It had been a long time since Ellie Navarrete last stepped foot on Trotter farmland, way off in the agricultural sector. Keeping her dog Sunflower close to her, Ellie followed after Zinnia. Squat, a-frame shelters stood along the dirt path they walked on. The majority were open-faced, with plain curtains hanging in place of proper doors.
What struck Ellie the most was the stark sameness. Gone were the color and style variations from years ago. These houses were personality-stripped doppelgangers, each one as bland as the last. There was only space enough between them for a small child to squeeze through.
“Was the redecoration your idea?” Ellie asked the girl ahead of her.
“Yes and no,” she said, “my father wanted to focus on quantity over quality, and I wanted to avoid feeding into certain behaviors.”
A pig peeked at them from around his doorway curtain. Catching his eye, Ellie gave him a wave. He grinned, then whipped his head around so fast that his ears bounced. “Lady Trotter brought a friend with her,” the pig announced to whoever else was in his tiny home.
Hearing the news, another pig appeared at the entrance-way of the next shack over. To be nice, Ellie waved at her the same way she had the other animal. The pig audibly gasped at that, her knees knocking together. This caused yet another pig to poke its head out of its house and see what was going on. Ellie raised her hand.
Zinnia tugged Ellie’s arm down. “Don’t do that.”
A growl rumbled in Sunflower’s jumpsuit-clad chest. Ellie said her name to reassure her, and put an end to that. She challenged Zinnia, “why not wave at them? You don’t say good morning to them?”
“They’re pigs. We don’t humor them,” Zinnia said. If she’d noticed she’d affected Sunflower, she didn’t act like it.
“It’s not humoring them. It’s saying hello. What’s wrong with saying hello?”
“Acknowledging them in any special way makes their egos swell. You greet one, and you have to greet them all. It’s too much of a headache.” She rubbed the edge of her eyebrow.
“You’re not a morning person, are you, Zinnia?” Ellie asked. “Let’s not forget whose idea it was to wake up before the birds do.”
“I’m trying to get you out of here before Father gets here,” Zinnia said. “We do this early or we don’t do it at all.”
“Still doesn’t explain why you can’t treat your animals better.” The better treated the animal, the better tasting the meat, supposedly. Better meat sold better. The financial impact should’ve been enough to sway her.
Zinnia kept walking, leading them further into the pig village. “Ignoring them is my way of keeping them from getting competitive with another,” she said. “They crave attention from people. It’s something they can use in their little status arguments. ‘Lady Trotter’s friend waved at me, so I’m better than you.'”
“Is that why they’re all wearing the same clothes?” Each pig she’d seen had been wearing a plain, pattern-free gown.
“Yes, giving them the same look generally helps.”
“That happened in the last village, too. The status obsession. Are they as excited by ribbons as the last ones?”
“You mean their designation tags? Yes, they are. It’s one of their few differentiators. They fight over them sometimes… They’ve created meanings for the colors that don’t make any sense.” Zinnia sighed softly. “That’s another headache I don’t want to get into.”
New pigs. Newly restructured environment. No traces left behind of the previous society. And yet, they fell back into the same superiority complex-driven patterns as the last group. They echoed the ghosts from pasts they’d never known.
If the one pig she’d heard from was any indication, then their grasp on Casternian was just as impressive, despite Zinnia (and maybe her family)’s unwillingness to speak with them. There were some qualities that were just inherent to animals. Nature won out.
Zinnia brought them to an area piled high with various lumber, somewhere towards the back end of the village. “Everything we need is in here.” She gestured to her family’s locked tool shed, and took a key out of her coveralls’ pocket. Painted mint green, it was one of the few things they hadn’t knocked down during the redevelopment process.
“You can carry the toolbox. Sunflower can push the wheelbarrow,” Zinnia said. She unlocked and opened the door. “Wait here while I gather the things we’ll need.”
Sunflower’s ears perked up. “Yes!”
“What’re you gonna do?” Ellie asked. “‘Cause it sounds like we’re the oxen and you’re the driver.”
“I’ve got a wall to tear down and put back up. I’m saving my strength for that.”
~ * ~ * ~
And it was a good thing she had, because Ellie didn’t know the first thing when it came to construction work. Following a hammer-related mishap, she was relegated to the ‘pass me whatever thing I ask for’ role. Marietta sat on a blanket laid over the grass, watching them while she ate. Her mouth was too full to verbally jab at them, something Ellie was grateful for.
Sunflower paced around the perimeter. Although Marietta’s house was relatively safe at the edge of the town, it gave Ellie more peace of mind to have Sunflower patrol for them.
“Okay, that should be the last of the nails.” Zinnia dropped it into the container Ellie held out for her. “Help me pull this board away from the frame.”
Ellie put down what she was holding, then did as she was asked. It took some tugging, but with their combined efforts, they took the old wall off. “This is lighter than I thought it’d be.”
They guided it down to the ground. Ellie whistled for Sunflower’s attention. Glad to be useful, she ran over.
“Take. Drop it there,” Ellie commanded, pointing to a spot. Sunflower dragged the wooden board out of the way for them.
“It’s thin plywood,” Zinnia explained. She went to the wheelbarrow, stacked high with wood slabs the right length for Marietta’s shack. “It’s light by design, but that’s what makes it more vulnerable to things like rot. It’s weak.”
“Is the, um, frame or whatever made out of the same thing?” That didn’t sound too safe.
Zinnia took a slab from the pile. “The scaffolding’s a stronger material. There hasn’t been any damage done to the wall’s framing, so that will make this easier.”
“That’s not plywood you’re going to hammer to it again, is it?”
“Regular wood. Since I couldn’t get a big cut of it, I’m going to have to hammer each plank to the frame and rebuild the new wall that way,” Zinnia said. “It won’t take me too long.”
Marietta’s house looked like someone had sliced it open. It was strange seeing it exposed from this angle. Ellie looked up, and gasped. “Wait a second, shouldn’t her roof be coming down? What’s keeping it up? Aren’t you scared it’s going to slide off or something? What if it comes off and smooshes us?”
“Ellie, I know what I’m doing. I’m the one who built this for her.”
“You’re expanding it, right?” Marietta cut in from her place on her blanket. “Love what you’re doing with it so far, by the way. Just keep going with that and make it bigger.”
Zinnia white-knuckle gripped her hammer. “You go deal with her.”
“Oh, but conversing with you is so much fun, Zinnia,” Marietta chimed.
“Deal with her.”
“I see you’re as delightful as ever. Lady Sunshine’s here to grace us with her presence.”
“Why are you just standing there?” Zinnia gritted her teeth. “Do something about her, or our deal’s off.”
Ellie snapped back to attention. “Yeah! Hey, Marietta, why don’t you and me talk over there?”
“We can talk right here. This blanket’s as fine a place as any,” Marietta said.
Zinnia crouched down, pushed the wood slat against the vertical framing, and started hammering it with more force than was necessary. Sunflower jumped at the loud sound. Ellie called her over to her and gave her a hug around the shoulders. Her tail wagged in response.
“What’s this I hear about a deal?” Marietta asked around the bang, bang, bang of Zinnia’s hammer.
“She’s covering for me,” Ellie answered. “I’m hanging out in the woods for the night…in a friendly way. My mom wasn’t going to let me do that, so I had to tell her I was going to be with you, Zinnia, and Sunflower.”
“Did she buy that story?”
“Yeah, I think so. Pretty sure I’m in the clear here.”
Marietta smirked. “All of this so you can spend the night with the girl who makes you especially happy. You’re sly.”
“Who said I’m spending the night with her?” Ellie covered her face.
“Your reaction says everything. Are you planning a continuation of your earlier activities?”
Zinnia’s hammer became louder, like she was trying to drown out their conversation. Sunflower whimpered.
“Noooo. I said in a friendly way!”
“Something tells me your intentions aren’t that pure.”
“Shut up.” Ellie laughed, her laughter driven by nerves more than anything else. “I’m just keeping her company.”
“Keeping her company…” Marietta kept up her smirk.
“You take everything the wrong way.”
“You do it to yourself,” Marietta said. “I suppose I have to play along with your deal if the Chieftess comes my way. What do I get?”
“She won’t, but okay. You got some of my leftovers, that’s what you get out of this deal,” Ellie said, “and you’re getting your house fixed.”
“And you’re getting your night in the woods. What did Zinnia get out of this deal, I wonder? She wouldn’t help me unless her part of the deal was particularly sweet.”
“She’ll tell you about it if she wants to.”
“She won’t ever.”
“So you’ll never know.” Ellie glanced over at Zinnia. She’d made it a quarter of the way up the wall. “It’s her business to share. You can’t know everything about everyone, you know.”
“Speaking of business to share, would it be wrong of me to think that you’ve gotten over Freesia?”
The question hit her hard enough to knock the smile off of her face. “What makes you say that?”
“You’re getting awfully involved with that forest friend of yours,” Marietta mused, “anyone would think that you’ve moved on.”
“I haven’t.” She bunched part of the blanket beneath her hand. “We’re looking for her today. Me, Shreya, and Sunflower.”
“How does that make any sense?”
“I know she’s still out there somewhere. I don’t have to justify why I know that, I just do.”
“No, I’m talking about you using your new girlfriend to find your old girlfriend. The fact that you’re getting a new girlfriend must mean that there’s some part of you that’s given up on her,” Marietta said. “Correct me if I’m wrong.”
“Shreya’s not my girlfriend. I don’t know what we are, but we’re not that,” Ellie said. “Me and her have nothing to do with me and Freesia, anyway. They’re two separate issues.”
“They’re more connected than you think.”
“Whatever… There’s not a single part of me that’s given up on Freesia, okay? Don’t ever say anything like that again.”
“I’m merely pondering the possibility.” Marietta shrugged. “You’ll keep me posted on your search, won’t you?”
Ellie relaxed her glare. “Yeah, I’ll update you the next time I see you.”
“I do hope you’ll find her. She would’ve made for an interesting Chieftess, had things not happened the way they did.”
“You think so?” It wasn’t a future she’d allowed herself to imagine in some time. Her and Freesia, together as the heads of Stockbrunn. “She might make an even better one now.”
Surviving on her own for so long would’ve chiseled her as a person. She’d be mentally and physically strong. Powerful. Someone formidable. Anyone who could survive for that long would be capable of anything.
What’s fear to someone who’s already endured the worst fears out there?
“She might,” Marietta repeated. “Find her and find out.”
“That’s the plan. We’ll scour the entire forest for clues. She had to have left a sign for me. I know she would’ve.”
“Try looking for an F and an E carved into a tree.”
“That’s a good idea!”
“It’s an obvious one. Frankly, I’m surprised you haven’t tried it.”
“It’s worth another try,” Ellie said. She looked at Zinnia, checking on her progress. “Do you need any help over there?”
Zinnia called out over her hammer strikes, “no, I’m fine! Almost done.”
“Hm, I don’t know what you did to convince her to do this,” Marietta said, “but thank you. That rotted stain in the wall was beginning to grow.”
“No problem! You’ve been through enough,” Ellie replied. “If you ever need anything, just ask me and I’ll do my best to help.”
“I’ll be sure to keep that in mind.”
They carried on with more conversation until the final nail was put into place. After Zinnia tested the new wall for sturdiness, she let Ellie come over to check her work. Not knowing a better way to test it other than pushing on it, she did just that, then gave it her own stamp of approval.
Zinnia didn’t bother seeing Marietta’s reaction. It was as if she wasn’t there. Zinnia packed her tools up, and put the box in the belly of her wheelbarrow. “I’m leaving the spare wood here in case she’ll need it later.”
“You’re fine pushing that back yourself?” Ellie asked.
“Yeah. If I’m lucky, I can wheel it back to the farm before my father’s any wiser. I’ll see you later,” Zinnia said. She took the wheelbarrow by the handles. “Oh, and remember to control yourself tonight. Be responsible.”
Marietta giggled, catching on before Ellie did.
“…You guys are the worst,” Ellie said, “the absolute worst.”
A short while later, she bid farewell to Marietta and set off for the woods with Sunflower in tow.
~ * ~ * ~
Having Sunflower with her made the walk more pleasant, but it didn’t do anything to calm Ellie’s nerves. What if, in the span of a night, regret had set in? Shreya didn’t have anyone to sound off on. She was alone with four walls staring back at her, and her thoughts swirling in all directions.
In Ellie’s experience, loneliness was the worst fodder for thinking. It colored things in a harsh light, leading to doubt and the downward spiral that stemmed from it.
You’re being overdramatic, Ellie chided herself. Her nervousness stayed with her, though. Until she opened the door before her, she’d exist in a fantasy limbo of Shreya’s regret/happiness. It was entirely possible that Shreya had liked the way things had gone the day before, and still liked everything after she woke up in the morning.
“I know… I’m gonna have to knock eventually,” Ellie whispered. “It’s scary.” There was a whole day, afternoon, and night ahead of them.
They were going to have to talk about yesterday, and what it meant. The air had to be cleared. It couldn’t stay as a “thing that had happened.” Life had to be breathed back into it. It needed to be acknowledged.
And if Shreya was going to write it all off as a moment of weakness, Ellie would deal with that.
Just like she’d have to deal with it meaning something big.
She didn’t know which scenario terrified her more.
Being a coward’s not going to get me anywhere. Ellie pounded her fist against the door. Let’s do this.
Shreya answered after the second series of knocks. “Hello—”
What happened next, happened within a breath’s timing.
Sunflower launched herself forward, hands outstretched for a tackle. Shreya threw up her arms, pivoting on her heel to create more distance. Ellie snapped into action. She grabbed Sunflower, hooking her around the middle. Sunflower snarled in her arms, her face unable to choose between placation and rage.
“You stop it right now,” Ellie warned her. “You know who this is. It’s Shreya! You’ve met her before.”
“Bad!” Sunflower exclaimed. “Bad, bad, bad.”
Wide-eyed, Shreya walked backwards, further into the room. She stood herself behind the table, where the history book laid open.
“No, she’s good,” Ellie said. “Remember when she helped save you?”
“Bad.” Her limited vocabulary prevented her from explaining herself further.
“Why did you bring your dog?” Shreya asked, her eyebrows creased. She looked like she was ready to leap away.
“Sunflower’s here ’cause I’m staying the night. I got permission to and everything,” she answered. “Sorry she’s acting up like this. She must’ve forgot you.”
“I told you you did not have to do that. I can live alone.”
Ellie held Sunflower tighter. Her dog stayed rigid. “I was hoping you’d be happier about it… Is there something wrong with me staying the night?”
“You should not worry your family.”
“My mom knows I won’t be home tonight. They’re not worrying about anything,” Ellie said. “Sunflower can keep watch for us when we’re asleep. We’re safe.”
“I am not safe. She wants to kill me.” Shreya’s eyes narrowed.
“She needs some time to warm up to you again.”
“Why does her body heat matter?”
“Um, I meant that she needs time to get used to you. She has to become comfortable around you. Give her an hour to calm down, and she’ll be alright.”
“Okay,” Shreya said. She sat down in a chair, her gaze not leaving Sunflower. “Why do you insist on staying here tonight? You do not have to.” After a moment, she added, “you should not.”
“Does it bother you that much? Do you really not want me to?” Ellie found it difficult to swallow. That shouldn’t have hurt as much as it did. “You don’t…you don’t think I’m going to do something weird, do you? Because I’m not. Is that what you’re afraid of?”
“I’m not, like, expecting us to do anything like we did yesterday. It’s okay.” Her cheeks burned as she talked. “So, if that’s why you don’t want me around, you don’t have to worry about that. We’re good.”
“I won’t worry. I want you around. I like you being here,” Shreya said, “but I am feeling shy. Embarrassed. Reserved.” She tried out different words, hoping at least one of them would make its mark. “Sorry.”
Shreya traced shapes onto the table. So that settled it. Ellie wasn’t the only one who was scared.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have gotten so worked up.” Marietta and Zinnia were partially to blame for her accusations. “Can we start over? Pretend like my dog didn’t try to attack you and all that.”
“That is much to ask for,” she said. The corner of her mouth lifted, a small half-smile. “What do I get in return?”
“I dunno. Something you like.”
“I like many things.”
“Yeah, like reading, nature, my excellent cooking,” Ellie rattled off, “and maybe me. So one of those.”
Shreya sat up straighter. “Why do you say ‘maybe’?”
“You can be hard to figure out sometimes, Shreya. This,” she corrected herself, “this right now, whatever it is, is hard to figure out. I don’t know where we’re supposed to go from here.”
Just like that, Ellie had landed herself in the danger zone she’d hoped to steer clear of. The big talk. She hugged Sunflower closer, like she was a stuffed toy. An angry, bristling stuffed toy who had a clear problem with the girl on the other side of the room.
“Can you say that in another way? I do not know what is the ‘this’ you’re talking about.”
“It’s like we’re in the woods without a compass.”
“I do not think I have one of those.”
“Not literally.” She let go of the comfort of metaphors, and opted for something more direct. “You know how we kissed yesterday? Upstairs? In that bed? You were laying against me and moved in first, remember?”
“That is enough. Yes, I remember. I remember everything. I was there.” Shreya ran her hand down one of her hat’s strings. “It is not something someone forgets.”
“What did it mean? You can be honest with me. I can handle it,” she said, aware that her track record made that statement questionable.
“Kissing is something you do when you feel close to someone. It is this.” She held up her index fingers, then slowly pressed the tips together.
“That’s great, but what about us?”
“Your dog would tear my throat out.”
Cold fury radiated from Sunflower’s every pore. She let out another low growl.
“I don’t mean right now,” Ellie said, “but I’m happy you’d want to again.” She bit her lip to hold back the ridiculous smile forming on her face. This was supposed to be a serious talk. “Ugh, I know this is going to make me sound terrible… Okay, where I’m from, the way we kissed can mean so many things. I need to know what you thought about it. Is it not that serious in your culture, because it can be really serious in mine?”
“Do they not kiss in Stockbrunn? Sorry. I won’t do it again.” Shreya busied herself with her hat’s string.
“We do! I just want to know what you think.”
“If you do, then you should know what it means. Kissing has meaning.”
“It could mean anything. Maybe you’re interested in me. Maybe you’re looking for a relationship or something more casual. A relationship would be hard, wouldn’t it?” Ellie stopped to gauge Shreya’s reaction. Shreya’s hand dropped from her hat. “…It could also mean nothing, like you were looking for some comfort or you got lost in the moment. I mean, the set-up was pretty romantic. I get it if you were confused by the mood and accidentally kissed me. Things like that happen all the time.”
“I was not confused.”
“You don’t have to lie to me. It’s okay.”
“You are not listening,” Shreya said. “I did not kiss you meaninglessly.”
“Then why did you do it?”
Shreya leaned forward in her seat. “Is this level of interrogation normal in your culture?”
“When the other girl keeps dancing around the issue, yeah. You’re avoiding my questions.”
“Your questions are insulting. When something like this needs to be discussed this thoroughly, that means there is something wrong.”
“Insulting? There’s nothing insulting about it. We’ve gotta talk about it ’cause if we don’t, I won’t know where we are.”
“We are in this house.” Shreya wasn’t joking.
“No, I’m talking about me and you. Me and you.” If Sunflower wasn’t there, she may have screamed. The last thing she wanted to do was set her off. “Do you want us to be a serious thing or not? Nevermind that, do you like me? That’s all I’ve been trying to ask you. I didn’t mean to insult you or anything like that.”
Shreya sat back. She averted her gaze, and went back to playing with her hat. “Must I answer?”
Great. You had to go and make her upset. Nice going.
“…I’m gonna take Sunflower outside. You can answer me whenever you’re ready.”
“Wait,” Shreya said, “this is not something we do at home. We do not pick things like this apart. My feelings should be clear to you, and I can’t tell if you are not understanding because you refuse to listen to me or if it is because of where you are from.”
“I’ve been listening to you this whole time.” Ellie needed to lay it out for her. “See, this is why I’m so confused. Our first kiss wasn’t a happy moment.”
“I wish I did not hear that. It made me happy. I am sorry it was terrible for you.”
“I didn’t mean it that way. I was just saying that it was confusing because it’s not like we were doing some happy thing and kissed because of that. You were crying. I was pissed off. Anyone would be confused by a kiss like that.”
“Does crying make me a liar?”
“I never called you a liar.”
“You are treating me like I am,” Shreya replied. “Ellie… This is hard for me to say. Casternian needs better words for this.”
This was it. The truth as finally going to be revealed, and it didn’t look like it was going to be good. Shreya’s absence of a smile telegraphed it. “We can drop this, if you want. I shouldn’t have been so pushy. Let’s forget the whole thing.”
“You asked for it.”
“Listen to my answer, and remember it the next time you are confused. I like you. There is no ‘maybe’ about it. I am developing feelings for you when I know I should not. It does not make sense, and it scares me.” She stared down at the table. “Why was I compelled to see you after you shot me? It had to have been because of that, right? Feelings.”
Speechless, Ellie could only nod. Was this actually happening?
Shreya continued, “you are interesting and someone new and different in my life, but it is more than that. I think you’re wonderful, and I want to keep getting to know you better. I am sorry I kissed you at the wrong time.”
“I’m the one who’s sorry. It’s not like I didn’t like it. It was like a twelve out of ten. It just made me feel like, I don’t know, I was getting something awesome before I deserved it. It didn’t feel like I earned it, not that kisses are earned, but…do you get what I mean?”
“You deserved it. You said it was not a happy moment, but it was for me. You made me feel secure. I felt like you cared about me. It was special,” Shreya said, “and I feel sad that it was less than special for you.”
“It was special. Did I say twelve out of ten? I meant it was a twenty out of ten. So please don’t be sad. That was just me messing up,” Ellie said. “I mess up a lot around you, I know. You make it so hard for me to think straight… Wanna know something wild? I think I’ve liked you since day one, and I’m not just saying that. It took me a while to notice.”
“I do not know when it started for me.”
“That’s okay. You don’t have to know.” As they talked, she felt Sunflower relaxing in her hold. “I’m sorry for confronting you about this. I guess I couldn’t trust that someone like you could like someone like me. Opposites don’t attract that much.”
“Believe me. I have been trying to show you I do with more than words.”
“Have you looked at yourself lately? It’s hard to believe you when you look like that. Just on looks alone it’d be unbelievable for you to be into me.”
“You look good. You’re…appealing.”
Ellie hid her face against Sunflower’s shoulder. There was no way Shreya just said that, not with that big smile of hers. Shreya was trim all the way around. The girl was solid. Sparring her had proved that. And she had this undeniable coolness about her, helped along by the shape of her eyes and the arch of her ‘brows.
The heiress, on the other hand, was a softie in the middle with minimal curves. The soft angles of her face were going to be a blessing when she was older, but right now, they made her feel terribly juvenile. Although her mother told her her looks were going to even out eventually, she didn’t believe her. She felt cursed to look like the helpless damsel when she dreamed of being the knight.
Her skin was the sort of pale tan, fair brown shade that when she was a baby, she looked white in her father’s arms and brown in her mother’s. She missed out on the giant Dietrich warrior gene and the dark allure of the Navarrete family. She’d become a blend of glimpses of each, but she didn’t pull enough from either side to be able to stand toe-to-toe with someone as striking as Shreya.
And yet somehow…Shreya thought she was wonderful and appealing?
“Thanks,” she mumbled into Sunflower. She lifted away from her dog. “You, too. You look good, very good.”
Shreya covered her face. “You are embarrassing me. I told you I am shy.”
“Oh, c’mon, you have to have lots of people after you at home.”
“No one finds me that interesting. I think I am okay.”
“If you count as okay, then you have to take me there. Sounds like paradise.”
“You know I cannot do that,” Shreya said, her tone dropping to a more serious one.
“Bad choice of words, sorry.”
“What about the people who are after you?”
“Dating’s complicated for me. I’m not a regular person, so I have to be careful about it.” Any of her suitors could potentially co-lead Stockbrunn. Ellie had to be selective.
“What about your important person?”
Ellie’s arms started aching. “Freesia? There’s no one like her back in Stockbrunn for me. You don’t have to worry about that.”
“Mmhm.” Shreya nodded. “We need to start hunting for her. Do you have a lead?”
“It’s going to be aimless at first, but I’m sure we can find something. I’m thinking she’s left clues for me.”
Shreya stared at her, not saying anything for a moment. “I wish I could hold you.”
“Sunflower seems more relaxed, but she may need a little more time. Us hugging might trigger her.” As much as she loved Sunflower, she was beginning to regret bringing her. “I’m hoping she’ll start feeling my positivity towards you and start behaving better.”
She stroked her hand through Sunflower’s fluffy strawberry blonde hair. Sunflower’s eyebrows stayed angry, but she hadn’t growled in some time. That was a step in the right direction.
“Um…sorry if this is random,” Shreya said. She reached for the history book and dragged it closer to her. “I wanted to talk to you about something in here before we head out.”
“Like I said, I can’t answer for anything my ancestors did.”
“This book is current as of ten years ago. It is vague at that point.”
“You read the whole thing? How early did you wake up?”
“I flipped through pages. Can you tell me more about what happened between Stockbrunn and the wolves? They had a treaty. Why did it end?”
“Hm… It’s been a long enough morning already,” Ellie replied. “We should get going while we have an ample amount of daylight.”
“It is strange that their relations were fine. The change was abrupt.”
“Yeah, well, history’s a strange thing. You latched onto a boring section. You should read more about the Casternian-Erzyan Conflict. Now that’s a fun part.”
“Do you know what happened to the treaty?”
At first, she thought Sunflower was tensing up again. Then, she realized it was her. “There’s not a whole lot to say. The wolves broke it.”
“Why do you think they broke it?”
“Because they’re—” Ellie stopped herself. She took a deep breath. “This isn’t a great subject for me. It’s personal.”
“Do you have problems with wolves?”
“Read more of the book instead of flipping through the pages. My answer’s in there,” Ellie said. “You’re from this forest. You’ve probably been affected by some of the things they’ve done, and if you haven’t, you’re lucky.” She turned for the door, still keeping her arm around Sunflower. “I’ve gotta get out. She’s getting antsy.”
Shreya stood up. “Do you think she’ll attack me again?”
“Come outside and we’ll see,” Ellie said, grinning. “No, but, seriously, I’ll keep hold of her. Let’s head out and do some more exploring.”