Chapter 50

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Leithan felt all nimble and swift now that he didn't carry his heavy backpack, now that his feet had a sole between them and the uneven, treacherous ground. It was easier to stay close behind Teshin as they trekked on at a brisk pace.

To his credit, neither the added weight nor the fact that his feet were bare seemed to slow Teshin down. He appeared just as agile and supple as before. The way Teshin moved sometimes reminded Leithan of the circus gymnasts that occasionally came to New Ri and did shows at the arena.

He paused again here and there to show Leithan other plants.

Darkis, whose roots had painkiller properties, was a spreading shrub that stayed close to the ground. Its leaves were small and dark green, almost black. And the fruits, resembling fat berries, were a very deep, dark blue. Teshin leaned closer and plucked one between his fingers, squeezing it a little, until juice leaked out.

"The night I met you," Teshin said, "you had violet dye in your hair."

Leithan nodded, shifting closer, low on his knees. The blue juice of the berry was striking and dark as it leaked down Teshin's hand.

Teshin dropped the fruit and examined his hand, observing the traces it had left.

"This is what we use to make the blue dye," he said.

"Is it edible?" Leithan asked.

Teshin nodded, but he made a slight grimace. "It's bitter, though." Then, proffering his blue-stained hand. "Want to taste?"

With a laugh, Leithan pushed him away, but not with enough strength to make him lose his balance.

"I'm not licking your hand," he said, and got up, leaping back onto the path.

Teshin took his place in front of him and started walking. As he trailed after him, Leithan saw Teshin licking the back of his own hand, just a bit, to taste the fruit. Then, he made a funny face, scrunching his nose a little, making Leithan chuckle.

"Still bad, huh?"

"Yeah," Teshin confirmed.

They continued for some time without Teshin stopping to show him any more plants. When the path became steeper, Teshin kept on at the same pace like nothing had changed. Leithan was keeping up without too much effort, for now. He was grateful for all the laps around Veya's Gardens, as well as the drills, muscular training, and sparring with Saul. It had built up his stamina.

Still, the climbing used muscles Leithan wasn't familiar with. He'd be sore tomorrow, probably. Nothing he couldn't handle.

The more they climbed, the lower the sun sat to the west, behind them. But they still had a few hours of light, according to Teshin.

Also, the vegetation around them changed.

Trees got progressively shorter and smaller, as well as scarcer. The path became easier to trek, with fewer obstacles, making it easier to cast glances about. Leithan saw patches of ground with mountain daisies, blossoming in pinks, purples and yellows.

Higher on the slope, strange plants thrived as they protruded from rocky outcrops. One of those had clusters of long slim leaves topped with small yellow flowers.

To either side of the path, which was more stone than earth now, Leithan saw expanses of giant heathers, pale and green, rustled and swayed by the wind.

Higher still, they came upon a meadow full of blue lobelias, and Leithan paused for a moment, without really realizing he'd stopped, at first. His mind felt as clear as the sky. He couldn't remember the last time he'd felt this way.

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