Chapter 36 - Claim
I gawked at him, contemplating his words.
"Hand her the ada." He commanded. Such simple words but his deep voice vibrated into my eardrums sending shivers to my whole existence.
Staring at Macforth I feel dread—way too dread that I couldn't even look him straight in the eyes. Instead, I was mirroring the movement of the soldiers whose heads were down in submission.
Or maybe, my system's just shocked to be brought face to face with yet another side of Macforth, when I'm still trying to get used to his silence and indifference. And especially after I felt comfortable with him a few minutes ago.
Is this how he normally talks to the soldiers? Is this how all my friends talk to the soldiers? It seems like in that short time they stayed here in Utovaj, they'd become very much aware about titles and how to use it.
Macforth basically asked them to leave me alone. I should be happy. He literally asked everyone not to bother me anymore, and for that, I should be thankful. This is probably an answer to my prayers. A sign that he's finally accepting my frienship, but does he really have to fire the soldier from his line of work?
I don't know what to think. I'm grateful, that's for sure, because he just gave me one less thing to worry about, but the consequence of his action, worries me. I couldn't help but be bothered. He'd basically went against Prince Gamette's words. I can't imagine the position he's putting these people.
While Macforth plays a vital role in this world's current problem, Prince Gamette is still the ruler of this castle. I don't think they should be fighting each other's authority.
"Thank you." I managed to say when the soldier handed me Peach. They didn't meet my eyes, instead they bowed once more to Macforth before completely leaving us.
I watched them paced away. I watched the other people continue their thing.
"Thank you." I responded, reluctant. I wanted to hurt myself. Thank you? What response was that? Or maybe, I'm actually thanking him for his words. For asking the people to leave me alone? And while I wasn't sure what I'm thanking him for, there's a part of me that's telling me I should be doing something more than just thanking him.
I glanced everywhere but him. I'm actually waiting for him to leave me too, because my feet were hesitating to do the first move.
"You placed who under your what?" Macforth and I glanced behind him.
It was Eric, storming to us, obviously shocked at the situation. I don't know where he came from. I'm not even sure how much he heard, but I do understand his curiousity.
I don't know how to respond to his query. I couldn't just casually say that Macforth put me under his protection. That would be awkward and embarrassing. Besides, I don't even know what his words mean exactly.
So I glanced at him, assuming he will answer for both of us.
Macforth's just stared back at Eric, like he's contemplating his words at the back of his mind, before actually speaking.
For a moment, his irises flickered to me, before looking at Eric again. And in that split of a second that he glanced at me, his face suddenly softened, making all my judgement earlier against him vanished instantly.
"I'm listening." Eric said, arms still crossed.
Macforth was about to say something, but when Eric's lips started forming a smirk, he immediately shut his mouth, and decided to just walk away from us.
"Hey! Where are you going, Forth? We're having a conversation here!" Eric laughed, tugging me with him as we followed Macforth down the hallway.
Eric's teasing made it clear that he never wanted an answer. He probably witnessed what exactly happened here, and already knew why Macforth did what he did.
With his booming laughter, as we follow the retreating Macforth, it's evident that all he wanted to do was to tease him.
"Eric, how is the Moon Princess?" I asked, hopeful.
Macforth automatically looked back upon hearing my question. Of course he will.
"Where is she?" He asked, and I didn't miss the firmness in his eyes as he wait for Eric's answer.
"She's with the healers. Still unconscious, but her color's getting normal. She should be fine soon." Thank God.
Macforth's face softened, far different than when he's talking to the soldiers earlier. It's obvious I wasn't the only one who felt at ease with Eric's information.
It amused me that I'd seen different emotions in his eyes on multiple occasions since he met the princess. To say that she brings out the hidden life in him was probably an understatement.
"So, what is it that happened back there, huh?" Eric asked again. His lips will be ripped with such wide grin.
Macforth's poker face instantly went on again, like someone just hit the switch. Then he continued walking from us.
He changed course, heading back towards his room instead, when he's suppose to be going to the dining room.
I paused, taking Eric's grip off my arms because he's making Macforth starve, but my efforts were no matched against him. Eric just glanced back at me for my resistance but continued to tow me anyway. It's hard to overpower him even if he's not even trying, so I gave in just moved along with him. Either that or he'll be dragging me down the path like a rogdoll. And he would still be clueless.
Macforth turned to face us the moment he reached his door.
"I didn't have to do it if only you're doing your job." He glared at Eric before shutting his door on us.
"I'm task to babysit you so you won't go disappearing again, all of a sudden. Just like we promise." I cringed at the word he used, but I'm thankful for the gesture. I know I can always count on them.
"Don't worry. I'm being careful this time, I'm not going anywhere far from all of you." My resolve is to be one less burden to my friends. They already have a lot of things to worry. The least I could do for them is to make sure I won't, in any way, be the cause of disturbance nor anxiety for anyone.
"Good to know. Problem is, that's not even the point. You see, since you're a mortal, you're not welcome in this land. It just made things worse when they learned about all those encounters happened on Earth, the talis, and your suppose involvement with the attackers."
Why that didn't surprise me anymore, but...
"How worse is worse?" Eric stop walking and turned to me.
"Hmm. Let's see. Remember my brother's suggestion to not let you on loose? Tie you up, lock you away and extract information from you?" I nodded, mentally hurting at the memory of Jermond saying those words in front of me. I didn't prefer him saying that behind my back, I just don't want him speaking anything bad against me at all.
Jermond and I were yet to establish a camaraderie, but all that was cancelled because of the talis I received. If only we became closer before any of these things happen, I probably wouldn't find myself uncomfortable speaking to him right now. And he probably wouldn't go on a rage, accusing me of things I am not. If only.
"You're just saying that. It can't be that bad." Part of me knows that Eric's just scaring me, that's why I'm waiting for him to say he's only joking, but the other part has already bought what he said. I don't know, all the things I witnessed and experience here in Utovaj made it easier to believe his words.
Even Prince Gamette earlier at the monitor room. He casually offered to put me up in a cell. He made it seemed like being locked up in a cell is a norm here.
"Bad, doesn't even begin to cover it, mortal. Don't tell Dave you heard it from me, but I believe you have every right to know what the recent events cast upon your existence." Eric glanced around before leaning in to my ear. Right then, I remember that Dave, earlier intentionally cut his words, for my benefit, I assumed.
"Torture, is what awaits you in the hand of these people. They want the truth. They are desperate to end this dark era, and they will do it, in whatever ways they deemed necessary. So don't go around walking alone, or you'll be taken at the first chance they get."
"You're still joking, right?" I asked, but he only raised an eyebrow at me.
"But, shouldn't they be going after the Alf'ru? Aa-and not me?" I step closer to him, suddenly vigilant of my surrounding. I wanted to believe he's just kidding, but his face remained utterly serious.
"This is them, going after the Alf'ru. I told you, they will do whatever it takes to end the chaos. And right now, they see new development in that venture from your end. They think you're with the evil forces. They think you can lead them to it."
"But I can't." I pleaded.
"This is why it's so important we find that Ali. To set things straight once and for all."
"And if they find Ali? Are they going to hurt him?" Eric stared blankly at me, giving me the answer I didn't want to hear.
I can't entertain the thought.
Because of my friends, I was spared from the ill fate those people can do to me, but Ali on the other hand isn't.
He is a good person, I felt that when I was with him. He doesn't deserve to be tortured for the truth that I'm sure he'll be giving them, but none would believe, because they'd already made up their mind. I know that, because that's basically what they're doing to me. If it weren't for my friends, backing me up, who knows what pain I'm suppose to be enduring right now for the truth they wanted but I couldn't give?
I am grateful that I have my friends to prevent these people from harming me, but what if they decided to blame someone that doesn't have a friend that's in power? Are they going straight to torturing them? That is just so cruel.
It made me thinking again. If Ali didn't give me the talis, and I didn't receive it, will we be in this situation right now? Where the authorities in this kingdom think we're the bad ones?
"Hey, still with me?" He poked my head, pulling me out from my thoughts.
"Eric, I'm scared." I glanced at my surrounding, alarmed, feeling like I'm being watch. I hope I'm just paranoid.
"Oh. So this is why Dave doesn't want you knowing. I see." He nodded.
"Forget everything I said then." He suggested, but I can't just do that. No one can. He just shook me to my core with that information. That is impossible to forget instantly.
"What's that you're holding?"
"It's Peach. Macforth gave her to me." I saw my hands shaking as I pull them up to show him Peach's home.
"He did what now?" I don't know if Eric's just trying to change the subject so I could forget, but the surprise in his face seemed genuine.
"First the protection, now the ada. What's the world coming to?" The next thing I knew, he's towing me again, crossing the remaining distance to Macforth's room. I didn't miss wide grin and the amusement in his eyes.
But more than that, I'm more curious at one thing.
"What does it mean to be placed under his protection?" Because it sounded like a good thing earlier when Macforth uttered it, but since he tried to justify his action, and that he seemed embarrassed by it, I started doubting my assumption.
"Is putting someone under one's protection laughable?" I don't know how their law works here, but clearly, Macforth made it sound earlier like he didn't have a choice.
"No, mortal." Eric leaned his back to the door and faced me completely, arms crossed.
"Putting someone under one's protection is a very serious matter. That's why it's so funny. Of all people, Forth did it, and with you." The smirk was forming again.
"I don't know if you're being sarcastic or serious." I scratched my head.
"Macforth just made you his subject. He did that, despite Dave specifically instructed us not to, even if that will ensure your safety here. Because you see, Dave's always the morally upright one that doesn't take advantage of the perks being in power." Eric rolled his eyes at his words.
So that means they could've done that to me earlier? But why didn't they do it? Why is Dave having reservation about it?
"Is being one's subject bad?"
Eric breathed deeply at my question and put a hand on my head before he leaned down at me. His face reminded me so much when we're in his wrecked car, waiting for our friends to answer our call.
"Poor mortal, what are you gonna do without me?" He sighed, shaking his head.
"Listen. And you listen good." He put locks of my hair behind both of my ears, making sure my hearing is at its best.
"In this world, being one's subject is being under one's sovereign power. It can be a good thing and bad at the same time. The protector is inclined to look after his subject. And in return, the protectorate is bound to be loyal to his protector, at all times, at all cost. In simple words, the subject becomes his property."
Macforth made me his property?
"But I'm a human being. I don't think that's appropriate."
"You won't get a say on that, mortal. On top of us, being a ruler here, let me remind you that this world is magical. Every word we utter has weight, that even the wind and the grass will honor that claim. You will respond to that bond whether you like it or not."
"Bond?" I shivered at the word used.
Well, as much as I wanted to be a closer friend to Macforth, I don't want to do it through artifical means. I want to acquire that friendship naturally. I want us to be closer just because he likes too, not because of some magical claims.
And the way Eric said it was alarming. It sounded like an enormous thing that is absolutely questionable, otherwise, Dave wouldn't have any problem with it.
"You see, Dave doesn't just oppose that complicated labelling, he also disapproves what that bond does. That very notion that the subject has to show its loyalty in whatever ways you could think possible." Eric grinned, waiting for me to absord his words.
"In whatever ways I could think possible? That doesn't mean..."
"Yep. That's exactly what I meant." Eric's beam frightens me.
Would that really have an effect on me? I'm hoping not. I'm hoping I can resist it.
"Will that bond work on me? I don't live here, and I'm a human being." I tried to convince him, but what good would that do when I can't even convince myself? Besides, it wasn't him that's going to implement that bond, it's this whole land, I'm suppose to be convincing right now.
"But then again, this world is magical, so your mind, body and soul will probably going to respond to it."
"Can't he take back his claim?"
"Of course he can." That's good news!
I know there's a way out. Eric probably just wanted to play tricks on me by worrying me.
I glanced at Macforth's door, ready to knock, knowing what has to be done.
"But what would that make of him? A future king that couldn't stand by his words?" I glanced back at Eric. His hand was on his chin as he stared at the door.
"How will he earn his people's respect if he can't abide by his own rules? I wonder."
I don't know if he's being sarcastic or not, but it felt like he poured an ice water on me, because he made me frozen and speechless. He does have a point. It's not good if a ruler takes his words back, people will going to question his resolve. So what are we going to do now? Isn't there another way out of this?
On the second thought, I don't live here. I only need to stay here for like a day or two, right? After that, I'm gone forever. I won't be coming back here, so maybe, I really don't have to worry about anything.
Perhaps, that's exactly what Macforth's thinking that's why he uttered that claim. He knows for sure that I won't be staying here for long and that I would never go back here once I'm out, so he took the courage to utter those words, even though Dave disapproves.
On top of that, Macforth is a gentleman. Sure he's grumpy at times, but I'm certain he won't ask such thing from me. I'm positive, that he only made that claim for my sake, nothing else.
"I'm sure that Macforth only did that to stop the soldiers from taking me. And I'm glad that he said it first before Prince Gamette realizes he could make the same claim." I shivered at my words.
Come to think of it. What if Prince Gamette really made that claim, and ask me to do the things I can't even put into words?
"What did you say?" He composed himself. All humor, now gone.
"Why is Gamette's name mentioned?"
My interpretation could be wrong, but I think it's best he knows.
"Prince Gamette ordered the soldiers to arrest me earlier. I'm not a hundred percent sure if they wanted to take me because of what happened to the Moon Princess, or because of what he said to me earlier. He look at me then he said he want one. I think he meant he wanted one human."
"Shhh! Eric, be quiet." I put a hand over his mouth.
I tried pulling him back to me because he started walking to the direction where the soldiers vanished earlier.
"Calm down. I told you I'm not that sure." To my surprise, he listened.
He turned around and I found his eyes filled with joy all of sudden. And it's frightening.
Eric's towing me back to Macforth's door before I could even ask what he meant.
"Good job, mortal." Gleefully he uttered before banging Macforth's door, turning the knob up and down impatiently.
"Forth, open up!" He beamed at me.
Curious, I gawked at him. He's so energetic, as if he didn't lost a portion of his energy earlier while healing me. He's so happy, as if we're not in a land where chaos is happening outside the borders of this kingdom. Why?
"What now?" Macforth's straight face greeted us.
Now that I know what exactly his words meant for the both of us, I find it harder to look him in the eyes. At the back of my mind, I was figuring out the real reason why Macforth made that claim. Could my earlier assumption be right?
Macforth's door was just slightly open, but that didn't stop Eric from getting ourselves in. He towed us to Macforth's bed, uninvited.
I was here few minutes ago but it felt like it was a long time already. I found my med kit on his bed, Eric did too. He arched an eyebrow then glanced at me, knowing exactly whom it belongs, but he didn't bother asking why it was here in the first place.
Other than that, nothing changed, but the atmosphere around us isn't as light as it has been few moments ago.
Or maybe I'm just overthinking.
"I have a proposition." He began.
"Back me up in taking this mortal with us tomorrow and I'll bless you a perfect excuse why you did what you did." Oh right, the plan. I forgot about that. We're supposed to sneak tomorrow and follow them out of the kingdom.
I have no idea what he'll offer Macforth, but I will like any other plan than sneaking up. It would be safer for the both of us if they knew we're coming with them.
"First, you are also not included in the expedition. Second, everyone will going to find out one way or another, so whatever you say won't matter."
"You do know that Dave won't approve the whole putting her under your thing right? And while we all hate disappointing Dave, you, my friend, is unfortunate enough to have another person whose fragile heart thou shall not breaketh." Oh, right, the princess.
Eric's right. This whole bond thing can affect their relationship. Clearly, Macforth didn't think this through. He'd probably uttered those words on impulse.
Eric started circling Macforth, like a lion preying on a lamb. Only that Macforth isn't exactly the lamb here, neither Eric. So maybe it's a lion trying to convince another lion. But clearly, he got his undivided attention now.
"Just imagine what would Lunea thinks when she learns that you protected the reason why she's blueberry and unconscious in this very moment."
Sometimes I couldn't figure out if Eric's still kidding around or he really meant what he said, but even then, I'm certain he always got my back. So whatever it is that he's trying to get a yes from Macforth, I think will be best for us.
"Even though you didn't mean anything by protecting this mortal, still the princess is a woman. She'll be jealous and all that. Not to mention, why you're here with the mortal now when you're suppose to be at her side." Macforth's staring at the far ocean, attentively listening to Eric.
"And what about Gamette? Do you really think he would just let that pass?" Eric paused behind him, explaining, whispering, like he's Macforth's conscience.
Eric is so good at this. I don't know where he's getting at but clearly, all he need is just a little push and Macforth's will be saying yes any second now.
"You went against his words in front of his people. Knowing him, he won't take that lightly. Who knows he's probably plotting now to break yours too." Both guys look at my face.
"Right. He'll probably do something to someone you specifically told everyone to leave alone just to prove who's in command in this castle. And maybe he's planning do take actions when you're not around. Let's say, tomorrow?" Eric smirked behind him, and right there I knew he had taken over Macforth's decision.
"What will the people think if you failed to safeguard the one life you'd publicly swore to protect?" I was taken a back.
"Hmm. Who knows if your claim will do more harm that good? I wonder."
I'd never seen him look at me this way before. And while it's starting to feel awkward, I couldn't help but be thankful at the thought that he's actually considering Eric's theories.
"Tell me want you want."