“When I first met my husband I was fourteen years old. I wouldn’t yet get to know him for another four years, but I encountered him unexpectedly. I was born in a small village two days to the north of Saphestan. I never knew my father and by the time I turned ten, my mother had succumbed to a terrible illness. I was being raised by my aunt and uncle but I didn’t get along with them all that well. They weren’t bad people, but we just didn’t see eye to eye. So when I turned twelve, I told them I was leaving for the capital to find work. They agreed pretty easily and after giving me some money and supplies sent me on my way. It was only a two day journey after all, so if things went bad I could always come back home. After reaching the capital, I found myself working for a local tailor. He was a friendly man in his late fifties who would often spend more time drinking than working. I was happy enough since the pay was decent and the work wasn’t particularly hard. But because the master was always drunk and rarely working, business was rather slow. One day, maybe an hour after we opened the store, the master still hadn’t shown up. We weren’t too worried until suddenly a group of soldiers entered the store. With them was a young boy, probably even younger than I was at the time, so maybe thirteen years old. He looked all regal and fancy in his royal clothes and he asked who was in charge. I told him that the master was out, but he could speak with me instead if he needed something. I remember there was a nervousness to his voice, as if he wasn’t used to this yet. He then informed us that the master was found dead in the kitchen of a local noble. Apparently something had gone wrong while he was trying to break into the house and the shock of the wound had killed him. They were there to question us about what we knew about the master and if we had any idea why this happened.” The queen paused for a moment as if to let the story sit for a second, before continuing. “One by one he had us talk to him in the little office we had. He asked us what we knew about the boss and if we had any idea that he was doing these kinds of things. I obviously had no idea, I just thought he was lazy. Eventually the king and his guards left again, and he never returned. I ran that tailor for another two or three years before I saw him again. He requested my presence in the palace to tailor him a suit for an upcoming party. Of course I couldn’t say no to a prince, so I obliged and made him his suit. He seemed to be pleased with the result because a few weeks laters I was sent for again. This went on for a while. I’d come in with some ideas for him to try on and to measure him to make sure the fit was still good and we’d talk. He’d talk about his duties and I’d talk about the gossip I heard in town. When I had just turned nineteen he offered me a position in the palace as his personal tailor. I left my shop to Shayanna and moved into the palace. He started inviting me to lunch and I’m sure I don’t have to tell you about the rest.”
“What did the king’s parents think of all of this?” Kimi asked.
“Oh, I’m sure they weren’t pleased about their prince courting a commoner, but if you get to know Sapher you’ll know that if he sets his mind to something it will happen. That’s what I liked about him in the first place. He’s not cocky or overconfident, but he is very determined when he wants to be.”
Cobal smiled. That did sound like his father. Which is why his quick move into war was such a surprise to him.
“Mother, could I ask you a question?” He glanced at Cyanna as well, who was looking at the queen, listening to her story.
“What do you think of the war declaration?”
A pause filled the air. Cobal knew it was a serious question but he wanted to know his mother’s opinion. After the pause, which lasted longer than was comfortable, the queen spoke again. “I am of the impression that this war is foolish. The decision was made hastily and there’s something weird about this entire situation.” She looked at Kimi and Mana. “I believe that the king has his reasons for antagonizing our neighbors and I think he knows what he’s doing. I don’t think that Sapher’s disappearance is the main reason for this declaration of war.” She sighed. “I’ve made it a point throughout my life to not meddle in politics when not necessary. That doesn’t mean your father doesn’t require my opinion at all, the opposite is true. But when it comes to international politics, there’s not much I can add. I haven’t studied for these things like my husband has.”
Cobal looked at his sister, how was she responding to all of this. He couldn’t get much from her facial expressions.
“What do you think?” Kimi asked the princess.
Cobal had to make sure not to smile too obviously. He was really happy about Kimi’s directness right about now. He wasn’t quite sure how he should approach talking to his sister about this topic, especially after his short conversation with Thimar.
Cyanna looked at Kimi surprised, not expecting to be included here. “I don’t know. He seemed a bit distracted in the weeks before he disappeared, but we never talked a lot to begin with, so I don’t know. I’m worried though.”
Kimi nodded. “I can imagine, it’s scary to watch a sibling disappear for a long time.”
Cobal hadn’t made the link yet, but of course this would hit close to home for Kimi. She was separated from her brother for a long time after all.
“Do you have experience with that?” Cyanna asked Kimi, seemingly intrigued by the spirit’s comments.
“I do. A long while ago, a court wizard from your kingdom asked for my help. When I refused, he locked me up in a strange magical place. Until your brother and the hero helped me escape this place, I was separated from my brother.” Kimi sighed. “I miss him, I hope he visits sometimes.”
“Where is he now?” Cyanna asked.
“Near Rashind in the east. We had a small place there where we lived. Either that or he’s traveling again. The reason I left with Mana and Cobal is because my brother loves traveling as well. If I stayed with him after I was freed he’d probably feel obliged to stay there even longer. Now we both get to do our thing and hopefully we’ll find time to meet up again in the near future.”
Cyanna smiled. “I hope that happens then.” Her smile faded a bit and she looked at the queen. “Why would one of the court mages do such a thing?” she asked.
The queen shook her head. “I don’t know either, you should ask your father if you really want to know.”
After that the dinner slowly came to a close as they talked about less important and less weighty things for a little while. Eventually Cyanna excused herself and Kimi went to the bathroom. That left just Mana, Cobal and the queen at the table.
“So, what is your next course of action?” The queen asked Mana specifically. “I know you’ve not been here for long, but that makes it especially important that you prove to people what you stand for. Putting aside the nature of your summoning, that’s the reality you face now.”
Mana took a moment to reply. “I believe that with time I’ll find my place in this world. I’ve already grown to like some of the people in this world and that means a lot to me. So for now I want to help Cobal, who I consider a friend. That’s the extent. If I’m being fully honest, I have no intention of being a hero for someone I don’t care about. But being a hero for people I care about is a different story.” Mana gave the queen her most defiant look. Cobal couldn’t help but smile. This kind of stuff wasn’t easy for her. It probably wouldn’t be easy for anyone.
The queen gave Mana a stern look before her expression softened. “Good, that’s how it should be. Make sure you follow your convictions.” She got up. “Now if you kids will excuse me, I have things I need to get to.” She excused herself and left the small indoor garden, walking past Kimi on the way who’d just come back.
“Did she have to go to the bathroom too?” Kimi asked when she sat back down.
Mana and Cobal both laughed. “No, she’s got work to do.” The dinner was more or less finished. “We should head back soon too. We’ve got a lot of studying to do over the next few days so I want to get some sleep in.”
Kimi and Mana both agreed. “Reading gets exhausting after a while.” Mana said. “And the chairs here are far from ergonomic.”
“Ergonomic?” Cobal asked.
“If you sit in a chair for too long you get back pains. This was especially bad in office jobs, where you’d sit behind a computer typing all day. So we started developing keyboards and desks and chairs that were better for long amounts of sitting. Some people even started switching over to standing desks.”
“That sounds like a lot of effort,” Cobal complained.
“Well, it’s better than back pain.”
“I’m just going to ignore that I don’t recognize half the words you just said,” Kimi said.
They all laughed. “I’ll teach you about it someday,” Mana added, “although I’m not sure if the knowledge will ever be useful in this world. It might be more boring than interesting.”
“Maybe some other time then.”
Cobal returned to his room after they had all said their goodbyes. There was a new set of clothing ready for the feast that would happen in a week from now. It was a late celebration to welcome Cobal and Mana back to the capital. He knew it would fit perfectly. It was made by the same company that his mother once worked at, after all. Truth was, he’d heard that story many times before, the queen was quite proud of who she was and where she came from. Even as little children they would hear about her life before coming to the palace and how different it was. So far things in the capital were going well. His parents didn’t seem to have any ill intent towards Mana and with the chance being there that his brother went away on his own accord that meant the likelihood of him being safe somewhere was a lot higher than they initially expected. While all that they discussed today was still roaming through his mind, Cobal eventually fell asleep.