Wlvn thought he could see where the river they were following joined to a much larger river in the distance, but he could not be sure. “It’s easier to see from the cliffs.” Badl took a deep breath and stood up straight. “The Desna runs right into the Dnapr which goes all the way to the sea.”
“To the sea?” Elleya asked, looked excited, and grabbed Wlkn’s hand. She very much wanted him to share her excitement, but Wlvn shook his head.
“Njord asked me to take her to the Danube. We can’t just dump her.” Badl looked disappointed.
“Well, there’s a human village not too far down the Dnapr. We should get there by sundown.”
“But what about the night creatures?” Wlkn asked. “Wouldn’t it help to put the big river between us?”
“Yes.” Badl hedged. “But after the rain and the flood, I don’t imagine they will be on our trail all that soon, and Thor did promise to slow them down. We should be good for the night. Besides, they got real food there, bread and eggs and pork and bacon. Lords! I could really go for some bacon right now.”
“I don’t suppose the flash flood might have caught the night creatures and drowned them all,” Wlkn wondered.
“I doubt it,” Wlvn and Badl spoke together as they went to gather the horses.
Sure enough, they reached the village just before sunset, and Wlvn recognized the small, wooded hill that sat up against the river, not too far downstream. “Flern,” he mumbled. “We’re home.”
“Dwarfs trade here sometimes.” Badl explained to the others over supper. “We got craftsmen in wood, stone and bone, and got some that can work in metals like silver and gold.”
“Copper mostly,” Wlvn interjected.
“And precious stones,” Badl said, a bit defensively. “Anyway, these people got beer and all this food and grain and stuff that we don’t always have in stock. We need our bread, too, you know, and our goddess said trading would be much better than stealing. She doesn’t like stealing, you know.”
“And don’t you forget it.” Wlvn felt obliged to put that in.
“Anyway, sometimes the elves trade here too, so I suppose that is why no one was surprised to see me.
“Like the young elf maid that lives with this old woman.” Wlkn pointed to the girl who fiddled with some dishes in the corner. He spoke softly and meant it kindly, but elf ears miss very little.
“My name is Moriah,” she said, as she brought more pork loin to Badl. “It’s not young elf maid. Here you go, glutton.” She planted the plate firmly in front of Badl’s face. “It’s a wonder these others get anything to eat at all with you around.”
Badl just smiled. “Right good cook would be a good name,” he suggested. She snubbed him and turned to the others. No one missed what that meant.
“Anyway, I’m only a half and half.” Wlvn looked closely. She had the elf ears and elf sharpness to her features, and while she appeared skinny enough, she had a good shape and looked well conditioned overall, like an athlete. She did not look terminally skinny the way some elves can look. Her hair fell to her waist, elf black, but her eyes were deep brown, a color hardly found among the elves apart from some deep in the woodlands. Then again, she had some freckles and that was not at all an elf thing. Wlvn guessed that her elf side came from some distance away or she would be with her father, but as soon as he considered that, the hair stood up on the back of his neck. He had a thought he did not want to think.
“I’m sorry,” Wlkn apologized. “I did not mean to offend.”
“Forget it,” Moriah said sweetly as she fetched another pork chop for her glutton. “But my mother died last summer, and my father’s people don’t live around here.”
“I miss my people, too.” Elleya had to say something. Being a talker, she started feeling left out.
“Oh, I have never seen my father’s people. I can’t imagine but it would be a strange thing for me.”
“Moriah.” The old woman called from a back room, and Moriah excused herself and went immediately.
“I understand the old woman was kind enough to take her in.” Badl stared at the girl as she went. “She is not better than a servant in this house, though.”
Wlvn nodded. He understood the arrangement. The old woman had three sons and two daughters who lived in the village, and they were more than well suited to take care of her, but she loved the praise for taking in the poor orphan girl, even if that girl became no better than a slave.
“I say.” Wlkn had an idea. “Maybe her father’s people are on our way. Maybe we could drop her off.”
Wlvn sighed. That was what he was afraid of.
He was not at all surprised later when he woke up in the middle of the night and felt drawn to take a walk outside. Thor asked him to take the half and half, and that did surprise him a little. “Didn’t you just try to drown us?”
“Eh?” Thor had to think about it. “No. You saw Njord first, didn’t you?” He spoke affably enough. “That was to show you the mermaid. You get a choice, see? Personally, I thought you might prefer Moriah, I mean her being half one of your own and all.”
“So, don’t tell me, her father’s people live by the Danube.”
“Oh, not so far. Just on the side of the mountains.” That felt like almost to the Danube, and Wlvn frowned, but Thor kept smiling. He caught Wlvn with his hands, but only because Wlvn had not gotten fully awake. “Now you can have the strength to bust the rocks and trees that get in your way. Why should I have all the fun?” He said this and vanished. Wlvn just groaned and staggered back to bed.
“Badl, you’ve been promoted,” Wlvn said in the morning. “You get to ride Number Two so Moriah can ride Strn’s horse.”
Badl nodded. “I was figuring on that,” he said. “Fortunately, Number Two and I have come to an understanding, and Strn’s horse is a good animal for the girl. I wouldn’t want to see her hurt by a rough one.” He leaned in close and whispered in Wlvn’s ear. “You know; she is not bad looking for a pointy puss.” Wlvn looked up quickly at that unkind description of Elves and he saw Moriah turn a little red around her freckles, so he knew she heard. He guessed she was pleased to be thought of as not bad looking and willingly overlooked the slight against her father’s people, something easy enough for her, Wlvn thought. Moriah did not know her father’s people.