Days of travel soon took their toll on the prince, whose every step was accompanied by a pained wince Every time Fern glanced behind himself, the distance separating the two of them grew steadily larger until finally, he found himself stopping every now and then to let the other boy catch up.

Eventually it got to the point when Fern, turning around completely, could catch no sight of the prince. He stood there for a moment before the prince himself came trotting up the hill they had been walking on.

He stopped in front of him, bending forward to catch his breath. The sound of his hurried, wheezing gasps filled the silence between the two of them before the prince suddenly straightened his back, a defiant glare on his flushed face.

"I know, Fern!" he exclaimed breathily. "I'll get used to it eventually. It's just I've never had to walk this far. The castle was big, but not this big."

Fern frowned, gesturing down to the prince's feet. His eyes followed the movement down to the muddy boots he was wearing.

"They're new, and they pinch my feet," the prince said with a small sigh, regarding them sadly. "You know how new boots are, Fern."

Mouth twisted in a smirk, Fern slowly shook his head. The prince's cheeks turned a light shade of pink. He let out a quiet huff before 

"Right, I should have thought that over," he murmured, scowling. "How far's the next town anyhow?"

There it was again. The sound of the map opening, a sound ingraining itself into the prince's memories. He was sure that long after this ordeal was over, he would be reminded of his own incompetence at this moment every time he heard the crinkling of paper.

Fern thrusted the map in front of his face, a finger on the halfway point between the next town and the castle that they had just left.

He snatched the map out of the other boy's hands, looking it over to make sure of what he was seeing. "We've walked for days, and we've only gotten this far?" His voice, barely audible, sounded foreign and raspy to his own ears. It had been a while since they had left their hometown, and already he felt as if it had been forever since he last saw another person besides Fern.

With a cry of frustration, he crumpled the map up into a ball and tossed it on the ground. "It's not fair!" he screamed, roughly rubbing his sleeve against his eyes. "I'm a prince! I should have my own escorts at the very least!" Fern stood and watched as the prince stomped back and forth, kicking up dead leaves and dirt with every dragging step of his.

And then, like a rag doll, he collapsed in on himself, curling up into a little ball on the ground. A short silence stretched between the two of them, before a broken whisper came from him. "I've been locked up in a castle my whole life too. How do they expect me to rescue her by myself."

Sitting there on the dusty forest trail, not paying any mind to the gnats swarming around his face or the ants slowly making their way up his tailored clothes, the prince had cast aside all of his pompous airs. For all his finery, he seemed tiny, and much too young for his age.

When he couldn't stand to look any longer, Fern grabbed ahold of the prince's hand, and he pulled.

"Ah, that's right," the prince murmured as he stumbled to his feet. "I have you, Fern, though I do wish you were more of a conversationalist." This earned him a cuff on the ear, to which he replied with a quick laugh and a sniffle.

Perhaps it was an illusion all along, the pain he had been feeling, that infuriating frustration at his helplessness. Right now, he found himself feeling lighter than when the journey had started, and they were well on their way to rescuing that infamous princess with her moonlight beauty.

"But you'll have to do the climbing, Fern," added the prince. "I won't even mind if you happen to get her to fall for you and your silent charm, as long as you promise not to leave me."

Fern's pinky hooked around his in a tight secure grip, devotion in the curve of his smile.

"Good then. Now, how about this? At the next town, we'll hitch a ride on a trade caravan. It'll cost us, but it will be faster! And less trudging through the mud!"

His mouth was dry, but the prince would go on rambling for the rest of the day, and Fern walked beside him, and let him.

The End

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