Chapter 8:

Volume 2 Chapter 2: A Moment of Hesitation

A Battlefield of Swords and Flowers

“Can I say ‘I told you so’ now?”

“Can you please save it for when we’re out of the rain.”

Like I had predicted, in just half an hour the clouds gathering over the mountains had moved south only to then start a storm. It was a pretty intense one, too. The winds had the flowers and grass, as well as Lia’s dress flailing about. The rain as well had already softened the ground, and the simple dirt path we were following was already getting hard to walk on. But we had to keep running in order to make it out of the storm.

“Did we at least get all the flowers we needed?” I asked. If we hadn’t, this would have all been for nothing.

“Yeah. Enough for two bouquets,” she confirmed as she looked in her basket.

That would be our present for Sena. Two bouquets prominently featuring her favorite flower, Spring Sky Violets. The reason for that name is their color which closely resembles the sky. But their blue color was so pale that it seemed like the flower itself was fading away. They didn’t grow in groups but instead grew individually meters apart from one another.

“Good,” was all I said in return as I kept running through the muddy path. Lia had her basket to put over her head, providing at least a little bit of shelter from the rain. But I had clothes fit for a hot day, and because of that, the rain poured all over me, soaking my clothes. I would be lucky if I didn’t wake up with a cold tomorrow.

After about twenty five minutes of running in the midst of a storm, the buildings and homes at the very outskirts of town started to become visible.

“Thanks to the rain, we won’t be able to have Sena’s birthday party the way we had planned,” she lamented.

The plan was originally to hold the festivities near a grove of trees on the northern outskirts of town. But with the rain, that would obviously be an impossibility now. And as we got closer to the town’s northern gate, signs of any sort of festivities were nowhere to be seen. The party had mostly likely been canceled.

“It’s no big deal,” I said in an optimistic tone. “There’s always tomorrow. It’s not like Sena will just disappear.”

“But the point of it all is for us to celebrate today or else you can’t really call it a birthday, can you?”

She was right, but what could be done?

“Well, let’s at least give her the flowers today. You said the magic wears off tomorrow morning, right? They’re at their freshest right now, so it’s best to give them to her today.”


My idea didn’t do much to cheer her up. Sena was like a second sister to Lia. The two spend a lot of time together and Sena has always been there for her when no one else was. So it was no surprise that she was the one most excited for her birthday. It would be an important occasion for Sena. She was turning eighteen, after all. Lia put all of her efforts into making her part as perfect as possible, and now it seemed all that work was for not.

But at least my idea had stopped her from frowning so much. At least her own present wouldn’t be ruined by the rain.

As we approached the northern gate into town, we could start to make out a figure standing alone, shielding itself from the rain with the help of an umbrella. The darkness brought about by the storm made it hard to make out who exactly it was. It wasn’t until we were a few meters away that we identified slender form.

“Sena?! What are you doing out in the rain?”

I was just as surprised as Lia. The last thing I expected to see at the gate was Sena standing solemnly at the side of the road. Especially in these conditions. Even the guards who normally stood at the gates had gone inside.

“I was waiting for you two to come home,” Sena explained to us with her tender voice as she placed the umbrella over our heads.

“But the storm has been going on for almost an hour. You’ll be lucky if you don’t get a cold.”

“Don’t worry,” she assured us as she let most of the rain pour over her. “I wasn’t waiting that long.”

With that, she prompted us to follow her into town, giving priority of her umbrella to us.

“Your parents told me that you had gone into the fields looking for something,” she explained. “But by the time the storm had started, you two were still nowhere to be found. So I decided to wait for you to come back.”

“You didn’t have to do this for us, Sena. Really.” Lia tried to tell her it was alright and that we would have made it back without any trouble. But as we walked further into town, Sena only continued to shake her head.

“It’s my birthday today, remember? If something were to have happened to you two, it wouldn’t really be a happy birthday, now, would it?”

She was like a big sister to us, even though Lia already had one. Maybe that was why everyone liked her so much. It was definitely why Lia looked up to her.

“I’ll just count that as my birthday wish come true, then,” she sang.

“Really?! That’s what you wished for?” I said, exasperated. If she really did wish for our safety, then she wasted her wish since we would have made it back safely regardless. But from her perspective, it would have seemed like her wish really did come true.

Because of that, I decided not to tell her it was a wasted wish.

“It came true, after all.”

After all.

“Anyway,” she continued, “what do you have hidden away in that basket of yours, Lia?”

At Sena’s sudden intrigue, Lia quickly hid the basket behind her back. Really a futile effort since Sena had seen it happen.

“You’ll see in a few hours.”

“Oh, is that so?”

The way she said it, extending the first and last syllables of her sentence, gave away her thoughts. She clearly knew it was a surprise meant for her, given it was her birthday. I’m guessing Lia figured as much but she wasn’t really showing it. Maybe she still held some hope that Sena really didn’t know what was in her basket.

During our small talk, we found ourselves at the door of Sena’s home. The storm was still pouring and you could even start to hear thunder. At this point, it was almost as dark as night outside. And the wind blowing out the lanterns only made it darker.

Even through the thick, wooden door, fits of laughter and cheer could be heard inside. The jumbled voices and the plethora of muffled footsteps painted a picture of dozens of people before we even stepped inside. And when we did, all the light came rushing toward us. And when everyone caught a glimpse of Sena, their cheer and laughter came flooding toward her.

“Happy birthday, sweetie.” “You’re all grown up now, aren’t you?” “It’s been so long since I’ve seen you.” “One step closer to death.” “Happy birthday, dear.”

All at once, people showered her with congratulations and little remarks. Whether it may have been a close relative, a friend of hers, or someone who was just invited, she became the center of attention. She was the birthday girl, after all.

Once he was made aware his daughter was how, Sena’s father strolled over to us with a glass of wine.

“So you managed to find the two little brats. See, I told you they would be fine,” he reaffirmed with a grin.

“Thankfully they were.”

From behind her father, another figure approached us.

“Oh, sweetie. You’re soaked,” her mother worried.

“I’m fine. I should have brought a second umbrella with me.”

“Well,” her mother started, much more distressed than Sena. “You should go change into some new clothes. We can’t have the birthday girl drenched on her special occasion.”

I had heard from Lia that the light pink dress that Sena currently had on was tailored specifically for today. Apparently she had put a lot of thought into its design and now she couldn’t even wear it for the rest of the day.

It was a shame that it was ruined by such an uncontrollable event. Her mother seemed to think so too because she kept eyeing her up and down with a stressed look. But it didn’t seem to both Sena because all she said was, “Sounds good,” with not even a frown on her face.

Sena and her mother left for her room and once again it was just me and Lia.

There were many notable people attending what I’m guessing was Sena’s impromptu birthday party. Far in the back of the living room was her aunt and uncle speaking with her father. All three of them were drinking wine while laughing at some joke. Her cousin had seen her walking to her room and had followed her in.

I didn’t know many of the other faces in attendance. I’m guessing they’re friends of either Sena or her parents. In total, there were about two dozen people mingling about and being lively. The only other faces I knew were the ones of my parents as well as Lia’s.

Not really knowing what else to do, we walked over to them to let them know we had arrived.

The moment my mom saw me, she rushed over to me and hugged.

“Oh, Sam, I was so worried about you.”

“You didn’t have to worry. I’m fine, after all.”

She let go of me and messed with my hair. “I suppose you can take care of yourself. You know what and what not to do.”

I glanced toward Lia who had been looking at me and my mom’s interaction. Then she looked at her own mother and back at me. Back and forth as if she were expecting something, until she got frustrated waiting and spoke out.

“Ahem.” Lia stomped her foot. “It was nice of you to wait for me until I got back. Oh wait, it was Sena who was waiting for me out in the rain.”

The whole time my mom had been hugging me, Lia’s mother had been standing idly by drinking from her cup. It wasn’t until Lia threw a fit that she spoke.

“We told Sena that we would wait for you but she insisted that she would herself, so we came here. She’s a sweet girl, isn’t she? I wish my daughters were like that.” She brought her hand up to her cheek as if thinking of what could have been.

But Lia wasn’t having it. “I’m right here, you know. And even if Sena offered to wait for us, you should have been more insistent. You’re my mother, after all.”

“Yes, sweetie, but you are probably the reason that you were caught in the rain in the first place.” Lia straightened up and her face was drawn with guilt owing to the fact that, yes, it was in fact her fault we were caught in the rain. “What kind of mother would I be if I didn’t let you learn from your mistakes. It would do you no good if I were to comfort you after every mistake you made.”

She made very good points, and all with a sadistic smile.

But Lia wasn’t having it and seemed about to burst, her face reddening with anger at the lack of affection from her mother. In an effort to gain support for herself, Lia turned to her father.

“Dad. Talk some sense into mom.”

Up until now, Lia’s father was minding his own business, too hesitant to jump in. But now he was made the center of attention.

He put his glass of whiskey down, trying his best to side with Lia without inciting the wrath of his wife. “Don’t take her too seriously. She is just saying things. Your mother is just a bit drunk.”

“Nope,” Lia's mother responded flatly. “I’ve been drinking citrus juice this entire time.”

With that comment, Lia had reached her limit. She rushed over to her mother and started to playfully and repeatedly punch her mother.

“Ahhhh! Mom!”

Her cry only garnered a chuckle from her mother as she giggled and smiled. But now with her daughter so close to her body, she took the liberty to gently stroke her hair as Lia continued to relieve her anger, all the while with a gentle smile. It really was a change of pace for the mother that I always knew as having a short temper.

Suddenly, a commotion started to be heard throughout the house. We all now drew our attention to the object of the murmurs and cheers. At the end of the hallway Sena in a aquamarine colored dress was surrounded by her mother and cousin, both of whom seemed oddly proud of themselves.

On the other hand, Sena flushed red at the sight of dozens of eyes all looking intently at her. They were all gazes of amazement and cheer but they ultimately only served to embarrass Sena.

“Today hasn’t been the most considerate of days,” began Sena’s mother as she brought her daughter forward, “but now we can start the celebrations.”

And with that simple toast, everyone in attendance cheered in unison.

“””Happy Birthday, Sena!”””

As soon as Sena entered the living room, the festivities only grew. All the food was set out for the guests to dig into and music was arranged for. Within a few minutes everyone was up and dancing with either a partner in their hands or a glass of alcohol.

Of course, me and Lia were still drenched from all the rain. Sena offered Lia one of her dresses from when she was younger, though, it was a bit loose in the chest area, something that made Lia very self conscious. I, on the other hand, had to go back home and change, this time remembering to bring an umbrella with me.

But after that, I only remember everyone having a good time, stuffing themselves full of the seemingly endless amounts of food, and dancing to their heart's content. Sometimes all the women and girls joined into one group and danced in unison, and other times they grabbed their husband or child by the hand and danced with them. The men at times got together and downed a glass of whisker or started telling stories, each one trying to outdo the other.

It didn’t take me long to notice that there weren’t any boys my age in attendance. So I just hung out with Lia and Sena, as well as her cousin who I’ve spoken to a few times. We spent the time laughing whilst gathering together to grab a bite to eat only to later join everyone else dancing, something I didn’t do much of.

I’ve known Sena all my life, so each time I glanced up and saw her face, I knew that at this moment time, she couldn’t be happier. The entire night she carried a smile on her face.

As the evening arrived, the festivities didn’t seem to slow down. The abundance of alcohol was probably at fault. It kept all the adults going regardless if they were exhausted. Lia got to know Sena’s cousin, who I now knew was named Aura, and they were now extremely friendly with each other as if they had known each other their whole lives. I had also gotten to know her but I couldn’t find many moments to join the conversation.

Eventually, Sena said that she was going to check if the rain had stopped and stepped outside with any other attendees noticing. The three of us continued to talk, but after five minutes had passed and Sena had yet to return, I started to get worried. So I said I was going to the washroom but instead I went outside without being seen.

I only took one step out the door when I spotted Sena nearby, her back against the wall and looking up toward the clouded sky. The rain had stopped now but the dark clouds still remained. Even though it was only eight in the evening, it seemed like midnight thanks to the clouds, with no lantern in sight other than the one Sena was carrying.

“Oh? It’s you,” she said, surprised as she raised the lantern to illuminate my face. “I thought Lia would be the first one to rush outside.”

“So you were waiting for us?”

“No… But I can’t say I’m not happy to see you.”

She lowered the lantern and illuminated the empty market square in front of her.

“Want to go for a walk, Sam?”

I just nodded and she took the lead, heading toward the street that led north.

“It's weird, you know,” she began. “This party was a way to celebrate me becoming a fully fledged adult. But...when I really think about it, does it really matter?”

I didn’t really understand where she was going. I wasn’t her age, so I couldn’t relate. I could only listen.

“Even if I’m now eighteen years old, what of it? Nothing has changed or will change.”

I slowly began to understand. “You feel stuck in one place.”

She looked down at me and nodded. “I love it here. I wouldn’t have wanted to have been born anywhere else. But as much as I adore this place, do I want to stay here my entire life?”

“That’s why you came outside?”

“Yes. I guess you could see it as me stepping away from everyone and everything I love. Me getting to see what traveling outside my home felt like. I’ve never traveled to another town, you know.”

We had that in common. Whether by circumstances or by an unconscious hesitation, this town was the only place we knew and we’ve never traveled to another town. And I guess now Sena was ready to go see what was just a few kilometers away or maybe even travel beyond that.

“But not just that,” she continued, “I want to experience something new. I mean, if I stay here all my life, I’ll just end up doing the same things over and over again. I’ll continue to work with my father, I’ll continue help out around town… Nothing will really change even though I get older.”

“So, are you planning to do something about it?”

“I hope so. It’s not really something that I can just jump at. But I definitely want to. I want to be able to travel while at the same time gathering some knowledge along the way. Don’t you think that would be nice?”

“I’ve never been to the capital but I’d definitely want to go one day.”

“Right,” she smiled. “Two years ago, I heard of a girls only trade school in the capital and ever since it has been on my mind.”

“Are you thinking of attending?”

She walked quietly for a moment thinking over the things she had confessed. “Though, I say I want to do all these things, I don’t know if I can just leave all of this behind.”

She would miss everyone, I'm sure of it. She so badly wanted to leave her home but she also couldn’t bear to forget about it. She was stuck in the middle. Idle. She couldn’t decide between the two so she stayed in the one place where she knew she could be happy. Ultimately, there was no big push or a substantial driving force that could unearth her enough to be willing to leave home.

“Just do what you think would be best. If you are content with staying here and seeing if there is anything more this town can offer, then stay. But if you think it would be good for you to travel and possibly live somewhere else, then go ahead. If you stay, you will continue to be loved. And if you leave, everyone will support your decision. In the end, it’ll be up to you.”

I wasn’t a wise old man, so I didn’t know if anything I was saying was actually helpful. Hell, it might have even made her decision a lot more tough. But if I was the one trying to decide, that is what I would tell myself.

Luckily, it seemed like my advice made sense because she smiled.

“Maybe you’re right.”

“And if you really are worried about leaving your family and friends, just remember that no matter how far you venture, whether it is to the market or to another continent, we will all be waiting for you at home.”

In the end, I could only say these things because I knew how she felt. If, or maybe when I decide to leave this town, my home, I expect myself to face the same problem. Me giving Sena advice was weirdly like if I were preparing myself to leave my home.

But it was all a matter of will.

“Well,” she began after a moment of silence, “if I do decide to leave, I would head east, straight to the capital. I’d stop in every town along the way and see what it had offered; food, music, art; and then eventually I’d reach the capital.”

“Sounds like a good time.”

“And one the way back, I’d take a different route home and do the same.”

“It seems like you’ve been thinking about this for a while.”

She glanced at me, then to the cloudy sky asking herself the same question.

“I guess I have.”

If it was a dream of hers to one day leave home and travel the world, it came as no surprise that she would already have her entire trip planned out. Whether she was gone for a few weeks or she decided to live in a distant city for an extended amount of time, I could tell that her heart yearned for it.

“Oh, and speaking of the capital.” From her coat pocket—which she had probably dawned on before leaving home—she pulled out an envelope sealed with golden wax. “A letter was sent to you from an old acquaintance of yours in the capital.”

“Really?! Who would be writing to me from the capital?”

We found a bench on the side of the street and sat down to rest. She handed me the letter and raised the lantern so that I could read the sender's name. Apparently, it was from Liena.

“I didn’t know you and Miss Liena were penpals,” she teased.

“No,” I answered before she could get any ideas. “This is the first time she has written to me.”

I opened the letter and began to read it under the lantern light.

Long time no see, I suppose. These two years passed by a lot more slowly than I had anticipated. So much so that I almost forgot about you. If it hadn’t been for me looking at the bottle of wine you gifted me, I would have never remembered my soon to be apprentice. I feel like I have to clarify that that was a joke. Writing to you through a letter makes it so that I’m not able to joke around as much. So I’ll get to the point.

I guess you could say I’ve been a bit anxious of the thought of having an apprentice. But that wine has really helped relieve the anxiety. Bring me three more bottles of the same brand, would you. That’ one isn’t a joke.

Anyway, I can’t just go to your town and just whisk you away. At the moment I’m stuck in the capital doing a bunch of grunt work, so you’ll have to come to me. Don’t worry. If you’re wondering how you're supposed to get to the capital, I’ve already thought of that.

Due to various factors, trade with the northern nations has increased from almost none to commonplace, you may have noticed. I was unlucky enough to have been assigned as head of the Northern Trade Committee. I always get assigned boring jobs. Sniffle sniffle. But that has given me an opportunity to call a mandatory meeting of all the city and town leaders in the northern provinces.

So use that excuse to have the Chief bring you along with him. If he says no then show him this:

I, Knight Liena of the Empire, hereby demand the presence of Sam Whinrose in the capital as soon as he is able.

That should do the trick. Oh, and bring along Sena. She’s a nice girl and wouldn’t stop asking me questions about the capital and about my travels. I’m guessing she just really wants to visit the capital. I addressed this letter to her with instructions to give it to you knowing that you would probably let her read and make her aware of this opportunity.

You should also bring along Lia if her parents let her. I’d like to see her again.

So, the meeting is in a month. I’m not expecting you to just leave your home and become my apprentice, so I’ll give you some time to think about it while you’re in the capital. But I still hope you’ll come visit me, even if you have second thoughts. You don’t need to make a decision until your final day in the capital.

So until then.

Yours truly, Liena.

Did she really have to end it with “yours truly?”

“What did it say?” Sena asked curiously.

“Here, read it yourself. Oh and pay close attention to the bottom of the letter.”

A minute passed before Sena’s head jerked up and focused on me with a stunned stare.

“She asked you to be her apprentice?” she asked, completely dumbfounded at the revelation.

“That’s not what I wanted you to get out of that!” I was going to lose my temper.

“So that’s why Miss Liena wanted to speak with you that day,” she said, piecing the details together as she looked at the sky. “Lucky.”

“Just finish reading the letter.”

Another minute passed and she handed me the letter.

“This is your chance to see if you truly want to travel or live in another city. We’ll pass through many towns along the way, and you’ll have plenty of time to explore the capital. You just have to go.”

The entire time I spoke, her head was facing down and her hands were curled up into fists pressed against her lap.

When she continued to stay quiet I got worried. “Sena, are all right?”

“Mmmmmm.” Then, suddenly, she jumped up, almost knocking the lantern over. I’d be lying if I said that she didn’t frighten me a bit. “I can’t believe she remembered that.”

She held her hand to her forehead as she danced around in an embarrassed fit.

“Every time I look back on the day I met Miss Liena, I can’t help but cringe at just how incessant I must have been asking her all those questions. I must have asked her at least a hundred questions in the span of an hour.” She stopped in place abruptly and rushed toward me grabbing both my hands. “Do you think she found me annoying?”

“Again, I think you’re getting the wrong message from the letter.”

I calmed her down a minute later.

“The point is, this here,” I said, pointing at the letter. “You have been given a rare opportunity. If I were you, I’d at least use it to test the waters, to see if you’re ready to leave your home in pursuit of something new.”

Even if she didn’t answer right away, I knew that she understood what I was getting at. A once in a lifetime opportunity. The final push she needed to take her first steps.

A gust of wind blew by with the strength to blow out the lantern, and at the same time Sena looked at me and said, “I think I’ll go.”

Even with the lantern blown out, I knew that she was smiling even though the darkness kept me from seeing her face.

Minutes later we returned to her home. We had been out for a while, so it would be no surprise if people were starting to get worried. But to our surprise, when we opened the door everyone was as merry as ever. Both Sena and I couldn’t help but laugh at their obliviousness.

The only ones who noticed our return were Lia and Aura who came to greet us with worried looks.

“I thought you said you were checking if the rain had stopped?” Aura questioned.

“And you said you just need to use the bathroom?” Lia said as she aggressively poked at my chest.

“”What were you two doing?”” they asked in unison. 

All Sena said was that we went out for a walk.