Ten Years Earlier
The Wildwood felt boundless. Miles and miles of trees as far Vaan could see. All in many varieties of all different shapes, sizes, and colors. Ranging from the small horopito, to the ancient, three hundred-sixty-foot sequoias; their monumental trunks standing proud like silent guardians over them. The brothers were headed home, traveling on horseback from Perith-one of the closest neighboring towns to where they lived in the Glade.
Two days a week, they traveled to Perith to stock up on supplies, and to trade food and materials for things needed back home, but not why liked going. They traveled to visit and train with Eota, an older man which lived off in the outskirts of Perith. Not only was he a knowledgeable artsman, but a lifelong friend to them both, playing a significant role in their lives as one of the only father figures they’ve ever known. Their mother had been sending them to train with Eota for as long as they could remember.
Besides that, they simply enjoyed the ride. Vaan loved the sound of his horse’s hooves pounding against the dirt path, watching the trees zip past him while he galloped through the wood. He loved the rush of wind against his face, a face that was rough and gritty from the facial hair starting to develop, a face he shared with his twin brother, Blaine.
Despite being twins and having similar features, they did have their differences as well. They both had thick, ash-brown hair; although, Blaine preferred his long and kept in a high ponytail, while Vaan preferred his cut shorter and kept up in a windblown mess. They both had distinct cheekbones, thin noses, angular jaws, but there was one feature that was distinctly different about them. Vaan’s eyes were a fierce, bluish-grey, like storm clouds over raging seas, while Blaine’s were different. They were not the same stormy-blue of his brother’s, or green, or brown, or black for that matter. The irises of Blaine’s eyes were red, deep, solemn, crimson puddles of red.
Vaan took a deep breath, smelling the prominent earthy smell rising from the fallen decomposing leaves and branches and the sweet and bitter scent of the diverse assortment of trees that seemed to mesh together in perfect, fragrant harmony. He had always thought the forest was hypnotic, something about it left a primitive, calming feeling inside him.
They followed alongside a creek that broke off and went in different directions like veins -- flowing life from the heart of the forest. Sun rays streamed through the trees, casting waves of light across them and illuminating glowing dust and pollen that swirled through the air.
Vaan yanked the reins of his horse, pulling it to a stop. He dismounted and opened one of the horse’s saddlebags, pulling out a brown, woven, knapsack.
“What are you doing?” Blaine asked.
“Stocking up on goppers, we’re running low.”
Various edibles grew around the Wildwood, like honey-suckle, berries, and the nuts and mushrooms that accompanied the leaves covering the forest floor. Vaan walked over to a bush littered with the small, yellow tear-shaped fruits that grew beside the creek. He watched a bird unfurl its opalescent wings of purple and blue and dart away as he neared. He scanned the bush over and picked the biggest, ripest berry he could find and popped it into his mouth. A contradicing blend of sour and sweet made his lips pucker as he chewed, then slowly filled back out and even formed a little half-smile.
Vann’s brother had dismounted and met him at the bush. Blaine plucked a berry from its stem tossed it in. He gave Vaan an agreeing nod and started to help fill the sack. They continued to pick until it neared half-full, Vaan tied it shut with the drawstring, and placed it back into the saddlebag. They climbed back onto their horses and rode on.
They were about ten minutes from the Glade now; ten minutes until home and had reduced their horses speed to a slow trot. Vaan looked up into the winding, tangled branches of the trees and tried to spot a woodpecker, hammering into one of the giant trunks of a Sequoia. He saw everything but. Many other bizarre, colorful birds glided between the branches chanting their orchestral birdsong. He had always been fascinated with birds; always wondered what it would be like to fly, to see the Wildwood from above the trees, to see what’s beyond them, to see what lies beyond the sea. Living in The Wildwood their entire lives, he or Blaine had never visited or seen any of the places called “The Big Cities.” They had only heard of it from the many stories their mother had told them. She said the big cities were bad for them, that people and life there were “different.” He still didn’t understand what she meant, but they were hundreds of miles away from that type of civilization, separated from the rest of the world by vast, open sea. There were other neighboring towns like Perith and Halberd -- and Tourian, just to name a few -- but they were underdeveloped as the Glade itself. The cities and towns here were more of what the Big City-ers would call villages.
Up ahead Vaan could see where the endless spire of trees ended and opened into a clearing. Less than a minute away now. He caught a glimpse of a squirrel just outside its woody home, fighting over a nut in a never-ending war with the birds. He smiled, but it slowly faded when he reached out and ran a hand along a tree and over a little notch in its massive trunk, letting out a deep sigh as he trotted passed. He had missed the shot of his lifetime. A twelve-point buck -- one of the biggest deer he had ever seen in his life, stood here. He let his nerves aim and loosed an arrow that flew off target. It grazed the buck’s neck and struck the tree leaving a hole bore into the bark that he could still see to this day.
Moments later, the forest gave birth to two boys and their horses as they rode out from the forest and into the Glade. The Eye of the Gods some called it; to the twins, it was home -- home, sweet home. The sunlight was blinding and poured into the clearing. Blaine had to squint to let his eyes adjust from the contrast of the shaded canopy of leaves the forest provided. The Glade practically glowed from its beam.
Lush, verdant-green grass combed a meadow filled with a flourishing, vast assortment of plants and flora. On their right, they rode past a large pond; home to a giant catfish the brother’s named Jabu. They got the name from a story their mother used to tell them of some mythical beast; a leviathan of the same name, who served as a guardian of some type of great treasure. To their left was a little set of stairs built into the side an enormous stump of which once was a Sequoia tree. They often came here to spar with each other and practice skills they learned from class. Ahead of them was home; a small, but welcoming, wooden cottage. A ribbon of grey smoke rolled from its chimney and dissipated into the cerulean-blue sky. Beside the cottage was a sizable garden, filled row after row with a diverse variety of vegetables, and on the other side, a clothesline, and their mother, who was hanging up freshly washed clothes to dry.
“Hey, Ma!” Vaan called.
“Hey, boys,” she returned and waved.
The brothers dismounted and tied up their horses; their mother, Luma, met them with a gentle smile that would set even the most deranged beast at ease. Her silvery hair shined under the afternoon sunlight. “Did you pick up what I asked?”
“We did.” Vaan opened his horse’s saddlebag and pulled out a crowbar he purchased from the smith in Perith and the drawstring sack of berries, handing them both to his mother.
“What is this?” Luma asked, peeking into the sack.
“We stopped in the forest and picked up some berries. We were running low.” Vaan said.
“Oh, perfect!” Luma exclaimed, “I’ve already plucked the weeds from the garden; can you go feed the chickens? After that why don’t you two birthday boys go fishing or something? It’s a beautiful day. Sup will be ready in a couple of hours.”
They both nodded their heads.
“What’d you need that crowbar for?”
Luma smiled. “For something around the house.”
Not the answer Vaan was looking for, but he left it at that. He and Blaine each picked up a wooden bucket sitting next to the garden. The one bucket held water and the second consisted of last night’s sup and the morning’s breakfast; scraps of eggs, wheat, potatoes, and such. They walked around back to the pens where four large hens, a rooster, and two chicks were housed. Vaan dumped the scraps in the pen and watched the fowl begin to peck away at their meal.
“How do you think they would feel if they knew they were eating their own children?”
Vaan glanced at Blaine with a quaint expression.
“The eggs.” Blaine said, filling a trough with water.
“Oh,” Vaan laughed, “Morbid thought, for sure.
Blaine smiled. He pulled down the wooden slab that served a door, closing the pen. “Hey, do you wanna go for a round?”
“Yeah, we have a little time to kill.”
“Didn’t get enough earlier?”
“I want to go against you. It’s been a while.”
Vaan thought for a moment. “Sure, why not. Here put this back,” he threw Blaine his bucket. “I’ll go get our swords.”