The moment they entered the forest Josh noticed a change in Grace. She could now walk under her own power and wasn’t leaning on him anymore. The colour was back in her face and she had stopped coughing. Josh felt different too. He felt stronger and better than he had ever felt. He had been by trees before, but never before so many or ones that belonged to the Fairies. These trees seemed larger, more vibrant and full of a life than he had never seen before. They were nothing like human trees. Those were old, worn and often dying. They arrived at a small clearing and sat to eat. The ground was as soft as moss and deep dark green, but there was no moss growing there. The light shone from dew on leaves but when they sat down, the ground was perfectly dry. Then he remembered that fairies are tiny. This clearing must have been huge for them. They would have held parties here and then gone on to a new place to dance until they went back to the kingdom in the centre of the forest. At least that’s what all the myths said so Josh had decided that’s what they would do. They would head to the centre unless Grace had some secret plan he didn’t know about and from what he knew of her she did.
While Josh got out the food, Grace looked around. For her entire life, she had lived in the capital city of Nacima. All she had ever seen was stone walls and wooden fences blocking her from interacting with the wrong people. The closest she had ever gotten to trees and growing things was the flowers she had been allowed to grow but those weren’t the same as the ones out here. These ones were full of life and not trapped. Her plants had been like her, trapped and bored; stuck to live a life they hated. But those flowers were nothing like the ones she could see now. In here, everything was more vibrant, all her senses were heightened. She tried to take everything in, all the sights and sounds; the sound of every bird that was singing, crickets that were waking up, the smell of flowers in bloom and the deep smell of pine that filled her lungs as she breathed in.
She walked a little way from the clearing always making sure that Josh could see her, otherwise he would pitch a fit and she wouldn’t be able to explore the forest more. The trees were so close together, that when she looked up, she couldn’t see sky. All she could see was a wave of different shades of green, over lapping to create a scale effect. The light that was making it through, repeated that pattern upon her skin and clothing. She took a deep breath and filled her lungs with the smell of pine and grass.
She missed her home, filled with all the hidden corners and secrets not even her father knew about. She missed the hidden corners that meant her brother had refused to play damsel in distress because he could never rescue in her in time. When she was younger, she had been allowed to leave the castle and see the whole city. From her room at the highest point of the castle, the city had always seemed huge, like it was her giant play ground. Back then, she could dress in common clothes and be like a normal child. She had loved the sights and sounds of all the different trades; from the tanners and, and the traders to the grocers and butchers. The people who had called her little miss and let her hide in the shops when playing with the other children. The people at the market trying to sell things that ranged from vegetables to pearls. They claimed the pearls were from the Pearl Islands, even though everyone knew that the Mermaids never let pearls be taken from their territory.
Sadly as she had gotten older and become a ‘young woman’, she had been given orders not to venture down because the common people wouldn’t leave her alone, so she grew older, trapped within stones walls and old paintings, where no happiness and the sound of children’s laughter couldn’t reach her.
She turned back to look at Josh, who was laying out all the food. When he saw her looking, he waved at her. She waved back and smiled. He would follow her to the ends of the earths, yet she had only known him for one week now. One week that seemed to have lasted months of her life. The peaceful serenity of the forest surrounded her. She wished she could stay there for all of her life, but she knew that would never happen. She couldn’t leave all her people to be slaughtered or kept in captivity. She just even know what Chimera would do to them.
She walked back to the campsite where Josh had laid out all the food and lit a fire,
“Where did you get the wood?”
“I shivered and looked round for something we could use as firewood and it was right there, in a pile,” he pointed to the base of one of the big trees.
“They are watching us,” Grace looked around, wary of her surroundings now.
“Of course they are. They don’t want to lose to you. You’re the Queen of the strongest nation in the land.”
“Josh, what do you know about all the different nations?”
“You don’t know?”
“I was only taught about the diplomatic things, things that ensure continued peace. I want to know what it is really like.”
“Well we are in the forests.”
“No duh Josh,” she teased
“It’s the largest forest area but no trees are allowed to be felled. The Fairies live in the centre and are normally very tiny so no one knows how many there is of them.” Josh continued on, ignoring her.
“I know all that,” snapped Grace impatiently, “What’s the other stuff you know about them. The stuff that people shouldn’t know but they do. The stuff of myths and legends that are true.”
“They are spiteful and vicious to the people who annoy them or cut down trees. But they are the best doctors anywhere. They don’t share their secrets because they like to be in control of people. They are the only ones who truly understand what the jobs of all the plants are and they won’t tell any one.”
“Okay, what do you know about the others?” Josh smiled at her,
“Well mermaids are very silly and flirtatious. They are also very vain and love getting presents but don’t ever give them in return. Centaurs don’t like people but they know everything by reading the sky and the things they call stars. There aren’t many of them but they lie and say that if there was war they could beat us all easy. They probably could because they would see it in the sky and fight before the rest of us knew what was happening.”
“What do you know about the Reons?”
“Nothing. They live in a volcano and don’t let anyone come to them. They always come to us and even then they don’t tell us anything. They just stand there.”
“Okay and what about Duanan?”
“They haven’t changed in 200 years. The only thing that is different is that we are no longer fighting with them, thanks to your Granddad.”
“So really, we are in the dark on about half of the kingdoms?”
“Yes,” Josh looked at her, never smiling. He looked out at the forest. He had no idea what was just beyond the trees and it made him uncomfortable