Published: January 10, 2012
That was the end of it. We had finally struck out. There was no easy way out this time.
Our food supply had vanished completely without our usual aid of meat. None of the trees were familiar, so I had no luck in making a bow. We didn't know any of the local plants to forage. Thaddeus failed horribly at hunting solo.
We were simply going to starve.
"I don't want to starve," I whined to Fallen, who laughed openly at my worry. Glaring, I snatched a twig off of a tree and threw it, rather lamely, at him. "It's not funny! We're going to starve to death, and then what will become of my beautiful hips!? They will wither and fade!"
When Fallen laughed harder, I couldn't blame him. Whimpering about my hips, no matter how truly wonderful they were, was a poor way to express my worry. I tended verge on ridiculous when I was frightened, a well trained coping mechanism.
Even knowing it was my own fault he laughed didn't do much to calm me down. I wanted him to at least acknowledge why I was panicked!
Reining in Shinichi, I glared at his back for a moment, watching Balaur carry him away at slow, steady pace. No longer whining, but serious, I called, "Fallen."
We had been letting the two horses go where they wanted, as usual. It was easiest, because it sated our need to move and their need for freedom. Since they stuck together naturally, we didn't even need to steer them, just duck when they headed for low branches. Lost in the forest, it wasn't like trying to get them on a path would work anyway.
My fair haired brother straightened up in the saddle before looking back at me. The laughter was gone from his face as he assured me, "I will kill you before I let you starve slowly and painfully. Just...wait a day since your last meal before whining about starving to death, please."
There was an almost pained note in his voice, and it was my turn to laugh. We had managed to scrape together enough dried berries and nuts for a meager breakfast. He was right that I shouldn't complain so much...but worrying about the future was all too easy when our lives were constantly wrought with uncertainty. If there was even one consistency, I'd worry less.
Glancing at my brother's slender shoulders, I realized there was one: Fallen himself.
A faint smile flickered over my lips as I tapped my heels lightly to Shinichi's flanks, encouraging her to draw even with Baluar. When she did, I leaned over and hugged Fallen. He returned the hug before shoving me so that I was vertical again. Even though he muttered "pest," I could see the "I love you" in his eyes, and that made me smile.
Unfortunately, that smile didn't last long, because my stomach rumbled, reminding me that I was hungry. As if to mock me, a rabbit shot across our path. When Thaddeus leapt after it, Fallen and I both cheered, halting the horses.
"Meat, meat, meat," I sang, slipping from the saddle to dance around happily. I could hear Shinichi's exasperated huff, but didn't particularly care. My belly was finally going to enjoy something solid, rather than the greens and snack food we had been cramming it with.
Even though Fallen had joined me in the ground, he let me dance alone. Gently, he warned me, "Don't hold your breath, Echo. You know how Tha-"
Just to prove him right, Thaddeus burst back into the small clearing, not so much as a smear of blood on his muzzle.
For a moment, a tense silence filled the clearing. The ugly, stupid, pathetic, ungrateful mutt seemed to sense that he had done wrong, as he tensed and glanced between each of us. Fallen seemed to be waiting for something, and the horses hadn't even lowered their heads to graze.
"We're killing and eating him. Now," I declared, my voice strained, but still chipper. Turning towards Shinichi, I dug into her saddle bags and pulled out one of my knives, just to feel Fallen standing behind me, one hand on my shoulder and the other going for my wrist. Jerking my below back, I caught him in the side and snapped, "I'll take him where you don't have to see, but at this point, he is going to starve before we do!"
Fallen didn't shift with the hit, a real testament to how strong he was. His grip, however, did tighten until it was bruising. Harshly, he told me, "Put the knife down. We're not killing him."
"Why!? What good is he!?" I demanded, struggling to get free without cutting either of us. Fallen's hand so close to the blade made that almost impossible, and he had to know that.
Shrugging, he leaned into me, his hold moving from my shoulder to wrap around my torso so I couldn't move. "I don't care. He'll have use some day."
"Lovie, I hate to break the news to you, but that day is today! He is dinner!" I snapped angrily, writhing to no avail.
Harshly, he tightened his grip and told me stubbornly, "No. Echo, put the knife up and get back on Shinichi. We don't have time for your dramatics. If you're hungry, do as I say. I've never been wrong before, have I?"
I had to give him that, but there was no mistaking it. If it had been anyone but Fallen ordering me around, I don't care how many times they had been right, I wouldn't have listened.
Sighing, I dropped the knife, moved my hands to the saddle, and hoisted myself up. Fallen waited until after Shinichi was walking to mount Baluar again. The two of us rode in silence, not discussing where we were going or what we were doing. Fate and Fallen's instincts led us now, and I silently put my faith into them, not eager to starve, but not feeling up to any amount of protesting.
Oddly, after we had been riding a while, Fallen began singing. He had only sung on a handful of occasions before. One was when our first pet had died. It had been a tabby kitten, and a badger had gotten a hold of it. With no way to save it, he sang it to sleep. The other time had been when we were both sick, me slightly more so, and had camped in a cave. Petting my hair, his voice had broken through the night, drawing me out of the fevered haze ever so gently.
Just as every time he sang, I was struck by how beautiful it was. While I could carry a tune and amuse people with my high, boyish voice, Fallen had a deep baritone that shook your soul, awakening it to the beauty of the world. He had a void that could please the gods, and my mortal ears adored it.
The song was in Galactic, a language I had never bothered to learn. As it rose through the trees, it brought hope down to it, making me believe, honestly believe, that things were going to be alright.
Though I didn't know the words, I hummed along, finding the rhythm soothing. My heart seemed so much lighter and the rumbling in my stomach distant. Just like always, he wove a spell that took everything away except for tomorrow, and tomorrow was all that I needed.
Abruptly, he stopped singing and drove his heels into Balaur's flanks. The beautiful stallion leapt forward, and without waiting for my command, Shinichi did the same. I leaned down, close to her neck to avoid low hanging branches as the two horses barreled forward, led only by Fallen's light touches to Balaur's neck.
When we reigned in, the forest was thinning out ahead. Fallen glanced at me and declared, "Civilization."
"No," was the only word I could think of, already knowing what he intended and refusing to accept it.
Grinning, he kept his head forward as he answered cheekily, "I think yes. We can get a job, earn some money, and buy you a brand new bow."
"No," I whined, nudging Shinichi so that she would walk closer to Balaur. Reaching out to shake his arm, I whined louder, "No."
Fallen jerked his arm free and just shot me a dark look, a stern "shut up," and I obeyed. Village folk rarely understood our sort.
As we rode out of the forest, I was pleased to see that it wasn't a tiny village, but rather a large town. There were two roads, meaning some level of interest had to pass through there, even if it wasn't on a cross road. Child played, dogs barked, and women chatted loudly. All of these were good signs that it was a healthy town and that we would find a job somewhere there.
It should have brought me relief, but I couldn't stop from muttering angrily, "The domesticity! It killed my soul."
Fallen laughed and nudged Balaur into a cantered, the pace easier to maintain with fewer weeds clinging to his stallion's legs. Shinichi kept close to her brother, and I kept my head down, trusting my darling mare to behave herself.
When Fallen began talking, I reined her in, realizing a second later that it was unnecessary. She had already halted and was waiting patiently next to Balaur.
My brother asked about stables and then negotiated price when we found the stable master. Finally, we were allowed a stall big enough for both horses and us to curl up on the floor for a fair price. I didn't bother reminding Fallen that we didn't have that price, trusting him to have a plan.
"Wait in here until I get back," he ordered me, once we had settled the horses into the stall.
Jaw dropped, I nearly protested only to realize that it would just be a waste of time. With a huff, I rolled my eyes and nodded. "Whatever."
Fallen laughed and kissed my forehead before leaving. I frowned after him, hating that I was being left, but knowing the logic. My brother and I were both strong, but only he looked it. He could get a job for both of us that required heavy lifting, but only if I wasn't there.
Groaning and hating humans even more, I walked over to Shinichi and plopped down. Looking at her, I told her, "You're lucky. You can always be with Balaur."
Her fluff tipped ears flicked once and then she nickered sympathetically before going back to chewing on the hay.