25. The Messanger of the Gods
♎♎♎ Suri Sabri ♎♎♎
“Oh my! What a wonderful surprise!” Aramis’ eyes sparkled at the sight of us –well, mainly the king.
After spotting the trail of smoke, it wasn’t hard to track down his house, though the trip to here was filled with awkward silence and unfulfilled tension.
“Hi, Aramis. Mind if we stop by for a little bit?” I said, but those moss green eyes were focused on the tall man beside me.
“We apologize if this is a bad time for you,” the king added, and Aramis shook his head violently as he bowed deeply.
“No, not at all, your majesty.” He ushered for us to enter, stepping aside and opening the carved wooden door further. “To what do I owe this pleasant visit?”
I could tell he wasn’t really addressing me, but rather the royal man who seemed to inspect the humble residence of our host. Aramis’ house was warmer and stuffier than the last and only time I’ve been in. It was surprisingly clean and organized, as if nothing was moved an inch.
But that unpleasant smell of the pumpkin tea still lingered in the air, and it was evident due to the huge metal kettle brewing by the fireplace.
“His majesty here wanted to ask you a few questions, and I wanted to inform you of something,” I answered as I took a seat on the lush couch, the king trailing behind and sitting on the one beside me.
Aramis clapped his hands together, startling me for a second. “Well, don’t spill anything until I’ve got tea all hot and ready. You’re just in luck, tonight is a special brew.”
I bared my teeth in an attempt of a smile, already dreading whatever ingredient Aramis put in that tea. I better warn the king of how terrible the drink he was about to consume was.
I veered my attention at him, and almost wanted to laugh at how big and uncomfortable he looked in that small couch. He took up all the space, and due to how lush the cushions were, he half sank into it.
I thought about it twice, and decided that his royal highness doesn’t need to be warned about the tea. It’s the least he deserves after what he pulled in the forest earlier.
We sat in silence for a couple of moments, watching Aramis as he hummed cheerfully over the whistling kettle. And in every second that the tea grew stronger, the air seemed to suffocate us with the smell. But neither the king nor I made a comment about that.
At last, Aramis put on those huge pink mittens and grabbed the handler to pour three cups of tea. “In this weather, there’s nothing better than drinking pumpkin tea. It could sooth your nerves and warm your body, and I even added a hint of honey and lavender this time.”
He placed three glasses of water beside the cups and brought the tray to us.
“But be careful, it’s hot. Best to drink the water for now,” he said, placing the beverages by the table in front of us before plopping himself on the large couch across the king and I.
His feet dangled as he gulped down his glass of water in one swing.
“Thank you for having us,” the king thanked him, sipping on his own water.
I pursed my lips, not knowing what to do or say so I just took mouthfuls of my cold glass of water. It seemed to be the only thing we did at this moments, sitting there quietly and sipping every minute or then.
That is until Aramis opened his mouth. “So, my mistress, did you accomplish what I told you to do?”
The liquid was halfway down my throat when I choked on it.
“What?” I coughed, my face and neck reddening.
The king cleared his throat way too many times to sound as natural.
Both Aramis’ bushy eyebrows rose at me. “You mean to tell me that so far nothing has happened?”
His green eyes flicked at the both of us. “I have a bedroom, if you want. Should I give you two some privacy?”
My own eyes bulged out of their sockets as heat rushed up to my cheeks. “Aramis!” I hissed, covering my face with my fingers. I wanted to groan, or possibly bang my head to a tree.
The king finished the rest of his water, and I peeked through my fingers to see the hint of pink rising up his neck and painting his ears.
“It happened,” he said calmly, turning to me then Aramis, “Twice. And that’s all you need to know.”
Aramis didn’t seem affected by the slight lethality behind the king’s voice, but dared to look disappointed. “Only twice? That’s less than I hoped for.”
He shook his head at me, as if it was my fault I didn’t let the king screw me more.
I returned the disappointment with a glare, and I was slightly tempted to pour that nasty tea all over him for embarrassing me like that.
“Oh, well,” he heaved a sigh, leaning to grab his cup and cradling it between his small hands. “Let me see your flames.”
I pushed my annoyance to the back of my mind and presented a flaming hand before him. The sound of my flames seemed to outdo the sound of the ones coming from the fireplace, and their color was more vibrant than ever.
They no longer appeared transparent, and it was quite a challenge to suppress my own gleaming smile.
I wonder how much damage I could do with that.
Aramis peered at the red-orange flickers with outmost attention, examining every sway and tendril while loudly sipping his tea. For a moment, I though he wouldn’t think it was enough, but his approving nod had me actually beaming.
“It’s acceptable,” he affirmed, then looked at the king and winked. “Good job.”
The king returned it with widened eyes and an arched black eyebrow. I, on the other hand, wanted to dunk the steaming tea onto my own face.
Aramis set his cup down with a loud clank. “That settles it then. Tomorrow we will start your training.”
“Um, actually, that’s what I wanted to inform you of,” I said, fiddling with the tips of my fingernails.
He leaned back in his chair with a raised eyebrow.
“I’ve actually started working in the palace. I’m cleaning the garden from gremlins, and I finish around six. I was wondering if we could have our training after work.”
“Why do you need to work?”
I shrugged. “I don’t want to freeload any longer. Besides, I need the money.”
He weaved his hands together, tilting his head to the side. “Didn’t your guardian leave you with all his money?”
“Yes,” I said, remembering how shocked I was when I learned of grandpa’s small wealth. “But I want to earn my own. I don’t want to live off grandpa’s.”
He seemed to consider my request, rubbing two fingers over his strong chin. “Fine, but be at my house at exactly six. Any later than that will earn you a dawn training session, got it?”
I nodded firmly. “Oh, also...both the water and the earth Slifer would like to meet you. They asked if you could help them with their own god-parent’s books.”
“Sure. Have them stop by. And I’m guessing the wind Slifer isn’t willing to participate.”
It was king Gabriel who asked, “How did you know that a wind Slifer was here?”
“I felt it. This morning, the wind was rough, unnatural. Which could only mean that the last Slifer finally appeared,” he replied.
“She,” I started, “mentioned something when she saw me. About me being the one to bind them all.”
“Yes,” the king nodded at me. “We also found an old transcript written in the old tongue of Ignoila that said the same thing.”
“What does it mean?” I turned to Aramis.
Aramis released a sigh, tapping the arms of his chair with his fingers. “First, drink your teas. It will get cold.”
I grabbed mine, ignoring the horrible odor, and took a drink that I immediately wanted to hurl out but instead forced it to go through my throat. I never thought it could get worse, but it actually did. The new ingredients made it taste sweet, bitter, and sour all at once. I had no idea how Aramis could stomach that. Did he actually find it delicious?
I gulped whatever amount I could handle and left the cup half empty. The king wasn’t so subtle and actually scrunched up his face at the smell and taste. He only took one sip and he was done with it.
“I’m guessing in that transcript it explained how the fire Slifer never existed before,” Aramis began. “You see, my master, Decimus, and your god-parent, has never had a child before. Slifers are indeed children of the gods, and three of them have already been created before.”
“This world has only sighted them once or twice, but they were here several times, undetected, and only doing what their Gods have ordered them to. But only one wasn’t yet to be born, and it has been dawned and written that once one has appeared, it meant that a great war is coming.”
His last sentence made shivers run through my spine, but I dismissed them and said, “So it’s true? I’m the first fire Slifer to exist?”
Aramis’ nod was the confirmation to my question.
The king was listening intently, leaning forward with his forearms rested on his thighs. He brought Aramis’ attention by asking, “Are messengers supposed to know all that?”
A corner of Aramis’ mouth lifted. “Yes. There are very few books about us, but we are known to be the will of the gods.”
“I thought those were the Slifers?” I asked.
He shook his head. “No, Slifers are soldiers, trained to be on the battlefield. We are the advocates, the ones trained to deliver messengers and warnings, to guide mortals and magic-wielders alike. We are whatever the gods chooses us to be.”
“Sounds to me like the gods really just want others to do their jobs for them. I mean, aren’t they supposed to be all powerful and mighty?” I commented.
Aramis gave a hearty laugh. “Yes, you would think that with all that power they would actually do their jobs themselves. But unfortunately, the gods are forbidden to descend upon us.”
“During my studies, my father mentioned something like that,” the king inputted. “He said it was about Azareth forbidding any god from descending down any mortal or non-mortal land.”
Aramis made an affirmative nod. “Exactly. The god's powers are too great for any land to handle. It would disrupt into chaos and disorder, leaving only rubbles and barren wastes.”
I heaved a breath. “Wow, that’s lovely.”
Aramis’ eyes twinkled in amusement. “You can see why the gods needed us and the Slifers.”
“How many of you are there?” the king asked.
Aramis flashed him a smile. “As many as the gods want. We can be in any shape, form, and species. And go to whatever our masters command us.”
“Uh...” Aramis’ attention steered towards my raised hand. I immediately put it down because this wasn’t a classroom. “I don’t mean to offend you, Aramis. But...”
He blinked at me, and I suddenly felt anxious to ask him. Can I even bring it up? What if he takes offense and think it was rude?
Oh, hell! I deserve some answers.
I used my hands to gesture at him. “What...exactly are you?”
I chewed on the inside of my cheek, averting my eyes away. “I just...I’ve never seen someone like you. You’re not an elf, they don’t look like that. So, if you don’t mind me asking, what are you? Are you a wizard?”
“She’s right,” the king added, sweeping a thump over the back of his hand. “I, too, have never seen someone of your physique. I do not mean to offend you, we’re just...” he trailed off, meeting my agreeing eyes. “Curious.”
I expected Aramis to be offended and throw a fit, and honestly he should, because we were literally questioning what his race was.
But it caught me off guard when his lips peeled back in a gleaming smile.“Well, of course you’re curious. You should be. I make a quite interesting sight. I’m a dwarf, you see.”
“A dwarf?” We both echoed.
Like those ones from that mortal story about the princess who eats an apple and dies?
“Yes. In the mortal-realm, I would be classified as ‘deformed’. Quite horrible ideals in that world.”
Deformed? That’s quiet harsh. I mean, he did look unusual. For wizards, deformities in birth did not exist --not unless one gained them later in life.
“So, you’re from the mortal land?” the king questioned.
“No,” he said. “But this is the form that my master put me in. I told you, messengers can be in any form the gods choose, even ones that aren’t in this world. We are also able to travel through realms. And no, we do not have magic. Knowledge is our power.”
I took a couple of seconds to register all that in. All these stuff about the gods and the messengers, the prophecy about the war, and me being the first fire Slifer, were they all true? Did Aramis know what the war would be?
“You said something about a war,” I said. “Do you know anything about it?”
The king’s grey eyes snapped at me, then looked back in interest at Aramis, as if that was what he was about to ask too.
“Even if I did know, mistress, I cannot tell you. It is not my place to tell, and if you truly wish to know, then you could always ask the Fate Watchers. Although, I’m pretty positive they won’t answer you.”
I wasn’t disappointed, I knew he probably didn’t know. But that chilling feeling didn’t go away, but only took residence in every part of my being.
I never believed in prophecies --at least I never paid mind to them. But it wasn’t a coincidence that many people knew of it. Agatha Alastair, Aramis, Ayana, and possibly the wind Slifer. Even the king had heard of it, and that could apply to the other royals as well.
It kind of made me pissed that I seemed to be the only one who wasn’t even slightly aware of this. I wonder if grandpa knew something.
“Aramis,” the king said, snapping me out of my deranged thoughts. “There is something else I wanted to ask you.”
I was a bit surprised that his stormy eyes looked at me, but he quickly snatched them away as he shifted in his seat and cleared his throat. “When...Lydia was attacked by a werewolf the first time she came to Imarnia, I was in my throne room. But I felt her, felt her fear, and suddenly I had this knowledge of where to find her. Can you explain that?”
I wasn’t sure what had my jaw almost dislocated; the fact that he said my name for the first time and it sounded lovely rolling out of his tongue, or that he admitted he had some unknown connection with me.
Come to think of it, I’ve always wondered how he found me that day in the woods.
“Ah, interesting question,” Aramis stated with a short finger pointed at the king. “And the answer is because of your bond.”
I blinked, cheeks flushing. “Our...bond?”
“Since each Slifer is assigned to a ruler, a bond was established between the two. If any of the other party was in danger, the other would be able to feel it and detect it. It is kind of like the link between a ruler and their general.” He moved that finger towards the dark blue curved line engraved on the king’s wrist.
I guess that makes sense, but...
“When we were fighting those wizard hunters, the bond didn’t work. And we were both in danger,” I wondered.
“That’s because it only works when either one of you is far away from the other.”
Despite my better sense, I couldn’t help but to avert my gaze to the king, and found him looking back. Something strange went between us, but I couldn’t quiet place what it was for we both ripped our eyes away.
The king suddenly got up from his couch, standing ever so elegantly and looking down at a sitting Aramis. “I think that’s all I want to learn for now. Thank you for having us, Aramis. And thank you for answering our questions.”
His expression wasn’t as stoic and hard as usual, but rather natural as he shook the other man’s hand, which looked miniature compared to his.
“Are you sure there’s nothing else I could do for you?” Aramis said.
“No, thank you,” the king politely declined. “But you are welcome to my palace any time you wish. You’re also welcome to train Lydia and her friends in the palace grounds.”
I wasn’t used to him saying my name so casually, and he seemed like he had to adjust himself to saying it.
Aramis smiled warmly at him. “That’s kind of you, your majesty. And you’re welcome to my home anytime.”
The king nodded his thanks, though something in me guessed he would actually come back if it wasn’t for the promise of another foul-tasting tea.
“I should probably go too,” I announced, getting up. “I have work tomorrow, and I need to rest. But I wanted to ask you one last thing, Aramis.”
Those bushy eyebrows rose in acknowledgment. “Yes?”
“You said that there were many messengers, but you’re only one helping me. Ayana and Redmond didn’t even meet theirs, how come?”
The smile that played on his lips was one of a child and an elder, ancient and new, powerful and dainty. “To be honest, I’m not supposed to be here. I’ve only been instructed to give your guardian the book and return to my master like the rest of the messengers did. But you were my master’s first child, and I couldn’t leave you, so I stayed. And he doesn’t seem to object.”
I’ve never heard someone sound so sincere. It was like the first time when I met him. He was so earnest to help me, and wanted nothing in return. I’m not sure what I did to deserve it really, but something inside me felt secured at that.
“Thank you,” I breathed out. “I hope I’m worth it.”
“You said my name,” I told the king as we were heading out of Aramis’ house and into the silent night. It was colder, and the sky was starless and covered with dark grey clouds that stilled as if it was frozen there. He was ahead of me, his back facing me, and stopped when he heard my words.
Those silver eyes gave me an once-over. “It’s your name, isn’t it?”
That was his answer as he shoved his hands in his trousers’ pockets, and I didn’t fail to catch the shiver he let out from the cold.
“Why didn’t you tell me about that day? When I was attacked by the werewolf,” I asked.
He shrugged, grinding his teeth together from the icy breeze that flew pass us. “I didn’t know what it was back then. And now I do. We both do.”
I approached him, and couldn’t help but say, “Do you really think there’s a war coming?”
He sucked in a breath. “Perhaps. I don’t know. I’m not so sure anymore.”
“You seem to really believe Aramis,” I said. “Gerard didn’t have that impression when he met him the first time. He kept telling me not to trust him.”
He rolled his eyes, pursing his lips. “Gerard Vastia allows Aramis’ unusual appearance to cloud his mind. He doesn’t trust anything that’s out of the ordinary.”
“I’m out of the ordinary,” I countered, feeling annoyed that he was so quick to judge him. “And yet he accepts me.”
I didn’t fail to note how his jaw hardened, or how his eyes clouded in irritation.
“That’s because you’re beautiful,” he admitted, though it sounded like a grumble. “And anyone can accept beauty.”
My cheeks flamed despite how cold the weather was getting. That’s the first time I’ve heard him compliment me with my clothes on. Did Aramis put something in that tea of his?
“Do you trust him? Aramis, that is,” he asked, calm and authoritative.
I answered within a heartbeat. “Yes. Something about him...I don’t know, but it makes me feel safe I guess.”
He gave a nod. “I agree. He seems sincere, though there’s something behind him I can’t quite place.”
“He reminds me of my grandpa,” I mentioned. “Not in the drunken half-naked way, but I don’t know...They have the same eye color.”
There was a minute of silence that followed, one where we tried to consume as many thoughts as possible. The king turned and started walking, and I trailed behind him.
Through the dark woods, we just walked side by side without saying a word. Before, it might have disturbed me to be so close to him that our arms basically brushed against each other.
But now, I wasn’t sure if I should damn myself for using a little bit of magic to heat my body --not even when he leaned closer for the warmth I offered.