The hole in the rock isn’t all that comfortable for me but it’s even less comfortable to accommodate two people. I ask Merlin if he can conjure us up a hut, but he shakes his head. “Magic can’t be used for everything. Some things a man should do with his own muscles.”
It takes us a week to build a makeshift hut out of logs and branches. We build it on a bed of moss so we have the old world’s version of carpeting. The finished product isn’t much to look at, but at least Merlin and I can stand up all the way.
We’re putting the finishing touches on the hut when I hear a familiar voice say, “I never knew you were such a carpenter.”
I turn and see Beaux in her mangy sheepskin, armed with the bloody club she uses to protect the sheep from predators. Her blond hair has more leaves in it than usual and her face is stained with more dirt. “You been sleeping in a mud puddle?”
“It’s better than this place.”
Merlin emerges from the hut. He claps my shoulder. “Ah, I told you Beaux would return.”
“Just once it would be nice if you were wrong,” I grumble. “What brings you back here, woman? Get tired of only sheep for comfort?”
“The sheep are better companions than you’ll ever be,” she says. “I’ve come to see your friend the conjurer.”
“What do you want him for? He don’t know nothing about sheep.”
“There’s plague in the village. People are dying. They say your friend is more powerful than even Greetha.”
“Of course he is. He’s the greatest conjurer in all the land.”
“Then will he help us?”
“Why should he? The chief tried to kill us before. So did that ugly son of his. We ought to let the lot of you—”
“Hold,” Merlin says. “I will help. But I will require Beaux’s assistance.”
“What? I’m your apprentice, not this...this woman.”
“No one knows this land quite like a shepherdess. I will require some special herbs to cure the plague.”
We venture deep into the forest with Beaux leading the way. As Merlin said, she knows the area better than anyone from all that tramping around with her bloody sheep. I follow after her and decide this is as close to some alone time as we’ll get.
“I’ve missed you,” I say.
“The bed’s not quite the same with Merlin, is it?”
“Better him than sheep.”
“Better sheep than you.”
“I said I’ve missed you. Am I supposed to get on my hands and knees to beg?”
“That might be a good start.”
“Well too bad, because I did nothing wrong.”
“Nothing wrong? You killed Bleeth’s chickens! And before that, you ruined a whole basket of apples with that conjuring of yours.”
“Maybe I wasn’t a great conjurer then, but now—” I hold up my hand to pull the same trick as in the chief’s hut. Nothing happens.
“Just wait a minute.” I look over my shoulder, but Merlin is on his knees to study some leaves. I clear my throat and he looks up. “I said I might not have been a great conjurer, but now—”
The moment Merlin nods, my hand lights on fire again. I turn triumphantly to Beaux. “You see that? Let’s see your precious Greetha do that.”
“Merlin is the conjurer, not you,” Beaux says. She stomps off. I wait until the fire’s died out to follow after her.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “I only did that because you won’t seem to listen to reason.”
“Reason? What reason could there be to let you back into my bed?”
“What do you want from me?”
“I want you to be something! Do you think I want a husband who’s a laughingstock?”
“Maybe I haven’t had much success so far, but this time it’s different. Merlin saw something in me. He said I would be instrumental in combating the darkness that threatens the land. Instrumental!”
“You don’t seem very instrumental so far. All you’ve done is blunder after me like usual.”
“Is that so?” I grab her by the arm and pull her into a kiss. As always her mouth tastes like old berries; I get a couple seeds caught in my teeth. Still, it’s the sweetest thing I’ve tasted in weeks.
The kiss is interrupted by Beaux clubbing the back of my left leg. I stagger back a few steps. “What was that for?”
“How dare you! Did you think that would impress me?”
“I don’t know!”
We glare at each other for a few moments, until Merlin clears his throat. “Excuse me, but I have what I need. We should go back to the hut so I can prepare the potion.”
“Fine,” I grumble. I trudge after him with Beaux picking up the rear.
Merlin boils the leaves and other ingredients in the sole cracked pot I took from the village. “You’re sure this will work?” Beaux asks.
“It will,” he says.
I get the honor of lugging the pot into the village. That no one stops us is a testament to how bad things are. Beaux leads the way to the chief’s hut. Before she can open the flap, it lifts on its own. I nearly spill the pot of medicine when I see a bear rising from the hut.
“Outsiders!” the bear shouts. I realize then it’s not an actual bear but Old Greetha, clad in the skin of a bear. “Leave this place!”
“We will do nothing of the kind, woman,” I say.
“You will leave here or you will die,” she growls. The bear’s head she wears like a cap lifts enough so I can see the madness in her eyes. The next thing I know, there’s a dagger in my midsection.
I manage to set the pot on the ground before I collapse next to it.
TO BE CONTINUED...
Tomorrow Merlin and Old Greetha have it out. Who will survive?