“There has been a change in plans, due to the return of the king,” Sensei announced to the class, “and so we are going to be doing a presentation for the king at term’s end instead of deciding the next term’s arrangements. Not to worry, as it’s really just a formality anyways. The teachers always make the actual decisions in the end.” The students breathed a sigh of relief, as they thought their burden was lifted.
“What kind of presentation?” Harnes asked, now being completely awake.
“That’s for you to decide. Any suggestions?” Sensei asked.
“Let’s bake cakes and see who makes the cake the king likes best,” Rowlf said. The bearan had a sweet tooth that rivaled a swine’s. Many in the class spoke in approval, but Sensei wouldn’t accept it.
“Out of the question,” Sensei said. “Offering food to royalty is not acceptable, for two reasons. One is that a king’s food must always be tested for poison, and the other is simply a personal matter. What if the king doesn’t like sweets? Actually, think about it again. Would he be able to eat a cake made by each person here? No, something different. Entertaining please, and nothing that would physically involve the king.” Sensei looked around the room that had fallen silent. Pete raised his hand. “Yes?”
“Martial arts competition?” Pete asked.
“No,” Sensei said before anyone could voice approval or disapproval.
“A play!” Va’il said without waiting to be called on. A few children started murmuring, but no outright approval or disapproval was expressed.
“Oh, that’s closer to what I had in mind. Any comments?” Sensei asked.
“I have an idea,” Kelin said while reading a book.
“Really, then let’s hear it,” Sensei said. Kelin remained silent for a minute. The room quieted down and everyone started turning to look at him. Kelin turned the final page of the book he was reading, read the ending lines, then closed the book and put it down. Looking up, he gave a suggestion that no one expected, but readily accepted.
The king’s carriage moved slowly while being accompanied only by his personal guards and attendants. In the carriage were Aoi and King Fidel. He looked healthy and happy. He and Aoi were both dressed in exquisite clothes.
“Miss Aoi, I think you will enjoy this. The students at Makeen academy are intelligent and brave. They are sure to provide some entertainment,” he said.
“Yes sir. Nevertheless, what are they supposed to be doing? I did see the invitation; it said nothing about the type of performance,” she said.
“Ah, true. They are probably putting on a play of some sort. I don’t imagine they could be doing much else. If it was up to me, I’d pick a competition, but these are only kids of about nine. Their imagination and abilities only go so far at that age. Though, still, I hear we have quite a few kids who seem much older than they are,” he said, a touch of admiration in his voice.
“You really are proud of them, aren’t you? That’s quite admirable, that you take so much interest in them.” Aoi smiled as she conversed.
“I don’t like saying it, but after my death, our youth will have to pick up my slack. We rely on them to keep us going in tough times. It’s only natural that I should love them, to take pride in them,” he said.
“Yet you have no wife yourself?” she asked.
Fidel stopped smiling at the comment. He thought about how to answer for a while, but Aoi spoke up again.
“I’m sorry, I know about the rumors now and I couldn’t help myself. I shouldn’t have said anything,” she said.
“No, it’s alright. How about it Miss Aoi, would you like to have a child with me?” Fidel asked while staring at Aoi. She was taken aback and couldn’t think. He reached up and took some of her blue hair in his fingers.
“I… not. I could. I…” Aoi stumbled over the words, but stopped when she looked at Fidel. He wasn’t looking at her anymore. He was rubbing his fingers in her hair and staring down at his own hand. He seemed to be lost for a moment, but he then regained his composure. He acquired a large smile of the mischievous kind. She grabbed Fidel’s hand and detached it from her hair.
“Sir, I would appreciate it if you didn’t play around with me. It could be bad for your health. As your doctor I must–” she started, but Fidel cut her off.
“Ha, quite right,” he said while slapping his leg. “You’re a quick one. Quite smart. Maybe now you can think a little more deeply about all those rumors you have heard of me. I like how honest you are.” She blushed again at the words, but he continued unabated. “My situation is my own to handle. I have my own way of dealing with those I’ve loved and lost.”
“Lost?” she asked.
“It’s an expression. I used to be a bit of a playboy, but things have changed for me. Now I’ve ended up alone and about to die. Oh, but don’t suffer grief for me. I’m not dead yet. We’re about there; let’s see what the children have in store for me tonight.”
In the large auditorium, the king was seated in a balcony. Below were rows of parents and nobles. A school function that the king himself was attending was one of the few reasons that would get a noble and a commoner in the same room. Makeen, almost unique in the world, taught both noble and common children of all species, as the main school and social example of the city and nation of Rising.
Once everyone was seated, the lights were moved until only a stage for the performance remained lit. A backdrop came from the ceiling; it was a picture of many trees. Silently, one student came out. It was Rowlf. He was dressed in oddly colored clothes and held a pretend axe. Once he got to the middle of the stage, he stopped.
“My name is Jo’ei, and I’m a woodcutter. Nice to meet you.” He smiled, and the audience clapped lightly in recognition. A child dressed in all black holding a pretend tree stump ran out on stage, placed the stump, and ran off. Rowlf swung the axe at it a few times.
“Every day I’m in the woods with my trusty axe. It’s my lone friend as I make my living this way. Never did I imagine it would bring me so many troubles and blessings.” The curtain fell. It rose again on a new scene; this time the backdrop was that of a city, and all the students were on stage dressed as common folk, merchants, and nobles. They were all still. Rowlf wasn’t on the stage with the rest.
It was at this point that the performance really took off. Rowlf walked up on stage from a sideline, and a few of the students turned and exclaimed that Jo’ei had arrived. One remarked, “Oh, it’s just the lowly woodcutter.” Suddenly everyone stopped but Rowlf, who made his way to the middle of the stage. Once there, everyone lined up into three groups.
“I’m just a lowly woodsman.” Rowlf was singing.
“He’s just a lowly woodsman,” the other students sang.