Author's Note: Sorry for the late update. I've been trying to write a college essay for like two weeks so I've been really busy with that. But here it is!
Atia, the boy, and the multitude of Spirit Orbs had been traversing the forest for the last three days. It had been very difficult, especially for Atia, as oftentimes the boy seemed content to stand in one place and not want to move even when she yelled at him, which she didn't like doing. And so, she had to carry him. She couldn't really blame him for wanting to curl into a ball and never get up again. He seemed no older than six or seven and probably had no idea what was going on. He had not spoken a word since the day she had picked him up in the village, when he had told her that he could hear the voices of the Spirit Orbs also. After that, he was mute. She had the feeling that she could have punched him straight in the face and he would not even have whimpered.
Still, despite her understanding, she wished he would find it in himself to lift his legs for once. Not that she wasn't used to manual labor, but even servants didn't have to carry heavy loads around all day. The only respite she got was when they would take bathroom or food breaks, or would set up camp for the night. Atia had no skill in hunting, and only a little in herbalism when she had once been charged with caring for a sick cow and had had to force pulpy medicinal leaves into its mouth. (That had not been a fun few days). And so, the food foraging had gone to the Spirit Orbs, who were still following the two of them. Some of the Orbs, who had once been hunters or farmers or herbalists, would scout the forest around Atia and the boy and then come back and tell them what was there. They would alert them of wild animals to be avoided, plants that were poisonous or edible, fresh-water streams, and shelter. Over time, the amount of Spirit Orbs began dropping as, one by one, they all went on to the Beyond. But there was one Orb who refused to go on just yet.
Atia was glad that Servius was still among the Orbs. He was the only one she really knew. Even though there were plenty of Orbs that had once been members of her village, she had never known most of them, as she had been kept within the confines of the Manor in which she worked. She did meet a few Orbs who had once been servants with her, but she had never really made friends with any of them. Servants had no time for such things. You worked until you were bone-tired, you ate and did your business, you worked some more, and then you slept. Friendships were luxury items. The only reason she and Servius had such a close relationship was because Servius had been the one to train Atia when she had first become a servant to the Sigilis Manor. He had taught her everything she knew. And when his Orb left to go on to the next plane of existence, she didn't know what she would do anymore. Only the thought of taking care of the boy kept her from losing her mind.
She looked down at said boy in her arms, who seemed to feel her gaze and lifted his head off of her shoulder to look at her. He said nothing, but his eyes were wide and curious. She smiled at him, trying to get him to open up. His face remained the same, and she sighed. He was the most stoic seven-year-old she had ever met. Come to think of it, she didn't even know if he was seven. "How old are you?" she asked him.
He shook his head.
"Does that mean you don't know?"
"Are you ever going to say anything to me?"
He remained silent.
Sighing for the second time, she looked around for a good place to set up camp for the evening, as the sun was beginning to glow orangey-red in the sky. "Any of you see a good spot to keep warm tonight?" she called to the Orbs.
A hundred voices all answered at once, clamoring inside her head. She immediately cut them off. Being around them for three days had taught her how to shut off their voices when she needed to think by herself. She took a breath and said, "Wait! Remember: one at a time, okay? I can't understand all of you at once. Servius?"
What is it, girl? he replied in his easy-going manner that she loved.
"See a good spot from your position up there?" She looked up at the Orb that she instinctively knew was his. Even though all the Orbs looked the same, they all felt different to her mind. This was how she told them apart, whether or not she was looking at them.
He was silent for a few moments, and then he glowed bright as a star and said, I think we're in Faery territory. Or nearing it, at least.
She paused. Blinked. "What?"
"I've… never actually seen one. Are they friendly?"
Don't know. They're much like Humans in that way. You don't know if they like you until you approach them. Though they can be mischievous. We might want to tread lightly. How would you feel if people you didn't know came bursting into your home –
He cut himself off at the last second, and the color drained from the Orb that now made up his body, until he was transparent as glass. Sorry. That probably cut too close.
She gave him a tight smile. "I know you didn't mean anything by it. And, actually, because of what happened to me – to all of us – I do know sort of how to act if we come across any Faeries. I won't be mean about it if they ask us to leave. We are trespassing."
"That you are, Humans," said a male voice from somewhere up in the canopy of leaves above them. "That you are." The voice had an odd, whispery quality to it. Every word that was spoken echoed back as a whisper multiple times, as if there were a thousand Faeries up there, all whispering the same thing one after the other.
Atia looked around, trying to spot… anything, but she saw nothing. "Where are you? Are you a Faery?"
"Yes, we are Faeries. There are many of us. And you, Humans, seem to have strayed far from any settlements that might be yours. Though you seem good-natured enough. We have been listening to you talk to the Wisps."
"The what?" she asked.
"Wisps. Spirit Orbs, to you."
"You can hear them, too?"
"Nearly all Magickally-inclined races can hear them. And some Humans, too, as you well know by now."
Atia sighed and gave up on craning her neck to see if she could spot her newest acquaintances. The constant strain was making it ache. "Listen. The boy and I have been traveling for three days now, and we are tired and have no supplies. Honestly, we wouldn't have made it this far if the… Wisps hadn't helped us."
"We know," came the echoing reply. "We have been watching you, seeing if you are worthy."
"So you've been spying," Atia said flatly.
Be careful, girl, Servius said to her. Remember what you said about being in their territory? They have every right to spy.
Atia sighed. "So, are we worthy, then? All we need is a few days worth of food and maybe some traveling clothes. Then we'll be on our way. I promise we won't do anything bad to you or the forest. We're just passing through."
"You have no idea where you are going, do you?" the voice asked, amusement clear in his voice, even as it was drowned out by the whispering echoes.
Atia paused. "Not really, no."
He gave a light, tinkling laugh. "Come, Humans. We will give you food and shelter for the night and the next day, and explain more clearly what is happening. You are a mere half-hour's walk from our Hollow."
"How can I follow you if I don't know where you are?"
And suddenly, there was a great whooshing sound, like a flock of birds all taking off at once, and hundreds of Faeries came bursting from the leafy canopy. Atia and the boy stared in wonder, and the Spirit Orbs all took on a bright, golden glow. The Faeries ranged in size, from six inches to a foot tall, and their wings were iridescent, showing all colors of the rainbow at different angles. Atia had a hard time keeping her eyes on just one, though she did notice that their clothing seemed to be made out of all manner of leaves and stems and feathers abound.
After a good thirty seconds of being surrounded, all of the Faeries began flying in the same direction, and the Spirit Orbs began to follow. Atia remained rooted to the spot, mesmerized by the sight of such wondrous little creatures. In her village, this sort of thing never happened.
The tinkling of laughter sounded again, and that same male voice called, "Come now, Humans. This way!"
Atia shook herself, smiled, and began a light jog to keep up with the Faeries all around her. She glanced at the boy in her arms. His head was up, and his blue-green eyes stared in awe at the sight before him. She decided then on a name for him: Caeso. It wasn't the best, but it would have to do. After all, if he ever decided to talk, then she could simply ask him his real name. But, for now, Caeso it was.
Author's Note: Caeso's name is pronounced "KAY-so".