Kasser stood beside the carriage door, his gaze fixed on Eugene. The wind tousled his hair as he cracked open the door. A soft sigh escaped his lips. The exhilaration of escaping their pursuers had been fleeting. With every passing mile, an uneasy feeling nestled deeper in his heart.
The little carriage jolted violently along the uneven, unpaved road, its light frame amplifying every bump and crevice. There were no signs of fellow travelers, and the scenery remained as monotonous as ever. Eugene didn’t voice any complaints, but whenever Kasser stole a glance at her, she resembled a drowsy, fragile bird.
“Eugene,” he called out.
The confines of the carriage left little room for maneuvering. Even though Eugene had the compartment to herself, space was scarce. As he reached for something, his hand brushed against her cheek. With a gentle tap of his fingertip, Eugene’s eyes fluttered open.
“We’ll take a break and have a meal,” Kasser suggested.
Eugene nodded, her eyes still heavy with slumber, and extended her hand towards him. With his assistance, she disembarked from the carriage, followed closely by the two small creatures that had shared their confined space.
Kasser held Eugene’s hand firmly and inquired, “Are you feeling alright?”
Eugene turned to him, a soft chuckle escaping her lips as she observed his worried expression. “Do you realize how many times you ask me that in a day? I’m not in pain. I’m perfectly fine.”
“If you feel the slightest discomfort, don’t hesitate to tell me.”
“I’m not enduring anything, just a touch of motion sickness.”
No matter how many times she reassured him, he remained suspicious.
“I didn’t expect my motion sickness to be this severe. If it weren’t for that, we would have reached our destination much sooner.”
Originally, this journey had not been intended to take this long. They had planned to expedite their progress by occasionally riding Abu in between.
Two days into their journey, they found themselves riding atop a vastly altered Abu, navigating through a dense, untamed forest. Yet, their progress was abruptly halted as Eugene’s voice rang out, plagued by the unwelcome discomfort of motion sickness.
Eugene wasted no time dismounting Abu, collapsing to the ground as her stomach emptied itself. Kasser fretted, urging her to seek medical help in the nearest city due to her dizziness. From that point on, their journey continued solely by carriage.
“You’ve endured quite a bit. It can’t be easy to play the role of a mahout,” Kasser remarked sympathetically.
“I should have been better prepared…”
“Don’t say that,” he implored. “Traveling with knights and attendants would only make us conspicuous. It’s just motion sickness. You’re truly alright.”
Kasser studied Eugene’s countenance, attempting to discern the truth beneath her words. It struck him as peculiar that she attributed her condition solely to motion sickness. When they had visited temples or ventured toward sacred lands not too long ago, she hadn’t exhibited such distress. However, back then, they had enjoyed far more comfortable means of transportation and the support of attendants.
With a soft smile, he pulled her into his embrace. Some roles were not meant to be probed deeply, especially when the person in question appeared outwardly fine. Still, Eugene’s pallor troubled him.
During their journey with the warriors across the desert, Kasser had loosely planned their itinerary, taking into account their stamina. However, estimating the stamina of an average person, particularly a woman, proved to be a challenge he hadn’t fully grasped.
“Just a bit more to endure. Tomorrow, we’ll reach the mountain range. I’ll be right there to greet you once we cross it,” Kasser reassured Eugene with a determined smile.
“Oh, I can hardly wait. We’re almost there.”
Kasser carefully seated Eugene on a makeshift chair set up in the open clearing. Her meal had been prepared with utmost consideration for her motion sickness, consisting of gentle fruits, dried grains, and soft bread. They made sure to arrange for these meals whenever they stopped in villages during their journey.
After she took a bite, Kasser lightly kissed her cheek. “Keep eating. I’ll take a quick look around and be right back.”
When the carriage paused for a brief respite, Kasser often surveyed their surroundings, leaving Eugene momentarily alone. She didn’t feel a sense of unease, though, as she had the company of their two loyal beasts.
As Kasser disappeared from sight, Eugene let out a sigh. She tried her best not to reveal it, but motion sickness was genuinely troublesome. She felt perfectly fine when her feet were firmly planted on the ground like this, but as soon as the carriage swayed, her stomach churned. At least she could find solace in comfortable sleep; motion sickness didn’t plague her while she was in slumber’s embrace.
The intensity of this motion sickness is quite perplexing, Eugene mused to herself, finding it odd how severe it had become. Yet, a flicker of renewed energy surged within her as they drew closer to their destination.
“Let’s have a meal. I must eat to endure this.”
Eugene diligently placed morsels of food into her mouth, determined even in the face of her diminished appetite. Kasser’s return was delayed until after she had finished her meal. Gazing at the two loyal Hwansus stationed on either side of her, she remarked, “You two should have your meal as well. It seems our master is running behind.”
Hwansus like Abu did indeed appreciate their meaty meals, but their tastes veered toward the gourmet. Like children drawn to candy, such indulgences hardly fortified their vitality.
Seeds formed the primary sustenance for these beasts. The king always ensured there were seeds at the ready for them. Within the palace walls, they rested within an oil jar, while during travels, they nestled in his pocket. Perhaps it was the result of the king’s constant emanation of Praz that rendered the seeds virtually indestructible, even during active periods.
Extending her hand toward Abu, Eugene called out its name. In response, the creature nudged her hand gently with its head.
Since the day two creatures had fled her, Eugene exercised more caution when approaching them. Instead of reaching out, she began to summon them with words, beckoning them to her side.
“Hey there, little one,” she called, turning her head as a squirrel gracefully bounded onto her arm.