The three of us returned to the Inn. Aiko didn’t really have anywhere specific to go. To hear her explain it, she went wherever the wind took her.
“You can share a room with me,” I said.
“Then I will bid you two a good night,” Michael stated. He went off to his own room.
“I’m a bit surprised you two aren’t sharing a room,” Aiko said.
“We’re just friends,” I said. “I have a fiancé… Kind of.”
“Kind of?” Aiko asked. “And what do you mean by that?”
“Her name is Sylvie Fortunio,” I said. “She came to the Academy for her warrior priestess training and we became friends. After she returned to the temple, we kept exchanging messages.” I sighed. “About a year ago, she went on her graduation pilgrimage and we met again. When… when it was almost over she said she was in love with me. I… I told her if she could say it again just as passionately in a year I’d marry her.”
“Was that your way of turning her down nicely?” Aiko asked.
“Well, no,” I said. “The truth is, I do feel the same way about her but… It’s hard to explain.”
“Are you not confident in yourself or something?” Aiko asked.
“It’s more that I don’t really understand what she likes about me,” I explained. “She’s so strong and lively. She knows so much about the world that I’ve never been able to experience. Why does she want me?”
Aiko’s finger flicked my forehead. “You can be a bit of a dummy, Yana. Love isn’t about comparing yourself to your prospective partner. It’s about seeing a person’s weaknesses, strengths and quirks and still loving them in spite of it all. Which, it sounds like she does.”
I rubbed my forehead. “I know she does. She’s waited so long. And she’s never complained. Even when I told her to wait longer. She just said that she was happy that I’d accepted her confession.”
“Well, invite me to the wedding,” Aiko said. “And I’ll invite you to mine when I marry that pretty boy.”
“Who?” I asked.
“Michael,” she answered. I could hear her tail swishing.
“Somehow, I don’t think you’ll manage that one,” I said. “But I’ll support you if you do.”
Larick found himself in the hall of the troll king once more. He bowed, graciously.
“You had advice for me?” the king asked, beckoning him to rise.
“Your highness, I’ve seen a disturbing vision,” Larick said. “Your son plans your death. If something isn’t done, you will perish and he’ll succeed you, bringing misfortune to your kingdom.”
“You’re absolutely certain?” the king asked.
Larick nodded. “Take a party and search his room. You’ll find the evidence you need in his locked box.”
“All right,” the king bellowed. “Royal Guard, come with me. Larick, you’ll join us as well. If you’re lying, you pay.”
They went to the Prince’s room. Inside, they found exactly what Larick knew they would. Detailed plans for various ways to kill the king and ascend. The prince protested that the plans weren’t serious. He just used them to vent his frustrations when he was upset at his father.
He was taken away.
“My own son,” the king lamented. “What should I do? I have no other heir.”
“You must go to the battlefield at the edge of Het Wald,” Larick answered. “There you will encounter a noble lady of Strecner. She will be your destiny.”
“My destiny?” the king asked. “Huh, I like the sound of that! Very well. I’ll leave you in charge while I’m gone.”
“I will carry out what’s best for Relna in your absence,” Larick said. He allowed himself a smirk. All was according to plan.
The Elven commander’s plan was simple enough. Our unit’s first assignment was as a part of the construction team. Lynai also named three veteran soldiers as her sub-commanders.
After giving orders, she called Callie and me over.
“I want to make one thing clear,” she said, looking at each of us in turn. “I trust the two of you more than anyone else in this unit. But I can’t give either of you sub-commander positions. The rest of the troops would never accept it.”
“It does not matter to me,” I stated.
Callie sighed. “Do you really think I care about that? I know I’d be a terrible choice, even without the more practical considerations.”
“But you’re a great leader,” Lynai protested. “I know you could do it.”
“Could I? Yes,” Callie said. She put a finger to Lynai’s lips to deter further interruption. “Would I? No. Remember, I’m here for you and only for you. If I had to lead a sub unit, I couldn’t stick close to you. If something were to happen to you, I wouldn’t stick around to aid this army. I’d avenge you and leave.” She smiled at Lynai. “You need sub-commanders who will carry on.”
“Callie…” Lynai’s face was flushed. The two were steadily inching closer.
“If that is all I will go aid in the construction efforts,” I hurriedly excused myself. I had no desire to bear witness to their intimacy.