In which travelling wears thin
The Taste of Lies Part IV
Guppy’s feet hurt. It turned out no-one had bothered to cobble the world outside (to be fair she could see why, it was the least interesting thing her eyeballs had ever bled over). Instead, it was full of mud and puddles and grit and rocks and miles and miles of emptiness.
The first day, she’d actually tried to pay attention to the journey so she could find her way back on the off-chance that they could escape. This proved to be doubly pointless: there was about as much differentiation as you’d find between the undersides of two slime covered paving slabs, and Grey’s knife never wavered from view.
By day two, she was envisioning herself being carried along in a golden palanquin so her shredded leather soles floated above that bloody miserable surface.
By day four, she’d decided that if she were king, she would command that the entire land be covered in paving slabs with lots of fruit vendors dotted around the place. And her subjects would be ordered to mill along making lots of noise so there wasn’t this head-exploding silence.
It turned out that Nate was even more miserable than she was (she felt a bit bad that this cheered her up). Grey kept him to heel through the entire march, and had been forcing him to tell the tiniest of lies over and over again.
This had resulted in his rag-doll body getting repeatedly spattered with vomit, though Grey somehow always managed to stay out of the splash zone.
Shame, thought Guppy.
She supposed that it was possible there might have been a little less vomit exiting Nate’s mouth than there had been at the beginning, so maybe his tolerance was getting better. Or maybe he was just a whole lot emptier.
Grey was looking grimmer, and Guppy suspected her threat to dump Nate was getting more likely by the day.
Time to take action.
They’d set up for camp in a small copse that offered some shelter from the constant drift of rain that spiderwebbed their clothing. As ever, they ate in silence, jaws working over leathered strips of meat and small pats of nut-tack. Grey had taken to stalking a few more strides away to sleep, though she made sure her blades were still all too visible in the grey light.
‘Nate!’ Guppy hissed at the huddled figure curled up at the foot of a wide oak. She kept one eye on Grey, who lay completely still across the small clearing.
The boy stirred and rolled slowly over to look at her.
‘What do you want, Guppy?’ He sounded completely exhausted, voice emptied of every trace of fear. She scrambled forward over the squishy ground.
‘You gotta figure this thing out, else she’s gonna boot you. And you don’t want to end up with another slaver again.’
He shook his head, voice rising. ‘I’ve tried! I’ve been trying for days! I’m just not like you.’
Guppy paused, chewing her lip. ‘See the thing is, Nate, I reckon that lying is all about what you think is the truth. If I know something’s a lie, then it tastes like a lie. But if I say something I think is the truth, then it never tastes bad even if I find out later I was wrong. So I don’t get hung up on truth, it’s all just what I think at the time. And maybe that’s why it don’t taste so bad when I lie, part of me knows it could be the truth, somewhere, for someone.’
Nate’s pale face wrinkled, ‘So you’re saying truth doesn’t exist?’
Guppy shrugged, ‘I’m saying I’ve never found it all that reliable. Maybe that could help you.’
He sighed, ‘I’ll try. But I don’t see how going with Grey is any better than being with a slaver anyway.’
She nodded, glancing back at the long lean shadow that lurked behind her. ‘I’m not sticking with her, we’ll run as soon as we can. But if you can’t lie, you’ll get dumped off somewhere.’
‘Why do you even care?’
Guppy scowled. ‘I bloody well nearly burnt my tongue off last time I dropped you in it. I don’t fancy trying that again.’
He snorted softly, ‘I’ll try again tomorrow.’
‘Again.’ Grey’s voice pulled Guppy awake. Grey and Nate were standing a few paces away, their faces turned away.
‘I’m from Casta.’ Nate’s voice wobbled slightly, but there was no heave to his shoulders, not a single retch.
Guppy sat up, eyes widening.
‘You’re a servant from Casta.’ Grey’s voice was as bored as it had been the day before.
‘I’m a servant from Casta.’
‘Good, you need to keep your face from screwing up, it’s still easy to see you’re uncomfortable. Again.’
Guppy flopped back with a wild grin. He’d finally done it.
It was another three days before Casta came into view. Nate had only had four more vomiting incidents and was slowly getting better at keeping his face from scrunching.
The capital city rose from the landscape in stocky steep pillars of dark grey. Walls made of blocks bigger than Guppy herself soared far ahead and curved around as far as her eyes could see. But with the looming grey came a new scent that flared her nostrils, had her sticking her tongue out to taste. Salt, like an exaggerated tale with the barest hint of truth, but a subtle sting rather than an eye-watering punch.
‘Guppy! Pay attention.’ Grey’s fingers gripped her shoulder in a fierce pinch. ‘We need to get to the palace without anyone paying any attention to you. This isn’t going to happen if you keep gawping around. Get your head down.’
Guppy rolled her eyes and mouthed a silent imitation of her captor, but kept her head down as Grey walked them toward the heavily guarded gate in the wall.
At the very edge of her vision, she watched the city pass by. It smelt more or less the same as home, apart from the salt that hung in the air – bread and uncleaned drains and brew and sweat. She nodded to herself. This she could deal with.
And then she saw the palace.
There was no helping the gawp. She pulled to a halt to stare, barely noticing Nate run into her from behind.
The palace streaked straight up from the edge of the city, surrounded by ordered groves of ancient looking trees that were weighed down by heavily scented blooms. It was made of the same grey stone as the rest of the city, but the blocks were much smaller, allowing for an almost delicate construction that was bigger than any building Guppy had ever imagined, let alone seen.
Grey looked back over her shoulder, impatient frown ever present.
‘What did I tell you about gawping?’
Guppy shook the startled expression from her face, and trotted toward the perfumed grove.