Hey, everyone! I'm back, just like I promised!
I don't want to interrupt the whole flow of the story, so I'll try to keep this brief.
Even though I had the three week break, I still didn't really have enough time to get as much done as I'd have liked. So I'm going to start updating every other week just for a little while. At least until summer vacation, but maybe longer. Don't let me get away with it too long, though.
Don't think this means I don't appreciate you guys, because I do! The main reason I have to take all this extra time is because I really want to make this the best it can be for all of you! And with all that's going on (finals, graduation, birthdays, etc) it's hard to really keep to my schedule. But I really do love you guys and all your reviews, so please don't be mad!
Okay, I'd better let you guys read now….
Someone was singing.
It was a boy's voice – low and sweet – and it murmured like a ghost in the wind.
It wasn't particularly good singing. Not like he did it for a living, or was even really on key. But there was something about it that was strangely soothing, something strangely pure.
And the song was familiar. One that Thea could've sworn she'd heard, from a memory she couldn't place. But something about it reminded her of coming home. Of finding her way.
"There was a lamb named Gypsy
Who frolicked far and wide
She traveled all across the earth
Until the day she died
She fell into the meadows
And drifted towards the sea
Never understanding love
Or home or family
So Gypsy set off on a quest
To find herself a home
Until her endless journey
Was all she'd ever known…"
Thea opened her eyes dizzily, half expecting to find an evil sorceress trying to take away her magic or a dragon threatening to eat her if she didn't behave.
But the only thing she saw was Felt, sitting there in the midst of a yellow field with his back turned to her. He was singing softly, almost to himself, without turning to her or acknowledging that she was awake. And for a long time, that was okay. There was something about it that made her feel like she shouldn't disturb him. Something that made her want to pretend to still be asleep, just to listen a little further. Just to see what he'd do.
But as it turned out, he didn't do anything much.
He just sat there until the song had ended, staring at the grass like he thought he could make it disappear. There was not a single sound.
"Felt?" Thea said hesitantly.
He started and turned to look at her, relief washing over him when he saw her face. "You're okay," he said.
"Yeah," Thea said. "Why wouldn't I be?"
"You hit your head pretty hard. You've been out for hours. I wasn't sure if you'd..."
Thea frowned and touched her temple, feeling the bruise that was forming steadily there. And then she looked at the grass. "Felt," she said slowly. "Where are we?"
Felt hesitated. "Well…" he said awkwardly. "I'm not sure."
Thea just stared at him. "What?"
"I mean, I drank a teleport potion. That's how we got away from Thelma. We were supposed to go back to your dad, but I…I must have done something wrong."
Thea stared at him some more. "You don't know where we are?"
"Well, not exactly…"
He sighed. "No," he said. "I don't."
"So we're lost," Thea said steadily. "We don't know where we are. We can't go home."
Felt sighed again. "If we did," he said, "it would take a whole lot of luck."
"But there has to be something we can do," Thea insisted. "You're a wizard. Can't you teleport us? Send up a signal? Something?"
Felt shook his head. "I don't know how," he said.
"So learn!" Thea cried. "Try!"
"Don't you think I have?" Felt shot back. "What do you think I've been doing for the past six hours?"
"Singing," Thea snapped. "Really badly."
Felt's ears turned bright red. "I thought it would help my magic," he muttered.
"And did it?"
Thea stared at him. "What are we supposed to do, Felt?" she exclaimed. "I can't just stay here! I'm the princess!"
"I know that, Thea," Felt snapped. "I want to go home too, okay? But we can't do anything until my magic starts working again."
Thea groaned, letting her head fall into her hands. "Why can't we just go home?" she moaned. "Why does this always happen to us?"
Felt sighed and sat down next to her, his eyes like foam on the blistering sea. "I don't know," he said solemnly. "Maybe one of us is cursed or something."
Thea glared at him. "That's not funny," she said.
He cracked a smile. "It is a little."
"Is this the curse?" Thea asked. "I mean…could it be?"
Felt shook his head. "No," he said. "This is just bad luck."
"And I guess your vision told you that," Thea said dryly.
"Yeah," Felt said quietly. "It did."
Thea wanted nothing more but to press him for answers. But something about the look on his face told her not to. Told her that he was more disappointed in himself than she was. Told her that her words had hurt him more than he'd let on. So she said, very sincerely, "Thank you."
Felt looked up at her in surprise. "For what?"
"For saving my life," she said. "Back in the tower. You could've just left me behind."
Felt grinned at her. "You know I couldn't have," he said.
"I would have," she said seriously. "I mean…I'm cursed and everything. I cause a lot of trouble for you. And I haven't been very nice about it."
Felt looked at her incredulously. "Are you apologizing?"
She grinned. "I wouldn't go that far."
He laughed. "Well," he said. "You're welcome." Then he stood and offered her his hand, so that they were both standing together in the midst of the large, yellow field. "We're going to get home," he said seriously. "And we're going to beat your curse. You'll see."
Thea nodded in agreement, even as every single fiber of her soul screamed that he was wrong.
"So," Gwyneth said slowly. "What did she want?"
"Oh." Cucumbus ran his hand through his hair, making it look quite disheveled. "Nothing."
She just looked at him. "Nothing," she repeated. "She wanted to talk to you about…nothing."
Cucumbus blushed. "It's personal," he muttered.
Gwyneth studied his face, but it was more foreign than she remembered. "Was it about your dad?" she asked. "Did she tell you who he was?"
Cucumbus glanced at her. "No," he said. "Can she do that?"
She shrugged. "She should be able to. I mean, she knows everything that happened. Everything that is."
"And I guess we don't have time to go back and ask," said Cucumbus.
"We don't even have time to sleep," Gwyneth said.
He sighed. "I guess it doesn't matter much, anyway. It doesn't change anything."
"Don't say that," Gwyneth protested. "It's still your dad. You should know who he is."
He shrugged. "I guess," he said. "But it doesn't matter. He'd still be dead, no matter who he was. And I'd still be me, and my mother would still be my mother. And I'd still be the prince."
Gwyneth frowned. "Don't you think it's a little weird to not want to know?"
He shrugged. "A little," he said. "But I never really cared much."
"It would bother me," Gwyneth said, "If it was my dad."
"But you always knew your dad," Cucumbus said. "Yours meant something to you. Mine's just this fictional character that never played a part in anything. It's just a story. And even if they'd all lived – even if I knew which one was my real dad – it wouldn't have mattered. I still wouldn't know them. They were just a way for my mother to get an heir to the throne without giving up her power. Just people she used."
"And that doesn't bother you?" Gwyneth exclaimed.
He shrugged. "Of course it does," he said. "But that's just the way it is in royalty. All about the bloodline. All about keeping your power. It's not about being happy or marrying for love."
"But why does it have to be that way?" Gwyneth asked. "Why can't you have power and happiness?"
"It doesn't work that way," Cucumbus said simply. "It never has. We're just stumbling through, trying to figure out how to rule without getting ourselves hurt. And that means keeping people far away. Putting your trust in as little as possible. And for my mother, that just meant having me and no one else."
"What does that mean for you?" Gwyneth frowned.
He sighed. "I don't know," he said. "I guess just waiting until someone assassinates Theodora after I marry her. And maybe marrying again. I don't know."
He frowned. His eyes grew lost and very confused, like he was questioning everything he knew. And there was something in Gwyneth that wanted nothing more than to hold him and tell him that everything would be okay, that he didn't have to marry Thea if he didn't want. That she'd do what she could to make him happy. That she wanted him happy.
But instead she frowned and said, "Oh."
"Yeah." He ran his hand through his hair again. "What about you?" he said. "What are you going to do when you get married?"
"I'm not getting married," Gwyneth said. "You know that."
"Oh, that's right," he said with a grin. "It's degrading."
"It is degrading," she said. "And it always ends with someone getting their head cut off. No thanks."
"You never know," Cucumbus said. "It could be the other guy that gets beheaded."
"Could be," Gwyneth said. "But it's still a waste of time."
"I suppose," he said. "I guess it just depends on who you marry."
"But I'm not getting married," she said.
"But don't you think it's weird to not want to be in love?" he asked.
"Getting married does not mean you're in love," Gwyneth said. "It means you're trapped and one of you gets beheaded."
"I guess," he said with a frown. He was silent for a moment. "You know," he said after a while, "This doesn't really make me feel better about marrying bird-girl."
"Well, you don't have to worry," Gwyneth said sensibly. "You're not the one who'll be killed first."
"Right." He frowned again. "I guess you still don't wanna talk about it? About what I said before?"
Her face grew hard. "No," she said quietly. "I don't."
"Okay," he said.
And they walked on.
The few guards that had accompanied Cucumbus on his unfinished carriage ride were almost to the city.
They felt a little awkward, driving in the prince's carriage without a prince. But those prince-types were always running off unexpectedly, and anyway, at least now they got to sit inside.
But when they drew very close to the city – near the outskirts – things became very strange.
They heard rustling, in the bushes and the leaves. Sometimes snickers and shoves and muffled insults from the side of the road. But whenever they stopped, whenever they inspected or shouted or wielded their swords, there was nobody there. Just the empty bushes that had always been there.
So they were all very much confused.
"This doesn't make sense," the first guard complained as he stood by a bush. "Is someone messing with us?"
"It's probably those robbers," said the second guard. "Trying to finish the job."
The third guard sighed. "I don't get paid enough for this," he said.
"You don't get paid at all," said the first guard. "None of us do."
"Exactly," said the third guard.
"Hey, guys!" The second guard held up his hand. "Did you hear that?"
And they heard a quiet, urgent whisper. Clothing rustling as it moved. A door opening.
All three of the guards turned towards the carriage.
And there, by the open door, was Ryder the Rider.
He didn't really seem to notice them. He was more concerned with the carriage and the other thieves that were searching inside it.
The guards stared at each other a moment.
And then they nodded and took out their bows.
"This isn't fair!" shouted Ryder the Rider as he rode inside the carriage. "You've got the wrong guy!"
"Sure, sure," said a guard as he rode unhappily outside.
"I'm thirsty," shouted his accomplice in an offensive Southern accent. "Can we get some water?"
"If you wanted water," said the guard, "you shouldn't have robbed us."
"We weren't robbing you!" shouted Ryder the Rider.
"Yeah," said the southern-accented accomplice. "We were just trying to kidnap the prince!"
There was a holler as he was smacked on the head.
"Don't worry," said the guard. "We'll be in Guneer soon. And then we'll turn you in."
"But we're innocent!" cried Ryder the Rider.
"No, you're not," the guard said.
Ryder opened his mouth to protest, but then he shut it again.
And they entered the city.