“Leon!” Elizabeth called and chased outside after her companion. She found Leon out front of the property, tightening the saddles on two matching brown speckled mares. He didn’t respond, and Elizabeth wasn’t certain if he was ignoring her or simply hadn’t heard, so she repeated his name. When again he didn’t respond, she knew he was giving her the cold shoulder rudely. She resisted the urge to become offended, knowing full well that she deserved his resentment at the moment. “At least allow me to apologize,” Elizabeth pleaded as she walked up to him. Leon’s nostrils flared and he flashed her a dark look, making Elizabeth stop dead in her tracks.433Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡx54ZtVixdc
“No need,” he responded in a cold tone. “You are correct, after all: you are nothing like Eloise. You are a shadow in what was her beauty and power — you are here because you are the remnants of her power, and that is needed to save my world; nothing more.” The words may have been true, but they stung none-the-less. Elizabeth was finding it harder as time wore on to get a read on Leon, and she knew full well that her own attitude wasn’t making it any easier on him. She could tell that she had genuinely hurt his feelings, and reminded herself that his cruel words now were merely a reflection of that pain that he was now using to protect himself with — the kindness he had shown her before wasn’t gone, just buried. “Now, get on the horse,” he commanded her. Elizabeth paled, looking up at the great mammal before her.
“I already told you, I don’t know how to ride,” Elizabeth replied. Leon sighed, well and truly irritated with her at this point. He hooked his foot and hefted himself up into the saddle. He then extended a hand down to her begrudgingly. At Elizabeth’s puzzled expression, he rolled his eyes.
“Place your foot there,” he explained and indicated to how he had just stepped up, “your one hand there for support and your other in mind — I’ll do the heavy lifting.” He emphasized the word heavy and Elizabeth struggled to brush off the insult. She did as she was told, and Leon lifted her with ease, swinging her around to sit in front of him in the saddle. She swung one leg over, straddling the crisp leather saddle and noticed the intricate embroidery in its details. She also noted that the second horse was tied by a strong rope to the one they now mounted, and carried the majority of their supplies. She felt a ting of pity for the beast of burden, but knew they had likely been bred and trained for this very purpose.
Leon reached around her to hold onto both her and the reigns, and even Elizabeth knew this seating arrangement must be incredibly impractical. “I’m sorry,” she apologized.
“What for now?”
“That I’m your burden,” she replied earnestly. Leon was a bit taken aback by her sentiments, but wasn’t the type to easily forgive a slight — especially such a deep emotional blow. He clicked his tongue, both indicating that the conversation was moot and over, and to signal the horses. Without another word or action, they instinctively followed his whim and started forward. The lack of warning made Elizabeth yelp in surprise as their mount steered quickly forward. She had never ridden a horse before, and it was nowhere near as smooth a ride as a motor vehicle — this was a new experience, though she didn’t yet realize just how painful the journey would be on her rear end the longer it went on.433Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡa6B9hsqFir
It was her first time in this lifetime that Elizabeth got to see The Other Realm for all its splendor and beauty with her own eyes, and not just locked away in a dream-like memory she couldn’t control. Colors appeared bright and vivid, as though through a tv that was left constantly in high contrast. It was as though she were looking through new colors of a more vibrant spectrum than she had ever previously seen or imagined.433Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡYMW1e7l1FM
They begin their travels through the nearby settlement. Along the way, Leon’s mood slowly improved as the day progressed, and he began to point out landmarks and points of interest to Elizabeth. She still noted a bitter undertone, but she no longer felt like he was glaring ice daggers into her back every few minutes. Every couple miles, they would slow down or pause entirely so he could list off the history of a plant Elizabeth had never heard of before, or the local history of a nearby landmass she would likely never remember after they had passed it by.433Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡ1IjV4d9jsQ
Elizabeth would listen in rapt attention to his smooth voice, fascinated now that he had dropped the fake accent, and nod in recognition. She knew she wouldn’t remember a thing he was telling her by tomorrow, but enjoyed the pleasant atmosphere between them in the meantime. She was careful with her words now, picking and choosing when and when not to voice her opinion or views. Mostly, she echoed wonder at the world around her.
Leon explained to her that they would be reaching a settlement by nightfall, where they would rest up and gather any supplies they were presently lacking, before setting out again the next morning.
“It is extremely dangerous to travel by night presently,” Leon explained.
“Why? Are there wild animals?” Elizabeth asked, her gaze darting around to look amongst the trees lining the road on either side of them. She couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary.
“In a sense — man is the most dangerous creature of all,” Leon replied matter-of-fact.
“People? Why should we fear other people?” Elizabeth asked in disbelief.
“This world is not nearly as safe as the one to which you have become accustomed,” Leon replied. “Many are out only for themselves, and there is constant strife throughout the lands — especially since The Dreamer’s daughter’s holds questionable aliegences..
“What do you mean?” Elizabeth asked.
“She has… picked a ‘wrong crowd’, as you would say in your world,” he attempted to explain in a language she would be able to understand.
“Like… bandits? Do those exist here?”
“Of course, though they are uncommon. No, she has aligned herself with a warlord far to the east, over the mountains there.” Leon pointed far into the distance a bit to their right.
“Why are we heading this way then?”
“The shortest distance between two points is not always a straight line.” Elizabeth frowned at his cryptic response, but from his vantage point he couldn’t read her expression.
“I’m pretty sure it is,” Elizabeth countered.
“Would you like to scale those mountains yourself, then?” Leon asked mockingly.
“Then I suggest we continue following the road; there is a mountain pass two day’s travel from the settlement,” he explained. “We will then find a guide within the other nation in order to traverse the dangerous terrain. We are in pleasant country at this point — though that has not stopped brigands from attempting to prey on those foolish enough to venture out alone or after dark.”
“Fair enough. Brigands. Bad idea. Got it,” Elizabeth replied in broken sentences. Leon chuckled, for the first time that day, and Elizabeth smiled that he was finally improving his mood. Their conversations were basically back to normal, with Leon’s slight mocking in good jest and Elizabeth mostly just intrigued by everything he had to show her.
“There are many dangers in this world with which you are not familiar, however, rest assured that I can keep you safe,” Leon assured her.
“You think I can’t protect myself?” Elizabeth was insulted at the implication, but Leon just chuckled again, back to his former self.
“I doubt you can insult someone to death.”
“Death?” Elizabeth frowned, unaware of how dangerous he had meant.
“Indeed,” he replied with a heavier tone, “there are those who would see you dead before they allow you to change the course of this world — The Dreamer’s daughter has spun a web of lies and treachery at the side of the warlord, Jahan. It will be difficult to overcome and change her mind without a fight or two along the way.”
“Jahan?” Elizabeth tested how the name ran over her tongue.
“Indeed. Eldest son to, the now deceased warlord, Rhys,” Leon began. Elizabeth shifted her weight, realizing a long story was about to happen. She listened in rapt attention as Leon explained the course of the previous war among the neighboring nations, and how the relation between The Dreamer’s daughter developing with Jahan had long since protected this area from his invasion — until she had abandoned her post and joined up with his band. She now resided in his palace a nation over, and were in the midst of a clan war that threatened the borders of The Dreamer’s domain, as people referred to this area.
“So you see,” Leon concluded, “we must bare a wary eye all around us, for they have little love towards her father.”
“Why though? Why would she go against her own family?”
“You saw the portraits on the walls?” Leon seemed to change the subject.
“Yes, but they were only of Eloise, I don’t know what the other daughter looks like.” As the words left her mouth, realization dawned on her. “Did… The Dreamer take her portraits down, or did he never have any?” she asked.
“Now you are asking the right questions,” Leon didn’t reply immediately. “He had very few in comparison, grieving over the loss of his first born. His second daughter felt it meant that she was not loved as much as Eloise, and began to resent her late sister — eventually leaving entirely and forsaking her duty. She is convinced that she found a better solution where she could still marry Jahan and maintain the world, but I have scoured the library many times — there is no such text among the volumes there. Where she got this foolish notion, we have no idea.”
“And yet you think I, a complete stranger, can talk sense into her? I’m reincarnated from the woman she hates!” Elizabeth protested loudly. Leon didn’t reply right away, likely mulling over his next words carefully.
“You are still a part of Eloise — and thusly a part of her, as well,” he replied slowly.
“I thought you said I was just her shadow,” Elizabeth accused.
“I did,” he replied bluntly. He didn’t make an effort to elaborate further and Elizabeth knew this was a topic better left alone. They traveled for the next few hours mostly in silence, until a small village appeared on the horizon, just as dusk was beginning to settle in on them.
“We will rest here tonight,” Leon said as they passed the first outermost buildings. “There is an Inn that has agreed to give us shelter for our journey, as they support The Dreamer’s efforts to find his daughter and save the world.”
“Wouldn’t everyone want the world to be saved?” Elizabeth asked.
“There are many who side with The Daughter, and believe in her vision for a new future — they will surely attempt to stop us along the way,” Leon replied. Elizabeth wondered briefly what he meant by that, but was becoming too tired to care. They had traveled late into the evening, and all she wanted was a hot meal and soft bed.433Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡEoB0D5IJlf