Fairytale for the lonely heart, chapter 100

Helen gripped Castor’s shoulder, “are you alright? You seem upset.” Helen held the horses reins as she lead the party to the edge of Pyropolis. It was still dark when they left that morning but they had walked slowly and now the sun was high in the sky. A beautiful sunny like today would be a blessing to most countries but most countries were not mostly desert and hot air.

“I am fine,” muttered Castor, “it is just that… I guess I failed right? I couldn’t bring a flower back. I was so close.. but then Pollux got in the way.”

“You don’t really think THAT is what he intended?”

“What else am I suppose to think?” grumbled Castor. He kicked a stone on the ground which rolled a foot away. Anneli held Castor’s hand tighter than usual.

“It could be worse,” replied Helen.

“It can always be worse, it doesn’t make me feel any better udade.”

“Have faith,” replied Helen and slapped Castor on the back. It stung more than she intended. Castor’s wounds besides his cracked rib had already healed but he was still sore. “Wait for me here,” instructed Helen, “I’ll see about getting some camels.”

Castor leaned against a tall fence which enclosed around a group of horses and llamas. Helen entered a small stone building, with a wooden sign above the door proclaiming ‘CAMELS AND HORSES FOR TRADE, SALE AND RENTING’ in three languages. The air was dense with the musty pungent smell of wet sweaty fur and animal refuse. Disgruntled horses neighed and kicked in their overcrowded and overheated lodgings. A camel in the fenced plot in front of Castor stared at him for an extended minute silently judging him while it chew cud.

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Fairytale for the lonely heart, chapter 92 waves

Eventually Anneli grew accustom to the constant rocking of the boat and the overwhelming salty scent of the sea which permeated every crevice of the boat. Anneli stood on the deck leaning against the rails staring into the sea. The deep blue waves flowed far into the horizon yet still beat against the body of the ship.

“Hey”

Anneli turned and saw Helen walk up to him. She stood beside him and looked in to the ocean together.

“Have you been avoiding Castor?”

“No, why?”

“Because Castor said you were. Did something happen yesterday?”

“No, nothing,” replied Anneli with a sigh. The eastern wind blew over them bringing the scent of a distant land.

“So,” began Helen, “why are you traveling with my brother.”

Anneli smirked,”am I in trouble?”

“Depends, did you do something?”

Anneli turned to Helen and looked into the eyes that were so similar to Castor’s. “No I didn’t. Castor promised to take me to the desert if I helped him find a rose.”

“Why do you want to go to the desert?”

“Because two magic fish told me if I go the desert I will find love.”

Helen choked stifling her laughter. “What? Really? You believed them.”

“Well yes. Besides the only reason Castor even went to find a rose is because some fortune teller said he should be king.”

“Fair enough,” said Helen with a smile and shrug of the shoulders. “But you have to admit your fortune was rather vague.”

“Yes but there was nothing much for me back home, so any hope of a better life is a good reason to leave.”

“Mn…” Helen looked at the blue infinity and the swirling uncertain sky. “He told you about that stuff did he? I mean about becoming the king and about father and Pollux.”

“Yeah. He spoke about you as well. He said he was jealous of you.”

“Really? He’s jealous?”

Anneli nodded. “Castor said he wished he was brave enough to run away himself, but he cared too much about what other people thought and wanted to prove himself.”

“He must really trust you to tell you all those things.”

“I don’t know if he trusts me,” replied Anneli. “He did not tell me anything about himself until just recently. Even then it was because he was in a really bad state.”

“Still, he never opens up to anyone, not even me.”

Anneli was silent of a moment, hesitating whether to tell Helen what he wanted to. “Helen, Castor said he does not want to be king.”

“I figured, especially after what our father tried to do and considering how Castor was treated in the past.”

“But his behavior doesn’t make any sense- why would he risk his life to get the rose and go back to your country if he did not want to become king? He could have run away to anywhere else.”

“Well… no one but Castor really knows what’s going on his head. He can be manipulative and two-face…you should be careful as well.”

“What are you two talking about?” announced Castor as he approached them. He leaned against the rails placing his hands on either side of Anneli.

“Were you talking about me?” asked Castor with a grin and then placed his chin on Anneli’s head.

“Our lives don’t revolve around you Castor,” replied Helen her words dripping with sarcasm.

Castor laughed, “does that mean you were?”

“Maybe- so you are jealous of me Castor?” asked Helen. Castor stared at Helen for a second perplexed.

“What did he tell you? What did you tell her?”

Helen laughed. “I was told that you were jealous because you wanted to run away like me.”

“Anneli why would you tell her that? I told you that in confidence,” chuckled Castor.

“How are you feeling?” asked Anneli softly.

“I’m alright. Well….not much better but I was bored in my room all alone,” muttered Castor.

“You should go back and rest, your injuries are still bad,” replied Anneli.

“Are you coming as well?”

“Not just yet.”

“What? Are you saying the sea is more interesting than I am?” whined Castor.

Anneli paused for a moment then said,”yes.”

 

Fairytale for the lonely heart, Chapter 87 The rescue

The shouting voices became louder and louder. A young soldier ran back to the room, looking disheartened and stressed. “S-sir, we have a problem,” he stuttered.

“What’s going on?” whispered one of the soldiers to another. The middle aged soldier, with medals pined to the breast of his uniform stood up from his chair and shut his book with a clap.

“What is the commotion?” asked the older soldier.

“Well, you see there is this person. They are making a fuss and we can’t seem to calm them down.”

The older man sighed, “really now.”

The thundering sound of heavy boots reverberated through the building as the mysterious person came closer. Castor on the other hand was thoroughly amused and if the soldiers had been nicer to him he may have attempted not two show his pleasure at that distress. A figure in a long dark coat appeared in the door way, with a large hood obscuring their face.

“By Fidim Castor! Why did you go and get yourself arrested?” proclaimed the figure in a booming voice.

“HELEN?”

The figure removed their hood and standing in the doorway was the most beautiful woman any of the soldiers had ever seen. Many of them gasped only now realizing that the loud and violent person was in fact a woman.

“Helen, what are you doing here? HOW did you get here?”

All the soldiers stared at Helen as if she were manna from heaven and they were starving in the desert. They were entranced by her deep dark eyes and glistening umber skin…..

“Castor, that is not important. What did you do to get arrested? And HOW did you get all these injuries?”

……until she spoke and they were swiftly snapped back to reality. They remembered that she had forcefully entered a military building. They remembered that she was loud, violent and rude but those eyes were a snare they did not want to escape.

“What did he do to get arrested?” asked Helen turning to the soldier who was still holding Castor by the shoulder.

“What- I um… uh-”

“What’s wrong are you having a fit?”

“No Helen. You seem to have forgotten that the sight of you knocks Muktaba out of the heads of lesser men.”

“What?” said the soldier furiously glaring at Castor and tightening his grip.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” replied Castor to his captor, “Muktaba is a god of wisdom and learning. One says ‘Muktaba has been knocked out of ones head’ if one is acting like a complete dumb ass.”

“Castor please stop angering the local military, we don’t want this to escalate into a international conflict. Though these men probably have as much influence in international politics as a termite in a chess game.”

“He was fighting in public,” said a voice in the room.

“Who was what now?” asked Helen who was only half-paying attention.

“That was why he was arrested,” said the older soldier and punctuating his sentence with a cough for good measure.

“Oh,” remarked Helen. “How much is his fine? I can pay it now.”

“It is not that simple,” said the soldier, “this is the second time he got arrested so he needs to have a judge look over his case.”

“Alright, what did he do the first time?” asked Helen nearing the end of her patience.

“He was in possession of a large amount of money and a magic jeweled knife. Items thought to have been stolen by him,” replied the soldier.

Helen sighed loudly exasperated and rolled her eyes, “Castor- how did you get arrested for stealing your own things?”

“I don’t Helen! The people here are mad and they won’t listen to a word I say!”

Helen turned to the older soldier and pointed to Castor, “you know he is a prince right? I don’t know if you WANT to be the people arrested the future king of Apophis. You know the Fidiom are known to be vengeful and bloodthirsty. Do you really want to insight the wrath of the people blessed by the gods?”

“He wasn’t lying about being a Prince?” sputtered the older soldier.

“Your gods gave you ears and brains. Why not use them?”

“Let him go,” said the older soldier.

“But what if she is lying as well? They might be accomplices,” argued the soldier not letting go of Castor’s shoulder.

“Well,” said Helen reaching into the pocket of her coat, “I, unlike my brother, actually brought proof of my identity.” From within her pocket Helen too out a gold disk with a delicate geometric emblem etched on it. “This is my emblem. You see the lion, that means I am part of the royal family of Pyropolis.”

The soldiers came closer and stared at the golden disk.

“I can’t believe they let you take that out of the palace,” said Castor just as shocked to see Helen’s seal.

“Well, I would not say they ‘let’ me take it. But I needed some proof of who I was and they won’t mind me borrowing it.”

The older soldier sighed, “let him go,” he repeated. This time the soldier quickly withdrew his hand and stepped back.

“Where are my things?” demanded Castor and a soldier scurried away to get Castor’s belongings. Castor walked over to Helen with a goofy smile. “Thank you for saving me udade.”

“I’m just glad you are alright,” replied Helen, gripping Castor’s forearm affectionately.

Fairytale for the lonely heart, Chapter 86 The interrogation

Castor was lead to a dimly to a room filled with soldiers and instructed to sit on an uncomfortable stool. A middle aged solider holding a book and pen sat on a chair in front of him and slowly opened up his book. Castor noticed the other soldiers glancing at him from the side of their eyes. The older soldier had several medals pinned on the breast of his uniform. Castor was unfamiliar with ranks in the Saxon army but suspected he must be a Colonel or have some other equivalent rank. The soldier cleared his throat to get Castors attention.

“So-”

“So?” replied Castor.

“What is your name?”

“Castor.”

“Full name.”

“Oh right…. Castor Atsu Al-Malik,”

“That’s quite a name.”

“Yes- they are all from different countries.”

“Where are you from?”

“Pyropolis, Apophis.”

“Sorry- what?”

“Er…Pyropolis is the city and Apophis is the country.”

“You’re far from home is see.”

“Yes.”

“What are you doing here? In this country?”

“Traveling.”

“For what reason are you traveling?”

“Can’t one just travel for traveling sake and to see the world?” replied Castor with an awkward laugh.

“One can, but I feel like that is not your reason for traveling.”

“Um… well I don’t know if you will believe me even if I tell you the truth.”

“Does this truth have anything to do with the brawl you got into earlier.”

“Yes…actually-”

“Then the truth.”

“Well… I am a prince,”

“Is that so?” remarked the soldier making notes in his book. Castor was agitated with the hint of sarcasm the soldier spoke with.

“Yes. So the fortune teller claimed that I should be the next king and not my older brother. This was very upsetting to my father so he sent me on a “quest” to get a rose in bloom from his country. However..er… that was a ruse to… uh… have me killed to get me out of the way. So right before we reached the land I jumped out of the boat and swam to land. Then we walked through an obviously haunted swamp, climbed a mountain and got a rose branch. Rode with a group of caravan for over a week during which the caravans where attacked by bandits who I fought. I stopped them but they left with a broken rib. Then we arrived here to get a boat to take us back Pyropolis but them got ambushed by Pyropolis soldier who, I assume were ordered by my father to kill me.”

“Who is we?”

“Sorry?”

“You said ‘we’, who is your travel companion.”

“I…er… don’t have one. I just misspoke.”

“Is that so?”

“Yes…?”

“The other men had your brawl with, who stabbed you- we let them go.”

“Why?”

“Well, for fighting in public it is only a four crown fine and they paid their fine and left.”

“If I pay the fine will you let me go as well?”

“Under normal circumstances I would but-”

“But?”

“Unlike them this is not the first time you got in trouble. A few weeks ago we received a report from a village not to far from here about a foreigner with a magic knife who threatened to attack them, resisted arrest. This man was your approximate height and approximate skin tone.”

“Oh no.”

“Oh yes. Once is an accident twice is criminal offence.”

“But that time I did not even do anything. They just assumed that I was a thief and a smuggler because I am a foreigner.”

“Well it was suspicious. You were traveling with a lot of money and very expensive decadent knife. A well-to-do man, like you claim to be would not be traveling alone. You had neither guards or entourage.”

“I did have guards but they were conspiring to kill me.”

“So you claim…”

“I claim nothing! It’s the truth!” cried Castor in frustration. Silence followed his outburst and all the soldiers in the room stared at Castor.

“Yes. Well, we unfortunately cannot simply take your word for it.”

“How am I supposed to prove myself?”

“Um.. yes. Do you want to know what I think?”

“What do you think?”

“I think you are lying.”

“Lying about what?”

“Everything. You story about being a condemned prince is fine and all for a fairytale but things like that don’t really happen. I think that you are a thief. I think you were traveling with you rich master who you killed and robbed. The money you carry and the knife you wield were both stolen from him. I think the men who attack you, are your old masters guards trying to catch their master’s killer.”

“Why? What in the wide world makes you think that is more logical than what I said.”

“Well, that is what the Apophis soldiers said and unlike you they have their identification and paper in order. So, Castor- what is the truth?”

“What I said is the truth! I am the prince! They were trying to kill me!”

The old soldier sighed, “Son, I cannot help you if you do not tell the truth.”

“I am telling the truth.”

The old soldier turned and called a younger soldier to take Castor back to his cell.

“Wait!” shouted Castor as he was being pulled up from the stool. “What is going to happen to me now?”

“Since you have two incidents you will be presented before  judge who will decide what to do with you. The Apophis soldiers wanted you to be given to their custody and I would recommend that the judge when you see them.

“If you do that they are going to kill me!” shouted Castor as he was being pulled out of the room.

A loud crashing sound from outside reverberated. Everyone was quiet, even Castor. Everyone turned to look at the door. Another loud thudding sound was heard. Shouting of loud but unclear voice followed. Two of the soldiers got up and went to find out what the commotion was. More shouting of more voices.

Chapter 82 kindles hope

Helen sat in the corner of a small dimly lit room. She could clearly hear the sound of the beating waves outside. In her hand she played with a white and black stones. With a flick of her fingers the stones floated into the air and spun drunkenly. The rickety wooden door crackled when pushed open. Pollux looked at his sister and the floating rocks.

“Urim and Thummim?” asked Pollux.

“Yes,” murmured Helen and flicked her finger again, making the stones spin faster and faster.

“Have you ever used them?”

“No, but it was the only thing grandfather left for me.”

“It was more than what he left for me,” chuckled Pollux.

“He left you a kingdom Pollux.” The stones fell back into her palm. She tucked them in her cloak pocket. “Did you manage to get me a ship?”

“Yes, I did!” said Pollux taking a piece of paper from his bag and showing it to Helen. “It is one of the fastest ships of the armada.”

“Did father find out I arrived?”

“We managed to stop the news before it reached him. Thankfully he was not in the palace at the time. Your brazen behavior did not help.”

“I thought Castor was dead at that time.”

“He might still be dead.”

“I still have hope.” Helen glared at Pollux, hiding her fear behind a mask of fury.

“There is still a problem. I happened to be in father’s room-”

“You were snooping.”

“Yes, I was snooping in father’s room,” said Pollux. “There was a coded message sent from a port called Cumulus, twelve days after Castor left. I don’t know what the message sent but father arranged for another ship to go to Cumulus.”

“When did it leave?”

“I don’t know- maybe a few days ago, maybe a over a week ago.”

“Shit.”

“If Castor is still alive, I am sure he will manage to fight his way out of it.”

“Shut up Pollux. I am still going. Even if he is dead, even if he is fine. I am still going to find out for myself.”

“If he is dead-”

“He is not dead!”

“If! If he is dead, I need you here in Pyropolis with me. I know you want to return to your oasis in the desert but I need you here with me.”

“What are you planning on doing?”

Pollux did not say anything, but Helen could see in his dark trembling eyes that he was afraid. Helen felt a pang of sadness in her chest looking at a face so similar to Castor’s. Even if she did not want to admit it she knew that Castor must be long gone by now and she had no intention of losing Pollux as well.

“Are you saying you want to coup? That is crazy!”

“How can you say that? After what he did to Castor.”

“Stop it Pollux! The desert is already on the verge of war any instability will crush us.”

“That is why I need you here with me. If it is the both of us-”

“No Pollux!”

“If we do it soon then-”

“Why now?”

“Father…father collapsed yesterday.”

“So you want do you want to do? Kill him? Make it seem like a sickness or an accident? Pollux you are a good man, you are not someone who will kill his own father out of revenge.”

“If I can’t even do that. Maybe…maybe I am not meant to be king!”

“What are you talking about?”

“I am not meant to be king.” Pollux exhaled deeply as if a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders. ” The fortune teller said that Castor is meant to be king not me. That is why father did all of this.”

Helen for once was at a loss for words. Pollux paced up and down near the door and then final walked to the corned and sat in front of Helen.

“So, what should we do?”

 

Chapter 81 complicated

Anneli and Castor lay on the small bed in the closet of a room in a shabby inn. Castor’s heart calmed and his fatigue had caught up with him. He did not want to move and wanted to rest but he knew he could not.

“Anneli we need to leave tomorrow morning.”

“Did you find a boat to take us?”

“No, we can’t go yet. We need to go back for now.”

“Go back where?”

“Anywhere, but not here. The gates of the city are already closed so we need to wait until tomorrow morning.”

“Why?” asked Anneli.

“We just have to leave, it is not safe here anymore.”

“Why? What did you do?”

“I didn’t do anything.”

“Then what is going on?”

Castor paused. He had told Anneli very little about himself even after several weeks of travelling together. Anneli did not know he was a prince, why the rose plant is important or about Castor’s father. Castor let go of Anneli and sat up in bed. His body ached. All his running must have made his injures worsen.

“There are some people trying to kill me. I ran away from them earlier and I thought I got away but they found me again. I saw them again today, they are probably still looking for me right now. I don’t think we are safe even now.”

Anneli sprang up, “we should leave now.”

“No! The gates out of the city must already be closed and those people are probably outside right now looking for me and waiting for me to try to run away. We will leave as dawn when the gates open, it will be easier in the morning when there are fewer people wandering around the street. In case we end up fighting.”

“Why are they after you?”

“It’s complicated.”

“If you never tell me I will never know,” grumbled Anneli placing his head on Castor’s lap. Castor patted Anneli’s head. He hesitated, not wanting to tell Anneli about his family because he will have to reveal why his family hated him in the first place.

“My father,” began Castor, his voice quivered as he spoke, “he sent men to kill me. He sent me here to get the rose but it was just an excuse to sent me far away. He probably wanted to make it seem like an accident.”

Anneli did not respond, he simply quietly waited as Castor stroked his fur.

“Are you not going to ask why? You’ve been prying all this time.”

“I don’t need to know if you don’t want to tell me.”

Castor chuckled, “that did not stop you before.”

“Well you wanted to talk about it before. I could tell that was something in the back of your throat that you wanted say.”

“Yeah, I guess you were right. It has been really stressful keeping all this frustration to myself. I just thought you would not understand.”

“Even if I won’t understand I would still listen.”

“You know, he was a terrible father. He always neglected me and my younger siblings and only payed any attention to my older brother. My step mother was nice to me but I spent most of my life trying to get his approval. In the end he hated me so much that he tried to kill me off in a far away country.” Castor’s vision became blurry as tears gathered in his eyes.

“I don’t even know why I even tried. I should have just run away when I got the chance. I should have just run away to the other side of the country or to a different country entirely. I should just have spent my money and gone somewhere far away and bought some land and started a farm. No one back home wants me to come back anyway.”

Anneli climbed onto Castor’s lap and wiped away the tears that fell down Castor’s face. A small smile broke on Castor’s face feeling embarrassed by his breakdown.

“How does that sound Anneli? Even if we are poor and in the middle of nowhere living be ourselves in a little farm, it doesn’t sound too bad does it?”

Anneli thought about what the fish had told him. He thought about the desert and of the love he was meant to find there. He thought about travelling across the sea and the promise Castor had made the first day they met. Yet now, all of that did not seem important.

“I will do anything if that’s what will make you happy.”

 

Chapter 79 Shabby

“Anneli…”

“Yeah?”

“There might be a problem.”

“What might the problem be?”

Castor did not reply immediately. He looked into the distance and then looked at Anneli. How far away was Pyropolis? How far away was the red continent? Did he even want to go home?

Anneli looked at Castor’s hand that was still holding his. “What’s wrong? Are we not able to go to the desert.”

Castor sighed looking at Anneli’s disappointed expression. “Let’s go back,” said Castor and lead Anneli back to the beach.

“What is wrong Castor?”

Castor let go of Anneli’s hand and picked up his shoes in one hand and the rose plant in the other. “Come on Anneli climb up.” Castor indicated the ladder leading to the docks with a nod of the head.

“Are you upset with me Castor?”

“I’m not, but we need to talk about something.”

Anneli climbed the ladder. Castor winced as he stretched to give Anneli the plant, a sharp pain along his body. Castor climbed the ladder after, slowly and carefully trying not to fall and trying to hold onto his shoes. He sat on the docks and let he feet dangle over the edge.

As he wiped the sand of his feet he spoke in an apathetic tone, “when I went to the ticketing office, they said there are no passenger ships from here to Pyropolis. We can ask if we can stowaway on a cargo ship to Pyropolis but that seems unlikely as well. We can go to main port first and then to Pyropolis but that will cost all the money I have now to buy the ticket for that and even then it might not still be enough.”

“Alright,” said Anneli.

“Alright? How is that alright?” snapped Castor.

“It will be fine. We will never know if we do not ask. We can try asking the cargo ships and if not we can figure it out on the way.”

Castor glared at Anneli, his insides were bubbling like a kettle close to boiling. Yet he retained himself. Anneli was right, it was too soon to give up.

“Okay,” replied Castor softly. He wore his shoes and stood up, “let’s go find a room.”

“What about the tickets?”

Castor chuckled, “we need somewhere to sleep tonight. We can think about the tickets tomorrow.”

Anneli and Castor got a small room in a shabby looking inn. The room barely fit a small bed and a small side table with a bowl and pitcher of water meant to be a make-shift sink.

“Should I sleep on the floor?” asked Anneli, staring at the bed that was half-a-foot between each wall. The bed could fit only Castor at best.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” replied Castor. “You can sleep on the bed.”

“I lived in the forest until just recently- I can sleep outside if I have to.”

“You will get arrested if you sleep on the streets you know. There is a communal bath downstairs, let’s go tonight when I get back.”

“Where are you going?”

“I’m going back to the docks and ask if there are any cargo ships that will let us stow-away on their ship.”

Anneli pouted and frowned at Castor. “Alright,” he mumbled and sat on the bed waiting for him to leave.

“I’ll be back soon,” said Castor and closed the door behind him.

Anneli watched the closed door for awhile as if simply wishing for it will bring Castor back faster. He quickly became bored. Anneli took off his cape, carefully folded it and placed it on the table. He climbed on the bed and opened the single small window on the wall. It only opened part way. The air felt heavy and suffocating but Anneli tried to ignore this feeling. Lying in the bed he noticed that the sheets were thinner and rougher than those in the last few inns.

“I’ve become spoiled,” whispered Anneli to himself with a smile and closed his eyes.

 

Chapter 78 the sea

Annli silently followed Castor.

Shhhhshaaa shhhhhshaa shhhhshaaa

The rhymic sound of splashing Anneli had heard since he arrived in the walled city was  getting louder and louder. The sound of gulls was becoming more audible and the air saltier.

“This is probably the port,” said Castor pointing to the distance. Anneli looked and saw a gigantic lake covered by all manner of strange vessels.”

“What are those?” asked Anneli.

“Those are ships and boats,”

“Are we going on one of them to cross the sea,”

“Hopefully,” replied Castor with a pang of disapointment in his voice.

Shhhhshaaa shhhhshaaa shhhshaaa shhhhshaaa

The sound grew louded. Anneli and Castor walked along the docks passing all manner of strange boats in various shapes and sizes. They came to the edge of the docks and Castor helped Anneli down the ladder to the beach. As his feet touched the ground he felt the strangest sensation of grainy bits of rock engulfing his feet. He lifted his leg but the sand stuck to the sole of his feet stubbornly.

“It is sticky and grainy,” complained Anneli. Castor burst out laughing.

“That… that is just how sand is.”

“Like the sand in the desert?” asked Anneli placing his foot back down.

“Not exactly. The sand in the desert is dry so it won’t stick to you as much but it still gets everywhere. But the sand here is rather large and corse compared to sand back home. Even on the beaches the sand is softer and finer and a brighter yellow compared to here. Ah! Let’s go to the sea!”

The sea was vast, far beyond anything Anneli could fathom. It was a hundred thousand times larger than he had thought and it spread to the horizon and wrapped around the coast. The water curled into large waves and turned white as it hit the rocks or the beach. To Anneli it looked like the snapping foaming maws of a gigantic beast. Castor had already taken off his shoes and rolled up the bottom of his trousers.

“Come one Anneli let’s go in.”

Anneli shook his head.

“Why? Are you scared?”

Anneli again shook his head. He looked at the sea, into its vast infinite unknown and felt a sense of mounting doom he could not quite comprehend.

“Come on Anneli,” said Castor extending his hand to Anneli, ” it is a lot more fun than it looks.”

Anneli placed the plant on the beach and cautiously took Castor’s hand, letting him take him to the water.

“Ahhh! It’s cold isn’t it!” exclaimed Castor as he stepped into the water. The shallow waves gently lapped their feet.

“It is alright isn’t it?” asked Castor.

“Yeah, it is alight.”

“Good let’s go deeper!” said Castor with a large smile taking a step deeper into the sea, pulling Anneli along with him. The water was now half-way up Anneli’s calf and the bottom of his cape was soaking wet. Anneli looked at Castor who was smiling brightly and almost beaming with joy. Anneli had never seen Castor as happy as he looked at this moment. Anneli turned to the horrizon and inhaled the salty sea spray. He himself did not know why but a certain part of him felt more alive than ever standing in the sea looking towards the great beyond. He let himself be lost in the hypnotic rhythm of the waves.

Shhhhshaaa shhhhshaaa shhhhshaaa shhhhshaaa

Chapter 77 one more problem

“Sorry, there are no ships going to Pyropolis. We only sell tickets to passenger ships and no passenger ship goes straight from here to Pyropolis, Cumulus just isn’t that commercial.”

“There must be something? What about cargo ships or a shiping vessel?”

“Shipping vessels only stay within our own territories. If you want to go on a cargo ship you will need to personally ask the the captain of the ship and even then they will be reluctant.”

“Ah.. that’s too bad. Are there any alternatives?”

“There are private vessels but those yatchs are too small for a journey to the red continent. It will be possible to for you to buy a ticket from here to the main port in Stratus and then go to pyropolis but it will be very expensive and take three weeks.”

Castor felt heavy and a knot formed in his stomach.

“How much will it cost?”

“Well from here to Stratus it will be three crowns and from Stratus to Pyropolis it will be atleast twenty ot twenty five crown per person.”

Castor felt his purse which was now much lighter than it was when he first started. He had never fathomed that it would be so expensive. He tried to convert the cost into his own currency and the price seemed even more exorbitant. Castor considered how much money he had left, he could easily go if it was just him but with Anneli it would leave only two gold coins and a few coppers to sustains them for three weeks.

“I can’t afford that, thank you for everything,” said Castor and left the ticket office. Castor for the first time in a long time felt that the future was bleak. The anxiety made him feel fuzzy in the head and nauseous. He had waited for an hour in the ticketing office which was nothing more than a poorly contructed wood hut with a desk. He had patiently waited his turn but all he had to show  for his effort was dissapointment and worry.

Anneli was sitting outside the office holding the plant in his hands, long since finished eating his pastry. Seeing Castor exit the office Anneli jumped to his feet.

“How did it go? When are we going?”

Castor sighed, “we are not going yet, I did not get a ticket.”

“Why?”

Castor did not want to reply to Anneli. Castor instead listened to the gulls and the lapping of the sea waves just beyond the walls. He inhaled the oh too familiar salty air. Castor felt slightly nostalgic about home for the first time since he left. Even if his family did not want him to return he liked to think the sea, the sands and palm trees would not share that same opinion.

“Castor,” said Anneli softly, unsure of why he was being ignored.

“Shall we go to the beach Anneli?” asked Castor and patted him on the head.

Chapter 76 Cumulus

On the fourth day after leaving the village the caravans arrived at Cumulus. Cumulus was a sprawling port city, bordered on three sides by tall brick walls and the sea on the other. It was lively, loud and busy with traders, travelers and fishermen. The salty smell of the sea and the sound of gulls were ever present. The sea was calm and the clouds parted to let slivers of golden sunlight fall upon the city. Heavy gates built into the wall were wide open welcoming everyone that happened to pass through.

Castor and Anneli dismounted the caravan with their meager belongings: Castor’s bag and the rose plant that Anneli held firmly in his hands. They thanked the driver of the caravan and walked through the giant gates into the walled city. The first thing Castor thought was how the city looked very distinctly Saxon. White and yellow houses with triangular prism tiled roofs and covered in windows with visible dark brown wood work. He was not sure why he was surprised since he was in a Saxon country and all the buildings he had seen so far had subtle hints of this architecture but the houses in Cumulus were very traditionally Saxon.

“What are we going to do now?” asked Anneli.

“Um… let’s go to port and see if we can find a ship that will take us to Pyropolis. Even a cargo ship would be fine. There should probably be an office or something at the port with more information.”

They walked along the cobbled streets towards the port and inadvertently through a market. Anneli looked around mesmerized by the busy stalls overflowing with colorful fabrics, trinkets, fruits, vegetables and sweets. Entranced by the smell of sweet baked goods Anneli tugged on Castor’s cuff.

“Can we get something to eat?”

Castor looked at Anneli’s dark eager eyes and could not say no.