The naiads don’t at first believe Alton’s version of events, but come to realize he’s telling the truth. Unwilling to break their deal, Oonah declares that she will help them. She says that Rialta will need to be stopped, so her revenge can’t be visited upon her daughters, for helping them.
Alton squared his shoulders. “Now, someone’s talking sense. What do you think needs to be done?”
“I have one question for you, Alton. Can you wield fire?”
They crossed the river the next morning, with the naiads smoothing the water to bring them safely over. Each of the sisters gave Revanth a kiss and a gift. Alton got nothing from the older two, but Oonah kissed both cheeks, giving him her blessing. When the others weren’t looking, she slipped him a bag.
“It’s not much, but it will help you. All it needs is a spark and it will ignite. Be careful that nothing you care about is near, when it does.”
“Thank you, Little Sister.”
“Do you really mean to marry Velda?”
“If she’ll still have me, yes. A wood sprite can settle down, if the right woman wants him. If I make a binding oath, I will abide by it. And who knows, perhaps a wood sprite can sire little saplings on a naiad. Such things are rumored.”
“Wives tales,” she said, shaking her head.
“A man can hope.”
“Yes, he can. Farewell, brother.”
They hugged once more and the men were on their way. They found horses, and struck a deal with a young man who looked so much like Oonah, the men were sure they must share a parent. He gave them a good price, throwing in the necessary tack for them. They paid for a couple saddlebags each, and bedrolls.
“Do you have a tinderbox?” the young man, whose name was Nils, asked.
“What is that?” Alton asked.
“Flint and steel. A way to make a spark and start a fire.”
“You can carry such a thing?”
“Yes. I make them myself from scrap metal the smith sells me. Even if it’s burned, the metal works. Some use a sharp stone on a knife blade.”
Alton hissed, putting his hands over his beloved sword and dagger.
“Exactly! Why dull or nick a precious blade? Here. For a man who appreciates the worth of his blades.” Nils handed Alton a small leather pouch. Inside were a lump of metal and a jagged piece of flint. “Snap them sharply together to get a spark for your tinder and start your fire as you would any other.”
“My thanks! This is a splendid gift.” He gave the young man a sly wink. “Is the lass, Oonah a relative? A sister, perhaps?”
“Oh, aye.” He smiled, nodding. “My sister, three years older, but you’d never know it. It’s amazing Rilatia mated with the same man twice, but he let her down the second time. She wanted a daughter and was quite disappointed when I was born.” He shrugged. “Such is the nature of naiads.”
“True. Well, thank you for this splendid gift. May you prosper, Nils, and father many daughters.” He winked at the young man as he swung onto his horse.
After two days riding, the men were on the other side of the hills. Ten yards in front of them, the green land sloped to a massive river. More turbulent than all the rivers they’d crossed, it teemed with life. Naiads jumped and laughed in the waves and ripples. Their white fairy horses clustered together, creating wild waters like nothing they’d ever seen.
“How do we cross this?” Revanth asked, glaring at the river as if it had done him a disservice. “There are no bridges. No ferries. Unless you can levitate, we’re stuck here.”
“Who says I can’t?”
Revanth’s snort of disbelief was very horse-like. “If you could, you’d have done it already.”
“We sweet talk ’em.”
“They’re probably all kin to Rialtia. You’re sweet talk extends to lunatic naiad sorceresses, and their kin?”
“You sweet talk ’em. You made the other girls happy.”
“I’m not parting with anymore of my—seed,” Revanth said, putting a protective hand over his groin. “I’ll have enough to explain when I get Astrid back. If she doesn’t kill or castrate me, I might live long enough to marry the girl.”
“Tch, where’s the fun in that?” Alton slid off his horse and pulled his food pouch from the saddle bag. “First, we eat.”
Well provisioned by the naiads and dryads, along with delicacies Alton had picked up along his way, they made a fine meal. Alton had some sunny honey mead which he shared with his friend, but only a few sips.
“It’s strong enough to knock a horse down, let alone a man who used to be one.”
“You’re still drinking it,” Revanth pointed out.
“And I’m not human—or a horse.” But he saw the sense of it and put the mead away.
Once the food was packed up once more, Alton took something else from his bag. Hefting it in his left hand, he undid the neck with his right.
“Remember the old dryad in Oak Mother’s grove?”
“Of course. Why?”
“She gave me this before we left, telling me I’d know what to do when the time came. I thought she meant in fighting Eleion, or the puka wielding naiad, but she didn’t. The time has come. And I know. Grab the horses and prepare to ride immediately.”
© 2019 Dellani Oakes