I moved back the way we’d come, until the taste of salt had gone from my lips. I thought about sitting on the ground, but decided that I didn’t want to risk sitting in something I shouldn’t. It’s not that I mind getting dirty; just that I didn’t want to sit in something that I didn’t know what it was. Instead, I leaned against the wall, wiping at my lips and wondering if I should quickly go and drink some water before coming back.
I didn’t actually have that long to wait. My eyes had adjusted enough to the dark that I could see Narcissus approaching. A woman was following him and even with my limited experience with other people, I could tell that there was something strange about her. She was pretty, but her eyes were empty and she seemed to see through me.
“Echo, this is my mother,” Narcissus said, smiling at me. He looked at his mother. “This is Echo. She’s a wood nymph and I just met her.”
I curtsied and smiled hesitantly at his mother. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“She doesn’t talk to people very much,” Narcissus said apologetically when she didn’t say anything.
“I suppose this cave is away from most people.”
Narcissus nodded. “You’re the first wood nymph I’ve seen.”
“We like to keep to ourselves.”
“Are you hungry?” Narcissus asked. “I caught some fish. There’s enough for you to eat some as well.”
I thought about that. “Could we eat outside, next to the lake?” My lips still felt a bit dry and I wasn’t used to it.
Narcissus nodded and then seemed to think of something. “You won’t get into trouble for being away for too long, will you?”
“We can still sit near the cave, but no one will come looking for me. And I’ll just tell them I was performing my duties if any of my sisters ask.”
“Would you like me to lead you out?”
“Are there any extra passages?”
Narcissus shook his head. “There’s just one long, winding passageway.”
“Then I can lead the way.” I began walking back through the passageway, trying to imagine what a fish might taste like. I’d seen them in streams, but my sisters tended to hunt animals in the forest for food.
I blinked a few times as I left the cave and the sunlight seemed a bit too bright. I turned away from it just as my eyes began watering, wiping at them as I sat down.
“Are you all right?” Narcissus asked as he led his mother outside.
“It’s just a bit bright.”
Narcissus settled his mother down on the ground and walked over to a pile of wood I hadn’t seen before. He rubbed a stone against one of the twigs and I jumped as a spark appeared and caught light.
I’d seen fire before, but it never ceased to startle me. I wasn’t scared of it, but I couldn’t help feeling nervous as the flames grew.