A pair of star-crossed lovers struggle to survive their journey across the desert until they run into an unexpected sight.
Tropes – Forbidden Romance, Bodyguard Romance
They were down to their last canteen of water.
The blazing sun was relentless. They were walking through a valley between two mountainous dark red sand dunes that cast no shadows. They barely had the energy to carry their small packs hastily filled with clothes and mementos from their former lives. Lives that felt years, not weeks, away.
Miku looked back at Suni, trailing two steps behind her. His amber eyes were focused on the horizon. Strong, sunburnt hands gripped the straps of his pack. She could tell he’d lost weight over the last few weeks. His beige linen robes hung loose over his biceps and torso from sharing his meager rations with her, but he still looked strong. He could make it to Azul, probably would’ve already if not for her.
She wasn’t strong. Even wrapped head to toe in pale pink linen robes, with only her eyes and hands exposed, she felt crisp from the glare of the sun. She needed frequent breaks though she made her way very slowly through the sand. Suni refused to walk ahead of her. He caught her swooning once yesterday and twice today.
The sun was starting to dip below the tallest dune in the horizon when Miku tripped, falling face first. “Miku!” Suni kneeled at her side and pulled out the last canteen. He forced her to take a few precious sips, leaving the container half empty.
Dazed, she glanced to her feet. What looked like a small, lumpy, half-burnt bread loaf was sitting in the sand. “Do you see that?” She said, blinking the sweat out of her eyes.
Suni followed her gaze. His eyes widened when they landed on the lump. “Yes.”
“Wha- what is that?”
There was a trail of the lumps leading to a large patch of them along the base of the nearest dune to their right.
Suni moved to the lump at Miku’s feet and dug into the sand, inspecting its base. “It’s a mushroom.” He concluded, pulling it out of the ground. It had a narrow trunk under the lumpy cap with long veiny roots stretching from the bottom. “I didn’t know they grew out this far.”
Miku gasped and pushed to her knees in front of him. “Can we eat them?”
She was ready to pluck the mushroom out of his hands when Suni said, “It’s not safe. I’ve never seen this type before. It could be poisonous.”
She sighed, then straightened her shoulders and looked deep into his eyes, “Suni, I need this. I can’t go on much longer. We ate the last of our rations two days ago. I don’t have the energy to go on another day like this.”
Her body wasn’t used to strenuous activity. The most exercise she got back home was a leisurely stroll around the garden once the midday sun had gone down. After two weeks trudging through the desert, she was close to collapse.
Suni’s grip on the mushroom tightened as he saw the truth in her eyes. “Okay, but I’ll try it first.”
“No!” She ripped off the scarf covering her face. “I’ll take the risk! You can make it to Azul without me.”
“I won’t go without you!”
“Fine, you can carry me if I fall ill. I can’t carry you, we’d both be stuck here.”
He stared at her for a moment. His eyes narrowed with determination. He quickly brought the mushroom to his mouth and took a large bite.
“No!” She tried to grab the mushroom but he threw it to the side, out of her reach. She stared at him in shock then lunged to the closest lump on the ground and bit into it before he could stop her. They stared at each other as she knelt in the sand, chewing the rubbery, but surprisingly juicy fungi.
Suni’s jaw was slack, his fists clenched, and his eyes furious. “Miku, why would you do that? It is my duty to protect you, to shield you from unnecessary risk.”
She tilted her chin up with stubborn pride. “Not anymore. Your employment ended the minute we crossed the border. Now we protect each other. Let me help you too.”
He gripped her shoulders, pulled her closer, and leaned his forehead against hers. His eyes softened as he observed her features. He sighed, “You can help me by staying safe.”
“Only if you promise to stay safe too. I don’t want to do this without you.”
He gave a tiny, little nod, brushing his nose against hers. Then he tilted her face up to meet his lips to hers. She melted into the kiss.
She had been scared he would never kiss her again. He’d been holding her at a distance since he stopped Kesper from assaulting her. If it wasn’t for that night, when he ran his knife through her fiance’s back, they would still be meeting in the shadows.
If she hadn’t insisted they run away, he would be swinging from the gallows. They wouldn’t be here, clinging to each other in the open desert under the fading daylight.
They sat tucked against each other for 5, 10, 20 minutes waiting for the mushroom to take effect. When nothing happened after 30 minutes, Suni decided they were safe.
Miku ate 2 fist-sized mushrooms. Suni ate 1, before they gathered up as many as they could fit in their packs and continued on their journey. Two days later, the kingdom of Azul appeared on the horizon.