I may have been overly confident in my abilities to jump a fifty foot wall.
As soon as my feet left the ground I felt the air pull at my body, immediately knocking me off course and spinning me so I was facing away from the wall. I didn't expect to feel so much resistance.
Again, I had underestimated our combined power, especially that of our most potent gift. I gritted my teeth as I tried to steady us in the air. I could hear Elora shouting something but I could pay it no mind at that moment, my thoughts merely focused on getting us past the wall and landing without breaking my neck.
The night air was cool on my skin as we shot upwards. I eventually learned to turn my hands against the wind and move my legs down to right myself once again, just as we came to the apex of our jump. I reached out as the lip of the wall came into view and grabbed on with not a second to spare, only the very tips of my fingers managed to grab on, which would have spelt my death if I were still mortal. Thankfully, the magical Princess feeding me strength from within my soul was still very much invested in keeping me alive so I came to a dead stop, smacking into the wall quite hard. I felt my nose begin to bleed and a small cut open up on my eye, but otherwise, we were fine.
“That... That was close,” I spat out, reaching up with my other hand to have a more secure grip. “Do they patrol the tops of the walls?”
“No, no need for it. Like I said, the Inscriptions are powerful.” Elora replied breathlessly.
“Will our luck ever give out.” I muttered back, and pulled myself up slowly, not wanting to shoot myself up into the sky. I hated not understanding how strong I could be now. Elora and I needed to practice Bonding if we were going to potentially fight other Knights soon.
I yanked myself the rest of the way up and jumped to my feet, breathing heavily more from the shock of actually succeeding than exertion. I brushed myself off as I glanced back down towards the gardens. It was just as beautiful as always, with thousands of unique variations of plant life, clearly viewed through my sharpened sight. I noticed for the first time the patterns of the gardens, something that could only really be noticed from someone this high up. It was incredibly intricate and again I was reminded of the prodigious abilities of the Head Gardener, Earl Munditch. I knew that he wasn't the one who designed these gardens, as that had presumably been done by the very first Head Gardener, but even maintaining them as meticulously as this would require an immense amount of effort.
I then turned, staring out into the inner city and the Commons beyond, a sharp glow in the darkness from the light of oil lamps and house windows, setting the city afire with light. After the relative darkness of the dimly lit gardens, it was quite the sight and I couldn't help but smile at our success. Everything had worked out well for us so far, which was something that I really wasn't expecting. It also seemed that Elora's theory about the Inscriptions was true. Another thing to be thankful for.
That was when I heard the shouting
I whipped my head back around and heard the sounds of frantic yelling from the gardens and even the palace beyond. I focused in on a few guards that were running on the yellow rock path, even from here their expressions were as clear as day to me They were frantic and wide-eyed as they moved through the foliage, no doubt looking for something: us, at a guess.
“Well, shit.” I cursed and immediately went to the lip of the wall leading out into the city.
“How did they discover we were gone so quickly?” Elora cried.
“Might have been Cellus, or maybe they sent another guard to come and see me. Doesn't matter now, we're committed. We have to keep moving.” I was strangely at peace with our discovery. I had known it was inevitable at the outset and I felt my nerves settle as I realised my paranoia over our good luck hadn't been for nothing.
“We need to separate as quickly as possible,” Elora sounded frantic, “It's only a matter of time before Vera and Annabelle are on our tail, they'll be able to tell where we are as soon as they Bond.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Our combined souls give off a kind of signature. It makes it easy to find Knights even in the middle of a battle. There are ways to hide it but we can't, not so soon after our first Bond, we'll be like a beacon to a Knight and Smith as experienced as them. We need to move.”
“Got it,” I replied and immediately went back to the edge of the wall and prepared myself, “Give me as much strength as you can. If we can clear the inner city then it will be all the easier to get to the orphanage.”
“Of course... but are you sure about this?” Elora asked nervously.
“Not even slightly,” I gritted my teeth and ran, my feet pounding the white stone as I flew forwards faster than I had ever gone. As soon as I hit the lip, I felt the huge strength of our Resonant Gift fill me to the brim and I jumped.
I flew. I can't really describe it in any other way. I shot into the night sky with far more strength than I had initially thought, far more than we used on our first jump. Thankfully, I was able to keep my head and keep us upright as we went, though it required all my concentration and my body was so tightly wound I felt like moving an inch would cause my bones to snap. I saw the buildings of the inner city beneath us and could see all four entrances from where I soared. Looking down, I could see the guard office where I had asked for a job only a few weeks before. How much had changed in these last weeks? It was astounding to think about what had happened between now and then. I barely managed to finish the thought before we flew over the inner city wall at speed.
If I had been slightly more relaxed I could say that the city looked beautiful from a birds eye view, however I was much more concerned with how exactly we were going to land, something I should have considered before jumping. It seemed I would have to wing it.
The orphanage was near the southern gate to the city and I still couldn't see it from where I was, not that I was surprised. The Commons were more than twice the size of the inner city and contained more than double the amount of people as the Noble quarter. Luckily, I had played throughout the Commons enough in my youth that I wasn't concerned with getting lost. Again, it was the problem of landing.
Speaking of which, we were starting to descend. Rapidly. I lay myself on my stomach and pushed my hands out to my sides to try and slow myself down as much as possible. I didn't really know how to do it properly, but I had seen divers who used the same techniques to jump off the huge cliffs at the Bay of Brikland in Andapa, to slow themselves before meeting the water. Granted that was a few dozen feet rather than hundreds but still, it was something.
Fortunately, it actually worked! Unfortunately, it didn't work as well as I thought it would and barely slowed me down at all. At around fifty feet from the ground, I pushed myself up to meet it with my feet first. I felt Elora pump more of our Gift into me as I did this and I threw out a quick prayer to the Great Spirit just before impact. If there was ever a time to pray it would be now.
An involuntary shout left my lips as we collided with the roof of a building. I couldn't get my legs under me properly and we hit at an angle. I skidded across the tiled roof, barely in control and I felt the sword and scabbard I had belted onto my waist be ripped away and disappear over the building's edge. Before I could even curse that, we were off the roof and into the open air again, tumbling down into the thankfully nearly uninhabited street before.
I landed with great force, colliding with the cobbled stone with a dull thud. I lost consciousness for at least a few seconds, my head hitting hard despite being dampened by our initial collision with the roof.
“Orin! Orin!” It was Elora's voice that yanked me back into the waking world and it was all I could do to not vomit onto the street as I shakily tried to pull myself to my feet before failing and flopping onto the ground.
“By the Spirit that hurt,” I groaned, my body feeling like one large bruise. I could feel every twitch of muscle and the creaking of my poor bones. My tongue felt numb within my mouth and I spat out onto the street, a great glob of blood landing on the cracked cobbles beneath my landing place.
“I'm coming out, hold on,” Elora shouted and I felt her begin to leave my body.
It was a strange experience, I don't really remember her coming out after our battle with the yellow-eyed Knight because it had happened so fast. One minute we were one and the next we were separated. This time it was much more sedate, and intense as a result.
I watched with fascination as that liquid light left my chest once again and formed her shape in front of me, the whole street lighting up as a result of the phenomenon. It was at this point that I realised that we weren't alone. I could see the illuminated faces of several people walking the streets, their expressions a mix between terror and awe as the light of Etherin faded and revealed the Princess of the realm. That wasn't the only result of Elora leaving my soul, however.
My senses dulled and I felt the strength of our Gift leave my body. I had managed to hold my head up to watch the process of her leaving, but now I found it hard to do even that. I looked up at the night sky and clenched my teeth as I tried to command my body to move. But it was like I was encased in syrup, every movement requiring three times as much effort.
“Orin! I'm here, come on you have to get up,” I felt Elora's hands on my shoulders as she tried to pull me to my feet, but it was in vein. I was much heavier than her after all and she didn't really have any muscle.
“Okay, give me a hand,” I redoubled my efforts and managed to pull myself to a seated position. With her help we got me on my feet, though it took a few minutes. A few minutes in which people were watching us. I didn't doubt that at least one or two had already gone to inform the guard that a strange man had fallen from the sky. Our time was running out. It was only a matter of time before Vera, Annabelle and whoever else was looking for us would realise we had left the palace grounds. It doesn't take a smart person to figure out that we would head for the orphanage from there.
I got to my feet and found myself leaning on Elora heavily. If she was uncomfortable with it, she never complained and instead pulled me along as I attempted to keep up. The mutters were coming from all around us and I swivelled my head to see more than a few bystanders following us at a distance.
“Which way?” Elora asked, her breathing heavy, my burden on her no doubt intense.
“Take the alley on your right. It'll take us to the Old Road. From there we can go to the market and the orphanage.”
Elora nodded stiffly, her expression set and grim. I noticed that she had a bit of dirt on her cheek and she looked worn down, but the light of her intense desire to see us out of the city didn't seem to have dimmed even slightly.
We took the alley and, thankfully, no one tried to follow us. It was painfully dark in here and I was very aware of the fact that I had lost my new sword, something that annoyed me to no end. It would be nice to have a Weapon to conjure out of thin air right now, but even if I did have such a thing, Bonding would be beyond us now, not with Vera and Annabelle on the hunt.
We got down the Old Road by taking a roundabout route. It was longer, but ultimately safer. I led us down some more alleys and side paths that you wouldn't really know about unless you grew up here. Even the guards were wary to walk these roads because of gang activity. Thankfully, with the crack down on crime since the wedding I had assumed that these usual haunts of Myrin's criminal element would be near empty. It seemed I was right, though I was still wary and kept Elora close to me, for her protection but also because I couldn't move very well on my own.
We reached the markets about a half hour later and already we could tell that the guard were out in force, patrols having doubled. We had to slow our progress slightly but it was within reason. At least that's what I kept telling an increasingly frantic Elora.
We passed by Laird's shop and I almost considered stopping and asking him for help. But getting involved with me right now would not do him any good. I had basically kidnapped a Princess. She had asked me too, sure, but I don't think that would comfort him much.
I was guiding Elora through memory alone at this point. I didn't want to worry her, but I really couldn't see too well right now and I doubted it had anything to do with the lack of light. Something was wrong in my chest and I could feel it every time I breathed. I noticed that I was putting more and more weight on Elora, slowing us both down but I took some comfort in knowing that we were nearly at the orphanage.
“There! I see it, Orin. Hold on, please!”
I think I mumbled something back, but my head was rolling against my chest and I could no more see the orphanage than the cobbled streets beneath my feet.
I heard Elora knock on the door, my ear still working despite everything and I heard muttering and footsteps appear on the other side. Then the doors of my old home were thrown open and light washed out over us. Shit, I could even see a little better but everything was still blurry.
“Sister, please help him, please help him!” Elora was shouting at what I assumed was the Sister, but then again, it could have been anyone.
I felt a pair of small and familiar strong hands take over from Elora and lift me up towards the light, pulling me inside. I heard more shouting, this time it sounded like Tessa. I thought it might have been directed at me for a moment, but it wasn't. She was shouting at Elora.
“Leave her alone, Tess. My fault... my fault,” I stumbled forwards, my vision blurring before fading away entirely.
* * *
The first thing I heard when I came to were frantic and incensed whispers.
“-She took first.” I recognised the voice of Tessa, though she sounded faintly subdued and rather emotional. Two words that I didn't really associate with the fast and sharp warrior from the Band.
“I know, child. But we didn't know how things would pan out. We didn't know this would happen. What were the bloody chances!?” I recognised Boldrin's hushed voice. Hushed being a rather inappropriate word here, as even at what he considered a low volume was usually the sound of someone screaming.
“You are both being fools. I think he's coming to.” This time it was the Sister's voice and I couldn't help but groan at the sound of it. For some reason I felt very small right now and hearing her voice almost made me break into tears.
“Sis... Sister...” I muttered and their conversation coming to an abrupt stop and it was at that point that I managed to open my eyes.
I was in a room that I wasn't familiar with. It definitely wasn't the orphanage. Sister wouldn't allow the roof to become so black. I looked down and found myself lying in a tired and faded bed, covered by a threadbare blanket and I realised that I was almost completely undressed underneath it and that my upper body was wrapped in bandages. I got a sense of deja vu from the scenario. All we need was a set of unnecessarily large chains and it would be like waking up in the royal palace all over again.
I finally focused on the faces before me and noticed the Sister first. She looked older than when I had last seen her, with deep bags under her eyes and smile on her face tight, but relieved all the same. Her blonde hair was looking rather bedraggled, but the pencil was still there, hidden behind one ear.
Boldrin was just over the Sister's shoulder, his wide smile easy to see and huge frame towering over the thin waif that was my mother. He looked dressed for battle, his armour a mixture of plate and leather, with his huge axe over his shoulder. Even with his hands on his knees and leaning over, his head seemed to almost touch the ceiling.
Then there was Tessa, who looked as cool and aloof as always. Her steel-coloured eyes were focused completely on me as if I was the only thing in the world at that moment, which filled me with no small amount of trepidation. Usually when that happened, she was about to try and stab me.
“Shit, you're here,” I muttered as I pulled myself up on my pillow.
“Language, boy,” replied the Sister with an intense stare before her smile won out and she leaned over to hug me. “You are such a fool, my Orin. Such a fool.”
I felt her tears on my shoulder and returned her hug. I realised that this was the first time she was seeing me since I had fought the yellow-eyed Knight on stage. Elora had told me about her and the kids trying to come see me at the palace. I held back my own tears as I smiled.
“No harm done, Sister. I'm hardier than I look. Take more than a Knight to kick my ass.” I forced the laugh and no one else joined in, just stared at me all the more intensely.
“Yes. You are very big and strong, my most troublesome son.” She replied, repeating the words she had said to me the night I had returned.
“Ha! But he is, Erin,” Boldrin said and leaned over to ruffle my hair. “He's mad half the time, but he gets the job done, ain't that right, kid?”
I smiled at the infectiously happy man, “Sure.”
“He's an idiot,” Tessa chimed in with her take and I wasn't surprised at how harsh she sounded, I just aimed my smile at her. “You could've gotten yourself killed. Then you Bonded with a Princess? I'm sure that went down well.”
I chuckled at the truth behind that statement, imagining what was going on in the palace right now as they looked for Elora and I. Wait, Elora!
“The Princess! Is she alright? Where is she!?” I demanded and tried to push myself to my feet, but Boldrin and the Sister coaxed me back into bed. For some reason, Tessa snorted at the mention of Elora and looked away, receiving a look from Boldrin for the odd response.
“Have no fear, dear one. Your Princess is safe and sound outside, with a few of the kids,” Erin said as she leaned forward to place a hand on my forehead. “Well, you have no fever, so that is something. No doubt Bonding with that Princess did you some good. It's only been a few hours but you're already looking better.”
“I feel better,” I replied but winced when I tried to rotate my arms. “Still, where are we? And how do you two know each other? I heard you talking before I woke up.”
The Sister froze momentarily when I said that but she recovered so fast I thought I had imagined it. “We only met a few hours ago, Orin. Your maid from the palace arrived at my door with your mercenary captain and that young lady there.”
I furrowed my eyebrows. “Ah, Beatrice. Where is she?”
“Bah!” The Sister waved a hand dismissively, “That little thing is as nervous as a mouse. She was shaking like a leaf when she got to the orphanage. I gave her some tea to calm her down and sent her back home. I don't think she's built for such clandestine activities.”
“No, I don't think so either.” I replied and stretched once again, this time feeling slightly better. I would have liked to able to thank Beatrice for delivering the message, but I could understand why the Sister sent her home. Beatrice would've followed Elora's order to the letter but she was frail at the best of times and I would much rather her remain in one piece, emotionally speaking. I'd thank her upon our return. If we return.
“So, where are we exactly?”
“I'll take this one, Erin,” Boldrin said boisterously, moving to the other side of my bed. “You stirred up quite the hornets nest, kid. That First Knight was all over the orphanage so we moved you and the Princess to here, an inn next to the western wall.”
“Which one? The Duchess and Heart?”
“No, Lamb's Eye. Right next to the wall,” Boldrin snickered and winked at Tessa, causing the warrior to roll her eyes.
“There's an old tunnel that leads outside the city from here. Boldrin thought it would be best to bring you here for a quick getaway.” Tessa continued.
“So Elora told you?” I asked, looking back at Boldrin for confirmation.
The big man shrugged. “She told us enough, kid. You have the entire city looking for you two right now and I know you wouldn't throw yourself half way across the city for no good reason. So this what you want? You want to save the King and Queen from a siege of over a one hundred thousand men?”
“You really do know everything,” I brushed a hand over my tired eyes. “I think we can do it, if we're smart about it.”
Boldrin went strangely quiet for a second as he examined me with his experienced gaze. I knew that look, it was one that sought answers and would not be denied, no matter how long it took.
“I didn't ask if you thought we could do it. By the way, I've agreed to nothing. I'm asking if that's what you want. Or are you just doing this because the pretty Princess batted her eyes at you?”
I gritted my teeth and met my Band leader's eyes and his intensity. “Aye, I may be doing it for her. She's strong. She wants to help her parents and the kingdom. But I got my own reasons. If the King and Queen die, and the Knights with them, that throws the whole country into the shit. Dunhold will make a play for Myrin sooner or later. Saving the King and Queen will save everyone I care about. So yes, Boldrin. It's what I want.”
Boldrin's intense stare didn't let up for a few moments before he put his hands on his hips and let out an explosive breath. One which I'm sure they heard throughout the Inn.
“So it shall be,” I heard him mutter under his breath before he turned around and clapped his hands together, his smile once again adorning his face. “Fine! If you really want to do this, then we'll help you out. Won't we, Tessa?”
The woman in question rolled her eyes. “Sure, why not? Not like we've got anything better to do. Assaulting an army that outnumbers us by I don't know how much will be fun if nothing else.”
“W-what?” I asked incredulously, pulling myself out of bed despite Sister's insistence and standing before my sworn friends. “What are you talking about? Why aren't you asking for money, or a Noble title, or anything?”
Boldrin snorted. “As if you have any way to give me any of that. That Princess in there isn't giving us this contract. It's you, kid. I know how much coin you have and you couldn't afford it even if you saved for a thousand lifetimes.” The big man laughed at his own joke.
“But then why help? You don't owe me anything!”
“You seem to be trying to convince me not to help you out.”
I waved my hands in protest. “No, no, nothing like that. But... Why would you agree to help me for nothing?”
“Cause it's you, you daft idiot!” Tessa huffed, walking around and punching me on the shoulder none too gently. “You think we'd let you wander off and fight an army alone? No chance. You're stuck with us. We're a Band. We're a family. Isn't that enough?”
That might have been the longest I've ever seen Tessa talk and I'd never heard her get... sappy before. But I knew she meant what she said and from the look in Boldrin's eyes, it seemed he agreed with his Band's youngest member.
“Tessa... you...” I couldn't even express what she just said meant to me.
“Yeah, I know, I'm amazing, I'm-” I cut off her sentence by pulling her into a heartfelt hug, the first time we've ever had any kind of physical contact outside of sparring. I only stopped when I felt a sharp edge press against my abdomen and knew exactly what it was. Because it was Tessa.
“Okay, I'm done, sorry.” I said with a grin as I leaned back, “I had to do that. Thank you, Tessa. Thank you, Boldrin. I don't really know what to say.”
“You're welcome kid!” Boldrin shouted at his trademark volume while Tessa merely nodded, her hair covering her face as she moved to stand by the door. Shit, I hope I hadn't annoyed her too much. I preferred to keep all my bits attached.
“You seem to be better than I thought,” The Sister said with frown, walking over and placing a hand on my chest lightly, to feel beneath the bandages. “Bonding is quite something. Even when separated you heal more quickly than others. To think, your ribs were poking out of your chest an hour ago!”
“My fucking what?!” I shouted, immediately looking down to examine my chest.
“Language, Orin! You're lucky I don't have my bloody cane!” snapped the Sister.
“But you just said-”
“Now, I'll let the children and Elora in. The poor thing has been very worried about you, Orin.” Sister Erin said with a knowing smile and walked towards the door, leaving before I could say anything else.
“Ah, quite the woman, “ Boldrin quipped. “We'll be ready when you are, kid. The rest of the Band's already waiting outside the city. We'll catch up with them when we leave.”
Boldrin walked to the door and paused, turning around and looking at me again. This time his eyes were quite sad. “You sure about this? Once we're on the road, they'll be no turning back.”
“I think we've passed that point, Boss,” I replied and sat on the edge of the bed. “I need to do this. We need to do this.”
“Aye. I get it, son. I was young once.” Boldrin smiled softly and nudged Tessa, who followed behind him as he left, not even once glancing in my direction. I think I did annoy her.
I felt Elora coming before I saw her and I had to stop myself from jumping to my feet and running to the door. I winced as I realised the Bond was not as far along as I thought it was. Still, I didn't feel any sort of possessiveness, so at least we had made some progress during our time in the palace. It seemed that after joining, the Bond was especially sensitive to Elora's presence or lack thereof.
I didn't have to wait long before Elora sprinted into the room, her sunset coloured eyes wide and blonde hair billowing out behind her.
“Orin!” She laughed happily as she dove at me, colliding with my chest and pulling me into a hug. “I'm so glad you're alright.”
Well, at least one of the women in my life liked getting hugs off me.
“I thought you'd died. The Bond was so weak and your chest was just... all I could see was blood.” Elora whimpered as she placed a hand against my chest and I felt the Bond hum in response to the proximity. We both breathed a sigh of relief and I moved slightly so she could sit closer and I could put an arm around her as she leaned her head against my shoulder. We had made progress, but being through yet another dangerous experience had caused the Bond to flair up again. It would take time to settle I'm sure. It wasn't awkward like the last time we had touched. I wonder what had changed? Maybe it was simply because we had gotten to know each other better over the past few weeks.
“No problems, Princess. All healed up, no doubt you had something to do with that.” I said with a smile as Elora returned it, relief at my recovery evident in her eyes.
“Even separate we both have a few advantages. One of them is an increased pace of healing. But I didn't expect it to be so fast.” Elora sighed in content and closed her eyes. “This feels nice. The Bond has been going a bit crazy. I sensed you wake up but I didn't want to interrupt.”
“Yeah, well, seems things didn't go exactly as planned,” I laughed and started coughing, a pain resonating upwards from my ribs. I was better, but it seemed like I still had a ways to go. To go from ribs sticking out of my chest to almost fully healed in a matter of hours instead of weeks was something I was extremely thankful for.
“I know. I guess it's over now. The guard is out in force and I bet Vera, Annabelle and all the other Knights are out looking as well. I'm sorry, Orin. I put you through all this for nothing,” Elora stared into the middle distance, the faint glimmer of moisture in her eyes.
“What? Giving up on me, Princess? Before we've even started? That doesn't sound like you.” I grinned as she turned her head to look at incredulously.
“But... how? We'll never get past the gates now, not with so much security.”
“You're right. We can't get through the gates, it would be suicide. But we won't be going through the gates.”
“Then... then how?” Elora asked, hope beginning to blossom on her face.
“There's always another way. Boldrin has a route out of the city that I'm assuming the Nobles don't know about. We'll slip out before they realise we're gone.” I replied and was happy to see a bit more colour returning to her cheeks at my statement.
I can assume from what Boldrin said that this was another of the secret paths once used by the gangs, or still used as the case may be. Much like the one Pater had shown me to get into the inner city during the wedding. I just hoped it was still in one piece.
“Boldrin? So he'll help us?”
I nodded, “Yep, he'll come with us, him and the Band. We'll talk more about what we're going to do exactly when we leave. But we have the help we need. We can do this.”
“Orin, I, thank you!” Elora wrapped her arms around my neck and pulled into a hug, pressing her body into mine even as she shook and wept. “I didn't think. I thought there was a chance but now we actually have one. I can't thank you enough for this. Without you, I'd be in the palace, helpless.”
I patted her back and chuckled. “No need for thanks. I'm doing this as much for me as for you, after all. You are welcome, though,”
Elora leaned back and laughed, wiping tears from her eyes as she went. “Idiot. What would I do without you?”
I couldn't tell you what changed in the next moment. But she was looking at me oddly, almost like she was seeing me in a new light, or perhaps in a way I had refused to see. Her eyes met mine and I was locked there, unable to move and unable to breath as she stared at me. Her gaze was so intense I felt like to look away would be to miss something, something important. Something immense.
“Orin... I...” Elora's eyes were wide and pinned. She looked half terrified and half excited.
“Ah, excuse me you two,” I pulled myself away from Elora's stare and saw the Sister peering around the side of the door, her eyes narrowed as she looked at the Princess. “But the kids would like to see you, Orin. I couldn't bring everyone, but a few of them wanted to to say goodbye.”
“S-sure,” I replied shakily and jumped to my feet. Whatever had just happened, whatever had just taken place, it definitely wasn't what I thought it was. Elora was scared and in turmoil. She had been through a lot over the last few weeks and more besides. I didn't want to add to that. She had given me a look I had seen before, one I had given often enough. She loved Cellus. She was just thankful. That was all it was.
Thankfully, I didn't have to think about it too much before I was attacked by a gaggle of children, who burst through the door as soon as the Sister had moved out of the way. I didn't even manage to stand up before Delithia ploughed into my chest, followed swiftly by Sasta. I could only thank the Great Spirit that the boys decided to remain standing with smiles on their faces, otherwise I would have been buried alive.
“We thought you were hurt, Orin! Why didn't you tell us you were alright,” I didn't need to see Delithia's face to know that she was crying, so I didn't reply and instead pulled her closer with one arm while hugging Sasta with the other, burying my face in her curled hair.
“I'm sorry, Orin. If I had been stronger.. If I had been-” Gertrand was standing with clenched fists, his gaze fixed on the ground as he looked anywhere but me.
“Hey now,” I interrupted, and gently pulled Delithia and Sasta off me to stand before my younger brother. “Wasn't your fault. I saw you up there, Gertrand. You and Albert both,” I nodded to the stocky youth who grinned and nodded back. “You kept the Sister safe, you both did. You guys just weren't stupid enough to attack a Knight like I was,”
Gertrand chuckled as he sobbed, wiping at his eyes to try and hide his tears. “But everything with Sig and the Dogs and Mrs Hollies-”
“Hey,” I pulled him into a hug, “Past is past, little brother. You're a good man and you're going to get even better, I know you will. I believe in you, Gertrand. I wasn't there when you needed me and that's my fault, but I promise I'll be there for you next time. Orphan's honour.” I grinned as that managed to pull a smile from him.
“Orphan's honour? Haven't heard that in a while,” It was something Pater, Gertrand and I used to say when we were being serious about keeping a promise. It was a childhood thing, back when we all thought we wanted to grow up to be Knights. Honour and chivalry were important to us as a concept, if not in practice.
“Well, I'm a real Knight now, even got a Princess for a Smith. I'm sure you've heard?” I turned and smiled at Elora who smiled back as she hugged Sasta with one arm and Delithia with the other.
“Orin! Is it cool being a Knight? what can you do? Can you fly? I heard the Queen can fly. Can she fly, Princess?” Kaven was just as boisterous as always, his eyes practically glowing with excitement as he asked his questions, Elora laughing at that last one.
“She can. She has wings!” Elora answered with exaggerated expressions and Kaven's mouth dropped, mine not far behind.
“She does? Can we do that?” I asked, already imagining myself soaring through the skies with a sword of fire in one hand and clad in shining silver armour with golden wings. I had heard the Queen of Venos could fly a few years ago, but I had always dismissed it as just a story.
Elora rolled her eyes, “Maybe we should focus on staying on the ground for now. Our last attempt at flight didn't end very well.”
I nodded along thoughtfully, “I suppose... still would be pretty awesome to fly,”
Elora laughed and then jokingly said, “I'll see what I can do.”
We talked some more after that. I told the kids what I had been up to at the palace and how my training as a Knight was going, with Elora chiming in every now and then, explaining things I had forgotten or was misremembering.
“I don't remember swooning for you the moment you appeared at the gazebo!” Elora had stamped her foot impetuously at that one, her face turning a bright red as the kids laughed. Just because she was promised to another didn't mean I couldn't have fun with her.
“Yeah, that was my mistake. What I meant to say, kids, was that Elora was so astounded at the sight of my handsome face that she nearly fainted! Can you believe that!”
I heard a few resounding denials from the kids and more than one 'Cellus is better looking' which caused me to clutch my heart in faux despair, releasing another round of giggles.
It seemed like only minutes but it was perhaps the most alive I'd felt in weeks. Elora had been my only semblance of normalcy inside the Palace and even then it had felt like we were both forced into a situation we'd rather not be a part of. We had found some comfort in each other's company, but nothing could replace this. Being around my family again, them being safe. It was more than I could ask for, and it was over far too soon.
The Sister stuck her head back inside again and told me that Boldrin and Tessa were waiting. I felt some reluctance at leaving them all, but I knew this was what I had to do. I knew that I wouldn't be away for long. This thing would be settled in a few weeks and I could, hopefully, return here to see them all again before they even began to miss me. But still, leaving hurt after seeing them for such a small amount of time.
Sasta, Delithia and Gertrand cried as we said our farewells while Albert and Kaven were all smiles and hugs. I hoped it wouldn't be long before I saw them again.
“Keep the Princess safe, Orin. She's really nice.” Delithia said to me after she hugged Elora.
“I will. I promise!” I gave one last little wave before Elora and I left the kids behind in the room, where the Sister told them to stay. She would come and pick them up once she'd seen us off.
The Sister led us down the hall of the uninhabited inn and down towards the basement, a mouldy affair with kegs stacked everywhere, except against one wall, which had an entrance behind a shelf filled with ancient looking wine bottles. Before the opened secret entrance stood Boldrin and Tessa, both armed and armoured, no doubt ready for the trials ahead.
“Here, kid. You'll need this. Try not to melt this one,” Boldrin said and passed me a long bundle of sackcloth.
I pulled the cloth away to reveal a sword, this one slightly shorter than the blade I owned before and a bit heavier, with a broader blade and scabbard as a result. It came with a belt, which I immediately put on, feeling better already with a blade at my hip once more. The sword was nothing special, a simple thing of dark steel with a brown leather wrapped hilt and matching leather on the scabbard. Still, despite it's lack of form it would no doubt more than make up for it in function. Boldrin didn't buy bad weapons.
“Thanks, Boss. I'll try but no promises,” I chuckled as Boldrin laughed, causing some of the dust on the ceiling to shake loose.
“I'm sure you will, kid,”
“One minute, Orin,” Sister Erin said as she pulled me to the side, her hands holding my arms against my side as she stared at me. She looked pained at seeing me go and I couldn't blame her. I had only been back for a few weeks and during that time so much had happened, not to mention the argument we'd had about how I'd handled the Gertrand situation.
“I just wanted to tell you I'm proud of you,” Sister Erin said with shining eyes before she pulled me into a hug. “If I thought talking you out of doing this would work, I would in a heartbeat. But I know you too well. You are a fool, this I have always known, but you were always steadfast and, of all my sons, you are the bravest. I love you. Please come back in one piece,”
“I will, Sister,” I replied softly.
I had thought that she had hated me after what had happened with Gertrand. I thought that I wasn't who I believed I was and that I was making things worse for everyone around me. My arrogance and ego got in the way of actually doing something positive. She had been right to say what she had then. I did have a need inside me. It was something that I was aware of when I got back to Myrin and it was something that had grown when I was in the palace. But I don't think it was the need for violence that she or I suspected it was. I needed the open air, I needed to leave and go on adventures and see everything the world had to offer. Even my time with the Band wasn't enough for me, this I now knew. I wanted to wander the Nariti Plains and explore the Eastern Islands, I wanted to see more of the Empire of Ingemar and one day see the Duchies and the Queendom to the west. Perhaps one day I would decide to leave this continent all together and explore the great unknown across the sea. It was true what they said: Home is where the heart is - and Myrin would always be that for me. But I don't think I could stay for long which both terrified and excited me.
It brought up more than one question in my mind as to what my dream entailed. Namely, Elora. Would she join me on this quest, if I asked? Would she be able to if we were Bound together forever? I didn't know the answer to that question. I didn't know a lot of things. I was just happy to know what I wanted to do with my life, what I wanted to achieve. Knight or no Knight. My goal was set. But first I had to deal with a threat to the realm. Even that set my soul ablaze. I wanted to help save the King and Queen for all the reasons I had told Boldrin, for Elora, for my family, for the Kingdom itself. But I also wanted to do it for me. I wanted to do it, because why not? Perhaps that, in itself, was enough.
“Ready to go?” Elora smiled at me and I returned it with renewed vigour. This was what I was meant to do.
With one last look at the Sister, Elora and I followed Tessa and Boldrin out of the city of Myrin and one step closer towards our goal.