Winterberry Wonderland | Maia
"Remind me again what we're looking for?" Nimbus asked as he and Maia made their way into the woods surrounding Snowhurst. The trees were covered in a thick layer of snow, and their footsteps were muffled by the snow that lined the path. Both of them were protected from the winter cold by their thick fur, but their breath created little clouds as they continued moving through the tall trees. Maia carried a cushioned bag that she used for storing fresh berries when she was foraging, and Nimbus carried a container of warm pumpkin soup and some bread. They had already eaten lunch in Snowhurst before venturing out, but a snack was always welcome, and Maia had recently purchased the enchanted bottle, which kept cold things cold and hot things hot. It was a very handy gadget to have, especially on days like these. In summer it would be good for picnics; she and Opal loved to go on picnics during the hotter months, which was one of the only times that Opal spent much time in the great outdoors, despite Maia's frequent invitations. at this point, both of them knew that the answer would always be no, but Opal always appreciated being asked, and so Maia kept doing it.
"Winterberries," Maia answered, ducking under a particularly low-hanging branch. "Amaryllis wrote to me asking for some, if I happened to be in Snowhurst anytime soon. She got lucky, since I wasn't planning to stay much longer. Oh!"
She reared as a small tree suddenly uprooted itself and fled through the trees, shedding snow and needles in its wake. It must have been very young, because it didn't have any of the bright red berries that usually gave a wanderroot away during the winter months, when they were in season. Recovering her footing, she grinned at Nimbus, who had paused mid-step in concern.
"I'm all right," she assured him, giving herself a bit of a shake to resettle her bag. "It just startled me."
"You know, I'm glad that you're not harvesting wanderberries," he said as they continued onwards. "They're fun to chase, but actually catching them is exhausting, and I always feel bad for them."
Maia nodded seriously. "I know what you mean. I'm always careful to leave some berries, though. It's too bad they're too hard to keep, or it would be much easier, and I wouldn't feel so bad."
The forest was quiet, except for the crunch of snow underfoot. Maia's pippet, Taika, had stayed behind, much preferring the warmth of Maia's room at the inn rather than the cold outside. The ichigato didn't thrive in the cold climates, and was always much happier when they spent time further north. All around them, the trees stood tall and proud, their thickly needled boughs covered in a blanket of snow. Because the forest that separated Snowhurst from the lower reaches of Goldfair was thick and lacked water sources, there were very few pouflons who resided in the forest proper, most of them staying south of the tree line in the mountainous city of Snowhurst. Those who didn't live in the city itself were hardy, dedicated pouflons who kept to themselves, eking out a harsh existence in the bitter mountains. Maia didn't really expect to run into anyone else as she and Nimbus foraged for winterberries, their orange and white coloring making them easy to spot. They got lucky, finding a whole strand of the short little shrubs, and they easily filled Maia's pouch, and then Nimbus's delivery bag, which he had refused to leave behind when they had set out after lunch.
"And you told me that we wouldn't need it," he said somewhat smugly as he held it open for her.
Maia stuck her tongue out at him as she continued picking berries, dropping them carefully into his bag. Winterberries were pretty solid and hardy, but it never hurt to be gentle. "How was I supposed to know there would be so many? It's still early in the season!"
Nimbus shrugged. "Well, it turned out all right in the end, didn't it?"
She smiled. "It did." Despite the fact that it was early in the season, with so many bushes it was easy to find plenty of berries, since they had been collecting some along the way already.
With their bags filled to bursting, they lugged their haul back to Snowhurst, emptying Nimbus's bag on Maia's bed at the inn with some puzzlement.
"I don't have anything that will fit all these," she admitted, frowning in consternation. Her bag only fit her personal items and no more; she'd perfected the art of packing, over the years, and this bag was actually custom-made to fit her needs. She could put a few extra things in, but usually if she was transporting things for someone else, or a large purchase, she got another bag. It was late now, though, and the shops wouldn't be open until the morning. She couldn't really sleep with a bunch of berries on her bed!
"Maybe they have a bowl you can borrow for the night in the kitchen?" Nimbus suggested.
"It might be my only option," Maia sighed. "If worse comes to worst, I'll just put them in a drawer in the desk, I suppose."
Nimbus returned a few minutes later with a very large mixing bowl. "This should do the trick," he said, scooping up some berries and pouring them into the bowl.
Maia sent him off with her thanks, and promised to make sure to visit and say goodbye before she left for Goldfair in the morning. She had purposefully left the gathering until the very end of ehr trip, so the berries would be as fresh as possible when she got them to Amaryllis. They traveled well, particularly in enchanted bags or containers that helped keep them cool, but it took a minimum of three days to get to Goldfair from Snowhurst with good weather, so she didn't want them to sit any longer than that if she could help it. She and Nimbus had been very lucky to have found that little patch of the shrubs that produced winterberries, since it meant that they wouldn't have to go out again tomorrow, putting her one day ahead of her schedule. Still, she had already completed all her other business in Snowhurst, which was why she was leaving a day early instead of lounging around for an extra day. With any luck, she would be in Goldfair at Amaryllis's door in three days.
Amaryllis clearly wasn't expecting Maia to deliver the berries herself so quickly, and when she opened the door she jumped a little in surprise. "Maia! You're back!"
Maia grinned, then smiled wider as she watched a nanaconda peek out from behind one of Amaryllis's horns. "I brought you the winterberries you asked for," she said by way of greeting. "I hope you're ready for them!"
"What...what do you mean?" Amaryllis asked, tilting her head in confusion. "Hello, Taika," she added as the pippet stuck her head out from the little pocket Maia had had made specially for her on the outside of her traveling bag. "Wait..." Sleepy and sometimes scatterbrained though she might be, Amaryllis knew Maia well enough to remember that Maia usually traveled light. "Don't..don't tell me...those are...all winterberries?"
Maia took off the bag containing the berries and held it out for Amaryllis. "We found a whole patch of them. I had to get this bag special, because I didn't have anywhere else to keep them."
Amaryllis gaped at the bag, which was bulging with the little red and white fruits. "Well...I certainly...uh, won't need any more...for a long time..." she said, still blinking in surprise. "Aren't they heavy?"
Maia shrugged. "A little, but I figured it would be a waste not to bring you as many as I could. You're lucky I was still in Asterfall when your letter reached me, by the way. Another month and I would have been here already."
"I'm glad...thank you so much, Maia. I uh...I really appreciate all the...outdoorsy stuff you do for me...and helping to take care of the pippets!" Amaryllis yawned and stepped aside, taking the bag of winterberries from Maia and putting it on the table. "Do you want to come in for some lunch?"
"I'd love to," Maia said warmly, entering Amaryllis's cozy cottage. She was careful not to step on the puppeas that were racing around the room, stopping to hang her bag by the door, where hopefully no curious pitagons could reach it.
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