“Lyn! I’m so happy to see you!” Lan hurried up to me and gave me a hug.
“I came as soon as I heard,” I said. “Its good to see you doing well.”
“ Oh, I’m not doing well at all,” Lan said. “I’m terrified of my new responsibilities, especially given the circumstances. Maybe you should take the crown.”
“No,” I said. “You keep it. You were always better at commanding than I.”
He looked at me. It was the same look he always had when he tried to solve puzzles. He was wondering why I’d returned.
“I came here to help,” I said. “We have to drive the trolls back, for all our sakes.”
“Of course,” Lan said. His voice had that particular cadence that tends to accompany a sense of solution. “We could certainly use your strength.”
“I didn’t see any trolls on my way in,” I said. It was my turn to give him a quizzical look.
“We forced them back,” he said. “At least temporarily. I don’t doubt that they’ll return before long.” We stood in silence for a moment. “Lyn, I’ve released you from your duty.”
“My…” I hesitated for a moment. Had he seriously? “You mean that I don’t have to go through some political marriage when this is over?”
“You don’t,” he said. “Nor will any after you. That practice… You were right. It has to end.”
“I bet the high council loved that,” I said.
“Don’t worry,” Lan said. “They’ll come around. They’ll understand that we can make alliances without sacrificing our noble daughters.” He shrugged. “And I’m sure open relations will lead to some marriages whether we force particular suitors or not. Marriages that are happier for both parties.”
“Strange,” I mused. “It never would’ve happened if Liys or Leaf had succeeded and yet… I wish they were still here. Papa too. I wish that I could still make peace with him.”
“I know,” Lan said. “It’s… not easy. When it first happened I kept thinking about the things I should have done differently. The fights I never should have had. The times I caused them trouble, but Lyn, that’s the wrong way to think. Instead of dwelling on the difficult times, we should be celebrating the good. When it comes right down to it, those are the times that truly mattered.”
“You’re right,” I said. “There were a lot of good times. Remember when Leaf caught us sneaking our pixie friends into Heltsger so we could play Royal Council and he decided not to tell on us if we let him be the Royal One?”
“Or the time we had that heat wave and dad brought some water mages to drench everything so we could cool off and play in the water?” I nodded. That had been a fun day.
“Or when Liys bribed us with that really good chocolate so we wouldn’t tell dad he’d been sneaking boys into his bed chamber?”
“Not like we would have told on him any way,” Lan said. He wasn’t wrong and I think Liys had known it too.
We shared a laugh over our memories. “And that’s why we’ve gotta beat down these bastards and bring Larick back here to face trial.” I stated.
“Absolutely,” Lan said. “We’ll bring him down, together. For our family and for our people.”
“Together,” I agreed.
“Where have you been?” Professor Mord asked. I could hear his staff tapping the ground rapidly.
“I was captured by some mercenaries,” I answered. “From what they said, I gathered that they worked for Sadow.”
I let my words sink in while Drake returned to my shoulder. He nuzzled my neck affectionately, his fuzzy face tickled. The speed of the professor’s tapping increased.
“You’re absolutely certain they weren’t trying to trick you?” He asked, finally. “You did manage to escape.”
“I had help,” I explained. “I couldn’t have gotten away on my own. They had me in a cell with leech stones. Fortunately, Michael heard about my predicament and came to my rescue.”
There was silence for a time, lacking even the familiar tap of the Professor’s cane. Silence, my oldest, most uncomfortable friend.
“So, that’s who he was off to kill,” The Professor stated, after a time. “Did he succeed?”
“Sadow still lives,” I stated. “Michael and I are going on a journey to find justice. Athena met us on the road and alluded to the idea that we could find what we seek in Orontios.” It wasn’t quite accurate I knew, but I also knew the Professor would never allow me to go if I told him that Michael was going to enlist in team battles, with me as one of his partners. Even if I was, technically, the interim head of the academy. I heard his tapping.
“Then I’ll head the investigation against Sadow here,” he said. “You two youngsters be careful.”
“We will,” I assured him. With Drake on my shoulder, I made my way back to Michael. I followed the sound of his wings gently folding and unfolding until I was directly in front of him.
“I’m ready,” I said.
“Then we should make haste,” he stated. “It may not be completely necessary to face him immediately, but I would… appreciate being able to settle this matter quite quickly.”