Druce ran through the grass, exploring the garden around him. Several times now, Liora had halted her reading to answer his questions. He was a curious boy and wanted to know what everything was and how they worked.
“What’s this in Morzi?” the boy was pointing to a rock along the edge of the garden.
“Roc,” Liora answered, noticing the boy’s brow knot before he pointed to the bench.
“Dim’yad. It means ‘sit place’… there isn’t a word for bench in Morzi,” Liora explained, noticing the boy tilt his head.
“Why not?” he asked.
“Because there isn’t… no one created one,” Liora remarked, shrugging her shoulders before noticing the boy turn his attention back to the limestone bench. She could see he was thinking now that he had his tongue between his teeth.
“Why didn’ they make a word?” Druce inquired.
Liora took a slow deep breath before closing the cover to the book. Obviously Druce was in one of his questioning moods. She didn’t mind his curiosity, but not when she was working on another project.
“All right, you know a little bit of Morzi, why don’t you think of a word for bench?” Liora suggested. Druce’s eyes widened as the corners of his mouth turned up in a smile.
“Can I?” he yelled, his hands balled in excitement. “It would be a real word too?”
“Sure, we’ll use it and make it a real word,” Liora passed him a piece of paper with one of her pencils. “Use this and make a list.”
He nodded, taking the paper before dropping to the ground cross-legged. The boy leaned over the bench using it as a desk. That would hopefully keep him busy for a while and would allow her to return to her work.
The garden was beginning to change colours as autumn approached. The green trees had changed to oranges and yellows. The flowers in the gardens were browning as the gardeners began removing them to ready the beds for a harsh winter. Even the cool air was staying longer into the day, rather than just hanging about during the morning before the sun graced the world with its warm brilliance.
To Liora’s surprise, she had even seen the first signs of frost on her window. A warning for what was to come in the later days.
It had already been a month and a half since she was first brought to the Dermite city. Her room and bed had finally become familiar to her. She began to feel like she was settling into a new home. That thought scared her. She didn’t think it was right for her to feel so comfortable in a land full of strangers. Her place was in the West. That’s where she was supposed to be, but Derm was getting a hold on her.
The old sage had dedicated his time to teaching her what he knew, and when she wasn’t working away on her nana’s almanac or studying one of Caldor’s texts, she would spend time with her friend. To think she had actually made a friend in such a foreign city was exciting. Cáel talked to her about his lute and his future plans, and she shared stories about the West and what she was learning. The boy had become her confidant and she had become his.
There was still the matter of his father though. Liora avoided Charn whenever she could. She kept her eyes to the ground, and had learned that silence was important, although she hated it. With Cáel she could say anything and the boy would laugh or empathize. The adults didn’t understand her. Cáel did.
Glancing up towards the balcony to the boy’s room, Liora could see Cáel sitting in his velvet padded chair. A thick woolen blanket rested on his lap, as a fox fur cloak wrapped around his shoulders, keeping him warm in the autumn weather.
He had told her how much he hated being treated like an infant. The boy was fifteen and even though she was fourteen, she could relate to wanting to do things for herself.
She could see he wasn’t smiling. He stared wishfully out at the world before him, no glow in his cheeks. The boy never stopped wearing his goofy crooked smile when she visited, but it faded when she left. At the moment he had no smirk creasing his thin lips, or twinkle in his eyes.
“What yah lookin’ at?” the booming voice of the Steward pulled her attention to look at him. He lumbered over and he bent down, picking his son up from the waist. “Hey lil bear, ya’re not drivin’ her off yet, are yah?”
“Da! Stop!” Druce shouted, just as Foe began to tickle him. “Ah, da! No!”
Druce couldn’t stop himself from laughing while Foe tickled him. Foe laughed, turning back to look at Liora who admired the two. She didn’t know her father, but it was nice to dream what if would have been like to have one.
“Thank yah, Li. Me wife hasn’ had a moment to herself since this lil monster’s been born,” Foe knew the girl didn’t mind but he wanted to show how much he appreciated her dedicated care to his child.
“It’s nothing. Druce is a good boy,” Liora smiled, glancing back at the prince’s balcony. “Has Cáel ever left his room?”
“Sure, when they travel to Derlin, but he hasn’ much of a chance to explore outside the places he’s put. With hardly any meat on his bones, it’s safer to keep him in,” the Steward dangled his son upside-down by his knees, while the little boy laughed hysterically. When the blood began to redden the boy’s face, Foe lifted him up and threw Druce over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. “Why yah askin?”
“How easy would it be to carry him into the garden?” she asked.
“The boy’s light, so not much,” Foe’s head turned to look at the balcony.
“If I grab his quilt, can you carry him?” Liora posed. “Fresh air and change of atmosphere may do wonders for his melancholy.”
“I don’ know… Charn might not like that idea.”
“I don’t care about Charn, I care about my friend,” Liora stated, standing from the bench. “Please, Foe.”
The girl clasped her hands, before looking up at the large man. She batted her lashes, fixing her brows into a knot to show how desperate she was for the Steward to accept her plea.
“Fine,” Foe sighed, “let me hand me boy to his ma and we’ll kidnap the prince.”
“You have such a way with words,” Liora patted him on the arm.
“And yah wonder why I didn’ become a poet,” he laughed, and she joined in.
It felt like hours while she waited in the hallway of the second floor. She didn’t want to give away the surprise. She knew Cáel would be incredibly thrilled to leave - what they called - the stone prison.
Foe lumbered down the hall and Liora opened the door to the room and hurried across to stand beside the prince.
Cáel looked at her.
“I thought I had my checkup already. Aren’t yah supposed to be translating?”
“I’m taking a break,” Liora removed her sash from her dress before holding it out before her. “I’ve got a surprise for you that I hope you’ll like, but I have to cover your eyes, all right?”
Cáel tilted his head, a small smirk breaking through his somber expression.
Closing his eyes, he leaned his head back. The cornflower-blue satin sash was soft on his face. He smelt baby’s-breath. Liora smelled like the flower and he really liked it. There was a sudden jolt and his feet began to dangle. He felt his chair sway side-to-side as he heard the echoing of two sets of feet. Where was she taking him and who was the person carrying him?
Feeling the cool autumn air on his arms, Cáel began to smell the sweetness of damp leaves. When his feet rested in the dry grass and the heavy quilt wrapped around his chest and back he began to realize where he was.
“Keep your eyes closed ’til I tell you to open them,” Liora ordered, untying the sash from around his face. “All right, open them.”
It was bright outside as he saw the girl standing before him, a wide smile on her face. Foe stood beside her.
“So, what do you think?” she asked, turning herself to lookout towards the trees.
Cáel couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Everything he had seen from his window was within reach. He could feel the browning grass and smell the decay of fall. He wasn’t cold with the heavy quilt on his shoulders, and everything felt so surreal.
“Thank yah,” he forced out, trying to keep the tears back. How had she known he had wanted this?
“We can stay here for as long as you’d like. I’m going to keep working but you’re welcome to talk,” she remarked, hurrying behind him before hopping into his view with a thick book cradled in her arms.
“That’s the book with the cure,” Cáel muttered, pointing with his finger only to realize she wasn’t able to see it under his quilt.
“Maybe. That’s what we are hoping,” she sat beside him on the grass.
“Foe, can you take me out of the chair?” Cáel asked, noticing the man clench his jaw. “If I’m in the garden, I want to enjoy it.”
“Are yah sure?” Foe asked.
The boy couldn’t hold himself. He had no strength to do such a thing.
“Lean me against the bench over there. I’ll be fine,” Cáel suggested. He had the blanket.
“I’d listen to him, Foe,” Liora joined in. “If you don’t, he’ll find his own way.”
Foe lifted the boy out of the chair and carried him to the bench. Liora helped by placing the quilt on the ground, and wrapped it around Cáel’s body again before sitting beside him.
“Anything else yah two?” Foe asked.
“No,” they said in unison, looking at each other before laughing.
“Ight, call me when yah want back in,” Foe said before lumbering off back into the castle.
Smiling at the boy, the girl turned back to the almanac. The sun was warm but they were in some shade with the old weeping willow behind them. Cáel just stared out at the trees, a goofy smile across his face.
“Me da will be so pissed,” he chuckled.
“You think?” that made Liora’s stomach sink.
“I’ll make sure he won’ hurt yah again,” Cáel assured her. The girl had become important to him, even though they were still strangers.
“He didn’t hurt me too bad.”
“He won’ hurt yah at all,” Cáel leaned his head back. “I know it’s only been a few weeks, Li, but it feels like I’ve known yah a lifetime. Yah ever get that feeling?”
“Yes,” Liora replied. Once.
“I know I already said it but thanks,” Cáel took a deep breath in, before coughing, “it helped…”
“You still have that cough?” Liora thought it had been recovering from all the screaming, but there was moisture to the cough now.
“It’s from the cool air. I’m fine,” Cáel noticed the girl’s dark brow knot.
“Maybe I should just double-check,” Liora turned her attention to the boy, who reached for her wrist before she could move aside the edge of the quilt.
“I’m fine,” Cáel stated, “don’ worry, all ’ight. Be me friend, not my keeper.”
She moved back, sitting on her feet. He was right. The whole reason she had gotten him out of his room was to give him some normalcy.
Tucking hair behind her ear, Liora moved the book back onto her lap.
“Yah like it here?” Cáel inquired.
“The garden?” she asked.
“Sure… and Demor.”
What had brought that on?
“It isn’t like the West, but there are parts I’ve come to like,” Liora still wanted to go back to the neutral land. Maybe stay with Pellar, or study in La’reen? Both were viable options now.
“Yah say that like yah aren’t planning on staying.”
“Well, I’m only supposed to stay here until I’m done translating the book. That’s why Foe and Caldor brought me here. When that’s done, they have no reason to keep me around,” Liora explained, tapping the pencil against the edge of the leather text.
“Of course they do. Yar Caldor’s student and Foe has taken a likin’ to yah, as has his wife and kid,” his brow knotted.
“True,” Liora hummed.
“I’d want yah to stay too,” Cáel muttered, looking away. “I’d be bored here, if yah left.”
Life hadn’t been the same old routine with Liora. The girl was even brave enough to help him escape his room. If the girl left, he was going to be alone, and he didn’t want things to go back to how they used to be.
His face was flushed as she loosened the quilt. The cool air felt nice on his neck. With a deep breath his heart quickened and body tingled. The air smelled sweeter than it had from his balcony. The garden was no longer a distant view.
“We’ll see,” Liora replied, setting the book back on her lap. “I’ve got a lot more to translate. It will take me at least another two weeks or so.”