They had already appeared and stopped by the time Va’il could turn around. Shiroi had dropped her arm quickly and run to Ruby’s side. There, gleaming in the sunlight, were the royal guards. They were in light armor and on horseback. There were twenty-five knights on twenty-five horses. A little in front of the group was a single commander, his armor a little different and his horse more decorated.
“Darius!” Ruby shouted as she started running towards the commander, who had already jumped off his horse. She jumped into his arms and hugged him tightly. “What are you doing here?”
The commander smiled at the young girl. He removed a gauntlet, kneeled down, and took Ruby’s hand in his.
“Miss, your mother–” Darius started.
“Oh no. Did she do something? Something that made even you move?” Ruby asked.
“Miss, let us return. Quickly.” Darius spoke softly and quickly.
“Darius, I’m sorry,” Ruby said sincerely, “you shouldn’t be involved with all this. I’ll go. I already was. Can you do something for me though?”
“Certainly, what do you need?” Darius asked in reply.
“Protection for the commoners. Those students, forget they were here, that they saw my visage. You and all your soldiers. Those kids don’t exist. You only found me. Also,” Ruby said while turning to speak towards the expressionless group of children, “all of you should forget everything that happened here. All of it, for your own protection. Tell no one. Some of you should forget more than others.”
Va’il felt a chill run down his spine. Ruby was looking directly at him. Her expression was caring, but quickly went cold. She turned towards Darius again.
“Can you do it?” Ruby asked.
“Certainly. You ruffians,” Darius yelled towards the soldiers behind him, “you never saw a commoner near her, understood?”
In unison, the soldiers shouted their approval and consent. Then, like a sudden gust of wind, Ruby and Shiroi had climbed onto horses and were riding away with the group of royal guards. Va’il caught the backwards glances of both girls before they disappeared from sight. The horses had arrived and left very quickly.
“So that was the speed of the royal guard,” Pete said with respect.
“Darius. Melon…” Kelin silently muttered. His face was white and his body was tense. Va’il hadn’t seen him look like that in a long while. Va’il smiled as everyone quickly regained their senses and stared at him in admiration. The request of a mysterious set of girls, followed by the arrival of the royal guard, made the events that just happened seem like a fantasy only found in a story.
“Did you say something, Kelin?” Va’il asked.
“Daring, amazing, you just never cease to amaze me,” Kelin said while changing back to his normal expression. “Do you know who were they? Those girls who knew Darius?”
“Darius?” Va’il asked, bewildered.
“The commander of the royal guard, Darius. The man in green who hugged that noble girl,” Kelin said. He was honestly surprised that Va’il didn’t know.
“Do you know her? I was just going to say I don’t really know anything about her,” Va’il said.
Kelin went silent. He went back into reading mode by pulling out a book. Va’il didn’t usually notice the books that Kelin read, but this one was different. It was one that he saw Kelin start reading a few days ago. The remarkable thing was that Kelin opened to a place near the beginning of the book.
As remarkable as Kelin’s actions really were, Va’il couldn’t think about them for long. The questions flooded in as every child decided it was time to interrogate Va’il. They were asking if he was secretly a royal bodyguard, or even a knight. They especially wanted to know who exactly the two girls were. Even Sensei was listening intently to hear any answer Va’il could give. Va’il knew he couldn’t answer any of them, let alone the ones that were obviously outrageous. How great it would be to be a simple knight even, Va’il thought to himself with a grin. He finally thought of a perfect answer.
“I don’t have anything to say,” Va’il said while holding his head high. Although the group was disappointed, they couldn’t help but laugh. Just a few hours ago, they had been so disturbed over this same answer. Now, it seemed like an answer that encompassed everything. More certainly than that, it was going to cause rumors about Va’il that wouldn’t be easily squashed.
For a day, Va’il, a half, was the singular mysterious hero of every child, even though they knew nothing of his actual deeds and accomplishments.
The setting sun bathed Rising city in a warm orange glow. There were clouds near the horizon that colored the sky red and grey. The distant ocean in the west seemed to reflect portions of blue into the sky above.
Exhausted from the day’s journey, which had been extra slow due to the events of that morning, a large group of children and a few adults approached the north gate of Rising city. Guards were at the towers on the walls, and the gate itself was open. The adults nodded to the guards as they walked in, and the guards smiled in return. City guards were commoners, and very friendly. Both traits that made foreigners and some local nobles underestimate their extremely thorough and rigid training.
A division of guards had been assigned to greet the returning students. Some of the guardsmen were fathers to a few of the children. A guard was assigned to each child to escort them back home. The fathers in the unit took their own children back home.
A single royal guard was usually assigned to a unit of city guards, and this unit was no different. This one was to be Va’il’s escort, a very tall bearan with coarse brown fur. He carried a giant spear that had a long tip shaped like a lance. Bearans looked very similar to their non-sentient bear counterparts, but their legs were more suitable for walking upright. A bearan as massive as this one would frighten almost anyone.
“Commander ordered me to escort this one personally,” the bearan said to Sensei, who nodded in very respectful agreement. The bearan, who looked like he could pick up ten children hanging onto his spear at once, introduced himself to Va’il. “Little one, my name is Var. I’ll escort you home.”
Va’il quietly obliged. Though he wasn’t scared, it was hard to reply to a bearan who was large enough to pick him up with one hand, or possibly even one claw. With one free hand, Var took Va’il’s bags.
Mai’ou jumped at the sound of something crashing on her door. Wondering what could have possibly happened, she ran to the entrance and opened the door. Standing there was Var, his hand still outstretched from knocking on the door.
“What, the guard?” Mai’ou was surprised in many more ways than one.
“Sorry, ma’am. Tried to knock lightly,” Var said.
“Oh, well then–” she started to say.
“Mai’ou!” Va’il ran out from behind the massive bearan.
“Va’il!” Mai’ou gripped her son tightly as he ran into her arms.
“Too tight, ow, ow!” Mai’ou released her grip and looked down at Va’il. His arm was splinted and in a sling. Var, seeing the interaction, dropped Va’il’s bags inside the door, waved once, and walked off.
“Commander’s orders. Cute kid. Pretty woman, considering she’s a lupus. Still, did he need me as a guard? Hmm.” Var mumbled to himself as he navigated the tight alleyways. Var shrugged off his thoughts once he remembered that he had seen Va’il a few hours earlier, though just briefly.
“What is this?” Mai’ou asked with a frown. She was looking at Va’il’s arm. “Did you hurt your arm?”
“Mum, it’s broken,” Va’il said sheepishly. He looked down, expecting to be reprimanded for not being cautious.
“Well, I suppose you had to break something one of these days.” Mai’ou was already undoing the splint to investigate the damage. Va’il breathed a sigh of relief.
“It’s got a story though, a great one! It was worth it,” Va’il said.
“Silly boy, I’m sure it is. But, next time you score a winning goal, or climb the tallest tree, or win a footrace, please try and keep from injuring yourself. I don’t know if I can stand it when you get hurt so badly,” Mai’ou said while hugging Va’il’s head. “My silly boy.”
Va’il remembered what Darius said, so he decided he’d just let Mai’ou think that his accomplishment was something physical. Mai’ou didn’t hear the story that Va’il was going to tell her; the story that he shouldn’t have told her, but was willing to speak of anyways. Mai’ou, for her part, was just glad he was there, safe, and still in one piece. An exciting but dangerous story wasn’t something she wanted to hear. But, those were simply Va’il’s thoughts.