Slumber Page 62

Gulping back the emotion clogging my throat, I somehow managed to respond, “Is that what you intend to do, L?”

She threw me another quick grin before turning back up the mountain. “As soon as I be finding love like ma and papa’s.”

As I followed her, I felt myself drowning in L’s practicality. I had been since the moment I met her, and now that pragmatism of hers was starting to make sense. And with Wolfe, I didn’t want it to make sense.

“My plan wasn’t to marry – ever.”

She snorted at that. “My plan for this week was to show Jnr how to be layin’ a trap without takin’ his hands off. Instead I’m stuck up in these here mountains with the dumbest smart person I ever be meetin’.”

“You know, L, I’m feeling overwhelmed by your kindness and charm.”

“I try to leash the potency of the charm but it’s too exhaustin’.” L grinned crookedly back at me.

I shook my head and burst into reluctant laughter.

***

By the third day, we had made it up through the Alvernian Mountains with little mishap. We’d heard a few howls in the distance that had given us pause to worry but so far we hadn’t come across the mountain dogs.

My magic told me we were close. Very close.

It was mid-afternoon, and the mountain had already begun to plateau under our feet. L suddenly drew to a stop as a new scent drifted by us in the wind. It smelled like lilacs and damp moss.

“I guess we be here.” L smiled at me. At my confused look she pointed in front of her and I walked around her, my feet throbbing, but I didn’t care. Light sparkled through the trees in front of me, and I grinned in relief.

“We’re here.”

Together we took off at a run, and burst out of the trees into the bright light. Before us the grass at our feet slid down towards a glistening lake, enclosed on all sides by higher ground. A small waterfall cascaded down from one of the mountains, descending into the lake, causing puffs and foam to rise in the water. Fresh lilacs and orchids bloomed around the edge of the lake, interspersed with dewy plants and buttercups. I stared in amazement. It was the most enchanting place I’d ever seen.

“Wow.” L nudged my shoulder. “Impressive.”

I nodded, smiling in awe. “The Pool of Phaedra.” I was finally here. My lips trembled and I felt tears prickle behind my eyes.

“Yer no’ be gettin’ all watery are ye?” L teased.

I gave her a little push and she laughed. I don’t know what I would have done without her. Impulsively, and so unlike me, I threw my arms around her and pulled her into a hug. At first she tensed with surprise… and then tentatively she put her arms around me and hugged me back. When I eventually stepped back from her she gave me a look, pretending she was bemused by my affection. I grinned at her and then walked around her, following the tug of my magic.

It took me to behind a large rock by the edge of the lake. Behind it grew a blue plant, the colour of the lake itself, vivid and alien, the sweet smell of molasses drifting up out of it.

“The Somna Plant?” L asked from behind my shoulder.

I nodded, reaching for it.

“No’ much left.”

No, there wasn’t. “I’m taking it all,” I whispered, reaching for my pack. “We have alchemists back in Silvera who might be able to plant this to grow more crops. Mayhap they can withdraw its properties and discover other uses for it.”

“Alchemists. Properties. Who cares, Rogan, just be gettin’ the damn thing and put it in yer pack.” She glanced around warily now.

I frowned as I carefully pulled the plants out by the roots and wrapped them in cloth. “What’s wrong?” I asked, putting the plant into my pack just as carefully.

L exhaled shakily. “Well, I don’t be wantin’ to alarm ye but I be sensin’ we might be hittin’ a spot o’ trouble on the way back down.”

My heart thumped in my chest, visions of the Mountain Man making me dizzy. “Trouble? What trouble?”

She shook her head, her eyes narrowed in frustration. “I don’t be knowin’ yet. Sometimes my gift, as ma calls it, has a warped sense o’ humour.”

With one last longing look at the Pool of Phaedra, L and I hurried back into the woods. I trusted that L had been paying attention to the route we’d taken, and as I followed her, having taken note just in case, I saw that she had. I shouldn’t have expected anything else.

We were both tense and anxious as we moved swiftly through the Arans. All I wanted now that I had the plant was to get back to Silvera and Haydyn as quickly as possible.

As the wood creaked and cracked around us, we would come to a stop, warily cocking our heads, our eyes wide as we studied the landscape around us. There would be nothing. We’d look at each other, me frightened, L ready, and we’d head off again, our departure faster downhill that it had been going up.

Dusk passed into dark and still we strode through the woods, desperate to get back to L’s home. For now, L searched the woods, looking for the perfect place to bed down for the night. When more time past, my feet aching, my stomach growling, and still L hadn’t stopped, it was almost on the tip of my tongue to beg L to just choose somewhere already, when the hair on the back of my neck rose.

A low growl sounded from my left and I drew to an abrupt halt. L heard it too and spun around to look at me. Her eyes flicked to the direction of the sound. “Mountain dog,” she told me quietly. Slowly, silently, she took her crossbow and brought it up, aiming somewhere out to my left. “I thought we might be comin’ upon one o’ these dung bred lowlifes.”

Frightened but needing to see for myself, I turned my head slowly. My eyes widened at the sight of the large dog merely metres from me. Its body was skinny but muscular, it’s coat rough, with little bald patches here and there. Its sharp muzzle was pulled back over its sharp teeth, saliva dripping from his rotting gums. Its eyes feral.

“We’ve got to be takin’ this mutt down and then be goin’. Its pack can’t be too far behind it.”

Just as the dog moved to attack, L shot the arrow. It plunged with perfect aim into the dog’s flesh. It whined and collapsed mid jump. I exhaled in relief and turned to thank L only to yell out to her as another dog lunged out of the woods and onto her. It took L down, its jaws clamping on her shoulder as she struggled under it, trying to reach for her crossbow which had fallen out of her hands, and keep the dogs teeth off of her.

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