Chapter Eleven: What a Warm Welcome
Thankfully, the rest of the walk to Glasshall didn’t take too long and soon the three of them were left by the moat that ran around the city wall, the bridge lying across allowing them to cross over into the city. As they walked across the bridge and onto the marble streets, they saw the rows of hundreds, possibly even thousands of people who stood cheering as they walked down the street. Everyone wore expensive-looking garments, each piece worth more than a handful of gold coins at least. They were expecting a little reaction when they arrived, maybe being brought on by Jamal’s fame, but no, these people were cheering for all three of them.
Jamal simply waved in the general direction of different clumps of cheering civilians, an action that came naturally to him.
June also took in the crowd, coming out of her shell as she tried her best to mimic Jamal’s waving.
V, on the other hand, had pushed her hood so far over her head that it was incredible she could even see properly. She just wanted to be in the castle, she supposed at least there it would be quieter. Although if she remembered correctly, it would be a good few minutes until they arrived, and they still had the market to pass through that sat in the centre of town, she could only imagine the hoards of people who would be waiting to cheer them on there. She didn’t want to risk it, she’d have to find another way. She walked up to June and whispered in her ear.
“I’m gonna take the quieter route,” she said, slinking off before June could even question her on it.
Jamal caught V’s escape and turned to June and asked her what was up.
June just shrugged before starting to wave again.
Both the Warlock and Otis sat against adjacent trees, Otis was still taking in everything he’d been told.
“But, that can’t be true. Why would the king agree to do that? There has to be another way, I mean come on,” he said, still in disbelief.
“Did you never question why things are always so perfect? How every day we have a bright blue sky? Why there’s never a storm that sinks a ship? Why the Dark Lord hasn’t been seen by anyone alive? It’s because of that deal,” the Warlock said grimly, his tone being enough for Otis to know this wasn’t a kind of cruel prank. It was true, that’s what stuck with him. And that fact it truly meant one thing.
V, Jamal and June were all walking straight to their deaths.
Otis got up and tried his best to look through the treeline above.
“What’re you doing, kid?” the wizard asked.
“I’m watching the clouds, and they’re telling me that this way is north,” he said, pointing in the direction behind the Warlock. He started to walk, but the Warlock caught his arm.
“I’ve told you what they’re gonna do to you kid, and you seriously still want to head to Glasshall? Why?” he asked.
“Because they have lied to us. To everyone. Every time someone was told a story about the Great Four, it was just to push that narrative into their heads,” replied Otis, tugging his arm free from the Warlock who continued to walk by the side of him.
“And what happens when you get there? You burst in and tell them the truth? We lose what we have left of our bargain? Cause if they’re lucky, they might just accept three heroes,” the Warlock said, Otis couldn’t help but laugh.
“Heroes? Don’t kid yourself now, old man. I’m not a hero, neither are the rest. We’re just normal people, maybe even less then. So, we need to find another way to do this. And who knows, maybe put an end to it,” Otis said, surprising himself with the amount of confidence he’d emanated.
“This isn’t something you can fight in the traditional sense, kid. None of your magic tricks are gonna do anything. I’d do yourself a favour and run. Get as far as you can. There’s no stopping this now,” said the Warlock as he slowly parted from Otis’s side.
“So, that’s it? You’ve given up? Don’t you think you owe it to all the people you sent to their deaths to help finally put an end to it?” Otis said, calling out to the old man as he walked away.
He didn’t turn back; he didn’t even stop. He just kept walking back toward the cave. Back to hide from his past.
Otis would’ve tried to argue more, to get him to come with him. Despite the information he now held, if he was being honest, he still didn’t know what to do other than a vague plan of saving his friends. The Warlock’s insight would’ve been helpful, but still, he couldn’t waste time. So he headed north, up to Glasshall, not knowing what would come of it. Maybe he and his friends would live up to their false titles, or perhaps they’d bring the end of the world.
V had found a quiet alleyway to sit in eventually after sifting through the crowds of roaring citizens, having to shove a fair few who tried to grab at her hood. But it was all worth it. Now she was alone. Luckily for her, most people in Glasshall had migrated to the centre streets, meaning that she didn’t even need to sneak around as long as she kept to the outskirts of town. It also gave her time to think, something she’d found hard to do over all the obsessive chanting, something she certainly didn’t miss from her previous life. The memories she had from here felt like they were someone else’s. She had to run away; she had no choice, her life wasn’t her own back then.
V had thought she was alone in those streets, thinking it would be a suitable place for her to escape. But it seemed someone had used the very same opportunity to get themselves a place to think. The two walked into one another, V cursed whilst the other apologised in a very proper manner. V looked up at the person who she’d just collided with, and when she saw the girl’s face, she ducked her head almost instantly to hide. Of all people to bump into, why did it have to be the fucking princess?
“Oh, there’s no need to feel embarrassed, it’s fine. I wasn’t looking where I was going, I have a habit of daydreaming if I’m honest,” the princess said lightheartedly.
V kept quiet.
“Say, how come you’re all the way back here. I thought most people were waiting for the Great Four around the centre.”
Once more V didn’t say a word. Her mouth was sewn shut.
“I’m not accusing you of anything, don’t worry. I’m not actually supposed to be out in the town. The King says it’s dangerous for me. But, I don’t know, I guess I thought with everyone being so preoccupied I could sneak out and get some fresh air.”
“He sounds like a dick,” V finally spoke. Unable to keep her mouth shut at the mention of him.
“Maybe sometimes,” she replied, trying to suppress a giggle. “That’s something my sister would say. You probably know what happened, but I still wonder if she’s out there somewhere. She never even said goodbye,” the princess said, her vocal cords betraying her during her last utterance.
“Maybe she thought it would hurt more if she did,” V said, and although the princess said nothing in response, she could tell she shouldn’t have said that. “Listen, I better get going,” she said, trying to end the conversation.
“No, wait! Who are you?” the girl shouted, reaching out to stop V as she tried to walk past her. The girl caught onto the back of V’s hood, dragging it down and revealing her face. The girl looked at her in shock, relief, or maybe even anger. “Violet? Is that you?” V finally looked up, meeting her sister’s eyes.
The path to Glasshall was turning out to be a lengthy one and Otis’s lungs were not prepared to be doing this amount of cardio. He was getting so short of breath that he thought he may even pass out. But as he ran, he spotted a small wagon heading his way. He called out to the man who was driving it. He could’ve sworn he heard him say “not another one”. As he grew closer, he jumped in front of the horses pulling it, a risky move to be sure, but a worthwhile one as the man seemed to have no intention of actually stopping.
“Hey son, sorry, but I’m not offering any lifts. The last person I picked up ate half of my stock on the way,” the man said, his friendly face not doing him any favours as he tried to come across as serious.
“Listen, I really need a lift. The entire world is at risk and I need to get to Glasshall fast!” Otis pleaded in between heavy breaths.
The man didn’t seem to buy into his story though, he instead told him to move again.
“No please, you don’t understand! I’m not messing about. The King is about to make a massive mistake and if you don’t listen to me, you can kiss the rest of your crops goodbye!”
Now Otis seemed to be speaking the farmer’s language as he ushered him to the seat at the front of the wagon, scooting over to make room for him. After a cumbersome U-turn, they set on their way to Glasshall.
The market was chaos. There were somehow even more people cheering than there were down near the town entrance.
June and Jamal were gaining gifts with every step they took and now had to tilt their heads to see past the towers of items they now carried.
June wasn’t quite sure what she was supposed to do with three fruitcakes and a pile of various figurines, but she was thankful for them either way. She thought that maybe this was what normal birthdays were like. Comparatively, Jamal’s stack was a lot smaller, though that was because he was a lot more selective with what he actually accepted from people. He’d done quite well for himself really, collecting a figurine of himself followed by a new sword and keg of mead that a girl with the words “Jamal can slay my dragon” written on her chest had handed to him.
“We love you!” shouted someone in the swarm of people.
“I want to grow up and be like you!” shouted another more pubescent voice.
These sentiments continued, gradually blurring into one as they went through the market and made it to the steps leading up to the crystal towers and the palace they surrounded.
“These people are so kind! V’s going to regret not being here. She could have got a load of free stuff without even having to steal it,” June laughed, taking a whiff of one of the cakes she’d collected.
“I’m sure giving her a piece of cake would be the righteous thing to do right June?” Jamal said, nudging her.
“You’re right. But that’s if there’s any left when she comes back,” she said gleefully, tilting the tower of stuff toward her so she could take a large bite.
“Okay slow down, at least give me some!” laughed Jamal, leaning over to take a bite before June pulled away. It was safe to say they’d both enjoyed their warm welcome as they giggled their way up to the palace, unaware of the fate that awaited them.