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Amy smiled and set the bowl of stew in front of the last patron of the day. She heard a wagon pull up, sighed behind her smile and looked up. A hooded figure dismounted from the wagon to tie the horse to the post in front of the window. When they straightened, the hood fell back and Amy squeaked when she saw the elf woman light up with recognition.
She turned to run toward the kitchen when Tag and Ogre burst from behind the bar. "Finch saw them and spread the word!" Ogre shouted in explanation as they passed.
She laughed and turned to see Tag scoop Zelda in his arms, holding her as if she wasn't real and would disappear if he let go.
A woman with curly hair got out of the back of the wagon, helping a child down. Bunny bounced up, hugged her and was nearly knocked off her feet by the other woman's kiss. Amy turned away, wiped her trembling hands on her apron and, after checking on her customer, ran outside to greet her aunt.

A boy with Tag's eyes hugged Amy. "Did you enjoy your flower?"
She hugged him back, pretending not to notice Bunny's mussed hair or the other woman's flushed face. "Yes, thank you! You must be Joseph! I'm Amy."
He let go and held out his hand solemnly. "A pleasure, Amy. I look forward to exploring your charming town." He broke into giggles. "Was that elven enough?" His eyes focused on something over her shoulder and dove under the wagon, shouting something in Rune.
The woman looked up, shoved Bunny aside and drew a sword, Amy noting the calluses on her hands. Zelda had a handful of dust and was about to say something when Tag grabbed her arm. "Zell! He's a friend!"
She stared at him. "Friends with that? Do you know what that IS?"
Finch jumped from the roof, landing beside Amy. "Are you Joseph?" he asked the boy under the wagon eagerly. "Your father says you're very smart."
"You talk?!" Curiosity overcame fear and Jo wiggled out from his hiding place, eyes wide. "What's your name? How'd you get here?"
Finch groomed his whiskers. "I'm Finch. Bunny brought me here."
"Wow..." Jo's hands twitched.
The Malevolent grinned. "You can pet me, elfling."
Jo sat on the ground in front of Finch, stroking the cat's head. They spoke in Rune, Finch sometimes purring in mid sentance or pausing to have his ear scratched. The woman came up to Amy, smiling. "You must be Amy. Bunny said you're beautiful but she didn't say that you are easily the most gorgeous creature in these or any other woods." She kissed the stunned Amy on the cheek. "She's a lucky woman. I'm Moxi." She smiled. "I'll start unpacking the wagon. I think everyone else is a bit preoccupied."
Amy found her voice. "Of course. We have rooms prepared but we didn't expect you, I'm afraid."
"Elf women don't travel without a companion." Moxi started untying knots. "Zell trusts me and knows I can defend myself and Jo if need be."
"I'm sure Ogre has a room we can spare for you." She managed to say and moved to help Moxi.
"I'm a barmaid at Wilson's inn. The kitchen would do me just fine." Moxi unearthed a basket and handed it to her. "This is for you. Sweets from Bordertown. Bunny said these are your favorite."
Amy followed Moxi, still chattering, into Orge's.

The hard slap was nothing compared to the glare on her face. Bunny felt the tears well, not from the physical pain but the hurt in those eyes. "Why?" Amy managed to choke once they were home alone.
"I... I was-"
She wrapped her arms around herself. "Bun, if you wanted that you should have said something. It hurts to think I'm not enough for you." She sat down by the table. "How did this happen?"
Bunny tried to touch her, only to have her scoot away. "Amy, I love you. Those girls mean nothing, it was just fun-"
"Girls?" Amy's eyes darkened. "There was more than this one?"
"It just happens..." Bunny tried to find words. "We start drinking, having fun and then... I just want to show my appreciation for their beauty. None are anything close to you, love. No one would ever replace you. Not that any of them care for me like you do. I'm nothing more than a passing bit of fun."
"Moxi loves you, stupid." Amy stood up and paced. "She listened to everything you said, made mention to me about how she had been looking forward to meeting me and seeing you again."
"She said that?"
Amy shoved her. "Yes, stupid! Not everyone's unfeeling creatures like you! I repeat, why didn't you tell me?"
"I didn't want to hurt you..."
"Finding out hurts!" she snarled. Her face softened. "I would have been okay, why didn't you just ask? I know you'll always come home to me. If something happens with someone else, I wouldn't make you choose. We'd work it out somehow." Amy hung her head. "I'm sleeping at Ogre's. I don't think I can be with you right now. I'll see you at the party tonight."
Bunny watched her leave with a lump in her throat.

Ogre's had been decorated with paper lanterns and wide ribbons. One chair had been draped with a gold cloth and a crown had been placed on the table before it. A huge white frosted masterpiece of a cake held court on a buffet surrounded by platters heaped with food, attended by a crystal punch bowl. Everyone, villagers and patrons alike, mingled in the common room and cast longing looks at the buffet.
The guest of honor came bounding down the stairs, Zell and Moxi following. He stopped short with his mouth hanging open. "Oh.... wow...." Jo turned to his mother. "This is for me?!"
Tag stepped from his place at the foot of the stairs. "Of course! I missed more than a few birthdays and thought I could make up for them."
"But I don't get a party..." he said slowly. "I'm not noble, I don't get one like this... Even the prince doesn't have one this grand..." He wiped his face and smiled. "But that won't stop me from having a piece of cake!"
Everyone chuckled and parted, letting Jo put on his crown and take his seat. He inclined his head regally. "Thank you all for coming." His composure dissolved into giggles.
Amy took his plate and curtsied. "What would you care for, sir?"
"A bit of everything!" He said with an exaggerated noble wave and giggled some more.
She kissed the top of his head. "As you wish."
Amy went to the the buffet, the signal for the start of the party. Anthony and Kiva started playing by the fire, his clear voice ringing through the room. Zell took a seat to the right of the birthday boy and Moxi, with an amused look on her face, sat to her right.
Finch found Tag alone by the bar. "They are here. They watch but make no movement to attack," the cat said in Rune to Tag. "Do you want me to tell the others?"
"No, keep watching them. I know why they're here." Tag replied in Rune and set some mugs of ale on the bar. He looked at Jo and smiled sadly. "They have to take him so we can prepare. He knows and is ready."
"He's a brave kitten." Finch smoothed his whiskers. "Do you want me to watch over him when they take him?"
"Yes, brave one." Tag stroked the cat's back.
"Give the Amy one a head scratch from me and I will see you at the meeting point." Finch twitched his tail and disappeared into the kitchen.
Tag forced a smile and lit the candles on the cake, carrying it with great ceremony to Jo.
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August 2011


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