On the eleventh day, the train slowed down for their last stop. The three men had already woken up and packed all of their things.
They said goodbye in the corridor outside of the room they had shared during their time on the train.
Peter inclined his head at the two young men. “It’s been a wonderful trip thus far. I hope to see you two again.”
“Same to you,” Chester replied. He had already casually stepped between Jonathan and Peter. The tension between the two transmigrators had not gone unnoticed by him.
Jonathan walked around Chester and extended his hand for a shake. It wasn’t something done much in this world; it was a gesture from home.
Peter shook Jonathan’s hand once with a firm grip. He patted the younger man’s shoulder once and left.
Chester looked between his friend and the end of the corridor. “What was that? Some sort of tradition?”
“It’s called a handshake.” Jonathan stared at his hand for a moment. He hadn’t shaken hands with anyone since he arrived in this world and became Prince Roscoe. “We’re from the same town.”
Chester didn’t mention that Jonathan had originally claimed to be from the capital. There was more he hadn’t been told, but he didn’t pry. “Alright, alright. Let’s go. The horses are going to be unloaded over there. I haven’t seen Magnus in two days.”
The two collected their steeds and went on their way. The train and the station slowly disappeared from view.
They were grateful for their preparedness ahead of time, as otherwise, they would have gotten lost and died of dehydration.
There wasn’t much of a road to speak of. Less life, as well as more sand and cracked earth, appeared the further they went. The sun was a hot presence over their shoulders and in the corner of their eyes.
On the third day, they took a break under a grove of trees.
Jonathan let Oceton out. The chick explored nearby, but would always notice when the man moved. It had already been used—by Chester—to tease Jonathan about him being mistaken as the mama bird.
Chester was watching over Magnus and Biscuit; the two horses had been untacked and were sprawled underneath the patches of shade they could find. He looked over at his friend. “Where are you going?”
“What do you mean?” Jonathan replied, distracted. He moved his right foot because Oceton was pecking at his boot.
Chester drew in a careful breath and asked, “Are you actually going somewhere, or doing something?”
“What do you mean?” Jonathan frowned.
“What do you want to do with your life?” Chester held up his hands. His tone was purposefully blunt. “I’m not sure if you’re aiming for something or if you’re just drifting along.”
Jonathan fell into silence for a few seconds before he replied, “I’ve always travelled around after leaving home.” It had been apartment after apartment once he got some money and started working a regular job. “Aren’t you the same?”
“I was looking for my brother. I gave up around the time I met you and Aderes.” Chester looked regretful about something, but it wasn’t quite clear what. “Is there a stop to your travelling that you have in mind?”
“I might. . . I think I would like to settle down somewhere.”
Chester hummed thoughtfully. “What’s your ideal home?”
“Isolated and comfortable. I don’t want to live in a city again.” Jonathan shook his head. He had enough of noise and crowded spaces. He never liked them—he never liked living in cities—but he had put up with it for a while. “How about you?”
“A loving wife and many children that we happily raise together. I think a place in the village back home, nestled in the mountains, would suit me well. I could inherit my dad’s lumberjack business.” Chester laughed. “Since you want to be isolated and comfortable, that works out; we could be neighbors.”
“Neighbors . . . that could be okay.” Jonathan quickly moved on. “Playtime’s over,” he announced and picked Oceton up. He put the chick in the saddlebag and closed the top. Oceton got cranky without enough sleep, something he could relate to.
“What’s our next stop?”
“The town of Des. We can restock our water.”
“It’s getting close to the Dry Season. They might not be willing to sell us much,” Chester warned.
Jonathan furrowed his eyebrows. “If that’s the case, we still have Aderes’ crystal,” he pointed out. “We won’t die of thirst as long as we don’t lose it.”
“That’s true.” Chester hadn’t remembered that.
They fell into silence for a bit.
“What’s your next question?” Jonathan leaned back, further into the shade. The heat was making him irritable. He hoped it wasn’t something personal again, but it likely was. “You have something you’re thinking of, spit it out.”
“I don’t understand you and Peter. There’s a weird comradery but also distrust between the two of you,” Chester explained. “You don’t have to spill your life’s story. I was just concerned by how strange it was.” Being on the train with the two had been a weird experience—it had put him on edge.
Jonathan frowned. He still remembered just how many precious items that had been on that table back in the gambling den. The transmigrator shot back, “I don’t understand why you’re still a bard when you’re so talented at gambling.”
“I don’t understand why you’re so grumpy. Although,” Chester acknowledged, “. . . it’s been getting better ever since Aderes, you, and I started travelling together.” There was some undeniable happiness in his tone.
“I don’t understand why you love music so much.” Jonathan was definitely not miffed at being called grumpy. He didn’t need to be less grumpy; he wasn’t grumpy to begin with.
“There’s a lot of things about each other we don’t understand, huh. It’s a wonder how we’re friends,” Chester pointed out. “Same goes for us and Aderes. She’s a princess, a whole different level from us.”
Jonathan sighed. “Where are you going with this?”
“We have differences, but it’s also not that weird.” Chester crouched down next to Jonathan. “We like each other’s company. We trust each other. As long as we have that, we’re all fine, right?”
Jonathan snorted. “Yeah, you’re right.”
Chester smiled. “We’re probably not going to find another grove of trees like this for a while.” The bard glanced down the road ahead and saw nothing but dirt and sand. “Do you want to just make this our break to eat lunch?”
They didn’t need to understand each other completely to be friends.