Asha Swanwick: The Grimoire Maiden

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Chapter 9

The pair continued with their trip. Now that he didn’t have to hide anymore, Merlin could walk normally. He was always a step or half a step behind Asha, following her closely.

Soon they could see the first signs of human civilization. Smoke rose to the sky and they could hear the distant chatter and laughter coming from the human population. At the outskirts of Marlborough, Merlin could see large farmhouses built with wood and straw roofs. Livestock could be seen wandering freely outside and a few farmers walked about with their hatchets and bagging hooks. It was a rather lively scene. The sounds of cows and ducks and chickens made the outskirts of Marlborough appear like a typical farming village, and even the air was filled with the distinct scent of a farm.

Asha raised her hand and stopped. Merlin assumed that Asha wanted to tell him again not to interfere with her meal.

“Before I find my meal, we should buy some food for you,” she said.

“What?”

“The food in your hut is so bland,” Asha said. “It surprises me how you can eat it every morning.”

“You don’t have to eat it.”

“Just because I don’t need human food does not mean that I do not enjoy good food.”

Merlin sighed and relented. He did not want to argue with her over food.

“Fine, but we have no money.”

Asha took out a small sack from between her bosom and handed it to Merlin.

“This is the money I took from the men I seduced.”

Merlin opened the small sack and took a look. His eyes grew wide.

“It’s all silver coins!”

“Yes,” Asha sighed. “I have yet to find a man in this town who has gold coins.”

“No, no! Silver coins are already more than enough!”

“Really?” Asha raised an eyebrow. “You must have lived in poverty your entire life.”

“Guh,” Merlin gritted his teeth.

If only she kept her mouth shut, Merlin thought. He had begun to get used to — even enjoyed — her sharp tongue, but sometimes he could still feel the pain of her words.

What she said was true. His human mother and demon father did not leave him any wealth. When he was still a child, he had to teach himself how to steal from shops and how to look for food in the forest. More than once had he flirted with death at the height of his starvation.

“But you survived this poverty and have become a tougher man,” Asha added.

Had she just given him a compliment? Merlin wondered about that as they continued on.

With Merlin’s hood covering her ears, the pair entered the town. And once they were there, Merlin discovered something miraculous; no one looked at him as if he as a monster. In fact, people ignored him as they went about with their work.

“My eyes,” Merlin whispered. How could he have not thought of it. Without his purple eyes, Merlin appeared just like any other man.

“Come with me,” Asha said and she grabbed Merlin’s arm.

“H-hey!”

“A young lady can’t be seen walking with a man unless we are married.”

“You are not a y-“ Merlin began to say but he saw how some of the townsfolk were looking suspiciously at him already.

He swallowed. He did not want to accidentally commit a taboo and be questioned by the townsfolk, so he went along with Asha.

How they must have appeared right now, Merlin wondered. Perhaps he looked like a drunken old fool who had become bewitched by a young peasant girl. But at the very least, they looked less odd than walking separately. Even though he did not live together with humans for most of his life, he knew that a woman who appeared to be about Asha’s age could not be seen walking with a man alone.

Arm in arm, they walked together through the town. They passed the outskirts and a few farmers greeted them. It was the first time that Merlin experienced what it was like to be treated like a normal person rather than a monster. Startled, he didn’t know what to say and it was Asha who greeted the farmer with a bright smile – perfectly forming the image of a beautiful young maiden in a bright and joyful morning.

“Why don’t you say something,” Asha scolded him.

“I…I just didn’t know what to say.”

Asha frowned and shook her head. But then she smiled kindly at him, as if she understood his shock at suddenly being treated normally.

They walked past the outskirts and began to enter the town of Marlborough. Merlin could immediately tell that they had walked past the farmlands. There was no gradual transition. In fact, there was a clear divide between the town and its outskirts. All of the sudden, the buildings became taller and were built with stone rather than wood and straw. The streets were also paved with stone and the further they walked, the denser the town became. It was nothing like the open farmlands they saw mere moments ago. The streets were tighter and one had to be careful as certain spots were filled with filth and feces. Both people and horses squeezed their way through the narrowing streets, making it difficult - and dangerous – to walk. Asha grabbed Merlin’s arm and pulled herself closer so that they would not get separated in the crowd.

Merlin’s heart pounded like mad. He could feel her soft breasts pressing against his arm, yet Asha acted as if nothing of the abnormal was happening. In fact, she was humming as they dodged horses and piles of feces.

It was the first time he had heard her humming and he listened closely. But no matter how hard he thought, he could not think of what melody this might be.

“What song is this?”

“It’s a celebration song we nymphs sing when we have found a human male who is young and fit,” Asha said with a sweet smile.

“Why are you singing it now?”

“Walking to the store to buy food is similar to sucking out a man’s life, isn’t it?”

Merlin could not find a proper reply. This comparison was just too strange for him. On one hand, he could understand her reason for singing this song of celebration, yet the reason why Asha sang it proved yet again that she was a completely different kind of creature.

It seemed rather strange, as a normal human girl would never be able to talk about such intimate matters without blushing — yet for Asha it was the same as going to the store to buy food.

And so with Asha humming next to him, Merlin made his way through town. He felt rather uneasy with the all the people around. He had spent most of his life living alone in the forest and any attempt by him to enter the local town had resulted in him being chased away. And since he had never properly explored the town, he only had the vaguest idea as to where the marketplace might be.

His eyes darted left and right, hoping that he would be able to find it.

“Don’t worry, I know where the market is,” Asha said.

Merlin looked at her and saw that she was looking up at him. She must have noticed how his eyes were filled with uncertainty.

He swallowed his humiliation. Somehow it felt unsatisfying for Asha to be the one to guide him rather than the other way around.

“How do you know where it is?” he asked.

“The men I seduced told me,” she said. “They said that the market was at the center of the town. If we just follow this path, then we should get there.”

Her body may be like a human girl, but it sounded as if every word that left her mouth was not.

Resigning himself to his unmanliness, Merlin allowed himself to be guided by her.

He didn’t notice it himself, but this was the first time he felt this unpleasant sensation of appearing unmanly in front of someone else.

They passed though the crowds and eventually came upon the center of Marlborough. Merlin took a sharp breath ­– he had never before seen so many people in one place.

The market was a large plaza filled with wooden stalls that sold every kind of food that the kingdom had to offer. Mountains of raw meat formed a red pile on some tables. There were more vegetables and even fruits — a great luxury. Craftsmen and their apprentices presented their wares and boasted how their products were superior to that of their neighbors.

All the merchants and craftsmen shouted over one another and the townsfolk bargained just as loudly at every stall, determined to get the best price. It was as loud as battlefield.

And in the middle of it all, Merlin saw the enemy. A priest stood on a small stage and preached from a book he held in his hands. The old priest wore a brown robe with a rough string around his waist. As a man of God, he wore simple cloth shoes, but even though he appeared to be poor, his simple brown robe could not hide his fat around stomach.

“Hear the words of God!” he cried. “God will punish you for the evil in year heart! Repent! I say, repent!

“The Church,” Merlin mumbled and looked away.

Asha too had noticed the priest and her eyes studied him with great interest.

“What would he do if he knew that the devil was right here,” she smiled maliciously.

Merlin had no doubt that if he left her alone, she would try to seduce the priest for the sheer irony of it.

Arm in arm, they walked through the market and stopped when Asha chose a stall to her liking. It was the only stall in the entire market that had a live pig for sale.

“I am no merchant,” Merlin whispered in Asha ear, indicating that he had no negotiation skills. He had never been to a market before and hence did not have the slightest clue as to what the prices are.

“Me neither,” Asha whispered back.

“Then how will we know if we are getting a good price.”

Asha grinned and her eyes smiled. “Do not worry, the merchant will have no choice but to give us the best price possible. I can even get the pig for free.”

Merlin opened his mouth to reply, but he found that he had nothing to say. It was time to see Asha at her best.

“Excuse me,” she approached the merchant. “I wish to buy your pig.”

The merchant turned to her. So large was Asha appeared like a child next to him. He held a bloody butcher’s knife and his arms were as thick as Asha’s waist. The man scrutinized her with raised eyebrows. This was the first time he had ever seen a young girl like Asha come to his stall. Usually it was the men who came to buy his live stock, women would have no part in it.

“Aye, it’s for sale,” he said. “You need me to kill it?”

“Heaven’s no!” Asha cried and covered her mouth in shock. Merlin had to stop himself from laughing at her reaction. “I could not bear to see it die. I will take it with me — alive.”

“None of my business what you do with the pig if you have the money for it,” the merchant shrugged. “I’ll give it to you for twenty silver coins.”

Merlin didn't know any of the market prices, but he felt that twenty silver coins for a pig might be too much. He was about to speak up when he felt Asha’s foot nudge his leg. He took that as a sign for him to be quiet.

“Such a high price,” Asha said. Merlin took a sharp breath. Something was different with her voice this time. He could sense a layer of magic weaved into her words.

“Well...,” the merchant said but Asha but him off.

“Will three silver coins suffice?” Asha asked.

Merlin swallowed. He was sure of it now. Asha was using her magic to bring the man under her control. Her voice has the same seductive quality from when they first met.

“Three...that’s too little...,” the merchant replied.

“How about five silver coins?” Asha asked.

Merlin was rather surprised. He had expected for Asha to increase the magic in her voice in order to persuade to the merchant, but instead she increased the price so the man’s enchanted mind would not conflict as much with the cold hearted merchant in him.

“F-five?”

“Yes, five.”

Asha took five coins out of the leather sack and put them on the table. Without asking the merchant if he agreed to the deal or not, she took the robe that was tied around the pig’s neck and she tried to pull it with her. But the pig was lying on the ground, comfortably bathing in the sun.

“Move,” Asha said, her voice filled with a layer of agitation. Merlin watched as her hand glowed faintly with a purple light and he saw the pig stir. With some difficulty, it managed to stand on its four short legs and followed Asha.

Merlin didn’t know if he should be amazed or terrified. Asha used her magic to push her way through a tricky price negotiation and could even use her magic to control animals. He considered himself lucky that he had not lot his will to her yet.

“Let’s go,” Asha said and pulled on Merlin’s sleeve.

“Did you use magic?” Merlin asked.

“You should know without asking, right?”

Merlin gave her a chagrined smile. He only thought that the only reason why he was able to keep himself from ending up like the merchant was because Asha spoke in such a harsh manner with him. Sometimes sweet, sometimes teasing and sometimes so incredibly harsh that he felt hurt. That is why he could barely keep himself from laughing when Asha spoke like a fair maiden with the merchant.

“Did you like that?” Asha asked as they navigated their way through the crowd with the pig behind them. Merlin noted that she did not have the robe in her hand anymore. The pig naturally followed its new master.

“Like what?”

“The way I talked to the merchant.”

Merlin shook his head. He did not understand.

“I thought you men like it when a girl acts weak and dainty,” she turned her head and flashed him a malicious grin.

“Men do like it,” Merlin said. “But you forget, I am not a man.”

“You are half a man,” Asha shot back at him. “Did that half man inside you enjoy my act?”

“It would be a lie if I said I didn’t.”

“Then shall I act like this all the time? Perhaps then you will ravish me and free my sisters from the Grimoire book.”

“You forget about my demonic blood.”

“How troublesome,” Asha shook her head, but Merlin could see the slightest hint of a smile playing at the corner of her lips.

They continued to make their way through the market. Merlin wondered why Asha chose to take a live pig instead of a slaughtered one. After all, killing it would be hard work. But what he was most curious about was why she gave the merchant more money than she had originally proposed when she could have easily used her magic to convince him otherwise.

He asked her that and she turned to him in the middle of the market with all the people surrounding them. So abruptly did she stop that the pig did not time to respond and bumped into Merlin.

“This is why,” she said and her eyes began to glow purple beneath the hood. “If I used any more magic, other people might have been able to see my eyes.”

Merlin nodded. He understood. He had never known this since he could not control the purple glow of his eyes, but it seemed that the strength of Asha’s magic affected her eye color. If her eyes did not glow purple at all, it meant that she had completely suppressed her powers.

“If I used any more than that, he might also remember the unnatural influence I had on him,” Asha said.

“Is that so...,” Merlin said. By being around Asha, he was learning more about magic every day.

“That is why we nymphs kill most of our food,” Asha said and licked her lips. “Dead men tell no tales.”

Merlin let out an awkward laugh. He did not need to be reminded of how Asha tried to kill him. The shining gleam in her eye told him how serious she was.

They continued to walk through the market. Merlin felt the wound in his neck. If she found killing men so easy, then why did she not kill him when she had the chance, he wondered.

He considered asking her why, but before they could exit the marketplace, a man’s voice sounded from behind them.

“Hey, you! Stop!”

Merlin and Asha turned around. Merlin didn’t need magic to know what was happening. The merchant who sold them the pig was chasing after them.

Merlin gave Asha a questioning look. Should they run? Asha only smiled and shook her head.

She kneeled down and her right hand began to glow with a faint purple light. So faint was it that Merlin could barely see her magic, making it impossible for the people in the marketplace to see it. She placed it on the pig’s head and when she raised it, the pig ran past her. Its short legs carried it through the marketplace and into the town.

“What are you doing?” Merlin asked. Behind them, he could hear the angry voice of the merchant drawing ever closer. “Why aren’t we running?”

“You stupid man,” Asha sighed. “If we run away now, we will only draw more attention to ourselves. It is easier to solve this right now.”

Merlin had never had to solve confrontations with strangers before. All his life, people had feared him and never dared to disagree with him in his presence. Any complaints were voiced through King Arthur. But Asha seemed rather confident, so he decided to trust her.

“You! Young lady! Wait!”

Merlin could sense her reducing her magic.

“What is it?” Asha asked with a calm and steady voice.

“You tricked me! You haven’t paid me enough for the pig!”

Merlin saw Asha’s hand twitch. He knew her reaction without having to even look at her. Magic users like him and Asha always had relied on their magic and never once did their magic fail them — provided that it was cast properly. Asha must have been confident in the way she enchanted the man with her voice, that is why it was such a surprise that the man came back to his senses so quickly.

“How dare you accuse a lady of cheating you?” Asha balled her hands into fists. “You filthy merchant!”

Standing behind her, Merlin could see how all eyes fell on Asha and the merchant.

“Don’t you lie to me you little whore!” the merchant cried. “You gave me five silver coins for a pig that was worth twenty!”

Merlin swallowed. He knew that Asha was in trouble. Her magic had temporarily caused the merchant to accept the price of five silver pieces, but her weakened magic could not conquer a merchant’s infinite desire for profit. People did say that merchants were obsessed with money, and at no time had it been more true then now; when a merchant’s desire for money had defeat the magic of a nymph.

Asha had chosen the wrong opponent.

“You accepted the five silver pieces!” Asha returned. “You accepted the deal and everything was done in order! You have no right to complain!”

“You filthy whore! You seduced me with your smile! You forced me to sell you the pig!”

Merlin began to grow nervous. The crowd around them had begun to grow thicker and he saw how some of the men nodded in agreement with the merchant. No doubt that they too had been the victim of the charms of beautiful young women who recognized the power they held over men. If Asha didn’t end this soon, then the situation might turn against them.

“Such vile words!” Asha cried and turned her back to the merchant. “I will hear no more of this nonsense!”

She began to walk away, but Merlin immediately knew that this was a bad move. As she stepped way, the merchant reached out and grabbed her cloak.

“Hey!” Asha shouted but it was too late. The merchant pulled away the coat and her ears became exposed. There was a collective gasp from the crowd. Her long pointy ears was the first thing everyone noticed about her.

“It’s an elf!” one man said.

“A nymph!” a woman cried.

All eyes were on Asha. No one recognized or paid attention to the man standing behind her.

“Nymph!” the merchant cried and he dropped the coat. “That is how you seduced me! You used magic!”

Asha stood still. She knew that she had made a grave mistake. It was the mistake every nymph had been taught not to make, and yet she broke the rules. Why did she break the rules, she wondered. Was it because Merlin was with her that she felt so brave and bold?

Every nymph in her tribe had been taught to avoid large groups of humans, especially busy marketplaces like these. Nymph magic worked best when focused on one single human man. Nymphs were simply not powerful enough to cast an effective spell on a larger group of people. Additionally, nymphs did not possess the physical strength of a Centaur or Minotaur. Once surrounded by a group of humans, there was no way she could defend herself. That is why they preyed on lone men at the edge of the forests they lived in.

There were so many tales of hungry nymphs who hunted for young men in towns and ended up being surrounded by a large group of humans who then captured her and then burned her on a stake.

She felt the gentle breeze tickling her long ears. It was a sign that she had been exposed.

She turned her head and made eye contact with Merlin. For the first time, Merlin saw one single emotion in her eyes: fear. As snarky and smug as Asha was, just like any creature, she did not want to die.

“Help me...” she whispered.

Just like Asha, Merlin stood still. Right now, he had a choice. Since the crowd had not noticed him, he could simply leave Asha to the crowd and pretend to have nothing to do with her. The crowd would literally tear Asha apart and King Arthur would never find out about how he let a nymph out of the Grimoire book. Or he could expose his identity and use his magic to save Asha. If he did that, his betrayal would become know to the world and thing would not be easy to explain to King Arthur – assuming the King would even want to hear his explanation.

“Grab her!” the merchant shouted.

Two men from the crowd grabbed her by the arm and threw her to the ground. Her jet black hair covered her face, concealing from Merlin any spiteful glare that might haunt him for the rest of his life.

“Help me...,” Asha whispered again.

Merlin gritted his teeth. He knew what he had to do...what he wanted to do. This would be his first act of rebellion against King Arthur.

“Damn it all,” he cursed and his eyes began to glow with a purple light. His hands and arms shone oozed with magic.

“Another one!” a woman screamed and suddenly he felt all of these curious eyes on his back.

“Back away!” Merlin roared and with his strength enhanced by his magic, he pushed away the two men who held down Asha.

“I know him! He is Merlin!” a voice in the crowd called out.

Merlin sighed. Now there was no hope left. He had finally done it.

He lifted Asha up. Her face had a few bruises but otherwise, she was not injured.

“Give me back my pig!” the merchant bellowed and charged at Merlin. He ducked, brushed the man’s fist aside and punched him in the stomach. Merlin did not know how to control his strength and was just as surprised as everyone else when the man flew in the air and crashed into a stall.

“I’m a dead man,” Merlin breathed.

Acting in his instincts, Merlin grabbed Asha and threw her over his shoulders like a sack of potatoes. Then using his spare arm, he brushed aside any onlookers who stood in his way.

Concentrating some of his magic on his legs and feet, he jumped high in the air to escape the crowd.

“Prepare to land!” Merlin shouted and prayed that his legs would not break.

“Here!” Asha said and she felt her slim hand on his chest. Her hand glowed with a purple light and he could feel her warmth going into his body. At first he thought that she was trying to seduce him with her nymph magic in mid-flight, but almost immediately he felt that this magic was different.

The warm sensation traveled down to his legs.

“What?” Merlin mouthed as they continued to fall. “What have you done?”

“I strengthened your bones with my magic,” Asha said.

Merlin muttered a word of gratitude and prepared for the impact. The fall would have made legs of any normal man shatter, but Merlin’s legs were not normal. His bones absorbed the shock without a crack.

“Run!” Asha commanded. “The merchant and his men are giving chase!”

“Damn it,” Merlin breathed.

With Asha on his shoulder, he ran towards the forest. He knew that once he could dive into the depths of the trees, then he and Asha would be safe. Despite the fact that he had sealed away all the demons in Britain, many townsfolk remained fearful and refused to go into forests.

They passed many curious townsfolk, but no one tried to stop them. Merlin ran as fast as he could. Right now he still had confusion on his side. If the entire town knew that he was carrying the nymph on his back, then it was more than a merchant and his gang he had to deal with.

“There!” Asha said and pointed ahead. Merlin could see the edge of the forest. Just a few more steps and they would be safe.

“Catch them!” the merchant shouted and their voices drew ever closer.

Breathing hard, Merlin pushed his body harder than he had ever before. For the first time in his life, he felt that his life was truly in danger. No one had ever dared to threaten him, save for King Arthur. And never before did he had to protect someone — until now.

Even while he was running, he could taste the bewitching scent of Asha’s raven black hair. But he did not feel himself being seduced by her scent as much as he felt encouraged to run faster.

His arm gripped Asha’s waist even tighter as he headed for the edge of the forest.

“There they are!” the merchant’s voice bellowed from behind them.

“They have caught up!” Asha cried.

Merlin didn’t need to turn around to know that. He could hear the running footsteps of the mob behind them.

“Haaaaa!” Merlin sounded as he reached the forest. Without a moment of hesitation, he dived between the forest. And even as he felt the protective scent of the trees, did he not slow down. He knew that the men would not give up so easily.

With no clear path in the forest, Merlin dodged the trees while carrying Asha. The men behind him continued to give chase, but many of them could not run between the trees like Merlin did.

Gradually, the voices behind them began to fade. And as the adrenaline vanished from his head, did Merlin notice the exhaustion of his body. His heart beat so hard that it felt like it was going to burst.

Never before had he to run as desperately as he did now. Both beast and animals feared his demonic blood and never dared to threaten him. Never before did he push his body like he did now.

Merlin put Asha to the ground and collapsed against a tree.

“Hah…hah...hah...”

“Shhh...calm down,” Asha kneeled next to him and put a hand on his shoulder. “Everything is all right now.”

Merlin had his eyes closed. So hard did he run that he wanted to throw up whatever he had for breakfast. Gritting his teeth, he concentrated on keeping his food inside his stomach.

“The merchant and his men are gone now,” Asha said. “Everything is all right...breathe slowly.”

He felt Asha’s hand on his head. She stroked his hair and so soothing was her voice that for a moment he truly believed that everything was fine.

But Merlin had no illusions about reality. He had saved Asha, but in the process, he had exposed his own identity. In the entire kingdom there was only one man with purple eyes and all of the King’s subjects knew that his man was Merlin.

Slowly, Merlin felt his heartbeat slow down and his breathing returned to normal. The nausea vanished and the only thing he felt now was physical exhaustion.

“Urgh,” Merlin groaned and stood up.

“Rest for a while,” Asha said. “The men aren’t are chasing us anymore.”

There were a dozen different things Merlin wanted to say to her. He wanted to scold her for using her magic among so many people. He wanted to scold her for being greedy. He wanted to scold her for being so stubborn. All of this could have been avoided if she simply gave the merchant the money she had. Why did she care so much about money? She could simply take more money from the men she seduced.

But there was one thing that more urgent than all the others.

“No, they haven’t given up,” Merlin said. “They will gather their men and weapons and attack tomorrow morning.”

Asha closed her eyes and he saw her long sharp ears twitch.

“Hmmm,” she murmured. “I do not hear any movement.”

“That does not mean that they will not move later!” Merlin snapped. “They will come after us!”

Taken aback by his tone, Asha regarded him in silence. Little did Merlin know that no man — nor demon for that matter — had ever spoken to her with such a tone. No matter how she acted, men were smitten by her beauty even if she did not use her magic. No man ever dared to raise his voice against her.

“Why did you have to insist on a lower price!” Merlin continued. “If you just gave him the money, then no one of this would have happened! Now we’re both damned!”

Asha remained silent. She knew that she was at fault.

“Why do you care so much about a lower or higher price? You stole the money from the men you slept with! You can always get more money every time you feed!”

Asha gritted her teeth. Even though she knew that what Merlin said was true, the way he said it had hit a nerve.

“And when he came after us, why didn’t you just give him what he wanted? Why! Why do you have to be so stubborn?”

Asha averted her eyes. She did not want to admit it, but it was her pride that prevented her from doing that. She entered the marketplace with the desire to show off her abilities to Merlin. She wanted to show him that she could have her way with human men even if it had nothing to do with sex. She wanted to show him that her magic allowed her to rule over all men.

Merlin had said everything he wanted to say. So hard did he shout at her that he was all out of breath again. In the midsts of his anger, he did not realize it, but because of Asha, in one day he had done so many things that he had never done before. He never had to run like this, never had to push his body like this, never had to shout at someone else for he had always lived alone.

Merlin regarded Asha, waiting for an answer, but Asha remained silent. Any normal woman would have apologized by now, but the word ‘sorry’ was rather foreign to Asha. Nymphs naturally avoided conflict with members of their tribe and they never fought over who was allowed to drain which man for there was always an endless supply of eager men who wanted a night of sinful pleasure. And so enchanted were the men that Asha never had to apologize for any wrongdoing. She was always instantly forgiven.

And even as Merlin flared his nostrils — something Asha found endlessly amusing, but knew better than to laugh at Merlin right now — Asha did not answer. Finally, there was only one question left to ask.

“Where’d the pig run off to?”

Asha looked up.

“With my magic, I can communicate with the thoughts of any male...even animals,” she raised her hand and it began to glow with the faint purple light from before. “I told the pig to run to your hut.”

Merlin widened his eyes. He had no idea that Asha’s magic was capable of that. He had never bothered with using his magic on animals. He never needed to. Animals had always avoided him.

“We should move,” Merlin said. “The townsfolk don’t know where our hut is, but I have no doubt that they will search for us.”

Merlin let out a tiresome deep breath and began to walk. Behind him, Asha smiled ambivalently.

Merlin had referred to his hut as ‘our hut’ rather than ‘my hut’.


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