They stopped for the night and got an early start.
Lysara stayed by Twila’s side, softly strumming her lyre and humming to herself.
“You should be safe if we drop you off at Choltin,” Axra said. “You don’t mind going on your own then, right?”
“Hmmm?” Lysara asked.
“Axra,” Twila said. “Be nice.”
“I wouldn’t want her to be slowed down traveling with us is all,” Axra said. “I’m sure she’s in a hurry.”
“Don’t worry about me,” Lysara said. “Traveling with you all will give me lots of opportunities to practice.”
“It’s going to be pretty dangerous where we’re going,” Axra said. “You’d definitely be safer heading to Nervius on your own.”
“Danger?” Lysara muttered. “Could it be that you’re going on a great quest?”
“I don’t know if I’d go that far,” Twila stated. “But Axra is right. Where we’re going does promise to be quite perilous.”
“I’ll definitely stick with you!” Lysara cried.
“Excuse me?” Axra asked.
“It’s a great opportunity!” Lysara said. “I can document everything we go through in song and share it with the world.” She went back to playing her lyre.
“You have to admire her enthusiasm,” Twila said.
“She’s in over her head,” Axra muttered.
It was late afternoon when they reached Choltin.
“There’s only one Inn around here,” Lilly said. “It’ll only take a little bit to get there.”
“The town’s restaurants are around there too,” Axra added. “We can find a good place to eat.”
“That’s too much of a pain,” Velvet said, sitting up in his wagon. “Let’s just stay at my place instead.”
“Your place?” Twila asked. “You live around here?”
“Yeah,” Velvet said. “Just over there.” He pointed to a decently large building.
“Is… Is there room for all of us?” Lilly asked. “We… wouldn’t be imposing, would we?”
“It’s fine,” Velvet said.
They approached the estate. A human was sitting under an apple tree. He looked up as they approached.
“Velvet, you’re back,” he noted. “Good timing. Could you hand me that apple?”
Axra looked from him to the apple. It was barely out of his reach. If he got up and took a step he could reach it no problem. Velvet reached out of his wagon, but couldn’t quite reach it.
“Sorry, Dad,” Velvet said. “Can’t reach it.”
“Man, that sucks,” he said. “I really wanted to eat that.”
“Are they serious right now?” Lysara whispered.
“I’m afraid so,” Axra answered.
Lilly bent down and picked it up. “Here you are, Mr. Parse.”
“Awesome, thanks,” he said, taking the apple from her. “Just call me Roland. So… Velvet, you back for a while or just passing through?”
“Just staying the night,” Velvet said. “Didn’t wanna go to the inn because it’s way over there.”
“I hear that,” Roland said. “Feel free to stay. The guest rooms are ready to go, I think, and your room is just how you left it. Just tell your mother that you’re here. You know how much she hates to be surprised.”
“No problem,” Velvet said.
“And while you’re at it tell her I’ll be in for supper a bit late,” Roland said. “After all that hard work getting this apple I need a rest.”
“Now we know where he gets it,” Axra whispered. Twila let out a very slight laugh.
Velvet led them around to the front of the building. A small smithy was set up with a furnace and anvil. Several weapons and pieces of armour were displayed with price tags. A dwarven woman was hammering out a greave.
“Ma,” Velvet said.
She put down her hammer. “Velvet? What are you doing back, and don’t you dare tell me you got fired.”
“I didn’t,” Velvet said, keeping his voice calm. “I’m traveling for my work. My companions and I just stopped for the night.”
“Companions?” She turned around. “My apologies, Ladies, I haven’t introduced myself.” She removed her gloves and held out her muscular hand. “Ginger Parse, pleased to make your acquaintances.” She shook each of their hands while they introduced themselves. “Velvet, get out of that damn wagon and prepare the guest rooms! I hope you ladies don’t mind sharing. We’ve only got the two.”
“That’s quite alright,” Twila said. “We don’t mind, really. Thank you very much for your hospitality.”
“Oh no, thank you,” Ginger said. “I’m sure you’re the reasons that my Velvet hasn’t managed to lose his job yet. The boy takes after his father, I’m afraid.”
“Actually,” Twila said. “Axra and I encountered him while he was on the road with Lilly and we just met Lysara outside of town. Half of us really have nothing to do with his work.”
“I see,” Ginger said. “So, how is Velvet at work?” She turned to Lilly.
“We… Well,” Lilly said. “He… He lies around a lot… but if he has to… If it’s really necessary, he can fight pretty well.”
“Is that right?” Ginger asked. “Well, why don’t you gals get comfortable in the parlour and I’ll fix a nice supper for all of you. You can tell me your story while we eat.”
“We… Well I could help,” Lilly said.
“We all could,” Twila added. “It’s the least we can do.”
“No, no,” Ginger said. “You’re guests and I’ll hear no more talk of you helping. You will sit and relax and I’ll get help from Velvet and Roland.”
Twila, Lilly, Axra and Lysara sat down as they were told. They could hear Ginger yelling at Velvet, but couldn’t make out the words. Velvet walked past them and into the kitchen. Ginger then hurried outside coming back with Roland in tow. It didn’t take long until they were being served beef stew with mashed potatoes on the side.
“So, Lilly,” Ginger said “What kind of mission are you and my son on?”
“We… Well,” Lilly stammered. “It… It’s nothing that interesting, really.”
“For something uninteresting you’re being awfully vague about it,” Ginger said. She looked over at Velvet.
“We were just sent to guard the Princess,” Velvet said. “It’s not that big of a deal.”
Lilly dropped her spoon and glared at him.
“The Princess?” Ginger asked. “The Princess is in my house?”
“Sure,” Velvet answered. “She’s right over there.” He lazily pointed at Axra.
“Excuse me, please,” Axra said. She walked away, nearly slamming the front door behind her.
“I’ll go see what’s bothering her,” Twila offered.
“Idiot!” Ginger shouted. “Why didn’t you tell me she was the princess?” Her gaze darted nervously at the meal. “I should’ve made something better, brought out the good tableware.”
“I’m not supposed to tell anyone,” Velvet said. “She doesn’t want people to know who she is… Wait, I think I messed up.”
“Axra?” Twila asked. She found Axra sitting by Velvet’s dogs. “Are you okay?” Axra avoided Twila’s gaze, putting her arms in front of her face. “Are you mad that Velvet told everyone who you are?” Axra nodded. “Well, it’s not a big deal,” Twila said. “I’m sure his parents and Lysara will keep quiet. You can still travel incognito.”
“Wait,” Axra said, practically leaping up “you say that like you knew.”
“I did,” Twila said.
“How?” Axra inquired. “How did you find out?”
“Well, you did tell me the names of your dads,” Twila said. “And Velvet and Lilly always showed a great deal of deference to you. It was pretty obvious.”
“Bu… But you haven’t treated me any differently,” Axra said.
“Why would I?” Twila asked. “We’re friends, not master and servant.” Twila looked directly at Axra. “Is that what you were worried about, being treated differently?”
“Well, yeah,” Axra said.
“In that case, there’s nothing to worry about,” Twila said. She reached out her hand. “Come on, let’s head back inside.”
Axra accepted Twila’s hand, feeling the warmth of her body heat. She wanted to hold onto that feeling for as long as she could, but Twila didn’t hold her hand for long and they went back inside.
“Princess,” Ginger said. “I’m so sorry my son messed up. Please, forgive him.” She bowed.
“Don’t worry about it,” Axra said. “It’s cool.”
“I can’t believe you’re a princess,” Lysara said. “A warrior princess roaming in search of adventure!”
They finished eating and told Velvet’s mother all about what they’d gone through. She seemed especially interested in the giant spider and the discovery of Gail, asking all kinds of questions.
The girls retired to the guest rooms, deciding to draw straws to see who would room with whom. In the end, Lysara and Axra shared one room while Lilly and Twila took the other.
Lilly woke up in the middle of the night. Everything was too quiet. She couldn’t even hear the sounds of any animals scurrying around.
Lilly sat upright in bed. Gail was looking over her, smiling.
“G… Gail,” Lilly stammered. “Wh… what… why are you here?”
“I wanted to see you,” Gail said,moving a hand over Lilly’s scalp.
“Wh… what happened to Twila?” Lilly asked.
“She’s fine,” Gail stated. “A simple sleeping spell. Everything and everyone in the area will sleep soundly until dawn.” She sat down on the bed next to Lilly. “Except for you and me. We can do whatever we like.”
“I… I see,” Lilly said. “Bu… but I really should be sleeping.”
“Don’t worry,” Gail said. She gently took Lilly’s hand and kissed it. “I can cast a spell to rejuvenate you like you’ve had a full night’s sleep. So, if you want, we can make love. Just you and me.” Gail leaned over and whispered directly into Lilly’s ear “all night long.”
“I… It’s too soon,” Lilly said. “I… I’m not ready. I… I…”
“Really?” Gail asked. “That’s okay. We can wait until you want to.” She stroked Lilly’s face. “Can I at least stay with you tonight? We don’t have to do anything. Just, let me be near you.”
“N… Near me?” Lilly asked.
“Sure,” Gail gestured and a small floating cot appeared next to her bed. “Just near you.”
“Oh… sure, I guess that would be fine,” Lilly said.