“Do you even know how to get to this village we’re supposed to be saving?” I asked Brendan as I futzed with the leather bag on my shoulder. The pebbles of the street dug into my feet, giving me a distinct sense of pain. I tried my hardest to ignore it. I kind of regretted not shoving some shoes on my feet before I left. No doubt my feet would look terrible by the end of this. The thought of that was a bit disappointing. I always thought I did the best at making myself look all pretty. The gown wasn’t the best choice either, but I didn’t really have much else to do about it so I didn’t complain. The grace I once held as I walked was mostly gone already. I knew it was going to be a long walk.
“Of course I do,” Brendan replied. His feet were bare but calloused. His shaggy blonde hair fell in a mop over his eyes, and his eyes sparkled with the opportunity of adventure. I was a bit excited too, I had to admit. The forest that loomed in front of us was the one from just the day before. Just a day before I had been a mostly normal princess indulging in her lingering rebellious side. And now I was about to embark on a trek into the bowels of some forest somewhere to save some casters I didn’t even know were worth saving. Problems were bound to ensue.
“Another question: Do you have ulterior motives to leading me into a forest with no one else around?” I asked, looking around myself as we stepped past the tree line. Trees towered above us, leaving little light to filter through. My feet crunched over dried and brittle leaves. I was really regretting the lack of footwear.
“Nah, why would I?” he asked from beside me.
“Because you’re a caster,” I hissed. “And ugh I regret not wearing any shoes.”
“First off, we aren’t evil. Second off, you didn’t bring shoes?” I bit the inside of my cheek.
“How are you not evil? I’d like to think that you all are pretty dang evil,” I said. I had begun to notice that my formal speech was slipping away. It had slowly worn off in Brendan’s presence when he visited me before, but I was surprised at how fast it had worn off once I got out of the palace.
“Those are just lies you’re told. We aren’t… inherently evil. It’s just what people tell you to scare people off,” he explained. Another question popped into my head.
“If magic is so useful then why is it outlawed?”
That was the money question. Brendan puzzled over the potential answers to my inquiry, and eventually came up with something he potentially deemed satisfactory. While he did that I was quiet, waiting for him to answer.
“Because people are scared,” was what he said. All of that thinking couldn’t have just gone towards ‘because people are scared,’ so I was suspicious.
“Really? I do not know very much history, but I do know that it’s probably not just that,” I said. Ah, there was the accent back.
“Okay so maybe not just that, but… It is a factor,” he tried to assure me.
“Okay, okay. So maybe it’s not just that. But honestly all of this is too much to throw you into all at once. You know? This is pretty much the first time for you to actually… do something, and I don’t want to scare you off,” he explained. There’s still something he’s not telling me I bet, I thought, but didn’t say. It would just make him less likely to tell me if I already thought something was up. So I kept my mouth shut and kept walking.
“So, I was wondering why you hate casters so much,” Brendan asked.
“Huh?” I asked.
“I want to know why you hate casters so much!” he said.
“Hmph. I think you know,” I said. “Plus, didn’t we just do this like fifteen minutes ago?” We had been walking in silence for a while.
“Hey, come on. We were such good friends, why aren’t you acting right?”
“You know full well,” I said, looking over into the trees. The tops towered above us. Bark laid on the forest floor, along with remnants of past fall’s leaves. Above us the trees were just starting to turn their brilliant shades of orange and red.
“No I don’t, you’re just being difficult,” he said, and sighed. I let out a sort of grunt and looked down at the path. Small, smooth stones paved it, but they were slowly being replaced by a dirt trail.
“It’s because you know, you could hurt me at any time and I never knew you could. There’s a big possibility that you could just be feigning a kind demeanor and I wouldn't ever know. The long and short of it is: you’re dangerous and I'm alone with you in the forest,” I explained.
“I guess you’re allowed to think that for yourself. But I’ve been a caster for barely a year and a half and that’s not nearly enough time for me to be able to kill someone at the drop of a hat.”
“Hmph, I’m still not going to fall for your lies.” Brendan just shrugged, and we kept walking. I shifted the bag over my shoulder to the other shoulder, feeling a bit restless. Brendan looked around at the forest, avoiding looking at me. Just then I realized I had forgotten to grab any food to take with me.
Oh no, agh what are we going to eat then? Ugh, I thought as I pulled open my bag. Nothing to eat. We were screwed if Brendan didn’t have a knowledge of native plants.
“Hey, uhm, do you know what we’re going to eat?” I asked nervously as I closed my bag again.
“Hmm, probably when we stop for lunch I’ll find some plants around here that we can eat,” he said.
“You’re not entirely certain? This was the worst idea,” I said, running my hands through my hair.
“No, no, it’s alright. I know basically all of the native plants of the region. You know, it’s pretty expensive to just buy stuff so I go and get everything we need to cook for my mom. If you trust me enough to take food from me of course,” he said.
“Oh. Uh, well, eating something is better than accidentally poisoning myself I guess,” I replied.
“That’s the spirit!” I gave him a sidelong glance.
“You still had better not poison me,” I grumbled, and folded my arms over my chest.
“I would never. Swear on my life,” he said.
“So you say,” I mumbled.
We walked until I got hungry and dragged Brendan to the side of the path.
“Can we stop and eat something now?” I whined.
“Hold your horses, princess,” Brendan grumbled. He waded off of the trail and looked through the underbrush for some plants.
“What are we looking for?” I asked. I didn’t step off of the path, just leaned over and stared at the plants. None of them looked particularly edible.
“Hmm, well I don’t know what exactly grows out here. I’ve never gone out this far.”
Oh, we are so definitely screwed, I thought. “What about these?” I asked, pointing to a small plant snaking its way through the ground. Tiny blue flowers poked up from the plant.
“Oh! Those are edible, at least the roots are, can you maybe find more? See how much of the root you can pull out too,” he said.
“Are you sure they’re safe to eat?” I asked, poking the flowers.
“Wow, okay, they’re basically just tea. They’re steeped and made into tea, though they’re nutritious on their own. It’s mostly tea just because it doesn’t taste all that great,” he said.
“Can we make it into tea then?” I asked, sticking my tongue out.
“No,” Brendan snapped.
“Aw, why not. Come on, I want my food to taste good!” I complained.
“If I wasn’t here you wouldn’t have anything to eat at all, at least be a bit grateful,” he scoffed.
“If you weren’t here I wouldn’t be on this wild goose chase,” I muttered under my breath. I pulled up the plant anyway, and a scraggle of roots followed it. They were long and thin and covered in a thin layer of dirt. No way was I eating dirt. I wasn’t about to contract some dangerous disease because I ate roots by the advice of a caster of all people.
“Uhm, I see some over there but i don’t really want to go in there. There might be thorny things. Can you maybe get it for me?” I asked, holding the stem of the blue flowering plant in my hand.
“Get it yourself, we are going to be walking for a really long time so expect your feet to get all beat up. I grumbled and pulled the moccasins from my bag. They were thin and not really fit for wading into a forest’s underbrush, but I pretty much only had those and I had previously learned getting Brendan to do it was out of the question. I bit back a sigh and stepped onto the ground cover, relieved to find there weren’t any things stabbing me through my shoes. I stepped through the forest on my tiptoes, wading through the plants to the tiny blue flowers winding their way towards the sky. I wasn’t hesitant to end their life and yank the roots out of the ground, the entire plant coming with them. Now I was holding two green stalks, the supposedly edible part of the plant dangling helplessly. I took a few steps over and grabbed the next plant, then moved on to the next, and so on while Brendan found other supposedly safe plants for us to eat.
Back at the palace, my food always tasted amazing. Not the case here. The roots tasted like the wind-scorched dirt of Camellia, and the leaves had a terrible sort of texture. I choked down what we could scrounge up anyways, as I knew it was better than going hungry at least.
“Can we resume walking now?” Brendan asked as he watched me run my thumb over a leaf.
“Yes,” I said, and dropped the leaf. I stood up and brushed down my dress, and got ready to walk more.
Walking. Walking. More walking. So much walking. Too much walking. The moccasins wore on my heels, and I could still feel all of the rocks in the trail through the shoes. Wind whipped my hair around my face.
“Do you know what I could pull my hair back with?” I grumble-asked Brendan.
“Nah. Unless you want to pull it back with a weed,” Brendan said.
“No thanks,” I sighed, and opted for just holding my hair back with my hands. Then more walking. I was still a bit uncomfortable around Brendan, so I wasn’t about to start talking to him again. I knew there was going to be at least a day or two, but I still wasn’t about to open up. We continued to walk, making some good progress. I continually bugged my friend about how much longer it would be. He dodged all questions.
We stopped to sleep for the night in a small field in a clearing. We found some deer beds, I made there there weren’t any creepy-crawlies lurking, and we both bedded down for the night. I laid on the grass, just thinking about all of the spiders that could be waiting in the shadows, possibly even bats. Nevermind that bats didn’t live in grass, I was still too worried to sleep any kind of well. That filled my night, along with Brendan's quiet snores.