Aelfire’s head rested on a small, moss covered mound, his body stretched out on the grass as the sun lit the hill. His long hair was splayed out around him, and so deep was his sleep that he didn’t even feel the gentle tug as the pond nymphs plaited it into the lengths of silver rope weed growing out of the pond’s spongy bank.
‘Ladies, please,’ Gwenti said, striding towards them from where she had stood watch over Aelfire from the shadows of the woods. ‘I think that’s enough playtime for now. Run along.’
The nymphs chittered angrily and dived back into the murky waters of the pond. Gwenti sighed. Those mischievous creatures were always up to something when Aelfire rested there. It was as if they couldn’t leave the boy alone. She knelt down beside him and carefully untangled his hair. He didn’t stir, but the day was well underway and she needed him awake. ‘Lord Aelfire,’ she said, putting a hand on his shoulder.
She shook him. ‘Lord Aelfire, it’s time to move.’
He yawned and rolled onto his side, blinking as the sunlight reflecting off the pond hit him full in the eyes. ‘Already? I thought you said we had til noon?’
‘It is noon, my Lord. The city beacon has already been lit, in a few moments the Gulls will be released. We need to be well away from here by then. If they catch us so close to the city gates, then it’s an automatic fail. Not only for you, but for me too. If you fail this trial, my role as your guardian will be over. They’ll choose someone else to train you in the Wylds, and believe me when I say you don’t want that, and nor do I. Your mother would never forgive me if I let you end up in the hands of one of them.’
‘You worry too much, Gwenti. We’ll win this trial,’ Aelfire said with a grin. ‘Just…where’s the first checkpoint again?’
Gwenti cast him a long, hard look.
‘Hey, I’m joking, I’m joking,’ he said, picking up his pack and slinging it over his shoulder. ‘I know it’s the Mergrave stone. Let’s go.’