Slumber Page 60

Of course, the Moss family didn’t know I’d encountered many more like them, so my puzzlement was bemusing for them. I shrugged it off. This wasn’t the time.

At Sarah’s insistence I ate the stew given to me. I ate it slowly, my stomach still fragile. But as I ate the stew and warm bread, and sipped the apple juice Sarah had made, my body began to shut down in a sudden lassitude, now that it felt safe.

“No, no, Lady Rogan.” Sarah shook me and I was surprised that it didn’t hurt. Of course. She had healed me. I smiled dopily at her. I could have kissed her for that. “We need to get you washed up first.”

Again I was too tired to argue. Sarah shooed the rest of the Moss’ from the room and set about undressing me. I let her wash me, as my own mother had done years before, too exhausted to be embarrassed. She was gentle with me, even rinsing my hair out and plaiting it into a coil on my head. At last she pulled one of her own clean, soft, cotton nightgowns over my head, and taking me by the hand she led me into the room at the back of the house. It was small, with two single beds and a chest of drawers opposite them. Floral curtains were pulled across the window. In the bed closest to the door, lay Jnr, already fast asleep. In the other bed was L. She sat up in cotton longjohns (it didn’t surprise me she didn’t wear a nightgown to bed), the bedcovers pulled back.

“She alright?” L whispered.

“She will be,” Sarah replied softly and took me over to her daughter. “She just needs sleep.” She turned to me now. “Ye can share L’s bed. She don’t mind.”

At that moment, I didn’t care if she did or not. I crawled over the bed and slipped in under the covers. L craned around to look at me. “Make yerself at home,” she grunted and then slid in too, pulling the covers around us. She reached over and pulled the other side of the quilt up so that I was completely covered. “Night ma,” she turned back to her mother.

“Night, L. Proud o’ ye, lass.”

“Thanks ma.”

I must have fallen asleep as soon as my head hit L’s pillow because I didn’t remember a thing after that.

Chapter Twenty Six

The next morning I awoke snuggled up next to L. She had given a huff of laughter because I’d trapped her in my embrace and she couldn’t get out without waking me up. I had blushed beetroot, but she’d merely shaken me off when I tried to apologise.

Apparently everyone else was already up for breakfast. It was mid-morning, L told me. They’d let us rest longer. I was grateful. I already felt so much better than I’d ever thought I’d feel again. L gave me clothes to wear. We were of a similar height. I pulled on the soft trousers and shirt, warily eyeing the stockings and boots she gave me.

The boots were a little big but I pulled them on. I knew my feet were going to be a wreck soon. As we dressed for the day, L mentioned I’d woken her up with my nightmares. I couldn’t remember that and I apologised profusely. She shook me off again.

“I only mentioned it because…” She seemed embarrassed and I raised an eyebrow at that. “Well because ye might be wantin’ to talk about what happened to ye. Ye can talk to me.” She shrugged and turned away from me.

I smiled sadly at her back. “Thank you, L. I don’t…” I bristled at the way my body still clenched in fear at the thought of the Mountain Man. “I can’t just yet, but thank you.”

L shrugged again and headed into the main room.

Breakfast was delicious. Eggs, toast, goat’s cheese. More of Sarah’s delicious apple juice. The Moss’ were kind and considerate of, not only me, but each other and I enjoyed their teasing banter at the breakfast table. Their home was happy and warm. It was so nice to see that again after what I’d encountered up here in the Alvernian Mountains. It soothed my jangled nerves.

L told me she knew about Haydyn and the Sleeping Disease. None of them looked particularly worried by that and I realised it was because it didn’t really affect them way up here where the evocation didn’t reach. But as L went on, I gathered they realised the importance of the evocation for the rest of our world. They knew there was no stopping me. And I could see in L’s eyes that she knew for me it was personal; that I felt about Haydyn the way she felt about Jnr.

“So the Pool of Phaedra.” L shook her head. By now I knew she was seventeen, Haydyn’s age, but she spoke to me like I was twenty years her junior. “Quite a quest. Ye’ve certainly made a muddle o’ it so far, isn’t ye.”

“L, be polite,” Jonas scolded.

L gave him her favourite gesture. A shrug. “Just sayin’.”

I gave her my favourite expression. A glare. “I’m doing my best. I won’t stop until I get that plant, even if I have to face a million Mountain Men to get it.”

I watched L’s eyes glimmer with a hint of respect at my determination.

“Well, I be gettin’ an idea,” Sarah piped up. “Our L is as tough as they come; knows these here mountains better than anyone. If ye follow yer magic to the Pool, L will be keepin’ ye safe and right.”

“Although I don’t appreciate bein’ offered up as a guide without my say so, I do see the wisdom in the suggestion,” L agreed. “I’ll do it.”

I rather liked the idea of having a savvy, crossbow-toting mountain girl with me but I didn’t want to endanger anyone else. “I appreciate the offer, but you don’t have to help me. You’ve already done so much.”

L glowered at me. “I don’t offer help unless I be wantin’ to. I’m comin’; isn’t no yes thank ye, no thank ye about it. I leave yer lily white ass to saunter through these here mountains and Phaedra will be doomed – ye eaten alive by the Aran and Phaedra fallin’ to nothin’ without that Princezna o’ yers.”

Minutes before I’d thought having her along might be a wonderful idea. Now I grimaced. With L’s obnoxious, superior attitude I met as I well have brought Wolfe along.

Then I remembered the Mountain Man.

I eyed L’s crossbow leaning against the wall at the fire.

I pasted a strained smile on my face. “Thank you. I appreciate it.”

***

We left soon after, both us outfitted in warm jackets, each with a pack of supplies. L carried her crossbow and I carried one of Jonas’ hunting knives. I’d lost my pack and dagger at the stream when the Mountain Man had taken me.

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