CASeries #1: KNIGHT
Chapter Thirty-Nine: The King
Valeriana rose from the reverent greeting and erected her back, trying to look like a dignified woman. She was hell bent on proving that this night would not end in a disaster. She might be clumsy and unrefined, but that didn’t mean she could not act accordingly.
The king was much simpler than expected. He was a handsome man in his mid-forties, human scale. The soft, golden hair on top of his head was brushed back and tied into a low ponytail. His eyes, a mesmerizing gold, looked kind and benevolent.
Valeriana saw Edeltraud bow to the king before he turned and left, closing the door behind him gently. The silence reigned like a tyrant after that small click. The next few moments were torturous, biting at Valeriana’s nerves and clawing at her insides like a restless group of bats. The man was wide-eyed as he stared, his lips parting before he took in a stuttering breath.
Lord Aeron did warn her that she looked a lot like his deceased wife, but she never expected that his reaction would be like it.
“I’m sorry.” He approached. “May I?”
“Huh?” She didn’t get to say yes. His arms trembled as he wound them around her back, slowly and hesitantly—as though she was made of air, so fragile, she would disappear in one, sudden move. Her chin brushed against his collarbone to rest on his shoulders and a whiff of pink hibiscus hit her nose.
Hesitantly, she circled her arms around him too. “Are you alright, sir king sir—uh, er . . . sire?”
He reluctantly stepped back. His fingers twitched to brush her arm, but he held himself back, flustered at his lack of inhibition. “Pardon me.”
“That’s alright,” she told him. “I guess.”
“Goodness. Alright.” He breathed then cleared his throat. “As you may already know, I am—”
“His Royal Majesty, King Laedin von Seigmond de la Rosellevienne, I memorized that long-ass—I mean,” she cleared her throat, flushing when she saw his brow quirk at her language. “My name is—”
“Valeriana Kerrigan, I am well aware,” the king said and laughed. “I’ve been informed that Lord Aeron and Headmaster Kylon came with you?” He looked around. “I don’t see them here at the moment, though. Where are they?”
“They left without saying anything. I was too caught up in my own world to notice.” She sighed.
“Well then, I want to welcome you to Valemnia. Please pardon the suddenness of dragging you here. It must’ve been very hard on you.”
“Well . . . I don’t want to call it kidnapping but . . .” she playfully started.
His smiled a rueful one. “I’m really sorry. I’ll try doing something about this situation, should it be repeated in the future. Even so, I do not directly control the affairs of the Celeste Dispatch Division, as that is the job of Lord Aeron and my younger brother Lienhard.”
“That man has a lot of responsibility. It makes me doubt sometimes if he really even does it,” she commented.
“He’s a competent man. His quick wit and wisdom got him where he is now. Though he may not seem like it, he is very dedicated and spares no effort in the name of his work.”
“I never knew that.”
“Looks can be deceiving, or so many would say. But Lord Aeron intentionally deceives people and he sometimes would give off the wrong impression. Even so, he is reliable. Most of the time. When he wants to be.” Laedin nodded. “I am taking you were traumatized? Your arrival here didn’t have the very best welcome and you were taken here due to a very unfortunate circumstance.”
“I’ve pretty much recovered though . . .”
“You must miss your family?”
“More than anything. And I miss my home.” She nodded. “But Lord Aeron allowed me to write letters to them, and I received a package from my mother yesterday.”
“I’m glad,” he said, smiling, but then he frowned again. “Were my people harsh towards you? If they treated you badly, I ask for your forgiveness in their place.”
“You’re being too humble, Your Majesty.” She stared at him admiringly. “You do not have to ask for forgiveness in their stead.”
“The actions of my people are my responsibility,” he firmly told her. “Anyhow, the court leader suggested that if you were to graduate successfully from the academy, you will become our world’s ambassador in hopes of cooperating with the human race. Are you in favor of that?”
“I’m not exactly sure.” She shrugged. “I just really want to go home . . .” she trailed off. “I don’t know what my purpose for being here is.”
“There are times when demons escape from the Holy Gates,” he told her. “They cause havoc in your world although not normally seen by your people. You, however, are able to see and sense their presence. You are unlike any other.”
“I don’t know the reason to that as well. But I think I’m not the only one like that among my people like you think I am.”
“Why do you say so?” he asked.
“I mean . . . there are a lot of these psychic people with cool mind-powers and stuff—uh no . . . I mean, those scary spiritual thingy about seeing stuffs like ghosts.”
A knock came booming three times and Edeltraud entered once again. “I brought Your Majesty and guest some tea. Dinner will start in approximately thirty minutes, so please wait patiently until then.”
“Thank you very much, Edeltraud.”
Edeltraud stared knowingly at the king before simply nodding his head and bowing before leaving. “Please pardon my intrusion.”
Once the man left, Valeriana turned to Laedin. “You know, sire, that man kinda acts like one of those cool butlers you see in a movie.”
“I’m sorry. I can’t quite catch on.”
“A movie . . . it’s . . . never mind. Please don’t mind me.”
The king was quick to dismiss his confusion. “Edeltraud’s been there for me ever since I was young. He’s my most trusted friend and servant.”
“Cool!” She gushed. “Like one of those—”
Valeriana stopped short when she caught the man staring at her. It was then that she realized she was acting a bit too like her normal self and the ‘dignified, proper, my fair lady’ act had vanished like a bubble. She scratched her head, leaving an arch of strands among the straightened ones as she met the king’s eyes.
Laedin smiled at her genuinely and nodded for her to go on. “Go on, child,” the king told her softly. “It’s a rare sight to see a youth with so much energy.”
She awkwardly laughed. “I’m sorry,” she apologized sheepishly. “I gotta ask something though . . .” she trailed off. “Your Majesty,” she added hastily.
“Please don’t address me by my title. I prefer not being reminded that I’m a king every once in a while. Work’s been stressing enough as it is,” he replied.
“Er . . . alright . . . sir.”
He chuckled at her reluctance but made no further comment.
“Geez,” she grumbled, suddenly reminded of Corvan’s attitude and how he preferred being addressed by his title all the time. Feeling aggravated, Valeriana unwittingly made faces.
“I’m sorry, my dear,” the king apologized. “If you really do prefer calling me by my title then I have no protests. I want my guests to be comfortable in my presence and that doesn’t exempt you.”
“What?” Her attention snapped towards the man before her. “Uh, no . . . my mind was wandering a while ago,” she stated.
“I see. What caused you to make such a face? Not that I’m prying,” he said, deliberately flashing a comforting smile to give her a sense of peace.
The king wasn’t at all flamboyant and that made it easy to like him. Unlike stereotypical movies where kings had been imposing and domineering, he was none of that. Yet, in a way, he wasn’t weak. His gaze carried sharpness and flitted about the room observantly. It felt as though, with his eyes, nothing could escape, not even the littlest of shadows. He wasn’t weak—far from it. He just seemed the kind of man who knew where to exert his strenghts and where to be gentle.
“It’s just this annoying someone from the academy,” she answered.
The king tilted his head to the side and gave her a look with knowing, twinkling eyes. “A boy, I presume?”
“It isn’t like that!” she told him, back snapping straight. “I mean . . . the only reason I’m thinking about him is because he’s too arrogant compared to you!”
“Reasons. You will not feel the need to compare anyone to anything if they aren’t important. My dear, it always starts like that,” he said, laughing. “Ayslia and I were like cat and dog the first day we met.”
“That can’t be true.” She frowned, a red tint tainting her fair cheeks.
“I thought so too. But there’s a thin line between love and hate, you see.” He leaned back and sighed. “All those bickering, all that exchange of offending comments, calling each other names and such, that happens right?”
“I guess,” she muttered. “But that doesn’t mean—”
He said, laughing. “Deny it as you like,” he told her. “Perhaps you are harboring what we like to call adoration.”
“Anyway!” She dropped the subject and shifted towards another instead. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Why yes, of course.”
She cleared her throat. “Why do I have to be kept here?” she inquired. “I just . . . well, I see no reason for it. I know I have a bad habit of running my mouth, but I swear to my father’s grave, I won’t ever speak of it to anyone. I don’t think the life of a knight is for someone like me. I mean, yeah, sure, I always wanted to attend something like a wizarding school but this is far from that!”
The king’s brows furrowed. He took a few moments, looking at Valeriana and waiting for her to calm down before he spoke. “I have had a thorough conversation with Lord Aeron about this and he explained to me his reasons. I did not prefer the measures he took, but it is far too late to turn back. You have gotten involved so far in that, even if you do try to return to your previous life, it will not be the same.”
The corners of her lips were pulled down as her teeth clenched.
“Have you thought of it? Do you think that even if we let you walk away, you’ll remain as oblivious? Even if we left you alone, things probably would’ve probably turned out the same way,” he said.
Valeriana fell into deep thought. He did have a point. There was no getting back from what happened that day.
“But that isn’t enough reason to drag you in and lock you up like a prisoner. You have not been treated well and were put under distressing situations. I get that you are angry at our actions and the way we handled the situation. This is not the life you are used to and our reception has been somewhat—very—bad.” He leaned forward, rested his elbows on his thighs, and laced his fingers together. “Not to mention what happened in the duel was extremely alarming. Lady Courtney was rash. She was told to hold back from using her element to give you a proper chance to show your potential. You did well—and she could not accept that.”
The king sighed and brushed his face, his hands pausing on the inward corners of his eyes. The silence reigned once more, however, it was not as oppressing at it had been before.
“We have been trying to find ways to fix the situation with your world and this—you, as absurd as this may sound to you, maybe the key to it. I will have to excuse—actually, I have no excuses for our bad behavior. However, Celeste Academy is a very tense and stressful environment as it trains future knights. Nobody in this world has it easy.” He ruefully smiled.
“You can see demons,” he answered simply. “The rest of your people cannot.”
“How can you be so sure about that?” She pressed her lips into a thin line as a crease appeared between her brows, her fingers pressing the sides of her forehead. “Hell, there are more than a hundred million humans in my world,” she told him. “I cannot be the only one.”
“But you are the first to be known,” he pointed out. “I get that you do not want the responsibility. However, even if there are people like you, how long will it take for us to find them?”
“Why are you convincing me?” She groaned. “Please don’t convince me to continue doing this. I don’t—I don’t like it. Most of your people are, I’m sorry, assholes.”
“Then do not do it for my people. Do it for yours. I’ll handle mine. Don’t burden yourself with them.”
Valeriana’s face creased with worry. “Then what am I supposed to do?”
“Train,” he said. “I will not deprive you of your right to go home. I promise that I’ll let you visit your mother every year. I’ll open the gates especially for you.”
“After training, then what?”
“Watch over your world,” he told her. “And you can make sure that the demons will not wreak havoc to it.”
“There’s only one of me and a hundred countries.”
“You can start finding others.” He smiled.
“And set up, what? A guild of some sort?” She stared at him dumfoundedly.
She nearly slammed her face on the floor. “I’m supposed to do this? Become a guardian of the Earth like Sailor Moon and put up my own squad of sailor girls? What the actual hell is happening to my life? An undercover agent that literally belongs to another world. What kind of agent does that make me?”
“An otherworldly one?” The king smiled playfully.
She deadpanned. “You did not just joke.”
He chuckled. “I guess I did.”
Valeriana exhaled heavily. “I’m so undercover I’ll probably beat the hell out of James Bond,” she muttered. “This is not right. Why am I supposed to fix the mess you guys are making? I mean, I am not obligated to help you. Earth pretty much is a separate dimension.”
King Laedin was silent. “Think of it this way. A neighborhood fire,” he told her. “A fire burns, latches onto the next door—in this case, yours. Now you’re in the same position and you have no choice but to help. Which house will you put out first? Your neighbor’s or yours?”
“Mine, of course.”
“Exactly,” he said. “Now, the person who was first victimized by the fire is trying his best to put a stop to it, but like fire, it’s greedy and it will eat onto anything it touches. It is most destructive and almost impossible to stop. When do you think the fire will stop?”
“When it burns off by itself.”
“And when will that happen?” he continued.
She massaged the gap between the bones on her hands. “When everything is gone.”
“Will you let it get to that point?”
“Then what will you do?”
“Put it out.”
“The fire are demons,” he said. “They eat away on anything they get their hands on. They spread like wildfire. They’re uncontrollable and destructive. We have been fighting them for many years. We have caged them in one continent, but it is impossible to completely close them off. The only way to put them out is to gather forces and douse it with water, but there has to be enough—the people have to be stronger than the fire. You can be a part of that force.”
“I give up. That was a pretty good analogy. I’ve lost my argument. You really want me to do this, huh?”
“You’ll receive help from us, of course,” he reassured her.
“What makes you think I can?”
“If it’s you, I’m pretty much certain you can do it. After all, you managed to defeat Lady Courtney, take the position of fifth-ranker in the academy and even defend it against one well-known and skilled student, didn’t you? You even earned the title of Roaring Tiger. I believe that if there’s anyone who’s fit upon receiving such an important task, it’s you.”
She grew flustered at his compliment and rubbed the back of her nape. “It’s just a stroke of luck, really,” she said. “I never knew I got such a cool pseudonym.”
“Well, I must wonder why they named you so.”
“Wait,” she said, blinking fast. She squinted at the king. “How the heck do you know all of this?”
“How can I not know? Lord Aeron’s been making a progressive report to me about you. Besides, even if he did not, I’m certain I would’ve heard sooner or later. There is only one human in this world, after all.”
“Agh.” She sighed. “That old man . . . he’s really behind every little thing that’s weird going on.”
“I agree. Lord Aeron has a lot of schemes going about, but they’re not harmful in anyway. At such an age, he tries to find things that will amuse him.”
“My meeting with you was his plan.”
He chuckled. “I knew there was something that I had to expect. Things were different if the court leader himself arranged meetings such as this one. Although, I did not quite expect this.” He referred to Valeriana with a smile. “To say the least, being shocked was an understatement when I saw you.”
“He did predict that,” she told him.
“He did? Well, you looked so much like my late wife, it’s bound to be predictable.”
They both went silent.
“It must’ve hurt a lot to lose her so suddenly.” She pursed her lips. “I know how it feels like to lose someone you love.” Her gaze dropped to her white shoes underneath her gown as the death of her father came to mind. “But it’s not important.”
He disregarded her last comment and asked, “Who did you lose?”
She reluctantly looked at him. “My father,” she told him. “Just two years ago.”
“Then the wound is still fresh, I presume?”
“Two years is a long time,” she said, smiling at him. “I’m over it. Besides, my father told me that I should not cry for him when he dies since the one I’ll be shedding tears for is myself and not the dead. It’s absurd right? He says the weirdest things, yet, he makes sense in a lot of ways.”
His brows creased at the familiarity of her words. “Your father has such wise words. I know of someone who is dear to me that would’ve probably told me the same thing—if only he was here during that time.”
“Oh, I see.” She bobbed her in understanding. “Where is he now?”
“He is, unfortunately, also gone.” The king shook his head sadly.
Booming knocks came. What followed was a solemn voice that Valeriana was only introduced to a few moments ago.
“Your Majesty, dinner will be served in five minutes. I am here to fetch you so as we don’t run late. The food will get cold.”
“I see.” The king motioned for Valeriana to stand up and offered her his arm. “Shall we, my dear?”
“Thank you very much, kind sir.”
“No problem at all.” He patted her good-naturedly on the arm.