He didn’t like the sun, which was a problem because it was only midmorning and the sun was beating down upon his wagon with a relentless passion typically seen only in teenage lovers. He wiped sweat from his brow and looked out at the road from the covered wagon.
They’d pushed their wagon too hard; the animal trails Bjorn had found were too much, even for the military vehicle. The sun was hot and Oath was tired, so he volunteered to wait in the wagon while his companions walked off to Pigston to find a replacement wheel. He wasn’t sure what to make of them. The human didn’t seem to like him, and the Tiefling didn’t seem to trust anyone. They’d only been together a few days, but they’d managed to make it through Trap Kveen’s floating tower, though, and they’d had each other’s backs throughout their travels so far.
Oath yawned, and raised his hands behind his head. He could fall asleep anywhere. He looked over at his only companion in the wagon – the rigid corpse of Merish Taim, covered with a clammy sheet of canvas. Oath slid his fez down over his eyes. A bird chirped. The smell of honeysuckle drifted past him. A breeze rustled his silver hair. He slept.
He woke. Nothing had roused him; he was just well-rested. The aurochs that pulled the wagon had been hobbled, and languidly ate grass in the shade of the forest. He stretched his arms out and hopped off the wagon. He looked around. The road was empty, except for a shepherd leading some pigs. The shepherd smiled and waved. Oath paused, and then waved back.
A moss tortoise sauntered past him. He got on his hands and knees and followed the creature under the wagon. Lichen and moss crumbled off the creature’s ancient shell. The moss tortoise curled up in the shade. Oath leaned against a wheel and closed his eyes. An insect buzzed past him. He slept.
His morning passed uneventfully. Around noon, however, Oath was visited by three strangers.
“Hello?” a young voice said. Oath bolted up. He’d fallen asleep with his feet dangling out of the back of the wagon. He was faced with an elf, a human, and a child between them. The human man pushed the brim of his hat up. Blue eyes shined bright even in the sunlight. “I say, do you need any help, friend?” His country drawl drew out the last word.
Oath gawked. The family stared at him and he quickly wiped the drool from his chin, rubbed the sleep from his eyes, and mussed his hair down straight.
“Umm, no, I’m alright, thank you!” he said, smiling. People typically shied away from a drow, but this family beamed up at him.
“It looks like the rim of your wheel has cracked,” said the elf woman. “There’s a carpenter in town should be able to help you.”
“Yes, my… companions have gone ahead for help,” Oath said. “I’m staying here to guard the wagon.” The moss tortoise crawled out from under wagon.
“You were asleep though!” the young girl cried. “We heard you snoring!” The family laughed.
“Yes, I probably could have done a better job on guard duty.”
“Are you hungry?” asked the woman. “You’ve been here all morning over watch, yes? Have you eaten at all?”
It was at this point that Oath realized he was, in fact, very hungry.
“We’re having a picnic!” the girl said. And then she clambered atop the moss tortoise, riding it in slow circles around the wagon.
“We’d be happy to share with you, partner,” the man said. He extended a hand to Oath. “Name’s Chip Smithem.”
Again, Oath paused. These people seemed too nice, too trusting. In his experience, people this nice were typically hiding something.
“And my name’s Sad,” said the woman, dropping the wicker basket of food for a curtsey. We’ve got extra food if you’re willing to put up with our little monster.” From behind them, the girl let out a shrieking giggle.
Oath shook Chip’s hand, and leapt down from the wagon. Sad spread out a woolen quilt, and they sat on the loamy earth on the edge of the forest. Sad and Chip had come from Pigston. “Everyone’s nice in Pigston,” Chip said. “It’s the swellest place in Coelumar!”
They ate in the lazy heat of the afternoon, munching on fresh scones and iced cream with fresh strawberries. Oath was wary at first, but Chip and Sad spoke to him freely about their lives. They asked him questions about his past, and when Oath shied away from the painful truth, they politely changed the subject when they saw the sorrow in his eyes grow too great.
Their daughter, Bertie, took a liking to Oath, and braided his hair while he ate. With her parents’ permission, the young girl and Oath chased peacocks through the forest, and she taught him how to eat a floatfruit without getting any of the bitter rind.
When Sad and Chip began to pack up, Oath paused. He realized that he’d miss them.
“Hey,” he said. “Why… why were you so nice to me?”
Sad and Chip looked at him. “How do you mean?” The young girl climbed atop the auorochs and whooped in delight.
“I mean… you see a stranger, a drow, no less, a dark elf, on the side of the road, in a wagon that’s beat to shit -”
“No cursing!” said Sad, nodding at her daughter.
“Sorry! So, you see a dark elf in a beat-up wagon, a wagon covered with burns and cut up from swords and arrows, and torn to bits from the wilderness, and your first inclination is to just have a picnic with him?”
Chip and Sad smiled at Oath.
“Well, for starters,” Sad began, “Your wagon was so busted we knew you were stranded. And your aurochs was hobbled, and bandits don’t typically travel with a work animal like that. They tend towards faster animals. Plus, you were alone on a main thoroughfare in the middle of the day, and, well, you were asleep,” She smiled. “And I can take care of myself.”
“So there was that,” said Chip. “You also, well, you just seemed like a kind soul. Who are we to judge you on where you come from or what you look like?”
Oath shook his head in silence and smiled.
“You’re always welcome in Pigston. Like I said, it’s the nicest place in Coelumar and we’d be happy to see you again.”
“Thanks,” said Oath. He looked down as Bertie tugged his hand.
“Excuse me Mr. Oath,” she said, blowing wild hair out of her eyes. “I made this for you.” She placed a woven bracelet around his wrist. “I made it out of stuff I found by the creek. It’s a friendship bracelet. It means we’re friends. Let’s have a picnic again soon!”
Oath knelt down and hugged the half-elf girl. She hugged him back. He could feel the heat of her through her stout farm linens. He held her close.
“I don’t know where you’ve been, or what you’ve seen, Oath,” said Sad. “I imagine that you’ve lived through some tough times and seen some unsavory things. But even with all the evil and hardship, don’t forget: there’s still a lot of good people and beautiful things in the world.”
“Stay safe,” said Chip. “Stay happy.” He beckoned to his daughter. “We best get headed back to the town. Thank you for a wonderful afternoon! You sure you’re okay out here?”
“Yes,” said Oath. “I’ll be fine. Thank you.” He watched the family retreat towards the town. Then he climbed back up into the wagon, and stared out into the immense expanse of forest beyond him. The warm breeze tossed his hair, and a flock of Jungle Moths silently flew by. His eyes closed.
When he awoke again, it was to the sight and sounds of his companions returning from Pigston. They were bloodied and covered with ash. Jethroe limped towards the wagon, and Bjorn clutched a wound in his side.
Oath lept from the wagon towards his companions. He smiled wide and stretched out his arms, refreshed from his afternoon. The smell of burnt flesh filled the air. “Well now,” he said, “How was your day?”