Chapter Five

Acorn woke up to cold raindrops falling gently on her face. The clouds had crowded down towards them as the day had worn on, and finally decided to open up over night. She blinked her eyes open and yawned. After a few minutes, the gentle drops turned into a hiss in the trees as the rain began to downpour. "Perfect..." she though sourly, "And I thought this hike couldn't get any worse..." She stretched briefly before pushing up off the gound. All about them the cracked clay earth was turning into multiple rivlets of late summer rain. She groaned briefly to herself; all her gear was sopping wet. The tarp she had set up had blown off-kilter during the night, so now all her stuff was waterlogged. She hoped it would dry out enough by tonight so she could MAYBE get some sleep.

Grumbling to herself, she gathered up what she could carry and tromped off to the campfire. Allora had set the fire up in a small hollow in the ground and had banked it to escape the winds from last night. She was now sitting nearby, feeding it small twigs and sticks to gradually make the fire larger. Allora nodded a greeting as Acorn dropped her dripping personal gear by the fire and plopped down across from her.

"All my gear is soaked." Acorn idly tossed a cone into the fire and watched as it hissed and popped in the heat.

Allora nodded again. "Some of mine is wet too. It will dry enough by sundown." She stood up and walked over to the pack horses. After rumaging around the saddlebags for a bit, she came back with some bread and cheese and began to make breakfast.

Acorn had been so relieved to see that this small band had pack horses. She had been afraid she would have to walk to the next haven; up until Tellon had oh-so-politely told her the horses were for gear only. She would have to walk. And to add insult to injury, they didn't have room for her gear so she had to carry that as well.

"Well, I don't have any gear anyway, so.." She started.

"Oh, that won't do at all!" Tellon began sorting through the assorted bags and packages on the ponies. After a minute of riffling, he produced one worn waterskin, two trail blankets, one ratty backpack and assorted small sundries. Acorn gave a relieved sigh and took the small bundle of goods.

"Well, I can just put these back on the ponies, can't I?" She asked Tellon.

"No. Chesterton said only our gear goes on the pack horses. You have to carry your own stuff until we can get another horse." Tellon said apologetically.

" gave me all this from YOUR gear, so all I would be doing is putting it back." Acorn pointed out.

Tellon hesitated. She had a point, but Chesterton was very clear on this. He started to reply, "I don't know...."

"You carry your own gear until we get another horse." Chesterton stepped into the conversation. He walked over to the horses and began checking the straps and ties on all the equipment. "Regardless of who gave you what or why, you carry your own gear." He started to lead the horses back towards the trail they were following last night.

Acorn stared at Chesterton's back for a moment, then sighed and hoisted everything to her back. She had learned early on that what Chesterton said regarding the rules, is the way the rules were to be followed. The gear was not that heavy anyway and she supposed it was a fair trade-off for the saving of her life.

The gratitude lasted until dinner-time when her whole body ached, tip-to-toe, from walking. The once light backpack now felt like it was full of heavy granite boulders. She had collapsed to the ground in complete exhaustion, only to be told that dinner was normally rotated among themselves and since she was's now her turn. She only blinked at them in shock, then heaved herself to her feet. As the others worked at setting up camp, she scrounged in the woods for dinner. Good thing for her (and them) she knew her plantlife. Carrots, onions, assorted herbs and leaves, turnips and some pinenuts were carefully gathered and made into a simmering stew over the campfire. As the stew bubbled, the other three started drifting over and sniffing the pot expectantly.

After an hour, she figured dinner was ready to eat. If all else dinner was ready by the way Tellon was licking his lips and Allora and Chesterton had quit setting up camp and pulled out their dinner bowls and bread. Acorn just chuckled to herself and began scooping out big steaming bowls of the summer stew. The other three each took their bowls to sit down around the fire.

"Wait wait..." Acorn took a long stick and dug out the potatos she had been roasting under the coals while the stew cooked. Each were wrapped in fragrant leaves and rubbed with assorted herbs, and were handed out to the surprised party.

"By the twelve.." Allora started. She sniffed her meal carefully. "Is this...Tyorn leaves?" Acorn nodded. "Where in the world did you find some this late in the season!" Acorn just looked modest. Allora stared at Acorn for a moment then did not speak again until she needed seconds.

"Is it okay?" Acorn asked Chesterton.

"No talk. Eating...." Chesterton gulped down his stew and ate the potatos as if they were apples. He licked his lips and eyed the stew pot. "Please tell me there is more." Acorn nodded happily and gave out seconds (and thirds...).

Tellon finished his meal without a word, and helped himself to more. When he was finished he sat back patting his stomach and gave a satisfied burp. "I do believe," he started "that we will keep you." He looked over at Acorn. "Provided you always cook like this." Acorn nodded affirmatively. "Excellent!" Telon said happily. He burped lightly again. "All this meal needs to be truely perfect is..." Acorn began digging around the firepit again. Telon opened his eyes as wide as he could, speechless.

"Wild berry cobbler anyone?" Acorn tried to not look smug. She failed.

"By the twelve!"

"Is there enough for us all?"

"Gimme some!"

"No shoving! Bear, if you do not give that pan back I swear that I will have Allora turn you into a toad!

Later that night, after the fire was banked for the night and dishes washed, Acorn curled up on her half-soggy blankets. Too tired to care and still estatic over dinner's rousing success, she just laughed to herself. "Looks like dinner was a success."She thought to herself sleepily. "Wonder if I can get my gear carried on the ponies now!"

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