Chapter Nine: The Consequences of What You Did/Didn’t Do
Jamal and June sat on the fence that ran around the outskirts of the farm, watching as the trees blew gently in the wind. They’d been waiting only for a little while, but it had already felt like forever. Jamal had started to think V might have been right, though he knew not to say that out loud to June.
When this all started, that being yesterday. He was excited with the prospect of being seen as a legend, or at least a proper one. But now he wished the sage would’ve picked literally anyone else. It always seemed so easy in the stories he and his brothers were told as kids. A group of four daring heroes fighting the darkness so that the realm could see another day. They didn’t get bogged down in petty and not so petty arguments. They sang songs as they travelled the winding roads on their journeys. They’d be sent off by the king to fight the darkness on its own turf and win every time, not have one of their members die in the middle of the story. If the Sage had chosen anyone of his brothers, they would’ve already slain the evil by now. The skies would be their usual clear, glistening blue rather than the murky grey that hung over them now. But most importantly, they would’ve gone back to save Otis, not run away as he had done.
All the things V had said, they all rang true. Despite his loud refusal to leave and carry on to Glasshall and abandon Otis, it was all bark and no bite. He knew that deep down, if V turned to him and said yes, yes let’s go back and find him, Jamal would come up with an excuse for himself to hang back, to stay on “lookout” as June and V risked their lives trying to save Otis. He’d never been the bravest, a common trait his brothers would bully him over, an issue he experienced often being the runt of the litter. It only made matters worse when all of them went on to join the king’s guard, working at his family’s farm didn’t get him nearly as much praise from his Mum, planting crops and milking cows wasn’t nearly as glamorous as following the king around like an extra shadow.
Eventually, he gave into the constant prodding whenever his brothers would come back to visit. So, he signed up and went through all the same training they had. His performance was painfully average throughout the course, but at least it was enough to get him a position by the end. One he was somewhat proud of, despite not guarding the king like his brothers did. They positioned him on one of the watchtowers. A job that didn’t take much of anything to pull off. The kingdom had seen no genuine danger in about a century which suited him fine, it just gave him time to mess about with his friend Oscar who he’d met during the training course.
Oscar was a cool guy, one who held a lot more enthusiasm for the job than Jamal. It was all fun and games for a short while, but then one day a dragon came, and then the rest was history. He supposed at least his brothers had nothing to bully him about anymore. He could still picture their shocked faces when he had been knighted.
June regretted nothing she had said, V was completely out of order. She still struggled to comprehend just how she was one of the chosen four. She understood the gods worked in mysterious ways, but they were making even less sense than usual. She’d never heard of the Great Four before. The nuns had said children stories were a waste of time, that she should only listen to real stories like the ones in the book of enlightenment. But from what the references about them she’d heard over the journey so far, she had concluded that “Great” wasn’t the term she’d use for their incarnation. She understood that reaching Glasshall was the priority, but she didn’t see why V had to be so cold-hearted about the affair.
Jamal had been right before. The least they could do is wait for him, yet V left so easily. She didn’t even give it a second thought before she jumped into the back of that poor farmer’s wagon.
June could tell this hadn’t been her first time. Her first time running away. You don’t know to go looking for an escape route that quickly without any previous knowledge. That was why she’d dug in, shouted at V and therefore lost her composure.
The head of the monastery had always said that was June’s downfall. The ease in which she could lose control. He’d say how people couldn’t be saved through force and for a while she’d believed him, and so she became patient.
A patience that had gradually drained over this exhaustive journey. She had tried her best, but things kept going wrong. First, she tried to do the righteous thing in the tavern back in Bellkeep, which led to her into the same cage as the same person who’d actually committed a crime. And now she’d been sent on a quest with them. If she was being honest she doubted that the Sage even knew what she was doing. At times it felt like she was talking more to the surrounding townsfolk than the four of them. And what was the point in them reporting to the king? Why had the Sage not gone with them? These were only a few things she’d questioned on the trip, yet she’d ignored them so far, not wanting to question the Gods and why they’d want to send her on such a path. She just assumed this was a test of faith.
Jamal began tapping her on the shoulder. She looked up at him and saw him pointing toward the line of trees ahead of them. She squinted, trying to see what had got him quite so excited, and that’s when she saw it. Something was moving through the shrubbery.
V sat as the wagon rocked back and forth over the stoney path below it. She looked out toward the horizon, waiting to see the pristine crystal towers that were set around the centre of Glasshall. The place she used to call home. She didn’t think she’d be heading back so soon, or at all. Getting that boat was supposed to be her ticket out of the kingdom. Where she could have a new life and not feel the need to hide her face under a large hood. At least that had been the plan before the world had been thrown into peril. Now she’d have to delay her plans until everything got sorted. But she couldn’t help but dread seeing Glasshall again. She hadn’t wanted to go back; it was the reason she’d ended up in Bellkeep. It was almost as far from Glasshall as you could get and full of half-drunk people that wouldn’t give her a second look. Going back was taking her out of her comfort zone, though she couldn’t turn back now, not after all June had said before.
As she rode the wagon, stealthily snacking on any fruits she could whilst the farmer wasn’t looking, she couldn’t help but look back. Why was she even still on the wagon? She wanted to get it over with obviously, but she didn’t want to go back to Glasshall, at least not without people she could use as cover. Then again though, if she did jump off this wagon and head back, she’d just be giving up. She could already sense June’s smug face, staring down at her if she decided to do that. She got why she was mad, why both of them were. But staying back was pointless. They couldn’t just sit by and hope for things to turn out fine. For Otis to come running out of the woods unscathed. They had to keep moving, that’s what V had done and, up to now, it had at least worked out in her favour. Yet she looked back again. Her mind began to wander back to Jamal and June, who waited for someone who wouldn’t be coming back.
Otis had been nice, clumsy, but nice. He’d been the reason they’d even properly talked. She’d laughed with him back in the cell they’d been thrown in.
But no. She couldn’t keep looking into the past, she knew where that would lead. Otis was dead and the Jamal and June were stupid for thinking otherwise and that was it. She turned away, instead looking toward one of the stacked baskets of fruit, taking another which she took a large bite out of.
The farmer was good at his job if the taste was anything to go by, though then again, she hadn’t eaten in about a day, so that might’ve been tricking her tastebuds somewhat. She consumed the fruit quickly, trying her best not to think about anything. About where she was heading or what she had left behind. Though she would learn to regret that. Her peripherals had always been a part of her downfall when it came to her occupation of thievery, and snatching up fruit still very much lay in that job description.
The wagon suddenly came to a halt and the farmer, who’d been very kind beforehand, had reached his limit when he turned back to see half of his stock gone and only with one culprit responsible.
V couldn’t even try to defend herself; mainly because her mouth was still very much full of food.
The farmer turned out to be surprisingly sturdy and threw her out onto the path. There he got back into the wagon and drove the horses forward once more. This time with one less passenger.
The bushes ahead had not yet ceased to stop moving, and both Jamal and June had grown closer to see the cause. Both hoping they were right about what the source was.
“Otis! It’s us! We waited for you!” shouted Jamal, cupping his hands as he came closer to the edge of the woods; though not too close in case it was anything dangerous.
“Otis! Are you okay?!” June called, pushing aside the shrubbery that blocked her vision.
“Can you see anything?” Jamal asked, trying to peer over June’s shoulder, a troublesome task due to her vertical advantage.
“No, nothing. To the gods, where is he?” she said, still actively surveying the several rows of trees that stood before her.
Jamal stood back, twiddling his thumbs. Maybe they’d just been hearing things, and it was just the result of wishful thinking from the two of them. Either way, it had been a while now; the sky had gotten even darker and they were running out of time. Even though he didn’t want to do it, perhaps it was the time to tell June it was time to give up.
“So, um, June?” he said, stalling his pacing as he thought of the best way to word it.
“Jamal, be quiet, I need to concentrate. I could’ve sworn I just saw something,” she said sternly, not exactly giving Jamal a great sign that what he was about to say would be taken well. He took a deep breath to prepare himself.
“June, I don’t think he’s coming back.” He kept it short but sweet, yet he prepared himself for the heated reply. For June to tear him apart and dig into his secrets just like she’d done with V. But she didn’t, her next words would come out softer than he’d ever heard flow from June’s mouth.
“I know,” she said, sounding defeated as she let go of the shrubbery and walked back onto the path where Jamal stood. “I thought if I prayed it would be enough. Though I suppose it wasn’t”.
Before either of them could say another word, the source of the noise came swiftly out of the woods.
June spun to see what it was. She scanned from left to right but couldn’t see anything. She heard the pitter patters of feet, or at least that’s what she thought they were. But as her gaze grew lower, she saw what had really been the cause, and it wasn’t Otis. It was a little werehog that walked between her feet.
“So, did one of Otis’s spells go wrong again?” they heard a familiar voice quip. Both Jamal and June looked back down the path and saw the person responsible. Not that they needed to. They only knew one person who’d make such a poorly timed joke. “Yeah, sorry. Maybe not the best time to make a joke about that.” She stepped a little closer to Jamal and June, pulling down her hood. “Listen. I get it, you know? Why you wanted to wait. Otis was a good guy, and maybe I shouldn’t have just run away the second I got the chance.” V paused for a moment. She didn’t know how to explain herself. That and she didn’t want to admit an enormous part in her decision to come back was being kicked off the wagon. Though she wouldn’t have to plead for forgiveness like she had thought. It turned out both Jamal and June had been doing a lot of thinking whilst she was gone too.
“It’s fine. I think we get it too. Why you, like, wanted to run away and stuff. You were scared. That staying here, that it would make it real,” said Jamal, kicking the path lightly beneath him as he spoke.
V turned to June, who stood staring at the werehog as it scurried off into the distance.
June watched as it faded into the blades of grass before she finally met V in the eyes.
“Glad you’re back. Should we head off?” she said, returning to her factory setting as she gripped her staff and began walking down the path toward Glasshall.
V looked at Jamal, who shrugged in response.
It wasn’t exactly a heartfelt reunion, but at least they were together again; the three of them anyway. Now they’d be able to set off to Glasshall, hopefully bringing an end to this mess once and for all.