Several days went by and Mana quickly got the hang of the assignment that Dionil set for them. After the third day she could lift the book up and open it to a random page. More precision than that was still beyond her, but it was a lot more than Cobal could say. He’d been focusing pretty hard but without success. He did feel relaxed when he tried though, so he was going to continue trying for the foreseeable future. Kimi and Cassandra had been off on their own paths still, so they mainly talked during dinner.
Kimi was very vocal about her progress, talking about learning new songs to play, slowly mastering the harp, which one of the elves in town was very talented with, and learning some new magics along the way. Cassandra was a bit more reserved. She said she was working on a project, and would pull Mana aside from time to time, but didn’t say much about it to Cobal and Dionil. Mana and Cobal were talking a lot through the past few days and Cobal felt like they were growing a bit closer for the first time in their journey.
After food, Cobal went back outside to do some practice swings. With Dionil’s advice his sword style was slowly changing to something different. Where he counted on powerful swings before, he was now paying more attention to fast footwork and accurate jabs. It did cost a lot more power, so he’d have to keep training for a while longer. And to Dionil’s credit, the practices with the book made him feel more relaxed and able to focus on his swings without being distracted quickly. Tonight he did find his mind wandering a little bit to home. He wondered how his family was doing. His opinion of his father had been in question ever since the reveal of what happened to Might, but his father had always been good to him. He thought of his mother, who was the kindest woman he knew, always supporting his father in the throne room. He thought of his brothers who were all so very different, and his little sister, only sixteen. No, she would be seventeen now, he’d been away for a little while. It wouldn’t be long before she turned eighteen and a suitable marriage candidate would be chosen for her. Perhaps they should go back after their training for a little while. He’d want to introduce Mana to his family a bit more, maybe they could gain an understanding for her complex situation. While there they could also see if they could find out about what exactly happened to Might and who in the capital is aware of what happened. Cobal worried that his father had to be in the loop, it would be weird if even the king wasn’t aware of this. As he was lost in thought, figures approached the clearing.
“Ah, sorry to bother you,” a somewhat familiar voice rang.
“Karnisal, Mirgia, good to see you both again,” Cobal said. He put his sword away and used a towel to wipe most of the sweat from his face. He didn’t recognize the third figure with them, who looked quite young compared to the other two.
“This is my son, Malan,” Karnisal said, gesturing to the unfamiliar man who smiled.
“My name is Marsilar and I’m a member of Milinia’s Council. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“I’m Cobal Blueyerd, third prince of the Blueyerd Kingdom and companion to the hero.” He looked back to Karnisal. “Are you here to speak with Mana?” He asked them.
“We’d like to speak with all of you here, if that’s alright?” Karnisal replied.
“Of course, if you’d please follow me inside.”
After bringing them inside, Dionil set up the pillows for the guests and gathered everyone around. He made some tea and eventually they were all sitting in a circle. It was sort of strangely informal, but not in a bad way.
“How have things been here for you so far?” Marsilar asked Cobal.
Cobal laughed. “Well, upon arrival I was yelled at and knocked unconscious so things could have been better.”
“It’s rare to see someone who is royalty be treated so poorly by foreign diplomats,” Mirgia added.
Dionil awkwardly scratched his head while Marsilar’s eyes went wide. “You did what?”
Cobal waved his hands in front of them, seeing the worry in Marsilar’s face. “We got off on the wrong food, but things have been resolved since.”
Marsilar shook his head while Karnisal laughed. “Dionil, you haven’t changed a wink in the past hundred years.”
“Father, this is a foreign prince we’re talking about, if we don’t treat him well we could be looking at a war with our neighbors.” Marsilar explained, glaring angrily at Dionil.
Dionil crossed his arms. “Cobal and I may have solved our differences, but I stand by what I did at that moment. I had my reasons, after all.”
Cobal looked around the room. The tension seemed to be rising and Karnisal was the only one who didn’t seem to be worried in the slightest. Mirgia was mostly disinterested, it wasn’t his job to worry about these kinds of things.
“Well, let’s put that aside for now,” Karnisal said, “Marsilar came here to talk with you all.”
Marsilar fidgeted with his hands for a while before looking at Mana. “Yes, I’ve come here to ask a favor of the hero.”
Mana looked at him. “It depends, but I’ll see what I can do.”
Marsilar looked down at the table in front of them. “There’s two things actually. I would like to ask permission to come train here with you. An opportunity to train with the woodland sage would be invaluable.” He looked at Dionil who shrugged. “As long as you’re not in the way of Mana’s training that should be fine.”
Karnisal laughed again. “I’ve missed you, old friend.”
“I live a short walk away, if you missed me you should have come by.”
They both laughed. Dionil then looked at Marsilar. “And what is your second question?”
“The fall festival of Bokrinoa is coming up in a little over a week. There will be performers from up north and food stalls and all sorts of folks will be selling their wares. At the center of it all will be a podium and I was wondering if you could give a short speech as the new hero of these lands.”
Cobal looked over at Mana who looked mortified at the idea.
“I’m not really a public speaker if I’m honest with you. Do you even think people would be interested in that?”
Marsilar nodded, “Very much so, the people would love to see a hero talk, a lot of them still remember Might.”
“That definitely didn’t make it worse,” Mana mumbled to herself. She sighed. “I’ll do my best, but it won’t be a long speech and probably not a particularly good one.”
“All I ask is that you say a few words, that would be much appreciated on its own,” Marsilar said, smiling.
“I’ll do my best.”
“That is more than we could ask for.”
“If you don’t mind, I have something to ask as well,” Karnisal added.
“I would like to offer you a spot on the council of Milinia.”
“Excuse me, what?”
“If you become a member of our court, that means other countries will think twice before hurting you,” he added.
Cobal smiled. “That’s very clever of you to offer. Not only is it a good offer in general, you’re also ensuring that Mana becomes one of your own, binding her to this place.”
Karnisal laughed. “Is it that obvious?”
“I’ve been in the royal palace long enough to notice something like that.” Cobal shrugged. “It’s still a good deal though, I can’t even be mad about it.”
Karnisal turned to Mana. “So, what do you say?”
“I would be honored.” She smiled. “It would make me feel a lot more at ease, actually.”
“Excellent, if you come into town tomorrow we can make everything official. You can meet the rest of the council as well while you’re at it.”
Karnisal stood up. “Well, I trust you to take good care of my boy, and I hope to see you in town in the morning,” he said from Mana to Cobal. “Feel free to come along as well, it could be good to speak with a prince from our neighboring kingdom for some of our council members.”
Cobal nodded. “I’ll be there too.”
Marsilar turned to Dionil. “I look forward to your tutelage.”
Dionil smiled and nodded. And with that, the three of them left again, going home to the village.
“Well then, training is over for the day folks, go relax for the evening.” Dionil stood up. “I got some things to take care of as well, I’ll be back later.” And with a wave he left.
After cleaning the dishes and putting away the guest pillows again, Cobal and Mana both sat outside as the sun slowly went under. “I’m getting used to life here,” Mana said.
“I’m glad to hear that, you’ve changed since we’ve gotten here.”
“In a good way?” Mana asked.
Cobal smiled. “Who am I to decide that?”
They stared off into the distance, the sounds of the forest being the only thing around.
“You know, there’s a quiet here in the world that didn’t exist where I came from. At least not in my part of the world.”
“I lived in a big city, hundreds of thousands of people lived there, all living their lives. We had cars and planes and trains, those are vehicles that made sounds. Streetlights, which are like lanterns but different, riddled the landscape and the sky was broken up by skyscrapers, buildings taller than your tallest towers. Compared to life in the city, this is so much nicer.”
“Well, if it’s better here, then that’s all that matters.”
Mana smiled. “For the first time since I got here, I’m starting to feel at ease. Maybe it wasn’t all bad, being summoned here.” Her smile vanished. “I do worry about the future though. I don’t feel particularly heroic yet, and I worry at some point I’ll be asked to fill that role while I’m not ready for it.”
Cobal thought about it for a little while before replying. “When that happens, you’ll have people around you ready to help you.”
“I appreciate that.” As the sun slowly went under and the light of a lantern on the porch was all that was left, they both sat there for a while, in silence, living only there and in that moment.