“If Riley had a tail, it would have been between his legs and quivering,” Vail said to Pete. They were walking down the hill, glad that school had ended.
“I still can’t… I mean Zeick, why doesn’t he get it?” Pete asked.
“He’s fearful. It’s part of being a human. It’s what keeps them safe, that fear,” Kelin said as he smiled at Va’il.
“He didn’t care three months ago, there has to be more to it than just silly threats. Didn’t he say something about his parents?” Va’il was thinking aloud, but it was a question he already knew the answer to.
“Um, so, Kelin, what did you say to Jack that made him back away?” Pete asked.
“Oh that? I said it out loud afterwards, kind of. I simply reminded him to obey his instincts. I said, ‘Ask yourself while these fangs are so close to you: What are my instincts telling me, and am I really obeying them? You’d do best to remember that nature is a much more accurate gauge of the situation than any idealistic nonsense this so-called peaceful city has instilled in you. Got it, rabbit meat?’ Natural fear is so much more useful than a group threat. Their ancestors defended, ours attacked. Sometimes they just need a little reminder of that, right Va’il?” But both Pete and Va’il had backed off a bit from Kelin.
“Don’t you think that’s a little mean?” Pete asked.
“Yeah, and what if they start talking to others? You might get in trouble.” Va’il showed concern for both the potential victims and Kelin.
“Ah! You guys! Pete, I can understand, but Va’il? You know I’m not seriously going to do anything. You even helped!” Kelin said.
“Yeah, but we might have caused a bit of a commotion; we made threats. Did you see that first year trio of avians run off? Yan was there too; this is his territory. Don’t you think most people will side with them if a ruckus starts?” Va’il asked.
“No worries Va’il. Those guys aren’t actually going to do anything. Not even talk. Can’t you smell it? There was an ounce of relief in their thoughts and actions. I don’t know why, but I think they are done bothering us. Besides, you forget my family is noble. And higher than theirs. Their parents were smart enough to teach them what proper fear is at least. Although, hares can be so impulsive and impertinent at times,” Kelin replied. Casually conversing about their victory, the trio went to their individual homes for the day to enjoy a warm meal in preparation for the next day.
“Quick, quick! Get ready faster! Va’il!” Kelin was yelling as Va’il rubbed his eyes sleepily.
“Mhhy teail… don’ bite mhy tail,” Va’il mumbled lightly. He instinctively reached around for his tail to check for damage. Finding none, he looked up at Kelin, who was standing impatiently at the door.
“Mai’ou wants you to get up. And we need to go anyways,” Kelin said.
“Who?” Va’il asked while half-asleep.
“Your mom! Mai’ou is your mother,” Kelin replied. “Are you awake yet?”
“Oh, ha-ha, that’s right. You love her, don’t you?” Va’il smiled lazily as he watched the shocked expression appear on Kelin’s face. Kelin may have only been a year older than Va’il, but he had a school-boy crush on his friend’s young mother. Of course, everyone who knew both Kelin and Mai’ou knew this.
“What, no, just…” Kelin trailed off for a moment. “Get ready. It’s going to start soon. You’re the one who was looking forward to it, seeing him come back.”
Va’il wondered who ‘he’ was for a moment. His mind snapped to attention when he remembered. The king was returning. The parade. The celebration. In a matter of minutes Va’il was ready, and the boys rushed out of the house. They spent an extra second as Kelin said goodbye to Mai’ou, and then they took off running with breakfast still hanging out of Va’il’s mouth.
“Hey! Va’il! Kelin!” Pete was already halfway to their destination when the duo spotted him.
“All right, first one to the spot gets to stand on Pete’s back!” Kelin said in challenge.
“Wait guys!” Pete was already trailing behind the duo that sped off quicker than they arrived. Pete kept his pace and simply walked down the road. His goal was a house on the city’s main road. The house was halfway between the city gates and the castle. Once he finally reached it, he noticed that Va’il and Kelin were already on the roof staring down at him. He walked inside and proceeded up the steps slowly.
“Come on Pete,” Va’il said, “I can already see the procession beyond the gates! Take a look. Much better up here than down in the streets, it’s already getting really crowded.”
The first group of guards was already making their way down the road, calling for order. “Order, order, order I say! Get the young away from the streets, we don’t want any tramplings! You there, remove your cloak! Nobody is to wear anything that could be used to conceal a weapon. No one! Much better. Alright, make way, make way. Order, order!” So went the commands of the guard captains. They seemed really mean at times, but the kids all knew that the guards were just looking out for everyone’s peace and safety.
Va’il noticed that closer to the castle the clothes on everyone started to change. Nobles, he thought. Quite a few of the nobles were human, but they were not a majority. Swine, felis, and avian each had respectable groups, although they never intermingled. There were even a few rhinos, slitherers, and bearans. This nation was one that saw much more variety in the species compared to other nations. It also wielded a great deal of power, and was instrumental in settling the various disputes that happened years ago between rival nations.
Va’il focused in on one particular noble family. He could see only four people, and two of them were servants. A beautiful human woman, adorned with gold and jewels and an exquisite dress, was obviously the noble. To her side was a child that Va’il couldn’t see. There were two servants, a tall man four feet behind the woman, and a small white-feathered avian girl beside him. Va’il stared for a short moment, but his attention was soon diverted away from Shiroi. He had seen Zeick. Zeick was being held tightly at the side of his mother. His father was shaking hands with Riley’s father, and the wives were smiling softly. Va’il looked around and noticed that Riley and the other four from his group were running down the road towards the city gates. At that moment, Va’il felt a bit of pity for Zeick.
“Here comes King Fidel,” announced the herald, “returning from Ens, the kingdom of water, after six months of securing our new alliance!” At that, the crowds on the street cheered and clapped. The cheering became louder as the king’s procession came closer to the house the trio was on. First came the cavalry, armored knights on armored steeds. Following that was a troop of bovine soldiers. They were moving in perfect step with each other, which made quite a commotion. The group of about forty soldiers shook the ground with each step. Each massive bovine weighed more than a handful of avians, and had large horns. Some of the children standing at the sides lost their balance and fell into their parents’ arms. None were close to the road itself, as the guard captains did a very good job of establishing order.
There were two rows of the royal guard in front of the king’s carriage, and two rows in back of it. They were a mismatched troop as they were all different species and sizes. Each individual was supposed to be one of the best, so species didn’t matter much, Kelin explained. Of course, Kelin had read it in a book describing the makeup of the kingdom, even though he didn’t understand the larger complexities yet.
Shiroi stared as the procession arrived. She almost didn’t notice the older man arrive at the Madam’s side.
“Madam Melonscone, how wonderful to see you!” the man said.
“Likewise, Duke Tourney. Enjoying the festivities?” Madam Melonscone asked in return.
“Yes yes. I suppose we all had to see what was going to happen. Not a noble has missed this, I think. Fidel’s return, what fun!” He laughed heartily, and then turned his attention to the arriving procession.
“Do you see that? Is that a woman from the water kingdom? She has blue hair,” Madam Melonscone said. Sure enough, beside King Fidel, who was happily waving at his subjects, was a blue-haired woman.
“Yes, I don’t think anyone can miss that. Has our king gone and found himself yet another woman? He really does live up to his reputation as a philanderer. Not that I mind, although it does make me wonder why he hasn’t produced an heir,” Duke Tourney said.
Madam Melonscone turned and said, “Well that’s because all he meets with are all those non-humans from other countries. There must be something more to that woman than a prize for his service. It’s not like any of them could produce a valid heir to the royal throne anyways. Even if this one is a human, finally, they have blue hair, all of them. I do curse that he didn’t take me when he had the chance, that fickle man!” She looked like she wanted to continue rambling on incoherently.
“I suspect you know something I do not. Care to explain?” he asked.
“Oh, I’m sorry Duke. You know how I am sometimes. In our younger days, even I was a momentary object of affection for him. However, it really was only for a short while. Although he has the white hair that marks him as a royal descendant, he is much younger than his appearance. I am not so young, and my affections weren’t to be wasted on him. I have received something else from him though that makes up for it,” she said with a smile.
“You don’t mean…” the duke said as he looked at Jane’s daughter.
“No, this really is the child of my late husband. What I received is a promise. A promise of power. I have yet to use it, but I know that it will prove quite useful if he still does not produce an heir,” she said slyly.
“Quite crafty you are. I look forward to the day when you sit near the throne. Please remember me then.” He gave a small and respectful bow.
“You flatter me. That might be beyond my reach. We will see,” she said with a laugh.
Shiroi asked herself what a philanderer was, but she couldn’t grasp the meaning yet. She looked around as several people were throwing paper flags from the roofs. The people below were catching them or picking them up. On each flag was a statement in praise of king and country. The cheering went on for long after the king passed by, but it eventually died down as the procession entered the castle.
“What are you standing around for? To attention, bird!” Diverting her attention back to her master, Shiroi walked back home.