Fortitude Part Six
“You kept me up all night,” I complained. Teddy was yawning and griping about the lack of hot chocolate while I packed the tent.
Teddy flushed crimson, his fair skin turning beet red. “I was scared,” he mumbled.
I might have complained more, but having Teddy clinging to me had been pleasant, even if I was exhausted. “Well, the sun is up so that bird-like thing shouldn’t be around. We need to keep going, if we’re going to find the codex.” I’d keep my eyes peeled out for our wildman, though. I had a feeling he was close.
“Which way does your map say to go?” Teddy crossed his arms over his chest, grumping under his breath.
“Give me a moment.” I put the rest of the of the tent supplies in the pack and pulled out a small packet wrapped in brown paper stashed in the side pocket. “It’s not warm,” I said.
Teddy tilted his head as he reached out for the parcel. “What is it?”
“Will I like it?” Teddy licked his lips when he turned it off. He knew what was inside, as soon as he saw the stamp. He grinned and began picking at the knot with eager fingers. “Thank you!”
“I thought it might ease your first morning without the usual cup.” The gooey chocolate buns were best heated and served with coffee or cocoa, but a jolt of sugar helped sweeten Teddy like nothing else. Watching him happily chomp away at his treat made me smile.
My breakfast had gone to help tame the wildman, so I went hungry. I often worked at my projects for long hours, forgoing meals altogether, so it wasn’t a hardship. I’d suffer a lot more if that was what it took to achieve my goals.
But Teddy wasn’t like me, and I wouldn’t expect the same out of him.
The map gave us a path, and my compass gave me the direction. Teddy was in a much better mood after his breakfast, and he helped me pack up the perimeter system. “If we hike until midday, we should hit this point.” I pointed at a section of geometric shapes that took up the rest of the map. “I think it’s an old city.”
Teddy fiddled with the edges of his coat. “Is it safe?”
I’d only really worried about animals and other creatures. There wasn’t supposed to be edible food out here. The environment was hostile to humans—poisonous, even.
But that wasn’t true. The wildman said there was no safe place, but he’d survived. Was it unsafe out here because there were other dangerous people around? Was that the true reason the city was sealed and we’d been cut off from the rest of the world?
My father said, in his youth, there’d been trade with other cities like ours, but that gradually ended.
“We’ll be careful,” I promised Teddy. I’d thought I was prepared, ready for all possible issues, but I’d never dreamed up a gigantic bird or feral humans. Nothing would deter me, though.
“Okay.” Teddy hiked his pack up and tied the straps over his chest. “I’m ready.”
Our pace was steady and kept our breaks short. We made up a lot of ground, and the trees began to thin. The sound of water bubbling over rocks grew louder than the branches and leaves rustling in the wind.
At least my boots went to my knees. Teddy’s weren’t as high, but hopefully we’d be able to find a crossing that would keep us reasonably dry. Well, at least not any damper than we already were. The rain had left the forest dripping, and brushing against any foliage left wet streaks on our clothes.
There wasn’t many options, though, when we came out on a bank that funneled us down toward a rocky stream. We walked along the overhang, but could only find one place that went down gradually toward the water.
“We’ll have to try for those rocks over there.” I pointed to some boulders sticking out of the water. They looked slick, but the water was murky green with brown streaks.
“That means wading a little, here at the edge.” Teddy shuddered. “That water looks contaminated.”
It did, but we had leather boots that would protect us.
“We’ll be fine. If we stay right off the bank, it should stay shallow.”
Teddy took a deep breath and nodded. “All right.” He hiked his pack up. “I’m ready.”
I led the way down to the water. “Stay right behind me. Hold on to my pack if you need to.”
A jerk pulled me backward, right as the toe of my boot touched the water. “Teddy!” I windmilled my arms, trying to stay upright as I staggered backward. “What are you doing, pulling on me like that?”
“Stupid! Stupid mans.”
The wildman was back, and he’d pulled Teddy off his feet, which had yanked me away from the water. I was hoping he’d stick close to us, but we didn’t have time for any distractions. I didn’t like being in the open; we had to reach some cover in the city before nightfall.
“Stop that!” Teddy snapped. He rolled away. “You’re filthy! Don’t touch me.” Teddy’s hands were dirty again. I pulled out a handkerchief and handed it to him. “How can anyone be that disgusting with water this close? Why don’t you go wash yourself?” Teddy pointed violently at the river. “Clean. You know? Clean? Not disgusting.”
“Clean? No clean. Bad.”
Teddy snorted. “Why am I not surprised?” He shoved the wildman off him and scrambled to his feet. I decided not to mention the dirt all over the back of his legs.
The wildman hissed and backed away from the water. Teddy’s push had nearly knocked him in. “Stupid! Bad water.”
“Water isn’t bad. Water is good,” Teddy snapped.
“No!” The wildman tore up a small plant and tossed it at the water, which instantly began to bubble and hiss, eating the plant in seconds.
So, wildman isn't stupid, right? Of course not... he's still alive! But why'd he helping Will and Teddy? More next week! Now head over to some other Briefer's blogs for some more great flash fiction!
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