Everything had been packed by the people that had been left behind. Va’il was surprised at the sight. Even his stuff had been neatly packed. It was time for everyone to return to Rising. Everyone had eaten just before leaving on a search through the forest, so there was nothing to do but pick up the stuff and go. Without much dawdling, that’s exactly what happened.
Unlike the trip to the lake, the trip back was made as one single group. Va’il walked a little separate from everyone else, and was near Sensei. The two of them were at the back of the group. He still felt downtrodden, but wasn’t going to give much attention to it. He was used to being separate to begin with.
After walking through the forest for a couple hours, the entire group in front of Va’il came to a halt.
“We weren’t supposed to be stopping at this time,” Sensei said. Did something happen, Va’il wondered.
“She’s calling for you.” Jo’se had just made his way through the group of children to the back where Va’il was.
“What?” Sensei asked.
“Not you, Sensei, Va’il. There are a couple of strange girls that appeared in front of us! And they are asking for Va’il,” Jo’se said.
“Shiroi…” Va’il plunged into the midst of the group while he ran. The children that he was about to run into jumped out of his way quickly. Va’il had soon split the entire crowd in half. There, with one standing with her arms crossed and the other bowing, were Ruby and Shiroi. They had four large bags with them, each of which seemed too heavy for one of them to carry. But the astounding thing wasn’t this display of girlish strength. It was what the bowing girl was holding. While bowing, Shiroi had her arms outstretched with paper in her hands. The paper was marked as packaging for food. Va’il was aghast yet overjoyed at the sight.
“Please, where’s Va’il?” Shiroi asked with her head still down. Ruby was standing sideways, trying not to look at any of the children. She noticed the group part as Va’il came to the fore. She nudged Shiroi. The white avian looked up at Ruby, who pointed towards Va’il. Shiroi turned to see him. She dropped her arms, and walked over to him.
“Hi, Va’il,” Shiroi said quietly. She put one arm around his shoulder and turned him to face towards the rest of the children. All of them had expressions of wonderment on their faces. A few were staring very intently at Ruby. But she continued to stand sideways and not look at anyone.
“Can I have your attention?” Shiroi was speaking loud enough for everyone to hear. They all looked at her. She held up one hand, the one with paper packages in it. “I assume you know what these are?”
“Of course we do. That’s what we package our food in.” Twill had made her appearance. “Definitely ours.”
“Then you’ll understand this much. I stole it,” Shiroi said, “not this boy.”
The students all whispered to each other. Who is this person, and how come she knows Va’il, they asked among themselves.
“In fact he had no part in this. I gave him some of your food that I had stolen after he had drowned saving her. He broke his arm for her. He protected her from your search party in the forest.” Shiroi had pointed back towards Ruby, whose face was reddened at every mention of “her.”
“But–” a kid started to say, but he was cut off by Shiroi.
“To protect her, he took this upon himself. We aren’t going to forget that chivalry. Therefore, even though I am making Va’il’s effort go to waste, we are going to clear his name,” Shiroi said.
“You, but what about the secrecy? Are you going to be alright, exposed?” Va’il asked.
“Ah, we’re just fine, Va’il,” Shiroi said quietly. “She really can’t stand when someone innocent is accused. She’s rash, even. But it’s fine now, this is worth the risk. Probably, no one will know about us. Just two girls stranded in the forest that needed something to eat.” The last line was louder and directed towards the group of children. The murmurs started again.
“Well then, anyone have any more questions of our chivalrous little Va’il?” Yan said loudly; his question was rhetorical. Everyone was taking the words of Shiroi at face value. Those that didn’t, at first, had only to look upon Ruby to change their mind. Va’il noticed it too. Ruby was in a bright blue dress. Her hair was in a bun, but covered by a blue silk hat. She didn’t look plain at all. Everyone noticed just how different she looked, which convinced them that Shiroi was speaking the truth about Va’il defending her. Wouldn’t we have done the same, for nobility, people started saying amongst themselves.
Va’il heard some of this. It was a thought that hadn’t crossed his mind before, though now it seemed obvious. He turned his head, and looked over Shiroi’s arm.
“Nobility,” he uttered in Ruby’s direction. She heard him. Her shoulders tensed for a moment. Dropping her arms, she walked over to Va’il. She stood at his side and looked at the children, whose eyes were all glued to her.
“No wrong was done,” Ruby said quietly. She then took a few steps backwards and started to turn.
Kelin and Pete shook off their astonishment as they realized they needed to be with their friend. Harnes walked with them, down the path between the children that had been formed earlier by Va’il.
Kelin walked up to Va’il and put his hand on Va’il’s head. He quickly retracted it in surprise. Va’il looked up to see Kelin’s surprised expression. Kelin wasn’t looking at Va’il; he was looking behind him. The sight of Ruby did something strange to Kelin, is what Va’il thought. Then Va’il realized the sound of something fast approaching was the real cause of Kelin’s surprise. Behind them was the sound of at least twenty horses approaching quickly.