Dawn was breaking, its slender tendrils creeping up from the horizon to brush the sky, when Simon awoke. Its light was strange on his eyes, the fresh air unfamiliar in his lungs. He felt a curious juxtaposition of temperatures: cold, where the frosty air touched the exposed skin of his face; hot, where Seoc’s feverish body was pressed against him, his arms about his torso, hugging his former cellmate in his sleep.
Under normal circumstances, Simon would have been happy to lie there awhile longer, perhaps doze off again, but these were not normal circumstances. He was hungry—no, beyond hungry. He was ravenous.
Freeing himself roughly from Seoc’s embrace (this action eliciting an unhappy squawk from the other party), he struggled to his feet, braving the frigid air that crawled down the back of the overlarge shirt that had, until the previous day, belonged to the Waelyngar guard. The ground was hard and painfully cold beneath his bare feet. He danced from side to side for a moment, searching for the source of his next meal.
He saw nothing remotely edible within the vicinity, but he did find a promising lead. There was a hominoid creature sitting on a nearby rock, its shape a silhouette against the sunrise. Closer inspection revealed it to be a merrow—male, and younger than the one that had rescued them from Waelyngar. He was asleep, hunched over upon the rock, a bottle of brandy cradled loosely in his arms. The newt was drunk, clearly. Simon had little sympathy.
Standing on his toes, the human positioned his face mere inches from the Aechyed’s pointed, heavily pierced ear, and screamed as loudly as his lungs could manage.
The Aechyed produced a harsh, high-pitched sound somewhere between a hiss and a squeak, toppling backwards off his perch, flinging his hands over his ears. He landed heavily on his back, the air driven from him in an audible gasp. Meanwhile, the bottle flew a few feet sideways before coming to rest, unharmed, in a thick stand of dead grass.
Simon felt a twinge of remorse at the Aechyed’s unfortunate fall, but he wasn’t particularly bothered. The creature had evidently been placed in charge of them, for the time being, at least, and had been irresponsible enough to become inebriated while on watch. Thus, in Simon’s mind, he had deserved the rude awakening.
Face contorted with pain, the Aechyed rolled over onto his side, gasping for breath. After a spell of this, he opened his eyes into an agonized squint and glared at his attacker.
“What the fuck?”
Simon shrugged. “Eatery artery aftery.”
The newt moaned, rubbing at his temples with his knuckles. “What…?”
“Rezyn damn it,” the merrow swore, his South Brysail drawl coming more clearly into focus. “You motherfucking bastard, you could have fucking killed me! I could have broken my fucking neck! You can go eat shit, for all I care! You mad fucking bastard, I—!” He broke off, glowering at Simon, who had begun to tally the Aechyed’s expletives on his fingers. “Stop it. I’m dead fucking serious. Stop it!”
Simon shook his head, brandishing his fingers mockingly.
The Aechyed howled something unintelligible, curled into a ball with his hands over his head, and began to sob. Alarmed, Simon backpedalled rapidly, nearly tripping over Seoc in the process.
“What did you do ta him?” Seoc rasped, blinking in the sunlight.
“Are you bein’ cruel again?” the little fellow demanded, his tone approaching that which Simon associated with one of his former governesses.
Seoc grumbled something below Simon’s hearing, stood up with painful slowness, and shuffled over to the Aechyed like an old man, his blanket pulled close across his slumped shoulders. “For Rezyn’s sake, Simon,” he snapped. “He’s bleeding! What in the name o’ all things sacred did you do ta him an’ why?”
“He was drunk,” Simon replied. “I woke him up. I’m hungry.”
Seoc looked up from his inspection of the merrow’s bloodied scalp. “We both owe our bluidy lives ta him, y’ken, an’ this is how you repay him? I thought noblemen were supposed ta ha’e some sort o’ honor, no?”
“Not when we’re hungry.”
Seoc considered this, frowned, then returned his attention to the blubbering Aechyed, crouching down beside him and making a tentative attempt at calming him. Simon ambled closer, but Seoc waved him away. “Back wit’ ye, y’ bonny blond buffoon!”
“Boffy bond balloon!” Simon crowed.
“Shut up, Simon.”
“Bolly boff bunnoon! Binky bluff bassoon! Body bunt platoon! Hardly conned monsoon!”
“WHY?!” the Aechyed wailed, at the exact moment that Seoc yelled, “Shut up, Simon!”
Suddenly, there fell an unexpected silence. Simon, to everyone’s surprise, including his own, had shut up. The Aechyed had stopped bawling; instead, he stared at Seoc with a rather stupid expression on his face.
“Well,” said Seoc eventually, the faintest hint of a wry smile showing at the corners of his mouth. “This is a promising start, isn’t it?”
“I’m hungry,” said Simon.
Seoc rolled his eyes.
“There’s food in the saddlebags,” the Aechyed offered, sniffling.
“Over by the horses.”
“Where are the horses?”
The newt wiped the tears from his eyes and sat up. “They’re tied up over by the…oh, shit. They’re gone.”