We continued to travel for many days. We only went to villages when it was necessary, for supplies like food, and that's when Fidelis would enjoy telling his story to receive the freshest foods. But we didn't stay in the village overnight, exactly the way I wanted; we received what we needed before continuing on our way towards west to Fons.
For many days we traveled with little stopping. It was the time when the sun was high in the middle of the sky when we came across a river. I was confused. The river water was rather clear—not red at all. Fons and Fortis were one at a time, so shouldn't their water be red, too? Could this be a reason why only a few Fortisians wield the ability to touch a flame? I remember being told that we get our abilities to touch fire by drinking the red water.
"You can use this river to help you on your way to Fons—Auro, you look confused." Fidelis turned to me, "Is there something wrong? Have you thought I would lead you all the way?"
"Why are your rivers not red?" I asked.
"Red rivers? Who ever heard of red water?" Fidelis soon became confused as I was. "Are the rivers in your country red?"
"Why…yes, they are." I answered.
"Ha! Fortisian rivers have always been this way! And there's not many rivers in Fortis at all." Fidelis declared, "Why are your rivers red? Are your rivers made of wine or blood?"
"Neither!" I quickly answered, "It is red because the gods placed special substance in it so we have our ability to touch fire!"
"Nonsense!" Fidelis waved it off, "Rivers are meant to be clear and blue. Rain and the oceans are all like that—so why would the river?"
"Sanguis Sea is red!" I retorted.
"Only with the blood of the gods fighting the demons in the water." Fidelis waved off, "If there was no blood in the water, then it would be blue and clear!"
I sighed and crossed my arms in defeat, giving up trying to convince Fidelis that Fortisian rivers were meant to be red. "As you say…"
"Fidelis, you said that you won't lead us all the way?" Adustio spoke up.
"Yes. Fortisians are not allowed to leave the country, and I have finished my job." Fidelis said. "This river here leads straight into Fons, connecting with other Fonsian rivers. I've heard that Fonsian villages lay close to the rivers."
"That is true." I nodded.
"Then you shall run into a village sooner or later if you follow along the rivers." Fidelis said.
"What are we going to do about food?" Saga asked.
"It is spring," Fidelis began, "Soon you will find fruits growing in trees and on bushes. You will hunt for animals and drink the water from the river. You will survive."
"We have nothing to hunt with." Adustio pointed out.
Fidelis gave a sigh. He went over to the back of the wagon and pulled out a bow and five arrows—not too long and not too small. He went over and handed them to Adustio, "Here, you can use these."
"…When did we get those?" Saga stared.
"We-We al-always lo-loaded and re-reloaded the wagon…and we-we didn't no-notice a bow an-and arro-arrows?" Truella's tone was also colored in confusion.
"Don't mind when and where I got them, just use them." Fidelis ordered, then he went and handed each of us a bundle for tent making. "Here, so you can camp."
"C-Carrying su-such bul-bulky things on our tra-avels?" Truella held the bundle the best she could until Adustio decided to carry the bundle for Truella.
"Hey, you all didn't pay that much." Fidelis joked before he handed us the passes, "Just in case you do run into Fortisians…these will be useful."
"Well…thank you for your help, Fidelis." Saga thanked.
"Yes, thank you." Adustio and I also thanked.
Fidelis went to the back of the wagon to grab something wrapped in cloth, handing it over to Truella. Truella held the item in her little, nine year old hands, opening it to take a look. Wrapped up inside was a small little doll sewn together, red died wool hair, grey eyed buttons, and wore a green, child's dress. It was no bigger than a size of a grown woman's hand.
"Little girls should have more than one doll." Fidelis shrugged. "…And a bit of a pay in return for doing a little extra for me."
"Tha-ank yo-ou, Fi-Fidelis." Truella gave a shy smile.
"Well, you all should be on your way now. Travel as far as you can before it gets dark." Fidelis suggested as he went to sit on his horse, grabbing the reins. "You still have more walking to do."
"Once again, we thank you for your help." Adustio spoke.
"Farewell, my friends." Fidelis ordered his horses to turn around and start pulling the wagon in the opposite direction. "I doubt we'll see each other again!"
"Farewell, Fidelis." We waved our hands as we departed.
We continued our travels for as long as we can, carrying heavy, bulky bundles on our backs and in our arms. How I wished we had a mule or a horse to help us so we could move at a faster pace. We continued to follow the river that slowly redden until it became Fons red river water—knowing that we were in Fons, until the sun began to set. Truella and I began to set up camp and make a fire while Adustio and Saga went to go gather to find quick hunt. Adustio returned with two rabbits. Saga returned, using the first layer of her skirt as a basket to hold the fruits she found. She came back with a small amount of variety of berries, a few peachcots and nectarplums. I skinned and cooked the rabbit while Saga cleaned the skins. Then we began to eat and converse.
"So, we follow along the river and we find a Fonsian village." Adustio began, "Do we live in the first village we see?"
"I'm not sure…" I began, "Northern Fons is more open to raids from Atrox. Village towards the north has a high chance of raids."
"So we move south then?"
"Does it matter where we settle?" Saga began to speak, "Atrox and Gemma are at war with each other—using Fons as a battle ground. Remember how we ran into the Gemmians and how we saw Fonsians putting ash in their hair?"
"Maybe we should have stayed in Fortis…" I sighed, "The only place I can think of that would be the safest is the Capital Village."
"And where's that?" Adustio asked.
"…Well…completely on the other side of the country—the west side. I wouldn't know how to get there…but we can ask around and—"
"I-I vote fi-first village we-we see!" Truella took a bite of her rabbit, "I-I'm so-so sick of-of traveling! F-First village we see-see!"
"But what of the raids?" I was concern with the choice. "Maybe we should settle in the Capital village or in the center of Fons. It would be much safer—"
"N-N-No! First vill-village we see!" Truella stood her ground, "I-I know for su-sure that Atrox do-don't raid every single d-day of the we-week. I-It's mo-more mo-monthly or sea-easonal, re-really… I could li-live with that."
"You say that now because you don't know what it is like!" I began, "Besides, what of the others?"
"…I don't know… I, too, am getting tired of traveling." Saga admitted. "Maybe we should be grateful of any decent village we find…"
We looked over at Adustio. He was eating without a word until he looked up and saw that we waited for a response. "…Why do you look at me? I go wherever my friends and wife stay. I honestly don't mind wherever we settle!"
"F-First v-village we find!" Truella smiled in triumph.
I gave a sigh of defeat, "Fine…but who knows when we'll find a village. Villages in Fons are scattered everywhere and—"
"But you said that villages usually settle alongside the rivers." Adustio pointed out.
"Isn't that how you trade from village to village?"
"Then we shall find a village sooner or later." Adustio smiled. "Your mind is running too much."
I gave a sigh, "Fine…the first village we find. But they might not be warm to us at first. We are strangers to the village."
"Bu-But you w-will he-help with-with h-having them tr-trust us." Truella began, "Y-You are F-Fonsian after all, y-you c-can hel-help them op-open up to us."
"True…but I won't be from their village." I began, "They maybe timid at first."
"Fons and Fortis are really one, aren't they?" Saga joked.
"They may try to hide themselves at first…" I joked, stating the truth though. "Fonsians are such timid people to outsiders."
"You used to be so once." Saga recalled.
"Not knowing how to pull out a snow-beet." Adustio teased, "But I guess that's man's work in Fons."
"I-I don'-don't know wh-what you two are t-talking ab-about." Truella wiped her mouth, "A-Auro w-was al-always trying her be-best to be de-defiant."
I smiled awkwardly, remembering my foolishness from when I was an Ancilla—a maidservant—when I was sold to Truella's father, Lupus, and how I always had a negative attitude towards him and I wasn't afraid to show it. I'm surprised I had survived that.
"Remember when we had to eat that horrid shriveled brown-green medicine? What did the Gemmians call it again…? Exsiccato suci, was it?" I smiled towards Adustio.
"I remember that horrid taste!" Adustio shook his head in disgust as he cringed, crinkling his nose, "The taste of a mule's vomit!"
"H-How would yo-you know wh-what a m-mules vomit t-taste like?" Truella giggled.
"Remember how the Gemmian princess had an interest in you?" Saga giggled, too.
"Ah…the perfect wedding we had! Nothing such as sweet as your groom that was already betrothed by no choice to another woman, going to be hung in the morning's dawn," I smiled as I rolled my eyes.
"I-I had to d-deal with an u-ugly, old, bi-bitter nurse made who watched the chi-children of the family—they tease-teased me b-because I wore clo-othes! I had to-to face the co-corner of-of the room to-to make sure I-I didn't see anything!" Truella placed a berry in her mouth. "A-At least your-your advent-adventure was e-exciting."
"Exciting? Yes, having a Gemmian princess coming after me in the night was rather exciting." I shook my head, still smiling.
"Still know of any spells?" Saga teased.
"I think I might be still under one." Adustio joked with a smile at me.
"R-Remember w-whe-when we-we had to-to wear th-those w-waist pinchers?" Truella brought up.
"Oh, how they made my side ache!" Saga rubbed her waist, "I haven't worn them in so long, and I don't remember how I breathed!"
"How did the women of Honesta breath?" I smiled.
"I regret wearing close fitting tights. How they were too tight against my skin!" Adustio shook his head. "And how they wanted my small horse-tail to be cut!"
"Oh…how the Honestan speech confused me!" I rubbed my head as I recalled, "One thing meant multiple things and when you tried to repeat what you have heard—you get it wrong anyways!"
"I re-remember how-how I ha-ad tried to e-explain what the broth-brother and sister meant whe-when they said—"
"Please don't bring it up!" I quickly interrupted Truella, placing my face in my hands in embarrassment, "Too much was said!"
"Are you talking about the party where they asked her—" Adustio paused and smirked as he looked at Saga, "Where they asked her if she had lain on her back yet?"
Adustio and Saga broke into laughter. Right when Truella giggled, I quickly grabbed hold of her and covered her ears. "Not in front of a child, you two! You may speak clearer than Honestans, but you still have the same sense of humor…!"
"We are Honestans." Saga smiled.
"How many things have changed within us during our adventures, have you noticed?" I noted. "I have—or could it be just me?" They had a thoughtful look on their faces before nodding in agreement.
"We should rest now." Adustio said, "We have finished eating our food and it is rather late. We still need to travel."
We all agreed and retired to our tents and slept. I couldn't sleep well though. I was too busy remembering, recalling events. I recalled how I reacted to the events, wondering if things would have changed if I made different decision.
Would things have changed if I hadn't continued conversing with Saga and Adustio in Atrox? Would I have met Truella if Nivis, Prima's baby that didn't survive, survived—or at least told of the signs? If Rupes had convinced Prima to keep me on that day? If I hadn't followed Saga and Adustio on our escape during the Gemmian raid on Atrox Pagus? If I had rejected Adustio's proposal? If I hadn't help Saga find her old husband—the one she had married long ago. Where would be if anyone of those changed? I pulled out the wedding necklace that hid under my dress, the one that belonged to Rupes's first wife, the one he gave me. The wedding necklace that Adustio and I used on our strange wedding day. I rubbed my fingers over the black onyx and the red rubies. How I will never forget Rupe's kindness.
My mind continued to remain active and began to think of our future in a new village. Had the villages changed during my absents or had it remained the same? Would we be accepted into the village? Would they become used to Truella? I hoped that we would receive many positive outcomes with our new lives. I then pulled out the Minch coin necklace that Adustio had bought me despite knowing what he would receive in doing so. To me, this showed everything Adustio had done for me. I finally closed my eyes and slept.
We had woken, continuing to travel for many days and nights. We continued to travel with little rest we could. Soon, we came across where two rivers met…and where we came across a little girl no older than ten.
She had a round face shape and full cheeks and high cheekbones. She had bright, stringy, orange red hair and her eyes were large and a light grey. She looked rather thin and her face was covered in light freckles. She wore a green child's dress, a child's dress being of large cone shape skirt, and she had yellow rolling wave's bordering and a down-arrow's neckline—traditional child's dress style. She was carrying a water vase, filling it up with water. When she took notice of us, her eyes widen more and she quickly took a step back, holding the water vase close to her chest.
"H-Hello…" I greeted, trying not to frighten her. "Don't be scared…I'm a Fonsian, too. My village was burned down during an Atroxian raid."
She leaned to the side as she took a look at my friends, seeing their unusual appearances before looking back at me with a questionable look. She still didn't ease up nor did she speak.
"Well…how we became a strange group is a long story." I explained, "But they're good people, I promise. We just wish for a new home."
I saw her ease up on the water vase and her shoulders relaxed slowly, trusting me—but still unsure a bit. My friends continued to remain silent, allowing me to speak for them.
"A village, is there a village near by?" I asked, "Can you lead the way?"
She looked down in her water vase before looking back at us and nodding. She began motioning her hand, signaling for us to follow her. Saga picked up Truella and we began following the girl.
It wasn't a far walk; actually, we could have walked there without her leading us the way. Just a couple or more paces away into the woods, there was a clearing, and within the clearing was a small village. When the villagers caught sight of us, the women quickly rushed the children and then went inside the houses themselves, peeking out the window. Many men quickly stood guard by their house's front doors while others stood in the place and stared.
Soon, a man came walking over to us. He looked to be in his 50's. His peach skin was tanned from field work and looked rough. His grey eyes were both of stone coldness and gentleness. His curly red hair was thinning and receding and a curly beard lay on his face. I assumed he was the village leader.
"Camena, what is the meaning of this?" he spoke in a raspy voice, "Bringing strangers into our village? We don't even know of their intent!"
"They say they're looking for a new home." The girl, Camena, chirped as she began rocking on the back of her heels, "Strange looking group, aren't they, Robur?"
The man, Robur, looked over at us, "What do you come here for? It looks as if you aren't here for trade and you are a strange group."
"Like the child said, we're looking for a new home." Adustio spoke, "My wife, Auro, shall explain."
"My village was burned down and I was taken to Atrox as a slave, where I met Saga and Adustio and Truella. We have traveled practically the entire world, escaping from slavery and prison in brutal countries and we didn't feel home in Honesta nor in Fortis. So I decided to return to Fons—my friends followed my decision."
"I hear of Honestans—honorable and brave, just like the sun, their hair painted gold. As you know, Auro, we Fonsians hold great respect for the Honestans." Robur began.
They're not only that…but also a bit frank and confusing. We would know. I responded in my head before he continued.
His eyes quickly hardened as he looked at Truella in Saga's arms, "But, there is a problem with the Atroxian…"
I quickly took Truella from Saga's arms and held her myself, "She is only a child—she will cause no harm! She has no home, too, never really had a home in own country from which she was born."
He observed Truella. Truella clung tightly onto me as she pressed herself as much as she could onto me, trying to create more distance between her and Robur. Her eyes quickly darted from behind me to the ground, avoiding eye contact with Robur. I continued to hold her as I waited for his response.
"Still being carried just like a baby and a toddler who can't walk!" Camerna giggled, "Timid one, isn't she?" she tugged on Truella's dress, "I've never seen an Atroxian close! I haven't even seen a female Atroxian—a female, child Atroxian!"
"Camera, return to your mother." Robur ordered gently.
"Now, Camera," Robur nudge her in a direction of a house. She sighed in defeat and quickly trotted towards her house.
Adustio came and stood by my side as he placed on hand on my shoulder and one hand on Truella's head. "As you can see, Robur, she's more scared of everyone here than they are of her. I think you're even scaring her. She's only a child you know. She won't hurt anyone."
Robur finally sighed, "You and your family shall stay in this village and make it your home. You're in luck, for you do not have to wait until one is build. There is a vacant house that you can live in." He pointed over to a house then left.
Soon, the villages came out of their houses and resumed their work, trying to pay no mind to us—though, I could tell their curiosity would get the best of them. I placed Truella down and looked over at a man who was hoeing.
"Um…last time I was here, Gemmians had ordered us to hide our hair." I began, "Is that not a law anymore?"
"The Gemmians left the country. I heard from the tradesmen who heard from the soldiers that there was an incident in their country that made them believe that Fonsians could cast spells and even bring curse upon a person with only a look. Out of fear, the stopped fighting in Fons, and now the war continues in the Sanguis Sea." He answered with a chuckle. "No need to hide your Fonsian pride no longer."
I nodded as I placed Truella down. I revealed my Atroxian wedding necklace and the Minch necklace. I no longer felt the need to hide what I am proud of and I don't mind the curiosity of others who did not recognize what is Atroxian. Soon, Camera came skipping over to Truella, eyes widen with fascination.
"I'm Camera! What's your name?" Camera asked.
"Her name is Truella," Saga answered for her.
"It's spring. She should be about nine years old now." I noted. Truella quickly hid behind my skirt.
"You're so pale and hair so dark! You're small, too! So small! I thought Atroxians were supposed to be giants! Wow! I'm ten! Not too far a part in age difference! You're a timid thing, aren't you? Not like most Atroxians I'm sure! You don't talk much, do you?" Camera spoke quickly, "Oh! I have a playmate now! Most children don't like to play with me because they say I won't be quiet—in group games they will let me play, but I don't have a genuine friend. You see, it's okay because I talk a lot and you don't! Oh! Let's go play right now!"
When she quickly grab hold of Truella's hand and tried to lead the way, but Truella quickly grab hold of my skirt and looked up at me. I stroked her hair before I convinced her to let go of my skirt by pulling her fingers away. Truella was quickly dragged away by the girl.
"Shall we go check out the house?" Adustio smiled.
I brushed a bit of his hair behind his ear, "You can. I think I'll look around a bit."
Adustio brought my hand to his lips to give it a peck before he went over to inspect the house. Saga looked at me, "I shall go with Adustio, so I can see what we need to get for our new home." I nodded as she went to go follow Adustio.
I looked out at the village, observing. I had no other thoughts than this: Whether or not we changed during our journey, that doesn't matter. What does is that where we are and what we have in our lives. In our new home, this village, we may be strangers and outsiders—we might have to take time to adjust. But this was our goal—what we wanted, what we strived for. We are home—for sure. With our new home, a new life, and a new beginning, we received our freedom.