***The Holy Palatial Gardens***

The members of the Paladin Corps, as well as the royal guards of the kingdom of Nerfes, had lined up along the main road bisecting the Holy Palatial Gardens. Banners of the Holy Saint of Chersea and of Nerfes fluttered gently in the wind as the royal carriage bearing King James Walter Reed II appeared into view.

“…”

Once the carriage reached the grand rotunda at the courtyard of the Saint’s Chambers palace, the king alighted together with his royal entourage and walked towards his waiting hosts, the Saint of Chersea Madelaine Ann Rubinforth and her head maid, Lilyhaven Tamriel von Leese.

“I bid you a warm welcome to the Holy Palatial Gardens, Your Majesty!” the Saint greeted him, “I was surprised when I received the note about your sudden visit.”

Ah yes, Your Holiness,” James kneeled in reverence before her, “I have received dire news about what happened to the great Sir Kuro, and I had to rush to check on my friends. The 2nd prince Sir Simon also wanted to come with me, but I left him in charge of the kingdom for a while…”

“Oh, that…” Maddie’s voice drifted, so Lily was the one who answered for her.

“It was all so sudden, Your Highness,” the head maid explained, “Though it was a shock for all of us, we have to go on with our duties. But please come, let’s talk inside.”

At once, the king of Nerfes followed his friends as they invited him inside the Saint’s Chambers palace.

----------

Even though the subdued atmosphere around the Holy Palatial Gardens was clear, Maddie had made sure that her royal guest would feel he was welcome. A generous lunch was served, and various drinks—including wine—were at the table.

“Hey, Lily…”

“Hm?”

“Are you sure Maddie’s fine?” James whispered to his friend, for he couldn’t help but worry about the Saint, “Isn’t she supposed to be sad at what happened?”

“Don’t worry, James, I’m fine,” it was Maddie who answered, after reading his thoughts. After that, she continued eating her food.

“Uh…”

“It’s alright, James,” she smiled, “This and the matter with Kuro are two different things. Besides, you’re not a stranger to me; why would I not welcome you?”

Lily also added, “And I’m sure Kuro wouldn’t want us to worry too much about him.”

Haha…that man surely changed both of you in several ways, Lily, Maddie…” James commented, “If I remember before, you guys would panic once a friend of yours suddenly disappeared as Sir Kuro did. Now I feel like my mad dash from Nerfes to the palatial gardens was a waste.”

Lily and Maddie chuckled, “Your thoughts are well-appreciated, James,” Maddie told him, “It’s just that, Kuro taught us a lot of things that led us to what we are right now…”

“I feel so useless now…” he jokingly muttered.

Oh come on! You know it’s not true!” Lily patted him on the back, “You’re our friend, and that you’re here in our times of sorrow is a big help already.”

“Well, thank you for worrying about us, James. But, I don’t want to be affected much by Kuro’s disappearance,” Maddie explained as she took a sip of wine, “I already sent an army of my paladins under their captain to search for him in Cherwind.” She also gestured for him to drink.

However, the king of Nerfes refused alcohol. He turned pale when he heard Maddie’s words, “Maddie…”

“Yes?”

“Perhaps, you’re not aware?”

“Hm?”

“Please pardon my reluctance to drink wine, but I cannot bear to do so at such times,” James told them, “You see, when I heard that Sir Kuro was missing, I sent men to our colony in Cherwind to ask for his whereabouts. And they came back with strange news…”

Maddie and Lily suddenly became silent, and an air of tension and dread slowly rose and filled the dining hall.

“Maddie, Lily…please calm down. But when my men reached the border crossing between Chersea and Cherwind, they were surprised to find out that it was closed. No one could pass to and from Cherwind as of the moment, and our colony in the Beastman continent was effectively isolated as well…”

----------

After learning the news about the closed border crossing between Cherwind and Chersea, Maddie excused herself from the dining table and immediately retreated to her private quarters. Lily went with her, but then, a few moments later, she came back to apologize to James.

“Yes, I understand what she’s going through,” he reassured her, “I know Sir Kuro had been dear to Maddie, and learning that he was effectively trapped in that place is something alarming indeed.”

“Yes…and we really do hope that he’s alright there as well…” Lily’s on the verge of tears.

“Don’t worry. Sir Kuro survived a lot of things; he knows what to do.”

“I…I hope you’re right, James…I’m scared for him.”

James only tapped her shoulder; it’s the only way he could do to console Lily’s grieving heart.

Ah, please excuse me for a while, James,” Lily wiped her tears, “I think Maddie needs me now more than ever.”

“Don’t worry about it! Please go to her side.”

With a bow, Lily went back to Maddie’s quarters and left James at the dinner table.

“…”

Now that he was alone, the king of Nerfes let out a deep sigh of relief. Honestly, he was nervous about Maddie discovering his secret, which he kept inside his royal robes—a history book that Ruro gave to him before. The Beastman Saint told him it was an amulet designed to manipulate his thoughts so that other saints couldn’t read his mind.

“…”

At first, he doubted if it would work. It was the first time that he learned that such magic existed. However, now that he could fool Maddie into thinking that he’s concerned as well with that pesky commoner, he gained the confidence that he could pull off what he always wanted with her…

…and that is, to make her fall for him. 

Hans Trondheim Creator

Warning: Strong language