Amma didn't understand, not at all. What on earth could Dudley be hiding from her that was so important, and so big that he alluded to the whole village being involved. But he wouldn't speak of it, and Amma wasn't about to push the subject, for fear of upsetting him again.
It had taken a moment to get Broderick to swear not to hurt Dudley, and even when he did, it was with a slight threat to the promise, that he wouldn't so long as Dudley stayed in line. That was good enough for Amma now.
It was unsettling how Dudley refused to walk with her, instead leaving Broderick to take up his place, and Amma fidgeted with her hands. Broderick tried to make conversation with her, quietly, about the village. At first, Amma was hesitant to speak of it, and he switched topics, to just her childhood, and he she had come to belong to the village. She explained how she had been found out ithe wilderness, alone, and was taken in by the villagers. From there, it became very easy to speak of the people there, how she had never encountered money before or monsters or men with wicked hearts. All the while, Broderick nodded and listened, and asked a few questions, for clarification on a few things.
The sun started to set without the town in sight, and Broderick announced they would make camp. A spot was found alongside a rock formation, and Broderick gave Amma the task of starting a campfire while checked out the area, to make sure it was safe. And so, as Amma struggled with the flint, she looked to Dudley. "Are you cross with me?" she asked hesitantly. Never before had Dudley been so distant.
Dudley did nothing but follow them and sat down as camp was being made. He wasn't instructed to do anything and lied down upon a somewhat-comfortable area of dead grass and placed one arm behind the back of his head. His cap was taken off and placed neatly on his chest and the pack hid his face from the other two. The stars were beginning to light up, and they were strung across the sky like faint and holy dust across the black and dead ceiling.
"Are you cross with me?" Amma asked him so suddenly.
Dudley kept quiet for a moment.
"No," he said and without moving his body, used one hand to rummage through his own pack until a papered package of salted sausages were taken out. He tossed the package close to where Amma was. "Here, they taste better when cooked a bit more."
Dudley turned his back towards the direction of Broderick and Amma were. He gave a silent sigh and closed his eyes. He didn't feel like talking, not even with her. Dudley felt uneasy now around her. Earlier he had confessed, in his own way, that he had indeed lied to her or at one point in his life had. There was another sigh and he stared out towards the wild.
Amma stared at Dudley, a nearly heartbroken expression on her face. She had never seen Dudley act this way. He had to be upset with her. There was no other explanation for his actions.
She didn't pick up the pack of sausages. She felt frozen and didn't move until Broderick came back, sheathing his sword. He glanced at Dudley, and snorted. "Yellow bellied b*****d sulking 'cause he was caught in a lie?"
"Stop," Amma said quietly. She didn't want any more fighting between the two of them.
"Alright, alright." Broderick spotted the sausages and snatched them up, opening the pack to eat as he sat beside her. "So what are you looking for a crystal for anyway?"
"I'm not supposed to say." She looked to Dudley. "It's just very important that we find one."
Broderick simply rolled his eyes and took a bit out of a sausage.
Amma shifted, taking her eyes off Dudley's back. "You said you wanted more payment for the information given; what is it you want?"
He broke out into a grin, and leaned in. "You'll see, Amma dear, you'll see. I'll be sure to let you and your friend know when it's time I receive it."
It came to be time to sleep, and Amma nearly took up a solitary place by the fire, but one look at Dudley stopped her. She had never felt so far from him, and couldn't stand it. Stepping gingerly over to him, she laid down and curled up beside him, her head resting on her pack.
"I'm sorry," she whispered into his chest before falling asleep.
He feigned being asleep the entire time. There was a conversation between the other two, but Dudley paid little attention to it. Instead he thought of back home. Being asleep in his own bed after a light supper during the summer. It seems his time of being a sort of older brother to Amma would end sooner or later. Their entire secret would be revealed, oh that secret of that curious little village. Everyday the radius of their current crystal dwindled and the forest would be the first to disappear. The village would be exposed to the outside. The small stream would dry up and there would be nothing left of it but the path it carved into the earth over the many years. And after that the houses would have their gilded appearances would be washed off, and the bodies of those that inhabited them would be dried bones.
Amma said to him something before falling asleep. "I'm sorry." Dudley gave a silent sigh. There was nothing she had to be sorry about. The ones with that burden were him and the village, they had lied to her her entire life. Now Dudley was willing to lie even more to protect her--it was horrid. He knew if Alister had ever seen something she would have been furious and disappointed.
"Ye don't have to be. We're the ones, who should be sorry," he said silently to her, and drifted in and out of sleep through the night. Now that the time had come, he didn't want for her to learn the reality of the world. He believed it would be something almost destructive to her--worse than being told your head was memory was messed up from falling on it. He knew for certain it would devastate her. He could only imagine how hurtful and crazy it would be to be raised alone and told those that cared and loved for you were dead--they had died centuries ago. They were no longer real, they did not exist anymore. Yet here they were, cheating Death with the manipulation of natural laws.
Dudley woke up early, as the ancient sun rose like a giant into the sky and warmed the land below it. His body was stiff from the ground, and he was a mess with unclean hair, unwashed skin, and he had growing facial hair. As usual, he began the day by meditating on love and life. And as usual that only lasted for about three seconds.
He awoke Amma gently by shaking her shoulder and said nothing when she looked up. Broderick was still asleep, and he liked him more that way. A piece of bread and smoked bacon was shared between Dudley and Amma; he took the chance that they had a fire to boil some water in kettle and brew tea, after restarting the dying embers with great difficulty.
Dudley broke the silence, "Hey, don't be sorry about anything, okay? Just making it clear to ye: i'm not angry with ye, or anything. It's just something I have to deal with myself--so don't worry."
Amma hadn't slept well again, and yawned all during breakfast. She didn't know what to say to Dudley after last night, and opted to wait for Dudley to speak first. She didn't have to wait for long.
"Dudley, you can talk to me," Amma said softly. "You've been there for me whenever I needed you; I can be here you too. I don't like being shut out."
It was then that Broderick awoke, which was disappointing. Alone, Amma was certain she could get Dudley to open up.
Shortly, they were walking again, and Amma made sure to stick by Dudley, letting him know through her actions that she was there, that she would stick with him. Yesterday, he had seemed so fearful that Broderick would turn her against him, but that just wasn't possible.
Dudley appreciated Amma's words, but he never responded. There was no use in trying to comfort each other. The truth would be detrimental to her, and that's when he would be the one trying to comfort her.
They moved along the path quietly and the sun hung high over the land. The hottest time was during midday, for which they stopped once more to rest under any shade they could find and rationed out water. Since Broderick was in possession of flints he suggested making another fire so they could have hot food, since it was unanimous that it was more satisfying than old bread and salted pork.
Dudley had taken charge of finding dried twigs and such that would burn. The task proved harder than it seemed, as there were hardly trees in the area. He roamed further away and alone until he came across a ruined stone building. All that stood were two conjoined walls. It was a good resting place for a bit to collect thoughts, as sunlight filtered in through the holes. Dudley prepared his pipe before stepping under the gaze of the walls. After taking a few puffs he stepped forward.
Another step was taken.
He heard something crack. The foundation of it was made from stone as well, but had been covered by dirt over the years. Dudley stopped for a moment, intrigued by the noise. Was there something below? "Oh god no--" Dudley yelped and took a desperate step back.
He felt himself fall back, and suddenly he was upright again, then again, then again, then again. He was falling! The floor had caved in on him and he was falling down below into the depths of the earth. His body flew down being tossed by the air resistance and tumbled and twisted into uncomfortable positions as his body impacted along the jagged sides of the place, making bruises and cuts all along his body.
At last what seemed like an eternity of the horrifying feeling he landed harshly on his back. A sharp pain jolted up his spin and all around his body. He moaned slightly, as he was unable to move for a moment. One of his arms reached out in an attempt to push himself up. It was no use, his back was aching and in terrible pain. The ground itself felt like a loose collection of sand; it had probably prevented even more serious damage. Dudley moaned deliriously, shutting his eyes trying to endure the pain.
He was able to move his body a bit after an unknown amount, but only slightly. Dudley sat against what felt a smooth stone wall, as it was hard to see. Above him was the faint light of the surface; it trickled down like a light rain, making the place dimmed as a sad air wafted in. Dudley winced from occasional throbbing, but he figured he'd be okay for the moment. He had brought nothing but his sword, a few wrapped pieces of smoked bacon, and his pipe which he found broken next to him. "Dammit Dudley...ye had to fall down this place," he said to himself and rested within the faintly cool air of what seemed to be an old well of sorts. It was too dark to see anything much farther away, but he could tell the bottom stretched out somewhere beyond. Perhaps there was a way out there.
Amma was about ready to scream in frustration from how Dudley was acting. He was pushing her further and further away, like no one ever had. This was foreign to her in so many ways, and more than once, she felt close to tears because of it.
They made camp midday, to hide from the bright overhead sun. Amma's nose and cheeks were brightly burnt, and she had let her hair down to shield the back of her neck. The sunburn was so ungodly uncomfortable and painful, Amma was thankful for the time out of the sun. She sat quietly after Dudley left to gather kindling and firewood, watching Broderick.
As time passed, with no sign of Dudley, Amma began to grow visibly worried. Had he gotten lost, or injured or attacked. Or, even worse, had he abandoned her out in this terrible wilderness?
Broderick had already finished the pit for the fire, and that sonofbitch Dudley still wasn't back. Broderick sat down where he could to escape the rising heat of the badlands to wait for that impudent and flea-bitten b*****d. Just looking and thinking about him made Broderick uncomfortable and boiled his blood. There was just something about that guy that was uneasy--not to mention overprotective.
He was one of those men who did not appreciate what they had, yet had one of greatest things in the world. Broderick eyed Amma as she looked at him giving some final touches to the pit. She was a strange woman, lovely too. And like all rare and valuable and lovely things, he wanted her for himself. He often thought it would have been easier to just beat Dudley into a corpse and walk off with her, but he couldn't bring himself to.
She spoke to him. Again it was about that irritable a**. "Should we--should we go look for him?"
He nodded no as he sat down next to her. "He's probably having a hard time finding what we need--like holding on to you." It was strange, that man wasn't the type to be gone for such long times, though Broderick didn't know him personally. There was just something about him--something that just screamed he would be around, and had been around for a while.
* * * *
The sun was beginning to fall down from its highest position. Broderick had his fill of whatever bread there was and the preserved meats, hot already from the sun. There had been no tea for lunch, nor something more appetizing.
Broderick smirked. "Well, would you look at that. Seems your friend abandoned us." He stood up, dusted himself, and walked over to what remained of Dudley's own pack. "No use waiting for him. A no good b*****d like him abandoned you and your entire village. The burden of whatever you two are out here for rests on you now."
Broderick picked Amma up by her hands forcefully and crossed his arms with a disturbing grin. "Told you he wasn't reliable--nor trustworthy. He was planning that all along."
It couldn't be. Amma didn't want to believe it, that Dudley had abandoned her...but it was terribly obvious that he had. He had traveled this journey many times before, and without much difficulty, as far as she knew. That he would run into trouble after growing terribly distant with her was far too great of a coincidence, and as Amma was pulled to her feet, she couldn't help the tears that escaped.
She was alone out here, in a world she didn't know and didn't understand, without any of the skills needed to survive. And, even if by some miracle, she was able to find her way back without dying, the town would be in terrible danger. And almost worst of all, the one person she cared for and trusted in above all others, had betrayed her.
Could anyone really blame her for crying?
"P-please," she sputtered, begging through her tears. "Please help me. I-I have t-t-to get a c-crystal. I don't- I don't know where to go- I don't-" A loud sob escaped her lips, and she buried her face in her hands. "I don't know anything! I'll die without help, don't abandon me too, please!"
He was a bit astonished, he had never seen anyone cry so sincerely. He watched strangely as tears poured from her eyes--it was strange, they were seemed so pure and desperate. There was something inside of him that felt uncomfortable, and pitied her.
He sighed. Why did he always get into such things? He had his own problems as they were, and this was honestly none of his business. She was a strange woman, traveling with a strange man, from a strange village--she was just strange.
Broderick patter her back. "Fine--I'll still help you. But like any other burdened person, I'm still expecting to be paid. I'll see to it that you find that, erm, crystal at the place I mentioned. After that, I won't do you anymore favors--I'm no mercenary, and I'm sure you don't have anything to pay with."
He gave her a slight push to make her start walking, it was getting late.
"Unless of course, you'd be willing...to become my woman, so to say."
Amma was no no closer to stopping her tears when Broderick agreed to help her, but only so far. She had to be grateful for what he would do, and nodded to him her thanks, though she was incredibly fearful of what would happen when she was on her own with a crystal.
She managed to grab her bag as Broderick nudged her to get moving, not wanting to appear to be a larger burden than she surely already was. "I-I'm sure there m-might be some money in D-Dudley's bag," she said softly, looking to the bag that Broderick had picked up. "You can take it all, f-for helping me..."
Money still baffled her. What was too much or too little to give? They were just seemingly worthless pieces of metal.
But even more baffling was what Broderick next propositioned. She stared up at him, wiping her tears away, trying to understand. "Like a...wife?" she asked quietly, puzzled and taken aback. Did love not exist in the world outside the village? Was that why Broderick had been so eager to bed her without knowing her?
Broderick sneered at the mention of the b*****d's bag. All it was good for was burning. In fact, Broderick figured they should burn it at the next stop.
"Like a...wife?" Amma asked.
"Eh, more or less. I suppose you can say it'd be less formal," he answered her without feeling. "That b*****d was too slow to move with you--or actually, he didn't care about you as you can see. But don't worry, I'll take care of you very nicely." Broderick gave a sly smile and brushed his coarse hand against her cheek.
"I bet he's going off somewhere to forget about you and all the others. He's really sick, ain't he? But don't worry, I'm nothing like him."
Amma's stomach flip-flopped when Broderick hinted at Dudley possibly having feelings for her, and she bit her lips, not sure what to think of it. No, Broderick was right, as he continued on. Dudley obviously didn't care for her at all anymore, as he clearly had shown. She looked to Broderick as he stroked her cheek, her already big eyes seemingly becoming larger with that gesture.
"Take care of me?" she repeated and swallowed. That was what she needed more than anything right now, as she knew nothing at all about getting by in this world. It would certainly be a survival tactic to agree.
But the village was her home. She wanted to return there more than anything in the world. Trying to ignore the further slander he had to say against Dudley, Amma asked Broderick, "Would I at least be able to go home...and stay there? I hate- I hate the outside world, I don't understand it. I will- I will do it, I just-"
She couldn't put it into words how important and special that village was to her. It was her home, the entirety of it her family.
She really was something else! Asking to be taken back to her village. He was sure she was a woman, but she really did think and act more like a child. Maybe that's why the b*****d with his cap was overprotective of her--when he was still around.
"I'm not exactly sure--you'd have to convince me very well," he commented back, chuckling a bit hinting at possible intentions. "But Amma, pray tell me, why is your village so special? I've been to many places, and there's no place like how you make yours sound. It sounds almost...as if it were from another time. Not even the remaining kingdoms have that sort of peace and tranquility."
There were mountains in the distance once more, the ruined place with the sought-after object would be a half-day's walk, but they had spent too much time stopping and resting. It'd be nightfall before they would reach half-way.
Dudley had warned her against talking about the village. But Dudley was long gone, and it depended upon Broderick's kindness whether or not she went home.
"I'd do anything to go home," Amma said quietly, and then spoke louder, to Broderick. "It is tranquil. It's...green back home; there's a forest and a clear running stream, and everyone is so kind there. Everyone rpin town raised me, when I was taken in. I think- I'm pretty sure it was Dudley who found me, somewhere out here. I don't remember much of anything before I came to the village, just bits and pieces; I was very young."
She coughed, realizing she had gotten side tracked. "But it is so different from that last town. I- I had never heard of money until a few days ago; we don't have it at home. Even the sun never felt as hot there."