After what seemed like hours, the forest thinned back to rocky terrain, and shouts and glow of torchlight behind us faded completely.
“I think this is good,” said Will. “We can stay here for the night.” He didn’t mention what we would do tomorrow, and no one pressed him.
I dismounted and searched through my saddlebags for a faery orb. I didn’t find one. In our getaway haste, we had to leave behind our carriage; the orcs had probably found it by now and salvaged what they could. We were left with little more than our horses, weapons, and the moonlight.
I turned around, ready to roast Richard alive, but Will had beat me to it.
“What on earth were you thinking, Rich?” he scolded. “We could have been killed! For all we know, the orcs have declared war! Do you have any clue-”
“Richard.” Gwen’s voice silenced us with its quiet tone. She was holding onto her saddle, eyes closed, the perfect image of serenity.
The calm before the storm, I thought.
“Richard,” Gwen’s voice was pleasant as she turned around to face him. “Would you hand me your shoe, please?”
“Are you going to hit me with it?” Rich asked warily.
Gwen laughed. “Of course not.”
Rich didn’t look convinced, but he removed his shoe anyway and handed it to her.
Gwen immediately began whacking Rich with his own shoe.
“Brent!” Gwen screamed a long string of curse words.
“You said you wouldn’t hit-”
“How could you have been so stupid?! You nearly killed the lot of us, you ruined my night-”
“It wasn’t my-”
“I DON’T CARE!” Gwen had stopped hitting Richard with the shoe and was now simply screaming at him. Somehow, this was scarier than the smacking.
“They were being kind to us, Richard! We’ve been in these Great-One-forsaken mountains for weeks, and finally, we run across some people who actually care, who take us in and feed us, and you go and ATTACK ONE OF THEM OVER SOME PERCEIVED SLIGHT!”
“Perceived?” Now Richard was getting angry. “I don’t think I perceived the way Kevik–”
“Oh, shut up! I was having a perfectly good–no, a wonderful time! But you couldn’t just play along and be happy for us, no, because you weren’t enjoying the party, and if Richard isn’t happy, no one can be!”
With that, Gwen chucked Richard’s shoe at his head and stomped off.
Will made to go after her, but I stopped him.
“She needs to blow off some steam,” I said. “I’ll find her; you go talk to Rich.”
Though the worry never left his eyes, Will nodded and went back to talk with Rich.
I found Gwen sitting behind a boulder, with her bow and a knife. She said nothing when I sat down next to her. Her eyes and nose were red and puffy, but I decided not to bring it up. I watched her whittle tiny decorative leaves and flowers into her bow. We sat in silence for what felt like a long time, giving me time to think about what she’d said to Richard. The words weren’t intended for me, but they stung all the same.
I was the one who finally broke the silence: “Are you really that unhappy on this quest?”
Gwen gave a small, mirthless laugh. “Look around. We’re surrounded for miles by a steep, miserable wasteland of rocks. And don’t get me wrong, I love you guys, but there’s only so much of you I can take. I miss my family.”
“And the others…do they–”
“Yeah, they feel the same way.”
My guilt was a physical thing, racking my insides. It felt like a bad stomach ache. “How did I not notice you were so miserable? Great One, I’m so self-absorbed.”
“You’re just now realizing that?” said Gwen. Then, seeing my face, she said, “Hey, you’re worried about your Gramma; we know that, and we forgive you. Of all the flaws in the world, yours isn’t the worst.”
“I’m not sure about that.” I said. “I mean, I came over here to comfort you, and ended up turning this into a conversation about my problems.”
“Oh, come on, Sensa,” said Gwen. “Everybody’s got problems. You’re self-centered. So is Richard. Will’s got a big ego, but at least he’s not vocal about it.”
“What about you?” I nudged her. “What’s your fatal flaw.”
“Me? I don’t have one. I’m flawless.”
I laughed and played along. “Tell me your secret, O Perfect Woman!”
Gwen pretended to debate the issue in her head. “Fine! You want to know my super secret weakness?” I nodded. She leaned in and cupped her hands around my ear.
Gwen whispered: “I am really temperamental.”
I burst out into laughter. Gwen’s temper was hardly a secret.
“You can never tell anyone,” she continued to joke. “No one can ever know!”
“What will you do? Throw a shoe at me?” We both laughed at that one.
* * * * *
[That’s right folks. This time, I decided to split the Chapter into parts so I can give y’all something to read. My goal is to finish this book by the end of the summer; I’m getting close to the end. I hope you all like it!]