“Hehehe do you think Sylvie is going to find me here?” She whispered as low as she could.
Her knees were huddled against her small body and she took slow silent breaths while quietly listening to her surroundings. With a big grin on her face, she clasped a small black ring in her hands.
Sitting inside a wardrobe in one of the empty guest rooms of the Varath manor was Anise.
… Silence answered her.
She knew the ring could talk.
She had heard it greet them before at her brother’s behest, but had never gotten it to answer her. Although it has been with her for almost four years, it was always silent like a normal ring. No matter how much she talked to it or try to barter with it by giving it treats or toys, the ring never made any sound.
Yet such treatment never bothered her.
Whenever she spoke to it, it always felt as if she was talking to her beloved brother and it would calm her down or cheer her up. It was a treasured gift from him that would protect her, and she had promised to keep it with her at all times.
“You’ll tell me if Sylvie gets close right?” She whispered once more.
Sitting quietly, she started hearing footsteps rushing down the corridor towards the guest rooms. It was unlike her big sister Sylvia to be making such a ruckus whenever they were playing.
The sound of doors opening and Sylvia’s voice reached her ears. She ducked her head into her knees as if such actions would help to conceal her further.
Her smile brightened as Sylvia’s voice got closer.
She’d known the older girl for as long as she could remember, and like her big brother, Sylvia was a warm and loving person. The older girl had taught her about many things over the past couple years and had become irreplaceable as an older sister.
Because she didn’t want to go to school, her mother had been teaching her numbers and writing at home, but it was really Sylvia who was her first teacher. She’d learned how to add, subtract, and how to multiply and divide small numbers through a lot of the games that they play by constantly asking the older girl questions. Reading on the other hand had never really been a problem for her, and she was able to take up writing quite easily as well. It was mostly thanks to the older girl that she was able to impress her mother so much.
The door to the room opened. “Anise? Are you in here?” Sylvia’s voice called out.
She held her breath, trying not to laugh or breathe in case it gave her away.
“Your father and brother are back.”
“Really!?” The wardrobe slammed open and she quickly bounded out of the enclosed container with a big grin on her face.
“Found you.” Sylvia smiled and tagged her.
“Sylvia! No fair!” She pouted, seeing that she’d been tricked.
“Just kidding.” The older girl grinned. “They really are home. Come on.” Sylvia held out a hand and she hastily took it.
They arrived at the manor foyer as large chunks of meat were being carried into the kitchen.
She spotted her mother holding her younger brother, Lady Reanne, and a couple of the servants, all standing together away from the door. They were observing and discussing about which dishes to make with what animal. Not seeing her brother, she ran toward the window to look outside. A large wagon was out there and, on the wagon, her brother was helping to unload.
She grinned and patiently went to stand by her mother to await him.
“Has everything been prepared?” Sylvia’s father questioned as he entered the house.
“Of course. Herbs, spices, wine, plants and tubers for soup or any kind of dishes. Freshly procured earlier today and waiting for you all to return.” Sylvia’s mother, Lady Reanne replied.
“Hello Esen, glad to see you here. Please tell the cooks to not hold back and use as much of the meat as they can. Tonight is a celebratory feast for everyone so please do enjoy yourself once you and your crew are done.” The lord told an older man who was standing with them.
“Yes, my lord.” The man obeyed and swiftly left for the kitchen.
Anise watched as more orders were given by Sylvia’s father to the other servants. Instructions about getting more wine, juice, extra tables and chairs from the storage room, and readying the guest quarters to accommodate more people for the night.
As the trickle of items being carried into the house diminished, her brother entered the house. Without waiting for him to walk over to them, she quickly dashed over to him and threw her arms around him. “Kai!”
“Young lady, behave yourself.” Her mother promptly scolded.
She returned a bashful grin before grabbing onto her brother’s arm. “Kai, can you play with us?”
As the day darkened, the Varath manor came alive as guests arrived for the celebration.
Freshly cooked food and chilled drinks were already out.
It was all on top of a long table in the center of the dining hall along with four other tables to seat the guests.
Stew, roasts, soup, and baked birds with stuffing slathered in spices were spread out evenly along with sweet treats, dishes with delectable dipping sauces, and sweetened juice for the children. Situated in the middle of the table, six large dishes of oriv deer and rakkau drew the attention of the hungry guests.
Lord Varath had hired a different staff for the night to cater and clean up after them, allowing the house servants and their families to indulge themselves in the celebration.
The backyard was lit with plenty of light apparatuses for the guests to relax and socialize even though it was getting dark. Many children quickly gravitated to the outside to get away from their parents and to enjoy the company of other youngsters.
“Hey! Are you him?” A boy asked with an entitled tone.
Two young boys barely older than Anise were in front of him as he was standing beside Troyle and greeting the guests. “Am I who?” Kaidus replied, unsure of who they were asking about.
“You know. The champion of the arms competitions!” The boy replied with a big smile and revealing a missing front tooth.
“I am… Why?” Kaidus returned a quizzical smile.
“See, I told you! He looks just like when we saw him that time.” The young boy happily expressed to his friend.
“C-can you teach me how to fight with two swords?” The other boy questioned with dazzled eyes, looking up at Kaidus.
“Cyrin! We were supposed to ask together!” The boy with a missing tooth cried out.
“May I ask who you both are?”
“I’m Burk. He’s Cyrin. Our fathers work for the lord of his place!” The boy replied proudly.
“Burk and Cyrin?” Troyle interrupted, bending down to take a closer look at the two of them. “Are you two Rey and Lenard’s sons?”
“Mister. Do you know my father?” The other boy questioned, giving a puzzled face.
“Of course. They’re my friends.” Troyle grinned. “Why do you two want to learn how to fight? And why not just ask your fathers? They’re both very strong. I made sure of it myself.”
“But not as strong as the- mmm! Mnnn!!” a hand reached out from behind and pinched the boy’s mouth together.
“I was wondering where you went. Your mother’s looking for you.” A man a few years younger than Troyle easily picked up the jaunty young boy. “Sorry guys. I’ll get them out of your way.”
“Father! That hurts!”
“Cyrin, your mother wants to know if you are hungry. Come and let’s go let your parents know.” The man told the second boy. “Sorry Kaidus. They saw your matches during the competition and have wanted to meet you ever since.” The man gave a smile and walked off with his son and the other boy.
“But father! He was about to take us as his students!” The boy protested as he was carried away.
With a smile on his face, Kaidus looked on quietly as the boys were dragged away. Troyle began laughing.
After they finished greeting most of the guests, Kaidus made his way to the dining hall where a large number of people had already gathered and were eating and drinking while they mingled. He glanced around for his mother and Anise, but could not spot them.
Moving toward the center table to get something to eat, he heard laughter coming from a cluster of women sitting at the end of one of the dining table, near a corner of the hall. Some were standing while others sat, and his eyes fell upon a young girl in their midst. Wearing a beautiful sky-blue dress with long black sleeves and dark floral patterns, her dark blue hair had been braided and was draped around her shoulder to her front. On her wrists were two bracelets that were glittering and complementing her dark sleeves warmly. She stood beside her mother and sister, joyously conversing with the women around them.
Although normally shy and always giving off a nervous vibe whenever they talked, Sylvia was chatting with those around her very naturally. He couldn’t help but smile, seeing her talking and laughing so merrily. Scanning the group, he noticed that Adalina and Anise were also with them along with Lance, who was sleeping soundly in the arms of an unknown woman.
Taking another look around the room, Lord Varath was entertaining a few of the men and their wives with a story about the hunting trip.
He also spotted Larant sitting at one of the tables talking with two young ladies who sat across from him. The girls were giggling and smiling.
As he stood there looking at many of the unfamiliar faces, he sensed a number of people taking curious glances at him. Troyle had introduced him multiple times earlier, but undoubtedly, many still remembered him from the competition.
Not wanting to intrude on the others or congest the dining hall any more than it already was, Kaidus got himself a plate of food and exited the hall.
On top of the Varath manor away from everything else, he silently ate his food as he watched and listened to the playful children in the backyard.
He felt the breeze as Zion zipped around him, frolicking in the darkness.
He watched as a young girl scolded a boy twice her size for running into her friend, and instead of retaliating, the older boy apologized.
He saw kids younger than Anise playing tag, talking, a few playing in the dirt around the light posts, and some of the older children watching their younger siblings.
He caught sight of the two young boys who were asking about him earlier. They too were playing in the yard with a couple of kids their age.
He smiled, seeing a young lady possibly a year or two older than himself feeding a little boy. The boy would take a spoonful of food in his mouth and go play then come back and get another spoonful before running off again. The young lady patiently watched and held the plate as her little brother ran around.
Watching the blissful children playing without a worry in the world, Kaidus calmly zoned out all sounds and closed his mind, focusing his thoughts on his family.
They were not filthy rich like those in the wealthy Dryva district, but money had stopped being an issue for them ever since Troyle was employed by the lord.
Their life in Ferrent was a pleasant one and the thought of all the children currently playing around in the yard were living like them, he couldn’t help but admit to how magnificent the city was. His younger siblings would be able to grow up without any trouble here, and his parents also had many friends whom they could rely on.
The city itself was a prosperous one with its own standing army of mages, guards, and knights that could easily protect it should anything happen.
He evaluated the three years he had been away and saw how little it had impacted his family. They would be able to carry on even if he was not there. “They will be fine.” Kaidus spoke the words out loud to reassure himself.
As he thought about their livelihood, he solemnly reconsidered his plans. ‘I already have most of what I need. The sooner I begin, the sooner I will be able to return…’ He silently pondered, thinking about what to do. ‘Half a year.’ He concluded.
There was no use in postponing it until his 15th birthday. Although his body has yet to grow into its full potential, his spirits have already returned to him. Even with only three of them with him, an overgrown drakall should be no problem.
The other issue was Tal’hrus, but if their strongest was like Zavon, then he should be able to confront them at his own leisure.
Having made up his mind, all that was left was to let his parents know.
He quietly sat on the rooftop and watched the children in the yard as he came to terms with his decision. Descending to a balcony on the second floor, he reentered the manor and returned to the celebration.
“Phew.” Sylvia breathed a breath of relief as she took off her evening dress and slipped on a nightgown before entering her bed.
The long day was finally at an end, and many of the guests had already left. The few that accepted her father’s offer to stay the night were also already in their own room in the guest quarters.
She was tired and exhausted.
Ever since evening, she had been on her best behavior and conducted herself as best she could. She had helped her mother and sister to entertain the women, greeted and introduced herself whenever she saw a new face—as befitting a member of the house—and conversed with many of the girls her age. Many of them were surprised to learn that she knew how to do housework and that she could even cook and do a little bit of gardening.
Although hosting large gatherings were normal for them, it was a first for such an event where only those working for her family was invited. Thankfully unlike some of the other gatherings, the evening had gone by without trouble and was also very eventful. Her father had even handed out small gifts as the night’s festivities came to an end.
She had no idea what suddenly spurred him, but her father had been planning it even before the arrival of the New Year. She wasn’t sure if it was because of Larant’s progression at the academy, the lucrative trade with the many towns and villages around Ferrent, or if he was merely in a generous mood.
Wondering about the reasons, her mind began fantasizing of an agreement between two men and their children, and a promise of unification between two houses. ‘…’ She quickly shook her head to erase such embarrassing delusions and hid herself under her blanket—as if the boy who was sleeping in one of the guest room could see and hear her thoughts.
She quickly moved her mind toward the girls she’d met.
“Karen, Joslin, Aubrey, Dalane, and Carise.” She recalled the five girls who she talked to and got along with earlier.
“Karen and Dalane has black hair. Dalane is taller than Karen. Carise has curly brown hair and blue eyes, Aubrey is my age and helps at her grandma’s shop, Joslin is the oldest and has a… a male friend.”
She silently repeated their names once more in her head, trying to commit them to memory in case she ever met them again. She started working backwards and trying to recall who their parents were, and which of them worked for her family.
Not only did she get a better understanding of those she saw every day, she saw that each of them had a family and loved ones that supported them. She had noticed that all of their guards were married, and many of the maids and servants also had families of their own.
“It is our bond with our friends and loved ones that grounds us and pushes us forward. A man who has someone waiting for him will work twice as hard to return home even if he is staring death in the eyes.”
Her father had said with a grin on his face after she pointed out that all the guards had wives and children.
‘I wonder if he is the same…’ She pictured the young boy with deep black hair and wondered if his bond with his family was why he was so strong.
Though it wasn’t a topic during the party, she happened to hear a few of the guards talking about encountering a drakall during their hunt. Asking her father about it, he told her what he could remember and even showed her three beautiful red scales as proof.
Twice the boy has saved her father’s life, yet not a word of conceit or a demand of reward ever came out of his mouth.
She shook her head again as her thoughts circled back around to him. Shutting her eyes, Sylvia began to hum Lady by the Bay with the hopes of lulling herself to sleep.