Two Days Later…
Just keep walking.
That was one of the few thoughts that plagued my mind as I trudged through the woods. Some other thoughts swirled around inside my head.
How could I have been so stupid?
Why was I even exiled?
Why did I let him get away?
As important as all those questions were, there was another that was practically screaming from within me.
WHEN THE HELL ARE THESE WOODS GOING TO END?!
I looked up at the setting sun. I had maybe another hour at most before I’d have to stop and set up camp for the night. I sighed as I kept walking, despite my feet burning in pain. It felt like all the muscles in them were tied into knots.
In the distance, I saw some shimmering lights between the trees. Curious, I ran towards them. I brushed the branches in my way and stopped dead in my tracks, smiling in relief.
I was on the edge of a river. Across the water was the gate to a huge city. It would’ve been the perfect place to stop for the night… if I was able to get across it. Another question popped into my mind at that moment.
Why couldn’t I have been taught how to swim?
I took a deep breath and looked at the edge on the other side. Admittedly, I was able to make that jump, despite my little legs. I was light; the breeze would carry me along with it. Then it would just be a case of me getting through the gate.
I took a few steps back so I would be able to gain momentum. I breathed deeply.
“You can do this Seraphine. You got this,” I said to myself, trying my best to ease my fear.
With one final inhale, I darted towards the edge of the river and jumped as far and high as I could. For a minute, it seemed like I was going to make it to the other side, sticking the landing.
I realised how miscalculated my judgment was when my foot slipped off the edge and sent me sliding down towards the river. I would’ve been a goner if I hadn’t dug my hands into the grass along the river. My feet were just about getting wet from the rushing rapids that were threatening to sweep me away. With every bit of strength in my tiny body, I managed to pull myself up and on to the other edge of the river. I flopped on to my back and panted a little, trying to regain my breath. I pushed myself to my feet and looked down at the river. I spit into the icy water.
“Not today, you watery hell.”
I brushed myself off and started to make my way towards the city.
As I approached the tall gate looming over my head, two guards were standing out front. They looked to be human males, a bit on the older side. Both of them were dressed in tattered, silver armour like they had both seen their fair share of fights. The one on the right side had a black beard with hints of grey. The one on the left side had an old scar on his cheek from what looked like the slashing of a sword.
Before I could even get two words in, the bearded one spoke up in a gruff voice.
“Welcome to Everlund. State your name and reason for visiting. And make it snappy, we’re closing the gates for nightfall.”
This guy seemed like he had a long day and just wanted to go home, so I did as I was asked… mostly.
“Hi, um… I’m Seraphine Reese. I’ve been travelling for a few days now, and as soon as I saw your town, I knew I had to see if I could stay somewhere for the night. So I jumped across the river and…”
“Wait, ya jumped across the river?” asked the other guard with the scar.
“Yeah, I saw the gate and decided to jump across. I figured this was the only way into the city.”
The two guards look at each other and burst out in laughter. The bearded one fell over and was pounding his fist against the ground like it was the funniest joke he ever heard.
“She jumped across the river! Her and her little legs! Oh, this is priceless!”
I stood there, confused and mildly annoyed. I huffed and crossed my arms.
“Does one of you care to explain what is so funny?”
The scarred one eventually regained his composure but was still smiling, trying to hold in his laughter.
“Miss, I hate to break’it to ya, but this ain’t the only gate to the city.”
Now I was baffled.
“What do you mean?”
He pointed across the river, the one I just jumped over.
“If ya keep walkin’ along that river edge, y’all eventually mak’ it to the Downriver Gate. But ya decided to jump all the way across just to get to the Silver Moon Gate!”
He laughed again, and this time he fell over and joined his buddy on the ground.
I stood there and facepalmed.
You’ve got to be kidding me… THERE WAS ANOTHER GATE?!
The bearded guard brushed the tears from his eyes and patted my shoulder hard, still chuckling.
“Listen, kid; you gave my buddy and me a good laugh at the end of a long day’s work. So I’ll escort you into town myself.”
Well, this wasn’t how I thought it was going to go, but at least I wouldn’t be sleeping in a tree again tonight.
The city was much bigger than I thought it would be. Despite the day coming to an end, it was still buzzing with energy from all the people milling about. Some people were heading in for the night while others were heading out. The townsfolk seemed to be mostly humans, but there were some elves and halflings around as well.
The bearded guard came up behind me and patted his hand on my shoulder.
“I’d love to show you around, but I gotta get back to my post for the last two hours of my shift. So if you’re looking for a place to stay, try one of the taverns. Dreaming Dragon or Missing Minotaur are probably your best bets. Dreaming Dragon is nicer, but the Missing Minotaur… well, let’s say they’ll take anybody.”
He chuckled and turned me around to face him. He ruffled my hair a bit.
“Take care; little miss. Don’t go getting into trouble now.”
And with that, he walked off.
I fixed my hair and called after him.
“Thank you, sir! I didn’t catch your name!”
He waved his hand at me without turning around and shouted back.
“The name’s Knox! Other guard is Oswell!”
He then disappeared into the crowd.
I turned back towards the inside of the city. I had no clue how I was going to find one of the taverns Knox suggested to me.
I looked down at myself. I was covered in dirt and leaves from my journey, my hair probably looked a bit like a rat nest, and I was exhausted. Looking at some of the people in the town in their fancier dress, I was out of place, and not just because I seemed to be the only gnome for miles.
I started walking further into town, looking for someone to ask for directions. Everyone I passed by seemed to be in a hurry or barely even noticed me. It wasn’t until…
“Watch where you’re going, you little imp!”
I accidentally ran into a very tall, elderly human woman, dressed in the finest of silk and with grey hair styled like a fluffy cloud.
She didn’t even stop to help me up, and she just kept walking. I jumped to my feet and ran after her.
“Wait, miss! I’m sorry, but I need your help!”
She huffed and turned around to look down on me.
“I have no time to help you. I’m a very busy woman.”
I ran around in front of her to stop her in her tracks.
“Please, miss. It will only take a second. I need directions to one of the taverns in this city. I’m looking for a room for the night.”
She eyed me up and down, taking in my appearance with a displeased frown. She pointed west.
“Head in that direction and eventually you’ll find the Missing Minotaur. You’ll be let in there.”
Before I could even thank her, she walked away grumbling. That didn’t matter, though, I had a place to go.
I stood in front of the tavern and looked up at the hanging sign. The Missing Minotaur, in faded gold letters. I took a deep breath and pushed the door open.
As soon as I walked in, a glass was thrown against the wall next to me, shattering and splashing beer on my head.
This place was… well, chaos. There were the occasional dwarf and halfling, but the majority of the people in this place looked like half-orcs, orcs, Dragonborn and tieflings. Many seemed to already be well drunk into a stupor, having fights and yelling when sat right next to each other. Once again, it looked like I was the only gnome in the place – not to mention no one noticed I even entered the tavern.
I definitely stood out like a sore thumb in this place, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from what I came to do.
I held my head high and walked straight to the bar. I slowed my walk when I realised everyone in the Missing Minotaur had stopped to stare at me. I looked like a single rose in a field of burnt grass at this moment. I was the centre of attention. I did what seemed natural. I gave everyone a small smile and wave and proceeded to the bar counter.
Once I reached the counter, I realised I couldn’t see over it. Seeing an empty barstool, I hopped on to it with minor difficulty and steadied myself.
The barmaid was a tall elven woman. Her chestnut brown hair was tied in two braids, resting on her shoulders. She had severe blue eyes and a stern face. She had stopped cleaning the countertop when she saw me approach.
Everyone around me seemed to be waiting for what I was going to do next. I straightened out my shirt and cleared my throat, brandishing my best smile.
“Hello, ma’am. I’m Seraphine Reese, and I was wondering if you happen to have a room that I could stay in for the night.”
She looked at me but said nothing. I decided maybe I needed to give more context.
“You see, I’ve been sleeping in trees for the past few nights, and this is the first city I’ve found for miles.”
Still, not a word.
“I’m not sure how much it would cost, but I’m willing to pay whatever I have.”
“I’ll even pay to sleep on the floor behind the bar if that’s allowed.”
“I’m sorry, do you not speak Common? Is that it? I can speak Gnome, do you know Gnome?”
Finally, she did something.
As did everyone else in the tavern.
I don’t know if it was at my situation or what I had said, but either way, I was the subject of their hysterical fits. And I was having none of it.
Frustrated, I stood on top of the bar, grabbed the drink in front of a passed out dwarf and smashed it on the ground. This got everyone’s attention back to me.
“Listen up! I have been through hell these past few days. I’ve been forced to go on a date with an arrogant gnome who my father wanted as my husband; I had a spell cast on me, I lost the love of my life, was exiled from my town and had been sleeping in a tree for the past two days.”
This had all the tavern people looking at me with wide, shocked eyes.
“Now I get it if you don’t have a room, that’s fine… but the least you could do is give me a straight answer instead of laughing at me in my time of need and desperation! You all should be ashamed of yourselves. I’m sure you’ve all had a bad day at one point in your life – a time when you felt down in the dumps, kicked in the gut, completely alone. How would you feel if someone laughed at you when you needed a room, a friend, a shoulder to cry on, anything?”
I turned my glare back towards the barmaid, who was now looking up instead of down on me.
“Now what do you have to say for yourself?”
I had hit the ground with a loud thud as laughter echoed from the Missing Minotaur.
“ANNNND, STAY OUT!” yelled the elven barmaid, still chuckling as the door slammed shut behind me.
I stood up, dusting myself off and wincing in pain. Tears started to form in my eyes, but I held them back. I resumed my trudging from earlier today and made my way back towards the town gates.
The gates were getting ready to be closed by Knox and Oswell as I made my way closer to them. Without thinking, I started to run towards them. Before the guards managed to close the gates, I slipped through and kept running. I heard Knox called out my name before the gates shut.
This time I didn’t fight back the tears. I had let them burn my eyes, had let them stream down my face as I darted towards the river. With the momentum I had from running, I actually managed to make the jump this time to the other side. Without looking back, I darted into the forest.
I tried to get as comfortable as possible on the tree branch. I had gathered some leaves to use as a pillow. It wasn’t very useful, but it would have to do.
I had managed to run a good way into the woods and find a tree with a low enough branch for me to climb into. The berry bush nearby was also a kind gift from whoever is up above. At least I wouldn’t be going starving tonight.
Leaning back against my leaf pillow, I thought back about everything I have been through thus far. The betrayal of my father, losing Simon, the tavern…
I pushed those evil thoughts away and sat up instantly.
“From now on Seraphine, you’re on your own. You don’t need anyone else. You’re strong, you’re determined, you’re…”
Even I couldn’t have stopped the tears from flowing.
“… you’re a mess.”
I rested my head against my knees and sobbed, my whole body shaking.
I wasn’t strong; I was weak and pathetic. I tried to concentrate on my breathing.
Then I heard his voice in my head.
“Seraphine, my little darling.”
I stopped crying and looked around frantically. I heard Simon’s voice, but he was nowhere to be found.
“You are strong Seraphine. We will find each other again. I promise…”
I brushed the tears from my eyes and took a deep breath.
“He’s right. I’ll find him again someday.”
I smiled to myself and lied down against the leafy pillow, shutting my eyes to sleep.
“One way or another.”