Walking silently behind Stone, Elissa had no idea where they were going through the forest, but she was glad that at least the land around wasn’t very overgrown. Green grass and soft, dry leaves blanketed the ground and kept it from hurting her bare feet – after all, she had to admit to herself, she wasn’t used to walking around anywhere without shoes usually – and the trees were tall with most branches stretching high above her head and not in her way instead.
“That’s funny,” Elissa chuckled slightly to herself, after walking for a small ways, which caused Stone to stop and look back at her with one eyebrow raised quizzically. “I’ve always heard that moss on grows on the north side of a tree,” Elissa explained, smirking lightly and then pointing off to one of the large oaks to her left, “but that tree’s got moss all the way around it. I guess that means every direction is north from here.” Stone just shrugged and half grunted to himself, before turning and walking off once again, and Elissa had to laugh lightly at how silly some of the commonest sayings really were, once one was out in the real world.
“So where are we going,” she finally asked Stone. No matter how much she tried to look around for any distinguishable path, as far as she could tell she was just somewhere in some forest, and she didn’t have a clue where or which forest she was actually in. The more she walked, the more everything looked the same to her.
Stone didn’t bother to stop, or even to answer her question as he kept on slowly trudging onwards towards whatever his destination might be. ‘I don’t guess he really has to answer me,’ Elissa reminded herself. ‘After all, I’m here to be his servant and listen to him; he’s not mine and doesn’t have any obligation to answer anything he doesn’t want to.’ Sighing slightly, Elissa shook her head lightly from side to side, and couldn’t also help grumbling inwardly. ‘Still, it is damn rude not to respond to people. Whoever raised him sure did an odd job of it,” she thought in mild annoyance.
Determined that she wasn’t going to waste her break, Elissa followed silently behind Stone, intent on making him be the next one to speak. If he even noticed, he showed no sign of it as he steadily advanced ever deeper into the woods for the next couple of candlemarks.
“There,” Stone finally stopped, and pointed out past several small bushes and trees to what looked like a natural cave leading back deep into a hillside.
“Here?” Elissa asked, trying to peer into the cave. From what she could see with the light shining in from the entrance, it appeared to open up into a small cavern of some sort, with tunnels which naturally slopped downwards and into the darkness of the earth. “What’s here,” she asked, puzzled as to why they’d came here, or even how Stone knew exactly where here was.
Turning slightly, Stone held one massive hand open, out in her direction. “Come,” was all he grunted as he waited for her to take it.
Sighing slightly, Elissa reminded herself to be patient and wait for answers. Instead of taking his hand however, she moved forward and wrapped her arm around his waist, snuggling her bare body up close against his chest. “I’m ready, she assured him,” half smiling to herself, while at the same time tying not to think about how embarrassing and improper she was being at the moment.
Nodding slowly, Stone gently moved his arm and wrapped it around her shoulders, helping to keep her close beside him, and then he slowly turned and walked the rest of the way into the darkness of the cave.
At first, Elissa thought the cavern was an all natural formation, and brief worries of giant rats, or bats, or even goblins danced wildly through her imagination as they slowly wandered out of the light of day and into the darkness of the belly of the earth. After a few moments for her eyes to adjust however, it became obvious to her that someone had obviously had an influence on the cave system.
The ground under her feet was smooth, for one thing. Cool and a little damp, but polished smooth and without any natural ridges, cracks, or bumps, or holes like she’d expect from a natural cavern. The walls had been shaped and chiseled slightly, rounding the corners and widening the paths to the point where even her and stone could easily walk through them side by side. Off to the left side of the entrance, a wooden post was planted, upon which hung several lanterns of various sizes and shapes.
“Where are we?” Elissa asked again, squinting to try and make out any details of whatever might lie down the two tunnels that wandered off deeper into the ground.
“Safe place,” Stone assured her, his deep voice rumbling and echoing back and forth through the tunnels several times.
“Yes, it seems like a safe enough place,” Elissa agreed, “but where exactly are we? What is this place?” Being silent along the walk hadn’t gotten him to open up and give her any answers, so she figured she might as go ahead and ask them once again. Even if she didn’t get a response, at least it made her feel better to get them out and off her chest.
Frowning, Stone tilted his head slightly and then half shrugged. “This home,” he assured her, after a long pause. “That home,” he lifted his massive hand and pointed outside, past the entrance, and towards the forest. “All home,” he repeated, trying to smile reassuringly at her. “Stone home.”
“This is part of your home,” Elissa asked, staring deep into Stone’s gentle brown eyes, “and the forest is also part of your home?”
Stone nodded, grinned slightly, and gave her a large thumb’s up.
“Just how large is your home?!” Shocked at what he was saying, Elissa blinked several times and then stared back out into the forest. They’d spent at least a candlemark, and probably the better part of a second one, walking from the glade to where they were now. The sun had moved from its position early in the sky to where it always sat around midmorning now. If what Stone was saying was true, then what he called his home was huge!
“Small walk that way,” Stone told her, pointing straight out the entrance of the cavern and back out into the forest. “Small walk that way,” Stone this time turned and pointed off to the left of the entrance. “Long walk that way,” Stone said, motioning off to the right of the entrance.
“Small walks? Long walks?” Elissa was struggling to decipher what he’d just told her again. “How far was our walk this morning then,” she finally asked. “Was it a small walk, or a long walk?”
“Ummm..” Stone rumbled slightly and then turn and half shuffled his feet together across the floor. “Small walk,” he finally admitted, red starting to blush across his cheeks.
Somehow, Elissa couldn’t help but smile slightly to herself. The way Stone was acting right now reminded her of a young child which might have gotten caught with his hand in the cookie jar. “So it’s a small walk to the edge of your home in that direction,” Elissa reasoned.
Stone just nodded without saying anything, and shuffled his feet together while turning an even darker shade of red.
“And we just came a small walk from that direction,” Elissa half giggled. To see such a huge man act in such a childlike manner was somehow just heartwarming and charming to her.
Stone suddenly stood rock still and slowly nodded his head up and down, reluctantly.
“So that means we were either at, or near, the edge of your ‘home’,” Elissa reasoned.
Stone didn’t twitch a muscle, though his cheeks were now a bright cherry red in the soft glow from the light coming in from the entrance.
“So if that’s the edge of your home,” Elissa giggled, “what exactly is there in the other direction which we just walked away from?”
“Ummm….” Once again Stone rumbled slightly. Massive shoulders slumping noticeably, he finally turned to face Elissa once again. “Road other way,” he admitted slowly. “Village.”
“There’s a road and a village the other way?” Elissa blinked several times and then giggled freely, before asking, “So why’d we come all the way out in this direction for then?”
Hanging his massive head, Stone took a deep breath and then released a long, depressed sigh, before answering. “Not want share Elissa,” he admitted slowly. “Not want Elissa to leave.”
“Awwww!” Stone looked so pitiful, Elissa couldn’t help but skip over and wrap her arms tight around his neck. Leaning up on her tiptoes, she gently planted a kiss atop his oversized nose. “That’s sweet,” she assured him, “but you don’t have to worry about me leaving for now. You won me in the raffle for at least a week,” she reminded him, gently flicking him across the nose where she’d just kissed him, with her finger. “I won’t be leaving you until my service is up, no matter what,” she promised, solemnly.
“I’m not stupid enough to face the wrath of Chaos for one thing,” she admitted, unabashedly.
“Not leave?” Stone raised an eyebrow slightly, but seemed to stand back up a little bit straighter while staring hard into Elissa’s eyes. “Everyone leave Stone,” he informed her sadly. “Stone big. Stone break things. No one want Stone stay. Stone stay, Stone not move. Stone just stupid horse,” he lamented, looking completely dejected.
“Well, I might end up leaving,” Elissa confessed, feeling guilty as she did it. He was such a big fellow, and yet he seemed nice enough and gentle enough to her. He was concerned about wantonly killing the fish in the glade’s pond, and he’d risked poisoning himself and dying just to help dull the ache in her backside so she could rest last night. From what she’d seen, she didn’t think he was stupid at all – after all, how many people would be able to figure out how to use Deathgrass as a numbing agent the way he did? And without knives, spoons, beakers, or any other equipment to boot!
Taking both his massive hands in hers, Elissa squeezed them tightly and then stared back directly into Stone’s beautiful brown eyes. “You’re not stupid,” she told him firmly. “And you don’t break things, that I’ve seen. You’re a kind, gentle man, who cares for the life around him, and that makes you special, and you can trust me on that,” Elissa insisted.
“I know, I haven’t known you long,” Elissa confessed, “but I’ve seen in a light in you already, that I know is bigger and brighter than what most people have in their hearts. When the week is over, I’m going to have to leave for a while at least,” she admitted, unflinchingly keeping her gaze locked with his.
“I’m going to have to go home and let my parents know that I’m okay and unhurt, no matter what, when this is over,” Elissa sighed slightly, then grinned reassuringly up at Stone. “But, nothing says that I can’t come back and visit afterwards.”
“Me’d like that,” Stone admitted softly. “Me like if ‘Lissa never leave, but me understand if her do.”
Laughing gently, Elissa leaned up and kissed him slightly on the nose again. “So Stone,” she asked lightly, trying to change the subject, “what happened to my dress which I’d wrapped around your face last night? I haven’t seen it all morning. Did we leave it behind?”
Shoulders slumping, Stone drooped his head and slightly trembled while staring down at his feet. “Me broked it,” he admitted, in the softest rumble which Elissa had heard his deep voice make yet.