Chapter 3: Tressa
One of Clementine’s favorite things to do is cook. As we prepared dinner, I found that it was becoming one of my favorite things to do as well. Clementine was in charge of gathering ingredients and preparations while I was in charge of the actual cooking part. We worked well together as father rested in the bed.
Our house was small and only had a family room, a kitchen, a bathroom, and two bedrooms. Clementine and I shared a bedroom, which I hated mostly because we also only had one bed and Clementine was a bed hog. I was jealous of my father, who got a room all to himself. Though I could tell he didn’t like it. He would much rather continue to share his room with mother than to have it all to himself.
My mother died when she was giving birth to Clementine. I was ten years old and remember it vividly. I was told the birthing process was not a pretty one and I practically ran out of the house to avoid her screams. But all of sudden, she just stopped screaming. The world was silent and the next thing I knew, a baby was crying. There was so much blood on the sheets and I knew something was wrong when I saw mother staring unblinkingly up at the ceiling. I watched it happen. All of it. I’ll never forget.
Although losing mother that fateful day nearly destroyed me, I got one good thing out of it.
“Can you pass me the pepper?” Clementine asked as she poured the chopped vegetables into the broth. I watched as she seasoned the soup and I put it back on the stove to simmer. She then started to set the table. “So who was that guy at the market? I’ve never seen him before.”
The thought of that man made my stomach churn, but I answered calmly. “I don’t know. He was just a customer. He was probably a traveler just stopping by.” I glanced out the window and was glad to see that it had stopped raining. Unfortunately, it was too dark to even think about going back to the market.
“He seemed to like you.” She snickered. I stared at her, perplexed.
“Clem, he was creepy. I don’t care how attractive he was. He barely spoke and he kept looking at you. I don’t trust bloaks like that and neither should you.”
She held up her hands in defense. “I never said I did. He just seemed very interested in you.”
I rolled my eyes at her and replied. “Go see if father is awake.” She was grinning as she left the room and I shook my head.
Clementine was just like mother. She always reminded me of her and I could tell father felt the same way. Not only in personality, but in looks as well. I was always jealous that Clementine got mother’s looks because she was beautiful. She had her long, golden hair, and bright blue eyes whereas I looked just like my father. My hair was dark brown and thick, making it difficult to control and my eyes were a plain brown color that reminded me of mud. I never cared much for my appearance but every once in a while I look in the mirror and wonder how my life would change if I had gotten mother’s looks instead of father’s.
A knock on the door interrupted my rather dreadful thoughts on my appearance and I shuffled over to answer it. When I opened the door, I had only time to see the dark figure of a man before something hard hit me on the side of the head, making me stumble to the floor.
The room was spinning and I tried to call out but I couldn’t even hear myself. My ears were ringing and I could feel a warm, sticky substance dripping down the side of my face. I tried to get up but that was futile. I could hear Clementine screaming from the other room and the sound reminded me so much of my mother that I nearly threw up. I saw the man stalk back into the living room, carrying my little sister, who was screaming and fighting with all her might. The man, who I could almost see clearly, was the man from the market. It wasn’t even a struggle for him to carry Clementine; it was as if she was a paperdoll.
“Tressa!” She cried out. “What have you done to her!?”
I didn’t get to hear his response. The last thing I saw was the bottom of his boot, before the world fell away.
The pain in my head was excruciating. I couldn’t tell where I was or what had happened but all I could focus on was the throbbing pain in my skull. Through the ringing in my ears, I thought I could hear someone calling my name.
“Tressa! Wake up! Please, you have to wake up.” The voice was familiar and it calmed me down enough so that I could slowly open my eyes. I felt something cool press against my forehead and the pain subsided a little. Everything was still blurry and I blinked a few times, moaning. My best friend, Lucille, was leaning over me with a terrified expression. She continued to press the cool cloth against my forehead and I moved my hand to meet hers.
“What happened?” My voice was hoarse and I had to clear it a few times to make it sound normal again.
“I don’t know! I heard screaming and so I ran here as quickly as I could. I can’t find Clementine.” Lucille was shaking and it took all my effort to sit up. Fighting off the dizziness, I held her hand firmly as the memories came flooding back.
“That man...from the market. He came here and he...I think he…” I gasped out of pain and fear. “Clementine!”
“He took Clementine?” She asked and I nodded. She bit her lip, not needing anymore explanation. “Are you alright to stand?”
I nodded again and she helped me slowly to my feet. “Where’s my father?” I asked, feeling slightly sick.
“He’s in the room. He’s fine, just worried.”
Lucille helped me get to the bedroom, where my father was laying, looking around with wide eyes. My father was handsome once, but after he got sick, his normally tanned skin was a sickly pale color and his bright eyes were sullen. He was too weak to walk and he lost at least ten pounds since the illness came over him. Seeing him like this broke my heart.
I knelt down beside him. “Father…”
“Tr-Tressa. Clementine...he took her.” He whispered. His voice was so raspy that I could barely make out what he was saying. “You must...get her back.” He sounded breathless, like speaking these words took a lot of energy.
That’s when I realized that he was going to die.
I bent down towards him, tears in my eyes. “Father, I can’t leave you like this.”
“You must! You cannot....save me….but you can save….her.” I noticed that he had tears in his eyes as well, from sadness or pain, I didn’t know.
“Father…” I choked past the lump in my throat. “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know where to start looking for her. I don’t know if I can...I won’t make it. I’m too...weak.”
“Tressa. You are more like your mother...than you realize. You are...a flower in this burning world. I trust...that you will know what to do….when the time comes. Your mother died...to bring your sister into this world...now you must decide...what is truly important to you.”
I sobbed and leaned my head into his chest. “I’ll find her papa! I will bring her back.”
“Good...good. I love you, my sweet Tressa.”
“I love you too.” I choked out before pulling away and kissing his cheek. Then, I turned away, my heart breaking, and I left.
Lucille and I went into the family room and we stood there for a while in silence.
“I’m so sorry, Tressa.” Lucille wrapped her arms around me and I almost started crying again.
“I’ll be alright. I just need to find Clementine.” I pulled away and grabbed my traveling bag. I’ve never once left Highrose and never really planned to but my father got me a traveling bag just for everyday use. I stuffed it with essential items that I would need on my journey.
“I will come with you.”
My head snapped towards Lucille, who was watching me with a look of determination. “No, Lucille. You have your own family to worry about.”
“They will be fine. You’re my best friend and I’m not going to let you go out there alone.”
I wanted to argue with her and tell her that she couldn’t come with me, but truthfully, I didn’t want to have to do this by myself. I knew that it was selfish but I nodded. “It will be dangerous.”
Lucille smiled radiantly. “I need a little more danger in my life.” She pushed her red hair out of her face. Lucille has always told me that she hated her carroty red hair. I always thought it was pretty. “Now, we need a plan.”
“Yes, rescue Clem.”
“No, I mean an actual plan. We can’t just go out there and expect to know where they went. Obviously that’d be too easy.” She paused to look around. “Do you have a map?”
I reached into one of the cupboards and pulled out a dusty and wrinkled map that belonged to my father. I handed it to her and she spread it out across the tabletop.
“Alright so the nearest town in Bluefield…” She pointed to a dot on the map. I glanced at it over her shoulder.
“Bluefield is past the Black Forest. How do we know he didn’t go north?”
Lucille shook her head. “I don’t think they did. All the major towns are east and he looked like he was working for someone quite wealthy. I’ll bet he came from either Ironcastle or Fallwald.”
“What makes you say that?” I eyed her, confused. I always knew Lucille was smart when it came to Arnaron’s towns and villages, but I had no idea the how much she actually knew. Lucille has been my best friend since I could remember. She lives next door with her mother and two brothers. Unlike me, Lucille has always wanted to travel and see different parts of the country. I guess I made a good decision in allowing her to come.
She looked up at me and smiled. “Well, Ironcastle and Fallwald are the two most populated towns in eastern Arnaron. They are also home to the most wealthiest of people. I can only assume they went to one of them.”
I nodded. It actually made sense when she said it like that. “How do we know which one?”
Lucille stared at the map for a moment before responding. “In order to get to either one of them, they have to go through the Kalar Mountains. And the best way to the Kalar Mountains is through Clearhedge…” She drew a path on the map with her finger. “I have no doubt they will need to stop there before going through the mountains. Perhaps if we’re quick, we can catch up to them.”
“Have I ever told you that you’re brilliant?” I grinned at her.
“I have my moments.”
I glanced at the map again and frowned. “Lucille...do you think he went through or around the Black Forest?”
Her eyes widened and she leaned back. “Around, of course. No one is crazy enough to go through the Black Forest. Too spooky.”
“But how much shorter is it?”
Lucille furrowed her brows and looked at the map. “Huh?”
I gave her a stern look. “If we went through the Black Forest, would we catch up to them?”
She let out a whoosh of air. “It’s possible. But the Black Forest is dangerous Tressa. You know the stories.”
“Of course I know the stories.”
We stared at each other for a long time. I knew it was dangerous and a long shot, but if it meant saving my sister, I was willing to do anything. “We have to go through.” I whispered.
Her reaction was immediate. She jumped up from the chair and and grabbed my shoulders. “Are you crazy? We’ll die if we go in there.”
“My sister could die if we don’t. I will risk everything for her.” I sighed and rubbed my face with my hands. My head still ached and I was getting anxious. “But I won’t risk you. Stay here, Lucille. I’ll go by myself.”
“Don’t be stupid.” She rolled her eyes. Brushing hair out of her face, she shook her head. “This is crazy and we’re probably going to die, but I love Clementine too. And we’re wasting time arguing over this. I’m coming. I’ll be by your side, wherever you go.”
My eyes softened and I resisted the urged to hug her to death. “Thank you Lucille.”
She smiled again and patted my shoulder. “I’m going to go get some supplies from my house and tell my brothers where I’m headed. I’ll tell them…” Her voice dropped to a sad whisper. “I’ll tell them about your father so that they can give him a proper burial.”
I swallowed and stared at the floor. The ache in my heart returned full force and I nearly started crying again.
When Lucille left, I stood in the doorway and gazed up at the night sky. Despite the eerie darkness, the stars held a glistening beauty that somehow made my heart feel lighter. This was it. I was leaving my tiny village behind to find my sister. I was going to leave the vegetable garden, the dirt paths, the small houses. I was going to leave behind everything that has always been familiar to me. As I waited for Lucille to return, I wondered what the world was like out there.
Secretly, I was dreading the moment I would have to find out.