CASeries #1: KNIGHT
Chapter Forty: Corvan's Cousin
The halls of the palace would rival the lines on a brain coral. Valeriana had to wonder how they maintained the cleanliness of the place. With something of this size and magnitude, it would no doubt take more than twenty hands to help in the general cleaning. The heights of the ceilings would get one to question how in the world they could reach those places.
“Excuse me, uh, Edeltraud sir?” she started.
“What is it, madam?”
“Oh please don’t call me . . . anyway. How do you clean this place?” she finally said it.
For a few moments, Edeltraud gave her a look of scrutiny but it faded just a second after it appeared. King Laedin made a near-snorting sound, but not as vulgar. It was more of something between a sudden huff and a chuckle.
“Well, milady, if I were to explain how I manage to do so, it would require me at least an hour to explain to you,” he began. “We, after all, employ different tactics depending on the occasion and the training of one servant would require years before it is honed to perfection. As you can see, it is near spotless.” He waved to the frames that shone under the gaze of the light as they continued walking.
“How about maintenance?”
Edeltraud’s brows quirked. “You are quite stubborn.”
“I was thinking I could employ the same tactics when cleaning the house, ya know? So what’s your secret?”
Valeriana was serious. In fact, she returned the look of incredulity on the butler’s face by lifting her brows. However, Ed—which was decidedly his nickname—didn’t seem willing to elaborate upon the process as she wanted him to. As a result, there was a brief moment of silence, which later on broke due to His Majesty clearing his royal throat.
“Perseverance,” Ed finally said. “And meticulousness.”
“Great. Huge help.” She nodded, but felt a small pout of indignation pull on her lips as she resigned.
“I must apologize in advance,” Laedin told her, breaking the awkwardness. Valeriana redirected her attention his way. “My son will not be able to join us. You and I shall dine alone with Lord Gavin of Arlandia. Perhaps you have heard of him?”
“How odd,” he muttered. “Being one of the Twelve, you must’ve met Lord Corvan, yes?”
“Yeah, what of it?”
“If I’m not wrong, they’re supposed to be cousins.”
Valeriana froze as her mind screamed. “Cousins?”
They stopped and the king gave her a puzzled stare. “Is anything wrong, my dear?”
“Haha,” she said, laughing humorlessly. “He never said anything about a cousin. He never talks about anything unrelated to the academy or studying. None of the Twelve do. They keep their private lives private. Or maybe it’s because I’m just too scared to ask. It’s not as though they’ve known me for very long.”
“Is that so?”
“Yup. It’s kinda hard getting them to talk about something personal since they like to keep to themselves. Which makes it all the more hard to connect. Or maybe it’s just because they don’t trust me so much just yet . . . maybe it will come naturally on time. I mean, you know?” she ranted. She then turned away and muttered, “I just hope they aren’t alike.”
“I’m afraid I didn’t hear what you last said.”
“No . . . uh . . . it’s nothing. Just muttering to myself.”
“Well, I do not know how to reply to that. For that, I will just say that I hope you found my humble abode to your liking,” he told her, changing the topic. “This palace has stood for more than three thousand years.”
She looked around, examining the grandest details the palace offered. Bright wall lights, cream painted walls accentuated by a royal blue, arched ceiling murals, and even extra-large landscapes and portraits. There was diversity, of course. For the most part, the walls were left blank like unused canvas to prevent the place from being too ostentatious. The portraits were hung on the main hall where people frequently passed. The others were kept simple and bright by the lights.
“It’s nice, but I don’t think humble is a suitable word,” she remarked, eliciting a laugh from the king.
“Here we are,” Edeltraud said. They stopped before two, large, mahogany doors.
Valeriana eyed the symbol carved on the surface and furrowed her brows. Somehow, she had a feeling she saw it somewhere before. She knew it too well to miss it.
Trees of blooming roses and galloping deers and horses.
Unconsciously, her fingers brushed the cold metal around her wrists. She brought her head to look at her jewelry, letting her gaze travel to the images portrayed on the surface. With her brows knitting on her forehead, Valeriana contemplated the similarities.
They were the same.
She continued to examine her bracelet, trying to spot some differences until she heard the doors groaning as they were pushed open. The noisy creaking of the wood as it turned on its hinges caused Valeriana’s attention to snap ahead of her.
She could only gape as the sight of the dining room came to view. Valeriana sucked in a breath and held it in until she found herself running out of air.
“I’ll have to ask, Your Majesty,” Valeriana said. “What are the symbols on those doors for?”
“Those patterns come with a great tale,” King Laedin said. “A story resounded under the heavens about the first creations. There was a tree which bore many fruits and flowers of different kinds. It was the most unique.”
The room was softly lit by a hanging, crystal chandelier which was hoisted up on the high, domed ceiling painted with colorful illustrations of a winged knight. He held a glowing sword which repelled dark figures with glowing, red eyes. A backdrop of shining gold and blue misted around them. The wide room, on the other hand, was swallowed by the long dinner table made of polished Cidar and matching, ornate chairs.
Valeriana didn’t know where to look—whether she should examine the glinting, sheathed swords held against the walls, or the beautiful, gigantic paintings that swallowed a great deal of space.
“Geez. That won’t ever fit in my house,” she muttered. “Who eats in this place?” she asked.
“I usually do not dine here since it is quite big. My son and I dine together in a smaller room,” the king answered. “But, since this is a formal event, not to mention Lord Gavin will be with us tonight . . .”
“It’s alright. I understand.”
“We sometimes have visitors, so they occupy the empty seats,” he said. “It’s crucial to have a long table, you see. We use it for banquets and special occasions. I assume you are not used to eating on such a long table?”
“Well, I guess it’s fine. It’s not much of a deal.” She smiled at him reassuringly, but there was a lingering root of intimidation at having to use a table longer than your everyday bus for dinner.
“Let us take our seats, then.”
The king steered her towards the far end side of the table and pulled out the first chair on the right for the girl, patting her on the shoulder to encourage her to take her seat. Valeriana sat and flashed Laedin a grateful look before the latter took the throne—not literally. Rather, the throne was the spot wherein one overlooked the entire table. It was the symbol of power.
“Thank you very much, Your Majesty, for inviting me here.”
“You’re most welcome, my child. Now, let us wait for my other guest. I’m sorry if I cannot give you my time alone this evening.”
“It’s good, really. I’m surprised you even bothered about me.”
“And yes, the tree,” he cleared his throat.
Valeriana paid close attention.
“The tree was called Caelleus and bore the many blessings of the gods. The blue fruit bore Larkov’s essence and granted the power to control the water; the red fruit bore Arland’s power to control fire; the white fruit had Prelure’s power to control the winds; the green fruit contained Denovega’s control over the Earth; and the yellow fruit had Aether’s power of spirit,” he said, pausing to take a deep breath for a moment before continuing.
But before he could resume, Valeriana spoke. “Where is this tree? If I can find it, I’ll hit jackpot! I’ll eat all the fruits and be like Aang from the Avatar!”
The king laughed and the some of the servants around them coughed into their fists.
“It doesn’t work that way,” he said. “One fruit will cause profound changes in the body and cause the consumer great pain. They said that it feels like your soul is being ripped to pieces and your insides clawing their way out. It’ll be lucky for one person to survive eating a fruit; for as much as it is a blessing, the essence of the gods can be considered poison to their creations. Those who survive the poison will be granted fortune and the gods’ graces, but if not, then they die.”
Valeriana’s mouth slacked in interest. “You said there were flowers? What were they for?”
“The antidote,” Laedin answered. “The gods loved their creations very much and implored them to eat the flower if they cannot take it, saving their lives in the process. You can think of our power to control the elements as poison, Valeriana. It lives in the blood, and so it is passed on,” he said. “The tree was a gift to the first creations of the gods, and back then, the entire world was but one continent, joined in all ways.”
They went on like that for a few more minutes until the food was served. Valeriana’s stomach audibly grumbled from the delicious aroma that the food gave off and she salivated at the enticing sight.
“Oh, wow!” With all the storytelling going on, she suddenly felt hungry.
The few servants—about nine of them—who heard chortled at her reaction and smiled at the girl. She smiled back at them.
“Aren’t you going to join us?” she asked unwittingly, causing strange looks to be shot her way.
“We would’ve wanted to, young miss,” answered a maid with a bright smile. “But our role is to wait on you.”
“Aren’t you hungry?”
“We’ve already eaten.”
“Oh, but this is quite a lot just for three people,” she muttered to herself. “I’ll just have to eat a lot and stuff myself, then.”
It felt strange to have people waiting on her like they were doing, but she told herself to behave and not push the matter.
King Laedin and Valeriana started eating ahead of the apparently late guest. The girl was curious about the so-called cousin of Corvan he never really talked about and couldn’t help but anticipate his arrival. Even so, she couldn’t resist the delicious food in front of her. Everything looked so delicious that she didn’t know which one to put on her plate.
“As I was saying, people knew not of corruption and knew only of love,” the king resumed. “Until Erythnell, of course.”
“Why does that guy keep on appearing?” she asked. “He was the one who caused Valdis to turn into a demon and stuff, wasn’t he contented?”
“The matter of Valdis is still to come in a few thousand years,” he told her. “Erythnell sowed discord in all the places he went to, and this time, he saw a perfect arrangement to destroy. He corrupted the people, fed them with greed, and caused them to turn against one another. Then there was war, and everything, even the tree which Erythnell used as an instrument to cause trouble, was destroyed. It withered,” he said.
Without warning, the doors cracked open. Valeriana’s head snapped to the direction of the sound and she saw a figure clad in red walk in. He stopped and bowed at the door, then rose and smiled.
“And the seeds of the tree fell,” the newcomer filled in. “The essence of the gods wracked the world, dividing the land into the corresponding continents. When the seed of Larkov fell, it broke the lands and caused the waters to rise, turning it into an ocean. When the water let up, it revealed islands, waterfalls, lakes, rivers, and seas. Arland’s seed formed volcanoes, streams of lava, scorching the land so that nothing was left except sands. However, when the magma resided and cooled, it hardened into mountains and left heaps of ash to fertilize the land.”
It was when he stood in front of the king and Valeriana did she have a good look at him. His emerald green eyes twinkled with delight. He bore a strong bearing to Corvan, his blond hair far shorter than his cousin’s.
“Prelure’s seed caused storms, bringing rains and clouds from all over the world. It had grown so cold that ice formed, and eventually the rain itself turned to snow and all but fell like a blizzard. When the wind let up, what formed were mountains of ice and winter. Denovega’s seed shook the earth and caused the lands to rise and to fall. Everything was swallowed, as though the earth itself was throwing a tantrum. When it calmed, there were mountains, valleys, hills, cliffs, ravines, canyons, and many more. The terrains were reformed.
“And of all the elements, Aether’s seed was calm, but the lands dried up and life could not sustained. When it was all over, it took a few years, but rubies, amethysts, emeralds, sapphires, and countless gems and treasures were found glowing among the rocks. The calmest was where the tree stood before, the Central Continent. As it withered, it turned to the soil and its place is where the Rosellevienne palace stands today,” he finished.
“Oh, wow,” Valeriana muttered. “That’s a good story.”
“Please pardon my late arrival, Your Majesty.” He went over towards where they were seated and bowed at the monarch once again as per the customs. “And lovely maiden.”
Valeriana went red at his comment. Somehow, if Corvan was more polite and not the cold-hearted bastard she knew, he would be this person.
King Laedin stood and gave him a one-armed hug as a sign of respect and close camaraderie. Lord Gavin, in turn, nodded at Laedin before he walked towards the girl and flashed her a smile, the brightness of which made her feel faint. She was glad she was sitting or she would’ve probably crumpled, her legs rendered useless.
Trying to keep her exterior calm and composed—which sounded impossible at the moment—she gave him an equally bright smile, trying to look as ladylike as she could. She wouldn’t want to disgrace herself in front of a person like this man.
He held out a hand to Valeriana. “I believe we haven’t yet met each other, miss. My name is Gavin von Vaushna de la Wylden.”
“I’m Valeriana Kerrigan.” She placed her hand in his in an attempt to shake his hand, but it was instead gently pulled towards his face. A pair of soft lips kissed the back of her hand. She went even redder as the sensation on her skin sent the hair on the back of her head standing to their very tips.
He slowly and gingerly gave Valeriana her hand back. “Such beautiful name fit for someone of your charm.”
“Uh . . . thank you, I guess,” she muttered, still feeling flustered.
Gavin took the seat situated right across the girl. He gracefully sat down on the ornate chair and casted another glance Valeriana’s way, nodding his head at her. “I had pressing matters I had to attend to. I certainly hope you pardon me for my tardiness.”
“Do not worry, Lord Gavin,” the king said. “We perfectly understand your reasons. We started without you, though. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Not at all, Your Majesty.”
“Valeriana,” the king said. “Now that you have met Lord Gavin, I do hope you get along with each other.”
“Well,” she grinned and chortled. “He’s certainly not like Corvan.”
“Oh, so you are acquainted with my cousin?” He raised a brow while he fixed a napkin on his lap.
“More or less.” She nodded. “We’re in the same school after all.”
“I see. You attend Celeste Academy as well? That explains everything then,” he answered. “Do you hold a position among the Twelve, if I may ask?”
“Well, I guess you can say that.”
“What position do you hold?”
“Fifth,” she answered.
“Fifth?” He paused for a moment and mulled. “Then, you must be the rumored human who’s attending the school?” he inquired before he realized what he just said. “I apologize. I hope you’re not offended.”
“No.” She shook her head. “It’s nothing new. I have no reason to be offended since it’s true anyway.”
“Then, I’m glad.” He sighed in relief which brought about a raised brow from the girl. “But it’s unexpected, really. For a human to possess such unearthly beauty.”
She laughed at how absurd he sounded. Man, this guy is a big flirt. “That’s a real exaggeration. You really aren’t like your cousin, are you? That Corvan’s a total jerk—sorry, don’t tell him. Well, no big deal. He’ll kill me anyway.”
The corner of his lips curled up. “Corvan? I have never heard of a person who dared address my cousin with such familiarity and lived.”
She placed a hand over her mouth. “Uh . . . I’m sorry. I guess I got used to it.”
“No, I did not mean to make you uneasy,” he said. “It’s just that it’s a rare occasion. Lord Corvan is a very proud noble, I must say. With the way you spoke of him, it makes me want to see how he reacted the first time you addressed him by his name without a title.”
“Well, he almost burned me to crisp,” she jokingly stated.
The king and Lord Gavin chuckled at her statement.
“Then, how did you survive?” Gavin jokingly humored her as he reached for the sweet fish in front of him, putting some on his plate. He looked more than interested with where the conversation was going.
She blushed as she reminisced. “Uh, I think . . . I splashed him with water,” she told them, which made them stop dead on their tracks and look at her with wide eyes. “I thought he was on fire, so . . .”
The king and Lord Gavin exchanged glances before they suddenly broke out into a fit of wild laughter. Valeriana squirmed in her seat in discomfort and stared at the two with a sheepish smile.
“Ah,” Gavin breathed, clutching his stomach. “Just imagining what happened makes me want to die of laughter.”
The servants, who stood on the sidelines and had no choice but to listen closely to their conversation, tried to hide their amusement under stoic faces but the littlest smiles curved on their lips. One had his shoulders trembling from silent laughter, and face contorted in failed attempt to hide his reaction.
“Please don’t tell anyone,” she told them.
“You can trust that not a single word will get out.”
The girl gave her attention back to the food she was eating and, unusually, began to nibble on her food when she would normally devour it in one bite. King Laedin saw the sudden change and shook his head with an amused smile.
“Valeriana,” Gavin spoke in a gentle voice.
“Hm?” She looked up at the man.
This man was flirty and liked to flatter ladies—that was obvious. Valeriana knew, though, that he was just being playful.
“So, do tell, how is the life as a student in Celeste Academy?”
She swallowed her food before she spoke. “Well, there are a lot of things I need to do. Lessons and other things,” she said. “I’m far behind and I only have a very short amount of time to catch up.”
“I see.” Gavin nodded in understanding. “I know my cousin won’t like it, but let me visit you once in a while.” He grinned. “I look forward to hearing more of your stories. It would be fun to hear something new, especially since you came from a different world. I have this thirst to explore places I’ve never been. It’s almost so thrilling to know that there are more to see!”
“There’s really no need for you to do that,” she told him, reaching for a glass of water and bringing it up to her lips. She started drinking off of the glass greedily.
“Are you afraid that your suitors would drive me away? I seek only companionship and nothing romantic of any sort. You are a very wonderful lady, Valeriana, don’t get me wrong—but you are the kind of woman that is not within the range of my preferences.”
At least that was a relief knowing. She had enough of that Zion dude.
“But you are exactly perfect for my cousin.”
Unconsciously, Valeriana gasped while she drank the contents of her glass—which then resulted to a very unfortunate turn of events. She choked on the water she was drinking and spilled the contents on her lap.
She coughed and stood up from her seat in shock. “I’m sorry.” She covered her mouth and continued to cough some more. Her cheeks reddened with mortification as she pushed back her chair and stood. The servants waiting came forward to help her, handing her a dry cloth which she accepted.
“Thank you,” she said, wiping down her silky sky-blue gown.
“Would you want me to help you with that, miss?” the servant offered. “I can—”
“Oh no, um, thanks. I’m alright.” She shook her head.
“Are you certain, my dear?” the king inquired.
“Yeah. I just need to go to the restroom. Please excuse me. Where do I go from here?”
“Head to the right and turn to the left. It should not be far. Do you need someone to guide you?”
Valeriana shook her head but smiled gratefully at Laedin, however, her eyes hinted of disbelief and discomfort. “No, thank you. I should be able to find my way around by myself.”
With that, she walked out of the room.