I never did find out what the man who owned that cabin did for a living. I didn’t examine his body closely enough to see if he was old enough to have retired from somewhere else to settle in the country. I didn’t see if he had any outbuildings where he could have carried on a trade. I don’t know if he was a good man or a bad one. And to tell the truth, I didn’t notice much about him physically. I do know this… he had a very fine bed. It had been nearly three weeks since I had slept in a bed and this one was at least as good as that one had been. Before you ask, the other one was in the second floor of an in an inn called the Lonesome Hedgehog, where incidentally a nice, plump serving wench with the top two buttons of her blouse undone had brought me a very nice mutton stew. No pie though.
What with all the adventures that had come upon me of late, and what with not having slept on a bed in a fortnight and a half, as you can imagine, it didn’t take me long to fall asleep. I had brushed down my noble steed, which is to say Hysteria. Then I had taken off my boots and wiggled my toes. Then I put my knife under my pillow. When my head touched lightly on the pillow, I was dreaming. I don’t remember exactly what I dreamed about. Only that it had something to do with my cousin Gervil, and that for some reason he was chopping onions. I never found out why he was chopping onions because I was awakened by the sound of the cabin door opening.
I didn’t stir. I kept my eyes squinted so that they looked shut to someone looking at me, but I could still see. At the same time I slid my hand under my pillow to take hold of my knife. I needn’t have worried though, as it was the orphan returning from outside and bolting the door after him. I suppose that he had stepped out to answer nature’s call. I started to return to slumber when something about the orphan stopped me.
I continued to watch him as there was something different about him. It took me several moments to realize what it was, but then it hit me. I was seeing my companion for the first time without his cap. Where before his head had been covered by a ratty wool creation, it was now covered by long, golden locks, held down with braided strands around the temples. And on either side of his head was a long slender pointed ear, pierced three or four times by thick silver rings. He was a girl! He was a girl and he was an elf! This was quite a strange development and I didn’t know what to do about it, so I did nothing. I simply went back to sleep.
The next morning the orphan was waiting for me when I woke. His long golden hair and his long pointed ears were now carefully tucked under the cap. I suppose at this point in my story, I should probably begin calling the orphan she instead of he. Truth be known, I still think of her sometimes as a boy. It just goes to show that my poor old mother was right. First impressions are important.
“It’s about time you woke,” said she.
“Did I have some specific reason to rise early?” I wondered. “Do I have an appointment at the apothecary? Is the Queen of Aerithraine, with whom I once had the pleasure of spending a fortnight, waiting to give me an audience?”
“No need for sarcasm,” said she. “I merely point out that the sun has been up for some time. I’ve gone through the larder of the poor human… I mean the poor man who lived here and found some food not spoiled by goblins. We have a jar of crabapples, a jar of pickles, and a few bits of dried meat. There are also bags of coffee, flour, and dried beans that you can take with you.”
“Why didn’t you whip up a pot of coffee for us?” I asked. “Especially as you are so concerned about the hour. It would have woken me up earlier.”
“Um, I don’t know how to make coffee.”
“Really? Oh well.”
We ate our bit of dried meat and crabapples for breakfast and saved the pickles for later. I put them, along with the coffee, flour, and dried beans in my pack, then loaded the pack and the saddle onto Hysteria. And though she and I were both loath to leave the relative warmth of the cabin to return to the snowy outside, we did. The frosty overnight weather had frozen the bodies of human and goblin alike to the ground, so that I would have had to wait until they thawed a bit before I could give them a proper burial, even if I had been so inclined. I wasn’t. So, hoisting the orphan back up behind me, which is to say, upon Hysteria’s haunches, we started off again down the road.