old woman smiled at Lief. Her smile was sweet and merry. She was
pink-cheeked, with twinkling blue eyes, and she was wearing a long
blue dress. Her apron was white and her grey hair was tied in a
knot on the back of her neck.
Lief smiled back at her. She reminded him of a picture in one of
the old storybooks in the bookshelf at home. It made him feel warm
and safe just looking at her. The old man was also comforting to
look at. He had a kind, cheery face, a fringe of grey hair around
a bald patch on his head, and a bushy white moustache.
"Nij," the woman said, patting her chest and bowing slightly.
Then she pulled the old man forward. "Doj," she said, tapping
Lief realized that she was telling him their names. "Lief," he
said in return, pointing at himself. Then he held out his hand to
Jasmine and Barda and said their names as well.
With each introduction, Nij and Doj bowed and smiled. Then they
pointed to the little white house, mimed washing and drinking, and
looked at the three companions questioningly.
"Certainly," beamed Barda, nodding vigorously. "Thank you. You
"Yrgnuh era ew," said Doj, patting him on the back. He and
Nij both roared with laughter as if at some great joke, and began
walking together towards the house.
As Jasmine lingered, looking back over her shoulder, Barda's voice
sharpened. "Come along, Jasmine!" he complained. "Anyone would think
that you enjoyed being wet and covered in slime!"
Lief's feet were quickening as he approached the little white house
with the smoking chimney and the flower gardens. Home, his
heart was telling him. Friends. Here you can rest. Here you will
Jasmine trailed behind, with Filli nestled against her hair. She
was still frowning. If either Lief or Barda had paid attention to
her, had listened to her doubts and suspicions, they might have
slowed their steps.
But neither of them did. And they did not realize their mistake
until long after the green door had shut behind them.