The sky was still blue and the sun, warm as Thrista, Silena and the blonde bodyguard all sat around one of the carefully carved stone tables on the terrace. The soft wind brought a cool breeze and the large white stones which the terrace was made of were pleasantly warm. Hannah, the young woman with dark hair and a sturdy character, refused to join them and had remained behind to keep an eye over their surroundings even after Todd tried to convince her that they was no danger. After being shut down by his companion he decided to sit on the right side of the princess, directly across from Thrista.
“How long has it been since we’ve last seen each other?” Asked the young blonde woman.
“Too long.” Replied Thrista with a smile. “Much too long.” He added as he looked at the scenery that extended before their eyes, the palace’s terrace had been built-in an elevated part of the royal gardens.
The gardens were reflecting peace and serenity, they were filled with flowers, trees and hedges cut out with extreme precision. Everything was done so that it reflected the morals of the royal family: peace and harmony. Behind the high white walls one stood the city of Eneleïa and its harbor which no one, whether they were princes or vagabonds, could describe as anything else than magnificent. Each district was represented by a dominant color which was mixed to the white walls of the houses, creating beautiful patterns in the sunlight. The city resembled a precious stone directly taken out from the heart of the earth. Thrista had only rarely had the occasion to admire such a spectacle and most of those had been years before, during his stays at the palace. He turned towards Silena who was also admiring the view.
“It’s been a long time but things haven’t changed so much.” He commented.
“What do you mean by that?” She asked, furrowing her eyebrows.
“Well the jewel of Tebor still shines.” He said as he waved towards the city. “Your father is still as worried by your safety whereas you don’t care at all and you do as you wish even on the eve of your wedding. And I am still as impressed by your bodyguards as before… So nothing has really changed.”
“Really nothing?” Asked Silena, a playful glint in her eyes.
“No, nothing… Well, perhaps your hair, I think they’re a bit longer than before…” Added the dark-haired young man with a small mocking smile spreading across his face. If the blonde bodyguard was surprised when the princess shot her tongue at Thrista he didn’t show it but he did seem amused by the situation. The young woman then proceeded to turn away from her interlocutor in an exaggerated movement.
“As perceptive as ever I see.” The blonde woman taunted.
“And you, as impertinent as ever.” Replied Thrista in the same tone her father used to speak to her when he was angry. They both burst in laughter as they remembered the time they spent together, pulling pranks, catching the attention of the brunette woman who looked in their direction briefly before turning away again. The two friends kept laughing for a long moment and only after a few minutes did they stop, their sides hurting, and Silena spoke again.
“Tell me Thrista, why are you back in town? Is it a coincidence or are you here for my wedding? I almost didn’t believe it yesterday when I saw you at the market.” Asked the blonde woman.
Thrista smiled before replying.
“No, it’s not a coincidence, you didn’t think I’d let you get married without my benediction did you?” He winked at her. “But it is true I arrived yesterday so that I wouldn’t miss the great event that the whole kingdom has been following with such passion for the last months. I had already decided that I would come back to Ore to prepare for the tournament but I finally decided to make the trip back when I learned the date of your wedding.”
“Ah yes! It’s true that the Sages’ tournament will take place soon! I didn’t know if you planned to come back until then but I still hoped you would be here for my wedding. It’s really good to see you Thrista!” She exclaimed with a smile. “When did you plan to tell me you were back though?” She asked, her face suddenly becoming more serious.
“Actually I was planning to come by the palace today.” Replied the dark-haired young man.
“Well you should’ve been here as soon as you arrived you idiot!” Silena exclaimed, punching Thrista lightly in the shoulder.
“I know, I know.” He said with a nod.
“You’re considering participating in the next great tournament?” Asked the blonde bodyguard as he looked at Thrista with interest, a slightly impressed look on his face.
“Yes.” Nodded the dark-haired teenager. “I’ve been thinking about it for such a long time. It’s been my goal since I was a child, I’ve been preparing for it since then. I don’t know how far I’ll be able to go but I will definitely give it a try two years from now!”
“Don’t underestimate him Todd.” Said the blonde with a mischievous glint in her eye. “He is more powerful than he appears and a very good fighter.”
“Of course my lady.” Todd replied with a nod. “I was just curious, your confidence surprised me.” He added as he turned towards Thrista.
“Todd, how many times have I told you to call me Silena and not ‘my lady’…?” She said in a weary tone as she rolled her eyes. “And do so with Thrista by the way, you’re my bodyguard, not my slave!”
“Very well my lady… I mean Silena.” The blonde corrected himself to the chagrin of the princess. She sighed heavily before offering them drinks. Thrista asked for fresh water, Todd too, only Hannah refused to have anything, preferring to stay by herself. The young heir to the throne then left them to go and fetch their drinks under the vigilant eye of the dark-haired bodyguard.
Thrista noticed the slightly embarrassed look on the blonde’s face in front of him following Silena’s reaction and couldn’t help but giggle. Todd looked at him with a surprised look, not understanding what was so funny.
“Don’t worry!” The dark-haired young man said after calming down. “She’s not angry, she’s always like this. She simply views everyone one in the castle as her friend and as such none of them needs to be so formal with her. She hates formalities.”
“Yes, that’s what she told us when her father introduced us to her.” Todd said with a nod. “But as bodyguards we can’t let personal feelings cloud our judgment, at least that’s what Hannah said, so it’s a bit complicated.” He added.
“Well you’ll either have to comply or bear with her bad mood for the rest of your stay.” Replied Thrista with a smile. “I can vouch for that.”
He saw a small smile spread on Todd’s face as the blonde understood what he meant.
“Has she always been like that?” He asked.
“For as long as I’ve known her, she has.” Sighed the dark-haired teen in an exaggerated manner. “I pity you, I wouldn’t want to be in your place for anything in the world.” He added.
“You can call me Todd, since her majesty wishes it.” They both smiled at the bodyguard’s comment.
“Well you can do the same for me, it is a pleasure to meet you Todd.” Replied Thrista. “And to reply to your question earlier, yes, I am determined to participate in the tournament even if I’m not totally confident.” He added.
“Well then Thrista, as a practitioner of empirium myself I would definitely like to see you fight.” Commented Todd with a smile.
Silena came back a few moments later, in an intense discussion with one of the kitchen maids who was bringing them some refreshments, a large jug of water and four cups in case Hannah changed her mind. Thrista and Todd had found a common interest in the history of the matches during the different tournaments, the bodyguard was quite knowledgeable too, he had been an admirer of the event since his childhood, since he had been able to witness some of the fights of the last edition. Thrista had been fascinated by it since his father had told him the tales of the epic fights that had taken place in the arenas and he had dreamed of participating since his old man had told him he himself had participated in the previous one. They talked about the sadly notorious fight opposing Grennwick to Almeneister, which Thrista had learned more about the day before when he had talked with Zani, one of the elders of the temple of Sha’ana. The princess joined the conversation as she too knew a bit about that fight, having known the old priest for many years she had heard most of his stories. Thrista described his short duel with the old man, praising his still powerful mastery over the art of emporium to the surprise of the young woman who didn’t think the elder was still able to duel or that he ever had been a practitioner of empirium. The subject then came back to the event that would take placed two years from now.
“Do you have any idea how the next Sages’ Tournament be organized?” Asked the blonde to Thrista.
“No, I only know that it changes every time but I have no idea what they’re preparing for this edition.” He replied. “It’s been a long time since I’ve thought about it but if I remember correctly the last tournament was divided in two parts. They made the first one a huge brawl where a hundred participants would fight until only a few remained standing. And the second half was a random division in groups of four who were opposed to other groups, it was to reinforce cooperation I think. Then came the solo fights, but it only started during the 16th finals I think, until the finale, which took place in the grand arena and where Soran Eslowe claimed his victory. They change each decade so we can’t know exactly what awaits us but it’s something different I presume..”
“Well we’ll know that only a few weeks before if I remember correctly.” Silena commented. “I really wonder what you’ll have to face there…” She added, intrigued.
“Yeah, we won’t know until the organisers deem it’s time.” Thrista agreed. “That makes me even more impatient to know what the tournament will consist in.” The teenager added with a smile.
“Oh! I almost forgot!” He suddenly exclaimed.” I still haven’t asked you about your future husband! How is the prince-to-be? Does he suit your taste?” He asked with a playful smile.
Silena laughed lightly before replying, amused that Thrista hadn’t thought of asking that before.
“Well,” She started in her best imitation of a deeply enamoured young woman. “He is gorgeous, intelligent and so romantic!” The princess exclaimed as she sighed to add to her imitation, which caused her and Thrista to burst in laughter, soon joined by Todd.
Once they had calmed down she spoke again, with a more serious tone this time.
“Despite the fact that I have officially been a real woman for two years now I didn’t expect my father to offer to marry me so early. To speak frankly I must say I didn’t have any intention nor any desire to get married. But somehow he managed to change my mind about that, telling me that I would have to get married someday, whether I wanted it or not.”
“What made you change your mind then, my dear friend?” Asked Thrista, who seemed visibly curious about that.
Silena was known by many, especially by him, to be extremely independent and stubborn and to not let anyone get in her way. The fact that she had agreed to get married so early in her life had surprised the dark-haired young man.
“Well when father told me he was going to offer to marry me to lord Janon’s son he told me he’d let me have the final decision. I think that’s what played in his favor. I didn’t want to even think about marriage when he announced this to me at first but, as time passed, as he wasn’t pressing me to do anything I got somewhat curious. I decided to agree to meet Stanis Junon’s son and they arranged a meeting a few days later. He was quite charming, both physically and in his personality, so we talked for a while and, funny enough, we both realized we had a similar point of view on the prospect of a wedding. He told me he wasn’t enthused by that but…”
Thrista noticed that Silena’s cheeks had reddened ever so slightly as she was talking, this made a small amused smile appear on his face as she continued.
“I think he liked me and that’s mostly what made him change his mind. He was funny and smart, he quickly understood that I was not one of those dumb girls and that I knew what I wanted and how to get it. You know Thrista, I don’t think that this is such a bad idea anymore, it’s better if we get along isn’t it?” She then asked.
“Yes, I think it’s positive that it’s the case.” Approved Thrista, still smiling slightly as the princess’s cheeks remained colored with a light shade of red. “And what might this charming young man’s name be?” He then asked.
“Thedric Junon, son of Stanis Junon, lord of the valley of Korr.” Silena replied.
“Well he seems to be a worthy party. And on top of that he’s cute you say? It seems you’ve hit the jackpot my dear princess!” Exclaimed Thrist, his playful smile getting wider as he reached for his glass to take a sip of his cool drink.
“Yes, and he may be of noble descent but he doesn’t seem too proud of himself, which is a good thing.” Thrista nodded at the princess’s comment, he knew she abhorred social conventions and even more the people who loved said conventions. “Plus, look at what he gave me!”
The young woman extended her hand towards the dark-haired teen and wiggled her left ring finger. Her slender finger was decorated with a thin ring of silver and azure reflections which reminded of the color of her eyes and contrasted with the darker color of her skin.
“By the gods, he is spoiling you!” Exclaimed Thrista with an amused tone. “But I must admit this ring is gorgeous, this is Simerian jewelry isn’t it? The quality of the work is astounding.” He added, impressed by this gift of great artistic value.
More than the actual value of the metal used, or any material as a matter of fact, Simerian jewelry was renowned all over Ore for its beauty and the finesse of the designs. It seemed like the old continent’s jewelers could breathe beauty into any object simply by carving into it.
“Yes, it is.” Replied the princess as she displayed a slightly irritated expression. “It’s a unique piece. I hoped to surprise you with the materials used as Simerian silver is said to be quite rare but it seems you know about it already… How do you know about it?” She asked, intrigued by his expertise.
“A friend that I made during my travels to Simeriah. He was quite knowledgeable about these kinds of things and he explained it to me. Plus we’ve had the great honor to be able to meet one of the best jewelers of the continent once and he showed us the making of a necklace and some of the pieces he had made. It is truly quite a sight!” The young man explained with a smile.
“But I want you to know that I am truly happy to be able to attend this great event and I hope that you will both be very happy.” He added as he put his glass back down on the table.
“Thank you.” Nodded Silena with a smile. “Will you be attending the ceremony tomorrow?” She then asked, her expression becoming slightly more serious and unsure.
“Of course. I’ll come back to the palace in a more… official manner to greet you, your father and the queen.” The young man looked at the horizon and noticed the sun was already starting to disappear behind the infinitely distant line.
He realized they had been sitting and talking on the terrace for quite a while now.
“Isn’t it time for you to start getting prepared?” He asked. “Everyone must be looking for you.” He added with a smile.
“Yes.” She replied as she too look at the setting orb of light. “I have much to do to be ready tomorrow. It’s been really nice to see you again Thrista.” She said as she stood up, quickly followed by the dark-haired teen and the blonde bodyguard.
“Yes it has.” Replied Thrista with a smile.
“I’ll introduce you with my future husband tomorrow when you come by the palace again. Oh and by the way, you are officially invited for the banquet tomorrow evening.” She added.
“Of course.” He said with a smile as they started walking towards the palace.
They quickly reached the main door leading from the gardens to the palace but Thrista stopped before passing through it.
“I’d rather leave the way I came here.” He explained as Silena shot him a curious look. “It’s said to be very bad luck to enter the palace by another door than the front one.”
Silena, who had turned towards him, sighed and agreed with a knowing smile. Indeed, they had never been very lucky when trying to get in by the rear doors, Oscius had always seemed to know exactly where they were. She smiled slightly.
“Well, do as you want.” She replied before hugging him with strength and wishing him a good evening. The princess disappeared into the palace soon after telling him he had to be at the palace before maxima.
“I’ll be there, don’t worry!” He replied as he waved his arm. Then he turned towards the blond young man and saluted him as well. “I wish you luck to keep an eye on her for the next few days.” He said with a smirk.
“Yeah, thanks, you can count on me.” Replied Todd with a smile before following the princess inside the palace, he would need all his courage to keep up with the two young women.
Thrista turned around and went back towards the gardens, through the terrace. As he passed by the table he noticed the glass still full of water of the dark-haired bodyguard and decided to go apologize to her for earlier. The young woman he had learned was called Hannah was still at her post, sitting on the white steps and looking at the horizon. She seemed lost in her thoughts, her not noticing the princess’s disappearance was a sign of that. He got closer and stopped to her right, surprising her slightly as he did.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you. I just came to apologize for earlier, I didn’t mean to resist that much. I was the one in the wrong after all.” She looked up at him silently for a moment before nodding and looking back at the point of the horizon she seemed to have been studying before.
The young man wondered if she ever willingly talked to anybody but preferred to leave her alone, patience was the best course of action. He spoke again after a few seconds.
“I wanted to give you this, you didn’t get it earlier.” He said.
The young woman turned towards him again and noticed the glass of clear water that was still full. She stood up after a couple of seconds and looked at him directly. Thrisa extended his arm, inviting her to take the glass.
“I also came to tell you that the princess has gone back to the palace with your colleague and to say goodbye as I am leaving too.” The dark-haired bodyguard looked around and noticed the absence of the blonde duo from earlier, neither the princess nor her comrade remained.
“I believe she went back to her room with Todd if you’re looking for her.” He added to reassure her as he knew it was extremely difficult to follow the princess once she had decided on something.
“You know, you really seem to be talented at empirium, I’d really like to have a chance to spar with you someday.” He added with a smile.
Hannah looked at him for a second before drinking the her water in a single motion and picking up her satchel that was lying on the ground and turned around before walking towards the palace without even a word. This surprised Thrista a bit but he didn’t hold her back and simply wished her a nice evening.
“Goodbye!” He exclaimed with a quick wave as he saw her quickly climb the set of stairs that lead onto the terrace.
Thrista was about to turn and leave when he saw her stop as she reached the top of the staircase, he saw her turn her head towards him and greet him with a slight nod.
“Thank you.” She added with what seemed to be a small smile, though he couldn’t be sure as it had happened to fast, before disappearing behind the walls to search for the princess.
Quite mysterious that one. The young man thought with a smile, unsure of what to make of his interaction with the young bodyguard as he walked down the flight of stairs towards the center of the gardens.
Strong characters, all of them… His smile got wider as he thought of the few women he knew.
The young man reached the furthest part of the gardens and without much difficulty crossed the high hedge and the wall again, landing in a small and deserted alley. He then started walking towards the eastern district and quickly reached Carmen’s taverns, dropping on his bed after having had a quick supper. He lied on his bed for a long time, letting his sore muscles relax as his thoughts roamed free. He had planned to stay in Eneleïa for a few days, long enough to witness the princess’s wedding and after that he would hit the road again. But where to? He still hadn’t decided on a direction to take and this question was nagging him more and more since he had finally come back to Ore. Towards the south, that was almost certain, but was it better to go inland or to remain close to the coast? He could also go back towards Asselia, his father must have been missing him considering how long he had been gone. Was it finally time to go back home? He fell asleep before finding a satisfactory answer to his questions and thus it was put back to the day after.