“She won’t eat us.” Bertie threw up his hands and rolled his eyes. “All she’s done since I climbed into her pouch is help!”
“Then what are all those cauldrons for, hm?” Terrence, the eldest of their party grumbled.
Bertie sagged against a terracotta pot and bemoaned having the same argument day and night with his newly-released peers. “She’s a wisewoman. One who sells cures. We are safe here. I’ve no wish to return to the Arctic where we’ll only wait to be recaptured by slavers.”
Any mention of slavers brought about a fragile silence, and Bertie pressed on with what he knew would lift their spirits. “But Piper! She is our champion. So long as we are near her, we won’t come to harm. The witch listens to her. Does almost everything she says.”
Terrance nodded reluctantly, as did the rest of their party. “I suppose that’s true,” he conceded. “These big folk are strange. I can’t understand why it seems like the little ones are in charge.”
Nettle laced her fingers in Bertie’s, and though she was usually the quietest among them, she spoke up. “I believe she is a child prodigy. Powerful beyond all others. You saw what happened. The witch was captured almost as soon as she arrived. In a cloak of invisibility, the young one achieved what the witch could not.”
“But the head witch—Cordisomething—ordered her about.” Soren argued. “She can’t be that powerful.”
“Ah, but it was only after closeting herself away with Piper that she agreed to take up our cause.” Bertie held his finger up. “Young Piper must have bewitched her.”
“A witch bewitching a witch?” Terrence huffed. “That’s absurd. I’ll take my chances with a yeti before throwing my lot in with such strange folk. I haven’t done a day’s honest work since arriving here, and idle hands make for an early grave. Besides, I don’t trust that cat. He’s been stalking us all week.”
Nettle blinked up at Bertie through long eyelashes and swallowed. “I don’t like the cat either.”
“Then we get jobs!” Bertie exclaimed. “Find our place in this world. We know our craft. And with the leathersmith out of business people will need someone to mend holes in their boots and broken belt buckles. We could start our own enterprise.”
“Where will we get the money, Bert?” Soren rubbed the bridge of his nose. “A workshop, supplies, lodging… and who would buy anything from our kind?”
“Well…” Bertie took a deep breath. “It won’t happen overnight, certainly. But give it some time, and make ourselves useful to the witch perhaps, and—”
“I’ll not stir that woman’s cauldrons and bottle her brews.” Terrance made a face. “Have you seen what she puts in there? Never mind what she eats. This morning I believe it was pickled liver on toast!”
“Piper then.” Bertie gave them all a level stare. “We make ourselves useful to the little one, and she will lead us to prosperity and good fortune. Unless of course you want to start walking to the Arctic. I hear it’s a long way whatever the method of travel.”
“Do we have to swear allegiance?” Nettle asked.
“If she asks, I’ll be first to bend the knee.” Bertie lifted his chin in the air. “And you lot would be fools to decline such an offer.”
Nettle squeezed Bertie’s hand and the others grumbled an agreement. Bertie knew the argument would start all over again tomorrow, but for now their assent was enough. He was sure Piper would come through with something soon. Even as he was chipping away at his brethren’s icy veneer, she also championed their cause.
A messiah of Elves, huh?
I’m not sure Piper saw that one coming. If you haven’t read An Elvish Sweatshop you can pick up a copy here.
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