Chapter 13: Food
Midday was now behind them and judging from the sky it would not be long before the sun began to set once more. Slowly manoeuvring their way down a hill Jack spotted something amongst one of the snow covered bushes, at the bottom of the slope, Jack decided to investigate his finding. Dusting off the snow Jack saw thousands of red berries clinging to the branches of the plant.
"They're cranberries." Annabeth said walking over to him, smiling at the food she began to gather a handful before cleaning them with the snow as well as she was able to. Satisfied with them being clean enough to eat she put them in her mouth, the handful of berries was gone in a matter of seconds, in mere minutes many of the branches were bare.
"We should get going soon." Jack said before handing more berries to Annabeth. She smiled grateful, Jack had eaten but not much apparently he had no appetite, she had stopped trying to get him to eat something after she failed the seventh time.
Annabeth nodded standing up, the bush was partially bare all that remained were squished and rotted berries. Deciding to get moving they began heading in the same direction as they had been for a day.
It had taken over an hour and the sun was just peaking out from behind the horizon, the trees became thinner and the ground more worn as evidence of a small village appeared around them. Soon amongst the wooden houses Annabeth was sadden to learn that she didn't recognise anything.
Spotting one of the locals Annabeth walked over easily catching their attention, "Um, excuse me." She spoke softly as the man stopped nervously nearby his eyes darting to the sides every so often, "Can you tell me where I am. I'm kind of lost." Annabeth spoke sheepishly.
Just as they thought he wouldn't reply he spoke, "You're in Little Wood." The man spoke quickly before hurrying off leaving Jack and Annabeth to stare after him curiously.
"I've never heard of Little Wood before." Annabeth spoke looking at Jack. Another couple walked by hurriedly, Jack nudged Annabeth gesturing for her to ask them. Doing so the twelve year approached the couple Jack following her at a distance. "Um hi." Annabeth said gaining the couple's attention, looking at them now made Jack think that they hadn't slept in years, their tired eyes barely able to remain open and yet they were completely alert. "Can you tell me how far it is to Burgess? Annabeth asked politely ignoring the stares the couple was giving her.
"It's about a day's walk." The man said, "That way." He pointed the direction of a worn road. Annabeth looked at it smiling before turning back to the couple, about to thank them Annabeth was surprised to learn that they were gone. Looking about she spotted them half way down the street hurrying along in the same manner as the man from before.
"Well that was rude." Jack stated as he looked about the village, "Everyone must be turning in early." He said looking at the street's that was quickly emptying.
"Maybe we can spend the night in the Inn." Annabeth said before walking down the street, Jack shrugged and followed the girl. Opening the heavy wooden door Annabeth peaked inside, spotting the check-in desk she hurried on over. The tall man noticed her and his relaxed yet sleepy demeanour changed abruptly into a one of panic and fear.
Before she could even open her mouth to speak he spoke, "I'm sorry but we don't have any available rooms." Jack scoffed as he looked at Annabeth with a face suggesting that the man before them was crazy.
Annabeth shuffled on her feet for a second before sparing a glance at Jack who's gaze was now fixated on the wall of keys behind the man. "If you don't have any rooms, then why do you have all the keys?" She asked unsure as to why she was snapping so suddenly at an Inn keeper.
"They're, they're just spare keys." He said, Jack sighed his own patience wearing thin, he couldn't understand why this town was being so rude to a little girl, surely they weren't blind to how desperate she was. Annabeth was about to speak before the man came out from behind the counter and began ushering Annabeth out the door, "I'm sorry miss, but really there are no rooms available." He said closing the door leaving Annabeth stuck outside as night once more cloaked everything in darkness.
Annabeth didn't like the creepy feeling the night brought to this town, everything was darker than what was possible, alleys looked endless and the lights did nothing to help sooth away her fears as the light caused the shadows to become darker.
"It looks like we'll be sleeping outside … again." Annabeth sighed as she looked for a place to curl of for the night. Jack followed her his anger for the Inn keeper melting slightly as he heard Annabeth's voice tremble slightly.
"Well at least we know where we're headed in the morning." Jack said hoping to lighten the mood, Annabeth only nodded as she sat at the mouth of an alleyway, pulling both hers and Jack's cloak tighter around her shivering form Annabeth rested against the small empty boxes.
Jack continued to sulk as he sat nearby watching over Annabeth as she tried to sleep, he wasn't sure why but there was something about the village that unnerved him. Another hour passed and the village was fast asleep, he watched as Annabeth shivered slightly but otherwise continued trying to sleep.
Bored Jack began to fiddle with his staff the temptation of sleep still not present, if anything Jack believed that falling asleep here was a bad idea, he just wished he knew why.
Something moved in the corner of his eye putting Jack back on full alert, up and standing he held his staff ready to fend off anything that would harm Annabeth. Nothing approached however causing Jack to doubt that he even saw something, going back to sit down his attention was once again focused on something just out of his line of vision. Scanning the street Jack looked for any signs, finding none he looked back at Annabeth her breathing beginning to even out signalling that she had finally fallen asleep.
Scouting the street for something Jack was annoyed to learn that there was nothing to find, walking back towards Annabeth he was stopped by a strange sight. Peaking through a window at a sleeping child Jack was surprised to see that the golden sand he often seen floating around Annabeth's head at night replaced by black sand. The child in question stirred restlessly in bed but showed no signs of waking as the images continued to haunt him.
Moving to another window Jack found a similar black sand swirling around a girl's head, she looked to be no older than Annabeth. The sand image above her was of a sand image of her running, what she was running from Jack didn't know but judging by how she was as restless as the last child he guessed that they were having nightmares. Wanting to get back to Annabeth to see if his thoughts were right he was surprised to learn that she too hand black sand swirling around her head, her face stained with tears as she struggled in her sleep, the black image above her taking the form of her and her father, Annabeth looked like she was trying to get away and go back.
Deciding that this dream was doing more harm than good he shook her shoulder wanting to wake her, when she did not come to Jack shook her a little harder before whispering her name softly. Slowly her red teary eyes fluttered open as she looked at Jack. Her sad face instantly became happy at the sight of him, she quickly embraced the winter teen before her in a breath taking hug.
"Annabeth." Jack wheezed, "Annabeth." He tried again as she loosened her grip, "We need to leave." Annabeth looked at him questioningly, "Please Annabeth just trust me, something's not right here."
"We can't." Annabeth replied, "If we leave we'll perish in the forest. We barely made it here." Annabeth said, "It's more than a day's journey home Jack." Annabeth spoke sadly.
"I know but we have to leave, and soon." Jack urged back. Annabeth sighed. "There really is something evil here. Staying will only make us a target." Jack said showing his concern for Annabeth.
Annabeth moved to comfort him, "I don't fear anything as long as you're here Jack." She said, smiling as her words sank in. Jack was shocked, he had not expected Annabeth to say something like that to him, he was in fact expecting her to protest a bit more on how ludicrous he must sound wanting to leave with little chance of surviving in the forest. Yet with that statement Jack was touched, he had no idea just how much Annabeth truly admired him.
Still dumbfounded Jack found himself asking a stupid question, "Why?"
"Because…" Annabeth paused for a moment as she though of her response, she wanted to say; 'Because you're my brother.' But she knew that that wouldn't go down well with Jack, instead she said, "Because you're my best friend."
Jack doubted Annabeth's words despite believing himself that they were best friends but the look in Annabeth's eye made Jack think that she wanted to say something else something stronger than best friends. Siblings perhaps?
He would have pushed the topic had the pained look on Annabeth's face told him not to when she had said friends. Shaking his head he got back to the original topic, "Annabeth, we really, really need to leave." Jack pleaded his voice sounding more urgent this time, he was so close to get on his knees and beg, he wanted her to be safe and he knew that staying wouldn't be safe, at least not for Annabeth.
Annabeth sighed, "Fine but we'll need food. I'd rather not almost starve to death again." She smiled grimly as Jack pulled her to her feet.
"Anything if it means that we can leave." He smiled before looking about for a place to find food. Not too far down the street was a bakery, thinking it would be easier than any other place or just as difficult, Jack headed towards it, Annabeth following silently behind.
Peaking through a window Jack saw an empty shop, many items of food still on display, looking about Jack spotted a door leading into the back of the shop. Smiling he went towards it calling upon the powers in the staff he tapped it against the door hinges before pushing the door effortlessly open.
Looking at Annabeth with a reassuring smile he walked into the bakery, Annabeth followed trying not to touch anything as she didn't want to wake anyone. The law was very strict when it came to stealing.
Noticing a sack lying on a table Jack picked it up happy to find it sturdy enough to carry a lot of food. Looking around the kitchen for any scraps he was disappointed to learn that there was nothing to salvage. Shrugging off the thought he went to the front half of the store and looked at the shelves filled with slowly hardening bread and rolls.
Well he had checked for things that wouldn't be missed but it seems that the baker had thrown out all the scraps of burnt unusable bread. It only meant that Jack was forced to help himself to all the items he could lay his hands on in the front of the shop.
Annabeth stood in the doorway leading to the kitchen her gut was knotting itself unpleasantly at the knowledge that she was doing nothing while Jack was taking full loafs of bread from the shelves. She watched as he put three loafs into the sack along with five bread rolls; a couple of tea cakes and some hot cross buns as well. He quickly moved onto the sweet section past the counter.
Annabeth grasped her hair, her gut clenching tightly as he went after more food, surely he had already taken enough for one day. It was official Annabeth was not coming back to this town, they'd connect her to this robbery easily. She suddenly began to worry as she had asked the couple for directions to her home village. Her head began spinning if her parents ever found out that she had helped steal this much food. Well Annabeth knew already that she could say goodbye to being let outside for a whole month at least, she'd probably be escorted everywhere from then on, and she wouldn't be able to go shopping without someone eyeing her suspiciously. The thought of the baker forcing her parents to pay for all the food that they took loomed over her, it made her wonder if he'd make her pay for the damage Jack did to the door.
Annabeth shuddered would they think that she was a witch, after all the ice was still lingering on the hinges and frost patterns were creeping across the rest of the wood. The room was now spinning, not only was she now going to be branded as a thief but a witch.
In her panicking trance like state she never noticed as Jack filled the bag with several sweet items from the front of the shop, he moved onto the savoury section next placing as many pasties as possible into the now full sack. He turned to leave the shop and was shocked to see Annabeth looking ready to pass out, the brown haired girl was leaning heavily against the doorframe for support her eyes no longer aware of her surroundings.
Shaking her shoulder Jack snapped Annabeth back to reality, she face turning to an annoyed frown as she just gestured for them to leave the bakery. "What about water?" Jack whispered to Annabeth. Annabeth stopped walking towards the door, she had forgotten about that, shuffling her feet she shrugged at Jack.
Looking at the tables and counter tops around the kitchen Jack spotted what he was looking for, two water sacks sat empty nearby on one of the counter tops, filling them in the bucket of clean water also nearby Jack slung them over his shoulder along with the sack off food. "Okay lets get going." Jack smiled, Annabeth nodded her head as she tried to ignore her uneasy gut.
Back on the main street they looked at the road they were to headed down. Taking a calming breath Annabeth held Jack's hand tightly as the creepy uneasy feeling from early made itself know once more. Suddenly she was more than thankful that they were leaving this village. Heading down the road they were unaware of their silent follower.