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If one more mug of toadstool tea soaked my feathers, I might just dump the rest of the kettle on Potta’s head. See how she likes a brown stain reeking from her dress.

Potta hummed through her pipe and danced across the library, her pointed slippers clicking against the cobblestone, oblivious to my glares. Her tea kettle’s muddy liquid splashed dangerously close to the ancient family tomes lining the wall. Once in the kitchen she returned her kettle to the stone and shouted back through the house. “How his he, dear?”

Cuppa glanced away from his mug long enough to squint at me. He prodded me with his spoon. I puffed through my beak. Cuppa grunted, shrugged, and let his fat feet flop their way to his armchair.

“How is he?” Potta repeated. Apparently shrugs don’t travel through walls.

“Alive,” Cuppa said. His voice always reminded me of an owlet regurgitating a pellet.

Jarl promised he’d show two weeks ago. He knew one week of gnome-sitting was dreadful enough. But three?

Potta wobbled back into the library. Her eyes worried at the unshuttered window a moment, my only hope of escape. “You think he’s cold?”

It wasn’t until Potta started fumbling with the shutter latch that Cuppa’s squinting eyes jerked away from his mug. “Don’t shut it woman! It’s already stuffy enough in here. Come on, open it back up!”

The shutters flew open and so did the closet. Potta disappeared into it’s immense gape. I sank deeper into the barrel—Potta’s version of a comfortable “perch”. Personally, I prefer a sturdy

branch where can actually, you know, perch.

She returned lugging a scarf longer than I could ever imagine a gnome wearing. Potta waddled over, scarf dragging across the stone floor, then through the green trail around me. I didn’t even bother shaking the dangling fringes out of my face, just slumped deeper.

“There!” Potta slid down from the barrel lid where she’d been balancing and crossed her arms triumphantly.

Cuppa almost managed to open his eyes wide enough for me to see his irises. Almost.

“Why is mother’s rug on the owl?”

Jarl! A barn owl perched in the window, a young gnome on his back. The lad dismounted and went to greet his father, who’d returned to staring into his mug and begun muttering about senile gnome-women.

Jarl fluttered into the library. He eyed the rug draped around my head and snorted.

“Not funny.”

He grabbed the makeshift scarf in his beak and helped me remove it. “Sorry for the wait. Cuppa Jr got sick, so we had to delay travel. I’ll make sure you get an extra week off.”

I shrugged the rest of my way out of the rug and flapped from the barrel. I paused at the window a moment, sucking in the fresh air, letting the night ruffle my feathers, before glancing back at Jarl. “If anything happens, don’t bug me. I’ve had my fill of gnomes."

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