The Lupine Saga 95

They woke the next morning, surprised that they could sleep as well as they did. The two felt like the drug had run the last of its course, and no drowsiness or cloudiness was left in their bodies. Once up, they noticed the smell of burning meat, the sound of a fire.

“Finally up, kids?” Derlik asked. He was hunched over a fire where a morning kill was being cooked. The sight and sound of food reminded the two that they hadn’t eaten much in the past few days, and last night’s meal was dried provisions and water.

“Thank you,” Va’il said as he got up and walked to the fire.

“What is it?” Ruby asked.

“Food. Good enough, right?” Derlik asked.

“Yeah,” Ruby said, tired of her own question. It was food, and it didn’t matter what kind of animal it was that had fallen into Derlik’s grasp.

They ate and drank to what little fill they could, washed themselves and their clothes thanks to a nearby creek, and then prepared to leave. The horses had already been fed earlier, and so the moment Va’il and Ruby were in the cart Derlik took off.

Va’il and Ruby sat together in quiet, unable to think of anything more to talk about with Derlik. His demeanor last night showed them that he would answer questions, but only within a certain boundary, and never volunteered information himself. He was quiet, and would stay quiet if Va’il and Ruby had nothing to speak with him about.

A couple hours passed, and soon the sun had made its way above their heads. With nothing to do, nothing to talk about, and a small sense of hunger growing, they fell asleep.


“Wake up, eat,” Derlik said. His massive hand rocked Va’il’s shoulder.

Va’il looked around for a moment, but then stopped and roused Ruby. She rubbed her eyes and looked at the scenery Va’il had only glanced at.

“Where are we?” she asked.

“Still in Farrow. Almost out. Eat now, and stay awake,” Derlik said.

The kids accepted and partook of dried fruit and tasteless bread. They would have asked why Derlik didn’t fetch something better to eat, but a look at the scenery told them why. They were in plains, littered with grasses and rolling hills. No forest or places for animals to hide were seen. The scenery had changed too quickly for them to tell how far they had gone. The cart started going again. Its pace was fast and steady. Quicker than Va’il and Ruby could remember from before.

As the day cooled down the cart went quicker, making the kids wonder exactly how far they were going each day. Their perception of distance and the world at large was limited by the simple maps that had been used in school. The maps of Rising were detailed and labeled, but the world at large was a general outline with rivers, mountains, and major cities labeled. They knew the basics, but they didn’t realize how far a day’s travel would take them across each region. They also knew that Rising wasn’t a large nation. Over the coming days and weeks they would learn how distance on maps turned into distance in real life: slowly.

The first full day of travel that Va’il and Ruby were conscious of ended, and at night Derlik left them alone while he went hunting.

“Ruby,” Va’il said.


“I’ve been thinking. This is really boring. And tough.”


“I’ve also been thinking. Why is this happening?”

“I have too.”

“Do you have an idea?” Va’il got up from where he was and sat next to Ruby. She smiled at him once, and then looked at the fire.

“I’ve been replaying our last moments out in my head. Well, you know what I mean. I’m trying to make sure I remember everything said and done. Everything about that day. And then backtracking, wondering if something other than that day was the reason.”

“It all happened so fast. Like it was planned. That’s what’s bothering me,” Va’il said.

“It makes sense. It had to be planned. But how far in advance? How would they know where I was? And then, why wait? Were they waiting for us to be together? I don’t think so. Silly as you are, I don’t think anyone would care about a simple commoner. No offense.”

“Of course not,” Va’il said. He agreed with Ruby, but if his secret had been revealed, Ruby would be wrong. He didn’t think that was the case, but couldn’t help but wonder if it was. And although that was a pressing thought, he couldn’t reveal it to Ruby. He feared the responsibility that would be pressed upon them both if his royal lineage were uncovered.

“So there is something nagging about it. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my voiced worries happened on the same day as our kidnapping. I think it was something said, at that time, that was the reason. Something I knew about, beforehand, that was the reason I was being watched. And I think I know what it is.”

“And what is it?” Va’il asked, both relieved and confused.

“That servant that I talked about, the one shadowing me,” Ruby said.

“Ah! This boring journey, I forgot!” Va’il said, his voice filled with sudden excitement.

“What? Did you forget our entire conversation from that time?” Ruby asked.

“That night has a cloud over it. Remembering what you were doing just before you fall asleep is tough. And the train of thought I was on was completely derailed by the passage of time. Arg, Ruby, remember that I questioned you after you mentioned that servant?”

“I think so. A lot of them. And then the world spun. You asked about someone important. Ah, now I remember! You’re right!”

“Regent Jin,” both children said.

“I forgot about him. And it would match. I did mention him once. And then you mentioned him. All those ridiculous things about him and the foreigners, right?” Ruby asked.

“I didn’t forget the name. I made the connection then. Ridiculous, was it, dear Ruby?”

“I thought he was trustworthy.”

“Does it seem like a coincidence, or something solid now?” Va’il asked.

“It could still be a coincidence,” Ruby said, though her eyes told another story. Even though her head told her that this progression wasn’t logical and they were jumping to conclusions, her heart swayed in a sea of mixed emotions.

“That’s true. Or maybe he was supposed to watch you, because of what happened before with those foreigners. It would make sense, if they were all colluding,” Va’il said, brimming with excitement at his discovery.

“Wait, wait,” Ruby said, her thoughts becoming clear. “You’re missing something Va’il. They only fully saw you. They didn’t see me directly. Even if you’re right, there has to be something else missing. No, I think it’s something else. Or we’re missing a part.”

“Like what? If they didn’t know you, then maybe me?” Va’il asked.

“No, that doesn’t fit either. Could it be something different?”

“If it was, then maybe it’s just a coincidence we overheard them speak of Jin before he sent a servant to shadow you,” Va’il said.

“Ah! Va’il, you figured it out! That’s it! There was already an issue! We overheard it years ago, and that had no bearing on the servant shadowing me! Then we met while I was being watched for some reason, talked about my suspicions, you had a revelation, they heard that, and got rid of us to keep that information from getting out! It fits!”

“It does,” Va’il said, quieter than before. “And it fits best. And it raises more problems than before, dear Ruby. Why you were being watched. Why our suspicions were such a problem. There is something bigger to all of this. Something bigger than you or I that we stumbled upon, and now cannot pursue.”

“We can go back,” Ruby said. She looked at Va’il, her eyes reflecting the fire in front of them, an analogue for the fiery emotions running though her.

“We should. But I don’t think we can now. That’s another problem raised. I hope we’re wrong about all we’ve thought of. Because if we’re right, then I know they cannot let us live with this knowledge.”

“So we’re wrong. Until we find a way to be right and live.”

“I didn’t realize you loved home this much,” Va’il said, smiling.

“It’s not exactly, well kinda. But not only that,” Ruby said, slightly stuttering.

“It’s not so bad, to get away like this for a while, to be on the journey,” Va’il said.

“I like it. I really do,” Ruby said.

“But you only would want to continue it if you knew it were temporary, right?” Va’il asked.

“Certain parts,” Ruby said. She then stood up and poked at the fire with a stick.

“Which?” Va’il asked.

“Just certain ones.” She kept her back to Va’il and mumbled lightly while prodding at the fire.

“If only others weren’t worrying about us,” Va’il said, thinking of his family and other friends. He felt like the burdens on him, the present worries, were alive and bearing down on him, but the visage of the girl in front of him gave him some relief, though he couldn’t understand why. He was comfortable, but disturbed and worried. He was worried for those he knew, but the girl in front of him was the only person he knew at that moment, and as much as he wished there were more people around him, he knew he only had one person to be concerned with at that moment.

They remained quiet, each one thinking of vastly different things for different reasons, neither knowing what the other’s top concern was. And soon enough Derlik returned with a grin on his face and a family of rabbits over his shoulder. They ate, talked a bit, and then slept.

About James Ashman

I write books of the fantasy, heroic, and adventure types. So far. I'm an author who loves fantastic stories.
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