Chapter 11 – Family Reunion (The Prequel)

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A bright beam of light streamed down upon Waltario’s rough hands. Using a small brush, the man was concentrated on carefully cleaning a small but complex piece of metal needed for one of his inventions. His father had left him many objects he could use to build weapons or vehicles. Some of them were said to have been stolen from the enemies’ during wartime, but Constantine was certain others had had a strange history which his father had preferred to keep for himself.

The general’s heavy desk was cluttered with paper sheets and rulers, screws, nuts, and bolts, just like his cabinets and shelves were crammed with a number of objects ordered by a kind of logic only he was able to understand. Inventions were his passion and the palace saw only a benefit in that. As he was doing his work, a smile kept playing on his face. His studio was livelier than usual. The two children, Soris and Ines, were squeaking and running in large circles around him and his desk. The boy was glowing with joy after he’d found the liqueur bottle with the king’s hidden message. Waltario had assured him that, after this discovery, Lady Voronchi would not dare to come again in the palace. That was the greatest piece of news to Soris. Once the king’s relationship with Lady Voronchi was over, the boy was sure he would get to see his mother laugh again.

Waltario’s brother entered the studio and was taken by surprise when the prince suddenly bumped into him.

“Oh, sorry,” said the boy, then started after Ines who scampered away, shrieking playfully.

Constantine’s younger brother followed them for a couple of seconds, blinking incredulously, then he advanced to the general and said, “I see you’re allowing them to play in your studio.”

Constantine let the piece of metal down on the desk and wiped his fingers on a dirty handkerchief. “Well, they’re my kids now,” he said, watching for a brief moment their loud trotting on the wooden floor. “I guess I was meant to be a father at this age, so I’m not going to run away from my destiny.”

Young Waltario stifled a laugh, then his eyes roved over the two again. Ines had tripped and now the boy was helping her get up.

“You okay, Princess?” the boy asked, offering his hand to lift her up.

“Yes. Thank you, Soris.”

Young Waltario let out a nostalgic sigh. “First love is so beautiful,” he commented. “I wish I could turn back time.”

Constantine picked up some screws and put them in a small box. “They’re kids. They’re not in love.”

As Ines was tidying her new dress offered by the general, Soris touched her silky locks.

“Wow, your hair is so long,” he gasped with admiration.

Young Waltario was all smiles at this scene. He leaned forward propping his arms on the desk and whispered to the general, “I hope we won’t need to forge letters for the prince like we did for his dad. He seems to charm girls from an early age.”

Constantine shot him a look of disapproval. “He’s just a curious kid. Don’t misjudge him.”

“I pity you,” his brother replied, amusing himself.

Past eight o’clock at night, the kids were playing in silence with some cardboard cubes, when suddenly the metal door swung open. Waltario turned around and met two unexpected visitors: Kendel and Inerishia. They both greeted him with tired smiles and pale faces as they hadn’t undergone a full rehabilitation procession. The war was over but they had to hurry up to check their daughter.

“Mommy! Daddy!” Ines yelled, running to them, abandoning the castle of cubes she had been building with the prince. Soris got up and went after her, slowing down when he saw the two tall strangers in long grey robes.

Inerishia dropped to her knees and squeezed her daughter in her arms. “Oh, my dear. I’m so glad you’re fine,” she mumbled with a faint voice. After running a quick visual check on the girl, she glanced up at the general, and said, “Thank you, General. Thank you.” Constantine was so astonished to see them that he could only reply with a polite nod.

Kendel took advantage of this moment and snatched the girl from his wife, lifting Ines in his arms. “My brave little girl, I thought I’d never see you again,” he said leaning his forehead against hers. Inerishia got up and embraced the two. “I’m so glad I could save you both today,” she said, resting her head on Kendel’s shoulder.

Constantine and Soris witnessed their family moment in silence, not daring to interrupt them. It was a sight they both had never seen in their own lives. Soris stared at them, trying to understand how that felt. His parents barely talked, and when they did, they were either cold with each other or trading glares. At least, that was how he’d gotten to see them in the corridors and conference rooms, as the two never shared a meal together. He watched with sad frustration and slight envy how Kendel played with Ines and kissed her forehead. King Martin would roll his eyes whenever he was called dad.

Waltario read that sorrow in the boy’s expression, so he pulled him close and patted him on the shoulder. Soris lifted his head and sketched a smile.

Feeling weakness crawling up his joints, Kendel let the girl down and knelt before her. “So what did my little one do here?”

“I gave Mommy’s letter to Waltario,” she said. Turning back her head and pointing at Soris, she added, “He helped me find him.”

The prince put his hands at his back and stepped forward shyly.

“Is it true?” Kendel asked. “You’ve helped my daughter find General Waltario?”

Soris sucked in his lips and nodded.

“Come here, buddy. I need to thank you properly.”

Soris did so, his eyes gleaming with joy.

“He also saved me from some bad kids,” Ines rushed to say.

Kendel gave the boy a pat on his shoulder then started ruffling his hair, saying, “It seems my girl has already found a knight here to protect her. Thank you, brave knight!”

Soris giggled, enjoying the fatherly warmth that spread on his head. Waltario cleared his throat and stepped forward. “He’s the prince actually. Future king, Prince Soris of the Arid Kingdom,” he stated loud and clear as if he presented the boy in front of a crowd.

Kendel’s smile stretched to an awkward grin. He hurried to tidy the boy’s hair. “My apologies, Your Highness,” he said rapidly. Little did he know that he’d been the first person to ever mess with the prince’s hair like that.

Kendel withdrew his hand, excusing his prior statement. “I thought he was your boy.”

Waltario shook his head and chuckled with a slow blink. “I’m divorced.”

His visitors’ face expressions dropped the smiles. Master Astute hadn’t communicated to them this piece of news. Not many in the White Castle knew what happened in the Aridens’ castle, and if they knew, they didn’t talk about it. Gossiping about the mortals’ affairs didn’t suit the superior people.

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” Kendel said with clear shock.

Constantine remained relaxed. “You don’t have to. I’m happy.”

They burst into laughter, except for Inerishia who simply couldn’t see that as an honest reply. She let them have a men-only talk and turned to thank the little boy for keeping good company to her daughter. When she squatted before him, she noticed the black stone hanging by the prince’s neck. He’d been so busy jumping and playing with Ines that he hadn’t realized his secret talisman sat now shining brightly over his clothes. Inerishia refrained her impulse of touching the talisman, and began with a soft voice, “Thank you, Your Highness, for protecting our girl.”

“Oh, it was nothing. I only did what I had to do,” he said, overcome with emotion, delighted by the fairy aspect of Ines’ mother. The intense color of her azure eyes and ginger hair was something he’d only seen in his naïve drawings with colored pencils.

Inerishia took a close look at the talisman, her intuition telling her that was not a normal necklace. Its shape, its unique frame, and decorations, she recognized them immediately. “You have such a beautiful necklace. Who gave it to you?” she asked.

Soris hurried to hide the stone back under his clothes. “It’s a secret,” he replied, avoiding eye-contact, regretting he couldn’t talk freely with the beautiful fairy.

“Was it a tall man with grey hair?” she insisted.

Soris glanced at her in surprise then lowered his eyes to the ground, keeping quiet. That attitude was enough of an answer to Inerishia. She got up, with a confused expression on her face, trying to piece together some information and memories from a long time ago.

In the meantime, Kendel was explaining to the general that Ines would have to stay longer in his care. “Our mission is going to last about six months, so we’ll have to trouble you with this. She needs to be in somebody’s care. Someone we can trust, and at this moment that is nobody else than you. I’m sorry, Waltario.”

“That’s fine. I don’t mind,” the general said. “It’s just that we need to talk some details. What name should I call her? I understand that you want everything to be a secret, but she’ll need a name if she has to stay here.”

Kendel nodded his head in approval, glad that Constantine was paying attention to such details. He hadn’t thought about that. He’d been so drained of energy during the battle that his power of thinking was now weak compared to his normal days. “Well, let me ask my wife about this. Darling, what should they call our daughter?”

“Selunia.”

Kendel turned around with raised eyebrows. “Whoa, that was quick. But anyway, I really like that name.” He repeated that name a few times to himself then returned to Constantine. “General, you may now call her Selunia.”

“So she’s Selunia Karleyani,” Constantine noted to himself.

The boy paid close attention, remembering that name.

“Well, it’d be better if you didn’t use that last name either,” Inerishia said.

“Oh, all right.”

As they were deciding on the last name, Soris went to the girl with increasing excitement. “So you do have a name but it has to remain a secret.”

Selunia nodded in approval.

“Okay. I get that. I have my secret, too. But your last name truly is Karleyani, right?” he insisted, intrigued by the mystery around his new playmate.

“Yes. That’s true. But that’s also a secret,” she reminded him, awkwardly trying to wink at him.

Soris laughed then said in order to get used to the change, “Selunia, you have a beautiful name.”

Kendel turned around and smiled hearing the prince pronouncing that name, but then as much as he liked it, something made him overly-curious. Why had his wife chosen a name that would match the prince’s name? Selunia was definitely referring to the moon while Soris was obviously related to the sun. He looked at Inerishia and saw that she had a serious expression on her face, too serious for their happy family reunion.

Next chapter coming soon! I hope you enjoyed reading this chapter!

P.S.: The final chapter was too long to be posted as only one chapter, so this is not the final chapter.

Chapter 10 – The Fire – Part II (The Prequel)

Waltario put a cloth on Ines, “Here, kid. You must be cold. This mist has a certain chilly air around it,” he said, glancing at the dense mat of clouds. The loud claps of thunder made the girl cower and wrap herself in the olive-colored blanket. It felt so soft and warm, that she could drop back to sleep in a second. Still, riding such a bizarre metal beast was way too exciting to fall asleep. It cut through the air smoothly like the wind, sweeping above the dusty road barely leaving any trace.

Waltario was maintaining a constant, calm speed. He didn’t want to reach home too quickly as he had to make up some lie before bringing the child in the palace. Lying was a difficult thing for him. Although his strategic and fighting skills were much appreciated, his father had always scolded him for being blunt. Being honest in every situation could turn into his disadvantage, but Martin liked that. As a king, he’d wished to have someone who could never lie to him. Constantine, on the other hand, admired Martin’s artfulness in conversations and was determined to grasp some of that. So far, in important international conferences, when some internal things were better to remain a secret, he kept silent most of the time and just nodded to whatever the king was saying, marveling at how deceiving wordings can be.

“Oh, that’s Master Astute,” he heard the girl’s crystalline voice, which disrupted his flow of thoughts. Close into the distance, he saw a man stepping out from the misty forest and positioning himself in the middle of the road as to block their way. He wore a brown cloak like most of the Arid Kingdom travelers and, hadn’t Ines recognized him, Waltario couldn’t have told he was the White Castle’s commandant. Before stopping the vehicle, Constantine whispered to Ines, “Cover your face well and don’t look at him. He mustn’t find out who you are.” Ines listened to him and drew the blanket over her excited eyes. This entire secrecy game was starting to get fun.

Waltario got off and walked toward the quiet commander. After the strange and persistent Rainbow Mist, he was sure Astute had some explanations to give his neighboring state. Or maybe it was really bad news and the White Castle wanted to announce them that the war was getting out of their control. Waltario’s steps became draggy for the last couple of yards before reaching the commander who slightly bowed his head instead of saluting. Constantine did the same while trying to read something on his face.

“General Waltario, our meeting here must remain a secret,” Astute said with his diplomatic smile.

“I know. What—”

Astute’s icy eyes shifted to Ines. “Who’s the girl?” he asked, a clap of thunder joining his voice.

Waltario’s breath was cut off. His lie wasn’t ready yet, but that didn’t mean he would give himself away. He clenched his jaws and curled his fists only to realize his right hand was already shaking. One deep breath and he maintained his gaze expressionless, his mind concentrating on keeping his right hand still. His father had taught him to never allow his hand to involuntarily lift up to the back of his head. That could instantly betray his nervousness. But so far so good. His right hand was tense like an arrow in a bow.

“She’s a… she’s… from there. I mean, but why…?” he stammered, trying to make up a lie right on the spot. It was a useless struggle. Words were impossible to find and his left hand was already resting on the nape of his neck.

Astute watched him for a second then his smile turned into a smirk. “All right. You don’t have to tell me. I understand. A divorce doesn’t end so easily.”

They both started to laugh, Constantine feeling relieved and embarrassed at the same time. He had to consider himself lucky things had turned out this way without him saying anything clearly.

“What brings you here?” he asked to divert the discussion.

Astute let out a sigh. “Today’s ambush was a heavy blow to my soldiers, but thankfully, we managed to come out to light. You did well to block the circulation around here. I came because I heard a man of yours had been attacked.”

“Oh, it was nothing. Your soldiers did an awesome job of keeping everything covered by the mist. The merchant is safe now, and don’t worry, he hasn’t seen any of your people or your fighting techniques.”

“Good. I put out the fire on that carriage you left behind. I apologize on behalf of my community for failing to keep our troubles within our boundaries.”

“It’s fine. Nothing of great consequence happened, so we’re not going to make a fuss about this,” Waltario assured him, knowing that this talk was mostly a custom rather than showing real concern. Most of the White Castle members were too arrogant to care about the simple inhabitants of the Arid Kingdom. But the continental supervisors, the Central Palace, were eager to give punishments to those who failed to maintain the peace between the states, so despite their superiority, the White Castle had to abide by the rules, too. 

“Thank you,” Astute replied, making to leave. “Then keep the road blocked until tomorrow to give my people enough time to clean up the mess the devils did today.”

“Sure.”

Master Astute glanced again at the girl who was having fun cloaking herself in the military blanket. “You picked a dangerous day to take her out,” he said, intrigued to find out more about the general’s personal affairs.

Constantine shrugged and chuckled shortly as he’d learned from Martin to be one of the best answers in delicate situations. It worked.

A bit disappointed, Astute said his farewell, then walked back into the foggy forest, vanishing in the eerie atmosphere. Waltario finally relaxed his shoulders and went to the vehicle, amusing himself to see Ines wrapped in the blanket like a mummy. He slid a finger to lift the covering on her purple eyes. “You’re having fun, aren’t you?” he said, then turned around immediately as he heard a chorus of alarmed voices.

“General! Are you all right?”

His soldiers from the barrier had come to check on him. Astute had definitely planned well his appearance and disappearance. Perfect timing to go away before others could see him.

Constantine approached them. “I’m fine. It was just a mild fire after lightning had struck a tree.”

He saw his soldiers’ smiles stretching under the helmet’s protective glasses. “We were so worried,” one of them said. “We thought something really bad had happened when we saw the merchant’s horse jumping over the barrier and running wildly.”

“Yeah. It had foam at its mouth,” said another.

They all laughed, glad that their general was safe and sound. “Where’s the merchant?”

“I sent him to the watchtower. He was too scared to walk this way along the mist.”

The soldiers nodded, then turned their heads in Ines’ direction. The general stiffened once again.

“I can’t believe someone would let their children go and play in this area,” one said.

“Maybe she got lost,” other commented.

“Maybe she’s a beggar.”

“Or an orphan.”

The soldiers started chattering on that subject each wondering about how their general had found the child. Still, none of them dared to ask the question directly, so Constantine was relieved he could postpone the process of thinking of a proper lie. All well until Price Soris arrived and ran to the vehicle. “Oh, Princess! Are you all right?” he asked, peeking under the makeshift hood which nodded.

The prince had done his best to follow the soldiers after the frightened horse had passed by. Everyone was too focused on getting to the general as soon as possible, so they forgot about him resting in the tent.

Waltario watched the soldiers’ puzzled faces then went to the prince, ignoring the murmur of questions that started behind his back.

“So this was your princess,” he said, laying a hand on the boy’s shoulder. Soris turned around and looked up with gratitude. “Thank you, general.”

“I should thank both of you. If it weren’t for you two, the merchant might have died or at least gotten hurt today.”

Soris grinned and Ines snuck out her head to lift a smile at him. Waltario watched their bright faces for a moment, remembering the talk with the king and Inerishia’s letter, then commented to himself, heaving a sigh, “Now I have two kids in my care.”

The two started giggling then Ines suddenly remarked, “Oh, the bottle!” She lowered a sad gaze on the boy. “I’m sorry. I didn’t find it.”

Soris nodded then hung his head. “It’s all right,” he mumbled, digging in the road’s earth with his foot. “We’ll get it next time.”

“The carriage is still there. We can go search for it now,” the general said, bringing back the hope to both of them.

Soris rejoiced and jumped on the vehicle’s saddle. “Let’s search for it together!”

I hope you enjoyed today’s post. Thank you all for your support!

(Next chapter is going to be the last one.)