Cobal spent the afternoon in his room alone. He felt uneasy. Somehow he was worried about the dinner. He was worried about his little sister. He hadn’t seen her since they returned to the capital and he assumed it was no accident that she didn’t come looking for him. He was hoping she wasn’t angry that he wasn’t home when Sapher vanished, or something like that.
He also worried about what their findings from earlier today meant. If Sapher really was part of the disappearance himself, then what could his motives have been? Why didn’t he tell anyone that something was going on? It made very little sense. Eventually enough time had passed and he’d changed into more formal clothes. A knock on the door signaled that it was ready to head to his mother’s garden. That’s where they would eat. “I’ll be right there,” Cobal said. He put down the empty glass of wine he’d been drinking and adjusted his jacket. These were his finest clothes and they were getting a bit tight. He’d always trained a lot, but since leaving home and returning he’d definitely grown more defined. His old clothes were no longer a perfect fit. He’d have to get some new one tailored before the ball was held in his honor. His father had invited nobles from across the country for a ball that would take place in a little more than a week from now. To celebrate his son coming back safely. Most likely it was also a perfect front to discuss the hostilities with their neighbors.
Once he left his room there was a servant waiting for him. “Please follow me, your highness.”
It’s not like he couldn’t find the garden on his own, but it was customary for him to be accompanied and announced. He imagined servants were sent for Mana and Kimi as well. After a short walk led them to the garden he heard talking coming from there. Apparently he wasn’t the first to arrive.
“Please welcome, prince Cobal,” the servant said, as he led Cobal into the room. There was a dinner table set up in the center of the indoor garden. At the head of the table sat his mother with Cyanna on her left. Mana sat to the left of Cyanna and Kimi sat across from Mana. Cobal smiled and took his seat. “Good evening,” he said sheepishly.
“So good of you to finally join us,” Cyanna said.
Cobal gave her a smile. “I’m not late, am I?”
His mother nodded. “You’re just in time, dear, don’t mind her. She’s been grumpy all day.”
“Mom.” Cyanna protested, but the queen waved the protest away.
“I was just talking to your two friends about how they met each other, but I’m curious to hear the entire story of your travels. It sounds from the few bits and pieces that I’ve heard that you’ve seen and done quite a bit while you were away.”
Cobal nodded. “I suppose I should start at the beginning then.”
“When we first set out, we obviously didn’t know each other at all, so things were a bit awkward. We traveled from here to Ravadier and spent a few days there. That’s where we met Cassandra.” Cobal looked at his mother. “Cassandra is a friend of ours, she’s very smart and invents things when you need them.” He smiled. “With Cassandra we traveled back up north towards Liriath forest. On our way there we encountered Kimi’Thania, our friend here, and saved her from a trap she was stuck in. We also encountered a strange fiery beast on our way, which Mana fought off skillfully. After being lost in the Liriath Forest for a little while we finally found our way to Milinia, the elven capital city. There we,” Cobal paused for a moment, searching for the right words,” encountered Dionil, the woodland sage. He was a companion of the previous hero, Might, and he was a great teacher to Mana and even myself. He became a good friend even though our meeting was a bit rough.”
“Why was your meeting a bit rough?” his mother asked.
“Well, that is complicated.” Cobal looked at Mana again to try and find the right words. “A long story short, Dionil is not a big fan of our royal family and when I pushed him on that he punched me in the face and knocked me out.”
“Oh my,” his mother responded. “That’s a bold move.”
Cobal laughed. “In hindsight it was probably warranted, but back then it sure didn’t feel like it. After we both cooled our heads we spent the rest of our time at his place, training and learning. It was only when we received the news about Sapher that we rushed back home.”
“It sounds like you’ve gone through a lot then,” the queen said. She looked at Mana. “And you, anything you want to add?”
Mana shook her head. “There’s a lot of details and smaller things that happened, but he told the important parts. Oh, if you are wondering where Cassandra is, the woman we mentioned, she went back home to Ravadier for the time being.”
“And what did you learn then?” Cyanna asked.
Throughout Cobal’s storytelling, Cyanna had a kind of stoic look on her face. The princess was turning nineteen this year and undoubtedly wasn’t very happy that Cobal missed her previous birthday.
“I’ve been able to study the basics of magic. I can utilize it to some extent but I’m still early in my studies.”
“I see,” Cyanna said. She seemed disappointed. “I expected the hero to be more,” she didn’t finish the sentence.
“Heroic?” Cobal asked.
“Listen Cyanna, if you were suddenly sent to a strange world and then someone you didn’t know expected you to become a hero, you’d probably take a moment to warm up too,” Cobal said.
The queen smiled. “Now, now kids, calm yourselves in front of our guests.” She looked at Mana. “How are you finding our world so far?”
“That feels like a bit of a loaded question.” Mana chuckled. “It’s had its ups and downs so far. Your world has a lot of nice people in it. It’s very different from what I’m used to though.”
“Would you prefer to go back to your old world?” Cyanna asked.
“Is there a way?”
“Not that I know of,” Cyanna said.
“Then there’s no point in answering that question.”
Cobal looked at Mana. She seemed more assertive than normal.”
“Cyanna is just curious about your old world but doesn’t know how to show it,” the queen said. Cyanna glared at her mother but she seemed to ignore it.
“Could you tell us some stories about your old world perhaps?” the queen asked.
“Certainly,” Mana replied. “Let me think.”
“It’s perhaps not the most interesting story I could tell, but it’s one that has stuck with me for a very long time. Back in my old world I was a teacher, an instructor as you know them by. I taught a language to children. I know that sounds strange since that’s not something you do here, but we had a way of easily communicating with people from all over the world, so the need for a language that was reasonably common was high. Many people in my world are bilingual, they speak two languages. One of the schools I was teaching at had people in a class who had moved from a foreign country. One guy in particular struggled with the language I was teaching since it was already his third language. He learned one at home, then he learned our language when he moved to our country. Once he got through that, his job required him to learn a third language. And to pass the course we were teaching, he needed to get a certain grade for our class to pass.”
“May I ask a question?” Cyanna asked. Almost as soon as Mana had started her story, Cobal noticed that his sister’s demeanor had become less hostile. He smiled. She loved stories about things she was unfamiliar with so this was probably her idea in the first place.
“Go ahead,” Mana replied.
“What is a grade?”
“It’s a score.”
“You score a language? How does that make sense?”
“Well you see, we give scores for almost everything when we teach. The score is usually based on a bunch of things. With language it’s things like pronunciation, grammar, word usage, that kind of stuff. You get points for each category and need enough points in total.”
“That sounds awfully complicated. Here the masters will just tell you if you passed or not.”
“Does that not leave the decision to the masters’ discretion?” Mana asked in return.
Cyanna nodded. “It does, but they’re the masters for a reason, are they not?”
“Well, that makes sense, but what if a master doesn’t like a certain student? They can just fail them without question right?”
“Well, if I failed a student, they’d sometimes ask why I failed them. I could show them the form I filled in and tell them that they needed to work on sentence structure, for example.”
“I see, that makes sense. Isn’t that a lot of work?”
Mana chuckled. “It is, but it’s part of the job.”
“It seems like accountability is very important in your old world,” the queen added.
“Sometimes it is. It should be important in my opinion. If you’re in a position of power, you should be able to prove that you’re worthy of that position. If not, you should be replaced by someone who is.” Mana smiled. “Any more questions or should I carry on?”
There were no more questions, so she continued telling her story.
“I remember this man was having so much trouble getting through this course but he kept trying and trying. He practiced at home, he came in for extra practice sessions and eventually he managed to just barely get a passing score. As a teacher I was so happy to have helped him push through this. I often think back to that man, even though I never spoke to him again after he graduated. It’s just that it motivates me.”
“What is the point to this story?” Cyanna asked.
“It’s that sometimes things in life don’t go at a fast pace. You might want to succeed quickly and that’s not a bad thing to want. But if you don’t succeed quickly that’s no reason to give up. Those who persist and put in the effort will eventually see results. No matter how difficult the task is you’re attempting to complete, if you just believe in yourself you can do it.”
“But that’s just learning something, there are things that you can’t just do, no matter how hard you try,” Cyanna rebutted.
Mana nodded. “That might be true. But you never know for sure until you give it your all.”Cyanna thought about this, but didn’t have anything more to add.
The queen smiled. “What a wonderful little story. She picked up her teacup and took a sip. “You know it tells me a lot about a person, what story they choose to tell when asked for one.”
“It was just the first thing that came to mind, we’ve been in a studious mood lately, after all, and when I’m frustrated I think back to that old student of mine.”
“It doesn’t matter why that story came to mind first, it’s the fact that it did come to mind first.” The queen leaned forward into her seat. “I suppose it’s only fair that I shall share a story from my own past, in return for your story.”
Cobal was surprised. His mother was always reserved about her past. He knew she grew up poor and caught his father’s eye one day. She’d told him some stories about how she grew up, but not often. He was kind of hoping she would tell them a story he hadn’t heard before. He quickly ate the last few bites of his food before his mother started speaking.