Interlude XXXVII – Haemish, Expectations
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If he could have gotten away with it, Haemish Grauff would have been sweating when the topic of the problem that plagued the royal family had come up. Skirting so close to the forbidden was not a place he liked to live, and he could feel the Soul Oath on him tighten a little as he explained the situation to Aarav. Just saying as much as he had, was nearly crippling. Haemish hoped he had explained enough because he really didn’t think he could elaborate further without the Oath crushing him. Even someone of his strength would struggle to survive something like that. The King had been explicitly clear about discretion. The Soul Oath he had sworn to the family had also adjusted to incorporate that.

 

As Aarav settled back, almost satisfied with the response, Haemish almost let out a sigh of relief but instead smiled. His read on Aarav’s body language worked surprisingly well for a monster. Still, Haemish suspected that his humanoid form helped with that. This crisis has been averted for now. The tight control he kept on his emotions relaxed a little, allowing a smile to cross his face. Even his laughter had been a little restrained before, but not anymore. He was back with Aarav and no tension between them. He had never fully embraced this life of subterfuge, and it had been one of the more challenging parts of his position over the years. He preferred to operate with complete transparency, something which was usually not possible in this line of work.

 

The small amount of material lost from one of the dishes in the experiment was noteworthy but also not significant. Haemish had asked simply out of curiosity, not a genuine concern. However, the look that passed between Aarav and Boren at that mention was not insignificant. Something was happening there, and Haemish was unwilling to let it go. He would find out before the conversation ended. If there was one thing his long life had taught him, it was the value of patience. Patience could bring something to you in unexpected ways where aggression and dogged pursuit would not. It was most definitely the most subtle way to get what you wanted. That method created the tiniest ripples when trying to get what you wanted.

 

So, he would use that patience to see what these two had cooked up. “Aarav, what do you think our next adventure will be?” Boren suddenly asked. Haemish could clearly tell that Boren was trying to change the subject from the look that passed between them. That was fine; Haemish was happy to observe their conversation and the two boys before him.

 

Where Aarav had always felt like a man to Haemish and Boren a boy, they had similar and child-like qualities about them. Aarav’s passion for exploration, learning new things and understanding and discovering himself was what Haemish associated with children. Though he had never lost the curiosity of new discoveries, Aarav did it with youth's brashness and unimpeded vigour. Perhaps it was simply that Haemish was extremely old. By comparison, someone like Taler and Aarav simply seemed more inexperienced and youthful in their approaches.

 

“Boren, I think I need time to recover from this “adventure” before talking about the next one. Don’t you think our focus should be on getting strong enough that someone like that monster can’t hurt us first?” Aarav said to Boren, exasperation dripping from his voice. Ahh, the exuberance of youth! Haemish didn’t have to work to smile at the exchange, Aarav being the voice of reason to Boren’s excitement.

 

“Yes, you are right, but we wouldn’t even have the determination to push the boundaries if we hadn’t met those crazy people!” Boren said as a counter. “Also, if we hadn’t found them, someone else might have, which would have been bad.” Boren continued. Hmm, I wouldn’t expect such consciences behaviour from a nine-year-old. But then, Boren had always displayed above normal empathy and awareness for his age.

 

The two boys were complete opposites, one human, the other something else entirely. By all accounts, Boren should be the older of the two, Aarav being less than a year in this world. If Haemish were to estimate based on his aura alone, he would say half a year at best and yet, he had taken Boren under his wing almost as a younger brother. It looked like Boren had accepted the same relationship dynamic as they interacted. Boren was taller, leaner and more agile, but that could be attributed to his human form. Aarav, by comparison, was short and a little stouter. He could have created a taller form Haemish knew, but he had used this as the template. The most adorable thing was that Aarav had unconsciously started swinging one leg as he spoke to Boren. Boren, equally subconsciously, Haemish was sure, had begun to move his leg in the same way.

 

It seems the King saw something in these two that even they don’t know. Haemish had a feeling that the offer to Aarav was simply to get him to lower his guard. That way, when he decided to stay, it would give him the illusion of free will. But then, wasn’t that free will? If Aarav decided he wanted to leave, would the King stop him? Under the Soul Oath, both were bound to he would likely have no choice in the matter.

 

“How serious is this Berserker situation?” Haemish was caught off guard by the question, deep in his own thoughts as he was.

 

“Huh? What was that, sorry?” His mind was whirling with the possibilities. That he might actually lose this test subject. He couldn’t in good conscience force him to stay, but persuasion was an above-board tactic.

 

“The Berserker situation, how dangerous is it?” Aarav repeated the question with an eye roll thrown in for good measure. Boren hid a snicker behind his hand that Haemish frowned at.

 

“Humpf, I see that your manners have not improved, has no one ever told you to respect your elders?” Haemish tried to keep a straight face but uttering that cliché with both boys in the room was difficult. A little mirth must have shown in his eyes because both boys also gleamed.

 

“If my elders have earned that respect, they shall receive it!” Aarav retorted, earning a gasp of mock indignation from Haemish and a giggle from Boren. “Okay, but on a more serious note Haemish, you haven’t answered my question. I do want to understand its severity.”

 

“Well, you know what happened last time, and things escalated extremely quickly then. Now, if it did the same, we would not be best placed to handle it. With very little in the way of war in the kingdoms, we have a smaller militia and fewer trained soldiers than we had back then. I am sure the King thinks it would be best to nip it in the bud while we still have the chance.” Haemish took a sip of his water before continuing. “However, there is every chance that it is not isolated to Brewyn or even Darf. If this originated in Pravwell, we would have even bigger problems. The chance that this is an isolated incident is tiny. From the way you describe the encounter, I would say that it is more likely to be a test run of some kind. Why else would three people try to kidnap the Prince? In the middle of the day in Brewyn and so close to the library at that!? It makes no sense. If they had successfully taken you both, where would they have run to? There are precious few places they could have taken you without being almost immediately caught. Also, what are the chances they would be at the same alley you both chose to hide in?” Haemish was shaking his head by the end. Bad luck indeed.

 

“I told you the situation was completely ridiculous. I would have laughed at its incredulity if we had not been in such dire straits. The number of unbelievable things that had to come together was incalculable for that scenario to work.” Aarav shuddered, his body’s more gelatinous quality making the skin vibrate a little. “We are lucky to be alive, Haemish, very, very lucky.”

 

Haemish’s eyes quirked as Aarav said the final word. Something in the way he said it made the Potion Master sit a little straighter and think of something brewing in the lab he had not worked on or checked for a while.

 

But then Boren opened his mouth, and his trail of thoughts came to a screeching halt. “You did what!?” Haemish practically yelled, leaping out of his seat.

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