Rays of sun peeked through the leaves, making them sparkle like rich green gems. The light sprinkled across the earthy trails, as though one was walking across bridges made of starlight. Small creatures scurried about, the sound of a snapping twigs being the only indication of their presence. In the distance, the songs of birds echoed through the serene setting, giving off a tranquility that was only found in nature.
To maintain this quiet peace, the stoic man kept to himself as much as he could, trudging about in mud-drenched boots and a worn old cloak. There were bags under sullen eyes and debri protruded from random tufts of dark hair. A small pouch hung at his side on a belt, a rolled up parchment hanging out. Pulling it out, as he had only done minutes before, he unraveled it to be a map. His eyebrows slightly furrowed as he turned it this way and that, trying to make sense of it. Was it left or right? Up or down? He couldn’t tell, but he had gotten this far. That was an achievement in itself.
He gazed up at the glimmering shade of the leaves, his eyes softening. During his travels, he had seen many marvels and beauties, but rarely was it of nature’s pleasures. The calming solitude brought back a place in his homeland, where he and his brother often spent idly hiding from their instructor. A small breeze caressed his left cheek as he further sunk into his youth and the happiness that was associated with it.
After what seemed like forever, the man realized something was off. The birds had stopped chirping. The silence grew sharp and piercing. Dangerously close behind him, he heard the unsheathing of metal.
He spun around to suddenly be face to face with a group of armored men. They surrounded him, spears and swords restricting his movement. Sure, the man may’ve not been the most observant of people, but he was pretty sure he hadn’t heard them approach either. Maybe they were skilled in the art of stealth. Or he was just going deaf.
With nothing to defend himself, the man frantically conjured plans of escape. His heart thumped loudly in his chest, but his expression gave nothing away.
“You have nowhere to run, my good fellow.” someone remarked.
As he gazed up, he noticed a young man adorned in fine silks and embroidery on a noble black stallion. He wore a gold circlet only known to royalty, with hints of infused emeralds among the engraving. Though the situation oozed tension, the man seemed to be oblivious to it. His eyes gleamed of youthful curiosity, coated with a gentleness you’d show to a frightened child. The man’s lips tugged up into a courteous but friendly smile.
“State your business.” A gruff voice demanded.
The voice had come from the noble’s companion, who also rode a horse of fine quality. Unlike him, however, he was covered from neck to foot in luxurious armor, his head the only part vulnerable. His eyes were fiercely intense, sizing up the worn man in case he tried something. A large sword hung from his side, it’s sheath full of intricate designs and patterns. His hand held the hilt in cautionary manner.
The worn man’s eyebrows furrowed , a bead of sweat forming along his neck. Licking his lips, he opened his mouth.
“Forgive me for my ignorance, m’lord--”
“--It’s your highness.” the gruff man corrected. His noble companion merely rolled his eyes at that.
“...Erm...your highness...Have I done something to offend you?” His voice was hoarse and dry.
There was momentary silence before the gruff man growled.
“Insolent fool! How dare you act so ignorant! You--”
“Drell, that’s enough.”
“But my prince, he---”
“I said, enough.” The prince’s light tone was emphasized more as he said this a second time.
The man known as Drell faltered at being scolded by his lord, but bowed his head in defeat. He had been most anxious to pierce the intruder for his impudence.
“...Forgive me, Prince Rubius.” he murmured, sulking like a child.
“Now,” the prince’s tone changed to a softer one as he addressed the traveler before him,“back to the matter at hand; it seems you are trespassing into my lovely garden, good sir. Would you care to give an explanation for this?”
A garden? Impossible. There was no way this was a garden; it was practically a forest! The worn man swore he had been walking through the lush trees since the morning before, how could that be? Could this Rubius-man possibly own the entirety of it? Nonsense. The Atarouge forest (last time Todith checked) wasn’t owned by anyone and wasn’t in need of a license to pass through. Could these men be robbers?
“I apologize deeply, honorable Prince, however I do believe this is free land which we stand upon. It is stated clearly upon my map which is indeed up to par with the last ten years.” He pointed at the parchment to further his point.
All the men furrowed their brows, some even tilting their heads. The prince was no exception.
“Good sir, your map has deceived you; my parents, the king and queen of the Northern Emeralds own this land. They specifically gave it to me as a gift for my twelfth birthday.”
The worn man’s face contorted in confusion as he really wasn’t sure what was going on anymore. The Northern Emeralds? That was far north of here!
“I beg your pardon, but I believe we are currently within the Southern Ruby region. Proof is given by the fact we stand within the grounds of Atarouge forest.”
An awkward silence deafened the air as slowly, the larger party began to put the pieces together. The strange man before them, was unbelievably, undeniably and hopelessly lost. He had managed to reach some of the farthest northern regions when his original target had been the farthest southern area. A few of the men had to suppress their chuckles as the prince confronted the man.
“My good man.....could it be......you are directionally challenged?”