“It is a long story, master. Perhaps we might go inside and tell of it.” Abeth dipped his head in deference, and gestured to Jessica to step forward. “The child apologizes for startling you with her vision. She is proud of her world.”
“Hmmph,” the druid growled, and peered owlishly down at Jessica, then back at Abeth. “And what makes you think either of you was the best apprentice I ever had? Bah!”
Sencab gruffly motioned them into the hut. The inside was all that Jessica could have imagined of a druid’s lodge and more, far more. Her imagination could never have allowed for the smells. Some came from the druid himself, which she did not find surprising, because he wasn’t nearly as freshly scrubbed as his former apprentice. His robe was a menu of a month’s meals. His streaked, tangled beard badly needed a good wash and comb, and his bare feet were calloused and grimy. The lodge itself was no neater, and heavy with ripe odours: the chalky aroma of half dead ashes, the fumes of a full night pot, the salty odour of crudely tanned hides, and the acrid stink of a hundred potions.
“Sit down.” Sencab tossed an armload of kindling on the smoldering ashes in the firepit and motioned to the animal hides on either side. “I’ll find something wet to wash the dry from your throats.”
The druid pushed a wooden board aside with a grimy foot, revealing a dank hole in the dirt floor. He reached down and pulled an earthenware jug from inside, ignoring a dozen mice that burst from the pit in panic. Each found sanctuary in the hides, jars, and rough furnishings scattered about the room. Sencab never gave them a second glance. Jessica couldn’t help thinking of the orderly behaviour of Freddie the paperweight, still unconvinced the tiny creature was not actually real.
The kindling quickly took light. A bright, crackling blaze lit the gloom, and the inside of the hut grew cleaner and friendlier, an illusion created by the flames. Sencab passed the stone jug to Archie, who took a long, satisfied pull and smacked his lips. Jessica politely declined and passed it on to Wulf. The old druid, meanwhile, creaked down onto a tattered wolf hide directly across from Jessica, and stared at her with eyes that mirrored his puzzlement. She began to feel uncomfortable.
“Tell him you admire his lodge,” Abeth’s voice whispered in her mind. “I’ll form the words for you.”
“You’ve got to be kidding.”