Ethyl and I traveled through what little remained of the night and then we traveled through the morning, not stopping until it was nigh on noon. We found a little spot beside a river with a few bits of grass that the horses could nibble on while we nibbled on some dry rations.
I literally felt like figuratively kicking myself because I had neglected to purchase even a fraction of a gigantic piece of pie before we had left Fencemar. So, I made a small fire for warmth and imagined that a meat pie was baking away in the coals as I ate a piece of bread so hard that it was inedible until dipped in river water.
“What ho!” shouted Ethyl suddenly.
I looked up to find her looking down into a saddle bag, or more precisely into Acrimony’s saddle bag, since it was behind the saddle that was fastened to Acrimony’s back.
“What?” I asked.
“There are dresses in here.”
“Of course there are dresses in there. Every morning, I take out one of those dresses and wrestle you into it, clean you up, and do your hair into cute pigtails. And every day, by half past noon, you have stripped off the dress, dirtied yourself up again, and taken to acting in no fit manner for a young lady.”
“I have? I mean, I have,” said she. “You know, I wouldn’t mind getting into a dress now, as I’m still cleaned up from yesterday, and, if you wanted to, and it wasn’t too much trouble, and we have time, I wouldn’t mind too terribly having my hair put up in cute pigtails.”
“What have you done with my daughter, vile doppelganger?” I shouted, jumping to my feet and whipping out my sword.
“I didn’t do anything to her. I mean to me. I mean, it’s me. I’m right here, obviously.”
“I knew there was something off about you. You are way too nice and way to civilized, and now that I think about it, way too clean to be the real Ethylthorpe Buxton. I should have known right away that you were some evil fiend that had taken her form.”
“I’m really Ethylthorpe Dewberry Buxton,” she said, “and my birthday is the Sixth Day of the Rat Festival in The Year of the Drunken Hobgoblin. No doppelganger would know that.”
“Hmm,” I hmmed, almost satisfied. “Turn around and lift up your jerkin.”
With a sigh, she did so, and I could see the birthmark in the small of her back shaped like a kickball. I was thus reassured that she was the genuine article, the article being my daughter.
“Satisfied?” she asked, cheekily.
“I am satisfied that you are my daughter, but I am not otherwise satisfied, which is to say, I wish I had a meat pie.”
I finished my lunch, such as it was, and checked the horse’s hooves, while Ethyl changed into the cute little red dress that I had purchased for her in Oordport. Oordport is a city known for its fine dresses and is somewhat of a destination for both men and women who enjoy wearing that type of clothing, which is to say dresses. Once she had put on the proper attire for a young lady or a very small man, if he was inclined to such a thing, she allowed me to braid her hair into two cute pigtails, with red ribbons tied to the ends.
“What do you think?” she asked me.
“I scarcely know what to think,” said I. “Let’s be on our way.”
I put out the fire and cleaned up the camp, and then my daughter and I mounted our horses, me upon mine and she upon hers, and we continued on our way.
“Tell me about my mother,” said Ethyl.
“I have told you about her many times.”
“Um, yes, I know. I want to hear about her again. What was she like?”
“What would you like to know?”
“Was she beautiful?”
“She was extremely beautiful,” I said.
As I reminisced, which is to say, talked while remembering, I tried to keep as much wist from my voice as possible. Wistfulness is fine beside a fire of an evening but is no good while riding through the cold countryside.
“She also wore beautiful dresses and she never even once dressed in pants and pretended to be a man.”
“Where is she?” asked Ethyl.
“You know where she is. She’s dead.”
“She is? I mean, she is. I mean, how did she die? I mean, tell me again how she died.”
“I can’t tell you again how she died,” said I.
“I can’t tell you again how she died, because I’ve never told you how she died in the first place.”
“She died of consumption,” I told her.
“Consumption? What is that?”
“It’s when you consume something you shouldn’t have,” said I. “She consumed poison.”
“Poison!” shouted Ethyl. “Who poisoned her?”
“Calm yourself,” said I. “Nobody poisoned her but her own self. She took her own life.”
“Well, it wasn’t because she didn’t want to be a devoted wife and mother or wear dresses all the time and give up on a life of adventuring. It was a different reason entirely.”
“Well, what was it?”
“Um, well… I will tell you another time. It is too upsetting. Let us talk on a different topic.”
“Okay,” said Ethyl. “Tell me why you hate Ellwood Cyrene so much.”
“Who said I hate Ellwood Cyrene? Did he… she… he say that? Either one of them?”
“No. She said nothing to me about it. And I know that she is a woman. And I know that she is really Queen Elleena of Aerithraine.”
“How do you know all that?” I demanded.
“Well, it’s all right there in Chapter Six,” she said.