Through the Valley Where the Witch Lives
“Whatever happened to, ‘I absolutely won’t force you to do something you don’t want to do?’ Liars.”
While I was muttering my complaints inside my helmet, Concetta was walking right alongside me, zigging around my feet, rubbing his glossy coat up against my boots.
Meanwhile, Alexis and Percival were quite aware of their guilt and continued to silently march through the woods–only speaking out whenever Alexis was attacked by some insects or snakes.
After awhile, the two of them started to look around them and stopped pattering forward. Naturally, I stopped walking right behind them.
They were looking at the foliage around us intensely. Before departing, I overheard the owner of the inn describe a few of the dangers inside the forest, and they seemed to be comparing those stories with our current location.
Looking around myself as if to imitate them, I saw a small hut in the distance. It must be a landmark for people making their way through the forest.
While thinking about that, I went ahead and took a look at the rest of our surroundings until my helmet made its typical metallic grinding noise as I tilted my head. I feel like there is a strange incongruity in the appearance of Alexis and Percival who are still looking at the hut.
I wonder what it is. Originally, he two were not the same height, but was there actually a full head difference between the two? No, it’s more than just a head……. more……. Rather, it seems like the height difference is actually growing right now……
“Percival, are you two standing in a swamp?”
“Oh, well the ground is a bit slack, and there are a few places that are said to be bottomless, but….. Prince Alexis!”
He finally saw what I was saying and noticed that Alexis was gradually sinking into the dirt. Percival immediately grabbed hold of his arm.
Alexis had also returned to his senses by now and looked down at his feet, but by now it was already too late and the swamp had swallowed his ankles. With just the power of his two legs, it was impossible for him to get out.
“Prince Alexis, calm down and try not to move too much. I will lift you!”
“Wait a minute! If you get too close, then your feet will be swallowed up as well……”
“Damn, the mud won’t give me any leverage….. Miss Monette, it’s dangerous over here! Move away to safety!”
With my heavy armor, I wouldn’t be any help even if I wanted to, so the second I realized Alexis was sinking, I moved to safe, solid ground. I most definitely did not take my distance because I hold some petty grudge. “As you said, I will absolutely not get near.”
Of course my boots are now a little dirty from the mud. Hmm, maybe if I were to soak myself in the swamp water, but then the muddy water would get in through the armor’s gaps……While carefreely thinking about how best to polish up my armor after all this, I pulled out a piece of parchment from my pouch and started to draw. I squinted through my helm and took extra care with my lines this time around since I was drawing a portrait of Concetta when she was leisurely walking around my legs earlier. Once it was all finished, I placed it on top of the mud.
By now, Alexis and Percival had no room to care about appearances or the surroundings. Both of Percival’s feet had sunk into the muck, and Alexis was only becoming embedded deeper. It was getting to the point where Percival would have trouble saving himself let alone the prince. Although it was a slow progression, it was steady, and after an hour, Alexis would be completely buried.
How irritating. Taking one last look at my masterpiece, I thought about what a pity it was before shoving it deeper into the mud.
Grabbing hold of my baggage, I hugged Concetta close to my chest and hid behind a tree a fair distance away………,
and I cast my incantation.
At that moment, all the banter and panic from before died away, and the screams of the two men were all that was left in its place……..that and the large amount of mud flying towards me. It scattered around in all directions, polluting the surrounding grassy fields, but thanks to the tree’s protection, I managed to keep my armor clean and Concetta’s glossy fur sparkling.
I left the shadow of the tree after the mud was finished falling where it may, and I rejoined my two companions.
Alexis and Percival were both sitting despondently on the ground, covered from head to toe with bits of mud from the marsh. I wrinkled my nose underneath my helm at the sight and covered my visor with my gauntlet.
When I asked them to please not come near me, they both nodded powerlessly……..*Plop* and a chunk of mud fell out of their hair.
The only sounds that could be heard in the forest after that was the sound of feet being dragged through the mud, the *kashan* *kashan* of iron boots walking, and the occasional chirping of birds alongside the mewling of a cat.
Soon the ground tilted downward, and the forest gave way to a deep valley. Once the valley was fully in view before us, Concetta started to stir. Her fur began to glow once again with magic power, and she jumped from my iron arms to the ground below. Taking a few steps in one direction, Concetta then stopped, turned back towards me, and meowed.
“Is it that way?”
“Perhaps. Let’s follow…”
I broke off midway through my sentence because the direction that Concetta was directing me to go with her tail was a place where people should not go. The rocks jutting skyward were clearly telling me to go away.
Obviously there was no staircase, but the rise was also lacking anything that could be used as a handrail. I blinked a couple times before taking a deep breath……..
No way! I swallowed those words before they could be said.
If I outright refuse, then both of my arms will be grabbed and dragged because the muddy Alexis and Percival are standing right next to me. Both of their deep brown and blue eyes are set right on me. They will act the second I say something.
I refuse to be carried by some mud-covered guy……and so a tear comes to my eye as I realize I have no choice but to make the climb.
When climbing the rock, Percival headed up first.
He made it look so easy, grabbing hold of any odd rock, he was able to find his footing and scaffolded up the rock wall. Once he was at the top, he had us pack up the luggage, and we hoisted that up. Once everything was taken care of, it was Alexis’s and my turn to climb up by hand. Percival tells us it is easy, but obviously Alexis–who spent all his time perusing academics in the castle–and me–who enjoyed my solitude inside the old castle–would have a harder time than some muscle-brained guard.
Especially me with my full-bodied armor.
Although I had used magic to eliminate any weight that the armor has, there is still an issue with its size and hardness. For example, I can’t wedge my foot between these stupid rocks! This shape is really unsuitable for rock climbing.
Percival stretched his arm out towards me, offering to allow me bypass that last rock and help me up.
I grabbed hold. The appearance of a handsome-looking man reaching his hand out is a rare sight, and if it was a regular girl, their cheeks would surely be died crimson.
While pointlessly thinking about such things, I kicked off the dusty rocks as his thick arm pulled me to the top. Percival’s other arm wrapped around my back to make sure that I did fall backwards, but since I was covered in iron, he was directly touching anything, so there was no need for any embarrassment on that point.
If it was just that, then there wouldn’t be any problems.
“Ugh……..” But then Percival grunted while he was helping me up.
Even though with the luggage, and even when helping Alexis up, he did not leak out even a squeak–yet he grunted when picking me up. For a second there, I thought it might have just been a noise he made that just meant, “Let’s go,” but no, it was definitely a type of sound you make when you are lifting something heavy.
If he was able to bear Alexis’s weight and held back because he was afraid of being rude to his prince, then surely he could have extended me the same courtesy.
“Percival, you are extremely rude.”
“The way you grunted earlier, you were trying to say that I am fat or something right?”
When I confronted him about it, his eyes went stupidly round.
Was he the type that could only realize his own malice when it was directly pointed out to him? And even if there was no meaning in that grunt, then when he realized how I took his words, then he should have apologized for the misunderstanding and we both would have walked away. Instead, he does something else.
“I am saying that you’re fat?”
“Are you going to deliberately grunt and then just say it was nothing?”
“No, rather I think…….I pictured you more muscular than anything else.”
“Well, I just always pictured Miss Monette to be muscular with hard abdominal muscles underneath that armor.”
“Excuse me! This is no longer in the realm of just being rude!”
I shouted out.
It is no longer just about whether or not he grunted when lifting me up. Why on earth would you imagine a young lady like myself as some super macho woman with huge muscles and hard abdominal muscles? As a matter of fact, where is he getting the idea that I have that kind of strength in the first place? I understand that he does not believe I am fat, but I am extremely dissatisfied with this as well.
I told him that he was not even close while kicking a stray pebble down the cliffside we had just climbed. Percival obviously apologized. He tried to make up an excuse saying, “But the armor…….,” but I was in no mood to listen. When I dismissed his excuse, I thought he was going to say something else, but he instead just shook his head and said, “Nothing.”
With our anger exposed to one another, we continued following Concetta’s directions, walking along the valley’s edge, and eventually climbing up another group of rocks……..and once again, a hand reached down to help me up.
“Come on. I’ll help you up.”
“If you grunt, I’ll curse you.”
“I know. I won’t grunt.”
I refused to take his hand until he promised not to grunt. Even as a joke.
Then I took hold of the offered hand. Once I was lifted to the top, I took a look at the lying luggage.
Concetta, the most easy-going of our group, was resting on my trunk. Ever since we first started the climb, she has been resting on top of the trunk and was carried up along with it. He was always careful not to move around on the luggage, so Percival did not mind carrying him up. Still, no matter how cute or noble of a cat he is, even if he is our guide, this was still a bit too unfair.
So envious……..Thinking so, I flicked Concetta on his nose. A short nya came back as a reply.
Watching our interactions, Alexis and Percival shared a look.
They gave each other a deep nod after which Alexis took hold of all the luggage, and Percival gave a large smile while spreading out both his arms.
Almost as if he was saying, “Come on in.”
Actually, Percival really was saying that out loud. Meanwhile Alexis was standing next to him saying, “C’mon Monette. Don’t be shy.”
I looked at the both of them for awhile, unsure of what to say. So I decided in the end to say nothing. I walked past them both, giving them nothing besides a cold glare for their troubles. I completely neglected them because I have nothing to motivate me to associate with this display of theirs.
Concetta seems to agree with me as he jumped off of the trunk and followed after me. Once the two of us had passed them by, I did not forget to kick up a little sand with the back of my foot.
Meanwhile the two were left frozen after being completely ignored………
“Miss Monette, please respond! At least tell some kind of joke…..!!”
“Why should I respond to something so troublesome?”
“Even Concetta won’t look at us……”
To the two who were following after us, being troublesome, I looked back to try and glare at them through my helm…….but I was stopped by some letters drawn on the rock wall.
At first glance it only looked like a crack in the rock, and you would not notice it if you were not a witch. They were magic words. The type of writing that only a witch could read.
“Welcome. Would you like sugar in your tea?”
I made a small smile when I saw those letters, and I started to pet Concetta who had moved by my side.
“Sugar for two.”