“So Zak, what brings you here?” Va’il asked.
“Don’t give me that! What about you? And give me one reason why I should suffer this humiliation a moment longer! I only have for your and Reft’s sakes, so be quick with it now that we are together again!” Ruby said with a certain vehemence that had been building up for a while.
“Well, we aren’t guilty of anything, so eventually this will be over. It’s just a misunderstanding. Besides, it’s somewhat fun. So endure it. We won’t have to pay to eat or sleep tonight, anyways,” Va’il said. Ruby wasn’t going to accept it though.
“Master Va’il, that isn’t good enough,” Shiroi whispered. “And you didn’t explain how you got here.”
“Oh, right. This is why, come closer Ruby,” Va’il said. He got off the bed and walked to the barrier separating the cells. The barrier was really just a number of wooden supports connecting the floor and ceiling, and there was a gap between each one wide enough to stick a hand through. Ruby approached the barrier as well, standing not even two feet from Va’il.
Va’il reached into his clothes for a moment, and then withdrew his still-bound hands, revealing a comb in one. He reached through the barrier and placed the comb in Ruby’s hair. He took a step back and nodded.
“Good, good!” Va’il said, and then he sat down on the bed again.
“Fine,” Ruby muttered.
A few hours passed in relative silence. Eventually the sun set, and the children were served a very small dinner. A vegetarian dish, to Va’il’s great dismay. Ruby caught herself wishing she had at least had something to eat at the restaurant earlier. Shiroi hadn’t yet expressed an opinion on anything.
The head guard returned with a loud stomping soon after dinner finished. He eyed the children suspiciously, especially Va’il. He didn’t stare for too long, as a slight twitch around an eye would appear if he did. He took a step closer to Ruby’s cell.
“So, are you fed and ready to speak?” the head guard asked.
“What would you have me speak on?” Ruby asked.
“What country did you come from?” the head guard asked.
“We are citizens of Rising, just like you,” Ruby replied. She crossed her arms and stared at the avian with a piercing gaze.
“And just where did you come from, then?” the head guard asked.
“Rising, the city, if you must know,” Ruby replied.
“Just you three? Through the valley?” the head guard asked. He smiled briefly in a smug way.
“Yes, just us three, through the valley” Ruby responded. She sounded almost as irritated as she was feeling.
“You hear that? She said just the three of them came from Rising,” the head guard said towards the subordinate that had been watching the children. The subordinate laughed with a high-pitched avian sound. “Miss, you’re lying. Now, why don’t you tell me the truth?”
“What? I did! Any more of this and, no, forget it all. Reft, this isn’t going anywhere, let’s just stop,” Ruby said, and started raising her left hand. Shiroi jumped from the bed she was sitting on and placed a hand on Ruby’s shoulder. Ruby turned to look at her. Shiroi shook her head once, which prompted Ruby to drop her hand.
“Eh, care to explain?” the head guard asked, his interest piqued.
“Why do you say I lie?” Ruby asked, her voice angrier than before.
“Because you’re too young, you don’t have enough people, and therefore the wolves in the valley north of here would have made a meal of you. Or is that only common knowledge to those who are actually residents of Rising? Now, if you please, fix your story,” the head guard said, a smug grin appearing on his face. The feathers on his head that had been slowly creeping upwards had begun to fall into place.
Ruby didn’t know what to say. She looked at Shiroi, who could only shrug her shoulders. They were a noble girl and her servant, how could they have known what any proper transport or guard in Rising would know? More importantly, they had never encountered any wolves in their travel through the valley. A minute passed as the girls continued in their speechlessness.
“Wolves?” Va’il quietly asked. The avian turned towards Va’il and cocked an eyebrow.
“Yes, wolves. Vicious, horrible, incorrigible wolves that own the northern valley, forcing any travel through it to be well guarded or risk attack,” the head guard said. His eyebrow lowered and turned into a frown. “You… you…”
“Oh, those wolves. Yes, they do live in that valley. I remember that quite well,” Va’il said. The guard’s eyes went wide as he finally realized what species Va’il’s tail made him. The two girls looked at Va’il with inquisitive eyes.
“What are you?”
“Lupus,” Va’il replied.
“Ah,” the avian said, his frown softening. “Well, that would explain it. No sense in a wolf attacking a lupus. Wolves are smarter than that. Hmm. Then I guess your story checks out well enough,” the head guard said. He turned towards a subordinate and gave a deep chirp. The subordinate responded in like manner, and then stood up and ran out the door.
“Wait! Stop him, don’t do that!” Shiroi shouted. But the subordinate was already gone.
“What? Why not? And… wait, you are?” the head guard asked. In response, Shiroi removed her hood and ran up to the cell’s door. She opened her mouth and a soft sound came out in the avian language. The avian man opened his eyes wide yet again in one of several astonishments he had previously and was about to have in the near future. He quickly responded with a chirp of his own. For about ten seconds, they went back and forth in like manner.
Shaking her head, Shiroi said in Fervish, “You dull man! Please let us out, or stop your subordinate, please. Don’t send De’un back after he’s come all this way to see what commotion we’ve caused. Please! We need to see him!”
“I cannot do that. You’ll have to explain much more before seeing De’un. We have all night, I’m sure we can get you an appointment in a week if it really is urgent. De’un is a busy man. Now, explain why you are here,” the head guard said.
“Arg!” Shiroi exclaimed. “We need to see him!”
As Shiroi stamped her foot, both a crash and the sound of breaking wood was heard. Va’il had broken down the door of his cell.
“I’ll go get him!” Va’il said. He stood in one spot for a brief second. During that time, he clenched his hands and pushed them together. He brought them to his mouth, and then he chewed on the ropes binding them. The sound of the rope around his wrists cracking and subsequently breaking was still ringing in the avian guard’s ears for long after Va’il had rushed out of the room. After another shocked expression, he turned to the girls. He pulled a key out and unlatched their cell.
“Lupus, really. They are…” the avian said, and then shuddered. “No wonder the wolves won’t get near them. Just a boy, too.”
“Really?” Ruby asked, her interest rising. “Aren’t wolves in packs and dangerous? Wouldn’t they be scarier than a lupus?”
“Hah,” the avian said, and then he gave a nervous laugh. He simply held out a hand towards the door. The girls, not waiting for a change of heart, graciously took the offer and left as quickly as possible.
They soon arrived at the entrance, where a spectacular sight awaited them. De’un and Va’il were hand in hand, Va’il leading De’un towards the building. Seeing that the girls had arrived just in time, Va’il smiled.
“Why why, what an entrance! A performance! And you have companions! Wonderful!” De’un said.
“Yes, they absolutely have to speak with you,” Va’il said. He let go of De’un and stood next to Ruby.
“Marquis De’un, it’s a pleasure to meet you again!” Ruby exclaimed.
“And you too, little miss. But dear, what happened to you! Your face is all dirty, your clothes unkempt, and what is with all this conflubbery? First I get reports of humans in the south, then humans in the city, then one of them has a tail, and finally the commotion was so horrendous I was supposed to come and figure it all out. But at the moment I arrive, I’m told to leave! Then your friend came running out asking who De’un was! Surprise after surprise! Now that you’re here, it’ll all be sorted. I think an explanation is in order. But first, come take a rest. You look like you need it,” De’un said.
The children, somewhat giddy that they had finally been able to reach De’un, forwent the explanations and took De’un’s offer. They entered a waiting carriage, which then took them to De’un’s residence.
Since it was late into the night by the time they arrived at De’un’s, the children had a brief meal of chicken and spinach soup, a quick wash, and then went to sleep in comfortable beds in appropriate clothing. They slept very soundly that night.