CASeries #4: WARSONG
Chapter Four ⚜ With Lord Aeron
Valeriana was in the sitting room of her floor, munching on a bunch of chips as she went through book after book about Valemnian culture and heritage. She did not usually use the other rooms at her disposal because it did not feel right, but she figured that she had to make them useful.
Her purpose was to learn more about Valemnian customs and how the world generally worked. She figured that it was about time she did, especially since her involvement with the place exceeded a simple tourist visit. If she continued going around without sufficient knowledge, she would end up embarrassing herself—not that she hadn’t already.
“Government system is something like half-democracy, half-aristocratic thing. How the heck do they work things out?” she muttered aloud.
“Because there exists two circles within the sovereign. One is composed of the noble families and the other half has members elected by the people, the Court. Justice and other things are left to the Court to handle, while the aristocrats handle affairs concerning territory and the managing of the smaller lands.”
Hearing another voice, Valeriana looked over her shoulder and saw that Lord Aeron had entered her private sitting room. She wasn’t too surprised seeing him come. This guy had a bad habit of appearing when he was unneeded, and disappearing when needed.
“Lord Aeron, what’s up?”
There was absolutely no use driving this man away as he obviously would not go unless he felt like it. He danced to his own song.
“Where’s Lord Lienhard gone to? You two aren’t together?”
“Lien is still the archduke and he has responsibilities, considering how long he’s been shirking them.”
“Don’t you have those, too?” she asked, deciding to focus her gaze on the book she was reading.
“I get them done unlike him.” He chuckled, taking his place on the couch across Valeriana’s.
“So, what can I help you with?”
“Must I have a reason to see you?”
“Well, you never came without having one.” She looked at him pointedly, closing the book with her finger between the pages.
“Alright, alright . . . you should be approaching your date of birth tomorrow. Actually, it’s soon midnight. I’ll have to greet you a happy birthday in advance.” His eyes twinkled as he rested his chin on his hand.
Valeriana gave Aeron a look of warning. “What are you planning?”
“I’m not planning anything. In fact, I was wondering if you were planning on anything. I heard the coming-of-age for women in your world is eighteen and requires a grand celebration.”
“Pssh.” She flicked her hand dismissively. “Ever since my father died, I didn’t look forward to my eighteenth birthday.”
“Because he promised he’d dance with me,” she muttered. “And we both know that’s not going to happen.”
There was a short pause.
“Why hold yourself back? Your father will not be happy.”
Valeriana tried to focus on the book but found it hard to so she threw it on the table before her and leaned back, her head tipping past the couch. “Because he never missed my birthdays and he was always there at every moment, just like mom. When I had my birthday last year, it just felt so empty. I could not feel as happy as I wanted to be.” She pulled herself back and looked at the Court Leader who gazed at her questioningly.
“Are you scared you’ll feel like that, again?” he asked. “The Twelve will not be happy knowing you did not tell them.”
“What they don’t know won’t hurt them.”
To her surprise, Aeron stood up with a huge grin and held out a hand for her to take while keeping his other arm behind his back. “If it’s only a dance you’re grumbling about, perhaps I might as well be your first.”
She made a face. “Oh, come on. Seriously?”
“I’m stealing the first dance for the ball tomorrow,” he stated, wiggling his brows at her knowingly. “After all, I’m sure quite a few guys will be vying for that spot.”
“Lord Aeron.” She gave him the eye.
“What? Besides, I’m sure that with your clumsiness, you’ll trip. Take this as a lesson.”
She huffed in frustration. “I may not be good at singing and I may be clumsy sometimes but if there’s anything I’m good at aside from playing the drums, it’s dancing.”
“Oh, really? Show me then.” He shook the hand he was holding out with urgency, beckoning her to take it.
With mild reluctance, Valeriana took up his offer and stood, shaking her head with a small smile.
“Imagine the music playing!” He started humming a waltz tune.
Valeriana knew that Lord Aeron was a naturally eccentric guy. However, seeing him hum while they danced around made her want to roll her eyes. He made her feel happy somewhat. With his huge smile and that enthusiastic disposition, it was difficult to get angry.
It was a simple waltz. Their feet swept across the room like the Beauty and the Beast but it had a playful gist to it. It wasn’t a serious dance, but something done purely for fun.
Lord Aeron was energetic. He spun her around and backed up, only to stub his toe against the foot of a chair once he tried to step forward. He yelped and started hopping around, making Valeriana burst into a fit of laughter.
“Should we stop?”
“It hasn’t even been five minutes,” Lord Aeron said stubbornly.
Once he recovered, he limped back to Valeriana and they resumed dancing. This time, it was a lot calmer.
“Now that I notice, why aren’t you wearing the necklace I asked Seraphina to give you?”
“I didn’t think I’d need it.”
Aeron frowned. “You must have it on your person at all times.”
“I just . . . I didn’t want to wear it.”
“You do not understand the implications of not doing so,” he told her. “It may put your life in danger.”
“I’ve gotten so far, I don’t need it.”
“My, you’re becoming quite stubborn. I suppose it doesn’t matter, but once something happens you must swear to me to wear it.”
“Okay, back to the previous question. What did you come here for?”
“I just came to see if you were well, you’ve made me feel quite worried.”
“Why? I mean, I’m doing quite well.”
“Yes, you are, but that doesn’t remove the fact that you’re going through a lot. With the recent discoveries you’re having about yourself, I expect you to be overwhelmed if not confused.”
“I’m handling it pretty well,” Valeriana told him nonchalantly. “I’ve already accepted the fact that there are many things about me that I don’t know yet and I’m working bit by bit to discover them. After all, the answers will come naturally.” She laughed nervously. “Right, just chillin’.”
“Even so, you cannot rush.” Aeron frowned. “You’re not used to that much power in your body, if you release it all at once, even if you have the support of the blessings, you may damage both your body and soul.”
“Since when have you been that worried? Come on, if ever, I’m sure you’re enjoying the show.”
He sighed and gazed at Valeriana, a strange shine in his eyes. It wasn’t the usual playfulness. Instead, it carried a bit of apprehension. It was strange. Just as she was about to ask what was wrong, it was gone. His usual self glimmered like a diamond amongst rocks, like it never was there.
They broke away and ceased the slow-dancing. He guided the girl to take her seat before taking his. Confused, she took the bag of chips she left beside her and threw some into her mouth as she crashed on the sofa.
“Hey, hey, you stubborn old fool.” She bit her lip and threw him a potato chip. “What’s going on? Damn, you’re planning something again, aren’t you? You have that look in your eyes that says something’s not going too well.”
“What are you talking about?” He whistled, throwing his gaze to the other side of the room.
“And for sure, I’m quite sure as heck it involves me. Godsdamn, hey, you, I already know you too well to fall for all your Oscar-winning best actor skills so either you tell me what’s it about or I’ll strangle the hell out of you just like what I did before.” She threw him chip after chip that he started picking them off his lap and throwing them into his mouth.
“Mm.” He grumbled.
“Besides, you have a lot of things you aren’t telling me,” she said. “You knew my father, didn’t you? You even went down to freaking Earth with him. I saw the records. They don’t lie. Just how many things are you keeping from me?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
When she got fed up, she grabbed the pillow beside her and threw it at his face. “Who the heck do you think you’re kidding, huh? I can be horribly slow but that doesn’t make me stupid.”
She took another throw pillow and let it live up to its name—a throw pillow. She threw it at Lord Aeron’s face and grabbed the last one at her side, proceeding to hit him continuously with it.
“Alright, alright, stop it! You do not hit an old man, Valeriana!”
“And you don’t kid with kids, old man!”
He stopped. “I ranked first among the twelve Celestial Knights a decade or two ago. When I retired, I was offered the position of Court Leader in the high court and have been occupied with its duties since then. However, my last mission had been the Lost Heralds case that involved scouting the other world.”
The moment he began, Valeriana was overcome with stillness. The hand holding the throw pillow slackened and fell to her side. She reclined on the sofa, gazed, and listened intently to what the Court Leader had to say.
“I led the team of five including myself through the Vinland point. However, the Holy Gates were unpredictable and separated us five. I was dropped to Boston, Massachusetts but I had your father with me. The others, I later came to know, were dropped to New York City, New Jersey, and New Hampshire. They were all nearby locations, but the trip to and fro took more than a few hours. We did not know the workings of your world so we had a hard time.”
“When was this?”
“From what I have learned when I got there, it was the end of the Cold War. Your world was experiencing tension politically and in the military. There were cases of bombings and air strikes happening around the Middle East.”
“I’m not good with history but this should’ve happened in the nineties’.”
“Yes, it was around that time. We landed in Boston the night of Wednesday, the thirteenth of February, year one thousand nine hundred and ninety-one. Your mother was still in school at that time, from what I remember. It was hard to adjust but we spent a span of five years on Earth. When we came back to Valemnia, a little over ten years had passed. Garvyn came back with me, but he later returned to Earth to be with your mother.”
“What did you go there for? What happened to the others?”
“For the first question, the answer is confidential. That is not something I can disclose to a mere trainee. However, I don’t know what is up with your locals but your folks had a knack of luring Valemnians to stay behind.” He chuckled. “I could not say what happened so people immediately assumed that they were killed in battle, hence, the start of a few hostile ideas. Of course, I cannot say your people are docile, too. In the end, I decided it was better if Earth and Valemnia maintained their boundaries. However, that is not the case now.”
“Tell me about my father,” Valeriana insisted. “You said he came back? Why?”
“Because your mother was pregnant with you. He had to take responsibilities, of course. Although he was adamant in fulfilling his oath as a Celeste, he ended up going back still. I told him to.”
“Does mom know?”
“Unfortunately, she doesn’t,” Aeron said.
“But wait, if mom knows you . . .”
“Don’t think about it. We changed our names,” he told her. “While your father came as Janus Kerrigan, I became Fred Levi.”
“What, like the jeans?”
“I was caught in panic at the time.”
“Ah god, so cliché.”
“So dad was a Celeste.”
“A very good one at that,” Aeron replied, putting a hand on her shoulder. “I never thought you’d be his daughter, nevertheless, when I heard of Lily Kerrigan, I knew immediately.”
“So you did.”
That was a sore topic. The atmosphere became awkward the moment he spoke of it. Aeron cleared his throat and decided to change their focus.
“He also served as the family knight to the Vernados. He’s a branch family of a high nobility so his background is quite prominent. Very few people are like Garvyn, Valeriana. Goodness, do you not have tea?”
She ignored his last question and lamented. “He gave up all that to be with mom?”
“He did,” he said. “I’m glad we’re taking one step at a time with your case. It’s good to know you aren’t rushing so much.”
“As I heard, the answers will come naturally.” She crushed a chip between her teeth noisily. “The truth will eventually be revealed.”
“I suppose you’re right.” He paused. “Listen, Valeriana, I know you are anxious to solve the problem with your open channels, but the journey doesn’t end after you’ve sought out all the blessings. In fact, it is only the beginning. We are entering a dangerous era. Although the academy has offered you the foundations, it cannot give you everything you need.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re a smart girl. Although you’re slow, I’m sure you’ll figure it out.” Aeron stood. “Now, I must be going. Happy Birthday once again, Valeriana. Joulle draey, lheuim ansur.”
“What—what? Wait! Lord Aeron, I need your help. Don’t leave just yet.”
The urgency in her voice made him stop.
“What is it?”
“Dad left me something,” she said. “Mom said he was supposed to give it to me when I turned eighteen.”
He turned curious. “Where is it?”
She ran to her bedroom which was the door across her library. Aeron followed her with his eyes as she disappeared behind the door and came out a few moments later with a silver box with engraved roses.
“Interesting,” he said, eyeing the thing she had in her hands. “What’s inside?”
“That’s what I’m curious about.” She handed it to him. “Any idea?”
“You said he left it to you for your eighteenth birthday?”
“Alright.” He crashed on the sofa and placed it on the table before them. “Let’s wait it out. It’ll be in two hours. Are you alright with staying up?”
“I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep anyway.”
“If you have bags under your eyes when you wake up tomorrow, that’ll make you less attractive,” he pointed out. “Anyhow, I won’t protests. The less attractive you are, the better.”
“People would usually say the opposite.” She frowned at him.
He flicked his wrist dismissively, grabbed a random book from the shelf and started flipping through it. “Do you need any help with your study? I can help you with vague information you want to clarify. If you wish to inquire about the ways of Valemnia, there is no one better than me to consult.”
“I’ve been wondering how the politics in Valemnia works,” she told him. “Aside from having justice carried out by the court, what else do they do?”
“We help make laws and dissolve them. Usually, when the aristocrats would set a new rule in the books of law, they would have to consult with us. If we do not approve of them, chances are they cannot be passed. Now if you’re wondering how we collaborate, the government structure usually involves the same component—like a tree of some sort where it branches out. A smaller unit makes up a larger one and this goes in a repeating cycle. The main foundation is the alliance of the six continents and the crowning of one king. Under the king are three wings—the court, the high families, and the celestial knights. Going down, under the high families are the noble rulers that govern each country, with lower courts, and the exclusive knights serving them. Technically, they are also Celestial Knights, only that their status is lower. Take for example, the Red Legion of the Arlandian army or the Marine Battalion of Larkovia.”
“What is Valemnia’s concept of justice?” she asked out of curiosity.
“Justice is a vague concept that is hard to define. When trying to explain what justice is, you usually try to equate it with equality, but it is not necessarily so. Laws are just there to keep things straight, Valeriana, but they are not sentient, so they need someone regulating them. When there is a virtuous person who regulates the law with no biases, there may be justice, but then again, there are many exceptions. I think the concept is the same with you humans.”
Lord Aeron and Valeriana chatted the night away. They tackled many concepts and the Court Leader was patient with her questions. The way he explained things was easy to understand and easy to digest. The information he gave was neither lacking nor overwhelming. He eased her in slowly.
She then gulped. “How exactly do marriages in Valemnia work?”
Aeron quirked a brow. As if on cue, his eyes dropped to the ring around her finger. “Hehe. I’m guessing this is about Corvan, isn’t it?”
“Well, yeah. I wanted to return the ring to him, since it’s fake, but . . . every time I try, I can’t.”
“Are you asking me how marriage works or are you asking me for advice?”
She frowned at the look of mischief on his face. “In the first place, this is all your godsdamn fault. You should be helping me sort this out, right?”
“You know, Valeriana,” he began. “Although Lord Corvan is as tough as the king’s barrier, that doesn’t mean he’s perfect. To people who knows him, he is easy to read, but only if he opens up enough for that person to know how to. I think the problem with the both of you is that you two are too stubborn. You can’t expect Corvan to come forward, he never will. If you want to straighten things out, you’ll need to make the first move.”
She stilled for a moment. “Make the first move. But somehow, if I did, I feel like it’ll be taking one step forward, fifty times back.”
He shook his head. “If you do not take risks, you can’t expect any returns. Tell me, do you like that kid?”
“Huh.” Her eyes shot wide at his question.
“Forget it, why am I asking? That’s a stupid question, the answer is so obvious.”
“You like him.”
“You like him. Get it through your head,” he said. “Although, frankly, I do not approve. That kid is hard to handle, it’ll be like lying on a bed of needles. No matter how delicate you move, you’ll get pierced. Aside from his personality, there’s his background. In the future, he’ll become the lord of Arlandia—a major nobility. Is he worth the effort? This surely will not be easy. However, time flies too fast.”
This guy was a sharp-shooter. He struck straight at the core uncaringly. Having heard him say it more than once muddled Valeriana’s brain. Her heart was stuttering in her chest and her stomach twisted to the point of entanglement—she felt like going to relieve herself.
Liking Corvan is such a surreal thought.
The statement echoed in her brain like thunder. On the contrary, it was actually the grandfather clock that struck twelve. It rang across the room, making Valeriana take in some air sharply.
She and Aeron exchanged glances as she reached for the box.
“Happy birthday, then,” Aeron said. “Open it.”
She reached for it and pulled on the lid.
It won’t budge.
She felt a flare of irritation at this. She pulled on the lid, again—and again. She changed angles—inserted her nails through the narrow crack at every side. She held it against her stomach and pulled. It took an effort and her nails were chipped.
It didn’t open.
“AHHH!” she screamed. “Damn it! When is this going to open?”
Aeron raised his brows, watching her raise her arm and flung it across the room. It knocked over a table and tumbled.
But it still didn’t open.
Valeriana pulled on her hair.
“Your father was supposed to give it to you to open for your eighteenth birthday. Did he say anything about opening it?”
“No.” She grumbled.
Aeron stood and retrieved it. He looked at it on all sides, knocked on the surface, strained his ears, and shook it beside his head. Something was clinking inside and it sounded a bit heavy. He carried it over to Valeriana, flipping it on all sides to examine it. When he got to the underside, he noticed a donut-shaped hole.
“What’s this?” he asked. “Was this here before?”
She looked at where he was pointing and squinted. “I’m not sure.”
His brows wrinkled as he fell deep in thought. “Valeriana, give me your bracelet.” He took the bracelet off her wrist and tried to put it in.
Surprisingly, it fit like a perfect key. There was a click that the box burst open so suddenly and something came rolling out.
Valeriana jumped. “What is it? Where’d it go?”
It rolled under the couch. The fifth-ranker pressed her face against the floor and found the item hiding conspicuously beside the inch-long foot. She reached for it and pulled it out, her fingers tracing the silky smoothness.
“It’s a ball,” she said as she stood.
Deep in her heart, she felt disappointed.
“Really. What is this?”
“It’s a white jade sphere,” Lord Aeron said and took it out of her hands. “I don’t know if I should feel interested or disinterested.”
“It looks normal.”
“These things are mainly used for meditation as it helps calm the mind.”
“So I’m supposed to yoga.” She grunted. “Forget it, I’ll ask Rowe tomorrow.”
“Alright, then. It’s a bit late, so maybe I’ll sleep here.” He snapped his fingers and the fire flared at the fireplace. Before Valeriana could say anything, he crashed on the long sofa and started snoring.
“Okay, suit yourself.”
She retreated back to her room with the empty box in hand and crawled to bed. She left the silver box on her bedside table as she pulled her blanket over. When her head hit the pillow, she held the white jade sphere against the ceiling and examined its every inch.
“Used for meditation? What kind of crap is this? I was expecting a cool thing like maybe a hidden jewel or something. Maybe this counts as a jewel.”
Even so, looking at it with her aura vision, it flared with a unique presence akin to the one she saw before. The aura was pure white and flared with an exceptional energy that calmed her nerves. In fact, this energy melded with hers like a steady stream of water. The tranquillity washed into her senses that she found her eyes closing. Unwittingly, she fell asleep.
Valeriana’s lids fluttered open to see herself in her room—not the one in Valemnia, no. This was her room back on Earth. She looked to the direction of the windows and saw the light streaming through her curtains. She was in her old clothes; boxers and a baggy shirt.
“Daheck?” she muttered. “Oh my god.”
She sat on the edge of her bed and rubbed her head.
“Oh my god, that was all a dream? Did I make all those stuff up?”
She looked around her room and saw that it wasn’t exactly the way she left it to be. The walls were chipping and it looked like a tornado passed by recently—if not, maybe a thief just broke in and flipped through everything like a madman.
“Valeriana!” she heard a distant voice.
She looked around, wondering where the sound came from.
The voice sounded familiar. Valeriana went to her window hurriedly and pushed the curtains aside.
“Godsdamn . . . this isn’t Boston.”
The sight she was expecting to see outside her bedroom window was gone. A lush, green field and a fair sky replaced it. Mountains lined the horizon and thin wisps of cloud curled above. She pulled her window open and leaned through with her hands grasping the frame, letting her eyes scan the foreign place.
“Sweetheart!” the voice came again.
At the distance was the figure of a man waving at her. She squinted and felt her heart lodge in her throat.
“Dad,” she found herself muttering. “Dad!”
She rushed out of the room and broke through the door. The grass crunched beneath her feet as she stumbled, running for the man with the waiting arms. Her tears burst before she realized, blurring her vision.
She jumped forward and tackled Janus.