I didn’t realize I had fallen asleep until I awoke to an unfamiliar ceiling above my head and a floral bedspread beneath my cheek. Blinking at the early-morning light, I wiped away the last remnants of sleep and said my prayers. My muscles ached from the cramped position I had slept in. The bedsheets beneath me were perfectly tucked in. It was as if no one else had been in at all.
I sat up straight. No cloaks, no bags, no boots – no men. I had been left behind.
A sharp knock on the door startled me from my thoughts. The small face of Mrs. Pemberly appeared in the doorway.
“Oh, bother!” She opened the door wider. She was carrying a heavy tray of food. “I thought for sure Owain had come back last night….”
“He didn’t come back at all?” I asked.
Mrs. Pemberly shook her head and set the tray down on the small table.
“Hungry, my dear? I wouldn’t mind some company for breakfast….” After not eating the night before, I was ravenous. As we chatted, I couldn’t shake the image in my mind of Owain, hunkered down next to the little old woman, sipping tea and eating eggs. She asked me where I had come from and where I was going and, when the opportunity presented itself, counted off her ten grandchildren on her fingers, pausing when she momentarily forgot the sixth one’s name. When we were finished, she went about her day, and I was left alone to worry.
There was nothing for me to do in Owain’s room. I must have plotted and replotted our path to Provincia a dozen times, looking for the shortest way possible.
“Are you looking for something to do?” Mrs. Pemberly asked when I finally came downstairs. “I have a package that needs to be delivered, but I’m waiting for two of my guests to arrive – I would hate to miss them.”
“Of course,” I said. “Do you happen
to know anyone else who might need help today? I need to earn a bit of money.”
What I didn’t say was that we needed to earn a lot of money, and I doubted North could do it alone. If he was going to leave me behind to fight a dragon – a dragon I would have given anything to see with my own eyes – then I wasn’t going to have any qualms about taking the day for myself. Besides, I wanted to be able to buy my own food, to have some sense of independence while I was bound to the wizard.
The old woman rested her hand on her hip. “Emmaline Forthright, perhaps – though she can be a tough bird to haggle with. She’s the one you’ll need to deliver the parcel to. Let me just write a note to her.”
Armed with the parcel in one hand and the note in the other, I passed into the bustling streets of Fairwell. It wasn’t difficult to retrace the path Owain and I had taken to get to Mrs. Pemberly’s inn; the only real danger I faced were the carts of pumpkins and enormous horses that had very little regard for the humans passing before them.
When I finally managed to cross Main Street, I found a small boy sitting beside the road with tears streaming down his cheeks. He had been struck by a wagon; I could tell by the bruise forming on his face and the way he clutched his arm against his chest. At his feet were piles of sand that had escaped from torn burlap sacks.
“Are you all right?” I asked. My eyes were focused on his small face, but my hands had found the piles of sand. Cliffton. I had thought I would never see or feel sand this rough again. I forced the images of fire and tortured faces to the back of my mind.
The boy nodded, but his breathing had become erratic.
“Your arm – is it hurt?”