The wind whipped across the hills, flattening the grass against the earth. The dew-garnished fields stretched out below, each individual grass blade seeming to shine like an emerald under the newly-risen sun. The residents of the small cottages below were only just awakening from a peaceful slumber. The beekadoodles filled the air with their melodious chatter. It was a breath-taking sight.
Odel beamed down at the world from the top of the green hill. She took a great intake of breath, then sighed.
“Isn’t it beautiful, Silentheart?”
She looked down at the yellow Gelert that sat by her side. He looked back at her with an unfazed expression.
The round-faced girl sighed in annoyance. “Look, I said I was sorry about waking you! I honestly thought you would be awake!”
“Mom, it’s seven in the morning, and it took over an hour to set up the tent last night. We walked all day yesterday, only stopping once to eat.”
“We’re short on food,” Odel said apologetically. “But that won’t be the case much longer! We’ll stop and buy some food.”
Silentheart looked away from his owner.
“Come on, Silentheart, it’s Brightvale!” Odel said, aggravated. “And it’s a beautiful morning! Can’t you hear the music of dawn and smell the sweet smell of untouched earth?”
“It probably won’t remain untouched for long,” he pointed out.
Odel gave up. “You’re so negative!”
The two trudged slowly down the hill. Odel carried the tent with its poles, which were all wrapped up in a large pack on her back, and Silentheart carried a large backpack and his Tomamu, Biddy, sleeping on his back.
Neither of the two exchanged words.
Brightvale was truly an amazing city. The commoners and nobles alike talked eagerly, exchanging knowledge, reading aloud from books and scrolls. Merchants shouted the fine quality of their fruit and jewels. Noble Neopets glided down the streets, lifting long skirts above satin shoes, with their loyal servants close by. And the windows of the castle and manors were made of every colour of the rainbow, creating beautiful pictures that rivalled any painting Odel and Silentheart had seen. Even some of the poorer homes had stained-glass windows, through which Silentheart could make out mothers at work in the kitchen while their children played. Silentheart stared at the homes with a great feeling of longing.
Odel interrupted his thoughts by exclaiming, “Wow! Isn’t it all amazing, Silentheart?”
“I’m sure we’ve seen something just as impressive in another world,” he commented dryly.
“It’s still amazing!” Odel replied, ignoring his tone. “How about we go to the castle?”
“How about you just leave me alone?” he said quietly.
Odel looked down at him, her hazel eyes flashing with anger.
“Why are you in such a rude mood today?” she snapped.
“Maybe because I got hardly any sleep last night?” He glared at her.
“I hardly ever get any sleep, and you don’t hear me complaining!”
“Are you kidding?” Silentheart raised an eyebrow. “You’re always moaning about how you can never sleep. And you normally are quite cranky.”
“Yeah? Well... maybe that’s because I have to live with you!” Odel nearly shouted. A few passing Neopets glanced at Odel and Silentheart curiously before continuing on their way.
“Oh? So you want me to leave? Is that what you want?” Silentheart’s voice was calm, but Odel could hear the fury behind those words.
“Just... shut up!” Odel snapped. “I’m not going to listen to this!”
“Here!” Silentheart shoved Biddy, who woke abruptly, into Odel’s arms. He turned and stalked off.
“Where are you going?” Odel shouted after him.
He didn’t answer. Odel was left standing in a puddle of her own anger, with Biddy whistling in a confused and sleepy way.
Silentheart dragged his paws down the streets of Brightvale, looking around half-heartedly. The sights of the fruit stalls and stained-glass windows didn’t appeal to him as much as he could have hoped for. His mind was too occupied.
I love Mom, he thought to himself. I love gaining knowledge and seeing new things. But I just don’t love traveling.
It had never bothered him when he was younger. Then, it had seemed an adventure, going from one place to another with his beloved owner. Even setting up the tent and cooking meals had been fun. But after so long, he felt exhausted. Sometimes he thought that he had seen all of Neopia, though he knew perfectly well that he couldn’t have. But even the small portion of Neopia that he had seen seemed enough for him. Maybe too much. He was tired.
“I want to go home,” he whispered.
“Are you lost?”
Silentheart looked up in surprise. He hadn’t meant to speak aloud.
Before him stood tall, green Aisha. She was dressed in peasant clothes, but she carried an air of nobility about her. Her knowing, golden gaze caused Silentheart to shift uncomfortably.
“Are you lost?” she repeated her question.
“Yes... no, wait, no!” His words stumbled on his tongue.
She looked at him curiously.
“Do you need help finding your home?”
Silentheart glared at her.
“No,” he said firmly.
Silentheart was caught off guard by this odd question.
“Be... because I don’t have a home,” he answered.
“Home is where the heart is.”
“You don’t sound so sure,” she commented.
“Wait... what did you mean by what you just said?” Silentheart asked, confused by the Aisha’s sudden change of subject.
“Are you truly homeless?” she said, ignoring his question.
“I guess so, but I asked you a question!” he persisted. He was frustrated by her avoiding the question.
The Aisha looked him carefully in the eye, as if searching for something. It made him feel as if someone had shaved off all his fur.
“Come with me.” She turned and began to walk away.
“But... No!” Silentheart cried out suddenly.
The Aisha turned to look back at him.
Silentheart felt embarrassed by his outburst, and searched desperately for a sensible question to ask the Aisha, something to bring them both back to reality.
“Who are you?” he blurted out finally.
“Iira.” She said it quickly, as if it were of no importance.
“Iira,” he said, testing how it sounded on his tongue.
“Do you like tea?”
Silentheart had had tea with Odel that morning. It was one of her favourite things to drink. He himself had grown quite weary of it, but he supposed now that that was because he had only tried one flavour.
“Yes,” he answered slowly. “I suppose I do.”
She smiled at him. “Come with me. I’ll give you tea.”
Silentheart knew that he shouldn’t talk to strangers and he most definitely shouldn’t accept food or drink from them. He glanced over his shoulder, as if he expected to see Odel and hear her approval. He looked back at Iira.
“I... I can’t,” he mumbled. “I won’t!” he said louder.
Iira nodded her head, which surprised Silentheart.
Without another word, she turned and walked away.
A battle was raging inside Silentheart. One part of him was urging him to follow Iira, while the other part nagged him to stay where he was or go find Odel, anything, so long as he didn’t go with Iira! It made him very frustrated.
He didn’t like people, except for Odel and Biddy, if Petpets count as people. And he knew that he didn’t like Iira. So why did he so desperately want to follow her?
As soon as that question entered his head, the answer followed. It was only natural of Silentheart to long for knowledge. To hunger for answers. The Aisha knew something he didn’t. Something that he knew he needed to know.
That last thought ended the battle. He carefully placed one paw forward, as if he was walking for the first time. Then, in a burst of confidence, he bounded after Iira.
“What do you call home?” Iira placed a china teacup and saucer before Silentheart on the oak wood table.
They were in Iira’s kitchen. A small, ordinary-looking room. Like most kitchens, it wasn’t particularly tidy, but not actually dirty. It had a table, oven, counters, cupboards, shelves and drawers. There were recipe books on some shelves, and an old clock above one. There was only one chair at the table (which Iira sat in), which told Silentheart that Iira probably lived on her own.
The only thing that seemed out of place was the large pile of teabags on the table. It was a small detail, but it still made Silentheart wonder, how much tea does one need?
Silentheart considered Iira’s question. “The place where a person, family, or household lives,” he answered confidently.
“It’s more than that, I can tell you.” She leaned back in her chair, and looked out the window, with a small smile on her face. Curious, Silentheart followed her example.
Outside was a little Acara, chasing her Puppyblew in front of her Neohome. The Acara laughed when the Petpet tripped over its own feet. When she heard her owner call for her from the house, the Acara picked up her Puppyblew and ran into the Neohome.
Then Silentheart was pulled out of a dream-like state by Iira’s voice.
“Home is not where you aren’t happy,” she said. “Home is not where you can’t find help. Home is not where you need.”
She looked at him, her golden eyes seeming to pierce right through his skin to his secrets and insecurities.
“It’s not where you are alone.”
“It’s not where you don’t feel safe,” Silentheart added.
She nodded her head. “That’s right.”
Silentheart glanced down at his tea, realizing that he hadn’t drunk any. The cup was filled with a gold-coloured liquid - the same colour as Iira’s eyes.
“It’s called Sun-Kissed tea,” said Iira. “It must be steeped outdoors, under the sun, before drinking.”
Silentheart took a sip of the tea. He didn’t know what to expect, except that it wouldn’t just be a quenched thirst. As soon as the hot liquid touched his tongue, he felt a warm sensation throughout his whole body. And then he felt how we sometimes do when we forget something, and rack our brains trying to remember it, only to give up; and then, out of nowhere, suddenly we remember what it was. Except, Silentheart had never known the thing in the first place. And now he did.
“Home is where the heart is,” he breathed.
Iira gave him a knowing smile, her golden eyes twinkling.
“Now, go home,” she told him.
Odel was sitting on a log with Biddy asleep on her lap, watching farmers at work in their fields. Their shadows were spread across the fields under the sunset.
She had had a wonderful time sightseeing. But the whole time she had felt guilty and worried about Silentheart.
Where could he be? she wondered.
Odel gave a small cry upon hearing a voice behind her, and woke Biddy in doing so. Biddy looked around sleepily, wondering how many more times she would be woken up today. Like Silentheart and Odel, she hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before.
“Silentheart!” Odel gasped, holding her hand against her pounding heart. “Don’t ever do that again!”
She was silenced by the guilty expression on Silentheart’s face.
“What’s wrong, Silentheart?” she asked, referring to earlier that day. “Why are you mad at me?”
“I‘m not mad at you,” Silentheart answered softly. “I... I guess I just wanted to go home.”
“Oh,” Odel sighed. “Traveling isn’t that great, is it?” There was a pause.
“When you were really little... and I didn’t have enough money for a Neohome... I didn’t have any choice. Then, when I did have a choice, I thought that traveling would be great for us. It’d be an adventure.” She looked sadly at Silentheart. “I guess I was only thinking about myself, though.”
“Mom,” Silentheart spoke up. “I am home.”
Odel looked around, confused, as if expecting to see a Neohome that belonged to Silentheart.
Silentheart continued, “Somebody told me that home is where the heart is.”
She looked at him thoughtfully. “And where is your heart, Silentheart?”
He smiled for the first time that day. “With you.”