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Bunny secured the crates and casks, nodding while instructions were repeated for the umpteenth time. "Don't forget that when you get to Border Town-" "Oh and when you get to Robin's Wood, can you pick up a-" "Mention my name at Wilson's, he'll give you a discount-"
She tugged on the ropes one last time and stood up, smiling tightly at Maureen and Ogre. "I have your lists and your notes. I've committed them all to memory, I promise. Nothing will get forgotten." She made a face. "I surely don't want to take this trip when the first blizzard hits."
"Exactly why my list is so important!" Ogre pointed out. "Unless you like eating dull food while snowed in."
"Yes, Uncle Ogre."
Maureen glared at him. "Had this order not come in, we wouldn't be able to make this trip so it is extremely important that my list get priority!"
Bunny smiled weakly at them and sighed with relief when Amy came from the inn carrying a basket in one hand and a rucksack in the other. "Hey, my honey."
Amy set the basket and the rucksack on the cart. "I packed you some extra clothes, including wool socks and a blanket. You never know how thick the blankets are at some of these inns."
"Thank you." Bunny tucked the rucksack under the ropes.
"I made you something for the road," Amy explained when Bunny sniffed the basket. "There's some treats for Apple, too."
"Appreciate you." Bunny set the basket within reach and jumped down to cuddle her one last time. They kissed, parting with smiles. "I'll bring you something pretty," she promised Amy.
"Bring yourself whole and unbloodied, how's that?" She stepped back, pulling her cloak tighter around her shoulders. "Try to stay warm, okay?"
Bunny winked and shook hands with Ogre. "Be careful," he said.
"Always!" she dimpled and hugged Maureen, who shook her head.
She checked Apple's harness, climbed onto the cart and took one last look around Tilldae. Everything was quiet, no one ventured out in the dawn except for the three standing by the cart. The inn alone held some semblance of life, the warm fire's glow dim in the windows and the smells of Tag's cooking making her mouth water. The last bit of snow had faded, giving a hope that it wouldn't return but no one was fooled and knew the worst snows were yet to come. Hence this trip.
Bunny waved, urged Apple forward and started her journey.

The well-worn road between Robin's Wood and Tilldae was a monotonous series of trees and dirt. The sun was high when Bunny reached behind her for Amy's basket, smiling to herself as unwrapped a sandwich and leaned forward to feed an apple slice to the horse. "Cannibal," she chuckled as Apple chewed her namesake loudly.
She wrapped the reins around her wrist and ate, taking in the scenery. The trees were brown, leaves long gone since the last snow and their branches seemed to shiver in the cold. The grass had withered and the ground was mud in some spots. Her mind turned to the china blue sky and watched the clouds drift past.
A branch snapped. She tensed but calmly wrapped the rest of her sandwich and put it in the basket. Making a show of stretching, she unwrapped the reins and reached for a dagger hidden under the tarp. Birds scattered from their perches in the trees, making her turn her head toward the sound.
But she heard him sneak up on what he thought was her blind side. Without looking, she kicked out and heard him fall to the ground with a grunt. She snapped the reins. "GO!"
Apple broke into a full run, the cart lurching. Bunny crouched on the balls of her feet, balancing in case more got brave. None came. She frowned, stood up on the cart and looked over her shoulder.
She was alone on the road but could see shadows in the trees, too far off to do damage or for her to damage. She slowed Apple to a trot and kept the dagger close.

The proud timbered walls of Robin's Wood came into view around the time the sun had begun to set, making Bunny relax. She dismounted at the stone archway and went on foot, leading Apple. Inside, two storied buildings lined the walls. Shops offered wares on the ground floor and people made their homes on the second. In the center of town was a space that in the spring was full of stalls and carts, merchants hawking wares but for now a boy stoked a fire in a pit.
The people were polite enough, smiling and nodding as Bunny passed. She tried to look at ease and went to the inn that proudly displayed a duck and a goose with wings spread in flight, tying Apple outside.
Inside was warm and homey, making her think of Ogre's. The bartender, a red-haired man with a friendly smile, waved as he came around the bar. "Bunny! Hi!"
"Devon! Hey!" She shook his hand. "Ogre sent some of his beer, wants to know if you can spare some rum."
Devon thought for a moment. "Of course!" He shook her hand once more. "Anything for him! I'll send him a bottle of my best! Staying the night?"
"If you don't mind." She gestured at the darkening sky outside. "I don't want to travel on the border at night."
"Too right." He nodded solemnly then smiled. "I'll have your cart brought 'round to the stables for you."
"If you don't mind, I've some crates that are too precious to leave alone." She twisted her hands and feigned helplessness.
He shrugged. "I can put your cart in my private stables, if you'd like. None will bother it."
"Sure."
"And then you must eat something!" He pushed her playfully. "You're too skinny! And did you pack a dress? There's a Revel tonight!"

To her complete dismay, Amy had indeed sent along a dress. Bunny grumbled and fumbled through the layers of skirts, underdress and blouse. She was grateful to have rolled on the wool stockings beforehand and stepped into the slippers. Carelessly, she combed her hair and tied it into a ponytail. She grunted at the mirror and stomped out of the room.
Devon's common room was full by dark. People sat around tables, drinking and eating. Some leaned against the bar and others congregated by the fireplace. A serving girl recognized her. "Miss Bunny!" she curtsied and winked. "Is your room warm enough?"
Bunny fought the urge to look down and smiled. "Yes, thank you."
"Devon said you're to have dinner on the house. Warm rum?"
"Please." Bunny found a table by a window and collapsed in a chair. Outside, she could see more people by the fire and could hear faint music playing.
The serving girl returned with a steaming plate and two mugs of warm rum. She set the plate in front of Bunny with a smile and put a mug in front of her, sitting beside her with the other. "How have you been? It's been awhile."
Bunny sighed at the plate. "Warm venison. Mmm... Okay," she answered the girl's question as she cut the meat into pieces. "Yourself?"
The girl shrugged. "Fine, I suppose. How's Amy?"
"Good, good." Bunny gestured with her fork. "What's going on?"
"Revel." She drank fro her mug. "It's shaping up to be a good time." She frowned at the window. "I almost forgot to tell you..."
"What?"
"There was a guy that was asking about you." She looked into her mug. "Said he had a job for you."
"Did he leave a name?" Bunny chewed on some venison.
"No." She put her hand in her chin. "Which was odd. He never stayed, either. Just asked for information and left. He looked like someone pretending to be a thief, if that makes any sort of sense."
Bunny frowned. "Doesn't, really."
The girl took some meat from her plate with her fingers. "You don't remember my name, do you?"
Bunny blushed. "No, I don't, I'm sorry."
She ate the piece slowly, licking her fingers clean. "I'm Belinda and it doesn't matter because I will never forget your name." She rose, kissed Bunny on the cheek and left with her empty mug.
Bunny drained the rest of her mug.

It was almost dawn when Bunny stumbled up the stairs to her room. She opened the door, glad for the candle on the small desk in the corner and shed down to her underdress. The rum had left a warm, happy glow in her stomach that radiated though her body. She started for the bed and it's nest of blankets when the floor behind her creaked. She sighed and tensed, rum-glow gone as she dove under the bed to grab her sword.
Something in her bed gave a girlish squeak and Belinda thumped onto the floor wearing nothing but a terrified look. "Stay here!" Bunny hissed and jumped up.
A man-shaped figure in black with a sword at the ready waited patiently in the center of the room. Bunny threw up her hands. "What the HELL!?" she shouted. "What sort of killer are you?! Amateur!"
She swung at him, rolling her eyes at his clumsy dodge and punched him in the face. He went down hard in a unmoving heap.
Devon came through the door, in his nightshirt and armed with an iron skillet. "Where-?"
She pointed to the body. "He's out cold," she assured him. "Not a pro, that's for sure."
He sighed, relaxing. "Since I couldn't get here in time to rescue you, I'll at least throw out the trash." He dragged the body out of the room and shut the door.
Bunny listened and giggled as she heard Devon shove the unconscious man down the stairs, followed by a most insincere "Oops!"
She crawled into bed and fell asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow.

The morning came too soon. Bunny snuggled closer to the warm body beside her and recoiled as she remembered where she was.
"Don't worry." Belinda said with a frown, getting up. "You passed out. Nothing happened." She tugged on her clothes. "It's not like you're married or something!"
"True." Bunny got up slowly. "But I'd rather not face an angry woman when I got home."
She stopped dressing and turned around, her smile sly. "Would she know?"
Bunny paused and slipped off her underdress.

Robin's Wood behind her, Bunny started down the road that marked the border between the humans and the elves on edge. She scanned the sleeping forests for shadows, eyed the wildlife with suspicion for a few miles before relaxing enough to enjoy the peace. The few she passed on the road she gave a tight smile and kept her hand close to her weapon.
The two forests were similar when given a passing glance but when regarded seriously, the difference was unsettling at best. To her right, the elvish woods seemed to sway with the wind as if it was alive. The human side on her left was almost noisy: cracking limbs, scurrying animals and the rustle of dried undergrowth. She shivered, kept her cloak tight around her and kept going, urging Apple on faster.

By the time Bunny came to the edge of Border Town, she was exhausted. Torches placed every often along the road lit her way past houses and shops built in a neat circle around a fountain that never seemed to freeze, no matter the temperature. She went on foot through the town square, leading Apple past the too-neat shops built from a pale wood. Those who didn't stare at her smiled. She nodded and smiled back, trying not to gawk at their pointed ears and smooth features.
A little boy in brightly colored robes came up and said something in a language that sounded like bird song. She shook her head. "Huh?"
He laughed. "OH! You don't speak Rune! I was asking if you had anything to trade."
She smiled. "Depends on what you have, good sir!"
"This!" He proudly handed her a beautiful red flower. "What can I get?"
"Well..." Bunny made a show of thinking, then reached into a sack. "What's this for?"
"My mom's birthday."
"Aha!" Bunny took out a small white box. "This will break if you drop it so be careful, okay?"
He nodded solemnly. She opened the box, revealing a woman made of spun sugar cushioned by cloth. "Your mom can eat her. Tell her this princess was made by one of the finest bakers in the known world."
The boy looked at his flower sadly. "That's too fine for something like this."
"That is where you are wrong." Bunny set aside the box carefully and reached in the sack again. She took out a vial. "Put the flower on the ground."
He did as she asked. Bunny poured a drop from the vial on the flower and smiled at his gasp when it became a bubble and enveloped it. She picked up the bubble-encased flower. "I know someone who gets sad in the winter because there's no flowers. Now she'll always have one, no matter how cold it gets." She handed him the box. "We traded happiness. Deal?"
His eyes shone as he accepted the box. "Thanks, lady!" He blushed. "I mean, good trade... er..." He bowed over the box and almost tiptoed away.
"Nice work."
Bunny turned, relived to find a half-elvin man standing outside the inn. "You must be Wilson." She held out a hand.
"You are most definitely Bunny." He shook her hand. "Good job with that child. You've made his mother very happy."
"More than that, I've made the security people watching me happy." She winked. "Now they know I don't hate kids and kicks small dogs."
He laughed. "Is that my wine?"
"Maureen sends her regards and a selection of what's in her cellars." Bunny gestured to the crates. "She has your order but thought you might like to try some of her private stock."
"Kind of her." He helped her untie the crates. "Will you be staying the night?"
"Yes, please." She coiled the rope. "How much?"
"You're my guest." He picked up a crate and shouldered his way through the stained glass door. Bunny picked up a crate and followed. Inside, the tables grew out of the floors. The bar looked like a living tree, the shelves behind it stocked with what looked like teardrops filled with a rainbow of liquids. A firepit in the middle of the room gave off warmth and light. Wilson whistled and two men came from the kitchen. "Can you take the crates outside and put them in the cellar? Stable the horse too, please. Our guest will be out to collect her things in a moment." They nodded and went past him.
He gestured for her to put the crate down by the bar. "These we'll leave here." He nodded at a girl passing by who smiled and rushed off. "Come. have a seat. How was your trip?"
"Not as boring as I would have hoped." Bunny say across from him at a table on one of the smooth chairs. "I was attacked both on the way to Robin's Wood and then at the inn where I was staying. One of the serving girls at the inn said I was asked for by a man who wouldn't give his name."
"Interesting..." Wilson smiled as the girl gave each of them a white teacup and saucer, placing a teapot between them.
She smiled at him and glanced shyly at Bunny before leaving. Bunny blinked a few times, thinking she saw oak leaves in her hair. "A bit too much, I'd say."
"Well, we'll try to make your stay as boring as we can," he assured her and poured their tea.
She raised her cup. "I hope so!"

A elvish meal of salad and cheese later, Bunny and her growling stomach went to get her packs from the cart and more importantly, the remains of Amy's basket. She wandered the empty stables, checking on Apple and rubbing her down before going to the cart. She reached the cart, heard a noise and turned around.
She felt a sharp pain and saw stars before passing out.


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paperninja69

August 2011

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