The area down the hill from the tunnel was covered in thinning grass and sand that I scuffed my feet through just to aggravate Cole. I stooped down and ripped up a handful of grass and proceeded to throw it at him simply because I felt like it.
Cole’s mouth dropped open in surprise and he stared at me in amazement. “Did you just throw grass at me?” He asked.
I blinked, faking innocence, “Oh, that’s what that was? I thought it was a long weed. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to.”
Cole’s eyes took on a sparkle. “A long weed? That’s all you could come up with?”
I wrinkled my nose at him, indignance rising in my chest. “It’s not like I’m used to living with this kind of stuff around me. I grew up in a city with grass in the cracks of the sidewalk.”
Cole chuckled, “So you’re saying your vocabulary isn’t full of the names of all the different plants?”
“No, I’m not saying that. I’m saying my vocabulary doesn’t have time to learn other names for the green stuff that grows on the ground,” I snarked.
Cole laughed, “Good to know.” If his royal training had allowed for eye-rolls, I’m sure he would have done so. As it is, I’m surprised I got him to laugh. Multiple times, at that.
Then again, he made me laugh more than I was expecting, too, so maybe that didn’t mean as much as I thought it would.
We kept walking until the grass became stone and dropped off into a valley full of holes and tunnels. It was almost a crater in that the edges towered over a stark rock platform.
I edged towards it, looking down over the area, but Cole caught my arm.
“Wait,” He said seriously.
I glanced at him in confusion and looked back at the barren area. I opened my mouth to say something, but a bell rang and other noises followed.
Right before my eyes, carts got pushed out of the tunnels by dust-covered workers. The carts were rickety and probably not as efficient as they could’ve been and every single one was loaded with rocks of assorted sizes and colors.
“What in the world...?” I gaped at the people that were pouring out of the tunnels in streams. I turned to look at Cole and his face was grim. At that moment, realization washed over me.
“This is yellow,” I began, “which means this must’ve been what you were talking about when you said...”
“That most people in yellow have to mine away the mountain to make a living,” Cole confirmed grimly. “Look closer.”
I turned back and studied the area before focusing on the smaller details. My eyes finally paused over the people and I realized that some of them were smaller than they would be at our age.
“There are kids,” I gasped, “Working in the mines.”
“Some are as little as seven-years-old,” Cole said, continuing my statement.
Tears sprang to my eyes as I kept looking down over the group. “Why is no one trying to fix this?” I asked softly.
“Do you really want me to answer that?” Cole said, laughing humorlessly. “Some words may come out of my mouth that aren’t exactly...”
“Prince-like?” I suggested, quirking a half-smile at him. “Go ahead and say they’re power-hungry sons of-”
“And daughters,” Cole cut in.
I looked him in the eye, “Fine, you say it.”
Cole looked back down at the people below us, “It doesn’t feel good enough.”
I shifted closer to look down with him, “No, it doesn’t.” I agreed. I looked back up at him, knowing that my sadness was showing on my face. “Nothing ever will.”
Cole finally looked down at me, almost surprised by how open I was at the moment.
I took a step back, my face going back to its normal closed-off position. “But you know what will almost make it better?” I turned back towards where we came.
“Bringing this whole dang country down and rebuilding it all over again,” I finished in a faux confident voice.
I heard the dry grass crunch as Cole followed me.
“You know,” He said slowly, “I may not have made the worst decision in bringing you into the group.”
I cast a lazy glance back at him, “I’m not even going to confirm that because I can’t be sure I won’t falsify my own words.”
Cole blinked a couple of times, looking confused. “You used falsify and... you can’t?”
“Nope,” I said easily. “Beat you to the top!”
With that last comment, I took off towards the top of the hill, leaving Cole pretty literally eating my dust.
“Calypso!” He hollered after me, taking off in a sprint. He approached me faster than I thought he would and I nearly tripped.
Cole grabbed me and pulled me to the side just as I realized that it wasn’t just stones and dried grass on the hillside.
There were land mines, too.
For a moment, we both just stood there, both breathing heavier than normal, staring at the small thing on the ground that could’ve just killed us.
Cole looked back down at me and let out a long breath, “You just can’t stay out of trouble, can you?”
“Nope,” I replied. I couldn’t pull off anything other than shaky considering I’d almost just died. “Now,” I pulled away from him. “Would you like to explain to me why you didn’t tell me there were landmines here?!”
Cole swallowed, not meeting my eyes. “Ummm...”
“Cole,” I growled threateningly even though I didn’t really have the upper hand here in either knowledge or strength.
“Why don’t I answer that when I get back?” He offered weakly.
My hand crept down to my belt and I whipped out the first thing I grabbed and held it in front of me. “I think you should answer me now,” I retorted.
Unfortunately, I realized too late that I’d grabbed a carrot and tried to brandish it as a knife. Coincidentally, I also waved it at the guy whose house I stole it from.
Cole’s eyes darkened as he looked at it and glanced down at my belt. “How about you tell me why you’ve got carrots tucked in your belt?”
My gut clenched.