“He left me, didn't he?” Tears rolled down Kiko’s cheeks as she cast her gaze upward at Kenn.
“Yes, he did.” Simple but a brutally honest answer from Kenn.
“Victor did? There’s no way. He may be a sad and angry man, but he’s the most loyal man I ever fought beside. He would never leave us without saying anything.” said Yemen as he stood from his stool with conviction.
“Well, you didn't know him that well, didn't you, Yemen?”
“Bloody hell, where did he go?”
“I don't know. I’m not him, nor he would answer my question.”
“Is it my fault?” asked Kiko as her hands clenched together.
“Of course, not.” Kenn placed his hand on the girl’s shoulder and gazed into her eyes.
“I’m going after him.” Kiko stood up. Shrugged his hand off her shoulder, and turned to walk out of the door, but Kenn stopped her with a question.
“How are you supposed to find him? He had already left, on a horseback no less. Right about now, he already covered the distance that you can't with your legs.”
“Then I will run.”
“Then what if you can't?”
“Then I will crawl.” Kiko turned her head with furrowed eyebrows.
“Why go so far for a man that just abandoned you?”
“He didn't. He never did. I’m maybe a kid, but I’m not naive. I’ve known abandonment and this? Is protection. Let him pick his choice, but my choice is to stay with that man.” Kiko began walking again. This time she won’t stop until she catches up to him.
“I like that gusto. I’m with you, mate.” Yemen ran after Kiko with a bag of quiver and bow in tow.
As they left the restaurant, a carriage was waiting for them and on that carriage. A woman with twin buns sat on the front row with the reins in her hands. She turned to the little girl, extended her hand, and with a smile. Without hesitation, Kiko took her by the hand and rose to the seats.
“I promise Victor to protect you, but if I can't stop you then I will make sure you get to him safely.”
“How about your restaurant?”
“Ah, think nothing of it. My cousin can run it. Besides, I've been planning to expand my service before I even met any of you, and this seems a good opportunity to do that.”
“I’m gonna love the look on Victor’s face when he saw us,” laughed Yemen as he climbed into the back of the carriage.
“You’re not leaving without me.” Kenn climbed and propped himself beside Kiko.
“I know you will come around, mate,” cheered Yemen as he wrapped his arms around Kenn and embraced him from behind.
A two weeks ride, through the grassy plain, loomed under the towering and intimidating Northwall that was built as a border between Frozehaven and Yakawa. Without a single hitch from the Gatekeeper, they passed through easily. It was as if they were expecting Victor, and he was correct to think that as a dozen riders were waiting for him.
With an escort in tow, they rode onward to Snowholt, The Capital City of Frozehaven. Victor had always wished to visit Northwall’s famous market, but an urgent matter had compelled him to ride without a stop.
Another three days ride then behold the great gray city of Snowholt but wait, it’s wildly different than he left it. A towering massive tree the size of the castle itself had grown in front of the gate. While the area around the city had become lush farmlands. The frozen dirt was no more. There’s no way that this sight was real, Victor had to shake his head and turn to Gabriella, but she wasn't surprised by this.
It wasn't a dream or a hallucination as the horse stepped through the border of snow and grass. He felt it, the shift in temperature from cold to warm.
“How is this possible?” asked Victor to Gabriella.
“No one knows why. Even the scholars were stumped by it.”
“Prince Victor. The King wished you to stop at a nearby tavern. Please follow me.” With a whip of the rein, the rider took a left after they passed the gate. They stopped when they arrived at a building with a mug sign in front of it. The riders got off their horses and tied the leash to the pole nearby, Victor dropped down from his horse so did Gabriella except she did it gracefully.
“A set of freshly sewn clothes and a hot bath have been provided for you in there. A complimentary from the king himself. Please enjoy it.”
The door was opened for Victor, and the patrons inside widened their eyes at the weirdly dressed man and his escort of a dozen decorated and lightly armored soldiers. Victor had always hated the attention he got ever since he was a little boy. Even in Yakawa, people will always stare, but he didn't blame them. Anyway, he casually strolls toward the stairs with his escorts in tow while ignoring the rest of the patrons.
“My prince, anything else you wish to add before you make your way into the room?”
“A mug of this bar fine ale, if you would kindly?”
“I shall bring it up personally for The Prince.” Gabriella stepped in.
“That’s the Prince?” Whispers began encircling the bar.
“I thought he was exiled?”
It began to catch the wave of ridicule as they started calling him titles that he never even heard of, “The Bloodthirst Son. The Monster’s Suitor. The Exiled Prince.”
“Held your tongues, commoners! You are in the presence of The Royal Prince,” scolded the Rider at the customers, and all of them turned their gaze away in fear.
“Captain, there’s no need for such a tone. Let them be. It’s not their fault. I’m sorry to disturb your peace. Please order some more ale, it’s on my tab.” He smiled as he waved at the barkeep to serve more ale to the people.
“Ahh, thank you, my prince!”
“Long live The Prince!”
“Long live The Prince!!”
Praises began to circle the bar and quickly dispelled the infamous titles away. Victor left the bar and made his way up the stairs then into his room where he shut the door behind him. He let out a tiring sigh before unraveling his clothes. Then turned at the bath and quickly dipped himself into the warm and soapy water. The clean water turned slightly dark as the dirt and smudges drifted off his body. Using his teeth, he unwrapped the bandages and soaked his scarred arms into the water.
The ache of the long ride was washed away. Gabriella entered his room and closed the door quietly behind her. She brought a tray of meals and set it in front of Victor. On the tray, a plate of savory broth and a mug of ale, slightly more than he requested, but glad nevertheless to receive it.
“Let me help you with your back, my prince.”
Victor replied with a nod as he leaned forward, revealing a ton of scars on his back and the tattoo of the sea.
“Am I that infamous here?”
“I’m afraid, yes. However, give it time, my prince. Your people will learn to love you again if you wish it so.” Gabriella pulled up her sleeves and grabbed a sponge. She scrubbed gently but firmly so as to not damage his skin yet enough to clean it.
“I don't want to force them to love me.” Victor took the mug and wash his throat with the ale.
“Of course, you won't. It will be because of your good deeds. I know it will. Can I ask you something, my prince?”
“Why did you accept it? I thought you don't want anything to do with your father anymore?”
“Have you read the letter?”
“It’s forbidden for me to do such a thing.”
“And yet you came to serve me, even though I’m an exiled?”
“That’s an entirely different thing, my prince.”
“When did you get the letter?”
“It was a year after I left The Kingdom in search of you.”
“Let’s just say ‘I need to finish what I’ve started years ago’. I just hope I’m strong enough to do it.”
“Wherever you may go, I will always stay by your side. Serving you at my utmost capacity.” Gabriella placed the sponge down and grabbed a pair of scissors and a comb. After gently pushing Victor's head down, she combed and cut the excess hair.
“It’s a pleasure, but when your life is in danger, please run and don't look back.”
“It’s an order, Gabriella.” The maid held her tongue and nodded.
“Good. Now if you may, please make my-ugly-self presentable for The Royal Throne.”
After a clean shave, Victor removed himself from the tub and dried himself with the towel. Gabriella proceeded to softly help Victor fit into his decorated clothes. Tight-fitting, imposing, and proud attire, fit for royalty. Nothing felt more restricting than this kind of clothing, he didn't miss this part one bit, but it is essential for The Royal’s image. His blonde hair was pulled back into a slick look, he had never looked so good in his life.
A couple of knocks grabbed Victor’s attention. “Come in.”
The door was open from the outside. A friendly face awaited on the other side. “My prince. I’ve seen time has taken a toll on you.” Victor turned himself and was pleasantly surprised when he saw an old knight standing in the doorway, but something felt wrong, he’s not wearing his uniform.
“It seems it does for both of us, Commander Julius.”
“Please, I’m no commander. I resigned a long time ago after my lord…” Julius held his word.
“Ah. I’m sorry.” Victor lowered his gaze and raised it back again.
“It wasn't your fault. It was my decision.”
“So, what do they call you these days?”
“Julius the Baker. Surprising, I know. Actually, it is quite a calming job. My granddaughter loves to help out, and besides, all the muffin I could eat.”
“Tempting offer. Please if you wouldn't mind, I would like to taste this famous muffin of yours.”
“It would be my pleasure. Please come by when you have the time.”
“Certainly, there’s more to this than pleasant conversation. Not that I would mind us chatting the day away.”
“Yes. The final piece to complete your return.” Julius lifted a sword; a V-shaped guard and a signet of a rabbit on its pommel. It is all too familiar now.
“Your sword, my prince.”
Victor rested his hand on the sword and took it off Julius’ hand. It is lighter than he remembered, don’t get him wrong, the sword weighs exactly the same. It could be, he just reminiscence at how heavy it was back when he was a kid. Victor attached his sword to his belt. Finally, his attire was complete. There’s no denying it, he is the Prince of Frozehaven. However what he wore now somehow had expanded an aura of command that caused Gabriella and Julius to bow instinctively.
“Long Live The Prince,” chanted Gabriella and Julius.
“I would have wished my return came at a better time, but we both know that there will never be a good time for me to return.”
After a quick breath, Victor straightened his posture and raised his chin slightly before walking out. The air around Victor changed, the people didn't see him as a normal man anymore, he was above them and they knew it. That’s why the soldiers bowed their heads as Victor passed them. When he arrived downstairs, not surprisingly even the drunk patrons quickly gained their sobriety and dropped to their knees, kneeling before him with the utmost respect.
The soldier straightens his posture before opening the door for Victor. “Long Live The Prince!”
An extravagant carriage was waiting for him; the soldier beside the door opened it. With a dignified posture, Victor entered the carriage and took a seat. However, before he even entered, he noticed the passersby had bowed their heads when they saw what came out from that humble tavern.
Gabriella followed behind and took a seat beside him with a lowered gaze and her hands were properly placed above her thighs. The soldier that opened the door got in the carriage and sat in front of The Prince after closing the door again. With a shout and a whip, the horse neighed loudly before striding forward.
Building passed by like pictures in a scrapbook, a theme can be noticed from the view. Gray buildings, melancholy mood, but it is much livelier than he remembered it. Could be that the view was slightly altered by the sudden change of weather. It wasn't just the view, the people seemed more healthy. The tree must be a blessing from the Goddess herself.
When Victor turned to the soldier in front of him. He was curious to know what he looks like underneath that helmet, but not just his face, he would like to know what kind of man that was seated across him. When Victor lowered his gaze, he found the soldier's slightly trembling hand. “What’s your name soldier?”
He straightened his back, “Isaac Braveheart, sir.”
The way he spoke and behaved was a clear sign that he’s younger than Victor and new to his duties.
“Isaac, it's a pleasure to meet you. May I ask you a question?”
“Where are you from?”
“Creaksten. A village near Coldcliff, sir.”
“Tell me more.”
“It’s colder than here, believe me, but I don't hate it. The people there are what make it worth living there. Friendlier than any people you’ve known, sir. If you ever come to visit, first they would freak out to meet someone as famous as you, sir. However, after all the commotion, they would bombard you with tons of delicious food and hospitality.”
“If that place a good place to live then why come here?”
“My father… is a miner there, and he is proud of it. Most of the people there are miners. However, I don't want to be a miner. I want to be a knight.”
“A Knight? That’s a hard thing to accomplish, Isaac.”
“I know, but I know for sure that I can achieve it. I may not be the smartest man in the room, but I am a hard worker. Sooner or later, all my hard work will be paid off. That I am sure of, sir.” There’s determination in his brown eyes, and Victor admired it.
“You are a good lad, Isaac Braveheart.”