye studied the three visitors.

"Why if it isn't a bloody Saevaldr!" a booming voice echoed from within. The door opened, revealing a square-jawed Nuthaanian woman who was as tall as Marsais and as sturdy as Oenghus. A chubby cheeked infant sat on her hip, happily tugging her long red braid.

"Where've ya been, you bastard?" She threw an arm around Oenghus and planted a kiss on his lips, before motioning them through the door. Warmth embraced them.

"The usual," Oenghus answered.

"Don't think I haven't heard about that incident," Brinehilde said. "Thought you'd still be locked up. Wipe your feet, you big oaf!" Isiilde stifled a giggle. Brinehilde was the only one who talked to Oenghus Saevaldr as if he were a gangly boy.

"Sorry." He cleared his throat and quickly obeyed, lowering the keg onto the only piece of furniture in the entrance hall: a long wooden bench, crafted from sun-bleached driftwood. Brinehilde's green eyes widened when she caught sight of the little barrel.

"Is that an entire keg of your cold ward potion?"

"Aye, the best I could brew."

"May the Sylph bless you."

"This is for the children." Oenghus handed her half of his recent earnings, and then unhooked the flagon that was swinging from his belt. "And this is for you."

"Oh, curse you, Oen," Brinehilde swore, but considering the tears shimmering in her eyes, it wasn't a very sincere threat. "Here, lass, hold the wee one so I can give this lout a proper thanks." Brinehilde dumped the infant into Isiilde's arms. He was every bit as heavy as he appeared.

Having seen a number of women kiss Oenghus before, Isiilde ignored the pair and began bouncing the child while humming a merry tune. Babies always went straight for her ears, as this one did now, but she didn't mind, especially when he started drooling with infantile delight.

"I think he has your nose, Marsais," Isiilde said.

"Oh, the poor boy, he won't grow into it for near a century." Marsais leaned down to study the chubby face. The baby quickly abandoned her ear, grabbing Marsais' hair.

"Where's my manners?" Brinehilde exclaimed, when she had finished thanking Oenghus properly.

"Isiilde..." The priestess faltered as she looked at the nymph for the first time.

Unsure of what she had done wrong, Isiilde froze. It took a long moment for Brinehilde to recover.

"By the Sylph, you look a proper woman, and beautiful at that. But I'm sure you hear it enough so I won't fill your head up anymore than it already is."

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