An hour later, Worm was still leading the way, though he was moving a lot more slowly. I was moving more slowly too. My arms and shoulders ached from rowing to the island, and my lower legs were throbbing from the walking we’d done since landing. Worse, because my sneakers and socks were damp from the lake crossing, my right heel had a raw spot that burned with every step.
The island had looked pimple-small when we were standing on the shore on the other side of the lake. The field of flowers on the beach where we’d asked directions had been tiny too, the size of the garden at the school.
Yet the dirt path we followed looped around and through the woods with no end in sight. The flowers on the beach had called this the Trail of Knowing. The Trail of Knowing what? How much blisters hurt?
“Why is this called the Isle of Right?” I asked. “The whole place feels wrong to me.”
“You’re tired.” Worm slowed down even more. “I am too.”
“Are you okay?”
He drooped. “Getting dried out.”
How long could an earthworm wiggle without having to rest?
I said, “My socks are damp. I could take one off and carry you inside.”
“Ewww.” He shuddered. “Thankssss, but I’ll be fine once we find The Root.”
If we found The Root.
“How much farther do we have to go?” I stopped to take off my shoes. Blisters should not be part of a warrior princess’s life.
Worm contracted his fore-half in the equivalent of an earthworm shrug. “That dependssss on how ornery The Root issss feeling today.”
“Ornery?” I tied the laces together and draped my sneakers around my neck. “You mean we’ll follow the Trail until The Root decides she wants to let us to find her?”
“Yessss.” Worm crawled a few more feet.
I stood, stuck in place like the trees surrounding us. The Root of All Good was hiding from us? Worm was drying himself out trying to find her and end this stupid war and she was hiding from us? How could she call herself good?
“Come on, Zinnie.” Worm slithered back to me. “We have to keep going.”
I didn’t budge. The oak trees around us dipped their branches though no wind stirred the air. Were they agreeing with Worm? If so, they were listening to us. They weren’t speaking or I’d have heard them. But I’d bet they were secretly reporting what we said to The Root.
And that meant The Root was nearby. She was probably laughing at us. Laughing while Worm got weaker and weaker. Laughing while Rose and the apple trees died.
The oaks swayed toward each other, their leaves fluttering in whispery rustles, as if they were laughing too.
I clenched my hands into fists. “We’re not moving another inch!” I shouted at the oaks. “You tell her that!”
The words exploded around us, even louder than the first time I’d used my warrior princess voice. The oak trees snapped away from us, bending as if trying to touch their upper branches to their roots. Tree limbs, leaves, and three small white birds with orange feet thudded to the ground. Slivers of bark splintered free, scattering in a flash of brown shards sharp as miniature spears.
I leaped sideways. Worm burrowed beneath a pile of rotting leaves. The splinters zoomed past us and spattered against a palm tree. The palm squealed and a cluster of seven coconuts fell off and rolled across the Trail of Knowing.
Ahead, where the Trail wound out of sight, a dense clump of flowering bushes split apart, divided by my shout into two bunches. The wave of words traveled through the gap between them, ripping off blossoms that swirled on the air like a pink tornado. Past the gap, the word wave tumbled and sank, as if sucked into a hole.
The wave of words bounced up from the invisible hole like a kid on a trampoline. But the wave was no longer in one piece. Instead, the smooth edges were fractured and the center dripped bright globules lit with rainbow colors. The wave was harder to hear too. A rushing roar drowned out the boom of my voice.
As the muted wave plunged into the invisible hole a second time, the trees and bushes surrounding us rebounded and zipped upright. The three white birds wobbled onto their tiny orange feet, then burst into flight, shedding feathers as they sailed over the pink flowering bushes.
The air stilled. The rushing roar that had drowned out my warrior princess voice receded. The trees shivered and settled their canopies into place. The palm tree hiccupped and dropped four more coconuts. The bushes huffed. Their leaves and remaining flowers fluttered up and out, then collapsed around the slender branches like a cloak.
The silence was thicker than peanut butter and just as sticky.