The Perils of False Preconceptions, part two.
The village was bustling with activity at this late hour. Although, while Kelsey considered it to be ‘late,’ everyone else considered it to be quite early. It hadn’t been long since she had first arrived and it was still a struggle to match her sleep-cycle with that of those around her. It was something she had known coming in to this world and she had hoped to become acclimatised quickly. Alas, it was not to be.
Children chased one another, laughing and screeching as they ran amok between alleyways and across the streets; adults chattered on verandas outside various establishments whilst many others browsed market stalls for trinkets and produce, all of them ignoring their rambunctious children; a few others quietly relaxed on the soft grass beneath the trees, relishing the outside world during these few hours it was safe to do so. All of them were dressed similarly in light coats that covered their daily attire. Considering the heat, it had at first seemed strange that everyone wore coats, but Kelsey had soon learned that they were made from an icy cotton that cooled the wearer and protected their skin from the skies. While the moon-shine didn’t burn as the sun, its warmth was still unpleasant.
Following Tomias, she tried not to stare at her surroundings overly much. It was hard though; everything was so beautiful. It was easy to see why the people called this land ‘The Evergreen,’ for even beneath darkened skies the lush greenery of the world could be admired. Each leaf, each blade of grass, fed upon the burning sunlight during the day then released it all at night. All that was green was imbued with a glow that lit up the village and created the most wondrous vista. If she were an artist, she could scarcely do it credit.
With nights like these, she would never miss the day again.
As they walked the busy street, the crowd separated as Tomias approached and allowed him passage before joining back together once he had passed. They parted before him as Moses parted the Red Sea — an analogy she was sure no one of this world would understand. As uncomfortable as it was, she had to follow very close to his heel or the crowd would swallow her and take her away, and more than a few times she had stepped on the back of his boots as she tried not to lose him. If he was annoyed by her clumsiness, he did not show it. It did make her wonder though: did the people part before him because they knew of him and respected him, or was it his magical presence? Maybe they sensed that he was a man of magic and avoided stepping in his shadow, or perhaps he had an aura that bade people move out of his way. Having such an aura would be amazing! Instead, she was forced to practically walk on top of him.
At last they reached the village outskirts and she no longer had to fear losing sight of him, and they could now speak without having to shout over the noise of other people.
Tomias might enjoy partaking in the foods and beverages on offer in every tavern he could comfortably travel to, but Kelsey was finding these quiet moments in-between much more pleasurable. Crowds had always been something that unnerved her.
“I have a wonder, now that you seem more at ease around me,” Tomias said, breaking her from her thoughts.
“Oh?” Kelsey hid a smirk. She was hardly going to tell him that in her world he had been an evil-vanquishing hero in a great story and she’d been mildly starstruck as he healed her burns then allowed her to accompany him. Of course she hadn’t been at ease. “I suppose I am getting used to you.”
“I should hope so. My wonder: in your alleged otherworld… were you a scholar? Someone of importance?”
“Someone of importance? Why?” Kelsey sent him an overly sweet grin. “Would my answer change your willingness to trade for Zeddicus’ coin?”
He turned his head sharply and raised an eyebrow.
“Do you question my honour? I could have sold you off several times over by now. The price for a red-haired woman is quite substantial, one who claims to be from another world could only be worth more.”
Kelsey paled. “I’m sorry.” She touched his arm, hoping to convey the sincerity of her apology. “I was just trying to be funny. You know. Deflect with humour.” When the only response was his eyebrow rising even higher, she sighed. “I guess the closest comparison here would be… a merchant? I don’t know. I’m no one special.”
“A merchant? How is it then, that you appear so learned? The first thing you wanted was a journal to write in. A scholarly pursuit.”
She shrugged, still feeling mortified that she had offended him with her attempt at friendly humour.
“It seemed like a wise choice. It gives me something to do. I can write my experiences, what I think and feel, and maybe someone, one day, will read it and be awestruck by my tale.”
“Perhaps people of the future will be more inclined to read. For now it remains a hobby for scholars, those of magic, and few in the higher classes. It’s unlikely anyone will ever read your words of wisdom.” He paused, then looked at her pointedly. “Except, perhaps, someone like Zeddicus.”
“That’s assuming he wants to read the ramblings of a scholarly woman accompanying a man who drinks far too much ale.” She shook her head. “We are hardly noteworthy.”
“You would be surprised as to what makes one worthy of notice.”
“Who is this man, anyway? And why are you so concerned?”
Tomias was silent for an overly long moment. Taking his flask from his belt, he took a swig from its contents then hooked it back into place.
“We need more water. We will go off-trail towards the river so we can refill our flasks, then we will look for a place to camp for the day. After that, and only once day breaks, then we can discuss things best not openly spoken of.”
“Ooh, mysterious.” She wiggled her fingers. “We will speak once day breaks,” she said, lowering her voice conspiratorially.
Tomias rolled his eyes upwards as though he sought patience from the heavens. Perhaps he did; even she was aware that she was acting a bit irksome.
Leaving the dirt path that wove through the trees, Kelsey followed Tomias to the large river that snaked across the Evergreen. Most villages and cities had been built close enough to the river to benefit from its water, yet far enough away so as not to be drowned by seasonal floods. That alone made these people more intelligent than those of her own world.
In every book of the Beneath the Evergreen series, there had been a map in the centrefold. So far, from what she had seen, the map had been very accurate. It was a fantastic boon considering many of the stories seemed to have been based on falsehoods.
Kelsey inwardly glared at herself. Hadn’t she just told herself to stop comparing the world of the story to the world she found herself in? It no longer mattered. She had succeeded in magically appearing here and it was what it was. What she needed to do was learn more about this land by using more conventional methods: by asking questions and not assuming she knew it all… because she did not.
It took them half an hour to reach the river’s edge and when they got there Kelsey found herself mesmerised as Tomias filled their flasks with the rushing water.
The moon and stars were reflected against the surface yet the underwater plant-life glowed bright beneath the ripples. It was as though she were simultaneously looking at and through a mirror; it was remarkable. It was a sight she had seen a few times over the past two weeks, but it was still glorious and held her enraptured. Nothing back on Earth could compare.
Tomias thrust a flask at her, interrupting her captivation, and motioned over his shoulder.
“Should be a small way-stop a bit further north. I would much prefer that over another cave.”
“Oh, I don’t know.” Kelsey fluttered her eyelashes. “If you hadn’t been in that other cave when my face was on fire, I could be dead right now.”
“Would be, not could be. Your corpse would also look quite monstrous. You’d be as blackened and bloated as a yesteryear boar carcass.”
Kelsey wrinkled her nose. “Lovely.” She then nudged him with her elbow. “A way-stop? Would that still be a safe place to… discuss things that cannot openly be discussed?” she winked.
“You’ll get your answers, I assure you. Very few people visit way-stops. Only magi can see them.”
“Only magi? Great. So I’ll get left out in the burning sun while you rest and relax inside a wondrous, magical bolt-hole.”
“Of course not.” He waved an irritated hand at her as though he were fending off a rabid toddler. “I’ll allow your access, of course.”
“Well, that’s a relief. I am worthy!”
It looked as though he was about to say something but then stopped himself. Shaking his head, he motioned for her to follow and she bit her tongue as she walked slightly behind him. It probably wasn’t wise to annoy her one acquaintance in this strange, new world. He had mentioned that he could get a good price on her because of her hair, and in the books slavery and servitude were very common practices. She needed to tone it down. Surely he wouldn’t think of doing such a thing, though? This was Tomias! It might not be the same Tomias she had read about, but it was still him.
They walked in silence for several kilometres, a silence only broken by the tread of their feet, the chirp of insects, and the fruit bats as they glided through the sky and loudly feasted amongst the treetops.
Kelsey had always prided herself on walking from A to B and not stooping to the laziness of car ownership. She considered herself quite fit and would normally be at ease walking this distance, however, she wasn’t used to this dripping humidity. Within the first hour she felt like she was slogging through the thickest marsh and hoped they would come across Tomias’ way-stop soon. Of course it was another two hours before they arrived.
They entered a small glade when Tomias stopped and looked around. Taking the opportunity to plonk herself down upon the grass and catch her breath, she watched as he stepped into the very centre of the clearing, then reached down and made a sweeping gesture over a small white rock. The air suddenly shimmered in wavering pinks and blues just above the rock, as though he had created his own personal aurora.
Kelsey groaned as she climbed to her feet, unwilling to move any further. Stumbling over to Tomias, he grabbed her arm and walked into the colours, pulling her along with him.
She had almost expected to be spun around in a vortex of some sort, but there was no spinning, no wooziness, and no dizziness — it was as simple as walking through a door and entering another room, only this room was as an air-conditioned paradise markedly different from the humidity they had just escaped.
Closing her eyes, she released a relieved sigh.
“Oh, this is fantastic. Can we just stay here? Forever?”
“No.” Though her eyes were closed, she could hear the smile in his voice. “I’m sorry, we’ll be back in the more customary climate upon the morrow.”
“Ugh. Tomias the Devastator was named henceforth, after absolutely devastating the hopes and dreams of the young woman who only sought comfort.”
“Are you going to write this in your journal?”
“I just might.”
Rubbing the weariness from her brow, she looked around the way-stop. It was a small dim room, lit only by sparkling fairy-lights that dangled high across the ceiling. Several rugs and cushions were thrown across the floor, and along the wall were two lounges with more cushions atop them, one of which she immediately claimed for herself by heaving herself upon it and releasing another sigh.
“You’re right. This is much better than a dirty old cave.” Dropping her satchel on the floor, she took her coat off, leant back on the lounge, and crossed her arms behind her head. “Has day broken yet?” She smirked. “Is it safe to speak?”
“It will never be safe with your attitude.” He spoke matter-of-factly as he removed his coat, neatly folded it and placed it on a small table she hadn’t seen with her first glance around the room. “As we were walking, I said that you’d be surprised at what makes one worthy of notice. Allow me to explain further.” He placed his hands beneath his chin in a contemplative steeple and peered down at her. “Nearly everything about you makes you worthy of notice. Your red hair, your eagerness to make light, the fact that you appear a female scholar.” A smug half-smile spread across his face. “I doubt you have noticed, but thrice now I have thwarted those with wicked intentions.”
“You’re right. I haven’t noticed much other than your drinking.”
“I’ve scarcely drunk a thing in your presence.” He retorted. “It’s most disappointing, really; I’m too busy focusing on you than enjoying myself. Pay more attention and you will see that there are eyes upon you. Your fee would feed a large family for a half-decade.” A solemn look appeared in his eye. “This is why I allow you to walk with me and haven’t just left you to fend for yourself.”
“I’m sorry that I’ve ruined your fun!” Kelsey whipped upright, grabbed a cushion and buried her head in it. The great hero Tomias now felt responsible for the woman who fell from the sky. It represented his character perfectly, but now she realised her presence was nothing but a burden. “So what happens now?” She mumbled through the cushion. “Am I to stay under your magical protection forevermore and ruin your chance for a fine hangover?”
“It’s not like that.” He paused, then sat beside her on the lounge and pried the cushion out of her hands. “I haven’t thought that far ahead. You’re here now and I am with you. I assume you had intentions when travelling from your world to this one, perhaps they will align with the future. What were they?”
“Intentions?” Kelsey met his curious eye then quickly looked down at the floor, her cheeks reddening. She didn’t really have any intentions. Her one goal was to simply live in this amazing world and forget the responsibilities in her own world — she had wanted to start a new life, somewhere better, and… she hadn’t really thought it through, had she? “I guess… uh… I-I haven’t thought that far ahead.”
“I see… you had no intentions. It was pure whim. That makes it more difficult for me.” He lightly touched her shoulder, returned the cushion, then left her to lay upon the other lounge. Another cushion rose of its own volition off the floor and placed itself beneath his head, and he sat back with his eyes closed, seemingly lost in his thoughts for the longest time. Finally he said, “To answer your earlier questions: Zeddicus Pricks is the Magister of King Zachariah’s court, though he is egotistical enough to consider it his own. He is highly intelligent and seeks power in places he should not look. Some time ago he tried to leech it from our nearby sun, it did not end well and now we suffer worse than we did before. He is also my old mentor and is none-too-pleased that I chose to abandon his foolishness.” Clearing his throat, he continued. “Your being from some otherworld would… interest him greatly. I need to keep your presence from him.”
“Sounds heroic.” Kelsey smiled, thinking of the Tomias in her books. “Tomias, man of magic, protecting the Evergreen from further harm.”
“I’m not being heroic,” he muttered. “I’m merely atoning for past mistakes.”
“Oh?” She was instantly curious. “What mistakes?”
“Nothing twenty ales at a time won’t fix.” He suddenly snapped, rolling onto his side. “Get some sleep. We have many miles to pass tomorrow and the next night, too.”
Kelsey fidgeted, surprised by his sudden shift in temperament and unsure if she should apologise for intruding. Regardless, she remained curious. What were the mistakes he had made? They must have been sizeable to have turned him to a life of drifting and drinking and using her presence as a form of atonement.
After several silent minutes of contemplating the back of Tomias’ head, she laid back down upon the lounge and tried to rest in the delicious coolness. She certainly was not looking forward to leaving this way-stop.
Welcome to an act of pantsing. 🤣 I was minding my own business, playing through the Dragon Age saga, when suddenly the urge to write came upon me. Now I'm stuck in this weird world of "tale vs. reality" and am trying to keep it going. Hopefully it works out and I'm actually able to go somewhere with it! 😆 Would be nice to actually finish something one of these days.
I have no idea what to title this thing yet. So The Perils of False Preconceptions will just have to do for now.
I hope you enjoy it! 😊
Until next time! ❤️📚📝