“Ye’re late,” Seoc grumbled as he unlocked the door.
De Winter entered and gestured for Fern to follow him inside. “Sorry, little fish. We went a bit farther into the dunes than I had intended. I hope you didn’t fret over it.”
“No—” Seoc began, but Cedric, who was sitting up in a cot by the wall, snorted at his response.
“He’s been pacing for the past half-hour,” he informed his uncle.
The merman sighed. “I guessed as much.” He patted the man once on the shoulder as he passed him to sit down on the edge of Cedric’s bed. “Are you feeling better now?”
The merboy nodded. “I suppose I just needed to lie down for a bit. I’m fine now.”
De Winter wiped his brow. “After that little excursion, I think it would do me good to lie down for a bit as well. But first, a mug of water would be nice. Fern, would you like one?”
She nodded. Her throat was parched.
Seoc took two clay cups from a wooden box and filled them with lukewarm water from a jug that sat atop a rough wooden table. Fern accepted the proffered mug gratefully and drank it all in one go. She set it down, suddenly exhausted. Her limbs were heavy and her eyelids were beginning to droop. She sat in a chair beside the table, intending to rest only a moment before going on her way.
When Fern awoke, the orange light of sunset was seeping in through the window. It took her a few moments to remember where she was.
She was lying in a bed—it must have been Seoc’s, for it was too small to fit the merman and it wasn’t Cedric’s. She looked around and saw that de Winter was still asleep in the cot adjacent hers, his face buried in his pillow and his sides rising and falling gently in the rhythm of his breathing. At the table, Cedric was snacking on something fried that smelled of fish, and Seoc was writing in a leather-bound journal, looking up occasionally and fidgeting with his quill pen. He saw that she was awake and grinned wryly.
“Evenin’, sunshine. I was wonderin’ whether I would have ta sleep on the floor tonight.”
She groaned sleepily in reply.
Seoc held a finger to his lips. “Shh. Dinna want ta wake Seymour, now, lassie. He needs the rest.”
Fern got up as quietly as she could, stretched, and joined the others at the table. She was hungry. “What are those?” she asked Cedric, pointing to the fried, fishy objects before him.
“Conch fritters,” he replied around a mouthful of the victuals in question. “But they’re mine. Seoc bought them for me at the market.”
“I’m a thief,” she reminded him, swiping one out of his hand. “Do you think I care?”
“Now, now, children,” Seoc muttered, his nose back in his writing. “Let us no’ bicker.”