A Battlefield of Swords and Flowers
“You were always clumsy, weren’t you, Sam?”
“No!” I tried defending myself. “How am I at fault when a dog randomly runs through my legs.”
After we had finished her chores, Lia was told by her mom to go by groceries as punishment for not doing her chores when she was told. And as we were walking through the market in the town square, a stray dog carrying a piece of mutton, who was presumably being chased by the person he stole it from. For whatever reason, the dog thought that the best way to get through the busy crowd was to go between my legs. It saw the opening and took it, leaving me to tumble and fall, slashing my knee on the pavement stones.
And now I was sitting on a pile of wood crates next to the opening of an alley while Lia tried her best to heal my wound with what little magic she knew.
“You know, you didn’t have to laugh so hard,” I insisted.
“But don’t they say that laughter is the best medicine? If anything, I was doing you a favor.”
“That’s only true if the victim is the one laughing!” Jeez. She sometimes really got to me. Though, she may be right to some extent. Her uncalled for laughter after I fell made me so irritated that I completely forgot about the pain.
“Anyway, if I’m clumsy while walking then you’re clumsy with magic. You’ve been at it for a minute but you’ve barely slowed down the bleeding. I’ll die of blood loss before you’re done.”
“Shut up. The idea of letting you bleed to death is becoming more and more appealing now,” she threatened. “You have to remember, I’m new at this. I can only heal minor cuts and bruises, as well as mild burns.”
Lady Alea had only been teaching her on and off in her spare time for almost two weeks, so you can’t exactly call Lia “advance.”
“This is a pretty big cut, so it’ll take time for me to mend it,” she explained as she continued to hold her hands over my knee. The dim green light that indicated healing magic was taking place flowed over my wound and gave off the slightest bit of warmth. “Though, it's more of a flap of skin than a cut, in my opinion.”
“Thanks for reminding me.” The pain suddenly reappeared.
Anyway, she continued.
“This is a little too complex for me. There are a few steps I have to take in order to heal your wound. First I have to stop the bleeding. Then I have to reattach the skin to your knee. And only then will I be able to seal the cut.”
I never realized that healing a single cut with magic could be this complex. And she still gave me a rundown of the process without losing focus.
Maybe she will get good at this in the future.
“You should just be grateful that I’m always around.”
We had basically grown up together. Our families were neighbors and both of our fathers worked in the town hall. My father worked as the Minister of Agriculture. He kept track of all the nearby farms that fed the town and reported to the town chief. Lia’s father was the Event Coordinator. The title speaks for itself, but his job was to coordinate all public events. Since the market was open almost everyday, that usually took up most of his duties.
Our mothers usually stayed at home with us kids. They took care of me and my baby brother, Ali, and Lia and her older sister, Lisa. But once we were old enough to take care of ourselves, they started to work at the church like they did before we were born. They weren’t nuns but they performed general tasks and upkeep of the church.
While Lia kept at it with her unbreaking diligence, I turned my attention to the passing crowd. In the middle of our distant town up in the north, we had a marketplace. Sunday was usually the day when all the farmers gathered to sell their produce and meats. Today was that day. Of course, there were other types of vendors.
Various small businesses popped up at the market. Dressmakers, blacksmiths, traveling merchants, and old fishermen selling the few fish he needed to make a living. It was a real treat, too, when a minstrel happened to pass through town, playing a joyful tune. Everyone would gather around them when they first showed up and listen to their first song. Then the melody would become commonplace and blend in with the commotion throughout the day and into the evening. That’s when a lot of vendors packed up and went home. But the the minstrel would remain, and couples, along with groups of friends or just a random passerby would start to dance in the newly vacant market square under the light of the moon and lanterns.
But there was no minstrel today and the market square kept at its common pace, full of people going about their day buying food to prepare for dinner or just out to buy a new pair of shoes from the only shoemaker in the corner.
Apart from the many houses and shops surrounding the market square—one of them being the chief’s home—a few streets extended from, connecting it to the rest of the village and to the road that led even further, heading to other towns. But in between the various houses and streets, tight alley ways sewed themselves through the town acting like hidden passageways that let you travel discreetly.
It was in one of these alleyways—one that I often used myself—that I saw a dark figure lurking around. In my experience, that alley was one of the less frequented, so it told me a bit about the mysterious figure. If you were trying to move around without calling attention to yourself, I would definitely recommend strolling through that particular alley.
The figure, of average size and height, looked attentively around for a moment, and by the next, he had completely vanished.
“I hate to break it to you, but you should get a second opinion.” Lia’s quick quip jolted me back into the situation at hand.
There was still a great deal of pain refusing to leave my knee. Even through her nearly three minute effort, Lia still wasn’t capable of sealing my wound. The only progress was that the speed of my blood loss was starting to visibly slow down. Even so, a puddle of blood roughly twice the size of my hand still pooled at my feet.
“We probably should have gone straight to Old Man Thomas’s house and gotten you some bandages,” Lia gave her belated judgement.
“A professional doctor probably was the better option.”
Just as Lia was about to give upon her treatment, my ears caught a melody being hummed in the distance. At the vendor’s stand closest to where we were sitting, a young woman, who seemed no more than twenty, sorted through the fruit a farmer had set out to sell. She wore a sky-blue, summer’s dress that reached to just before her ankles, and a pair of summer sandals. It was the common style for women now in late spring.
But, unlike her dress which was on display for everyone to gaze at, her face was concealed by a large, floppy hat that drooped down and left only her chin and rosy lips exposed. Our town wasn’t big, so you were usually able to identify everyone. But I was having a hard time with her. I had no idea if she was from here or if she was traveling.
Still humming, she grabbed some fruit and placed them in her bag, but not before handing the vendor his due compensation compensation, a single golden coin. Anyone with any sort of intelligence would know that that amount she gave him was easily twenty times the price of the fruit. The vendor at a loss for words humbled himself and tried to offer the excess back to the lady, but she simply shook her head and kept humming.
I probably examined her too intently because as she made to leave, she seemingly sensed a pair of eyes on her and instinctively turned to her side and found my staring back at her. She only smiled as I was left looking stupid and began to close the gap between us, being extra careful not to show her face.
“That’s a nasty cut you managed to get,” the lady said when she was within earshot.
The sudden comment from behind made Lia jump with a start but she regained her composure after she saw the figure, unlike me who kept silent from the embarrassment. Because of this, Lia answered her, not me.
“Do you happen to have any bandages? That would really help us out,” she asked knowing full well that no normal person just carried bandages around.
“Nope, I’m sorry. I usually do but not today,” the lady apologized as she knelt down to my eye level, still keeping her face hidden. She extended her hand and held it over my wounded knee. A soft, green light emanated from it and a sudden feeling of warmth spread throughout my body as if I was lying in a field and being bathed in the summer’s sun.
Both Lia and I couldn’t look away. No sooner had she hovered her hand over my knee that it started to heal. Before long, the wound was completely gone. No scars or anything that could indicate that the cut was ever there.
We were stunned, to say the least. Not because she was able to heal my wound that quickly. With enough practice, any experienced mage would be able to do the same thing. No. What made us so surprised was that the only people who had those sorts of skills were Old Man Thomas, the doctor, and Lady Alea, the retired mage. No one else in town was capable of that much.
It was an interesting development, at least for me. For the most part, it answered the question of who she was. She was definitely from another town. But her kind gesture told me even more than that.
And unconsciously I let slip, “Of course you would be able to do that,” in amazement.
For a moment, her smile dwindled, but it soon resumed its previous shape only to ask, “Can I ask what you mean by that?”
“It’s just that I was wondering who exactly you were since I had never seen you around before. Plus, there are only two people in town that are that skilled. Even so, today there just so happens to be someone else who can use the same level of magic visiting town.”
With this revelation, her smile permanently disappeared—not out of disappointment but of annoyance at having her cover blown.
“You’re a smart kid.”
“Umm,” Lia broke in. “What’s going on here? And more importantly, who are you, lady?”
“I’d rather keep that secret, if you don’t mind.”
But for Lia it was rare for her to just give in, so she pressed on. “Listen, it's rude to speak to someone and not introduce themselves.”
Even though the woman was clearly older than her, Lia’s demand seemed to frighten her from what little I could make out of her hidden face. But before Lia had a chance to berate the women for her disrespect, I chimed in to do some damage control before she ran off.
“Don’t worry, Lia. You already know who she is. So there’s no need for her to—“
But the lady cut me off.
“No, she’s right. It was rude of me not to introduce myself.”
She turned to face Lia, still crouching down, she pulled her hat down further, still debating whether to reveal herself or not. But after a brief state of deliberation, she decided to show her face, but only after giving Lia one condition.
“Just don’t try to draw any attention.”
And in direct defiance of her order, Lia lit up with excitement the moment she caught a glimpse of the woman’s face. She was about to yell out like a child receiving a gift, but a quick finger from the lady kept her lips shut. Before anyone around could sense any sort of commotion, the lady tipped her floppy hat back down to cover her face.
“Y-you… You're that…” Lia struggled to get the words out of her mouth, but after her excitement simmered down, she was finally able to speak properly. “You’re that lady knight that came to the village this morning, aren’t you?”
“Yes, yes, I am. Just try to keep your voice down. No one is supposed to know that I’m here.”
To Lia, the knights deserved the utmost respect and their words and authority were to always be obeyed without exception. What I mean is that she revered them. Praised them. So when the lady knight sincerely asked her to keep her emotions contained, she didn’t even hesitate to comply.
“Understood. But if I may ask, Miss Knight, why are you out here in the market without your armor?”
The armor of a knight was their defining feature, each suit being unique to the owner. For a regular person to see a knight without their armor was very uncommon. You only ever saw them performing their duties. They were either performing their civil duties or fighting out on the frontlines. But you would never catch a glimpse of them without armor. So when I saw the lady knight in summer’s dress, of all things, I was thoroughly surprised, and I couldn’t blame Lia for asking the question.
“Well that’s a secret, I’m afraid. But it’s an important matter and I can’t be found snooping around,” she explained, but she gave just enough information for Lia’s sharp mind to piece things together.
“So you’re looking for something,” Lia asked.
The lady knight’s smile froze, confirming Lia’s suspicions.
“This really isn’t a matter for a regular citizen like you,” she said, trying to avoid the question.
“And why is that?” Lia snapped back. She was a curious person at heart and not one to back down from trying to get answers. If there was something she didn’t understand or something that caught her attention, she didn’t stop her questioning until she found answers. And the lady knight just happened to be caught by Lia’s curiosity.
“R-really,” the lady knight stuttered, “it’s a very serious matter only concerning a few people. I can’t reveal the details for fear that others might get hurt.”
It seemed that even knights could falter when pitted against Lia’s demanding questioning. But just like you would assume from a person who had been bestowed the highest ranks in the military, she didn’t give a hint of back down from her denial.
Lia presumably sensed the lady knight’s stubbornness and gave in. It was just one of those mysteries she wouldn’t be able to solve. She must have also seen her reasoning as just and so decided not to press the subject any further. But that isn’t to say she was done questioning her.
“Hmph, fine,” she conceded. “If you won’t tell me why you’re here then at least answer my first question.”
“Huh? What question was that?”
“You know, Miss Knight, it’s a little rude not to introduce yourself when you first speak to someone. So I’d like to know your name.”
It was a comical sight. There was a child, who asked questions to one of the highest ranking officials in the empire like it was just a normal conversation. And on top of that, she was the one being rude.
But the lady knight didn’t seem to mind, and instead, from under her floppy hat, I saw the corners of her mouth curl upward. “Sure. I’m Liena.”
That was all she gave for a name. No mention of a surname or mention of her title as a knight, the very thing she was known for, the very thing she was. Just her name and a smile.
“Nice to meet you. I’m Lia,” she introduced herself, returning the smile. “And…” Pulling me into the conversation, she extended her hand toward me.
“O-oh. I’m Sam. Pleased to meet you.”
“Mm, likewise,” she said with another smile, but this time, her beautiful face was in full view, if only for a moment.
But now I had a question of my own.
“If you don’t mind me asking, Lady Liena, this serious matter of yours; how dangerous could collecting taxes be.”
She talked about this secret assignment of hers as if lives were at stake. Furthermore, Lia had guessed that she was looking for something specific, but the fact that knights come to our village every four months to collect taxes was a well known fact by the townspeople.
How could she describe her task as secret then? She couldn’t because everyone knew that they collected taxes in February, May, August, and November.
“Hmm…” She put her finger to her chin in thought before finally saying, “That would be because we aren’t collecting taxes”
It only took me half a second after she finished her sentence to realize two crucial pieces of information. The fact that today was April, as well as the fact that two knights showed up this time. There was no need for two knights to collect taxes, so the problem really had to be serious.
“Then it really is serious,” I reiterated my thoughts.
“Yes, but it’s not something you should be involved in. But if I may ask you a question now?” She patted away the bits of dust from the ground off of the hem of her blue dress and stood up, pulling down her floppy hat to even further conceal her face. I felt her gentle gaze and smile on me even though I couldn’t see her eyes, and she asked, “Since this is my first time here, could I ask you to give me a tour of the town?”
Lia answered with giddy enthusiasm. “Sure.”
* * *
With my knee now healed by the lady knight, it didn’t hurt much to walk anymore. So I didn’t mind taking her on a tour of the town. She took time out of her day to mend the wound of some random kid, so the least I could do was grant her simple request.
Still, it was a little odd that she asked us in the first place. You’d assume that she would instead opt for the town chief to guide her around town. After all, he was the chief. If anyone knew the town in detail it would be him.
But also, she had mentioned that she was conducting some serious investigation. Lia thought she might be looking for something, but the lady knight neither confirmed nor denied it, leaving us to assume her goal by her reactions and facial expressions which were already limited due to her hiding her face with a hat. But if it was really a serious situation, did she have the time to be wandering around town with two children.
I’m sure she had a reason for her request—knights were known to be very intelligent and resourceful—but as to what it is, I couldn’t begin to guess at her thoughts. So in the hopes that this might help her, or at least repay her for healing me, I agreed to show her around, though, Lia appeared to be a better tour guide than me since she was doing all the talking as we walked throughout the village.
“There’s Old Man Thomas’s office,” Lia pointed out as we walked down a street that led from the market square. “He’s the only doctor here in town, so Lady Alea helps him out when he has too much work.”
“Hmm, what do you mean?” asked the knight.
“She’s a retired mage, so she’s quite good with healing magic. She’s also teaching me, so soon I’ll also be able to help out with patients that need healing.”
“Oh. I thought I saw you trying to use healing magic. I guess I was right.”
“The key word there is ‘trying,’” Lia pointed out, downcast. “She’s been teaching me for almost two weeks but I still can’t heal wounds larger than a scratch.”
“Don’t worry,” said the lady knight as she tried to cheer up Lia. “It took me a long time to learn healing magic, and in fact, I don’t know any magic other than that.”
Now this came as a shock to both Lia and me. Knights could be called jacks of all trades. Not only were they the fiercest warriors and most skilled tacticians in the empire, they were also the most skilled mages around.
These sorts of standards were intentional, of course. They were meant to serve the roles of frontline assault units, support mages, and medics all the same time. Because of this, a company’s worth of soldiers, led by a knight, could be self-sustained for days at a time, only needing to carry food and water with them. This made those companies, Spearheads, as they were known, extremely mobile, allowing for quick maneuvering and surprise attacks. Lady Alea had explained all of this to me one day while she taught Lia.
So when the knight told us she was skilled in only one area of magic, Lia and I were baffled.
“But aren’t knights supposed to be proficient in all types of magic?” I questioned, wanting to know if she just hadn’t made herself clear.
Unfortunately, “Nope, not me,” was her answer.
Naturally, some knights were more talented than others but you could at least expect all of them to be above average at all types of magic. So that prompted my next question. “But aren’t knights like you taught every kind of magic?”
“Well my teacher was a little unorthodox,” she explained. “She was a very well respected knight during the time she taught me, and yet she only knew as much magic as I do now. Just healing magic.”
And it had been her teacher that had taught her this way. I had never heard of a knight who knew so little magic. And the fact her teacher, who was a respected knight, also only knew healing magic was quite unheard of.
“She had a very different philosophy than most of the other knights commonly followed,” she continued to explain as the three of us turned right into a new street. “She was more concerned with keeping the peace. She had no real interest in conflict and always looked for the most peaceful solution.”
“She sounds like a good person,” Lia complemented.
“She was—as well as a good teacher. Since she saw no values in offensive magic, she never bothered to learn it, and in turn, she never taught me it.”
The knight giggled and strode forward in deep reminiscence of what I could only assume were the fond memories of her past. A wan smile peeking from under her hat.
“One day, I cut myself with my own training sword during practice—I have a tendency of getting injured...a lot. So, my teacher had had enough and came up to scold me telling me, ‘For your own sake and for the sake of others, you won’t receive any more combat training until I have taught you everything there is to know about healing magic. And by the end of it all, you’ll be the best healer in the empire!’”
She seemed to hang on every word as if saying them brought her back to those moments in time and never wanted to leave.
Judging from her smile, I could tell that if she had the choice, she’d gladly return to her past.
And yet she continued.
“But she didn’t necessarily teach me healing magic to use on myself. She knew that, though I was clumsy, I never cared for my own health as much as I did for others’. So even if I didn’t heal myself, she knew I would heal others. But it’s because of her that I had always acted that way.”
With a broad smile and her hands interlocked behind her, she walked through the field of her memories with a little bounce to her steps.
“She would often refuse to look after her own injuries until everyone else was healed. Can you believe that?! That was just the kind of person she was.”
She looked down at Lia and me walking by her side, her face now in full view for us, radiant like the spring sun.
Lia, with a dazzled look exclaimed, “She really does sound like an amazing person! I’d like to meet her one day.”
“Sure, one day.” The knight looked forward once more. Lia may not have noticed it but I did. Her smile, the thing that always seemed to with her, faded. She looked toward me, not being able to look Lia in the eyes. But I knew exactly what had gone through her head.
We both shared a mutual understanding in that second, but maybe because of a sense of guilt, she looked forward again.
“Anyway,” she moved on from the subject, “You two are supposed to be giving me a tour, aren’t you? You haven’t shown me much of your town, so don’t stop until I have seen every nook and cranny.”
“Oh. Sorry Miss Liena. Your stories were so interesting that it completely slipped my mind,” Lia said, blaming her forgetfulness.
“No, no. I’m not upset. It’s just that I’ll only be here a few days, so I wanted to see everything as quickly as possible before then.”
“Well,” I interjected before Lia could say anything, “if you’re looking for someone who can give you a thorough tour of the village, you picked the right man for the job. I’ve spent days walking around town and I’ve ventured through every alleyway. I have a mental map of everything the town has to offer.”
“Then please, lead the way.”
* * *
We spent roughly the next two hour showing Lady Liena around the village. Like she asked, I showed her every nook and cranny, every shop and stall, everything you could possibly want to know about a town. If I really wanted to, I could probably start a business giving tours and get rich off of it. Though, there aren’t too many tourists that show up here. Hardly anyone just “passes through,” so the idea might not be that profitable.
While we led the knight down each street and through every alleyway, she entertained Lia with stories of her as knight. Lia was listening so intently to her stories that it must have been a miracle she didn’t trip and fall. She seemed to very much enjoy it, though. Every new story brightened her face up more and more. And as the knight kept telling of her adventures and squabbles with her teacher, the life of a knight became more and more appealing for me. But becoming one was an almost impossible achievement.
The lady knight had no shortage of stories and eventually even I gave my full attention. One of them in particular, she said, was a long one, so she offered to tell us at the well known Lindi’s cafe, which I recommend.
That’s where we were now.
“...And somehow we survived that whole ordeal with me only losing my boot.”
It really was a long story, so much so that Lady Liena had time to order a second glass of milk tea while Lia and I were still working on our first sweet tea.
“How long ago was that, Miss Liena?” Lia asked after patiently and attentively listening to her tale.
“Hmm… This was probably three years ago, when I was fifteen.”
So she’s eighteen right now, I couldn’t help but think. For whatever reason I felt disappointed. This was also a fact that Lia caught onto quickly.
“Miss Liena, you’re eighteen?! And you still look so young.”
“Y-you know, eighteen years isn’t that old,” she said, a little ticked off.
“Well I’m only eleven, I guess I’m still considered a child, but you’re already an adult. And not only that but you were a knight at age fifteen.”
“Technically I was still an apprentice back then. I turned eighteen two weeks ago and wasn’t made a proper knight until three days after that.”
“So you're new at this,” I said with a shock. It explained her odd behavior, something you wouldn’t see in an experienced knight.
“But now that I’m finally eighteen, there’s something I’ve been dying to do,” Lady Liena continued. “I can finally drink wine.”
“Really?!,” Lia blurted out after the silence following the anticlimactic reveal.
“You’re telling me that you have never had wine once in your life.”
I’m not calling myself an alcoholic or anything, but on very special occasions, once or twice a year, my father sometimes lets me have a sip of wine. And I’m sure Lia’s parents did the same. You could go around town asking and you would find that at least ninety percent of kids have had some sort of alcohol before. I guess it’s a traditional thing.
“Well it’s not like I actively avoid it,” she explained.
“But didn’t your parents ever let you try a bit,” I asked, drawing from my own experiences.
“I came from a family where I wasn’t allowed to have wine, for various reasons. And when I became apprenticed to my teacher, she had a strict rule against me ever touching alcohol. Something about how it was against the law for a minor to drink.”
“Really?!” This was the first time I’ve heard about a law that restricts drinking.
“So you’re telling me I’ve been breaking the law this entire time?!” Lia gasped.
“It’s one of the more recent laws that is rarely followed or enforced. But my teacher was a stickler for the rules and was adamant about me not drinking, no matter how much I begged.” Nevertheless, it seemed like they were fond memories for her, even if her expression showed hints of frustration.
But she continued. “Heh. One evening, while we were at the imperial palace, she invited me to her room for a little celebration after a recent victory. She served me a sweet tea made with leaves from the south, while she pulled from under her bed a vintage wine from the northern provinces. She said she’d been saving it for a decade just for a special occasion. She had praised it so much that when she brought out a single glass I argued that, regardless of the laws, she should at least let me have a sip. But she refused, as stubborn as she always was. So that night, after she passed out drunk on her bed, I snuck into her room to drink the last bit of wine she was saving for the morning. But just as I laid my finger on the bottle, her body jerked up and she swiped the bottle away from me. She told me through slurred words and droopy eyes ‘You can't drink because you're a minor but me drinking in front of you set a bad example.’ So she proceeded to stumble across her bedroom toward the window in the dead of night, and she flung the bottle all the way to the other side of the courtyard and went back to sleep. But in the morning she said she didn’t remember a thing.”
“So you were off the hook?” I asked.
“Yeah, luckily, or else she would’ve probably have made me do sword drills the entire day.” From the pained look she made, these sword drills didn’t seem like the most exciting thing in the world. I couldn’t chop wood for more than five minutes before my arms gave out.
“Hey,” I called out to the knight with an idea. “There are a lot of wine sellers in the village. If you’re looking for a bit of wine, I could find out who sells the best ones.”
“You know what, that would be great. I heard that the surrounding towns have amazing vineyards and delicious wines. I am busy the rest of today and tomorrow, so I won’t have time to spoil myself. So if you two are willing to, I would be grateful.”
“Wait a minute,” Lia injected, slamming down her empty glass on the wooden table. “Wouldn’t it be weird if two kids were going around asking for wine?”
She made a good point. No one is going to sell wine to kids.
“I’m not asking you to buy it, just...ask around for Norenth Wine. Tell them it's because your mother asked you to...or something like that.” She gave us a thumbs up, sealing her plan with her stamp of approval.
I don’t think you should be telling kids to do these sorts of things. You’re the one not setting a good example.
“You’re a pretty big trouble maker for being a knight.”
“I guess I learned that from my teacher. Tee-hee.” It was the giggle of a child who knew they were irritating you, like when a cat looks you in the eyes while it knocks over a vase.
To think she was one of the people assigned to defending our empire from our enemies.
* * *
After all was said and done, and after Lady Liena had yet another milk tea, we stepped back outside.
“Well, I should be leaving, now. I have a lot of work left to do here and my colleagues are probably wondering where I ran off to.”
“Wait,” Lia jumped in. “If you’ll be staying in town for a while, can we meet up some other time?”
“Yep, besides,” her eyes hovered toward me, “you two promised me you’d find me that wine my teacher spoke so fondly of.”
“But how are we supposed to meet with you if you’re working all day?” I asked.
“Good question.” She pensively brought her index finger to her chin. “I guess we'll just have to play a game of hide and seek.”
Seriously, it was as if every time she spoke she played a little game. She never seemed as serious or composed as you’d expect from a soldier of the empire. When you take these things into consideration, and the fact that we’re at war, you can’t help but feel unsettled when you realize that she is leading soldiers onto the battlefield.
“Still, even though I’ll be working all day tomorrow, I’ll be strolling around town. Without me wearing my armor, you’ll have to be on the lookout all day. I don’t leave for a few more days, but if you don’t find me by then, I win. And if you do, you win. Simple.”
She really did just play games.
“Okay…” Lia followed up. “What happens if you win?”
“You pay me back for the drink from the cafe.”
“And if we win, what do we get?” I asked.
“That’s a secret.”
Just then, a hardy voice called out to us from across the street.
The three of us all turned in the direction of the voice. A man just a bit taller than the knight strolled up to us waving his hand. He wore a brown vest on top of a tan tunic, pricy looking pants, and sturdy boots. A short beard covered his face. Everyone in town would instantly recognize him as our town chief.
“Oh, Chief Oliver,” Lady Liena called out. “I apologize if I’ve made things difficult for you. I didn’t mean to be out for too long.”
“It’s no problem, for me at least. Knight Andor on the other hand has become a little impatient, so I decided to come search for you which wasn’t easy. You weren’t wearing your armor, after all”
“Our assignment requires a bit of secrecy. I fear that Knight Andor will be too conspicuous wearing his armor. That’s why I decided to take a more inconspicuous approach.”
The Chief nodded in understanding but then looked down to her side, laid his eyes on us, and chuckled.
“Hmm, but it seems like two meddling brats have found you out regardless,” he pointed out with a toothy grin.
Lia’s father and mine were both advisors to him and helped him run things around town, so we often had the chance to speak with him, whether it was when we helped out with our fathers’ work or the Chief invited us for dinner with his wife and daughter. He was well known and liked by many.
“Oh, these two,” she said as she patted Lia's head. “Yes, they're both quite perceptive and excellent listeners. And it seems like this little lady,” her head patting intensified, “is on the verge of becoming a skilled healer.”
“Yes, that’s right,” the Chief confirmed. “Miss Alea has taken a liking to her and sees a lot of potential in her.” The corners of Lia’s mouth perked up at hearing the praise. “She says that Lia is a faster learner and that she will be able to help out with patients in no time.”
“That’s good. I’m sure she’ll be great.”
I tried to make myself seem small at the moment. With both our Chief and a knight praising her, it made me feel a little depressed not to receive any commendations. It’s not like I had anything to be praised on, but I also didn’t like being left out.
“Anyway,” the Chief changed the subject, “it would be great if you return to helping us with the investigation. The more we accomplish, the better.”
Lady Liena gave a shrewd smile. “It may not seem like it but I was doing a little investigating myself.”
That couldn’t possibly be true. She was messing around and drinking tea with us the whole time. Even though she is a knight, lying doesn’t seem to bother her. .
“Oh, and before I forget,” the Chief’s eyes panned down toward us, specifically at Lia. “Lia, your mother told me that if I saw you to tell you to hurry and bring the groceries home.”
You could say the streets were a lot more silent now, as if all the townspeople of the afternoon day had just suddenly disappeared from the street.
How could we be so forgetful, especially… I slowly swiveled my head toward my partner. Lia just gazed at the ground with hollow eyes, a face obstructed by a cloud of despair. It was only until the church bells rang four times that the silence was broken.
“My mother is going to kill me,” Lia whispered in a dejected voice as if she had accepted her fate.
I’ve seen Lia’s mom when she’s angry at her. If not the prettiest of sights. In fact, when she releases a storm of fury on Lia, it somehow makes you shutter, even though you’re not the one getting yelled at. And the most terrifying thing of it all is that she does with a smile, one that suggests anger, disappointment, and the final bits of her patience. One time Lia made her mom angry while she was cooking and she walked toward Lia smiling with a knife in her hand. I was afraid for my life that day.
“Maybe it’s not such a good idea to go back around dinner time. It’s probably safer to just wait it out until tomorrow,.” I tried to give her options but she still trembled.
“This is the end for me.”
“Well if you start now,” the Chief began, “you might be able to buy the groceries in time for dinner.”
“Maybe...,” Lia sobbed.
“I’m s-sorry. If I had known your mother had asked you to run an errand, I wouldn’t have taken up your time.”
“No, it’s okay Miss Liena. She won’t go as far as to kill me, I think.”
“That’s not very reassuring.” Lady Liena patted Lia on the head one final time telling her that it would be all right. “Well I think it’s time for me to go. I’ve already caused enough trouble. I don’t want to cause any more.”
Then she started down the street following Chief Oliver. And with one final smile from under her floppy hat, she waved to us goodbye. The sight of her radiance gave Lia the strength to walk again.
“We better buy the groceries before your mother hits you on the head with a frying pan,” I advised.
“I can already see my tombstone.”
We spent that next hour quickly gathering the ingredients Lia’s mom had told her to get at noon. Good thing she decided to write them down. Fear is a great motivator. Lia had no trouble sniffing out everything on the list. Nothing distracted her from the task at hand, not even the people walking in front of her who she repeatedly bumped into and had to repeatedly apologize to. But in time, she was able to get it done.
The bells rang their usual five o’clock tune.
Dinner might be a little later for Lia’s family but at least I won’t be attending a funeral anytime soon. Seriously. Her mother is terrifying. Even her husband knows it and he tries to keep her as happy as possible.
“You go home without me. I have to buy something my mom told me to get,” I told her as we stepped onto the street leading back to our homes. But in reality, I just wanted a sweet pie from the bakery and only had enough money for one. If she came with me, she would definitely make me buy her one.
“Well then, I see you tomorrow.”
“Okay, I’ll come by your house at noon. Just remember to do your chores.”
“Yeah, yeah. I know.” With that, she started down the street, quite hesitant at first, dreading what was to come.
I made my way back to the market square, en route to the bakery. But out of the corner of my eye, I saw a silhouette moving through the same alleyway as the one I saw earlier in the day. I stared at it for a good thirty seconds but it eventually receded back into obscurity.
Please log in to leave a comment.