Marshmallows – Unicorn of Glass bonus epilogue
This story takes place after Unicorn of Glass (Fae Shifter Knights 2) and contains massive spoilers for that book!
If you haven’t yet read Unicorn of Glass, click the cover below to get it on Amazon.
Last chance to avoid spoilers….!
by Zoe Chant
“We’re going camping! It might even snow!” Heather was dancing around a mystified-looking Rez with unabashed glee.
Most of the snow that Heather had seen was on television, or in a cone, or had melted in a few hours, and she was thrilled by the possibility that it might fall from the sky while they were in the mountains that weekend.
“Once it’s really here, you’ll be sick of it within a week,” Gwen promised her. “Seriously, by the time our big battle rolls around, you’ll be ready to ship back south. I should know.”
They were loading the back of Ansel’s van, packing it to the ceiling with tents and tarps and sleeping bags. Heather was concerned about staying warm enough—even here in town, it was already much colder than she was used to, growing up in Georgia. Some mornings, like this one, there was frost outside, sparkling on the cars and at the edges of the colorful leaves, and Daniella and Ansel were chattering about the upcoming holiday of Halloween. She tucked in another extra blanket.
“We have seasons in Georgia, and the leaves turn brown and drop off the trees,” Heather explained to Rez. “But only a few days of actual winter. I just love the way everything looks all covered with soft fluffy snow. It’s like marshmallows!”
“I have been in several campaigns through the snow,” Rez said flatly, clearly baffled by her enthusiasm. “What are marshmallows?”
That precipitated a trip to the convenience store on the way out of town. Heather bought three bags of the sweets, feeling flush from her first paycheck for working at the craft supply store. One of them was mini marshmallows for Robin (and also for hot chocolate).
Rez was not impressed, as they loaded back into the car and started out on the road. Trey was driving, under Ansel’s patient tutelage, Daniella watching anxiously from the seat behind him. Robin made snide remarks from their perch on the back bench.
“They do not look edible,” Rez said, squeezing the white cylinders dubiously.
Heather opened the bag and fed him one.
“They are sweet,” Rez said cautiously, but he didn’t appear to be won over.
“Wait until we toast them,” Heather told him eagerly, handing a mini to Robin.
“I do not believe that we packed a toaster,” Rez observed.
Heather had a sudden image of him packing marshmallows into a toaster and setting everything on fire and swiftly added, “Over a campfire. You toast them over a fire.”
Fabio, all of his attention on the marshmallow that the knight was reluctantly eating, tried to climb over Heather’s lap. Vesta gave a yip of warning and jumped off the seat to wander forward between the front seats. Ansel reached over to scoop her into his lap before the tiny dog could get underfoot.
Rez fed the rest of his marshmallow to Fabio while Robin gamely finished theirs.
It was a long drive, up into the mountains, and as they went, Heather felt like she was watching the season hurry past: the trees went from resplendently crowned in gold and red to bare, reaching for the steel-gray sky as if they were as eager for the touch of snow as Heather was.
The campground they reached was a quiet place—a few late season travelers in big RVs, and a few hardier tent campers were scattered about the park with plenty of space between them. There was one old pop-up camper van, and the elderly, tie-dye-clad couple waved and smiled at them as they drove past.
They selected a double-sized campsite, with several cleared places for pitching tents among the trees. Most of these trees were evergreens, with their feathery dark needles, and there was a picturesque lake a short walk away.
“Let’s pitch the tents first!” Daniella suggested, as she slid the van door open.
“I have pitched many tents,” Trey said, but he looked baffled by the bag that Daniella handed him. “This appears to be insufficient material for a shelter.” He looked askance at the tarps that had been folded underneath them.
Daniella handed another tent to Rez, and Rez and Heather walked to the second site. Gwen and Ansel hiked around with their single-person tents to find the flattest ground.
“How does one assemble this?” Rez asked, peering into the bag once he’d figured out the drawstring.
“I have doubts about this construction!” Trey was telling Daniella.
Heather had not done a lot of camping herself, but she had assembled a tent in clover scouts one summer as a kid. “Let’s figure it out together,” she suggested.
There were no instructions, but the tent was one single piece, and it made perfect sense to unroll it on the ground.
“This material seems so fragile,” Rez observed. “And these rods are too short to function! What is this string inside…ouch!” He had snapped two of the segments together and pinched his finger.
He scowled at the offending pole, and Heather showed him how to assemble the tent pole segments into a single unit. He flexed it experimentally.
“Careful! You can bend them!”
“Indeed,” Rez said skeptically.
They took opposite ends of the tent and Heather showed him how to put the ends of the poles into the grommets and snap the fabric of the tent into the correct shape. They managed to put the poles in the wrong holes, but swiftly figured out the mistake and corrected it.
“How wondrous!” Rez crowed in delight as the tent took shape, almost magically. By the time they had staked it and put on the rainfly, it was sturdy and cozy-looking. It was even cozier filled with the pillows and blankets and sleeping bags.
“This is not how I am accustomed to camping,” Trey said merrily, carrying another heaping armful to the tent he was sharing with Daniella. “Do you remember the campaign to the Mountains of Argus?”
“I remember it too well,” Rez said with a shudder. “The tents did not survive the first night.” He gave their shelter another experimental poke and grinned. “I suspect that these would have.”
“Their textile crafters are considerably skilled,” Trey agreed. “And the designs are cunning.”
“No boots inside!” Daniella reminded him.
Fabio and Vesta did wound-up zoomy circles of the camp, pausing occasionally to sniff at the signs of previous dogs and compare notes.
By the time Trey and Rez had started the fire, both dogs were lying on their sides in exhaustion, panting. Gwen rubbed Fabio with one of her feet as she sat in one of the camp chairs. “Who’s a sweet dog?” Fabio’s tail raised dust as it wagged.
There were slightly-burnt hot dogs for dinner, and these were followed by the dubious marshmallows.
“It’s too bad we didn’t get ingredients for s’mores,” Gwen said, threading her marshmallow onto a stick.
“I’ve never liked those,” Daniella confessed. “Too messy, too much work.”
“I’m not into graham crackers,” Gwen agreed. “But any excuse for chocolate…”
“I’m with Daniella,” Heather said. “It was always just the marshmallows I wanted.”
“But…chocolate!” Gwen protested, laughing.
Daniella described graham crackers, unflatteringly, for the confused Trey and Rez. “There’s a reason we don’t have them in the house.”
“It sounds like trailbread,” Rez said thoughtfully. “I am not sure I would pair it with something sweet.”
A few flaming marshmallows later, Heather achieved a perfectly golden marshmallow and pointed her stick at Rez. “Try this.”
His face was everything she’d hoped for when he bit into the hot crunchy shell and sucked in the molten sugar. “Shieldmate, you must sample this as well!” he said in awe to Trey.
Gwen and Ansel and the knights all vied for the best spaces in the fire over the coals, occasionally knocking rival ‘mallows into the ashes, and all of them ate the sticky, delicious treats with relish, even Robin, once Ansel had toasted some of the mini marshmallows for them.
Once everyone had satisfied their sweet tooths and licked their (burnt) fingers clean, Daniella added more wood to the fire and they all settled back in their chairs to watch the flames and soak in the warmth. Robin was the perfect size for an American Girls camp chair, but it left them at licking-level to both of the dogs, so they had pitched their chair and a toddler’s tent on the picnic table.
It was chilly, but they had all dressed warmly, and the fire was pleasant and mesmerizing and no one was in a rush to go to bed.
“This is considerably more comfortable camping than I am accustomed to,” Trey said with a sigh of happiness. Daniella had her feet in his lap, and he was smiling foolishly at her.
Heather gazed up at the sky longingly. It smelled like rain, or maybe snow; she didn’t know the difference in the scent.
“We should tell ghost stories,” Gwen suggested.
“It’s almost Halloween,” Daniella agreed.
“What’s Hallow—?” Rez started to ask.
“I think it’s starting to rain,” Ansel said abruptly, and instead there was a mad dash to get ready for bed and scramble into the snug tents.
It was very crowded inside, with Rez like a small mountain next to Heather. A small, warm mountain. Heather snuggled up close to him, Vesta tucked into the sleeping bag in her arms, and listened to the rain change from a barely audible patter of drizzle to a steady drum on the rain fly. She could watch the droplets change the color of the tent material and then roll off, dimmer and dimmer as the light failed and the rainfly grew saturated.
“Your world is so full of wonder,” Rez rumbled near her ear. “When you suggested this trip, I was doubtful of the fun of it. There was more of duty to camping in my mind than of leisure.”
“Was nothing in your world actually fun?” Heather asked regretfully.
He was quiet so long that Heather began to wonder if he’d fallen asleep; Vesta was snoring lightly already.
“Fun was where we found it,” Rez said comfortably. “In a joke with a shieldmate, a snowball fight between battles…”
“Did you, really?”
“I was a master of snowballs,” Rez said proudly. “And I was responsible for many frozen necks and snowy faces.”
“Will you teach me your ways if it snows tomorrow?” Heather giggled.
“You will learn all of my secrets,” Rez promised.
They lay together in comfortable security, listening to the sound of the rain on the tent until they fell asleep.
* * *
Rez woke to silence.
It wasn’t just that the rain had stopped.
All of the little sounds of wind in the trees and distant noises of other campers seemed to be entirely gone.
Vesta gave a little twitch, where she’d wriggled between Rez and Heather, and Heather gave a sleepy mumble as she woke.
Rez strained to hear, suspecting a spell or some kind of impending attack at first. Then he became aware of nearby rustling sounds, swiftly identified as one of the closest campers as there was a sound of unzipping and a muffled exclamation.
“It snowed!” Heather exclaimed, recognizing the dark splotches on the tent and the sag to the cloth before Rez did. Then she was wriggling out of the sleeping bag they were sharing, waking Vesta in her enthusiasm.
It had not only snowed overnight, but the sky had also cleared, and the world was a glittering, bright wonderland through the triangle of the tent door. A few inches of pure white snow covered everything.
“Ah, my eyes!” Heather said cheerfully, squinting into the glare as she fumbled with the laces of her shoes.
Vesta, after shaking herself vigorously and managing to somehow pin Rez in the baffling sleeping bag, pranced out into the snow just outside of the tiny tent vestibule…and turned directly around to crawl back onto the knight’s lap.
Fabio, with no such reservations, had already been released into the snow and was making eager laps around the campsite, barking and howling and rolling.
“I thought we were going to sleep in,” Gwen complained good naturedly from her nearby tent.
“Dogs don’t sleep in,” Daniella retorted cheerfully as she climbed from her tent with Trey.
Vesta tried to make a liar out of her by burrowing back in with Rez. He gathered her into his arms and followed Heather out into the bright morning, not bothered by his stockinged feet; it wasn’t terribly cold and the snow did not promise to last long.
His key was standing with an expression of amazement on her face as she gazed around. “It’s so beautiful!” she squeaked, and Rez was absolutely lost in her look of joy.
The moment was broken by the sudden intrusion of a ball of snow that hit Rez in the shoulder.
Heather laughed and Daniella, whose shot it had been, emerged from her tent with Trey close behind.
Rez would not have started a war over such a puny hit, but Daniella’s next snowball caught Heather in the chest, splattering her in the face and he could not let an attack upon his love go unreturned. Vesta was dropped unceremoniously down into the snow and a massive armload of snow replaced her, swiftly turned into a return volley. Daniella took several snowballs in the chest before Trey could sweep her behind him and scoop more snow into his hands to salvo back.
It was a short-lived, sloppy battle, and all the participants, including Fabio, who chased every snowball and nearly knocked Heather on her ass, was soaking wet by the end of it.
“You guys are nuts,” Gwen declared as she cautiously tried to emerge from her own tent. She was able to drop the tent flap in time to fend off a soft snowball from Heather that exploded into tiny pieces.
Ansel stayed sensibly to his own tent until after the fighting was done.
The snow was almost gone by the time Trey had built a new fire and Daniella had cooked a simple but nourishing breakfast from strange dehydrated food in plastic pouches. Rez and Trey were eager to toast more marshmallows to accompany the meal, but Heather gave him a look of horror that suggested he had violated some custom, and Daniella said that even the smell would make her sick.
The tents were dry by mid-morning, and there were only a few remaining pockets of soft snow in the shadows.
They packed the van up and Rez caught Heather in an embrace on the picnic bench before they left. “I liked your version of camping,” he told her. “And marshmallows, I definitely liked marshmallows. What strange new wonder will you introduce me to next?”
Heather kissed him and Gwen answered for her thoughtfully, “Does he know about Halloween yet?”
Ansel, folding up the campstove and packing away the metal dishes, laughed. “Oh, that’s going to be a good one. Wonder what the neighbors would think if you took your knights trick-or-treating.”
“What is trick-or-treating?” Rez had to ask.
Heather laughed helplessly. “You know how I said that most people don’t dress up in costumes? Well, Halloween is the opposite of that. Everyone dresses up, not just in historical garb, but as animals, or fictional characters.”
Daniella added, “And then you go around the neighborhood from door to door, knocking and getting candy!”
Rez stared at her, suspecting a joke.
“You steal their candy?” Trey asked suspiciously, and Rez was grateful that there were at least a few things about this world that he still didn’t know; his shieldmate had been insufferable about his superior knowledge regarding everything here.
“You don’t steal it,” Daniella was quick to correct. “They give it to you.”
“Well, to kids. Only kids are the ones who go trick-or-treating,” Heather was quick to add. “Oh, don’t look so disappointed!”
Trey was looking suspicious. “I think they are pulling our legs,” he surmised. “It is too ridiculous sounding.”
Rez was inclined to agree. “Clearly it is a prank.”
And he genuinely believed that, until the following week, when a bevy of creatively-dressed children descended upon the neighborhood…and they finally found a lead for Henrik’s ornament.