Caldor listened to leather slippers echo down the hall as he made his way back to his room. A pot of hot water in his hands in hopes of making tea before becoming absorbed back into his research.
The last three chapters the girl had given him showed promise, as they were methods of tending to bedridden patients with weakened muscle tone. Cáel had constantly suffered from that, and although it wouldn’t solve all the boy’s issues, it was at least a good start.
A paper from his room danced into the hallway with a cool breeze, as he quickened his steps. The wind must have opened his door bigger than the crack he had left it as. He was lucky only one paper had escaped, as he took hold of the piece before scuffling into his room.
Caldor scuffled across the carpet of books back to his desk before setting down the tea pot, and closing his window. He scanned the messy floor. The free papers were nowhere to be seen, as he peered back at his desk to see his tea cup resting atop a pile of neatly stacked paper. He wouldn’t have done that.
That’s when he noticed the other pile beneath the Encyclopedia of Northern Flora. The heavy text had kept those papers from flying away. He lifted the book up and over the edge of the desk. The heavy text made a thump when it hit the floor.
The sage recognized the handwriting right away. It was neat and the cursive was executed like a professional scribe. Naygu had trained the girl to have a steady hand, and copying her grandmother’s text had given the girl practice.
Finally! It is complete. Caldor smiled, lifting up a page to sneak a peek. These pages were filled with the information that could help the prince compared to the previous chapters.
Picking up the pages, Caldor wanted to thank the girl for her hard work. She didn’t have to follow him to Derm. Liora didn’t have to help him translate the book, or try to find a way to cure the prince. She could have stayed with the Pellar but he knew the girl was happier here. He had given the girl a safe place to live, and Marcia had mentioned how the girl had opened up about her life in Morza.
In time, maybe the girl would find Derm to be her home. Maybe in time she would consider him and the others her new family?
As he knocked on Liora’s door, Caldor waited a moment before opening it. The girl had ignored his knocks in the past. He wanted to make sure she was taking a well deserved break. The sage would tell her the surprise he had planned at dinner, but right now he wanted to discuss what he found in the previous chapters.
From their talks regarding healing, Caldor knew the girl would be interested in discussing the findings. He would gain a Morzi perspective of the procedures, and also learn what some of the words the girl couldn’t translate were.
All the books were in alphabetical order, each spine in line with the next. Her desk was clear of scrap papers and her pencil. All that remained was the polished mahogany surface glistening in the light through the window panes. The blueberry coloured quilt was pulled tight to leave no wrinkles, her pillows fluffed to fill the headboard.
The fireplace was filled with the dark soot, its chute closed and spark shield folded. Even with the window closed, the room was noticeably cooler than the hallway in which he stood. The scent of beeswax was faint and the candles that lined her desk were solidified. Even her woolen cloak that normally hung from a hook beside the door was gone.
There was no wild haired girl sitting on the green slate sill looking wistfully out at the world outside. At this time of day, the girl could have been out in the garden.
The sage pushed aside the crushed velvet to peer out at the view below. His apprentice wasn’t sitting on the limestone bench near the weeping willow or admiring the view of the crystal waters of the distant village from the railing.
Where could she have disappeared to?
The kitchen was preparing for dinner with no time to entertain the girl without missing some ingredients or burning a dish.
The temple - he was certain - wouldn’t be where she was hiding. The girl avoided the hall leading to the inner sanctum for some reason.
The sage took quickened strides to the boy’s room. The sweet melodies of the humming cords escaped under the crack of the door. The prince usually played for Liora since she loved hearing him practice.
The sage expected to see the girl turn to look at him with her doe-like eyes from the end of the bed when he opened the door. He had imagined her with legs crossed, back hunched over while a textbook sat in her lap, but that was all he had - just an imagined image.
Maybe he had just missed her?
The boy stopped plucking. Caldor looked at the glass doors, which were closed. The girl wasn’t tucked in a corner, or sitting in the padded chair. Although, during her time in Demor she never sat in the boy’s chair.
“Master Caldor, what’s wrong?” Cáel asked.
“Have you seen her?” Caldor’s stomach flip-flopped like a fish out of water when the boy shook his head no. “Darn, I was hoping to discuss the last chapter of translations with her before dinner.”
The colour drained from Cáel’s face, as he slid his lute to rest beside his bed. The boy was shaking his head more now, as he clutched to his quilt.
“No, she wouldn… she promised…” Cáel sputtered.
“Would not what, boy?” the sage’s voice sounded harsh, but the tone didn’t faze the prince as he turned to look to the windows.
“She said she’d leave but she promised to say goodbye to me first. Liora wouldn’ leave without saying goodbye…” Cáel didn’t want to believe it.
“No, she would not have-” Caldor didn’t want to finish that sentence.
Surely the girl wouldn’t have left without telling him. Yes, she had been acting strangely over the past days but that couldn’t have been related to this. The girl would have spoken to him.
“Excuse me, my prince,” Caldor turned for the door.
“Master Caldor,” the prince called, “please find her… and bring her back.”
The sage couldn’t promise that. Liora could be hours ahead of him by now. He needed help.
Hurrying down the stairs, he burst into Foe’s room. His friend was resting in his chair.
“Where’s the fire?” Foe asked, springing forward when the door hit the wall. Caldor began to pace.
“She’s gone. Liora, the prince said she… do you think she would leave?” Caldor stopped pacing. “We’ve been nothing but kind.”
“Well,” Foe scratched the back of his head, “yah have been bossy and yah haven’ called her by name since she got here.”
“What does that matter?” Caldor spat. “She is my student, does she not understand how important that makes her?”
“Did yah explain how important it was?” Foe leaned forward in his chair, resting his elbows on his knees.
“No, I assumed she knew,” Caldor paced again, before stopping near the bed on the left side of the room. “She should know she was important to us.”
“Did yah tell her?” Foe stood from his chair, stretching his back.
“No, did you?” Caldor snapped back. “We have to find her, Foe.”
“And we will. Have yah thought of givin’ her a bell?” Foe smirked, noticing the wee man’s glare.
“’Cause we could easily find her by listenin’ for it,” Foe chuckled, noticing his friend’s brows darken with the comment. “What?”
“It’s not the time for jokes, you buffoon. She could be on her way to Downrow or Fate knows where else,” Caldor spat. His friend laughed harder with hearing panic in the old man’s voice. Caldor hurried passed him on the stairs. “I’ll take the market, you take the square.”
The wee man hurried out of the gate, taking a sharp turn to the left. Being panicked wouldn’t find the girl any faster. The sage had to learn to not allow his anxiety to get control of him.
Staying calm was going to solve more problems.
Taking a breath of the urine-filled air of the city, Foe lumbered down the streets. People were shouting from the windows, others were pouring things into gutters. There was a wagon or two lined along the roadside, while guards marched in formation down the middle of the road.
Their capes were splattered with muck, their armour was splattered with grime. Their helmets were hiding their faces, but Foe knew their noses were turned up. Those men were used to the lavishly clean streets of Derlin, not the streets of this city. There was a difference between Demor and Derlin.
Demor was home to farmers, hunters, fisherman, and tradesman. Derlin was filled with rich brats who hadn’t worked a day in their lives who expected a place in the royal guard handed to them. Most were. Then there were people like him who had worked their arses to be where they were. The respect he had, he had earned. He damn well deserved the nods and salutes those polished pretty boys gave him.
The soldiers would head back to Derlin once the King left. Only eight months and he would have the castle back to the way he liked it.
Lumbering under a high archway in the aqueduct, Foe could see the square opening. The mixture of smoked meat and fruit filled the air; the shouts of vendors deafened his hearing. There was something about a busy market that made the hairs on his neck stand and the blood in his veins race. There was energy to the place that compared to nothing else.
Vendors called to him. Shoppers greeted him. They knew he was the lord of the city, and he believed he was doing something right, if they all were friendly towards him. He had tried to make everyone happy. The only problems he couldn’t figure how to fix were the smells and the looming fear of a southern attack.
Demor was a border city. He was a gatekeeper to the North and had the army to hold ground if he had to. Their ramparts were high and thick, the people were tough, and Bay’s Lake would burn before he had to worry about his city. Still, there had been uneasiness amongst those living in the city and he hadn’t found a way to ease it.
“The great book has told that these are the ending days,” a ratty, scrawny man shouted from his box, in his hand, the familiar rose red text.
Bloody chaos singers. Foe growled.
He would have strung them all up by their toes if he had enough space for all of them. They weren’t helping calm the populace. They were creating panic that Foe couldn’t control. The more those ratty pests appeared, the more people began to listen. They were all over the place.
There, out of the corner of his view, he noticed the dark grey cloak. It was above the crowd and as he grew close he recognized the young girl sitting on the back of a wagon. Just as he thought, she hadn’t left yet.
Sure, she looked prepared to leave, sitting so comfortably behind the rickety old wagon, but it hadn’t started rolling. The thing didn’t even have a driver.
The girl stared towards the singer. Her eyes mesmerized by the fool flapping his arms like a bird. The sage wouldn’t have been pleased to see his student listening to such - what was the word the wee man used - nonsense?
“I didn’ know yah followed the prophecy,” Foe said.
The girl glimpsed at him before turning her attention back to the singer. A small smirk was on her lips. Her delicate fingers gripped the edge of the wagon, while she sat on her right foot.
“The man in Downrow was more eloquent,” Liora muttered, just as she began to fiddle with her finger nails.
“Wouldn’ surprise me,” Foe commented, leaning against the wagon. The wheel rolled a foot before stopping. Foe lightened his weight against it before crossing his arms. “What does surprise me though, is yah didn’ find me or the others to say goodbye.”
“Goodbye… well when I passed the gates I wanted to leave but…” she paused, looking down at her swinging feet blackened with muck, “I can’t.”
As she had wandered the busy streets of Demor and admired the strangers around her she began to miss the safe walls of the castle. She remembered the days she had spent sitting on Cáel’s bed and playing with Druce.
Sure the old sage was annoying with his constant corrections, and the king indignant towards her, but those didn’t matter. The Steward was nice and the Detress was kind.
“I know you really want me to leave, but I can’t,” Liora blurted, jumping down off the back of the wagon, “this place is safe… and at times, friendly. I can learn to like it here and I’ll do anything to stay. So, please don’t send me away.”
“Send yah away?” Foe didn’t know where such silliness had come from. “Nay, child. I don’ want yah to leave. Hell, no one wants yah to go.”
The girl’s eyes widened.
“But… you… you were talking about Downrow and the Pellar to Caldor. Marcia said that the weather would hold off long enough to take me there,” she sensed the man hadn’t been lying to her, but she knew what she had heard.
“Oh, bloody hell,” Foe ran his hands through his hair. The girl had overheard their conversation but didn’t understand the context. “Caldor told us yah wanted to visit the river rat ‘cause yah missed him. He asked me to fly yah both there for a few days, nothin’ more. Did yah really think we’d send yah off without askin’ first?”
“So, you aren’t sending me to live with Pellar?” Liora wanted to hear the Steward clearly state what she had only been hoping for.
“Hell no. Caldor would have a stroke if he lost yah to a useless loon like that. Even if he doesn’ say it, the wee man cares for yah. We all do,” Foe explained, seeing the girl’s lips begin to grow a small smile. Her eyes lit up. She jumped at him, wrapping her arms around his leg before burying her face into his hip.
Foe stood there, patting the girl’s head for a moment before she moved away. She giggled before looking down at her fidgeting fingers.
“Can we… can we go home?” Liora asked.
“Of course. Come, yah lil runaway,” he picked her up, putting the girl onto his shoulder before they made their way back through the square.
Liora was light. She pointed out the different booths lining the square, telling him of the goods each vendor sold and stories she had heard from the vendors on her visit. He liked that she was talking again. He had missed her honest words about the smells and the state of his home. She was saying what everyone was thinking in their heads.
The girl suggested making gardens in the city like those in Bay’s Lake. The gardens would give those living in the city a place to escape the smells and supply them with a place they could relax outside their hovels and market.
Foe hadn’t thought of that idea, but Marcia had suggested it before. If two women were telling him to do it, he couldn’t continue to put it off. That could be a project for the spring. Marcia would enjoy heading the project, and he would supply the funds for such a task. Whatever made his girls happy, would keep everyone happy.
Feeling the girl tap him on the shoulder, Foe placed her back onto the ground. She tore off towards the gateway leading to the castle. The old sage was standing on the steps before the entrance, staring with knitted brows as the girl approached.
“You are back!” Caldor’s voice cracked.
Liora stopped a foot before him, folding her hands behind her back before swaying back on her heels.
“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to,” she meekly replied, glimpsing at Foe behind her.
“She thought we were shippin’ her to Downrow ‘cause we don’ want her,” Foe tussled the girl’s locks, as she smirked.
“Did not want…” Caldor couldn’t believe he was hearing such nonsense. Liora was part of Demor now. The fortress would be amiss without her there. “Why in the world would you think that?”
“I heard you talking about taking me to Downrow, and the Pellar,” Liora said.
“My dear girl,” Caldor breathed, wrapping his arms around her, “never think for a moment you are not needed, ’cause you are.”
Caldor trembled as he held her. He didn’t want to cry. He was fighting the urge, shaking his head while rubbing the child’s back. She had been through so much, and he thought she would know how much she was wanted. He had thought he didn’t need to tell her but his lack of affection had made the girl feel separated.
This had been his fault.
“It’s because…” he heard the girl mutter something in his ear. He moved the girl to be at arm’s length.
“You said ’cause, not because. It should have been because,” Liora explained, hearing the old sage begin to laugh before pulling her in for another hug.
“Yes, my bright girl,” he laughed, “you are right.”