Author’s note: sorry for the late post! I had a hard time researching stuff for this arc. *sweats* I was even having an intense discussion with my friend concerning crafts and politics, until we came to an agreement that fit what I wanted haha. Next update will be on Wednesday. I’ll be releasing triple chapters then, cause I still have to edit more chaps and add a few stuff from the research I’ve done. *cries silently*
“What’s that?” Raoul asked Toni as the two children approached with a thing walking in between them.
Toni squinted his eyes. “It looks like a huge meatball…with legs.”
As the children neared, they could approximate the brown figure to be a cat covered in mud.
“A magic beast?!” Raoul was alarmed.
“No, I can’t sense any mana from it. Unless its mana is simply too high that we can’t detect it ourselves. However, that only applies to sacred beasts such as the dragon or the Phoenix. They can’t possibly be walking around the Mystic Forest when they have the Sacred Mountain to themselves. That walking meatball is definitely a cat,” Toni replied with certainty.
“Princess, why are you bringing a cat with you?” Raoul asked as he looked at the cat that was busy rubbing itself against the princess’ legs.
“His name is Bastian!” Alenaire said as she rubbed the cat under its chin. She didn’t care that her dress, hands and face were caked with dried up mud. “Bastian, say meow!”
“Meow~!” Bastian complied as he wrapped his fluffy tail around her wrist.
“Good boy!” Alenaire stroked his tail and he purred with satisfaction.
“I did it! I killed ten crystal spiders all by myself!” They heard Alasdair’s voice in the distance. When Alasdair and his knights came closer, they all looked at the brown fat thing beside the princess and paused, thinking it was a magic earth beast. In less than a second, they began to ready their stance, whipping their swords out of their scabbards, their faces grim.
“Stoooop!” Alenaire clutched Bastian in her arms. “Nooooo!”
Luce stood in front of her, protecting her small frame with his own. He thought that if ever the Knights were going to push through and harm Alenaire and Bastian, he would be the first one to stop it. He hated to see her cry.
“What’s that, Awi?” Alasdair was puzzled. “What is that…thing?” He lifted a hand up to the Knights, instructing them to put back their weapons.
“It’s not a thing! Bastian is a cat! A caaaat!” Alenaire whined, clutching Bastian so tight that he was clawing at the air for reprieve.
“A cat? A normal…cat?” Alasdair looked at Toni and Raoul, and the Knights both nodded their heads in affirmation.
“Okay…” Alasdair massaged his tense shoulders. “Well…I got my crystal spiders, so we can go home now.” Alasdair looked at Alenaire who was still clutching Bastian in her arms. “Awi, are you gonna bring that along?”
“Uh-huh!” Alenaire let go of Bastian, and he licked the dried mud off of her hand.
“Well…I don’t know if our parents are gonna approve, but that cat at least needs a bath…” Alasdair said soberly as he assessed the cat and his sister who was covered head to toe in brown mud.
Was her brother going to show off his water magic? Alenaire looked at him expectantly, her eyes glittering.
Alasdair was weak against his sister, and he would do anything to make her happy, if it was within his power…and that included giving the cat a bath.
He started chanting under his breath, and a ball of water appeared above Bastian…and Alenaire as well.
“Hey…big brother?!” Alenaire saw the blue ball above her, and shrieked.
“I can’t let you meet father and mother in that state…” Alasdair shook his head. “They’re going to get mad at me again!”
The two blue balls burst, and both the princess and the cat were drenched thoroughly, brown water starting to flow from where they stood.
“Axel, please use your wind magic to dry them off,” Alasdair commanded the knight with red hair.
Axel looked discomfited, as his magic was known to be used to cut enemies into two, and to have it used on the princess and her cat to dry them off was degrading…and yet so…ingenious at the same time.
Bastian slowly returned to his normal color, which was a similar shade to snow. The hot air caused his hair to poof, and he looked like…
“A cloud!” Alenaire observed. “He’s so cute!” She hugged him again, lifting him off the ground.
“So soft…” Luce’s eyes sparkled as he touched the fur. It felt like wisps of cotton in his hands.
“Okay, let’s go everyone!” Alasdair raised his hand and commanded.
They walked back to where their horses awaited them at the forest’s entrance.
The King and Queen at first did not accept the new feline addition to the family, but they too were weak against Alenaire’s pleas and her desperation. She loved the cat Bastian so much that she would use him even as a pillow to sleep on whenever she was tired.
It was an adorable sight, but somehow Luce became quite jealous. His princess would not hold his hand any longer, as her hands were quite preoccupied with the fluffy white fur. It was as if Bastian could even feel Luce’s envy and wanted to rub salt on his wounds, as he would deliberately do things that would provoke him, which irritated Luce to no end.
“Luce, why do you always look so mad?” Alenaire wanted to know one afternoon when they were playing near the castle’s moat.
“I’m not mad,” Luce rejected with a pout.
“Then why do you always look like this?” Alenaire used her index fingers to press her eyebrows down.
Luce thought this was funny, and he couldn’t help but giggle. “I’m not mad.”
“Promise?” Alenaire held out her pinky finger in front of him.
Luce hooked his pinky around hers. “Promise.”
That was the beginning of how they would start blurting out their dreams, making promises that they hoped would be kept for now and in the future.
“I’ll be a good person and make lots of people happy, like my daddy,” Alenaire said the following day, after they had visited the capital.
The children had seen how lively the people of the kingdom were, and upon knowing she was their princess, they gifted her and Luce random pastries and toys, which made them quite blissful. The carriage they rode in was overflowing with so much goods that it caused the Knights accompanying them to chuckle at the sight.
“I’ll be a good person too, and I’ll make you happy!” Luce added a bit bashfully.
“When I grow up, I’m going to be strong!” Alenaire decided as she held Luce’s hand in hers. She didn’t know how she was going to be strong, but she knew she had the determination, and she wanted to become it. She meant being strong in all sense of the word.
“I’ll be strong too!” Luce nodded.
Two little pinkies were hooked in the air as two bright, smiling faces faced each other.
Alenaire was finally given a wing of her own when she turned seven years old. She used to live in a room close to the King and Queen, but now was given the South Wing of the castle as her living quarters. Alasdair lived in the West Wing, Alaric lived in the East, and the King and Queen both took the North Wing for themselves.
Now that Alenaire was seven years old, she was given official Royal lessons thrice a week, which included language, geography and history, economics and mathematics. Because she had not yet awakened her powers, the King and Queen did not call for a magic instructor to guide her. The Queen also incorporated etiquette, dance and music into Alenaire’s lessons, having them be taught during the weekends instead of weekdays. Normal lessons occurred only in the morning, to give freedom to the princess who loved to play, and also for Luce, who had swordsmanship lessons in the afternoon with his father.
Because Luce was her knight, he also stayed with her during her lessons and was taught the same things, despite not being a royal himself. The King and Queen wanted them to not only strengthen their relationship as princess and knight, but as close friends who did not betray each other. They believed friendship was stronger than any kind of loyalty that was forced upon a person.
Miss Oona, the Princess’ Royal tutor, did not mind how the little boy also participated in her small class. She loved how the two children would raise their hands with earnest, asking multiple questions that would satiate their thirst for knowledge. She had never met children that were as curious as them. Bastian, the princess’ pet, would also invite himself to the Study Hall, plopping his round self on the princess’ desk and using up half the space on her table.
“Basti!” Luce looked at the cat with reproach. “You’re covering the princess’ table, again!”
Bastian looked at Luce briefly in a bored manner, then resumed to licking his paws.
“Luce! I’ve said it before, I don’t want you to call me princess! I have a name!” Alenaire said furiously.
“What else can I call you? You ARE the princess.” Luce wouldn’t let go of it. Ever since he realized the importance of his position as Alenaire’s personal knight, he couldn’t allow himself to talk so familiarly with her anymore. His father had said there was a limit to one’s immaturity, and he needed to learn to be precocious for the princess’ sake. He tried his best to become more mature, yet sometimes (or most of the time) he couldn’t keep up with such a facade. He could not not be himself around her.
“Okay, please settle down, princess, Luce.” Miss Oona tapped the black board with a ruler. “You think you might be too young to learn economics, but it is because of one’s knowledge of it that makes a kingdom prosper.”
As miss Oona talked about the kingdom’s program which prevented inflation and economic collapse, Bastian decided to jump down the table to rummage through Alenaire’s purse out of boredom.
Inside the purse was a Bocote wood box with plush velvet interiors that encased a palm sized porcelain mermaid: a beautiful figure of a young woman who had her arms above her, as if swimming in stillness, with her tail turned to one side. Her hair and tail were overlaid with gold. This sculpture was given by the King and Queen on her sixth birthday, and she loved it so much that she would carry it around with her in her purse.
Alenaire loved fantastical creatures such as the mermaid, elves, orcs, fairies and dwarves. It was rare to see these creatures with your own two eyes, as they all lived in the south continent governing their own respective kingdoms. Some adventurers and seamen would visit their continent, but most often than not, these creatures remained perfectly hidden (owing to the fact that the fairies’ illusion barrier was too strong for humans to shatter), as these creatures did not want any kind of human contact whatsoever. But of course, some humans became an exception, depending on a creature’s capricious mood, and thus tales were woven from these spectacles, spreading across the central continent.
Bastian took the wooden box discreetly while Alenaire was busy taking down notes on her desk, and he used his paws to push open the box, revealing the beautiful mermaid within. He didn’t intend to touch the mermaid itself, as he knew how much Alenaire took care of it, and he didn’t want to damage the exterior at all. He was just sadistic enough to want to see Luce’s jealous face again, so he deliberately kept flicking his tail back and forth to catch his attention.
Luce saw the flicking white tail at the corner of his eyes, and he turned towards Bastian with a frown.
Bastian walked flamboyantly around the mermaid’s casing, the tip of his tail almost caressing the mermaid’s face. He wanted to show how close he could be to touching the mermaid without receiving vitriol from the princess.
Luce was horrified. He didn’t want the mermaid to be subjected to a cat’s mercurial behavior, so he got off his seat to steal the box away from the gloating cat.
However, he tugged too hard.
The mermaid flew out of the box, landing on the marble floors with a heartbreaking crack.