“Time,” the word was spoken as though no other word existed. Delia did not seem so majestic now, her superiority was not more. “The answer is time, correct?” This had not been the first time someone had correctly answered on of her riddles, but it was the easiest anyone ever had. The elf had been bandaging a badly torn leg, and hardly seemed to be listening. Yet she had answered it without much thought at all. Delia did not seem pleased.
“You have heard it before, Aspen!” It was not a question, but the preoccupied elf took it as one.
“No, it was not so hard if you followed a logical thought process.” Aspen did not notice that Delia was scowling at her. She did not realize the sphinx was on the verge of exploding. The cougar that she had befriended noticed, though. Mungo moved into a defensive position between the two. The animal’s movements set off alarms in the young elf. Only then did she notice how angry Delia had become. Aspen knew that ,even without her recent wounds, she could not hope to defeat Delia in battle. She had almost been killed by an owlbear and, if not for Mungo, certainly would have been.
Delia, seeing the young and helpless elf’s eyes go wide, softened. “Others found it hard enough. You are not like the others, though. I sense that you are wise beyond your appearance. You answered my riddle, and I confess that I do not like being bested. You will sharpen my intellect and I will attempt to sharpen your own.” Delia felt bad for thinking of killing this girl. Aspen sensed the change in the sphinx’s mood, but she kept her hands close to her blades, nonetheless. Mungo remained between them. “You are a worthy opponent, for riddles, I mean.” Aspen caught the confident Delia’s remark, but could not honestly argue it. Of course Delia could kill her and Mungo both with no trouble. So, the intelligent female played the mind games with the sphinx.
“Luck was all, I simply said it was easy because I was so lucky. Nothing makes a problem seem easier than good ole luck.” Aspen felt silly playing on the ego of the sphinx. It brought to her mind an image of a mother praising her child for the most mundane tasks. When the mother asked the child to do something else, the child would jump to do it, without question. This was no child, though, and she knew she had to be careful with the sphinx and her wounded pride.
Delia understood exactly what Aspen was doing, but she took no offense. Actually, it did make her feel good, not the words, but the fact that the elf cared enough to try to make her feel better. “You bested me in my own game. Now I must pay up. What can I do for you, young Aspen?” The sphinx bowed her head in a sign of peace.
“Well, we are very hungry. I am in no shape to hunt, and Mungo is tired and hurt more than he shows. If you could possibly get us some meat, it would be an even pay off.” Aspen had almost died once this day and did not feel much like hunting. She remembered how angry the sphinx had been moments earlier and thought to add, “But only if you find me again sometime and give me another chance.”
Delia seemed all too pleased by the last response, and nodded. “So be it, and I look forward to meeting you again.” With that, the sphinx was off on the hunt. Not long before sunset, a deer was dropped on the ground right outside of the camp of Mungo and Aspen. Delia paid her debts, no one could argue that.