“Good morning, Kaidus. Doing the day’s shopping for your mother again?” An older woman asked from behind a counter. In her hands were bundles of dried herbs.
“Hi Mrs. Grenson,” Kaidus greeted. “Can I get four heads of Teraile garlic, two bunches of dried ciscut leaves, and half a cup of Venesian pepper powder?”
“Of course you can.” The woman replied, putting down whatever she was doing and starting on the order. Walking over to a large barrel, “How’s your mom doing? She’s not overworking herself, is she?” The woman asked, scooping pepper powder and pouring it onto a sheet of paper before folding and tying it up.
“Lance’s been waking up a lot at night so she’s a little tired.” Kaidus replied, taking the small package of spice powder from the woman.
Adalina being too tired was the reason why he was out shopping. His little brother was a crier, and had been keeping her up all night for the past couple days. To allow her some rest, he was doing the shopping while Anise stayed with her at home to help out.
“Hehehe, is that so? Good thing she’s got a strong young man like you to help out.” The woman returned a pleasant smile. “Oh my. We only have sheia garlic left. Doesn’t look like Dalon’s come by with a new supply of teraile yet.”
“Then three heads of sheia garlic please.” Kaidus readjusted his order. He wanted teraile garlic because it was more aromatic, but either was fine. Sheia was also a little bigger than teraile, so three was good.
“Alright.” Picking out three large heads of garlic, the shop lady wrapped it up in another piece of wrapping paper before handing it to him along with two modest bunches of dried ciscut leaves.
“Thank you very much.” Kaidus handed eight erns to the woman before putting the items into a bag he was carrying.
The bag was already filled with some meat, half a qorkos, a whole laraze plant, two bulbous furuce roots, a package of salt, and a bag of ground mulse. He had shopped for both lunch and dinner.
“You’re welcome.” Mrs. Grenson replied, handing back two kuis. “Give your mother my regards please.”
“I will.” He waved as he moved towards the exit.
“AH!” Someone yelped as he opened the door of the shop.
On the ground before him sat a young lady wearing a black shawl over her shoulders. Underneath, she had on a creamy long sleeved shirt with red floral patterns and a long flowing black skirt with streaks of red. A red hairband held back silky black hair from covering her lovely wincing face.
“AH!” The door to the shop suddenly opened out in front of her. In her surprise, she fell backwards onto her bottom.
“Sorry. Are you alright?”
Looking up, a boy with pitch black hair wearing commoner clothing: a dark blue shirt under a brown leather vestment and gray pants, all underneath a plain gray cloak was apologizing to her. Holding a bag of grocery in his right hand, he was looking at her with two captivating black eyes that appeared to stare right through her.
Unnerved by the gaze, she froze for an instant before noticing the un-ladylike posture she was in. Before she could move, the boy had already set his bag down on the ground and grabbed her shoulders, easily pulling her up. In contrast to his looks, the boy was very strong.
Images of a young boy with pitch black hair silently holding her frightened hand and walking her home briefly flashed through her mind.
“Are you alright?” The boy asked again, staring at her with the same dark eyes.
“Yes, thank you.” She replied as she dusted her clothes, averting her eyes from the boy’s piercing gaze.‘What is going on?’ She thought to herself, feeling flustered. She didn’t know who the boy was, but when she caught his eyes, she felt a sense of indescribable peace and familiarity.
“Celene are you alright?!” Someone called from behind and footsteps quickly caught up to her.
“Ah. I’m fine.” She replied, turning around to reassure her friend.
“I told you to be careful.” A girl her age scolded, coming to stand beside her. “You’re always so careless.” Her friend complained, patting at spots on her skirt where she had missed.
“Sorry Tannis…” Celene gave a sorry reply.
They were running an errand for Tannis’ mother, and one thing after another led it to become a competition to see who could get to the Herb and Spice shop the fastest.
“!!” A look of surprise suddenly appeared on Tannis’ face. “Sorry to block your path!” Her friend grabbed her arms and pulled her aside before ushering her into the shop. As she was pulled past the boy, she glimpsed what looked like a smile on the boy’s face.
“I can’t believe it. He really does live in the 3rd ward!” Her friend whispered excitedly after the door was closed.
“You know who that was Tannis?” Celene questioned with a curious tone. The boy felt familiar, but she had no idea why.
“That was this year’s arms competition champion! The one I was telling you about a while ago. I can’t believe it. He looks even more handsome up close!” Her friend exclaimed with a giddy tone while smiling brightly.
“That boy?” Celene gave a baffled reply.
She had stayed away from the arms competition because she disliked fighting or seeing people getting hurt. The emotional scars from that day years ago had healed somewhat, but seeing violence always brought back unpleasant memories. To hear that the boy was the champion, it was quite the surprise to her.
“Mrs. Grenson!” her friend shouted, running over to the counter.
“Hello Tannis. What brings you here today? Hi Celene.” The kind old woman behind the counter greeted them.
“Good morning.” She replied, follow behind Tannis.
“Mrs. Grenson. Do you know that boy who was just here?” Her friend gestured to the door.
The older woman gave them a smile. “I do. Why do you ask? Did he catch your fancy Tannis?”
“What?! No! I was telling Celene about him but I forgot his name,” Tannis denied. “N-not to mention… I already have Rowan.”
“I was just teasing you.” The older woman smiled. “His name is Kaidus. He lives in the Shorza district not far from here.”
“!!” Celene’s eyes widened.
“That’s right. Kaidus.” Tannis reiterated, remembering the name.
“If you’re thinking about dropping Rowan for him, I say go for it.” The woman gave them a big grin.
“I told you already. That’s not it!”
“I thought he moved?” Celene cut in.
“I don’t know about that, but he’s back now. Wait… don’t tell me you too Celene?” The woman gave her an inquisitive look. “Ah… that’s right. Why wouldn’t you be?” having figured out something out, Mrs. Grenson winked at her.
“N-no. I was just surprised. I thought that he moved or something had happened to him.” Celene quickly responded. “Tannis I’ll be right back. I just remembered I have to do something.” She quickly bolted out the door.
“Celene!? Where are you going?!” Her friend called from behind.
She moved with fervor, following the direction the boy would have taken to get to the Shorza district.
She knew him. He was her savior and she had admired him ever since that fateful day.
The last time she talked to him was four years ago during a visit to his house with her mother. Although she pictured it as talking in her mind, thinking about it, it was mostly him asking her questions and she replying while hiding her embarrassment. After that, for a whole year, she silently admired him from a distance. Ashamed about what she had put him through and too embarrassed to even talk to him, she merely watched whenever she saw him moving through the shopping district.
That was until he suddenly disappeared three years ago. She feared that something may have happened, forcing the boy to move away or that he was exiled, but thankfully neither of those were the case.
He had grown up so much that she did not even recognize him. From the child who was a head shorter than her back then, he looked to be about her same height, if not only a little shorter. She understood why she felt flustered. She understood why he felt so familiar.
Not far from the shop, she spotted the boy’s back moving away with a bag of grocery in his hand. Taking a deep breath, she opened her mouth to shout his name, but froze. ‘What am I going to say to him?’ The question rang through her mind. She stood there in the middle of the street contemplating her purpose.
As his figure moved further and further away, ‘Whatever!’ Her mind shouted, and she ran towards him. “Kaidus!” She shouted the name that had been imprinted onto her mind. As soon as the words left her mouth, a sense of apprehension befell her. ‘What if he doesn’t remember me? What if it’s not him?’ She thought.
In front of her, the boy stopped and turned around. “Celene?” His dark eyes fell on her and his mouth spoke her name.
The apprehensive feeling inside her vanished. Before she even realized it, she was already hugging him. “I thought I’d never see you again.” Words filled with regret escaped her mouth.
“C-Celene?” A startled voice called her name.
“Can we be friends?” Four words she always wanted to ask him came out.
The boy had swiftly led them away from the middle of the busy street, and she was standing against the wall of the bakery, reflecting on what she just did. Thinking about it, her face grew hot and she hung her head down and stared at her feet.
“I’m sorry.” Celene apologized again as the sound of footsteps approached her.
Her shameless actions had drawn quite the attention to them. Yet to her, it felt like a weight had been lifted off her chest when he assented to her selfish request.
“You’ve apologized enough. Please don’t worry about it.” The boy replied, handing her a freshly baked mulse cake.
“Thank you…” Taking it, she took a nibble. The edge of the fluffy round cake easily gave way and a sweetness filled her mouth.
The boy stood beside her, silently enjoying his own. Taking another bite of the cake, she looked at him. “Kaidus.”
“Hmm?” Two dark eyes gaze back at her.
“Do you think I’m weird?”
“No.” His answer was prompt and decisive as he took another bite of his own mulse cake.
“Not even after what I did?” She inquired, looking down at the ground.
“You must’ve had your reasons.” An answer without a hint of derision or falsehood.
“I see…” She was glad. Even if he had found her weird, it wouldn’t have changed how she felt. To hear him say no. It made her happy.
“Have you been well these past few years? How’s your brother doing now?” The boy questioned.
“Naran is helping my father with the family business. He’s already quite skilled at appraising gems and jewelry. Of course father has to double check and would never say it, but I can see that he’s proud of Naran.” Celene smiled, thinking about it.
“I’m doing well.” She replied, giving him a smile and not going deeper into detail.
“I see… Say, what did you mean earlier about not seeing me again?”
“I… I just thought that with how you are with magic, you moved away or something. I thought you’d left Ferrent forever.” She tried to make it sound casual. “B-because you know, I never really thanked you for what you did.” She explained, steeling herself before looking at the boy again. “And I’ve always wanted to ask you to be friends.” She gave a sheepish grin. “Did you know it was me earlier when you saw me?” She quickly added, playing off her embarrassment before he could pick apart her words.
“I had my doubts, but then your friend called your name.” A smile crept onto the boy’s face.
“Why? Why didn’t you say anything?” She scowled at him.
“I was going to, but it looked like you both were in a rush.”
“…” She recalled his smile from earlier and couldn’t refute his statement. Tannis has pulled her into the shop after seeing him.
“Where’s your friend?”
“Probably heading back h- AH! I’ve been gone for too long. I should go back before she gets angry.” She stepped away from the wall. “I’m sorry again. Thanks for the cake and… and for going along with my selfishness.” She quickly curtsied. “See you again next time.”
“It was my pleasure. Have a good day.”
Walking away, she had a big smile plastered on her face.
His thoughts fell on Celene as he walked home.
He was surprised at suddenly being embraced, and could do naught but acquiesce to her pure emotions.
He recalled the young girl who was bruised and crying. The stouthearted girl who walked into the trial hall that day. The shy girl who sat with him in their living room, too shy to speak unless spoken to.
The girl from all those years ago had grown into a lovely young lady. Her shapely figure, her enticing red lips, her beautiful pearly face, the soft and ample chest that had pressed against his earlier, and the sweet scent of dried cilic berries that clung onto her. It would be a lie if he said he did not find her attractive.
Arriving at home, his thoughts about the fleeting encounter quickly evaporated as he passed by the window of his house. Inside, Adalina was quietly watching Anise who had Lance in her arms.
He stood outside, taking a moment to absorb the soothing scene before entering the house.
“Thank you honey. I’ll get started on lunch soon so can you put that in the kitchen and come watch Lance?” His mother spoke as he got in.
After putting the bag of grocery away, he took out a small cloth bag lined with paper that contained something he bought on the way back.
Anise’s eyes stared at what was in his hand, and a bright smile appeared on her face.
“Here.” Kaidus smiled, setting the bag on the table and taking the baby from Anise.
With a joyous expression on her face, his sister took out one of the mulse cakes and gave it to their mother before taking one for herself. The little girl quickly finished hers, before giving him a thankful hug.
“There’s another one in there for you.”
“?” She gave him a curious look. “You don’t want it?” His sister asked, taking a quick glance at the bag on the table.
“I’ve already had mine. The one in there is also for you.” He knew she loved the treat and had bought an extra for her.
“You’re spoiling her too much, Kaidus.” His mother reprimanded, smiling at them.
“She deserves it.” Kaidus grinned.
Holding Lance in his arms while Adalina made lunch, the baby’s two beady eyes moved around the room while its tiny mouth threatened to cry. He held Lance gently, making sure to support both the baby’s body and head. Unlike Anise who has dark red hair, Lance’s red hair was lighter and more closely to Troyle’s hair color. Instead of the dark black eyes like Anise, himself, and their mother, Lance had Troyle’s light brown eyes.
Looking at his brother, his mind began to wander and he started thinking.
His plans were to leave Ferrent once he turned 15, which was a year and a half away. He had yet to tell his parents about it, but he had an inkling they would not oppose his decision. 15 was the age when his mother ran away from home, and his father had already joined the Droxxon mercenary way before that.
He thought about his family’s future after his departure. About his own, and about what he would have to do, to accomplish what needs to be done.
Looking at the small face in his arms, his thoughts turned towards a different direction and he briefly entertained the idea of having his own family. He chuckled inwardly at his childish delusions.
As much as he wished to just stay and live a carefree life with those he loves, deep inside of him was a thirst for answers and a darkness that could never be revealed. His current life was but a moments rest from what is to come. He did not know what lies ahead, but he knew that his path would be riddled with death and destruction if he wishes to protect his loved ones from a world of fear and tyranny.
“Kai what does this say?” Anise who was reading beside him asked, snapping him back to reality. She was pointing to a word on her book.
“Let’s see… Hahahaha.” He started laughing.
“Kai?” His sister gave him a puzzled look.
“Sorry. That says Proclamation.”
“Prok-kla-may-shen…” Anise imitated. “What does proclamation mean?”
“To announce something important.”
“I see.” She smiled and returned to her book.
Bound in chains, the man trudged forward. He was the first in the line of prisoners.
Physically exhausted, each step he took was more painful than the last. Not caring about his life, all he could think about was the young boy who had been taken away and was riding in a cage behind him somewhere. Every time he tried to look back, he was whipped by one of two men walking beside him. Each time he tried to ask about the boy, he was beaten.
Biran cursed the gods for their bad luck. He questioned the all-knowing one’s motives, shouting angrily at them in his head. Yet unwilling to lay down and die, he marched onward, hoping against all hopes that he and the boy could make it out of this together.
They were prisoners.
Twenty-two days ago, their ship had been commandeered by pirates while on their way to Port Novierre. The pirates had stayed around for another nine days to capture others ships before sailing for land.
He knew not where they were, only that they are no longer in Unotus.
“Pick up the pace! There’s an opening up ahead you can all rest then!” Someone shouted, and whips cracked all around him.
“Kuh!” He gritted his teeth as a streak of pain flared upon his upper back, snaking down to his lower left side. He felt a pull, as others along the line fell down to the pain of being whipped. He used the chance to glance back at the four cages being pulled by large dronnons behind him, but couldn’t make out anything.
They had been separated and the women and children were riding in cages like animals, while the men traveled on foot and were killed on the spot whenever they refuse to keep moving.
He heard sobbing and crying, then the line started to move again.
After a tiring trek, they eventually made it to the resting place. In front of him, a large plain opened up. Surrounded by trees on two sides of the road with a stream flowing straight down to intersect the road.
He breathed a sigh of relief at the wondrous sight before him.
Their line of prisoners were lead to the stream for water. A line of women and children were also led out of the cages to the stream.
Biran gorged himself along with the other men, drinking whatever he could stomach. He did not care if it was sanitary or not. All he knew was that they had walked all afternoon, each getting only a couple handfuls of water. It was the amount they had received yesterday, and the day before that. Such a chance to drink his fill may not come again.
While taking his drink, he watched those in the back who were coming for water. His sharp eyes caught movements in the trees. The ununiformed ground around them suddenly bulged out, and people with swords popped out of the ground.
One of the captors sounded a horn briefly before he was cut down. Horns began to blow from all around and he frantically scanned the prisoners, looking for the young man whom he was supposed to be protecting, as mayhem ensued.