The banquet itself was a sight to behold. Large tables were put in the center of town with tree stumps serving as chairs. Everyone could sit wherever they wanted and move from table to table. There was a table with all sorts of prepared fish dishes as well as one with meat dishes. There were breads and salads and even foods that Cobal had never seen before. Looking around he already saw Dionil sitting somewhere next to Jerasi and his daughter deep in conversation about something. Karnisal was sitting next to some folks he didn’t know and several other members of the council of Milinia had spread out throughout the crowd. Cassandra was talking to a very strong looking elven man and they seemed to be exchanging ideas. He didn’t spot Kimi but he was sure she wouldn’t be far.
“Shall we start eating too then?” He asked Mana, only to realize she’d already slipped away towards one of the tables and started admiring the food. He smiled and went over to join her.
“You fit right in.”
“Do you think so?” Mana already had a bowl of fruit salad in her hands, ready to dig in. “I can’t deny that I’m having a great time.”
Cobal smiled. “I’m happy we visited this place. You know I’ve worried about you. At first because I didn’t know what this all would mean for me, of course, but eventually as a friend.”
“Well, I think you can worry a little bit less about me for the time being. We even managed to stave off that weird guy with the summons.”
Cobal nodded. “That still worries me to an extent, but I also have faith in the people here to defend themselves.” He laughed. “After all, they took care of more of this problem than we did, we just let the main bad guy escape and that’s all.”
“Well if you look at it that way we kind of messed up, didn’t we?”
“We’ll just not tell anyone at home.”
“Sounds like a plan.” They both laughed.
“I’m going to go talk with Mirgia over there,” Cobal said.
“Go for it, I have people I want to talk to as well.” She handed him a bowl of fruit salad.
“This stuff is really good, make sure you try it.”
“I think I will.” He took the bowl and started scooping pieces of fruit out on his way to where Mirgia and a few others were talking.
“How are you all, taking a break from patrolling?” Cobal asked.
“Cobal, good to see you’ve joined the festival.” Mirgia smiled. “Yeah, we’re doing short shifts so everyone can join in on each part of the festival without feeling left out. It’s a bit of a hassle but for today it’s fine.” He handed Cobal a drink from the table next to him. “And yourself? You and Mana were quite vital in keeping us safe from this threat,” he said.
“We also worry our presence is what might have drawn danger here, so it’s the least we can do.”
Another one of the elven guards that was standing next to Cobal slapped him on the back. “Don’t ever blame yourself for the evil others put upon you. Once you take responsibility for the indefensible actions of others, you’ll be playing right into their hands. We can handle ourselves.”
Some of the others nodded in agreement and Cobal smiled. “I appreciate that.”
They talked for a little while longer as the sun slowly started going down. Eventually Mirgia and his group had to go back to guarding the outskirts of town and shortly after they’d left the other guards came in and were immediately supplied with a surplus of food and drinks to make up for lost time. Cobal scanned the crowd and eventually spotted Cassandra talking with Karnisal. She was making large hand motions to the village chief. He decided to wander over.
“Good evening to you too, Cobal,” Karnisal responded, a polite smile on their face.
“How has the festival been going so far?” Cobal asked them. The fake politeness that he was so used to at home had no value here but that was not a problem. In their short stay with the elves, Cobal had gained a genuine respect for Karnisal and many of the other elves. Their way of thinking and conducting themselves was truly inspiring and the nobles at court could learn a lot from them.
“Things have gone smoothly. We’re keeping a close eye on the perimeter but it does seem like the threat has passed. As for the festival itself, it’s always an absolute joy to celebrate with the entire village. It brings us closer together and for elves like us, who live close to a thousand years sometimes, it’s important to create good bonds with the people around us. Festivals like this help us do that.”
Cobal nodded. “And have you been enjoying anything in particular?” He looked at the food in front of Karnisal.
They nodded. “I don’t eat a lot of meat normally, I don’t like killing animals so I avoid it, but whenever a festival comes around I make an exception. And on top of that it’s berry season and there are so many great fruits right now, but you’ve tried most of them already from the looks of it.”
Cobal laughed. “For sure, it’s been great so far.” He found himself looking at Mana.
“Worried?” Karnisal asked.
Cobal shook his head. “No, not anymore.”
“Then you’ve grown an admirable amount in a short time, young prince. I think you’ll make a great ruler one day.”
Cobal chuckled. “A lot of people would have to die for me to become a ruler. No, I’ll probably retire young or something, as a third prince there’s not much I’ll do that isn’t getting married to some noble daughter.”
“Destiny is a fickle thing, young one,” Karnisal said. Their eyes almost seemed to glaze over as if they were looking at something else completely. “I have a feeling it has more planned for you than you might think.”
“What do you mean by that?” Cobal asked.
Karnisal shook their head. “I don’t know more than that. Sometimes the winds whisper small things to me. They whispered that you were a man of great importance, days before you and your companions even arrived. But why and how the winds would not tell me and I think it is better this way.” They took a big bite from the piece of deer meat that had been sitting in front of them. “Destiny can push us in a direction for sure, but it’s up to us to take that push and turn it into something greater.”
“I’m sure that’s all very wise, but I’ve had some wine and I don’t know what was in that fruit punch, but I definitely am way too tired to properly process what you’re saying.”
Karnisal chuckled. “Don’t worry about it then, go enjoy yourself.” They held up their glass and Cobal replied in kind. The clinking sound that followed was tranquil.
Several drinks later, Cobal found himself alone on the edge of the crowd. He was watching the people mingle. He’d done so many times back at home, from a balcony or the head table of a giant banquet. There was no such thing here. Some people were sitting up on the walkways in the trees, but that was open to everyone, so it was different. Now he was there, with the people. He was different but the same as everyone else. Elves, humans, spirits and even an otherworlder. In his left hand he held a strange but extraordinary fruity drink that he’d been sipping on for the last half an hour. People had approached him and he’d approached people and as the sun was going down the energy was starting to shift. All the torches were lit at this point and the stage was ready and occupied. Someone was playing music earlier and after a small applause they left. While he was standing here, Kimi approached him.
“I haven’t seen you much lately,” he remarked.
“I’ve been busy, but I’ll show you the results of what I’ve been doing soon enough.”
“That sounds ominous.”
She laughed. “Perhaps it is.”
“I didn’t expect to travel to such a nice place, so soon after being locked in there for ages. It’s nice.”
“I’m glad to hear that. I could stay here for years, honestly.”
“If no one tells us to leave we might just do that,” Kimi added.
“We’ll live here for the rest of our days.”
“Wouldn’t that be nice.”
They both laughed. It was indeed an evening for joy and laughter, which felt well deserved after troubled travels and trouble at the village as well. As they were both waiting there, someone familiar stepped out onto the stage. They weren’t super far from the stage and had a good view of it from here.
“I know you’ve been busy with something, but so has Mana, let’s see how that’s going for her.” Cobal said, watching the hero take center stage at the harvest festival.