Disclaimer: Swan Princess doesn't belong to me. Some things about laws I took from the Bible because it is an awesome book so yeah…I didn't make the Bible, just thought I'd point that out to you.
Author's Note: Sorry for my prolonged absence. Working 30 hrs/day 4 days a week and prepping to go away for grad school, so I haven't had much time to write, but I am here! Thank you for being patient with me. I'll try to write more chapters before I go away and OFFICALLY have no time whatsoever lol.
Chapter 8: Notes
"Commander, there has been word from Sir Walter." A young messenger boy quickly entered the large tent occupied by two middle aged men dressed in massive silver armor, standing over a table reviewing battle strategies.
Commander Alistair took the scroll and dismissed the boy before opening it. He quickly read it over, and his brow slightly rose. "Queen Akila of Sorea is willing to provide us with the supplies and man power we need, if necessary."
"Will they honestly cooperate with us…I mean after what happened?" Captain Thomas asked.
Rolling the parchment up, Alistair sighed. "Honestly, I am not sure. The resistance needs all the help that it can get." Although numerous towns and cities have offered their support in the rebellion against King Cassius, the royal army had become more aggressive and even resorted to burning down cities that were suspected to speak out against Cassius's reign. Of course, that had really put a strain on the recruit numbers, as cities were unwilling to become the next victim of the king's wrath.
"It will take time to get word to the south and then have them deploy troops accross the Nanian border." The Commander stroked his speckled beard, thinking. "In the meantime, we will continue to recruit more men and even women to the front. The Soreans will be a last resort. After all, this is our country not theirs. Also we will be executing the plan in a month's time and heir will be with us."
"Do you truly believe that he wasn't killed, sir? That he is alive? What if Sir Walter is lying or…?" The commander gave the captain a dark and warning look. "…not…not th...that I am saying he is…it's just so surreal…" Ever since they had heard that the heir had survived the assassination of the royal family over two decades ago, the Commander believed that having the lost prince would inspire the people to rally up and finally overthrow Cassius once and for all. However, Thomas had always been skeptical. What were the chances that Walter was telling the truth? How could the child have survived, with the way Queen Rosella was slaughtered? Perhaps he was some fabrication by the former Head of the Royal Archives in order to gain power for himself. This so called 'heir' could be some random man from the street that Walter decorated and they would be none the wiser.
"Why wait until now?"
His commander looked at him, cocking a brow. "Would you have preferred a child king then? One who could not truly make decisions and could easily be manipulated?"
Thomas lowered his head, slightly embarrassed. "No, I suppose not sir."
"There is great wisdom in Walter's actions. Allowing the boy to live as a commoner gives him much more perspective than a spoiled child prince."
When they had arrived home late that night, his mother was already gone. Rian sighed, relieved. With his mother temporarily residing at Walter's cabin in the hillside, she could focus on recovering instead of all the stresses at home, or at least he hoped she did.
He tried to go to sleep, as with his mother's absence he wouldn't have to worry about waking in the middle of the night to care for her. But as he lay on the floor, he couldn't seem to drift into slumber. He shifted in his sheets and did that for about an hour before heading to the large 3 draw chest that held his reference books.
He had promised Walter that he would try to finish his studies and now proved a time as any, as he couldn't go to sleep even if he tried. Opening the chest, he picked up one of the numerous books and blew off the bits of dust. How long had it been since he had read any of them? Five? Six months? He had been so busy with work and his mother, that he just didn't have the time.
He lit a candle and headed to the table to sit down. He flipped through the musty pages before stopping on a section where he had left a sewn bookmark in the shape of a crown. He smirked. His mother made that for him on his sixth birthday, around the time he started his lessons with Walter. She had told him that one day, his studies will help him change Nan for the better by way of influencing the monarchy, hence the crown. As a child, he would avidly study and occasionally glance at his bookmark for encouragement, believing that one day he would be able to live in a world where he didn't have to fear being taken from his mother or to apprentice in the hot blacksmith shop…
A mere child's dream, he thought, waking from his reverie. Still, perhaps it was possible to make it a reality. He looked back at the book.
Alright, no more distractions.
"Laws of Possession". His amber eyes scanned the page, seeing if he recalled anything from the last time he read. He paused at the section dealing with servitude.
What did it say about possessing a servant?
"If one of your countrymen becomes poor among you and sells himself to you, do not make him work as a slave. But rather, if a fellow Nanian, a man or a woman, sells himself to you and serves you six years, in the seventh year he shall go free, without paying compensation."
Rian raised his brows, surprised. Really? No compensation? He wished this law was still in effect. Although in writing it was, the reality was completely different. How many years would it take to try to really enforce this law again? He wondered.
He reread it, just to make sure that he didn't imagine the phrase, but it was still there. He paused when he noticed something, and then smirked to himself.
She was right, it was seven years.
He leaned back on the chair and sighed, glancing at his sleeping housemate. The minute she had hit the pillow, Adel was asleep and he envied that. She looked so peaceful and quiet– a characteristic that she unfortunately didn't portray when she was awake. He watched the rhythmic motion of her breathing and the slight parting of her pink lips…
Rian looked away, trying to concentrate on the page full of canons, but his eyes eventually wandered back to her sleeping frame.
She furrowed her brows and pressed her lips together, dreaming of something unpleasant perhaps. She moaned slightly, before opening her heavy lids, her eyes finding his.
"Izit dime oready…?" Her words were slurred in her dreary state, but he understood her nonetheless. He shook his head.
"You still have a few hours. Go back to sleep."
She yawned, and without a second thought, she was back in her comatose state.
He turned back to his book, actively turning pages, all the while trying to convince himself that the girl's presence didn't pose as a distraction.
A rather endearing distraction.
A gentle pat on the back stirred him awake. He quickly flinched, eyes darting back and forth taking in his surroundings before allowing his lids to close again. After a pause he opened them again, eyeing the plate of food placed in front of him. Boiled duck eggs with kale and a baked potato with gravy on the side of plate. He smirked; Adel was getting more versatile with her meals. The first day she made breakfast it was just fruit and bread, another it was different fruit arranged in some sort of pattern to resemble a face (she said it was supposed to look like him, but it by no means did), then she made stew (upon his request and aid). He had assumed that since she had servants to make her food she would be ignorant when it came to culinary matters, but he was proved wrong. She was actually able to cook very well, not that he'd ever tell her directly.
Rian lifted his head from the table, looked around and met her large blue eyes. The sight caused him to almost jump out of his seat, and he could feel the tips of his ears warm up slightly. What was she doing so close to his face?
Adel gave him a warm smile. "Good morning!" Her chirpy welcome was followed by a bark from Cairo, who had quickly grown fond of Adel, Rian noticed, almost to the point where the dog preferred her company over his. The traitor.
She took a seat next to him, and glanced at his book on the table. He saw the spark of curiosity in her eyes, and waited for the inevitable question that was to come.
"Are you studying for that exam Walter was talking about?"
Rian only nodded as he placed a forkful of the green vegetable in his mouth. She never stopped with one question, so it was best to not speak until she was done.
"What are you studying, if you don't mind me asking?" She allowed her thumb to brisk through the many pages of the old book. She remembered those days when she had to study history with the Chamberlain, but never were her books quite this large.
"Laws," he replied. "Not that anyone follows them anymore, but you need to know them for the exam."
"Hmm." She paused and glanced at his face. Under his eyes were dark and the whites of his eyes swarmed with red. They had come home late again last night, as Rian had an order to finish before the next day. On top of that, they woke up early every morning, and she found the short time in between to be inadequate for true sleeping. She looked at the large volume, again. Her guess was that it had well over 1500 pages. How much did he read last night?
"Have you slept at all?" she asked.
"You woke me up, didn't you?" he pointed out, finishing his potato, which he found rather delectable. What did she put in that gravy?
Adel frowned. "That isn't healthy you know…not sleeping. I can prepare the shop while you rest a bit – I know how to get there myself, now."
"I appreciate your concern, but I'm fine." He drank his water in one gulp and took a breath. "Is the water for the bath heated?" She nodded. "Good. We'll leave as soon as I'm done."
When they eventually reached the shop, immediately they went into their routine. Adel was reading a new book, Rian noticed, while he reviewed the receipt of the nobleman that had promised to pay 50 aurei, making sure that he had the correct types of armor and weapons he requested. As he read, he could feel Adel's gaze - frankly it was more like staring, her large cerulean orbs were almost bulging out of her face. When he caught her 'gaze,' she casually looked away, trying to pretend that she wasn't openly staring like a lost puppy. He laughed to himself – she was terrible at being subtle.
"Yes?" He asked with light humor to his voice.
Adel just shrugged as she looked at the floor, slightly embarrassed. "I am just surprised you can still function with such little sleep, that's all."
Rian also shrugged. Actually, he couldn't even believe it himself. He knew he was tired from all his work and studying and yet he felt a little refreshed. Perhaps it was the bath and the filling breakfast. Still, his eyes did feel strained and he knew that eventually a headache would soon follow. If he kept this up he would probably catch something, and he was in no mood to get sick.
He took a seat at his work station, and sighed in relief. Even though he had worked late the past few nights, his lack of sleep allowed him to get a plethora of work done in such a short period of time. Now he had no immediate work that needed his attention. He stretched his legs and eyed a long wooden box that he kept hidden from Adel's view. Inside held the noblewoman's lavish bow, which he had 'borrowed' and had yet to return. The bow had a little bit of damage from its time on the forest floor and Rian had planned on giving to her when he had the time to clean it up and polish it a bit. However she stuck on him like glue, even on nights when he had told her to head home early while he was working late. Although he enjoyed the company (another thing he would never admit), he found it to be a bit frustrating since it left him no time to work on the bow.
Not that he cared about how she would look if she randomly saw the bow at her bedside (well technically his bed); he just couldn't stand to give her a weapon that wasn't perfect. It was just in his nature as a blacksmith, at least that's what he told himself anyway.
Again, her gaze was on him. He looked up. "I know you want to say something else. So go ahead, say it."
Adel perked up a bit. Again, he had invited her to talk and his voice wasn't as harsh as it normally was. Still she replied: "You're not going to ignore me this time?"
"When has that ever stopped you?"
"I was just wondering… since it looks like you have free time now, if we could look at the different merchant stalls around town." Although she had stayed in Nan for a week's time, she hadn't really gotten the chance to actually explore and see the sights. She was rather interested in looking at what materials were being sold; everything was so different in the town as opposed to the land directly outside the castle where the nobles lived in her kingdom. It was so lively and full of sights, tastes and smells that Adel wanted to engulf herself in. Besides, she had promised Barbra that she would get her a souvenir.
He cocked a brow. "Interested in purchasing something?"
She quickly shook her head. He knew how he was when he came to money. "No, no. Just browsing."
He paused. If seeing a common town as Dassal was new and exciting for her, she must have a sheltered life. Now that he thought about it, he really didn't know anything about Adel. True he knew she was a noblewoman, whose father was the Captain of Cisne's army (that, and the fact that she talked too much for her own good) but that was it. He had no idea what went on during her day to day life, as she knows his since she was now living in it.
What struck him as odd was why she was in the woods the night he had found her? What could've possibly provoked her to leave the shelter of her home in the middle of the night, and almost get herself killed?
He thought of asking her, but felt maybe it was a sensitive subject. After all, if she had talked this much and had not mentioned it once, then it was obviously something she didn't want brought up. Still, he was curious.
He gave her a short nod. "Alright. We'll close shop early and we'll go later in the afternoon."
"Really?" Adel smiled widely. Perhaps her host had a heart after all. She noticed him retrieve the large book that he had brought from home. "Are you going to continue studying?"
"Well polishing the weapons gets pretty old, pretty quick." He said opening the book to his saved page.
"If you'd like, I could test you and help you study," she offered.
Rian thought a moment. It wasn't the way he typically studied, but he didn't have the heart to wipe that smile off her face with a negative response. He sighed, giving in.
Adel looked at him skeptically. "Are you okay? You've been unusually nice. Are you ill?"
He shrugged. "Ever thought that all your talking could be wearing me down?"
She rolled her eyes. "It must be your lack of sleep."
There was a pause, before they both broke out in unanimous laughter.
"I dare say, what is so humorous?"
The two turned around; their jovial moment interrupted by Bastion, ominously looking down at them from his black mustache. His black beady eyes gazed over the two of them, then to the book in Rian's hands, which was immediately moved to the floor, out of sight.
Rian eyes narrowed slightly. It was one thing for Bastion to arrive unannounced during his monthly visits – that's how he kept the blacksmith at his toes and on schedule—however for him to come twice in the course of a week rose suspicion. Rian hadn't done anything this past week to prompt his creditor to leave his lavish home to come to the 'lowly' shop on the other side of town.
What did he want?
Nonetheless, the blacksmith and his 'cousin' showed their respect to the nobleman, and bowed.
Bastion nodded in acknowledgment – another red flag. "I apologize (flag number 3) for my untimely visit, but there is an important matter that came to my attention." The nobleman cleared his throat. "I have just become aware that your mother, your aunt," he motioned his head to Adel, "has been ill for some time. Rian, why hadn't you told me so I could help in some way?"
Rian raised a shocked brow. Now there was something very wrong! Bastion had known about his mother's illness for years and had not "just become aware" of it. But he kept his tongue with the split second warning look he received from the nobleman. Again he bowed. "I apologize, Lord Bastion. We didn't want to trouble you."
Bastion waved his hand. "Nonsense, I have known Miriam since I was a young lad; she is just like family."
Because family forces members to work as servants for over 20 years, the blacksmith thought, scoffing.
"In any case," Bastion continued. "I have a gift for you to give her." He clapped his hands and a young servant girl appeared with a large basket filled with flowers, scented oils and what looked like medicine. He took the basket and handed it to Adel. "Give her my regards and I wish her a speedy recovery." He said with a smile.
Adel took the basket, smiling back. "I will. Thank you."
"Here," he handed Rian a sealed envelope. He stepped closer to the blacksmith and whispered, "It is for your eyes only. Understand?" Rian nodded, slipping the paper into his apron pocket. Bastion stepped back. "Well I am off. Continue your good work. Good day." With that, he and his servant departed.
Adel placed the gift basket on one of the stools, observing it. It was put together very nicely, almost as if it was a gift from an admirer. "Well that was a sweet gesture," she noted, looking at Rian. "Don't you think?"
"Call it what you will," he spat, his words filled with venom. "I need some air." Before she could respond, he was already out the door, walking a distance from the shop. When he was sure that he was far enough from Adel's eyes, he retrieved the envelope from his pocket. Opening it, he quickly read the note:
See me at my estate, I must speak with you. Come alone. Do not mention your whereabouts to your cousin.
Obviously the gift for his mother was a cover, but why? Why go through the trouble to come under the guise as some sort of caring benefactor? If the nobleman requested his presence, sending a servant would've been easier. Something didn't add up…
What are you scheming?
Go to his estate tonight and find out, a voice in the back of his mind nudged. He nodded to himself. After he and Adel toured the merchant quarter, he would send her off and see what Bastion wanted.
Author's Note: Not the awesome come back you were waiting for I'm sure. This was more of a prep chapter to what is to come next so be a tad bit patient and I'll try to update asap! I was gonna make this a 6000+ words chapter but decided to cut it in half and make another chapter. You've waited long enough. :) See you all soon.