That night they made camp out in the open. Bonta walked a wide circle, cutting back the grass around them with a scythe she had tied to the back of her horse. Once the grass was cleared for a few dozen yards, Tot took to digging in the center of the circle until he’d dug out a pit about a foot deep. He took some wood from the back of one of the pack horses and set about making a small fire within the pit. Bonta, in the meantime, had disappeared on foot into the tall grass. By the time the fire was roaring, she had returned with a few rabbits hanging dead from a string she pulled along behind her.

“Supper,” she said, smiling.

“I’ve got it,” Capitan Ovati said, taking up the rabbits and moving off some distance to prepare them.

The meal was amazing. Dominick couldn’t quite get over the food here. The rabbit had been prepared in a stew with potatoes, carrots, and a collection of herbs and spices that would have turned Colonel Sanders green. At first, as Dominick ate, he couldn’t quite put his finger on what he tasted, what made the stew so amazing. He’d never eaten rabbit before, but he was sure that wasn’t it.

Then it dawned on him. It wasn’t what was in the stew, it was what wasn’t. There were no additives, no preservatives, fertilizer, growth hormones, dyes, or high fructose corn syrup. If he took it a step further, there were none of the pollutants his people had pumped into the air or seeped into the ground water. No, this food, this stew, was about as close to pure as he was probably ever going to get without traveling back to the dawn of time.

It sure beat the crap out of a Happy Hamburger Double Cheese Deluxe, something he never thought possible.

Once dinner was finished and his belly full, Vivian and Harold used a bit of magic to clean the plates, dry them, and put them away.

“This is yours,” Captain Ovati shoved a large bundle into his arms with such force that it nearly knocked him over.

“Thanks,” Dominick said and then smiled.

Ovati frowned in return and walked away.

He inspected the bundle and found it to be a collection of blankets wrapped around a pillow and tied together with rope. A bedroll. He watched as the others unraveled their own bedrolls around the fire. He followed suit, setting up near Samlinel. The temperature had already begun to drop and everyone wanted to be close to the fire. As they all settled in, Dominick noticed Bonta walk off into the grass, into the darkness.

“Where’s she going?” Dominick asked.

“Who?” Samlinel obviously hadn’t been paying attention.

“Bonta,” Dominick said. “She just left.” He gestured in the direction she had gone.

“Ah,” said Samlinel. “She has first watch.”

“First watch?”

“Yes, we will all take turns each night on watch. Not you, of course. You are the One. It would not do for the One to stand watch.”

That made sense. In all the books Dominick had ever read, no one setting out on an adventure slept out in the wild without someone on watch to keep a lookout for bandits and monsters and such. The thought gave Dominick a chill.

“Do we have to worry about bandits and monsters and such, Samlinel?” Dominick asked.

“Oh, not this close to Haven. And please, you can call me Sam if you wish.”

“Okay,” said Dominick. “I will. But you call me Dominick, alright? None of this One nonsense.”

“It’s a deal,” Sam smiled one of his white picket fence smiles and held out a hand so large that Dominick’s face could get lost in it.

They shook.

Then, as Dominick was about to settle in, Sam produced an odd looking flute and began to play a tune. It was light and bouncy and Dominick found himself nodding his head. Tot, on the other side of the fire tapped his foot as he smoked away at a large pipe.

Then Vivian and Harold were floating above the fire in protective bubbles of magic. Each held a harp and they began to play. The harps, made for pixie hands, were tiny yet produced such sound that Dominick craned his neck for a moment, looking for the amplifier.

Someone began to sing. The voice was deep and strong. The melody of the voice rose above the music and he was enchanted by it. Dominick blinked when found the source of the heavenly voice. It was Captain Ovati, standing across from him on the other side of the fire.

They lyrics were difficult to follow and once Dominick had realized that they were in a language he didn’t understand he stopped trying and just sat back and let them be what they were.

Another voice joined with Ovati’s. This one light, a soprano. If Dominick had been surprised by Ovati, he was nearly bowled over when he found the second voice coming from Bob.

Bob’s singing complimented Ovati’s in such a way that were Simon Cowell present, the two would have quickly been signed to a multi-album record deal with a six figure advance.

The song, cheerful and lilting, soon slowed and transitioned to the sad melancholy of a ballad. Dominick yawned and lay back on his bedroll as the tune wrapped around him like a soft blanket. He thought about the journey ahead of him, but rather than the pessimism that normally permeated his thoughts, he smiled and felt hopeful as sleep took him from the world.

Here ends Chapter Nine

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