Chapter 88: A Stroll
ARTHUR LEYWIN’S POV:
As we made our trip to Rinia’s cottage, I couldn’t help but sigh in awe at how perfect of a Spring morning it was; it was just one of those scenes that you couldn’t help but appreciate. As it was just past dawn, the morning air was still cool and crisp. On both sides of the road, bright morning dew on the moss-covered rocks sparkled from the Sun’s rays that peeked through the old trees that seemed to tower over us.
The carriage we were all riding in hardly shook from the even, marble-like paths smoothed from centuries of use. Sylvie was a ball of excitement as I had to grab her by the tail a couple of times to keep her from jumping off of the carriage to try and catch passing the butterflies and birds.
Sylvie surprised the royal family when she, while still in my grasp, shot out a small blast of fire, charring the curious bird that was unfortunate enough to fly too close.
“Arthur, I have to say that your bond continues to intrigue me.” Alduin Eralith raised an amused brow as Sylvie promptly shot out and grabbed the bird with her jaw as it fell.
“Now now, leave the boy and his pet alone. In such a vast and mysterious land as ours, you can’t be so surprised at things like this,” Virion chided at his son with a wagging finger.
“I’d normally agree with you as well, Grandfather, but Arthur’s bond really is unique compared to all of the other mana beasts I’ve seen. Even though it’s an infant, its gaze twinkles with intelligence.” Merial leaned in closer to Sylvie, who was still chewing on the bird she shot down.
“Don’t forget that Sylvie is super cute too!” Just as Sylvie let out a satisfied belch, Tess picked her up and hugged her.
“Bahaha! I can’t help but worry that my granddaughter will one day choose her precious bond, not by its strength but by its appearance!” Virion howled in laughter, making everyone but the princess snicker in agreement.
The trip was fairly long, even with a mana beast pulling on the carriage. Tessia soon fell asleep with her head against her mother’s shoulder, as Merial slept alongside her daughter with her head leaning against Tess’ head.
“Arthur, I told my son this already but where we’re headed, it’s not a normal cottage. Rinia, for some reason, chose to isolate herself away far into the edge of the kingdom. For what reason, she wouldn’t tell me, but last time I chose to make an unannounced visit, I almost died from the traps and defenses she put up.” Virion spoke in a hushed voice.
I raised a brow at Virion’s serious tone. “For what reason does Elder Rinia need to protect herself to this extent?”
“My guess is as good as yours. I told her that we were visiting this time, so it should be safe, but I want you to watch out for any signs of intrusion. The fact that she needed to set up all of these precautions means that there are people out there to be cautious of.”
My mind immediately went to her unique abilities as a deviant, but no one but a handful of trusted people should know about this.
“Okay.” I nodded solemnly.
Soon after the conversation, Gramps had also fallen asleep with his arms crossed and head bobbing, leaving only my bond, the driver, Tess’ father and myself, awake.
Sylvie had her front paws against the window of the carriage in hopes to catch more unlucky birds, her tail wagging rhythmically.
Alduin had a relaxed look on his aged face as he gazed vacantly at the moving scene outside the carriage. I knew that each of those wrinkles and creases came from the burden of being a former king and now a leading figure of the continent.
“I feel like I’ve never had the chance to properly thank you,” he said as his eyes still stayed focused outside of the carriage.
“On what, Sir?” I replied.
“For taking such good care of my daughter. From what she and father tells me, Tessia made it out of some dangerous situations thanks to you.” Alduin turned his head and looked at me for a brief moment before revealing a weary smile.
“It’s nothing, Sir. Tessia has helped me a lot of times as well.”
“Oh? Like how?” he tilted his head.
I had to think to for a second before responding. “In keeping me sane at times.”
“Not exactly what I expected a thirteen-year-old boy would say, but coming from you, I can’t help but see you as an adult.” The former king smirked before shifting his gaze back outside.
“Your words are kind.”
“I somehow feel utterly confident that you will be able to protect my daughter in my and my father’s stead.”
My eyes narrowed in thought at the meaning of his statement, but before I could say anything, Alduin just chuckled and waved his hand dismissively.
“Just an overprotective father’s thoughts running wild. Don’t mind me, Arthur… but say, have you ever thought of one day marrying Tess?”
“Sir?” I said, taken aback by the sudden shift in course of this conversation.
“I mean, sure, she’s a bit rough around the edges and Merial and I may have spoiled her a bit, but she’s a good gal! I bet she’ll be quite the looker given a few years.”
“I thought that traditionally, elves dated and married a lot later—”
“Ha! Tradition? At how fast Dicathen is changing, there’s no room for tradition,” Alduin scoffed.
“Arthur, do you like my daughter?” He bent forward, leaning his arms on his knees.
“…yes.” I hesitated at first but I replied confidently. There was no denying what my feelings for the elf princess were. The inner voice of reason that made me back away from falling in love with a child was beginning to lose its voice. Of course, this didn’t mean that I would boldly profess my love and consummate my feelings for her, but I wasn’t going to use my mental age as an excuse.
“Good!” Alduin nodded as a row of perfect teeth revealed underneath a charismatic smile.
‘Hehe, I knew Papa liked Mama.’ Sylvie’s voice rang in my head, surprising me.
I took a peek at Tess to make sure she was still asleep before reaching for my bond.
TESSIA’ ERALITH’S POV:
He admitted it! I almost shouted out loud in excitement.
Arthur finally said it! He said he likes me. Well… he said yes after he was asked, but that’s good enough!
Way to go, Dad!
Oh no, keep your eyes shut, Tess… keep your eyes shut.
Slow down your breathing.
Shoot, I wonder if he can hear how fast my heart is beating. His hearing can’t be that good, right?
I’m so happy that I woke up when I did. I wasn’t going to pretend to be asleep at first, but I got scared when I heard Father talking about me.
He’s so cruel… how can he say that I’m rough around the edges…
…and that I’m spoiled! I’m not spoiled!
It would be embarrassing to wake up just then, so I kept my eyes closed, but who would’ve thought that my father would ask if Arthur likes me… and that Arthur actually admit it!
He’s only said that once, and that was after I got angry at him. He surprised me when he kissed me all of a sudden.
Oh no, don’t smile, Tess.
“We’re here, Tess. Come on, now, wake up.” My father’s voice saved me as he gently shook my shoulder.
“Mmm… We’re here already?” I made my voice more whispy, trying to sound like I just woke up.
My mother was also stirring awake as my father gently grabbed her hand. As soon as she realized she had fallen asleep, she had an embarrassed look on her face.
“Dear me, I showed you an embarrassing sight, Arthur.” She said as she combed her hair down with her fingers.
“Haha, it’s absolutely fine, Ma’am. Elder Virion was over here, snoring with his mouth open. You looked quite graceful in comparison.” Arthur jabbed his elbow at Grandpa who just looked at him in confusion.
I couldn’t look at Arthur in the eye when he turned his gaze to me so I quickly got out of the carriage and stretched.
“Ahhh! That was a good nap!” I said a little more loudly than I needed to.
Sylvie hopped out of the carriage after me and stretched as well, opening her mouth loudly in a yawn before darting her head, taking in her new surroundings.
I looked around too, but I was confused when I didn’t see a cottage, or any sort of signs that a person lives here. All I saw were trees and and grass, with thick bushes that blocked any sort of path there might’ve been.
“Umm, Grandpa, are you sure we’re in the right place?” I said as I continued searching for anything remotely close to a house.
“We have to walk a bit further, but it’s near here. Let’s go.” Grandpa took the lead with my father and Arthur following close behind, while Mother ushered me forward as well.
Sylvie scampered alongside me, her head darting back and forth in different directions, as if it sensed something, making me a bit nervous.
As we made our way deeper into the forest the number of branches we had to maneuver around and curtains of vines we had to push aside grew along with it. I wanted to ask if we were really going the right direction but the determined and serious look on everyone’s faces made me just swallow my complaints.
“Honey? Is something wrong? The atmosphere is a bit chilling…” Mother’s voice trailed off as she hesitantly followed behind the guys next to me.
“Mm? Ah, yes. Everything is fine! Just being cautious is all.” My father seemed to have snapped out of his thoughts at the sound of Mother’s words.
“Stop.” Arthur suddenly put up his hand up abruptly, his other hand gripping the hilt of his sword that I didn’t even notice he had until now. Grandpa, who was besides him, froze, lowering himself as father carefully inched his way towards us.
I could hear it now in the dead silence.
The faint rustle of leaves that seemed to be getting closer to us.
Grandpa whipped his body toward the direction of the sound.
I noticed myself scooting towards Mother for protection. With my mana core unstable because of my beast will, I felt defenseless for the first time in a long time.
My mother was also wary at this point. Both she and Father had their weapons out and ready to use. My mother’s thin wand glimmered in a rose gold hue as my father’s favorite sabre was already unsheathed.
The sound was a lot closer this time and it seemed to be coming from our right. Unknowingly, I glanced at Arthur to find his eyes on me, probably making sure I was alright. Sylvie was right next to him with her white fur on its ends, making her look bigger.
And then we all saw it. The curtain of vines to our right began rustling and a hunched figure covered in shade stepped out from the dense forest.
I could tell everyone were on their toes, ready to retaliate at whatever came out, but before anyone had the chance to, a clear voice rang from the shadowed figure.
“What are you lot doing out here looking like fools? Come on, you guys are late!”
The shadowed figure finally stepped into a ray of light that peeked through the trees, revealing an all too familiar figure.
“Grandma Rinia!” I couldn’t help but exclaim in relief.