"No!" I bolt upright out of another nightmare, head darting around until I realize where I am.
We didn't bother setting up the tent, and are just sleeping on the mattress on one side of the clearing. The fire has died low, and only embers can be seen. Stormie is lying down, asleep on his side of the campsite. Luckily, my outburst didn't disturb him, but the same can't be said for Apricot and Amelia.
"Shit. I'm sorry girls. I'd hoped closing the hedge would keep the bad dreams away." I get myself some juice from storage, and cast cleanse to get rid of the night sweat before lying back down.
"It's okay Baby." Amelia reaches over Apricot to stroke my cheek while the pixie clings to me; she very much likes being sandwiched in between us. "You're safe now, we've got you."
"And, you're getting better." Apricot adds in a quiet voice. "You didn't move around at all."
"Were you staying up to watch over me?" My voice gets a little choked up.
"No." She shakes her head and smiles at me. "But, I was worried about you, so I set up a ward to wake me if it looked like you were having another nightmare"
"Oh, sweetie." I pull her tight against me.
We woke at first light. Well, Amelia and I did, Apricot just rolled over and went back to sleep. So, while Amelia was carrying out her morning ablutions, I got the wagon ready. After using a bit of magic to warm up the mattress in it, I carried the pixie burrito inside to let her rest while I cleaned up the camp.
"Thanks, and sorry again for last night." I wrap my arms around Amelia. "I can't imagine how bad off I'd be if it weren't for you two."
"You don't have anything to apologize for." She rests her head against my shoulder. "And, since I have an idea of how bad off I'd be if it weren't for you, I'm more than happy to give up a little sleep."
"Mhm." I nod and stroke her silky hair. "I still can't wait until I get this under control, I've never really had nightmares before. And, going through it once was bad enough." The last sentence slips out of me barely above a whisper.
"You're strong Sorrel, but some things just take time." I can feel my shirt get damp when she presses her face against me. "We'll be here for you in the meantime."
"Thank you." I can taste the salt of her tears when I kiss her. "Now, come on. We've got a lazy brother to rescue."
"Hah!" She barks out a laugh. "Bet you a laurel he's waiting for us at the next waypoint and his first words will be something like 'took you long enough'."
"Heh, alright." I shrug. "You know him better, but I'll take your bet. I say he's walking but taking his sweet time, and his first words will be a complaint about his feet."
"Oof, that... that has a high chance of being right." She giggles, and we get on our way. "So, what are you making for breakfast."
"Oh, I was feeling like *French* toast. Oops, that doesn't tell you anything." I'm somewhat surprised it didn't translate properly, they must have something like it here. "It's uh... also called lost bread." It took me a moment to remember the French name for it. "You soak stale bread slices in a beaten mixture of eggs and milk before frying it in a lightly greased skillet."
"Never heard of it." She shakes her head.
"Huh? Well, you're in for a treat." I make a couple loaves of brioche, and while they're cooking I create a few jams and jellies, slice up some strawberries, and powder some sugar.
"Mmm." A moan of delight comes from inside the wagon. "What is that lovely smell?"
"It's soon going to be breakfast." I laugh. "Though, Amelia looks like she'd rather just eat the bread."
"I wouldn't mind a slice." She admits. "I've never seen such a rich bread."
"It's called *brioche* and it's even better if you make it with a little brandy." I cut a slice for each of them. "I think it's a bit plain on its own, but it really shines when you add a little jam to it."
"Tastes fine to me." Amelia says after a test nibble. "Mhm, I'd be happy just eating this for breakfast, but I want to see what this lost toast of yours is like."
"Mhm!" Apricot mumbles in agreement around a mouthful of bread and jam, she slathered on three different types and practically shoved the whole slice in her mouth.
"Okay, just give me a minute." I slice up the rest of the loaf and pull the extra moisture out before dipping in the egg mixture. "I like using thick slices, like these. Normally you'd need to finish them in the oven to make sure all the egg is cooked, but a bit of magic takes care of that." While the French toast is cooking, I start frying some bacon to go with it.
"We really should have gotten you some more pans." Amelia comments when I use the big stew pot for the bacon. "My brother has another small one, but I'm sure he'll be happy to let you use it."
"I've been making do." I nod. "But, yeah. I'll have to get a complete set once I get settled in the city. Do you think there will be any empty lots or old decrepit buildings I can get on the cheap? I'd rather not stay at an inn the whole time, and building my own house should be fun."
"Probably not inside the walls." She shakes her head. "But, you could probably get a small farm next to the river. There's some sort of blight that's been affecting grain crops recently, and the extra moisture there seems to make it worse."
"Hmm?" I raise an eyebrow, intrigued. "That shouldn't be a problem for me, but I wonder what's causing it. I can think of a few different diseases that fit that pattern, but who knows if they're the same as what I'm used to."
"Well, if you can find a cure, you'd make a lot of farmers very happy." She says distractedly while I plate up a stack of French toast and bacon for her. "Oh, that looks so good."
"I'll deep fry it next time." I grin at the looks she and Apricot get after taking their first bites. "Normally, you just cut the bread into sticks and fry it up after dipping in the custard. But, my sister came up with this trick where you use a skewer to open up a pocket lengthwise to squeeze jam and cream cheese into it before dipping. You have to be careful not to add too much, but oh, it is so good."
"Apricot." Amelia stares straight at the pixie. "You really need to teach me that spell turn food into magic... As soon as possible, please."
"Hahahah. Now, that's probably the best compliment my cooking has ever received." I smile at the cute little glutton. "So, did you girls finish deciding what outfits you want first?"
"You're just intent on spoiling us, aren't you?" Amelia smiles back at me. Apricot nods but is too busy eating to talk.
"Spoiling myself is more like it." I chuckle. "I'm the one who gets to peel you out of them later, after all."
We finished up breakfast, and I got started on their clothes while Apricot helped Amelia practice her magic. Her control is getting better, and so is my sensitivity.
My weaving improved quite a bit as well, I was able to figure out velvet without too much trouble. And, learning that led me to other pile fabrics, meaning that I can make terry cloth now. And, as everyone should know; a towel is about the most massively useful thing an inter-dimensional hitchhiker can have.
"What are you giggling about?" Amelia asks.
"Oh, I just remembered that a man who knows where his towel is, is a man to be reckoned with." I laugh even harder at the weird look she gives me. "Sorry, it's a quote from a favorite book of mine. It came to mind after I figured out that making terrycloth is very similar to making velvet.' I hold up the test swatch for her to see.
"Eee!" She snatches it out on my hand. "You got it already?"
"Yeah, it's just a plain weave with an extra weft line that sticks out in loops that you then cut to make the velvet." I explain. "It's going to take a lot of red dye for your dress though, so you're going to have to wait until we reach Riverton and I can get more supplies."
"Could you dye it a deep blue instead?" She asks while playing with the fuzzy fabric.
"It's your dress." I smile at her and go back to trying out different weaves and patterns.
"No! He's not here." Amelia whines after we reach the next waypoint. "I was sure that Roddy would be waiting here. Stupid brother, why aren't you being lazy like always?"
"Heheh, you lost the bet." I trill in a sing-song voice.
"Oh, shut up and build the latrine." She stamps her foot. "I have to pee."
"Yes, your highness." She's been squirming in place for the last twenty minutes. "We can't have our princess peeing in the woods like a commoner, after all."
"Did you two bet on how lazy her brother would be?" Apricot laughs after Amelia dashes into the outhouse.
"Yup, I just won ten silver." I gloat.
"You haven't won yet." Amelia shouts from inside the outhouse. "You said he'd be taking his sweet time on the road, but if we don't catch up to him before the next waypoint, then we both lose."
"Does that mean, I win ten silver from each of you if he's there waiting for us?" The pixie asks with a giggle.
"Fine by me." I shrug. "But, I still think we'll meet him on the road."
"I've already lost." Amelia sighs after leaving the latrine. "So, it doesn't really matter who gets my coin. I'll just take it from my stupid brother."
"Yes, pay up!" I crow as we find him a few hours later.
"Dammit!" Amelia spits.
"Amelia?" Rodrick turns around and blinks at us. "Where'd you get the wagon? Ah, who cares, my legs are killing me." He climbs up next to his sister after I move into the back next to Apricot.
"..." Amelia shifts her glare between me and him.
"Hahahah. I called it, now pay up." I hold my hand out until she deposits a laurel into it.
"Were you betting on me?" He gives his sister the stink eye. "Let me guess, you said I'd still be waiting at the last clearing."
""Hahahah."" Apricot and I crack up at the look that fills Amelia's face.
"Wait..." He peers at Apricot. "I know the poppy juice messed me up, but you used to be smaller, right?"
"Heheh." She nods. "Yeah, I'd shift, but then my clothes would fall off and Amelia says I'm not allowed to be naked around you."
""..."" Both siblings have a similar look on their faces right now.
"So, how has your trip been so far?" I blatantly change the subject. "We ran into Darrel and his family a couple days ago."
"Boring mostly." He shrugs. "I missed Storm. How has he been?" The horse in question looks back when he heard his name.
"He's great." Amelia answers. "He loves Sorrel, I've never seen the butthead act so docile."
"Aww, he's just a big ol' softie." I coo.
"Well, if he can manage to tame you, a horse should be no problem." Amelia blushes at his comment before hitting him on the arm, none-too-gently either. "I missed you too sis." He pulls her into a side hug.
"Nnh." She grumbles, but gives him a quick squeeze.
"Man, you guys even have a mattress in here." Rodrick exclaims after checking over the wagon. "Did you spend all your coin buying this, or what?"
"No, Sorrel made it for us." Apricot says with a twinkle in her eye. "He can do a lot more than just tame wild animals."
"Oh, you'd better watch out." Rodrick warns with a laugh. "She's gonna get you for that one later."
"Why did I insist on rushing?" Amelia asks herself. "We could have taken our time, but no. I had to feel bad for my stupid brother."
He's about to reply when we're cut off by a crashing sound from the woods up ahead to the left. I will the canvas tarp out of the way and jump to my feet with an arrow already knocked. A yearling doe jumps into the road and I loose.
Not at the deer, but at the wolves chasing her. I down the lead wolf and one to its left before the other three scatter, one with a hole in its ear where it didn't quite fast enough.
"That's the same fucking pack from before." I spit. "The hunters must have chased them down here. Gather the bodies for me, I'm going after the other three. I'll catch you up in a few." I kiss Amelia before leaping from the wagon.
"Stay safe." She calls after me in a worried tone.
I can run a lot faster than a wolf now, and have no compunctions about using magic to track them down. I can only sense the three of them, otherwise, I wouldn't be going after them. Tne one with a hole in its ear made a bee-line straight to the east, but the other two went more south.
I go after the pair first, just in case they loop back to the road and make trouble for the wagon. They each go down, one right after the other, with an arrow through the skull. I pause only long enough to store their bodies before racing after the last one.
He senses me on his trail, and tries juking left and right through the trees, but with Blackthorne as my bow, that's not much of an issue. I just wait until the beast is about to cross behind a smaller tree and drill an arrow straight through it, and right into the wolf's temple.
"Fucking wolves!" I curse. "Like my fucking nightmares aren't bad enough, I have to fucking run into you again while minding my own fucking business. Arrrgh!" I punch the tree it's pinned to, and almost snap the poor thing in half. "Shit! Sorry tree." A pulse of magic frees my arrow from its trunk and repairs all the damage done to it.
Storing the corpse, I lope off back to the road. Only to stop a moment later when I hear the heavy droning of bees. Looking up, I spot a massive beehive filling up a large hollow formed when two trees grew together.
Coating my skin with a bark-like covering, I shimmy my way up the tree and harvest the two largest cleanest looking honeycombs. The bees aren't happy, but they don't know what to make of a walking plant stealing their honey.
"Here, have some flowers." I grow a bunch of wildflowers for them as an apology for stealing their hard work. They soon give on getting their revenge and go harvest the nectar-filled flowers.
I run back to the road and find the wagon waiting for me where I left it.
"Sorrel!" Amelia jumps off and runs to me.
"I'm okay." I catch her in my arms. "I'm sorry for running off like that, but I'm fine. See." I pull back just enough that she my smile. "And, hey. I found a big beehive on the way back, I'll make some honey cakes for dessert tonight."
"I told you he'd be okay Amelia." Apricot joins our hug. "Now, let's get back on the road, otherwise we'll be eating at midnight."
"Yeah, okay." She nods but doesn't let go of me, so I just pick her up and carry her to the wagon.
"You mind taking the reins for a bit?" I ask Rodrick and climb into the back with my girls, fixing the tarp with a thought.
"No problem." He says with an awed tone to his voice. "Where'd you learn to shoot like that? You downed two wolves before I even knew they were there."
"Oh, we have this tradition called summer camp where I came from." I explain. "Kids who lived mostly in the city would spend a few months in the woods doing arts and crafts, and 'fun summertime activities', but mainly get out of their parent's hair for a few months." I chuckle. "I hated the camp because they wouldn't let me wander off on my own. Which I was used to doing every time my family went actual camping. So, I just stayed at the archery range, firing arrow after arrow for two months straight, and then again the next year."
"Hah!" He barks out. "Well, I'm glad you did, and I'm even more glad you three caught up when you did." Both he and his sister shiver at the thought of what might have happened if he ran across the wolves on his own.
"Shh." I stroke her back. "We're all safe now, there's no more wolves out there. Just think about what we're going to have for dinner. I feel like celebrating, so how about honey glazed ham. I first ran into those mutts when taking down that pig, after all."
"Hmm?" She perks up.
"Yeah, I can make some cheesy potatoes, roasted veggies, and I've got this good pasta salad recipe that uses roasted pecans." I'm basically just going to make Easter dinner. "And, don't forget about the honey cakes. I make them with half cornmeal, half wheat flour, and they're just so yummy."
"Okay, okay." She laughs and raises her hands in surrender. "Just try not to run off like that again."
"I will, and I'm sorry I did." I kiss her. "But, after those damned nightmares..."
"I know." She breathes out before returning my kiss.
"Umm. Sorry to interrupt." Rodrick's stomach growls. "But, how are you going to cook all that?"
""Hahahah."" The three of us start laughing.
"Oh, you don't know what you're in for brother." Amelia smiles at him, and the shadow that's been hanging over her finally fades away.
"But, before I start cooking. You, come here." I pull Apricot onto my lap. "Thank you for watching after her, I know you were worried too, and probably wanted to fly after me." She tries to deny it, but I cut her off. "I care about you too, and I'm sorry I scared you."
"Stupid lunker." She presses her face into my shoulder. "I just wanted to make sure, I got the cinnamon rolls you forgot about yesterday."
"I'm sorry, I was going to make them this morning." I say while hugging her tight. "But, I really wanted some lost toast." I adopt Amelia's name for the breakfast food. "I'll bake the rolls tonight along with the honey cakes. Okay?"
"Okay." A quiet sniffle escapes from her and rubs her eyes against my shirt.