On one end of the table sat the head of the Cavalier family. He was a stern but exceptionally kind-hearted man. He always wore an expression that commanded respect, but never one with a big smile and squinted eyes. "No," he said.
Merrique sighed and poked her chicken fillet with a fork. Tonight she was having her favourite food, but she had lost all appetite. She glanced at Emmanuel, who was seated opposite her. He shook his head and shrugged. "Why not?" she finally asked, disappointed that her brother had not spoken up for her.
"A girl should never enter a battlefield, let alone one with terrifying monsters and unknown dangers." His piercing blue eyes sent a chill down her spine. He grabbed his glass cup and swallowed all of his wine.
She sighed again and set down her cutlery. She had never liked talking to her father. He would always reject whatever suggestions she made, never listen to whatever she had to say, cut her off just when she was explaining things. She hated it. But tonight, she had to say something, no matter what.
Just as she was about to speak, Emmanuel stood up, his palms laid flat on the table. "Merrique… she just wanted to travel, Father. I do not think it is wrong," he said, his voice shaky. He looked surprised, scared, worried. What a peculiar mix of emotions.
A loud slam was dealt to the table, making one or two glass cups dance before crashing to the floor. "What is wrong, then? Say it! Am I in the wrong? Am I wrong for not letting you do what you want?" he screamed. His words were deafening, like rolls of thunder in a small enclosed space. They seemed to have sent panic signals to Emmanuel, who had started to cry. "I'm sorry," he mumbled in between sobs.
"Father, you taught me about guns ever since I learnt how to talk. Every year, you give me a new pistol or rifle for my birthday. Did you do all these so I would stay here, do nothing and idle my life away? Did you send Emmanuel to study wizardry from your old friend just to waste his time? Did you send Amadeus to school just so he could tend to your horses with his knowledge and skills of recovery?" Merrique fished out from her pockets the poster she'd taken from the bookstore this morning, and tossed them to her father. She could feel tears welling up in her eyes, but she was not upset; she was angry.
She stood up and looked at Emmanuel. He was her older brother by two minutes, but he was so timid. The poor boy was still crying, his hands trying to wipe away each tear frantically. Then, before she knew what she was doing, she walked around the table and grabbed her brother's hand. "I do not care if I have your permission or not. We will head to Granado Espada," she said calmly, despite tears threatening to roll down her cheeks if she stayed in that room for another minute, "and one day, you will regret your decision to make us stay."
Merrique walked out of the dining room as fast as she could, pulling Emmanuel with her. "Is this wise?" he asked, trying to keep his voice composed in between sniffles.
"Of course it is not, dear brother," she replied matter-of-factly, ending her angry march in the parlour, "but I have made my decision, and that is to sign up for the Reconquista and explore the New World." She turned around and examined his tear-stricken face. He looked funny, and she tried hard not to laugh. "What about you? Why did you defend me?"
He looked away and wiped away any traces of tears from his face with the sleeve of his shirt. "You like travelling. You want to see the world. Oporuto, Brestia, Illier, Katai… where in Orpesia have you not been to? As your twin brother I can only give you this much," he replied, his voice sounding thick again. There was a hint of love in his words that touched Merrique. She felt guilty about her selfish decision.
Just then, the door to the hallway opened, its sudden creaking noises alarming the both of them. Amadeus walked in with a piece of bread in his hand, his mouth chewing on a bite of it.
"That is your dinner?" Emmanuel asked, gesturing to the bread. It looked stale.
Amadeus nodded. He looked down at his hands and stuffed the rest of his food into the pocket of his jacket. "What happened?" he asked, concerned. It seemed like he had heard a commotion in the dining room, but Merrique knew he had been in his room, reading. "Were we that loud?" she replied, and then broke into a silly smile at her question.
Emmanuel wrapped his arm around her shoulder and looked down at her. His bright brown eyes twinkled with the light from a nearby lamp. Then he turned to Amadeus. "Merrique has decided to sign up for the Reconquista and… I will be joining her," he announced.
She was stumped. "Why?"
He smiled and planted a kiss on the top of her forehead. Amadeus looked away, his brows furrowed. "I cannot leave you to go alone. The Reconquista mentioned it is best to go in a trinity, so I cannot leave you alone." He looked at Amadeus. "You will come with us too, am I right?" he asked, releasing his grasp on her shoulders.
"Merrique, you… I… this…" Amadeus trailed off, his eyes falling to the floor. After what seemed like an hour, he put his hand over his mouth and muttered, "This is not right." Then he turned around and ran out of the parlour.
"Bella," he started, his back leaning against the rough wooden wall of the stable, "your owner, your master… Merrique is a fool." He sighed and buried his face in his hands. They were shaking, but he was not quite sure why.
She forgot about it, about the promise she made to me so many years ago, he thought as fleeting images of what happened a few minutes earlier flashed in his mind. "The Reconquista… they said they are going to sign up for the Reconquista! Why!" he cried angrily, tears rolling down his cheeks without his permission. "You fools… you fools! Are we not friends anymore!"
Suddenly, Bella neighed and nodded at the door. A tall shadow was cast on the floor of the stable dirtied with straw, with the help of the full moon hanging high up above. He could make out from the silhouette that it was Merrique.
She took little steps towards him, as if she were afraid that he would snap at her. When she was only two feet away from him, she squatted down and smiled weakly at him. "Amadeus, I—"
"Stop it," he interrupted. He didn't know what to say; he didn't know how to act around her. Not when he was so very angry at her.
Merrique sighed and rested her chin on her folded arms in front of her. "Amadeus, you came to live with us when you were just a child. You might not remember this, but on the first day you came to our house, Emmanuel said, 'In any case, we will not leave you alone.' It is not a promise he would make and forget the next day. It is one that is deeply etched into our hearts, even now I know he still holds on to it," she reminisced. Her eyes were looking at him, those crystal clear eyes.
He was silent. He could not reply her.
She went on, "And I hold on to it too, this promise. It is not one I would make and forget the next day, especially when this promise is made to you." She reached out and cupped his face with both hands. Her eyes, full of concern, studied every feature, every pore of his face. "Amadeus, I am sorry that I have been so selfish. I wanted the three of us to go to Granado Espada! Haven't we always been together since we were children? I do not want to leave you here," she explained. Those concerned eyes, they were filled with tears. Her hands were trembling.
Suddenly, a small chuckle escaped from his lips. A soft, bitter laugh. He took her hands into his own and brought them to his lips. Kissing each of her fingers, he said, "Merrique, you always have a way with me. It is like you have put me under a dangerous spell." Then he ran his fingers through her thick black hair, rousing the intoxicating rose scent that lay asleep in those thin strands. "Making me feel so vulnerable when I am with you… you are really something."
"Perhaps." She looked away from his eyes just as he pulled her towards him and wrapped his arms around her. He rested his head on her shoulder, drowning in her perfume. A tear rolled down his cheek. He laughed bitterly again.
She returned the gesture with a light squeeze, her small hands pressing into his back. "Come with me to Granado Espada. I will protect you." She planted a kiss in his hair. "I've always wanted to do just that."