Chapter Ten – The Lion, The Witch and the Cupboard

A soft morning rain covered the fields as they made their way outside of the sleepy town again, back to the house they came by last night. Cobal had never really been to this part of the country, so everything here was new to him. He was used to large towns and fancy manors. Although Ravadier was cozy compared to a lot of the cities he’d visited in the past, it was still a fair bit larger than Rashind. Cobal guessed no more than a hundred, maybe a hundred and twenty people lived in the sleepy village. Most of them seemed to either be farmers or fill some sort of artisan role that the village needed. It was a very different way of life compared to the capital where everything was driven by profit and production.
They found the house still slightly smoldering, although the light rain had gotten rid of most of the remaining flames and it was now just sitting there sadly. The ashes that the fiery lion had left behind had long vanished and nothing was left from the scene of the previous day.
“Now, we need to be careful here, we don’t know if anything else is lurking in the area,” Cobal said to the other two, specifically to Cassandra who was already two steps ahead of him and Mana. The young woman was way too eager about everything and this quick into their journey it already worried Cobal.
“There’s nothing left here,” Mana remarked. They started by turning over planks of wood and checking for any signs of anything.
“That’s not quite true,” Cassandra said, pointing at one piece of furniture that seemed to be the sole survivor of the fire. There was a soot covered cupboard that was about knee height. Although singed on the edges, it was the only piece of furniture that seemed to still be intact.
“Let’s have a look then, shall we?” Cobal said.
Mana and Cobal walked up to Cassandra and Cobal carefully started examining the piece of furniture. It was a well made wooden cupboard painted white, but there didn’t seem to be anything special about it besides that. Cobal lifted it up and didn’t see anything below it either. When he did so, Mana suddenly flinched next to him.
“What’s wrong?” He asked.
“I felt something strange, can you hold it up again?”
He did so, and Mana looked underneath. “There’s something written here, but it’s in a strange script.”
As Cobal was holding it up, one of the drawers fell out, revealing even more strange symbols.
“What the hell is that?” Cassandra asked.
“I’m not sure,”  Mana said, studying the writing on the inside of the furniture, “they look like magical runes, sort of like a magic circle. I’ve seen these in stories, but since we don’t have magic in our world, those were just artistic interpretations of what magic circles would look like. Aesthetically pleasing but realistically quite pointless.”
Cassandra sheepishly laughed. “It’s so funny to me that your world is so advanced yet it never managed to figure out how magic works.”
“Can you draw?” Mana asked Cassandra, ignoring her remark.
“Not well.”
“I can draw a little bit,” Cobal offered.
“Excellent.” Mana retrieved paper and a writing utensil from her satchel. “Make a copy of the runes in that drawer and then of the runes on the underside of the cupboard. Perhaps we can learn something about them in time. Right now, I can only tell you they might be magical in a sense.” Mana let out a deep sigh.
“What’s wrong?” Cassandra asked.
“I’m supposed to be this hero that knows magic and all that, but there’s so much to it. No wonder most people just live their lives without it. There’s all these different methods to it and all these different styles and scripts. I’d be better off learning a coding language or binary or something.”
“What’s that?”
“Don’t worry about it, it wouldn’t make sense without the right context.” Mana looked at Cobal’s drawing. “That’s not bad, I figured you’d be okay at it, but that’s really good?”
Cobal smiled. “I’ve always liked drawing and painting. We had to study the arts in a certain capacity. It’s important for royals to display skills in those fields. My older brother is a fantastic pianist, for example.”
“This is good to know, I might need you to draw me more things in the future,” Mana said.
“Glad to be of help.” He finished drawing all the symbols. He felt a sense of pride in what he drew just now. Not only that, but Mana was surprisingly open and nice today. It almost made him forget the more hostile feelings he got throughout their travels.  “What do we do now?”
“I think we best destroy the symbols on there, do you have a knife or something?”
Cobal nodded and handed her his dagger. Contrary to his sword, the dagger had a very simple design and wasn’t meant to be ceremonial.
“I think this will be okay, but be ready in case I’m wrong,” Mana said, as she used the dagger to start scratching through the magical symbols on the drawer. They looked like they were burned into the wood itself. With a bit of effort she managed to scratch through all of the symbols.
“Does that break the magic?” Cassandra asked.
Mana shrugged. “I have no idea, but I reckon that if the symbols themselves are important, then changing the way they look should make them inert. If the initial burning in of the magic is all they needed, then what I just did was pointless, but I doubt it hurt either.”
“I see.”
Cobal laughed. Cassandra didn’t seem like she understood anything Mana was saying. “Would this help?” She asked, as she raised her leg up high and kicked the cupboard in half.
“I don’t think it can hurt, but next time wait until we’re at a safe distance, just in case,” Cobal said.
He stood back up and put the drawing in Mana’s satchel. “Should we head back to town? Maybe Carla has some more information for us.”
Mana nodded. “There doesn’t seem to be anything else here that’s of interest.”

They walked back to town through the rain that was slowly going from a light drizzle to a downpour. By the time they reached town again they were all completely soaked. “I’m going to take a bath at the inn,” Cassandra said, leaving the other two to go visit Carla.
They went to the house on the outskirts of town where they dropped Carla off the previous day and knocked on the door.
A man they didn’t know opened the door. “Can I help you?” He asked.
“We’re here to talk to Carla, we hoped she could answer some of our questions,” Cobal said.
“You’re the ones that helped her yesterday?” The man smiled. “Thank you so much, I’m so glad you happened to be nearby.” He motioned them both to come inside.
Carla and another woman were sitting next to the hearth. With the rain the temperature had also taken a turn. Not to mention Carla still looked shaken from what had happened the previous day. Understandably so.
“Thank you once again for saving me yesterday,” She said. “This is my sister Lara and her husband Dovan.” The man and woman both nodded politely.
“I’m Cobal, and this is my companion, Mana.”
Dovan’s eyes narrowed. “Cobal, like the third prince of the kingdom?” He asked.
Cobal nodded. “That would be me.”
All three immediately got up in a panic. “I’m so sorry, my lord, please how can we help you.”
Cobal motioned them to sit down. “Please, just answer some of my questions and that will be all. No need for all of this.”
“Very well then.” They all sat back down. “What would you like to know?” The nerves were audible and Cobal wished they hadn’t recognized who he was.
“We found a cupboard in the ruins of the house, it was painted white and about this high.”
Carla nodded. “I know what you’re talking about.”
“Did you get that recently, or have you had it for a long time.”
“I got that years ago if I remember correctly.”
Cobal thought for a second and looked at Mana who said. “I don’t think the cupboard had those signs on it from the start then, it must have been someone who planted it there.”
“Do you think I was targeted?”
“I don’t know. Do you have any reason to believe that someone would target you specifically with powerful magic?”
“No, that would be crazy.”
Mana and Cobal exchanged a look.
“Thank you for your time, unfortunately we need to carry on with our journey, but I would recommend staying in town for a while until you find out what to do. Your house is no longer there, I’m afraid there’s nothing we can do about that, but I suppose you should be glad that you’re still alive.”
Carla thanked them again and waved them goodbye as they walked back to the inn.
“Do you think…?” Mana asked.
Cobal nodded. “I have a bad feeling that it wasn’t a coincidence that this thing popped up right as we were walking by. It’s common knowledge that a hero has been summoned from another world and I wouldn’t be surprised if those who wished the downfall of the Blueyerd Kingdom are also well aware of your existence.”
Mana nodded. “I feel sorry for Carla, is there nothing we can do for her?”
Cobal shook his head. “It’s a good thing she got off without any major wounds, and I think the best thing we can do right now is continue our journey quickly so that we don’t endanger other people by accident.” He saw Mana’s pained look. “That is if we’re right in our assessment of course. It could still very well be a coincidence. For all we know this has nothing to do with us. For starters, it wasn’t a very efficient way of targeting us, so whoever did this might not have had it out for us. It could just be a coincidence.”
Mana nodded. “You’re right, maybe I’m just overthinking it.”
They kept walking back to the inn. Cobal hoped he’d convinced Mana to stop worrying, but he was pretty sure that what he just said was a lie. Magic, although prevalent in their world, wasn’t something anybody just had access to, and learning how to summon fiery creatures wasn’t something taught in books that were readily available. Whoever did this had a target in mind, and it probably wasn’t a farmer’s widow. But the last thing he wanted was for the already anxious Mana to start worrying that she was putting other people in danger. He hoped she believed him, but he was worried she was far too clever for that. She’d already shown to be much smarter than most people he knew, which was a gift and a curse at the same time.
They reached the inn right as lightning started filling the early afternoon sky. They’d best wait for the rain to pass before continuing their travels. It would still be a while before they would ever reach the Liriath Forest, at least a week or more. Cobal shivered while the hearth slowly warmed them up. He really hoped they could travel the forest with better weather, that would be a horrible experience otherwise.

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