Star Dreamer

Chapter XXXIX: The Stirring of Dead Dreams


Ceart had started to turn, child in arms, to order Eric away – but instead he choked out, “Star Dreamer....?”

He shot a look at Laurelyn and demanded, “You’re not daft enough to be chasing after that black legend – aboard a murderer’s ship?!”

Murderer? Laurelyn silently questioned. But before she could open her mouth Leisrinn said, “To the house – or ye’ll all be dead of the croup and not some legend.” Even though she had a cane in one hand, and Jimi was helping his Mam along, the woman made good time as she led them up the path to a relatively clean cottage that was 
festooned with fish nets. She opened the door to a warmly lit cottage. “Settle in,” she ordered the others. Then Leisrinn turned to Ceart and said, “Bring the child along – the best 
cure for her is in with the cows.”

[Eric Dunn]

He shot Ceart a black look, and snapped, “I don’t remember addressing you. She asked me about a charter and I gave my answer. As far as making accusations, you weren’t there.” He trailed them to the house, but did not enter. “Laurelyn, I’ll be at the docks preparing the Rose. Let me know when you and the others want to depart.” With that, he turned to walk away.


Ceart scowled in anger and watch Eric’s retreating back – then said to Laurelyn, “When we get the lass settled ye best listen to me about Eric Dunn …”

For the moment all Laurelyn could was brace herself for a confrontation over her quest – though she did need to know what blackness Eric had mixed himself up in before agreeing to sail on his boat.


Thomis glanced at Laurelyn in question, but followed Ceart and Leisrinn into the cottage, where the other man ducked through another door to settle Bethy in snug among the livestock. Inside, the cottage was warm and dry – and he imagined the girl would be even warmer once out of her wet clothes and surrounded by the heat of the animals. He shook his own cloak out, and then draped it over an empty butterchurn to dry out – and took Rue’s basket from Fionn so the highlander could do the same. The babe blinked, awake with hunger, and grasped one of his fingers firmly in her fist to express her strong desire for dinner.


As Talia huddled on a stool by the hearth Jimi hurried through a curtain 
at the back of the cottage, and soon came back – carrying several old blankets, which smelt of lavender with a touch of fish. One of which he handed off to the Widow – then dipped a bit of clean clothe in the water bucket and handed it to Thomis, saying, “Here – let the wee one suck on this.”

For a long moment Laurelyn watched Thomis and Rue – and smiled at how easily he handled the babe. She remembered him once saying that he had helped raise Mesani’s sons, plus her grandson, Drywen, and she realized that someday they would need to discuss the topic of children. But that was a way’s off.

Her smile disappeared as her thoughts traveled back to matter at hand – and the fact that they had to first successfully find and leave The Star Dreamer before any of the more domestic topics were pertinent. Instead she turned to her cousin Jimi and said, “Before Ceart comes back in – can you fill us in on why Eric is considered a murderer? And why he’s still free – if that is the case?”

Jimi looked up from stirring up the fire – and setting the kettle of seaweed soup back to simmer. “A wee bit back he and his betrothed went out on the Rose, but only Eric came back – he claims that she found The Star Dreamer and failed to leave. But common belief is that he gave her to the fishes.”


Of late, the spells he had used were those he was least familiar with… and which had the least power. Other, more deadly and destructive spells were commonly used by the CRS mage; but there were also special ways to interrogate and extract the truth.

He commented to Laurelyn “Perhaps we could ask him… kindly and politely… about the situation? Purely to get his side of the story.” And added in mindspeak ::I have spells that will loosen his tongue, and reduce his inhibitions against speaking…and will also reveal the truthfulness of his answers.::


Aloud Laurelyn said, “I do want to hear Eric’s side of the story. Who are we to judge him – we too chase The Star Dreamer?’ Along with the fact that he may be the only one who’ll take us – I don’t relish chartering from another town, where none are kith nor kin.”

But before she answered Enris’s silent query she weighed her words and her decision. At the most basic level she was loath to see anyone made to speak against their will – along with the fact that she had her doubts that CRS “truth” spells were in anyway gentle. Probably not something she would see inflicted on a stranger, let alone kin. Yet she also had the responsibility for several lives and it would be on her decision whether they would be sailing with a suspected murderer.

As she accepted a towel so she could wipe off some of the water Laurelyn finally sent, ::While its not the most efficient way of doing things – my folk deeply respect privacy. So to coerce Eric would be the greatest disrepect that could be done … and no basis for trust if we were to travel with him… But if it is possible – can you do a non-intrusive scan?:: There was a sense of soul-deep tiredness as she added, ::I can’t afford to risk everyone – not with such a charge against him…::

She wiped the rain water from her face and toweled her long auburn hair. And wondered at the entertwining of the Fates – that had entangled them with the one man who had claimed to have been near The Star Dreamer.


Jimi just shook his head and looked up as Leisrinn and Ceart returned. “Go and keep an eye on the child,” Leisrinn told her youngest son, and grandchildren.


“Is the doubt because ye question the truth of the Star Dreamer?” Fionn broke in quietly, not bothering to point out that the group of them 
had just had an unquestionably real encounter with the strange and magical. (Nor mentioning that Rue’s giggles around her wet cloth undoubtedly came from a certain sparkling sprite tickling her under the blankets.) “Or because ye heve reason to doubt Eric Dunn hemsel’?”


As Jimi disappeared outside Ceart took the opportunity to mutter, “The Dreamer is a legend shaped of shadows that bored sailors see… And Eric is probably not the first to use it as an excuse to hide a murder. And even if it is real – how did he come to return and not his lass?”

Laurelyn was surprised at her uncle’s vehemence – usually he was a much fairer man.

But she was answered when Leisrinn said, “Thet the boy acts like a sea daemon ewns him does nothing to ease any minds.”


He had walked over to the fire and stood in apparent silent contemplation of the flames as he replied to Laurelyn ::There is one as you suggest. Lies create stress in most; and I can cast my spell on a cup of water so that we will see small vibrations when his emotions react. The water is calm when his emotions are quiet. Of course, there are events that create reactions in a person, even when he is completely truthful. Murder, for example.::


::That would be perfect,:: Laurelyn sent, with a sense of relief – not so 
much that Enris had a milder spell, but that they would have some type of confirmation.

Aloud she said, “Wouldn’t having the whole town laying the blame on him be cause enough to act wild? We also seek The Star Dreamer – it is a vision that will not release me till I stand on her decks.”

“Then ye’re dafter than he,” Ceart growled. He turned on Thomis and demanded, “And how can you wed her and let her follow this madness? Or did she break beneath the guilt in that insanity called Chatterton and you also?!”

Before Laurelyn could retort – an answer born of fatigue and surprise – Leisrinn said, “Eneugh Ceart! Just because ye wanted nothing beyond a barmaid and boat – and refused to follow the visions of ye’er youth – doesn’t mean that others won’t be called! Others whose souls are open and bleedin’ fer what they desire!”

Ceart’s whole body tensed at those words – as if his mother had impaled him through the gut.


Jacques looked up with a start, and the bells on his hat rang with a brittle sound in the sudden pause of debate.

“You know,” he offered quietly, “some people would give their right arm to have just a barmaid and a boat.” Well, maybe not the boat – he’d never been a good sailor. “There’s no shame in a quiet life and a good wife. No shame not wanting to lose your family to a desire to be reckless.”

Recklessness, he thought, had a lot to answer for. As did something else.

“Souls and visions are dangerous things.” He laughed a little sourly. “You listen to your head, lad. Not your soul. It’ll only get you dead, or worse, every time.”


Ceart looked ready to round on his defender when Leisrinn said quietly, “There tis ne shame in a good life – the crime is when the regrets and yearning turn ye sour. Maybe not as sour and shriveled as some – but soured up in some corner of his soul. While Weithra may not be the one I’d have seen him wed – she wes his choice – and has given him some bonny cheldren…”

Without a word Ceart turned and stormed from the cottage – letting rain fling itself in before he slammed the door shut.

“Ne man wishes to see his secrets and fears exposed,” Leisrinn stated, though she showed no sign of regretting her words. Instead she turned to study Thomis up and down, saying, “I heven’t had a good look at ye.”

Laurelyn looked for a moment at the now-closed door, then at Jacques, and finally back at Thomis and her GrandMam. She felt as if their group carried with them a mirror and a wind. A mirror to show what twisted in the soul. And a wind to stir what slept in the heart – for better or for worse.

Nor could she disagree with Jacques’ commentary, but she wanted to ask him – “What happens when the visions won’t let you go? What happens when your soul yearns for that quiet life with the man you love – but the Fates have wrapped their skein too tight around you?” She could ask him, but she knew that while he might have a useful observation or two he was as tightly bound as the rest of them.


Talia tried to ignore the family fight by huddling a little closer to the fire, and looking elsewhere. Her gaze fell on Enris and his kilt and she weakly asked, “Isn’t that a bit drafty in rains like these?”


He sighed deeply and replied to Talia, “Yes. Horribly so. And it’s worse when it’s wet.” He looked up and said “In fact, since we seem to be talking about the Star Dreamer, I may as well do something that I’ve wanted to do for some time now.” The first real smile to cross his face in days appeared as Enris excused himself.

He had kept his clothing – his real clothing, from the CRS – in a dry pack. During the trip, he had used his magic to repair the worn clothing and boots, so they were now new, clean, and resplendent. It took only a short while to dress in the black uniform of a CRS officer; his mage’s cape hung from his shoulders, and the high black boots reflected light as he returned, drier and happier.

He commented to Talia “Far less drafty! And if I am to seek The Star Dreamer, I prefer to do so this way.”


The Widow Crathurs looked up in some amazement at Enris’s new garb, and she said, with surprise in her tone, “I didn’t realize you were in the military?” Though which army – Talia wasn’t sure.


He smiled and replied “Yes… I was … seperated … from my comrades at the end of a great battle, and I would do anything… sacrifice anything… to prove myself worthy to rejoin them.”


The little sprite had amused herself by playing with Rue, hidden from sight beneath the babe’s blanket, but not hidden from ear-shot, and the grim conversation was rapidly souring her mood again. That Fionn intended to take her charge out to sea was bad enough, but with an accused murderer and in search of a ghost ship that was known to be cursed? Maybe he was far more daft than she’d wanted to believe. But it wouldn’t do to reprimand him in front of all the strange Big Folk, so she carefully crept out from under the blankets, and peeked about. Everyone looked tense, and seemed to be focused on their own gloomy thoughts and conversation, so she jumped from the basket to the floor and crept along the wall to the door, keeping a wary eye on the humans as she went. She couldn’t fly without glowing, and she had no desire to attract unwanted attention that way. When she slipped outside the door into the cool, wet night, out of sight of those in the cottage, she leapt into the air and flew to the stable, where Mairghead’s intended victim had been taken. She felt badly about it, as if she could have somehow prevented the water sprite from her actions.

Darting into the stable in a flicker of silvery glow, she stopped and hovered long enough to find where the child had been nestled. Bethy was not alone, so Tirlina dropped to the hay-strewn floor and approached on tip-toe, wanting to get close enough to see if the child was recovering, but trying not to be spotted by the children or the young man who kept watch on the half-drowned waif.


The jester harrumphed into his moustache, and dug a plain wooden pipe from a pocket.

Damn fool, he thought as he stuffed some pungent tobacco into it. Should have known better than to get involved in other people’s problems.

He pulled a tiny metal cylinder from another pocket and touched it lightly to the tobacco, which began to burn.

Damn fool, he cursed again as he pushed the cylinder back into a different pocket and took a long puff on the pipe. These people, or the damn fool Star Dreamer and what it could finally do, were finally driving him out of what little of his mind he had left.

He leaned back in the chair and sent a light smoke ring towards the ceiling. It twisted, and split, and for a second he thought he could see a face in the smoke.

Damn, cursed, fool.


In the silence that fell after Ceart left the cottage, Thomis looked first at Laurelyn, and then at Jacques. Leisrinn could be a hard woman, even to her son, and before strangers. After a moment more, he passed the basket back to Fionn – apparently with Rue’s approval, for the babe waved her fists again and giggled in reaction. “If you need a closer look, then,” he remarked, and crossed the room to stand before the old woman. Nothing remarkable about him, but she would find no regrets or lingering doubts to prod at.


Meanwhile Leisrinn leaned on her cane, with her loose black – sodden – dress clinging to her bony frame, and studied Thomis with blue eyes grown harder with the years. “More then what ye seem,” she said with a nod, “Not by any grand powers, but where it counts – strength of heart.”

She nodded more vehemently, “Ye’ll do.”

There were things that Laurelyn never needed to have confirmed or approved – and her love of Thomis was one of them. She would have happily left – while she dearly loved her kin she was being firmly reminded of why she had left Morrow’s Hold. Too small a place. Too many who knew where old wounds were hidden. It was part of the reason Emlyn kept her own cottage and did things on her own terms – maybe not adventuresome enough to go out, but strong enough to walk her own path. Strong enough to understand why her daughter had ventured forth. But there were things she still needed to know from Leisrinn – Ceart’s visions had come as a shock.

“Who else has dreamt of The Star Dreamer?” she asked, barely keeping from making it a demand.

Leisrinn turned her attention to her granddaughter and said, “Story tells that ye’re great-grandfather once sought it – and that is how he met his Mer wife…though he never found the ship.”


Back in his uniform, the world looked better to him. He commented to Leisrinn “You can be proud of your granddaughter; she is more brave, and fights with greater valor than many men. And I have no doubt that if she seeks The Star Dreamer, we will find it.”


The old woman turned to look Enris over – noting his new garb and the surety of his attitude. “Of her fighting ability I have ne doubt,” she 
said, “But as to finding thet ship – thet is one thing none can be sure of. And what is ye’re name, boy?”


He replied “Please, call me Enris, Ma’am.”


Getting aboard a ship – any ship – was sounding good to Laurelyn, and she knew her patience had just about run out. She said, “Grandmam, before this night is out I need to talk to Eric – so we best be going. But can you tell me if tales tell of what connection The Star Dreamer has to the Merkins? Why we see these visions?”

“The fire is in ye,” Leisrinn said, “Ye don’ show it – but possessed ye are by those visions…....”

The storyteller wanted to say she was “possessed” by a chill from blowing rain, and a headache from old family quarrels – whatever guise they showed themselves in – but she waited for her Grandmam to finish.

“As for why,” the old woman continued, “There be no other tales…but I’d sey its from our mer blood – the first time a Merkin wed a mer goes back before even your great grand-dad.”

Laurelyn nodded and said to Thomis and the others, “I’ve got to go down to the docks – those who want to come with me are welcome. Otherwise we’ll meet at the ‘Goose later.” She knew that Thomis would come – along with Enris, since he had the truth spell.

Talia stood up, with the blanket still wrapped around her and said, “If you don’t mind Madam Merkin I’ll check on the child tomorrow?”

Leisrinn said, “Aye, she’ll be stayin’ here this night. I’ll be havin’ Art take word to her Mam later.”

Talia looked over at the jester, and said, “Mr. Jacques, could you walk me home?”


Taking another puff from his pipe, Jacques glanced at Enris with an unreadable expression, and then stood.

“Certainly ma’am,” he offered with a bow – his belled hat in one hand and the pipe in the other. “I believe I need to collect a certain animal that belongs to Miss …” He blinked. “I mean, Mrs Parch.”

He pulled the hat back onto his head, and took Talia’s arm. Hopefully, though he doubted it, it would have stopped raining by now. It would be a shame to waste the tobacco by getting it waterlogged.


A few short words with Fionn established that the highlander would soon be bundling Rue up again to take her back to the Goose. Most likely in search of Maeve, since by now the usually good-tempered infant was showing signs of a bit of crankiness from hunger. “Keep her in your sight this time,” the Oath-bound added with a smile, before turning to follow Laurelyn from the cottage.


After bidding Leisrinn “good-bye,” and promising to get some seaweed soup from Emlyn, Laurelyn showed Thomis and Enris the way back down to the docks. There nearer they came to the ocean’s edge the stronger, and more chill, the wind seemed to be. All Laurelyn could do was pull her damp cloak tighter and lead them towards where a lantern light danced in the wind. In the bobbing light the storyteller could barely make out the last part of the ship’s name, “The… Rose ...” “This looks to be it,” she murmured to her husband and the CRS mage. Then she called out, “Eric!! Are you about?”

[Eric Dunn]

The brown-haired fisherman emerged from within the ship. “I’m here!” he called back. “I was just making a last check of the hold and waterline. Wouldn’t do to get out on the open water and spring a leak.”


“No it wouldn’t,” Laurelyn agreed – not adding anything about how the group’s luck ran, though a simple leak would probably be too mundane. She moved towards her cousin and the light, and said, “Mind if we get out of the wind? I’ve seen enough wind and rain this day – and there are some things we need to discuss.”


“Certainly,” he said, “Come aboard.” He waved them towards the boat and raised the lantern in his other hand to shed the light farther. If the wind and light rain was bothering him, he didn’t show it. “I hope your traveling companions aren’t adverse to close quarters… not much in the way of privacy on a ship this size. How many of them are there exactly?”


“Nine, not counting yourself – along with a babe, and a pup,” Laurelyn answered, not adding about the baby bunny. Maybe Emlyn could watch the rabbit for them. She also wondered how ten people, plus Rue, would fare – cramped in tight quarters, with no idea when the voyage would end? Aloud she said, “We’ll cope – we’re committed to finding The Star Dreamer.”

With those words she followed Eric Dunn, and his lantern, up the plank and onto his boat.


Once on the boat, he looked around and commented “Sharing close quarters is a small price to pay for the chance to find The Star Dreamer. And if the weather lets up, we can sleep in shifts while the rest of us are above decks.”


“That would be a good idea,” Laurelyn answered, “Along with the need to keep a look out for The Star Dreamer anyway.”


“That’s true,” he said, “She’s not likely to give us more than one chance to catch her.” He led them into the cabin. “Not much room in here, but the hold should be big enough for your group.”


Laurelyn looked around the cabin, and nodded, “That should do – though I need to ask if any of our folk have weak sea stomachs.” As she spoke she sent to to Enris, who she had noted had stayed on-deck, ::I’m not quite sure how to get you a bowl of water.::


“That would be a wise thing,” he commented, “Best to try to plan on who’ll have trouble. If you want, I can handle securing our provisions. All I need to know is how soon you want us to set sail.”


To give Enris a chance to get ready Laurelyn continued on with the topic of preparing for the journey. “It probably will be a couple of days yet,” she said, “Between the child nearly drowning and half the group wandering their separate ways it will probably take a day to get everyone together.”


“I can understand that,” he said calmly, “I’ll have everything prepared by nightfall day after next.”


Laurelyn took a moment to undo her wet cloak, and push back her sodden auburn hair. She hoped Enris was ready, since she could think of no way to avoid what had to be asked. Finally she looked her cousin in the eye and said, “Before we get too far along in preparations I have to hear your side of the story.”


“Story,” he said in a deadpan tone. “What did they tell you about me?”


The storyteller leaned against a table and said, “That you fed Brenna to the fishes, and that The Star Dreamer’ is but a madman’s myth, or a murderer’s tale.”

There was no accusation in either her blue eyes or her voice as she said, “But since I chase this ‘madman’s myth’ who am I to say what is true or what is a lie, and I far prefer to hear two versions of the tale and decide which rings truer.”


The Oath-bound had given the ship a quick once-over, realizing as he did so that, even though he had traveled on sea before, he was far from an expert on seaworthiness. Still, looking around gave him something to do while Laurelyn broached the topic of Eric’s missing leman. And while Enris cast about for a source of water.


A pool of water on the deck…this would suffice for the needs of the spell. As Laurelyn spoke with Eric below decks, he quietly murmured the spell as the storm howled outside and hid the sound of his words.

The character of the lights and reflections in the pool changed, and if Eric’s story carried a burden of emotion, they would acquire a reddish hue – whereas if they had little burden, the colors would remain true. One could not be sure of what was a lie and what was true… but one could know if the person felt strongly about an issue.

Enris smiled pleasantly as he listened.


He sighed. “Brenna and I loved each other,” he began, “but no one in this town wanted to accept it. When we announced our intent to marry, the rumors started. They claimed the marriage was only because she was with child.” He paused and turned away from the two of them, “It was a lie. She wasn’t. Then we sailed out to be alone together. To get away from their looks. I wish we hadn’t, but we did…” he trailed off, falling silent for several long moments.


Within the pool, he saw a surge of red as Eric spoke; he seemed to be emotionally involved with Brenna. And also upset about the rumors within the town. This would correlate with the story… and be perfectly normal. Of course, Brenna might have been with child; that was indeterminate for now.

The stress in his voice suggested his sincerity about not having wanted to depart. So far, he had not appeared to be deceptive… but then, he might just be an accomplished liar. Or a psychopath.


He took a spot somewhere off to one side, to listen. Hurtful gossip, then, about things of no concern to anyone but the lovers themselves. But the apparent fall of a ‘good woman’ could provide scandal for a small village, and a condemnation that ones such as Maeve … or perhaps Brenna … could not tolerate.


“What happened with The Star Dreamer?” Laurelyn asked.


“We were out,” he resumed, “Watching the stars from the deck. Then she noticed a ship. It was sailing without lights or wind… The night was dead calm. She recognized it instantly. Said it was exactly like she had dreamed it would be…” He paused and sighed, “I talked her out of going. At least I thought I had. We went below, to sleep…” He trailed off 
again, silent for several seconds then, “I awoke to find myself alone. When I rushed above, I saw her in the lifeboat… rowing out towards the Star Dreamer. I could not catch her… as hard as I tried… I could not… And by the morning, there was no trace of either her, or the cursed ship.”


The initial increase in emotion seemed to have tapered off as Eric spoke… there appeared to be a more matter of fact attitude. Normally, a murder would have had more emotional baggage… there would have been an increase as the details of such a murder emerged, not less. But as Eric spoke, there was more emotion as he spoke of a “cursed ship.” Which could mean that he blamed the Star Dreamer for the situation. Or that he was lying about that element of the story. Could that mean that Brenna had committed suicide and Eric was concealing that fact? Possibly!


Laurelyn was silent for a long moment – her eyes catching Thomis’s – and she couldn’t help but feel remorse at the the thought that at least they would be together when they boarded The Star Dreamer. Remorse because she knew he only was on this journey because of her, and though he had come of his own free will there was a good chance that she was leading him to an eternal trap.

I could turn around now, she told herself, and would have done so willingly – to protect Thomis from her folly – even if it meant that the others would have to go on alone. But in her heart she knew that she, like Brenna, would go on towards The Star Dreamer. Whether it was out of a sense of responsibility, or some weirdling geas, the storyteller couldn’t say – all she knew was that there was no turning back.

Instead she sent to Enris, ::What does your spell say to you?::


::Probably telling the truth, but not certain. Seems to have cared about Brenna. Probably didn’t kill her… but whether she went after the ship and was lost… or perhaps just committed suicide, and he’s concealing that fact… I can’t be sure.::


Aloud she asked, “Do you know what she sought?”


“No,” he replied, “I don’t know what drew her to that cursed ship. But I have to go with you. I have to find that ship and my Brenna.” He paused again. “One way or the other, I will be with her again.”


Again, the red lights surged in the pool. It was quite likely that he was emotionally involved with Brenna. But whether his intent was to find The Star Dreamer ... or to join her in a form of suicide was harder to determine. Enris determined that Eric would bear watching. He sent a 
message to that effect to Laurelyn.


::Thank you,:: Laurelyn sent back to Enris, ::I think its safe to say we have a ship.:: While she had personally believed Eric’s story she had been withholding her decision until she had some confirmation, and that the CRS 
mage had been willing to rule out murder said a great deal. Though there were obviously still some questions as to Eric’s story, but no better or worse than the rest of their motivations.

Aloud she said, “It looks like we have a common goal then. If you don’t mind giving us an extra day, though… most of us need to rest up and get some supplies of our own.”

There were a few other details to discuss, but in a short time they took their leave of Eric and started back up towards town. Though Laurelyn and Thomis did not accompany Enris back to the ‘Goose – instead they wished him a “good evening” and headed further on to Emlyn’s house.

A rising wind silenced any conversation after Thomis and Laurelyn had parted company with Enris, and bowed themselves against the wind in their track back to Emlyn’s. As they turned up the path that led to her mother’s house Laurelyn raised her head enough to note that a lantern sat in the window – offering a warm, hospitable beacon to any who were out on this night.

No Grig launched himself as they entered the yard, but as Laurelyn opened the door the Sheltie’s barking heralded their entry. “Quiet Grig!!” Emlyn commanded. She stood up from her rocking chair in front of the parlor hearth, and gestured for the dog to come lie at her feet. Which her stelwart watchdog did grudgling. “Silly pup,” she said fondly, “Ye know Laurelyn and Thomis.”


That might be why he’s barking, Thomis thought, but he did not speak aloud. The dog already had settled in to stare at him intently, as if trying to decide whether the Oath-bound’s trouser-legs were too damp to be tasty.


The older woman was now dressed in a thick brown dressing gown, and her brown hair was barely contained by a white night bonnet, but she gestured them towards the kitchen. “Ceart was up here,” Emlyn said, “With many a wild story…”

At Laurelyn’s concerned look she added, “None of which matters right now – except that ye’ve had a long, wet night – with barely a moment’s rest since ye’ve arrived… Not with missing children and all our fool relatives asking questions and wanting stories….” She grinned at them and said, “And I’ll not have meself deemed one of those ‘fool relatives’.”

Laurelyn smiled gratefully and said, while moving closer to the kitchen fireplace – that had a good fire also going in it, “I’ll be happy to explain come morning.”

“That will do – only if you plan on leaving tomorrow,” Emlyn said, going over to stir up a pot that smelt of seaweed. “But if ye were wise ye’d rest at least a couple of days – and we can talk sometime before you sail.”

“It probably won’t be for a couple of days…,” the storyteller said, tiredly. Despite dreams or geas or whatever she had no desire to sail before everyone was rested – which they definitely wouldn’t be after the search for Rue, and the rescue of Bethy.

“Good then – you can both get some soup. Some tea…,” Emlyn said, and added with a secretive smile, “Which I’ll leave at your door – while you two go enjoy another hot bath and some presents that have been sent along…....”


He looked at Emlyn in question, but neither she nor Grig seemed willing to explain the meaning of that last bit. As Thomis waved Laurelyn ahead of him up the stairs to the attic room, he had visions of various Merkin and Hillrover relatives sending nuptial gifts from all over the village. And perhaps even a certain baby rabbit finding its way to the warmth of Emlyn’s cottage.

And with some luck, perhaps a certain package, carefully selected by Maeve and Rudolpho…

When he followed Laurelyn into the room, he was relieved to find that it was not overflowing with boxes. Still, on the bedside, were two small parcels, one a rectangle wrapped in brown paper, the other a small wicker basket. The smell from the latter told him its contents before he flipped open the hinged lid to find the container filled with ripe strawberries. As he lifted one in his left hand, he flicked open the small note with his right.

For Laurelyn, from Thomis.

So Maeve’s and Rudolpho’s search had not been completely … fruitless. He half-suspected the other packet would contain a similar message, but he passed the first one over anyway before Laurelyn had finished unwrapping the brown paper. The scent of strawberries already was being overwhelmed by the faint perfume of roses.


With a soft “oohh” Laurelyn lifted the small basket up to sniff at the strawberries. “I haven’t had any of those in…..,” she grinned at her husband, “In ….I can’t remember when. Thank you.” She gently set the basket down, and finished unwrapping the rose-scented package – to find a bar of soap. “Tired of the earthy scent of horse and mud?” she kidded – her grin growing. Now that she knew that their privacy was going to be determinedly guarded by Emlyn and Grig some of her fatigue had fled; she refused to be tired – not with her greatest wish in hand – to actually have some time alone with Thomis!!

Which also left her feeling a little awkward and she stood, with the soap laying in the palm of her hand, and said, “Thank you…. I don’t know how you did, though I suspect help….and I have yet to….” She shook her head, causing more damp auburn hair to escape its tie, and with a renewed smile said, “Oh Hells…. I’m still as tongue-tied as a schoolgirl.”


“Honestly, I had no idea Maeve and Rudolpho would come up with strawberries and soap,” Thomis protested. “As for being tongue-tied,” he added as he slipped his arms around her waist and pulled her closer, “I doubt we will be doing much talking tonight.” He hoped not, anyway, since his own nervousness (and when was the last time he had felt so uncertain? not since well before he met Mesani … and never before with Laurelyn) made it seem likely that he would trip over his own words.

Best to prevent the possible embarrassment for both of them, he decided, and dispose with the need for speech by kissing her.


As Thomis had pulled her closer Laurelyn had let the soap fall to the bed – so she could better wrap her arms around him. “Where words fail….,” she murmured before their lips met, and set about finding other ways to express her feelings.



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