“So, Enar, what did you think of the grand oaks yesterday? They're quite something, aren't they?” said Eric and scooped up a big helping of potatoes on his plate.

“Yes, indeed. I was very impressed. Excuse me.” Enar stretched over and grabbed a bread roll. “In fact – if possible I wouldn't mind going there to have a look again before I leave. I'm really curious about those little platforms up in the trees.” He shot Rolf a glance. “If there's time and you don't have anything else planned of course.”

“You're in luck my friend. I do have something planned, but it's over at the inn anyway, so you can go climb the trees for a bit if you like.”

At the mention of climbing trees Elsie's head shot up. “I want to climb the trees too. Can I come? Enar, can I come climb the trees with you?”

“I don't know Elsie.” He looked from Rolf to Beired, but got no support. “You'll have to ask your mom and dad if it's okay with them.”

“Why should I ask them? They're not going to climb the trees.”

“But...” Enar turned to Rolf.

“She's got you there my friend.” The man chuckled. “I sure won't be climbing any trees and neither will Beired. It's all up to you.”

“Oh, but I thought...” said Enar and trailed off. It didn't matter what he'd thought. He'd clearly been wrong anyway. He popped a piece of bread in his mouth and chewed for a moment. Everyone looked at him. “Yes Elsie, you can come along. You probably know the best spots anyway.”

“I want to come too,” said Linus. “I'm a better climber than Elsie.”

“You're not,” shouted Elsie. “You even fell out of the easy tree here in the orchard.”

“I did not, you pushed me. Linnea, tell her.”

“Shush, Linus,” said Linnea. “Don't yell. You'll come with me and help feed the chickens instead. That's much more fun isn't it.”

Linus turned to tell her something and knocked his cup off the table. Elsie pointed and laughed at her brother. Linus howled like a siren, having spilled hot tea on himself. Eric scowled at Elsie and Linnea fussed over Linus with a napkin, trying to soak up the worst at the spillage. Loianna put half a sausage in Eric's tea when he wasn't looking.

At each end of the table Rolf and Beired observed the chaos in silence.

“So, what was that you said about settling down and starting a family my friend?”

Enar blushed. “I didn't... I mean... I'm sure it has its good sides. Right?”

Rolf just laughed.

Enar scooped up some beans on his bread and chewed in silence. Eric and Linnea succeeded in bringing order to the table again and for a moment everyone focused on their food.

“So,” Enar said eventually. “Two days from now we're going to help out with something at the inn, but what's the plan for today? You wanted me to go sight seeing over there somewhere?” He pointed at one of the hills over in the distance, hoping he remembered right.

“No, not that one,” said Rolf. “It's the one to the right there, with the lone tree on top of it.”

“Oh, right. I see now.” Barely. They all looked pretty much the same, but when he looked closer he could almost make out a lone tree at the top of that one. “What's up there that's so special?”

“You'll see when you get there my friend. You'll see when you get there.”

“Hmm, okay.” One of those things is it? He stared at the tiny speck that was supposed to be a tree. If nothing else, a long countryside walk might be nice. “It looks awfully far though? You mentioned something about a guide?”

“Yes, my friend. I'll take you to the kennel, soon as we're done eating. It's not far.”

Enar froze. Fork halfway to the mouth. A single bean dropped back on the plate.

“Kennel?” he asked.

“Yes.” Rolf puffed out his chest. “Finest dogs in all the hills. You'll find no better guides or trackers anywhere.”

Enar returned his fork to the plate and swallowed. “My guide – is a dog?”

“Best guides ever. Never get lost; never lose anyone. You're not afraid of dogs are you?”

“No.” Lies. “No, of course not – unless they're really big.” Bigger than a loaf of bread. “They make lovely pets don't they?”

“Well...” Rolf cleared his throat and looked over at Beired at the other end of the table. “They're not exactly pets, but they're very well trained. You have nothing to worry about my friend.”

“Yes Enar,” said Beired. “We have a long tradition of training dogs for tracking and guiding in these parts. Goes back to the old days. They're very safe.”

Enar looked at the little woman. “If you say so.” He poked at the little pool of beans on his plate. “They're not very big are they?”

“Rufus has dogs that are bigger than I am.” Elsie raised her hand above her head to show just how big. “One of them carried me home once when I was little and got lost in the forest.”

Enar's heart grew cold and he felt the color drain from his face. Just how big did a dog have to be to carry a little girl in its mouth.

“Elsie, that's enough,” said Eric.

“But I didn't even ask a question.”

“I said that's enough Elsie.”

Elsie stabbed at her last sausage but didn't say anything else.

“Don't worry Enar, the dogs are really nice,” said Eric.

“Yes, yes I'm sure they are. It's just...” He scooped up some beans, chewed and swallowed. “I'm a little nervous around really big dogs, you know.” All dogs. “I'm sure it will be fine. Everyone else around here has been very nice to me. I'm sure the dogs will be too.” He tried a little laugh.

“Well my friend,” said Rolf. “You can at least come along and have a look. If the dog's too big for you, maybe there's a smaller one that'll do better. If not we'll have to think of something else to do for you. Beired wants us all out of the burrow today so you can't stay here.”

“No, no,” Enar hurried to say. “There's no need for that. I don't want to be any hassle.” Stupid.

“That's a good man,” said Rolf and laughed. “It'll be grand. You'll see.”

Enar nodded and ate in silence for a bit. They might have a smaller dog for him. It might not be that bad – as long as it didn't bark. Yeah, and maybe it would have wings and fly too. He should have stayed home.

---

Continued in Day 3 - Scene 4 .

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