Chapter 71: Knowledge is Power
“So basically you’re telling me that you went together to the temple since Nisha wanted to visit a priest she knows for her sickness and you offered to accompany her after returning from that engagement with your classmates, Henry?”
Raising his eyebrows to emphasize his doubtful tone, Luthais didn’t take his accusing eyes off his children for a second while Galan was serving the dinner.
The young boy squirmed slightly in his seat, visibly uncomfortable. On the other side, Nisha wasn’t even remotely fazed. Due to her unique origins, she had had to learn lying, Eldrin and the maid sisters had drilled it into her over and over again until she could lie about having stolen sweets while still chewing on them.
“Indeed, father. I am very thankful to Henry for helping me get to the temple; the priest prepared me a tea with strong healing potions; good thing, otherwise I might have been unable to attend dinner.”
Refusing to be seen through, the dragon did not avoid the half elf’s gaze. But she didn’t call Luthais father very often, as their relationship was still somewhat undefined, and choosing to do so at that very moment sounded suspicious.
“Very well. Make sure to rest after eating then, I hope you won’t fall sick again. Maybe you should take tomorrow off too, the current session in court is just a tiresome affair of two barons arguing on a petty matter, I think both claim ownership of a particularly profitable business in between their towns, at least that’s what I understood of the argument. Going by how loud they scream, I couldn’t quite make it out.
I fear the howling contest might resume tomorrow since the matter wasn’t concluded this time.
Henry, would that arrangement suit your liking?”
Seeing his child nod, the half elf continued.
“It is decided then. I’ll excuse you both to the King in case your absence draws any attention. In case you are feeling better, do at your leisure, make a trip in the city if that’s what you want.
Now, Galan, let’s eat.”
The atmosphere kept a strange air throughout the supper, delicate as expected of a noble family, yet somehow mischievous. Henry couldn’t stay still, Nisha was focusing on her meal, deliberately ignoring Luthais’ inquisitive gaze, and the marshall spent his time shifting his glare from one youth to the other.
Wolfing down the contents of their respective plates as fast as possible, although good manners weren’t forgotten, they soon excused themselves and left for their room.
Whispering to the elven girl, Henry discreetly looked over his shoulder, peering at his father, who was opening a bottle of wine; he had sat down with Galan, speaking inaudible words.
“No way. How would he know? Just stick to the story.”
Filled with suspicions on their way to their beds, the two siblings drifted to sleep worrying about Luthais’ intelligence services efficiency.
Pouring himself another glass of the crimson liquor, the half elf deeply sighed.
“Galan, what do you think? What are they hiding?”
“Old friend, you worry too much. Kids are only kids. Let them have their secrets. Do you think they’d drink themselves senseless? Have you seen them stagger, did they have red eyes or stuttered?
They are far too good kids to take some Moon or anything similar.
Isn’t it fine to let them do something together? They’re growing closer to each other, getting used to the sibling that popped all of a sudden. Discovering that someone has the right to dispute their inheritance wouldn’t sit well with most noble sprouts, I can imagine many hiring an assassin to get rid of the potential threat.
So what if they skip one or two court sessions? Henry has been attending those boring meetings since he was a little lad, and considering Nisha’s learning abilities, I think she will get the hang of it soon – if she didn’t get it already.
Baha, if someone told me you had gotten high on Moon when you were young, I’d laugh in their face. You’ve always been far too serious, even as a child, Luthais.
Don’t worry about them, they’ll turn out alright, like you. I’ll keep an eye on them.”
Taking sips after sips of his own wine, the old servant accompanied the half elf throughout the night; old men drinking their sorrows away.
The next day, two teens left the Dharnas’ estate first thing in the morning. Having gained the approval of their father, Henry and Nisha properly passed through the mansion’s regular portal, greeting the guard on duty.
After cleaning up the elven girl’s criminal record at the Guild on the previous day, they had inquired about Aubrey’s next shift.
Berti had been quite helpful on that matter, and fortunately the employee was scheduled to work on the following day. Therefore, the permission to skip court had been quite convenient.
“Say, Nisha, why do the guards always salute you? Those aren’t even the same as yesterday, and they still bowed when you passed by. Are you bribing them or something?”
What does he mean? Isn’t it normal since I’m a noble?
“Huh? I don’t know, I don’t do anything special. I often have them open the smaller door, it’s too early to use the big one when I go to train with Hale. So I guess they recognize me?”
Not that I remember anything else that might have earned me a special treatment from soldiers. I just talk to them while waiting for the gate to open. Nothing else.
“Well, maybe it’s that. Or maybe they like you, you’re such a cute girl.”
Those small details soon disappeared from his mind, but Henry could only admit his defeat when he noticed Nisha calling one of the soldiers by his name. The young man would be hard pressed to recall more than the first names of the men working for their house, yet the young elf had effortlessly built a close relationship with the whole city guard.
He knew he couldn’t have done the same thing, and it gave him a hint on what Nisha could become thanks to her newly-formed links to the army. A possibility of a fearsome being’s future.
Seeing his sister hesitation in front of the Guild, Henry looked at her, his concern for her literally spilling out of his eyes. He knew how invested she was in this friendship. To help a mere counter girl, the former dragon had turned herself in and had been willing to accept both her punishment and her friend’s.
“Everything’s gonna be alright. You can do it. You just have to go in, find your friend and then go with the flow. Haven’t you already done the hardest part? The Guild closed the case, the baron won’t bother you anymore. You know, I can guess that you feel scared because of the unknown. You can’t predict what exactly is going to happen. I guarantee it’ll be fine. Go.”
Urging her, giving her the slight push she needed, Henry managed to have Nisha enter the building with him.
Timidly examining the counters to spot a familiar face, the little girl was slightly lost. Other adventurers were pushing the youths from behind, eliciting a quick reaction from the employees who greeted the hesitating clients blocking the lobby with a smile before recommending them to go to their respective desks.
Unable to find the face she was looking for, the elven girl turned around to inform Henry.
Fortunately, she didn’t have to do anything at all.
“Nisha?! Oh my gods, it’s really you!”
Losing all contact with the ground under her feet, the dragon found herself buried in a strong embrace, an otherwise peppy counter girl sobbing on her shirt.
“I thought … that the others … would find you first, and, and, I would never get to see you … again. I was … so worried!”
She had repeatedly played many scenarios in her head, most ending in a pool of young maiden’s blood, although a few saw the two of them remaining friends. Never would Nisha have thought that Aubrey had spilled so many tears over her, nor had she imagined that she would be welcomed so warmly.
Why would she treat me so affectionately. I only put her into trouble and she doesn’t even push me away. I don’t deserve such a good friend.
Deeply moved, Nisha hugged her friend back, salty water forming little currents on her red cheeks.
“Girls, I would really hate to interrupt your reunion, but you are making a commotion. Could you move to a backroom, so we can avoid the stares?”
Henry was starting to feel quite uncomfortable, the gathered adventurers were staring at them, and some of the bystanders were pointing at him and whispering, probably thinking that he had made the two girls cry.
“Ah, of course. James, can you let us through, please?”
One of the clerks reacted to Aubrey’s request and raised the wooden counter, closing it after the three youths.
By now the way to Berti’s office had become familiar to Nisha, who still refused to part from Aubrey. Her heart had been freed from a great burden; none of her nightmares had come true, Aubrey didn’t push her away.
Closing the door behind him, Henry gallantly let the two girls sit in the comfortable armchairs before walking to a corner of the room, giving them some space to sort things out.
“I’m so glad, I had even heard them brag about capturing you, Nisha. When you didn’t come back, I could almost see you being tortured by the [Valiant Ashes] and …”
“Look at me, I’m fine, right?”
“But the Baron! He came here and ordered us… He wanted to punish you, he said you had to be expelled. I thought that because of me you would …”
“No! Don’t say anymore. I’m here, nothing happened to me. I was also scared you’d be mad at me, it was my fault after all …
Slowly settling down, the two girls finally wiped away their tears and talked heart to heart.
“I searched for you everywhere when it appeared you wouldn’t return. Every day I’d ask at the stalls and stores if someone had seen you. I even went to the noble district’s branch, but no one saw you … You can’t imagine how relieved I am. What should we do? Did Berti already talk to you? I don’t know what he is going to do with the Baron Cinderrock, but I can assure you, I won’t back down until your innocence is proven! I already told him what happened, the Guild will protect you! And you’ll stay an adventurer too!”
Rubbing her eyes to get rid of a speck of dust – or so she claimed -, Aubrey closed her tirade. It had had a strong effect on Nisha, although it probably wasn’t the intended one.
Unable to hold back anymore, the elven girl started to laugh.
Aubrey was confused.
I shouldn’t laugh at her, but – it’s too amusing!
“Relax, Brey. We visited the Guild yesterday, it’s all taken care off. Today, I just wanted to see you. Berti told us you’d be on duty.
My step brother Henry here took care of the baron. I’m just here to verify that you aren’t in trouble … and if you … still want to be friends with me.”
The dragon’s voice trailed off towards the end, still considering the possibility of the guild employee not forgiving her.
After all, she hadn’t mentioned their friendship nor forgave her.
“What are you saying? Of course we are friends! But you, aren’t you furious that I brought you trouble? If I had handled it better, if I hadn’t reacted to their taunts, you wouldn’t have had to defend yourself at all. If someone here should be angry, it’s not me.”
Her hands on the elf’s shoulders, the counter girl seriously asked Nisha, apparently as anxious as the dragon.
“Now, now. Calm down. No one is resentful and you are both doing great, the Training Hall Massacre didn’t have any bad repercussion on either of you. Instead of talking in circles, how about you two finish making up and then we can move forward.”
Intervening in the conversation, Henry brightly smiled.
“How did you… with the Baron… ? No, it doesn’t matter. She introduced you as her step brother, right? Thank you very much for looking after Nisha, I don’t know what I would have done if something bad had happened to her because of me.”
“Enough already, we’re all fine. Nisha had exactly the same worries as you, you two make great friends.”
Appeasing the moved girl, Henry’s smile didn’t waver.
“Speaking of which, aren’t you supposed to work?”
The seemingly innocent question prompted multiple expressions to flash on her face.
“Oh! Now that you mention it. Damn, I need to take over James’ counter, if I skip another shift Berti will be really, really, reaaaaally angry with me.
Nisha, my shift ends at midday, when the bells ring. Originally I wanted to show you around personally, but it might be a good way to fill your time until then. How about you and your brother go to the Skill Library, you still haven’t picked any skill yet, have you?”
That’s right! I still haven’t had a chance to go there.
“When you are done, we can meet up here and I’ll take you to one of my favourite stands for lunch, ok?”
Her grief forgotten, the counter girl beamed at the step siblings.
“Okay, we’ll come back around noon then. But it’ll be your treat.”
Teasing her friend, Nisha couldn’t be happier, her sadness was gone too.
“Let’s talk about the bill once we’re done eating. Excuse me, I have to leave. We’ll talk more at lunchtime, see you soon.”
A new spring in her steps, Aubrey departed the room, a huge weight had been lifted from her shoulders.
“Nisha, something is bothering me. Care to enlighten me?”
Ever since the manager had mentioned her defeating a whole party, the elven girl had been expecting questions from her step brother.
Forcing herself to keep smiling, the dragon turned around and faced Henry.
A cold shiver ran down her spine.
“Did your friend just say you haven’t been to the Skill Library yet?”
“Oh, that. Yes, after my disagreement at the Training Hall, I couldn’t exactly show up for a skill. I have yet to chose one, in case my guild card was checked in the Library.
Why is that so surprising?”
Henry had covered his eyes again.
“I go from surprise to surprise with you.
It’s basic knowledge that one should acquire skills before venturing into the Dungeon. I thought you had some too, since you’re incredibly strong.
Promise me, before hunting again, you have to visit the Skill Library. Obtain a skill, no matter its rank. Each skill is one more lifeline, a trump card you can use when you face the vilest of monsters.
You know what, forget about that. I’ll won’t leave you a choice this time either.
Let’s go to the Skill Library this instant!”