Sareneth's entry into the Summer Prose Competition 2010
The dirt path was dry and cracked. Finn could feel it through his sandals, compacted in the summer heat. He’d have taken his sandals off if his feet were stronger, but they were used to cooler weather and already weak with blisters. Riyuel was barefoot, of course. Her calluses, built on a childhood of clambering across rocks, were more than suited to the Ythian climate. Finn dreaded to think how hot it was where she came from.
The warmth here was uncomfortable enough for him. A small breeze came through the valleys, even on days like this, but it didn’t cool him any, just made his fringe fly into his face. He didn’t mind that so much. It tickled a little, and sometimes it stung his eyes, but mostly it was nice to feel something light brushing against his skin. Everything else felt so heavy.
He ran a few metres to catch up to his companion, quickly slowing back to a walk when he reached her. The path wasn’t wide enough for them to stand shoulder to shoulder, but Riyuel seemed to prefer tip-toeing across the grass anyway. Finn didn’t know why. The blades that had managed to poke through the open parts of his sandals had felt sharp and brittle. It wasn’t exactly the sort of thing he’d want to be treading in. Maybe she couldn’t feel it as much.
“You want to stay here long?” Riyuel glanced across at him.
“I don’t know yet.” Of course he wanted to – he wasn’t the sort to deny himself food, sleep or company, none of which were all that common outside of the sparse villages dotted around the region. But then, he rarely had the last word on whether or not they stayed long. He’d become better at quickly judging the levels of hostility, though, and maybe Riyuel thought he decided on a whim rather than careful assessment of the situation and tactical retreats.
Ythith should have been welcoming, or so the prince had promised him. But the prince didn’t rule here – he wasn’t sure who did – and it had been nearly ten years since he’d last set foot on Ythian soil. Finn himself had only ever seen paintings. The colours had been vastly overestimated – the sky was paler and the grass closer to yellow than either the greens he’d been promised or the reds he was used to, but maybe that was seasonal.
“Everything here is washed away,” said Riyuel, following his line of sight. “White and yellow aren’t colours for fields.”
“I suppose not.”
“They must have strange food here, growing in such strange colours.” Riyuel seemed to brighten up at the thought. She managed a skip in her step as she moved back onto the path behind Finn. Thistles, or similarly vicious plants, had sprouted up amongst the grasses. Finn hadn’t noticed them before, but now they were turning up in clumps. No wonder Riyuel had moved away.
“I expect so.” Finn glanced over his shoulder. It unnerved him, not being able to see where she was. “We’ll have to see when we get there.”
The village had been in view for some time, a smattering of houses sitting low on the hill ahead. He expected they were still quite a distance away, no matter how close they looked.
“You expect so? I thought you were born here.”
Finn kept on walking, though mentally he’d frozen. “Not near here. Further to the west.”
She must have picked up on the edge to his voice, because the conversation died after that. It was too hot to continue anyway. Finn could feel his mouth drying just thinking about how far they still had to go.
He dragged one foot in front of the other, wondering how in the world Riyuel managed to stay so energetic. It wasn’t only the heat, but the seeming endlessness of the journey, the village getting no closer. The little dirt path, trampled into the landscape by other travellers, rambled across the hillsides with no real direction or determination. No matter how many fields and grassy patches it dragged them through, there was never even a hint of shade. The only trees in sight marked the horizon, too far away for him to even make out their individual shapes.
His own silhouette was the only thing moving in his field of vision. Riyuel was too far behind for him to see hers, and he wasn’t able to make out anything stirring amongst the grasses. He could hear a steady chorus of insects, but none of them flew into the open. The air had started to wobble, and he wasn’t sure if it was just him getting light-headed or if the heat actually made the air waver like that. It would explain the lack of flying insects. And birds, for that matter, although they probably didn’t fly so far from their roosts anyway.
They probably shouldn’t have come so far from home themselves, Finn thought. They’d been assured it was only a day’s journey to the next village, but he hadn’t thought to question just how long a day that journey would take.
He began to wonder just how they’d ended up in the middle of nowhere, and how much farther ‘nowhere’ went on for.