Amber yawned as she watched the others set up for the night. Which was a bit odd since in theory she didn’t actually need to yawn, yet she felt herself doing it all the same, mimicking the donkey lying against the inside of the carriage. The stubborn animal, along with the cart, was a loaner they could drop off at some stables in Flaron when they were finished with the trip. It was decided to be the most economical way to go about their travels. Walking would have been the cheapest solution, but the closer it got to winter, the harder travel would get as the cold weather settled in both the lowlands and the mountains. Riding horses might have been an option, but three separate horses cost more than a single donkey and a cart. Plus, horses generally didn’t like Amber. She knew it wasn’t personal; they just were skittish around anything so small they couldn’t see them on the ground. Donkeys however, couldn’t give any less of a fuck that she was there, which was fine, so long as she didn’t walk under its hooves.
The donkey in question—named Tender—demonstrated this quite aptly as he tried once again to curl closer to her to get more warmth. After the first time, she’d grown wise to the attempt and slipped away as she felt the wagon shift and Glenn enter from the back.
“Got everything tied down on this end. How’s the other side goin’ there, Floyd?”
“Almost got it, almost…” Something sliding quickly made Floyd curse. “Maldita sea, this rope is terrible. It catches and looks about to snap.”
“Ya, just double tie the end for now. If ya wanna see about a replacement, that can be ya project tomorrow.”
Floyd continued to mutter under his breath, but Amber could hear him making another attempt. Walking over to the edge, she poked out her head to take a look.
“That’s an odd sort of knot. Will it really hold?”
“Do ya wanna come out here and…?” He met Amber’s eye, then let out a breath. “Never mind, forgot who I was talking to.”
“I can tie the knot if you hold the slack so I don’t go flying.” Amber hopped up on the ledge of the cart and started walking over, gripping the canvas carefully so as not to fall.
“I can handle a few knots, Tomillo.”
“Yeah, but I don’t have much else to—”
“Amber, get back in here.” Glenn’s voice cut her off, causing her to flinch and almost let go of the canvas.
“I was just—”
“Just nothin’. Ya heard Wendell. We’re about to get hit by a storm.”
“Indeed we are.” Wendell approached holding a pot full of fresh snow he’d gotten from just outside the overhang they were camped under. He held out a hand and Amber jumped into it. His slender tan fingers held her gently before setting her and the pot on a mat near the center of the cart.
She placed both hands on the pot, warming it gradually. Wendell opened his pack and started getting out his supplies to make the night’s meal.
“How bad do ya think the storm’s gonna be?” Glenn leaned into the donkey’s side, giving the animal a pat. The beast just snorted and curled into itself.
“It seems to be winding up to something standard for the season. The snowfall will be regular through the night, so we’ll have to work through it going uphill tomorrow morning. Though that’ll only be a real problem if it melts and refreezes.”
“Refreezes? We going to be hiking up ice in the morning?” Floyd pulled himself in. He huddled closer to Amber, who kept her concentration on the pot while she exuded warmth. “I thought you said this was going to be a quick trip.”
“Ah said weather permitting it’d be quick,” Glenn corrected. “And we are making good time. How long ya think it takes to go through mountains?”
“Dunno. Haven’t traveled much,” Floyd admitted.
“I haven’t either. How long can we expect to be in the mountains anyway?”Amber added. It had been pretty even going up to this point. There was a night’s wait when they’d been dropped off by Sirius at the stable they’d gotten the cart from, but things really slowed down once they got to the mountain.
“Depends. Ideally, about two or three days, but a week ain’t unheard of passing through. We got enough supplies to last us either way, and some of the concerns are mitigated by ya tagging along.”
“What would hold us up for an extra three or four days?”
“Lots of things. Mostly roadblocks,” Glenn said.
“Unless you could do something about that.” Wendell put some ingredients in the pot, the snow now melted; the water had started to boil. “I am curious how much use fire magic would be in such situations.”
Amber shrugged again. “Won’t know unless it shows up.”
“I hope any blocks don’t knock ya out too much, Tomillo. It’s already been frigid enough with ya warming the cart. Don’t really want to sit too long in the cold without that nice aura of ya’s.” Floyd leaned over the pot as Wendell put in the spices. “Ya using the red stuff again?”
Wendell stirred the pot as he put in a few unknown leaves. “Unfortunately, ran out last meal. But we’ll be able to pick up more once we reach Flaron.”
“Ya gotta show me where you get it. That stuff has such a nice kick.”
“If ya two are gonna load the pot with peppers again, ya better make something palatable for someone who doesn’t wanna burn their mouth off,” Glenn said.
“I thought it was okay.” The spices were interesting, though not as nice as some of the baked goods they’d picked up. Humans always made such interesting dishes, especially when it came to sweets.
“Ya only say that ‘cause you have the option to not eat it, with ya hiding half a pie in that bag of ya’s.”
“Hey, I offered. You’re the one who said it was too sweet for you.”
Wendell started unpacking the bowls. “Don’t mind Glenn’s palate. She spent too much time soldiering. You eat rations for that long, you end up losing the ability to discern actual flavors.”
“Flavors, ya say? I’m surprised ya can taste anything with how often ya burn ya tongue.”
Wendell just shook his head as he handed out the bowls. Amber kept up the heat until Wendell gestured that it was done, then sat down at her own bowl. She projected her heat aura, though not as much as she would later since they were eating hot food. Despite the seasoning, Glenn didn’t have any more complaints while they ate.
As the meal ended, Wendell started putting everything away as Glenn moved to the center and patted her knees.
“Alright, then, now that the day is done, who will be taking the middle watch? I did it the previous night, so that leaves it between the two of ya.” Glenn gestured at Floyd and Wendell.
“I can do it,” Amber offered. She knew it was harder on the others to do the middle watch since they were groggy when they had their sleep interrupted.
“Denied,” Glenn said. Amber opened her mouth to argue, but Glenn held up a hand. “Ah know ya don’t like being out of the rotation, but it’s more important than ever ya stay in the center of the cart. The mountains get too cold.”
“I can keep the cart warm while keeping watch.”
“And ah can probably stay up all night doing the whole watch meself. Don’t mean it’s worth the fatigue in the mornin’. Now, ‘sides that, which one of ya’ll will do it?”
Floyd and Wendell looked at each other for a moment, neither speaking before Glenn let out a sigh and pulled out a die. “Alright, even or odds. Whomever it lands on gets the middle watch.”
“Even!” Floyd called. Glenn gave it a toss and the four of them watched as the die tilted in the cart for a few seconds before it hit the edge, three dots visible for a moment before the cart shifted and creaked with the wind and the side moved to a four.
“¡Hijo de puta!” Floyd threw his hands up, flopping onto his back with a blanket, resigned.
Wendell sighed in relief before moving to the front of the cart. “I think I’ll take the first watch, then.”