While they waited, Flern found herself walking with Elluin; a girl that Flern had hardly seen in the last year since Elluin seemed determined to stick by Drud. To be sure, Flern would have walked with anyone at that point to get out from the scrutiny of the travelers. She felt sure that there were some who did not believe their tales and were probably quick to accuse them of being boastful liars. Flern wanted no part of that argument and the trouble it might cause. So, she walked beside the stately, blonde beauty, and made small talk, until Flern asked a question.
“Why did you never stay with Kined? He seemed to love you well enough.” Flern could not help herself. Kined stayed generally on her mind those days.
Elluin looked down at Flern and then looked at her hands which she clasped in front of her dress as she walked. “Because he was never really interested in me,” she said. “Drud loves me. I know he does, but who else would have me? Not Kined.”
“What do you mean, not Kined?” Flern did not understand this girl. Kined was bright, kind and very loving. Poor Elluin had the lowest self-esteem Flern had ever seen. “But Drud is very unkind to you.” Flern wanted to point out that Drud beat the poor girl, but she dared not say it out loud.
“Only when I am bad,” Elluin said. “Like my father.” A light went off in Flern’s head. Suddenly she understood something she had never seen before, and she wanted to say something about it, but she had to ask something else, first.
“But why not Kined? He loves you well enough.”
“No.” Elluin denied it. “Whenever I was with Kined, all he talked about was you, but he said you had your hands full since childhood, and someday you would marry Trell or Fritt or Tird and that would be that.”
“Aren’t you going to marry Trell?” Elluin asked, and Flern held her hair out as if it was sticking straight up. She made a face, and Elluin smiled. “Well, Fritt then.” Flern puffed her cheeks and put her arms out to her side like she was holding her girth and she waddled a little for the effect, and Elluin did smile, but covered her mouth as if smiling might be a bad thing for which she should be beaten. “Well, Tird?”
“Please!” Flern’s word said that idea would be the most ridiculous of all. “He is such a Tird,” she said, without the explanation.
“So then…” Elluin started to speak; but paused to put her finger to her chin to tap it, as if she tried to figure something out. She stopped walking and Flern stopped with her. They were in among some trees, away from the camp, and Flern thought they honestly had wandered far enough. Of course, Flern kept thinking about poor Elluin being beaten by her father and the Kined issue had not yet added up in her mind; but Elluin came to a decision.
“Come on.” She took Flern by the arm, let out a real smile, and turned them straight for the camp. Unfortunately, it was not exactly on the same path by which they arrived among the trees, and after only three steps, both girls fell up to the waist in a puddle of muck. At first, they laughed about it and tried reaching for the solid ground to pull themselves out, but that proved impossible. The mud started dragging them down.
“Help! Help!” They shouted and were very lucky they had not walked farther than they did. Kined, in fact, became the first to arrive, having watched the two of them wander off, side by side. He went straight for Flern, which surprised her a little, and he pulled a branch down from the nearest tree and told her to hold on as others came to help Elluin. Flern held tight to the branch and came a little bit out of the muck, though the muck seemed reluctant to give her up. But then Kined could catch her hands and between his pulling and tugging, and Flern’s squirming and kicking, he managed to get her free.
Poor Flern immediately embraced him. That had been a terrifying experience in its way. Kined held her with a good will, and then she looked up into his sparkling blue eyes and he looked down into her fawn-colored eyes, and they kissed, and Flern lifted her right foot and pounded her toe into the dirt several times before they parted.
“You are glowing,” Kined said. And Flern backed up a little to let her one hand hold tight to his hand while her other hand tried in vain to wipe the smile off her face.
“I’m not surprised.” She thought he was only kidding.
“No. I mean you are really glowing,” Kined assured her.
“What?” Flern looked at her hands and indeed, they glowed ever so slightly. “Wlvn is tasting his golden apple desert,” she said without explanation. She looked up at Kined who looked content just to watch her glow. “Do you mind if I change?” she asked, considering how the glow failed to take away all the muck.
“You mean with the swords and stuff?” Kined needed clarification.
“Uh-huh.” Flern nodded. “I don’t have another spare dress.” Kined nodded in return, and he only got a little startled when Flern became instantly clothed in her armor and the dress went away. He looked a little sad that there was no moment, however brief, when he might catch her with nothing on at all, but Flern looked curiously at her feet. She stood barefoot, she decided, because her legs needed cleaning from all that muck. “You don’t mind?” she asked, while Kined still looked her up and down. He said nothing, but clearly, he did not mind at all. Flern turned with him, took a firm hold on his hand, and bumped right into Karenski and several of his men. Karenski reached out to see if her glow could be touched, and though it could not be touched, he seemed satisfied with something, and perhaps with many things. Flern just started thinking that she would probably glow for several hours when Karenski spoke.
Flern held tight to Kined’s hand the whole way and smiled as much as her face allowed. With great reluctance, she let go of his hand in the end and went into the tent with the women where she could wash her feet and legs.
They set up a curtain to wall off part of the tent against unannounced visitors, and Elluin and Flern stripped down to nothing and confirmed that Flern glowed from everywhere. Vinnu seemed especially taken by Flern’s under things. “Fairy weave,” Flern called it, though she did not exactly understand the term.
“Whatever it is, the mud won’t stick to it.” Vinnu said, and everyone had to touch it and check it out with appropriate “ooos and aaahs.”
As soon as Flern felt human again, she had a thought about fairies and about Badl, who said he belonged to Wlvn in some way, and she called out for her dress. Her armor and weapons went away, but the dress arrived, and it appeared cleaned and pressed, not only looking like it never got dirty, but indeed, like it had been made brand new. Arania fell to her knees before this glowing girl with such great magic, but Flern made her stand and then took that moment to yell at everyone.
“Just because Vrya has been kind to me, that does not mean anything. I think she just wants to be sure we succeed against the Jaccar, that’s all. She happened to pick me, but she might have easily picked any one of you. Don’t start thinking it makes me special in any way. I’m still just Flern, and honestly, I almost wish she had picked one of you.” Though not strictly true, and Flern, and at least Pinn knew it, it got Arania to stand up and it felt like just the sort of thing Flern would say. The others did not doubt that Flern honestly wished the goddess had picked someone else.
“She probably picked you because you did not want to be picked,” Thrud said. She meant it as a joke, but one that stayed close to the truth.
“They say I glowed for three days when Gunder asked me to marry him, but I didn’t glow like that,” Vinnu pointed out.
“It will wear off,” Flern growled, and she got dressed and went to curl up on the nearest blanket.
“Bed.” Pinn announced, and everyone complied but for the little conversations that went on for some time. Arania participated in little of the conversation, though, because she was going to sleep beside Flern and watch to see if the glow indeed wore off.
They arrive at a village and after negotiating, they settled in for a while, to wait. They fear the Jaccar are coming, and the forgotten one, Bunder, makes his move. Until then, Happy Reading