Chapter Five

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Terent doesn't say a word when he returns to the campsite. I wait for some sort of indication of our fight, but he doesn't so much as glance in my direction when he steps out from the trees in silent strides with a stack of fallen branches. His features are neutral, maybe even bored. He crouches between the two tents and gets to work.

The fire sparks to life a few minutes later, orange flames flickering against the vibrant scarlet leaves of the Red Forest. Rosalie unpacks enough berries to share while Terent hunts down a few rabbits in the forest. He cooks them over the fire and divvies up the meat, still avoiding my gaze when he forces Rosalie to pass me my share. We eat in relative silence until the fire has dimmed and we retreat into one of the two tents.

Without a cot to lie on, I use Luka's jacket as a blanket and nestle on the cold ground, propping most of the soft clothes near the top of my bag to rest my head. It's not as comfortable as the stables, but it's not the worst sleep I've ever had. Or maybe I'm too exhausted to notice.

Morning comes in a blur. Terent pops his head into our tent and barks "Get up!" at the rise of dawn. Rosalie is slower than I am to rouse from her slumber. She lets out a soft groan and pulls her blanket up over her head, too tired to notice the few dark curls spilling out underneath. I suspect she's not used to sleeping anywhere except a soft bed.

The other tent is already put away by the time I squeeze on my boots and blearily take in my surroundings. The entire forest looks as if it's on fire. It takes me longer than I'm willing to admit to realize that it's just the rising sun reflecting against the vibrant leaves.

Rosalie and I hurry to catch up. In a matter of minutes, the campsite is disassembled and we're back on those aching saddles, marching off toward Gavesh.

Despite being along the coast, Lakesh isn't a tropical city. While we'd been able to avoid the worst of the snow, Luka and I still braced ourselves against the chilly night airs as winter settled in. Many of the sailors still wore thick scarves and coats when the northern airs traveled south, but they did not know the crunch of boots on snow or the ugly sting of frostbitten fingers. I have not seen a real winter in years.

As we travel north and the flat roads begin to slope, I can't help but wonder if that might change.

I'd been to Gavesh for a total of five minutes on my last visit, or so that's how I remembered it. Luka had procured us a space aboard a farmer's wagon on his way to sell goods within Lakesh. My only memory of the village had been that old man's smile as he gave us safe passage.

In the back of my mind I can see a few colorful walls and some fields, but nothing that stands out against the several other towns and villages we'd passed through. It may as well be like every other town we'd escaped through.

The Gavesh we approach is not the one I remember.

Our horses trot past large fields of bright green grass sprouting out not from dirt, but from large pools of water. They dip in small valleys across the hills, thinly spread out between the curving hillsides.

"They're rice paddy fields," Rosalie explains when she sees me staring at the large expanse of land. Sure enough, farmers are scattered throughout the pools of water, carefully digging up the green sprouts. "We have a lot of them outside of Keltor."

I nod quietly, finally drawing my gaze up to take in the rest of the scenery. There is a mountain range to the right, their purple peaks misted by the clouds. They're nowhere near as impressive as the Starridge Mountains back in Sentre, but I feel an ache in my chest at the nostalgia.

The dirt begins to fade away into man-made stone under our horses' hooves as we reach the top of the hill. Several curved roofs of red and sea-foam green peek out below, separating invitingly on either side of the road. One building stands out in the middle of the village, its peak taller than the rest. An ornate gold sun glitters from the top of its spire, hovering over the surrounding buildings.

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