It’s still the same map, just less land. Also, I realized it looks like a thing with wings. Sort of.
“Aria will be under Talica’s protection from now own,” a phrase I’m reminded of as I looked to the classmate sitting next to me.
We were sitting on a bench and enjoying a snack of stuffed peppers with what I hope is chicken meat, though I’ve never seen it in this world before. I dug my fork inside it and took a bite. It certainly tasted like chicken with an addition of a spicy after taste that could only worsen if I fought it.
“It’s very spicy,” I said, then getting back on point. “You aren’t busy, are you?”
“We didn’t lose many people during the attack, especially with Talica coming to our aid,” said Lo, taking a bite from hers.
“I thought Sharia and Dahramn were allies,” I said.
“I suppose you couldn’t have known this,” she said. “Aria might be the only city in the Sharian region to have Talicians live in it. We were going to become an independent city state but that wasn’t an option. That, and the title as a capital city was forced on us, though we didn’t function as one should. By then we only had one choice, seeing as how war was coming, it would mean us needing to have a much bigger military presence… thus we either side with Dahramn or let Talica protect us.”
“And the people are fine with this?”
“Sure,” she said. “There might be some people uncomfortable with the idea, but it is fact that Aria has been thriving as much as it is because of Talician nobles coming to live here.”
“And your opinion?” I asked. Lo stopped midway from taking another bite and then looked to me.
“If you’re really a prince…” she said, “and if you actually have some influence, then.. take care of Aria… You might be thousands of miles away soon, but don’t forget about us..”
“I won’t,” I replied, but didn’t get her real opinion of Talica taking over Aria to protect it. By the looks of it, soldiers have been placed on the edges of the city’s borders to drive away any unwanted intruders.
I then said my goodbyes after making sure Lo was alive and doing well, seeing as how she is part of Aria’s military. The skirmish from a day ago, as I understand it, was because Aria had angered Dahramn for deciding not to force out any Talician people in the city, and that Aria refused to become their official ally.
* * *
“No,” said Alice just when I had arrived at the docks to leave to Talica. She was talking to Lilia and then noticed me walking to them.
“What were you two talking about?” I asked. There was a weird feeling coming from the center of my body, just entering a normal conversation with Alice was odd in itself.
“Pauline will be sent back on H.M.S. Black Gale,” said Lilia, then bowing. “Once there, she will be put to trial for treason against the Crown… against you.”
“No,” said Alice once again. “The events of the kidnapping will be kept secret, and Pauline will placed in Lee’s castle dungeon until it is decided what to do with her.”
I walked passed the two and looked at the boats docking here and there. Lines of them were accumulated here and some seemed to belong to Talica. A phoenix for a flag on the top, no shield, no sword, no meteor, so all of them must belong to the Queen.
“Which one is it?” I asked, referring to the ship with Aril and the others.
“It’s offshore,” said Lilia, “a good many kilometers away from here.”
“Princess Nes decided we would take her phoenix and fly to Queen’s canal to meet your friends there, however, I can call the ship back if you’d like.”
“Please call the ship back,” I said. Lilia walked up to me and handed me a map.
“Yes, my lord,” she said, then pointing to a black line running north along with a blue line for the boat that Aril and the others are in. “I’ll call the ship back and you can ride with them. This will be the route taken.”
I’m going home and this piece parchment was proof of it.
“How long is the trip?”
“A bout a month,” said Lilia. “Shorter if going by flight.”
“I’m sure Lehvie will want to take the boat with her little brother,” said Alice. She then walked up to me and picked me up like she always did when I was little. She looked straight into my eyes, hers didn’t show a hint of emotion, almost like it analyzed me carefully.
“I’m not a little kid anymore,” I said, pleading to be let down.
In the meantime, we were here waiting for Nes to bring back Lehvie and her phoenix–since they flew off in search of me during the incident with Pauline.
“I’ll go and send someone to call back the ship,” said Lilia, bowing and then leaving only Alice and I by the docks.
“I’ve been wondering for a long time,” I said.
“I remember you jumping after me,” I said. Alice let me down and I sat by the edge. Water was swaying back and forth right below my feet. “I remember hearing things break, and I remember barely being able to move.”
“…You were right below me,” I said, “… and I couldn’t feel you breathing.”
“…What you heard breaking was one my magic stones activating,” she said. “I used it to heal you, and then you simply vanished.”
“And you had another healing stone with you?” I asked, ignoring the second half of her words. She then sat down next to me.
“No. Lilia was the first to find me and she sent for help as soon as she could,” said Alice. “Then time passed and I recovered.. mostly.”
“Healing stones are good for sealing up torn parts in or outside the body,” she said, “but bones are a different story.”
“…So, where did you go?” she asked, changing the subject, though I still wanted to know more.
“I’m not sure where I was,” I said. “It felt like a dream and then I found myself in the woods.. just laying below a pile of leaves. Then I found myself in trouble and had help. I bargained for my life by trading the magic stones I had and then came here to Aria.”
“That’s my fault,” said Alice. “I never took the time to teach you how to use them.”
“There was a summoning stone in there,” I said.
“A gift from your mother,” said Alice. “It should have felt the danger and come out on its own.”
“What was it exactly?”
“A Phoenix,” said Alice. “Every member of the royal family has one, that includes Lehvie, but she decided to leave hers in Talica.”
“…I kinda sold it.”
“… It’s fine,” said Alice. “Specially given the situation, and it’s not that big of an issue because the phoenix will try flying off if the person summoning it isn’t a part of the royal family.”
“Is that how it is?”
“Yes,” said Alice. “These birds have been loyal, as the stories go, from the first moment King Oliver gained his power of fire.”
“Oh,” I said, tilting my head slightly.
* * *
Some time passed, enough so that the ship with Aril and the others was becoming visible from the horizon at sea. It was a ship fitting the name “Black Gale.” Dark red sails and wood and that seemed painted in a shade that would make it harder to see at night. Still, I couldn’t help but feel happy and smile when Alice pointed out the ship to me. Now I don’t have to worry about how they are doing
“There is something I’ve also been wondering,” said Alice.
“What is it?”
“The moment Lilia had struct my wings and I lost them,” said Alice, “I had thought you would have left with her and I wouldn’t see you again.”
The ship was coming closer, now in full view.
“…And what are you getting at?” I asked.
“Why did you decide to go back?”
“It was during that fight that I learned something,” I said.
“What?” she asked.
“I learned that I had put Lilia’s life in danger… and I didn’t even really know her,” I said. “I needed her to provide support while I tried destroying your magic stones. If she died protecting me, what would have I felt? Regret? Would I have felt saddened for a stranger that for some reason or other felt the need to be loyal to me?”
“If Lilia had no joined my side that time,” I said, “the situation could have played out differently and in place of Lilia, Aril, Kahl, Sophie, even Selsie would have filled that spot–easily, too… and that really bothered me.”
“Even if we ran away and tried living elsewhere,” I said, “and you said this yourself, you’d never stop looking for me, what then? That’s when I decided I couldn’t just put their lives on the line for what I thought was my selfish wish not to return to Talica.”
“I didn’t adopt Kahl and Sophie just so they could fight for me,” I continued. “I also didn’t buy Aril from some greedy asshole so that she could live the rest of her life serving me. I thought during that fight that their happiness and safety was above any of my desires. Even if you didn’t accept any of my terms, I would have still gone with you, so long as you promised me their safety.”
The ship had began docking.
“They are part of my family now,” I said, and for some reason I couldn’t help but shed a tear. “Like brothers and sisters, I couldn’t bear to lose another one.”
“Another one?” asked Alice. “Lehvie and Nes are doing well, who do you mean?”
I looked up to Alice, tall in height and black haired as she was.. I let slip something that shouldn’t have exited my mouth and for a moment I actually considered telling her the truth about myself.
“No one,” I said.
Then I heard a loud yell of someone saying my name and by the time I looked in the direction of the sound, I was slammed backwards in an embrace. We hit the ground.
“Lee!” Aril kept screaming. Then I heard heavy footsteps from what was likely Selsie’s big paws, and in a moment the wolf was right above my face, and she began licking me. Just as quickly, Kahl and Sophie had also come into view, though their reaction wasn’t as wild as Aril’s or Selsie’s.
After the reunion had calmed down, Aril was the first to speak.
“I kept looking for you around the house,” she said. “I heard a loud bang from the second floor and then you were gone.”
I explained the situation to them and Aril looked to Alice.
“Thank you,” said Aril, “for bringing him back safely.”
I then tried introducing them, more formally.
“We’ve already met,” said Alice.
“Yes,” said Aril. “We were told to wait somewhere safe while they looked for you.”
“And you believed them?” I asked.
“No,” said Aril, “but they had a small army and we had a wolf.”
There was a sound of a bird’s cry, loud and sharp from above. The bird landed on the docks a short moment later, only to notice that the bird was big, shaded in many colors of red and with a wing span that could easily surpass the size of my house. It’s a phoenix.
* * *
A short while later and Lehvie was practically chocking me with her arms in what was a too much a loving hug.
“It’s fine if you take the ship,” said Nes, “but I’ll need to go and send a message to mother before she sends the rest of the army to look for us.” She then looked to me and just as quickly looked away. Then that stare switched to Lehvie.
“I’m going on the ship,” said Lehvie. Our older sister sighs.
“I suppose I’ll go alone then…” said Nes.
“You’ll have time to give the Queen the message and meet back at Queen’s Canal before we get there,” said Alice.
“That’s what I was thinking,” said Nes, looking back to Alice “What will likely happen is that I come back and meet you all there with an order from mother. If she doesn’t accepts Lee’s terms, then I am to assume Alice will…”
“I’ll keep my promise with Lee,” said Alice.
“She’ll probably be the most angry with you, Alice. If worse comes then I’ll send for a ship to take you elsewhere,” said Nes. “Regardless, I’ll try and negotiate with mother.”
“Thank you,” I said.
Nes went back to her Phoenix and rode its back, then let it flaps its wings until it took off. She waved us goodbye.