Carling stepped up to the little Duende. He was shorter than her, and a lifetime of sampling breads had left him much plumper as well. She gave him a hug, an expression of the genuine affection she had for this man and his family. They had taken her in several months before when her parents had been killed by a band of marauding Centaurs who had destroyed their village. “Thank you, Parkson. What would I do without you to take care of me?”
“You’d probably die,” he said with a twinkle in his eye.
Whether Parkson was joking or not, Carling realized he was probably right. This little Duende family of bakers had sheltered her while she was directing the building of the wall around the village of Duenton. After the completion of the barrier, they insisted that she remain with them, sensitive to the fact that the loss of her parents at the hands of the Heilodius Centaurs had left her homeless and orphaned.
Carling helped herself to a roll, some bottled peaches, and a glass of milk. She sat down to eat her breakfast. As she did so, she watched the baker knead some bread dough. His pushes and pulls sent flour flying around him to settle in his hair and stick to his face and arms. He was getting whiter by the minute and the sight made Carling smile.
When she was done eating, Carling cleaned her dishes and then stepped up beside Parkson to help him cut the dough into rolls. He said nothing, but the smile on his face told Carling that he appreciated her help.
Once the last of the rolls were in the oven, Carling gave Parkson another hug. He blushed and brushed his flour-covered hands over his face, leaving a fresh smear of white. “Go on, you silly girl,” he said. “You have more important things to do than help an old man bake bread.”
Carling dashed out the door of the bakery. She was intent on finding her best friend, Higson. The wall Carling had convinced the village to build had done its job in protecting those inside the barrier when the Heilodius Herd of Centaurs attacked for the second time. But Higson’s parents had refused to leave their cottage nestled in the forest outside the wall. Now Higson was an orphan as well.
It had taken time, but Carling was finally feeling that Higson no longer blamed her for the loss of his parents. It had been a struggle. It seemed to Carling that the shared experience of losing their parents should have brought them closer together. The death of their parents had cut them both open, making them bleed and leaving them both scarred and scared.
But instead of turning to Carling for comfort, Higson seemed to prefer to suffer alone. The pain and fear Carling felt at the thought of losing her friendship with Higson was more than she could bear. She was relieved that he was finally stronger emotionally and had healed enough to return to being her steady and constant companion.
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