NibbleMature

Step by step, glare by glare, Heather pursued the guards who had taken Engle and the two other strangers. It was becoming apparent that people were noticing Heather's phony human disguise, and would stare at her ivy twisted attire in distaste. Once she caught a child pointing, the attention got unbearable. It was bad enough she had to be in the human infested town. Now she had to be one. Ducking behind a thatched roof house, Heather grabbed a damp sheet off of the line and wrapped it around herself. Tripping over her own provisional camouflage, heather continued on at a brisk pace.

Once at the local police station, the bloodied guards piled the men into a cage-wagon that very closely resembled the cage the crow-man was trapped in. Heather doubted the wooden posts and chains would contain the three troublemakers for long, however they were currently fighting for consciousness. Heather grimaced. Horses were bridled and hooked to the jailing kart. She would never be able to keep up with two sturdy horses.

Heather inched closer to the wagon, hiding indiscreetly behind another wagon. Three guards had their backs turned to Heather, busily working on restraints and harnesses.  Heather took the opportunity to discard her sheet and slink on light feet to the edge of the carriage. Instantly, the closer of the three guards turned his head to look at Heather but she was already gone.

"What'd you see?" another guard asked, adjusting his helmet on his head.

The man scanned the vicinity scrupulously. Finally, the guard gave up his search. "Nothing," he answered back. "I thought I saw someone."

It wasn't long before a whip was cracked and the horses pulled the wheels into motion. Heather waited in the straw, creeping slowly along the wooden post as a small hedera. The road to Balinsteil was not the smoothest, but Heather hardly noticed. She was, after all, just a plant.

As the jail kart left the crossroads of Avienan, Heather began to plan for escape. She could try to break Engle's bonds and wake him; however, her shoots were no match for the cold steel of Engle's chains and she doubted her abilities to wake a man beaten to unconsciousness. No, she would wait. She was busy enough keeping a low profile for now.

Suddenly a sharp pain tore through her fragile leafy skin. Heather nearly shouted but instead morphed into her human form again, clutching the wooden posts. Scurrying away from Heather's feet was a small brown mouse. Heather looked up through the slits in the wood,  glad to find that the guards had not noticed the sudden appearance of another passenger. She looked back down at her big toe, a line of blood trailing from the small wound. She never bled before.

Heather wiped away the blood and searched for the little culprit. In the corner of the straw-covered wagon, near Engle's armored elbow, a mouse nibbled on the ends of a lush green ivy leaf. It stared at Heather with little beady eyes and its whiskers quivered at each miniscule bite it took. Heather sighed. She didn't blame the poor little guy for being hungry.

Heather reached up and plucked a huckleberry from her hair. After the wagon jostled over a pothole, the nymph offered her gift to the mouse. The mouse approached the berry cautiously, it's nose poking and sifting the air for the scent of the berry. After a good five minutes of careful consideration, the mouse took the berry from Heather's palm.

Heather watched as the mouse slowly finished off the berry, staining its nose a ridiculous shade of purple. The mouse chirped a cheerful little squeak and began cleaning off its nose with its tiny fists.  Heather smiled. Mice were usually a rare acquaintance to make in the forest.

"Hello mouse," Heather whispered in a voice just loud enough for the mouse to hear. "Travelling are we?"

The mouse stood on its hind legs as if to say 'yes'.

"I'm Heather," the nymph introduced herself as she took one of the mouse's front paws in her fingers. "Pleasure to meet you."

The mouse landed back on all fours just at the wagon jostled once more, this time onto cobbled road. Heather looked out of the wooden bars to see a massive stone wall, behind which was the city of Balinsteil. Heather turned back to the mouse, pressing her forefinger to her lips. Just before approaching the gates of Balinsteil, Heather transformed back into a hedera plant.

The wagon entered the city and drove straight to the prison. Heather waited until the wagon was unloaded and the guards dragged the two men and the crow away before turning back into human form and crawling out of the wooden confinements. Still on the wagon was the mouse who looked up at her expectantly. Heather sighed and reached out her hand.

However, instead of crawling up Heather's arm the mouse turned around and squeaked. Heather watched as a tiny worm-like creature snaked its way out of the straw. As the creature wove its way closer to the mouse, Heather realized it was a snake, roughly the length of her forearm and grey with a blue underbelly. For an instant Heather thought the snake might eat the mouse, but as it got closer, Heather realized that it was too small and its only intention was to join Heather.

Heather willingly let the snake coil up her arm and nestle itself in her wild brown hair. The mouse soon followed, scampering up her arm and resting on her shoulder. Heather looked left and right, and after seeing only the lowered heads of the horses, walked away in search of Engle.

Hiss, the snake whispered into her ear as she sneaked along the walls of the prison.

"Nice to meet you too, Hiss," Heather answered in her own gentle murmur. 

The End

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