When Oliana and Ylva returned to the camp, two skinned stags were roasting over respective campfires. They had been hunted by the band earlier that day. Dechar greeted Oliana with his grin, though it showed slight concern.
“Are you alright?” he asked. “How did you haul him back when he was unconscious?”
“It’s quite an interesting story, actually.” Oliana pushed her conversation at the spring out of her mind as best she could, managing to flash a delighted smile. “I’ve got something to show you.” She whistled through her fingers and Dechar’s ears twitched. It was a call he had responded to for years, and he could not help reacting to it. A whinny sounded through some nearby trees, but the mare remained hidden. “Hm. I think she’s timid around strangers.”
“I’m sure the fact that I’m a wolf isn’t helping,” Dechar said, able to tell from the sound that this creature was a horse. “I’d shift, but I don’t have anything to wear.”
“Yes, you do!” Oliana said excitedly. “I picked up some things for you and Ylva. I wasn’t able to find any shoes or winter coats. But surely the bandits will be willing to give you some after what we’ve done for them.”
“I hope so. I know you and Ylva have earned favor with that old elf, but I may have called him a choice name or two, and he may have actually understood.”
Oliana giggled, not at all surprised. “I see. Perhaps you’d better leave the asking to me, then.”
She strode up to Keon who was sitting by the fire, his father’s arm still locked around his shoulder. When he saw her, his eyes lit up with gratitude. He freed himself from Orlo’s grip and embraced her for a moment.
“They told me what happened, dear. I was a damn fool to go for those paintings. I’m sorry. I’ve no doubt you saved my life, and for that I am extremely thankful… but I’m curious to hear what really happened. This lot takes me for a fool, telling me you came here on a flying horse!”
Dechar, still within earshot, listened intently to the conversation as it took a more unexpected turn.
“Actually… do you remember the Boobrie from the book you got me? And the shimmering whistle? Well, I’ve had a previous experience with a faerie, believe it or not, so I thought there was a chance such a thing might exist. And that feather in my hair turned out to be the whistle, and the Boobrie a flying black horse.”
She paused out of irritation, seeing the absolute incredulity on Keon’s face. “So I take it that when I asked you to tell me everything, the faerie bit just slipped your mind?” he gaped.
“Well it’s not as if you would have believed me!” Oliana snapped.
Keon raised his hands to his chest, palms facing her in submission. “Fair enough. I’d like to see this horse for myself.”
“Well she’s shy around so many people, it seems, so that may have to wait. I’m seeing if I can show Dechar first, but he needs clothing so that he can change his form. Where are the things we stole? And I take it I’ve earned the right to a few extra supplies for my performance in the heist. I’ll be needing shoes and coats.”
“By all means, m’lady, follow me,” Keon shook his head slightly at her demands, but it was true; she had earned it. He stopped at a large pile of sacks lying around some trees and sifted through one of them sitting on the edge. “Let’s see… here’s the shirt, here’s the dress, the pants. Here’s your book, as well. And I know we have some spare coats over… here.” He opened up a separate bag and brought out three thick, woolen, button-up coats. One was dyed a deep blue, one a rich brown, and one a dark grey. Dechar and Ylva met up with the two and took their clothing and some hide boots to go change.
Oliana donned the grey coat. “I’ve got something else for you, dear,” Keon added. He brought out a circular piece of loose, brownish-grey cloth and handed it to her.
“What is it, exactly?” Oliana tried to figure out how it might be worn.
“Here, let me show you. I’m actually not sure what it’s called, but….” He proceeded to show how it was to be worn. “You can wear it around your neck like this when you don’t need it. But when the cold wind gets bad, you can lift it up over your nose like this and it’ll cover your face. And I’m sure you’ll be happy to know that I actually bought this as well.”
“I’m impressed,” Oliana granted him a smile.
Dechar and Ylva appeared in their new clothing, though Dechar could not help but look somewhat uncomfortable in his blue coat. Oliana opened her mouth to ask Dechar how everything fit, but Keon had not finished his speech.
“The merchant said he got it from people who live in a far away desert. They use it to keep sand and sun out of their faces. But I couldn’t help but notice how red your face had gotten-- and how red it still is-- and even I won’t flatter myself into believing you’re still blushing from my unprompted kiss,” he winked. “And I’m sure it’ll come especially in handy now that you have a fly--”
“What?” Dechar interrupted vehemently. Keon’s jaw snapped shut and Dechar looked to Oliana for an answer. “He did what?”
Oliana sighed and directed her gaze downward, guessing what was coming. “He stole a rather boorish kiss from me, despite my complete lack of approval. But really, Dechar, I already put him in his place.”
Before she had even finished her statement, Dechar had walked up to a suddenly meek Keon and clouted him square in the face, nearly knocking him to the ground. Oliana and Ylva tried to subdue their immediate laughter.
The young thief took a moment to regain his composure before spitting, “How many damn times am I going to have to pay for that?” Drops of blood began to run from his nose, and he touched his finger to them. Seeing that he was bleeding, he looked to Ylva. “Do you have any more of that healing water they say you brought to revive me? I think my nose is broken,” he said with a glare toward Dechar.
“Let me see it,” Ylva said, and Keon reluctantly showed his nose to her. “That’s not broken. I think I’ll let you heal on your own,” she smirked.
“Oh, come on,” Keon pleaded.
Oliana laughed again. “I tried to stop him, Keon, but Dechar is very protective of me.” She smiled, then felt a twinge of sadness.
“Exactly,” Dechar agreed. “Now where’s this flying horse? I won’t believe it ‘till I see it myself,” he grinned.