I am so hungry, I stuff my mouth with a piece. It’s delicious; it’s also filling. It is what I needed after eating so little for days on end.
Then I notice the air feels very still. Very quiet. I look up, and everyone, literally everyone, is watching me. No one else has food. There must be a hundred, or more, sets of eyes on me.
Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! I’m such an idiot!
I swallow what’s left in my mouth, then try to make sense of this, “Are you guys going to eat too?” What else do I say? Where is your food? Did you mean for me to only take a bite? Did I just cause you all to starve for a day? This bites. I feel like an idiot.
“Hm, humes eat much. We fast today.” I mentally rage at myself. So this fruit alone is for all of them? It must come from this Gaia Tree, and be limited. Why would the local dryad do that?
I can solve this. “Dryad! Come out! I am familiar with Lillia!” The dryad I met on my first day traveling was surrounded by orckin. He was looking for some decent conversation, and while we conversed, he gave me some pointers for dealing with other dryads. Although, with anything, he warned me moderation. Only some dryads are gentle enough to negotiate with.
“Hmmm? How is Lillia doing these days?” This one forms behind me. Today, it seems like I meet the classical loli dryad from fiction of my old world. I should be cautious. I’m sure she is tricky. They all seem to follow some sort of archetype. Well, sometimes.
“Ah, she is a Gaia Tree now. I’m sure Gaia is unhappy about that, but, you know.” Everyone hates Gaia. Well, the dryads do. Just mentioning that she’s been upset is something of value.
“Hooo.” She tilts her head and squints at me.
I look around and all of the angel and harpy folk are hiding, but only enough to protect their bodies. I can still see their eyes peeking out. “I sort of made a mistake here, and ate some of your flock’s food. Could you give them a bit extra today to make up for it?”
“No.” She doesn’t even think about it, instead she continues to watch me with squinted eyes. Is she mad? Cautious? Suspicious? I can’t tell. Well, it’s a dryad. Who knows with them. “I don’t believe you.”
Huh? “The food is right there, they haven’t eaten, but I have, and you can see a bunch missing.” She looks down at the food, then back at me. Is she frowning? I can’t really tell.
“No. Lillia, I don’t believe.”
Ahhhh, that makes more sense. I can prove that though! “One second.” I rush over to my bag and pull out the remaining half of the last Lillia fruit, and hand it to her. “Lillia fruit,” I confirm.
She sniffs it, and this time I can tell, she frowns. “Why?”
That’s complicated. “Ah, she.” I pause to think. What do I tell her? Rather, how much? “She wanted to feed her family. Not all of us were dryads, so she made the choice to watch over us and feed us forever.” My throat tightens up a bit at the end. That woman made a huge sacrifice for us all. Greedy little plant. Never listened. Always did what she wanted. And I loved her. No, I still love her.
“Family.” Her eyes get a vacant look.
We stand there silently for a bit. We both look past each other, lost in our thoughts.
“Family of Lillia’s is family of mine. I will give you some fruit, do what you will with it. I need some time to think, I’ll find you to talk some other day.” After she finishes, she disassembles into vines that snake back down the branches of the tree. Moments later, other vines come up with ten or so new ripe coconut like fruits.
“Thanks,” I whisper to the retreating vines. This is a life saver. I can bring a few of these with me, and everyone here should be able to eat like kings, if they usually get a single fruit to share. I carefully cut one of the fruits in half, making sure not to spill any of the soupy milk inside, then offer it to the flock of angels and harpies. “Here, sorry for taking your food.”
The elder collects the fruit from me while bowing. Ah, maybe communicating with Dryads on somewhat equal terms is a big deal. I had gotten used to everyone at home being normal about it.
“Let me cut up more for you. That can’t be enough for all of you,” I offer without thinking, as I reach for another.
“No. You mustn’t. No dargonkin to eat us. So many mouths. We have more, we have less. This is fine.” Wow, that’s depressing. I mean, that is indeed one way to prevent overpopulation. Maybe the dryad is only giving them one a day at their own request. I’m not sure how I feel about this.
“What can I do to make up for my earlier thoughtlessness?” Either way, just replacing the item I started to eat doesn’t erase the uneasiness I must have caused them. It certainly doesn’t erase the bad taste in my mouth.
“Precocious one. Bad luck. Lazy. Take away. That is fine. Also fast. Will keep up. Take, enough.” She’s waving; I look at what she is waving at.
It’s my hammock and that little whelp who’s still sleeping in it. Except, she’s half hanging out of it now, her drool is dangling from the corner of her mouth. How is she sleeping while everyone else is awake? Arg.
I mean, really? Pretty sure I just got played here, and they just offloaded their trouble child on me. I already have kiiiiiiddddddds. I feel like my kids have made me more dramatic lately. I should work on that.
Author’s Note: Thanks for being patient. Maybe we’re over the hump? Work is ridiculous right now. Thanks for reading and all the support!