Waking up next to Liz was so familiar I thought I was in the keep again. It is strange how much of my memory has been obscured. She did not wake, but I made sure she was breathing well. I felt very refreshed from my nap and realized that the sun had gone down toward the horizon, but we probably had an hour or more until full sunset. I gave a small heal to Liz; just enough to accelerate the natural healing that was going on. I didn’t want to push too hard or I’d wake her up. Fast healing is upsetting to the body, leaving physical scars and sometimes mental ones. The body is a magnificent contraption; each part working in concert with the others. Manipulate things too forcefully with magic, and you are bound to get trauma. So I just gave her the gentlest of healing passes and left her under the dragon hide wrap. It was quiet, which suddenly gave me pause. Where were the fairies?
I wondered around the clearing, watching for the fairies and trying to decide what I was going to do from this point. With the hobs all dead and accounted for but one, some sort of ambush by the frogs, and missing lizard folk, I think my options were pretty thin. I could wait around here until I could heal Liz back to full strength, then she and I could try and sneak into the fortress. But if we had been betrayed somehow, I’m not sure what we’d be walking into. I wanted to talk with her first, before I made any decisions. It’s not like I was going to leave her here or anything.
I went to the river’s edge and splashed my face with the icy water. It helped me wake up, that’s for sure. What I wanted to do was crawl back under the dragon cloak with Liz, but I was done sleeping. I knew it. I was just being petulant. When I was sleeping, I wasn’t making a mess of things.
That’s when the hairs on the back of my neck all stood on end. Total alert freak out. I spun around, expecting something to be approaching from behind but there was nothing I could see. The tension in my shoulders ratcheted up a notch, so I drew my mace and began to stalk back toward Liz. I could feel someone or something watching me. I’m not sure what or who exactly, but it was palpable. I was growing used to trusting my intuition and right now I was on high alert.
The distance from the river’s edge to where Liz slept was maybe three rods, but I hurried to close that gap, expecting an attack at any moment. I was beginning to hate the feeling. An attack at that point would’ve been welcome. But none came.
Just then Morning Glory flew into the clearing, startling me, and I swallowed a strangled cry. For half an instant I was convinced that something was going to snatch Morning Glory out of the air. She didn’t seem to notice anything, alas. Once she made it back to me, she hovered in front of me and curtsied. Almost immediately she began her buzzing talk which reminded me I had to put in my ear phallus, which I did. She was very agitated, or excited. It’s hard to tell with her.
The ear phallus altered her voice from the chirping of an over excited cricket to the rather sultry voice I’d come to expect, however incongruous it was with her physical form. She jumped into a twisted story of how Barkley, another of the male fairies, had found something that the fairies had all agreed I had to see. It was most very important, according to Morning Glory.
I looked around the clearing, the intense web of trepidation seemed to hang down from the trees. I half expected a sudden influx of spiders, but there was no trace of their ilk in this wood. It was as if my mind sensed something that my eyes could not see.
“How far?” I asked, glancing back at the sleeping form of Liz.
“Thirty seven trees,” Morning Glory replied, as if that was an accurate form of measurement. Perhaps to her it was.
I hesitated. “I can’t leave Liz,” I said, worried about disappointing the eager fairy.
“Lickety-split,” she said. “Back in a flash.”
Liz was breathing. I saw nothing to deter me from a quick errand, and Morning Glory had flown over and grabbed a handful of my hair, nearly pulling me off my feet. She was definitely growing more insistent. Finally I agreed to follow and away she flew. I paused and cast two protection spells on Liz. One that would repel most forms of evil, or at least hinder it, and the second that would make her nearly invisible from those who would do her harm. That second sanctuary spell would not last long, so I had to hurry. I followed Morning Glory to the point I could still make out Liz in the clearing and I hesitated. “How much further?” I asked.
“Seventeen trees,” she said.
“Go fast,” I said, and between one blink and the next, she had flown west toward the river faster than I could register the movement. Fairies are fast.
I trudged after her, feeling more and more awkwardly huge. I was in fine shape, but the fairies were so darned lithe and swift. Nothing to be done about it at this stage. I wasn’t growing any shorter, and I saw no chance of wings in my future.
Once I caught up to where Morning Glory had stopped, I could see the other fairies all arrayed around another of the giant spruce trees at the edge of the river. I approached cautiously, and they parted to fly behind and above me, like an escort. As I stepped forward I could see that in the bowl of an ancient Spruce nearly as large as the one the frogs had staked Shadow One to, I found what was most very important.