Fidel looked tired. Sitting on his throne, with Aoi to his right and Diren to his left, he watched as Darius and Jane Melonscone argued in front of him.
“You must mobilize the entire force, I demand it,” Jane said.
“Madam, understand that we are not your servants!” Darius said.
“You might as well be!”
“With the land and privilege your house has, your army is several times larger than the royal guard, why don’t you mobilize them?”
“You know as well as I that summoning even a portion of that force is a long process that is reserved for times of war, to serve the nation in that capacity only. That force isn’t really appropriate for non-military uses, anyways.” Jane didn’t appear to realize just how ridiculous her request was in the face of her own refusal.
“Fidel, can you please tell her that although we can help, there is no way we can accommodate her demands?” Darius asked.
Fidel frowned silently. He placed his elbow on the armrest, and placed his head on his fist. He glanced at Diren and made a small motion with his eyes.
“Ms. Melonscone, the royal guard is required to have, at all times, at least half of the force in the direct vicinity of the king. No exceptions are to be made. Furthermore, the guards are constantly rotated. Those who are not on duty are resting peacefully in preparation for their shift,” Diren said with authority.
Jane stared with disdain, and muttered something under her breath. Her scowl grew larger, to the point where it wasn’t humanly possible to scowl any more. Then she stopped and smiled.
“I understand, advisor. I’ll just walk home, bury my head in a pillow, and cry till my daughter is home. That is so much more effective than actually doing something,” she said with a smile and a nod. “But, whatever shall I do if she turns up dead, abused, beaten by someone else’s hand, or is in any other way unfit? Why, I think I’ll just have to make use of my own resources at that point. Certainly I’ll have to call back every loan I’ve given. Oh, and I won’t want to eat, so I should purchase all the productive land I can and rid it of its fields, so the land can mourn with me. Oh, but I already own most of them. Maybe I should run to my relatives, my brothers, my fellow aristocracy for comfort.” Jane smiled happily as her threats bounded through the room.
“Enough. Dear, I know your status. I know your wealth. I know that your child is the bearer of your family name. I also happen to know you only care for her because of her name. And, I know your disapproval can ruin our country,” Fidel said.
“Then, my lord, Fidel, you mean?” Jane ignored the truth in Fidel’s words as she put on an expectant face.
“I remember our times; I’ll honor them yet again. A quarter of the force. No more. The commander will head north, and you will have a few small groups of scouts. The forests and the lake to the north, the fields in the west, and halfway to the mountains in the east. South will be ignored. I hope you’re right that your child went north,” Fidel said.
“I still have the Right, I still have it Fidel! I can still use it! Will you not help more?” she asked. Murmurs in the hall abounded at the mention of the Right. Fidel simply smiled.
“Dear, I know you wouldn’t waste that precious gift just yet, not when this is sufficient. Your aspirations are much higher, aren’t they? But if you demand it, then I must concede. Decide then, what is sufficient,” Fidel said.
Jane bowed and left the room without a word.
Va’il spat out the dirty water.
“None of it is good, it’s all disgusting.”
“I need water; we need to hurry out of here,” Ruby said while panting.
After walking for hours, Ruby and Va’il realized they hadn’t ate or drank for a long time. Neither was sure how much time had passed. There was water everywhere, but not a drop of it was good enough to drink. They were both feeling very sick. Because of his arm, Va’il was especially feeling the effects of thirst and hunger.
“Can’t do it,” Va’il said as he stumbled and fell. Ruby, a few feet ahead of him, turned and looked.
“You can’t fall before me, Va’il! Get up, we need to go, and you need to help me out of here.” Va’il didn’t respond. “Fine, then you’re coming with me one way or another.”
Ruby put Va’il’s right arm around her neck, supporting half his weight. With Va’il walking in step with her, they kept going in the darkness. The tunnels curved and elevated. At times, it felt like they were walking in a giant circle, and at others they felt like they were walking up a hill. Va’il longed for the hill leading up to the schoolhouse. At least that hill had sunlight surrounding it.
Va’il thought of that, and a smile came to his face at the thought of the bright school. He imagined the hill, the school, the light, and the big tree. In fact, he could see it now, in front of his eyes. Ruby dropped him and he fell to the ground.
“What is this?” she asked with an awed tone.
Va’il rubbed his chin, but he stopped when he realized that he was in a room full of light. It was bright everywhere. Instead of a school, there was a golden pavilion. Instead of sunlight, there were walls of golden luminous stones. Instead of a hill, there were steps leading up to the pavilion. Instead of a tree, there were hundreds of statues. They were faceless and had ambiguous bodies.
Realizing she had dropped Va’il, Ruby picked him up again. As both of them stared at their mysterious surroundings, they walked towards the steps leading up the pavilion. After much effort, they reached the top. The pavilion was fifteen meters wide and square. It had steps going down each edge. In the middle was a single pedestal with a cushion on top. Resting there was a clear orb.
Va’il looked out of the pavilion, over everything else. The giant luminous cavern only had hundreds of statues. There was nothing else of importance other than the pavilion and the things in it. To the left and right there were other paths out of the cavern; the path they came from was behind Va’il. He saw this and walked over to Ruby, who was standing near the pedestal.
“What do you think it is?” she asked.
“Just a crystal ball. Do you like things like that, Shiroi?” Va’il asked.
“Me? No, no, I just was thinking. It’s clear, but it reflects colors like a rainbow. I feel like I’m looking at a soap bubble,” she said while stretching out her hand.
“Don’t touch that!” Va’il said. Ruby stopped with her hand a few inches from the orb.
“What? Why not?” she asked indignantly.
“Respect for old things. It would be wrong. And it’s not ours. Maybe the owner put it here so no one would touch it,” Va’il said with a serious look on his face. Ruby couldn’t help but laugh at Va’il.
“Va’il, you’re interesting. Okay, you’re probably right in some way. Though I think whoever owns this has to be long dead. It doesn’t look like anyone has been here for ages, even though it’s pretty.” Va’il nodded happily when Ruby pulled her hand back. “Since I mentioned that taboo thing again, I think it’s time to go.”
Va’il couldn’t agree more. The small bit of energy he had gained upon seeing the amazing surroundings had started to fade. He turned around and started walking down the steps on the left side, towards a path that they had yet to explore. He got to the bottom of the steps quickly. He turned around and sighed as he saw Ruby at the top of the pavilion still. She was just taking the first step down.
“Thirty,” Ruby said as she stepped onto the ground. She smiled at Va’il and willingly put his arm around her neck. “I’m still stronger.”