“So, how long should I train to master my powers?” Henry asked out of the blue one day as they steered through the forest paths. The hot sun beat down on their bare heads despite being under the shades of the green forest which was a good time for Henry to fasten the yellowish wool scarf around his head and then put on his dark cloak. “I’m not exactly particular with this training… You know I’m not adept with the way of magic despite being trained in it.”
“That’s because yours is not common. It’s not taboo but mages and people alike think it’s dangerous, even if it’s not. It’ll take a long time that for sure. If you don’t want to train it then what else would happen to you?” Atemu asked.
Henry swallowed round the lump in his throat. The janky movements of the horse rattled him a little. Atemu hadn’t sat on the saddle with him and was instead handling the horse by its reins and walking on foot. He wished that he had some form of solid grounding. It was unlike him to feel like a child afraid of being reprimanded.
“I don’t know but I can always use my sword?”
Atemu stopped in his tracks and turned around. He looked like he wanted to slap Henry to another dimension.
“Well…” Atemu sighed. “I would say that it is your choice on the matter. I will support your decision all the way…”
“You have something more to say.”
Atemu refused to answer. He tugged at the reins of the horse and continued to walk. The steed obediently followed and Henry was left with his own thoughts and questions. He couldn’t very well just go ‘Oh, come on! Just tell me what’s on your mind.’, that would certainly earn him a tongue lashing from his unusually aloof companion. It went on like that as they trudged into the main path out of the forest. It was a wide road with barley paddies opposite from the forest. There was a colorful blotch in the distance not far from their location so they went on.
“Hey, Atemu.” Henry began again after they were nearing the blotch which happened to be a village teeming with life. It looked quite homely with small wooden houses and establishments. The sounds of laughter and chatter heard down the footpath of the village.
“Would they come looking for me?” By them, Henry referred to the people of the palace.
He hadn’t been exactly warm to them. Of course, he had treated the cooks and the servants with the utmost respect and asked what they had needed. He’d secretly sneak in and give them extra coins then for their families but his brothers were another matter. He hadn’t been open to them, had pushed them away out of the petty desire of not being like them and them always treating him like he was some sort of pawn. The only reason he hadn’t lashed out was because of his mother holding the family together. Now, he wished she were still alive to tell him that everything was going to be fine. Hell, even the company of his brother’s would be appreciated just so the buzz in his head could be drowned.
“—nry- Are you listening?”
He hadn’t noticed he’d been gripping his arms too tight. They were tingling with pinpricking sensations. “Ah, forgive me. I lost my thought over there. What were you saying?”
Atemu’s violet eyes pierced his soul. He wished the earth would’ve swallowed him whole. And oh, they were in the village already? Wow, it surely was noisy in here. Could there be a stream or river of sorts nearby? Surely the barley paddies and the village wouldn’t survive if there was none.
“I said that I am not sure how to answer that. I’ve never met the people of your palace, nor your family so I am unsure how to assess them,” he tilted his head and then looked away, tugging the reins of the horse as they walked down the dirt path where everyone crowded and swarmed about. “Could you tell me more?”
Henry felt the tiny flame of joy in his breast amidst the sea of his darkened thoughts. “I’ve never been asked that… but I’d love to.”
So Henry told Atemu of what the palace was like, of his brothers that he looked up to in his youth but had pushed away when they grew up, of the servants and the cooks that he used to play with and enjoy their presence as they snuck him extra meals and bandaged his wounds when he tripped in the gardens. He returned the favor of giving tokens to them when he was recovered. Of his father who his mother had loved but had fallen ill from the fever and died two years after his birth, of his aunt who had been a pillar of strength for the Queen of Antheia, of Lord Joseph who was the advisor of the queen and Henry’s close friend; The most difficult part of all was of the mother that he’d lost and loved with all his heart.
It took all of Henry’s strength to not just shut up, his voice had wavered and Atemu had slowed his pace so he was beside him, squeezing his now bare forearm in some sort of solace after they’d arrive in a common stable where clients left their horses to the stable hands. Atemu had listened through it all and had not interrupted. He didn’t mock him or spit vile words at him. For that same reason, Henry felt some sort of appreciation bud like a rose.
The village they were in was known as Bere Village known to produce their own local crops and house wandering travelers. Despite how small it was, it still had a decent income and they did not run short of travelers that came by and went to dine or get a place to sleep. Henry and Atemu had booked a room in one of the inns that didn’t look as shabby as the others. Atleast Atemu said it wasn’t shabby.
“How would you know it’s not shabby? You haven’t even talked to the owner.” Henry had argued.
“The shadows told me. They can converse with the others in vicinity.” Atemu had retorted as a shadow slithered up to his neck and nuzzled his cheek like it was an affectionate cat.
“…Cox-comb¹.” Henry grumbled.
“Sigir².” Atemu had replied and strided into the open double doors of the inn with a dramatic toss of his hair.
Henry had not understood what language that was and threw his hands up in annoyance before following Atemu in. He was already talking to the owner in a fast but formal tone of voice before he dropped a sort of red, glittering gemstone in the inn keeper’s hand. The inn keeper was more than happy to tell them that there was a bathing chamber in the room and there were two beds prepared. Meals would be provided as well and with that, the inn keeper had handed Atemu a key. Now more questions popped in Henry’s head at where in the blaze had his companion gotten such a precious gem? Henry was no fool when it came to gemstones and finer things in life. He knew if one thing was authentic or not. Who exactly was Atemu? He sure as hell wasn’t a commoner that for sure. His actions, tone, and currency had spoken otherwise.
Boarding up on the second floor of the Inn where a lot of rooms were present, they had finally found the one that was designated for them and had opened it. Inside was as described, two beds with a mattress, a blanket, and a pillow, a desk by a wood boarded window, and another door that probably led to the bathing chambers.
“Atemu, where’d you get the currency earlier?” Henry asked as he sat on the bed near the window, tossing the measly knapsack where his old clothing lay. “You paid with a ruby gem. That’s not something commoners have.”
Atemu sat right across him, silent as a grave. He went about setting down his own knapsack and arranging the pillow that was on the bed. Henry would’ve asked again had Atemu not looked up at him.
“Would you believe me if I told you where I got it?”
“Why do you make it sound like it’s some big old devilish secret?”
“It probably is,” Atemu’s eyes sharpened like a blade, voice low and cutting. “So unless you’re prepared for hearing such things, I advise that you think it through before you give your word.”
Knots formed in Henry’s gut. It sounded so dreadful and like he was threading on cautious grounds. Atemu had never stared at him like that before. It looked like he wanted to cut him up. Normally, Henry would’ve snapped at such treatment but right now, he had just stared dumbfounded like a fish out of water. Still, a part of Henry was curious.
“Don’t stare at me like that,” Henry looked away. “do I look like I’d laugh when I ask such questions? I’m a fool who wants to know a bit of my mentor and savior, not an idiot.”
“You certainly look the part.”
“Hey, that’s so rude!” Henry complained.
“Mn, moving on. The ruby gem that I paid is indeed not of a commoner’s currency,” Atemu leaned back on his arms. “You could say that it came from the Senuetian kingdom.”
“Senuet… the kingdom of sands and gemstones?”
“Yes, that is correct.”
Senuet was the kingdom that Antheia had used to trade with in terms of goods and raw materials. It was said that the kingdom of Senuet was just across the borders of Kira; glistening in the middle of an oasis and houses made of limestones and marble decorate deach landscape along with tropical plants that grew in such humid environment. What had happened after, Henry had not caught wind of.
“…How is the Senuet kingdom doing? I’ve not heard from the royalties there in a while.”
“All is well. They are thriving and doing their utmost performance to care, the kingdom prospers under their rule and their people are doing the best they can to survive.” For some reason, Atemu was staring at the wall near the door.
“Have you been gone for long in the kingdom?”
“You could say that.”
That was definitely a very long time for them. How many blooms and season have passed then and here was Atemu wandering from place to place. The kingdom of Senuet must have changed a lot already. Now he wondered why his companion had not settled in the kingdom of Kira even if there were lands freely given in. Or why Atemu had not found permanent work and yet had gems with him.
Which reminded him about something and he quickly bolted up which in turn made Atemu startle.
“I had a friend there,” Henry’s eyes were wide. “We used to send each other letters just to know how the welfare of the kingdom was and how he was doing well into our years. He visited our palace once in a while when we were children and played with each other when kingdom affairs were discussed between our parents.”
Dark hands that were chubby, a face that was rounded with the youthful glow of a child, a smile that was slightly crooked and eyes the deepest shade of blue that seemed to change colors underneath the flower gardens where they used to play. Henry could still remember those times where he had dragged his playmate and had chattered his ear off about anything and everything. But most of his time with his friend now were patchy and he never saw him again after their parents ceased to see each other and responsibility got in the way.
“You mentioned had and was…” Atemu carefully strung. “Where is he now?”
Henry’s shoulders sagged down. Oh. Right. He had forgotten.
“You do not have to grace me with an answer if you wish not to. I will not force you to answer me.”
“No, its alright. It's been a while since I ever talked about them.” Henry sighed. “I don’t know where he is now honestly. He stopped sending back letters four years ago. I asked his parents how he was but even then, they only said that he was… away on a journey. I don’t know that’s what they said. I figured that he was… ignoring me.”
Dead. Gone. No more. Abandoned him. He had wondered then if that was what he had done to his brothers too and the people that surrounded him.
“…I… apologize.” Atemu’s voice was as soft as the night breeze. “No one should feel like they’ve been abandoned and left in the dark. If it is no trouble… what is his name?”
Henry sighed and laid down under the covers of the hard mattress. He probably looked pathetic in Atemu’s perspective. Just remembering his old friend made his vision go blurry with water. “His name was Erebus Aavar. He was my best friend and confidant even if we were far away. I taught him the language of the flowers and he taught me some of the knowledge available in Senuet.”
The buzz outside of mumbling chatter, mixed with the twittering of birds, was strange to his ears. Atemu seemed to stop breathing. Like he didn’t exist at all. That was fine. Erebus’ name was well known among the folks of Senuet. He was it's Crown Prince after all.
“He would be kneeling in front of you and begging for your forgiveness if he saw you again.” The voice sounded so far away now. “You don’t deserve that kind of treatment. I am sorry.”
“I don’t know about that. Tis’ pointless to wallow in the past.”
“Still, I am sorry, Henry.”
“It’s fine.” Henry sighed. “Let’s just forget it.”
He wished that all the plants around him could just wrap around him and hide him away in its embrace from the world. To just fade from existence and pretend not to be. Atemu muttered something under his breath but since Henry was in another bed, he couldn’t hear what it was and just pretended it was a whisper of the wind.
(1) Cox-comb- a conceited foolish person (2) Sigir- an insult in the Turkish language that means Beef (basically calling them like a ox or a mule in insult) I'm alive, yes. Taking it slow cuz college wacking me.