Over the course of our meal, Eryn went back and forth between complaining about her ‘duties’ and enquiring what I did for the rest of the day. She had questioned me about the board and where I had obtained it. I had to quickly justify my purchase as she started eyeing it with a fireball in her hands, about to reduce it to cinders. Apparently, she still had not gotten over my prank. I thought it would be a great form of transport if I was traveling light, without needing to tend to a horse and cart. This magic tool would likely become very popular if it were modified and mass-produced, which made me wonder how difficult it would be to transition to a full passenger vehicle.
Hearing about that, Eryn’s eyebrows scrunched up in thought.
“Levitation magic, huh? Katsys is amazing…to be able to come up with such complex incantations that could be applied to tools.”
Being inexperienced with magical items, I hadn’t realized that it was such a great thing. Levitation magic had apparently been documented as a branch of complex spells categorized under Earth magic. It was unknown why only the best Earth magicians could unlock this branch, but those that could were able to make objects fly or stay adhered to the ground. In my mind, this sounded like the work of gravitational force or magnetism, but I had no good way to explain that. Trying to explain concepts that I barely studied myself would probably just make me look crazy. It makes me wonder if scientists would get burned at the stake in this society like witches did in my world.
As Eryn and I continued our conversation, I noticed that we were both on our third round of ale. Wow, I hadn’t realized that Eryn was quite the drinker. She only looked slightly tipsy too, which was outside of my expectation. Wait, come to think of it. Was it okay for her to drink in the first place? She was only 16 from what I remember. Not that I can say anything since I was only 19, but at least, I had been secretly drinking while at college.
Suddenly conscious of what the other customers would think, I looked around the room and realized that many of them looked just as young. Guess I shouldn’t be too caught up in the ethics of my old world.
In the middle of the 4th round, Eryn’s face suddenly flushed bright red. Almost as if she had run out of gas, her eyes closed, and her head plopped down on top of her arm. Well, that escalated quickly…
I was reaching in my pocket for some coins when someone stopped in front of us.
“Oh Eri, always forgetting your own limits.” It was Cornelius, who was also holding a mug of ale.
“Now’s a good time as any. Let’s talk, Mr. Chef, while we let the princess sleep.”
“Talk? What about? Is this for another job?”
“What? I can’t take a personal interest in you?” Cornelius said with a smirk, pointing at me.
A shiver ran down my spine as my instinct told me to get up and leave.
“I just wanted to get to know the person who is always around my dear friend.”
Oh, he meant it that way. For a moment, I thought that he swung both ways.
Cornelius sat in a chair next to Eryn, across from me. He took a long look at the sleeping face of Eryn before turning back to me.
Cornelius started off by thanking me once again for my help. Having been curious about the events that led up to me being Eryn’s servant, I summarized my side of the story for Cornelius to hear.
Every so often, Cornelius would look back at Eryn and smile gently.
“You really like her, don’t you?” I sighed.
I may as well ask him directly, rather than beating around the bush.
“Of course. She was my first love after all.”
I took another sip of my drink as it was now my turn to listen to his story.
6 years ago.
Cornelius’s father had invited some guests over to foster budding business relationships. Cornelius didn’t really like these kinds of formal gatherings as it would involve dressing up and acting courteously to all the adults, who would, in turn, introduce their children. Being the heir to a powerful noble family, there was no end to the number of suitors that would be introduced at such a gathering, quite a nuisance to the 12-year-old. Having to put on airs for the guests, Cornelius thought that just this time, his absence could be forgiven.
And so, Cornelius snuck away and played in the garden instead, creating ice sculptures with his magic. Pretty soon, a group of cute animals made of ice had been created around him, a substitute for friends that he had been longing for. This garden had been a place of comfort and freedom in an otherwise strict household. In truth, his family’s status had made it difficult for others to treat him normally. He had grown skeptical by those who did, because they had always been looking to gain favors with his father, the Lord of Reichenstein, rather than forming a friendship with Cornelius himself. He had tried to impress his family members with his Ice magic, creating ice figures of anything he could think of. While his family saw opportunities for Cornelius to be a good magician, they felt that his artistry was a waste of time.
“You must act properly as the future lord of Reichenstein! You must demonstrate the power and the will to succeed, not waste your time with petty things such as aesthetics.”
The words of Cornelius’s father flashed in his head. Coming from a long line of nobles, Cornelius was expected to follow in his predecessor’s footsteps. Anything that made him look unworthy of being a lord would be frowned upon. With a sigh, Cornelius wondered why he had to be confined to such a persona. At least, he could run away to his sanctuary where he was free to use his magic to craft works of art, in which the evidence of it would melt with time. Spending much of his free time recreating his imagination that had been fueled by stories he heard and books he read, this had greatly contributed to his magic control and abilities.
“Oooh! How pretty!” A young girl’s voice broke the silence.
Another child around the age of ten had made her way into the garden looking dazzled by the ice creatures. This young lady was Eryn Faulkner, the daughter of a merchant family.
While his family dreamt of training Cornelius to be a great magician that would bring fame to the family, they ignored the ice creations that he had made, and instead drilled the basic attack spells established in textbooks. They ignored the personal touches that he would make to his spells. They ignored ‘him.’
Cornelius didn’t care about becoming powerful. He just wanted to enjoy creating things and watch as others appreciated them for what they were, a window to his imagination. An imagination suppressed by his family. An imagination waiting to embrace all of the experiences in the outside world, not just limited to what he could see in his family’s territory. An imagination that was aching to affirm if others perceived beauty in the same way his eyes saw.
Responding eagerly to Eryn’s moment of awe, Cornelius created more creatures and even a winter landscape to decorate the garden. In the meantime, Eryn went around hugging the ice sculptures and frolicking in the light snow that gently fell to the ground. Seeing Eryn’s excitement and playful innocence, Cornelius couldn’t help but join in the fun. The two of them had their own party away from the rest of the crowd.
As the two of them plopped down on the snow, disregarding that they were in formal attire, Cornelius let out a genuine smile.
“I wish I could just keep playing like this, but my parents have never approved of me using magic this way.”
“Ehhh? Whyyyy? It’s so beautiful!” Eryn couldn’t believe that anyone could reject this wondrous scene.
“My parents want me to do things befitting of a Lord, and this is not one of them,” Cornelius said with a shrug. “They want me to be strong and make the people of my lands happy, but I just want to do the things that I like to do.”
Cornelius clasped his hands together and formed a small crane out of ice between them.
Handing Eryn the crane, she happily accepted.
“Can’t you make people happy the way you are? I mean, I’m very happy right now!” Eryn smiled widely.
Cornelius’s heart skipped a beat. This cute, innocent girl only knew the side of him that others seemed to discourage.
“You know. My mom always tells me that we do things that we don’t like so that we don’t lose sight of our dreams.”
“Huh? That makes no sense.” Cornelius twirled his hair in thought.
“Well, when I do something that I don’t like, it makes me want to do what I want more and more!”
How true. Every time Cornelius had felt cornered, he would find solace in his creations. He would transfer his feelings into the ice and freeze them in place, allowing them to slowly melt away with the ice.
“Oh? And what do your parents make you do that you don’t like?”
“My daddy’s a merchant, so he makes me practice a lot of numbers,” Eryn spat out with a sour face.
“And what do you want to be?”
“A knight like mommy!” Eryn immediately said with gusto. “But I need to work on my magic, ehehe.”
That was unexpected. There were relatively few magic knights that were female. And even when there were, they were rarely recognized, and instead, overshadowed by their male peers. It would be a long road for Eryn if she decided to pursue her dream, but Cornelius couldn’t deny her enthusiasm.
“How about this? I show you how to use magic, and you help me think of ways to make others happy. Deal?”
Eryn took Cornelius’s hand and shook it enthusiastically.
From then on, Cornelius would take every opportunity to be together with Eryn. Actively taking a role in the Lord’s work, he took advantage of his role as successor to connect with the Faulkner family’s business. He worked hard to understand his role so that he could slowly take control of decisions in place of his father and demonstrate his trustworthiness. Meanwhile, he worked behind the scenes to arrange for convenient ‘business’ talks with the Faulkners. What his family saw as a dedication to his family’s success was in fact just a way to remain close to his first friend.
As he kept his promise to train Eryn in magic, she, in turn, thought of fun ways for Cornelius to incorporate his imagination into his magician training. The first time he demonstrated his magic to evaluators, it left them speechless. His targets had become encased in ice surrounded by blooming ice roses. The show of power combined with beauty coming from someone so young had aroused the interest of many a magician. Soon, Cornelius was being referred to as a genius magician with an artistic sense that earned him many fans. His family could no longer fault him for his tastes as it had only contributed to the family’s renown. He was free to do magic his way.
“I see. So Eryn made you into the person you are now. I guess I should be happy for you.”
Being childhood friends was already a tough advantage in the game of love, but having someone completely turn around your life? There’s no way I could compete against that. As this feeling of hopelessness grew throughout the story, I kept drinking and drinking as if the alcohol would drown out thoughts of my own inferiority. I was already on my 7th round of the night.
“So…when are you going to pop the question? It seems like we’re having this chat to establish some boundaries.” I blurted out my thoughts without hesitation. The ale had certainly loosened my lips.
“Haha…if only that were the case. I tried once but she rejected me.” Cornelius brushed away my speculation.
I choked on my ale in surprise and instantly grew sober. Rejected? Mr. Rich guy that has almost everything going for him?
“WHY?” I shouted and stood up in surprise. My outburst drew a few onlookers, so I sat back down quickly.
Cornelius gave me a bitter smile. He didn’t seem happy about recalling the experience.
“If we were to wed, she’d become a Lady of Reichenstein. That would mean that she would have to give up the Faulkner name. She would have to give up the name left to her by her deceased parents. I couldn’t fault her for wanting to hold onto that.”
Eryn rarely talked much about herself, especially her past. To be able to learn a little bit more about Eryn, I was grateful to have had this chat with Cornelius.
“So maybe I have a chance after all,” I jokingly said.
“Hmm, perhaps.” Cornelius strangely offered no resistance.
After a moment of silence, Cornelius asked me to open my hand. Casting some magic, he formed an ice crane and placed it in the palm of my hand.
“I give this to you. Please take care of my dear friend, as her partner. Due to my duties as an Earl, I can’t always be there for her. But you. You can stay by her side and protect her. I ask this of you not as an Earl, but as one who cares for Eryn Faulkner.”
Looking down at the intricately formed ice crane, I could feel a connection starting to form with Cornelius. Though it was made through a mutual person of interest, I couldn’t deny that a sense of trust was budding between us.
“Of course. I would do so even without you asking.” I nodded in confirmation as I accepted the crane.
“Wonderful. I’m counting on you, Mr. Ch-, no…Claude.”
We clinked our mugs together and slammed back the rest of our ale.
‘Cornelius von Reichenstein, you’re not a bad guy.’ My mind came to this conclusion.
Cornelius got up to leave. I placed some coins on the table as I picked up Eryn in a princess carry, who was still soundly asleep. As I was about to head to the door, Cornelius placed a hand on my shoulder and whispered into my ear.
“That doesn’t mean that I’ve given up.” Cornelius gave me a wink before leaving.
A slight smirk on my face, I returned home with Eryn, who had no clue of the pact that was made over drinks that night.