"Mehar!" Arial shouted, darting forward and grabbing Mehar's dress when she almost fell over the edge of the railing. Raghnall shot up from his chair at the table, a panicked look on his face. "Mehar, please come down now! I don't want you to fall!"
When she didn't listen, he grabbed her waist and lifted her up and away from the beam, setting her down on the ship's wooden deck. Raghnall rushed over and grabbed her arm, leading her back toward the table.
"Mehar, listen to Sir Arial," he scolded. "He knows what's best. You could have fallen!" He released her just beside an empty chair, instructing her to sit down. She did so, keeping her head down. Raghnall took his seat and leaned back, looking at the sky. "It's a nice day."
"Yes, it is," Aleia agreed, nodding.
Everyone gasped when the ship suddenly rocked far to the right. Raghnall's chair tipped over backwards. Aleia grabbed the table to stop her chair from tipping, as well. A huge splash of water crashed against Kairav, who was leaning against the railing. Millard jumped over in a blur, grabbing Kairav's arm and pulling him away from the railing. He patted his back lightly when he started coughing, spitting out a mouthful of water. Alvara rushed over to Aleia and grabbed her shoulders to steady her. Aethylswyth helped Raghnall to his feet, while Horace held onto Ademar and Arial ran to Mehar.
The ship slowly leveled out and continued onward. Everyone calmed down, and looked as the First Mate of the ship rushed out onto the deck.
"Majesties!" he cried, bowing. "We apologize for that…we don't know what happened. We think something rammed the side of the ship, probably a whale or something. We are so terribly sorry, please forgive us." He looked at Kairav. "Oh, Your Highne—did you go overboard?"
"No, I just got splashed," Kairav replied, still coughing a bit. The First Mate bowed deeply.
"Please forgive us!"
"It's fine," Kairav said.
"Oh, look, there's Kaghra," Arial suddenly said. Everyone looked; an island could be seen in the distance.
"Yes, we'll arrive at Kaghra in about an hour and a half," the First Mate said. "We heard that the Keghoras are waiting at the piers to greet you."
"They're just sitting out there?" Aleia asked. The First Mate nodded.
"They don't want to miss your arrival, and don't want to look rushed when you arrive."
"Hey! Hey!" someone shouted, making everyone look. One of the crew members was frantically pointing over the starboard railing. "Those ships are upside down!"
Everyone rushed to look. Two of the smaller ships beside the ship were upside down, and their crews were swimming around the water, some splashing.
"I can't swim!" one cried, flailing his arms and legs in a panic. Another crew member quickly swam over and grabbed him.
"Wait…why would you work on a royal transport ship if you can't swim?" Horace asked. Raghnall, who was standing beside him, shrugged.
"Aren't we going to help them?" Aleia asked. The First Mate shook his head.
"The other transport ships are going around to help. We cannot delay your arrival, Your Highness. They'll be all right. Please excuse me, I must return to the Captain," he replied, bowing again and turning on his heel, headed up the stairs to the quarterdeck.
Raghnall picked up his chair and sat back down with a sigh.
"Well, that was an adventure," he said. "Hmm…I spy something red."
"Dad, no one plays that game anymore," Mehar snapped.
"I spy something red!" he cried. "What is it?"
"That lighthouse," Kairav said, pointing toward the island. Raghnall nodded.
"I spy something stupid," Mehar said. Raghnall looked around curiously. "Give up? It's you."
Everyone laughed, while Raghnall shot her a glare.
The ship slowly came to a stop. The crew members dropped thick, scratchy ropes to the soldiers waiting on the pier. They began quickly tying it to the metal posts, each tying the exact same knot. Other crew members dropped anchors, while a small group lowered the wooden staircase through the slot, leading down the stone pier.
Everyone stood patiently by the starboard railing, waiting for the crew to tell them it was safe to disembark. Aleia curiously looked over and down. Four people were standing on the pier, also patiently waiting. There were two men and two women, all dressed nicely with smiles on their faces.
The tallest and oldest was a man; Aleia assumed he was Sterne Keghora, the man the Queen had spoken of. He was dressed almost completely in black; he had on a black silk coat with blue and gold embroidery and straight black pants tucked into tall polished boots. Underneath his black coat was a ruffled blue shirt. He had on dark blue gloves with black embroidery on the knuckles. He had black hair very similar to Gwilym's. It was black and slicked back, his face completely exposed. He had a broad jaw, a beard and thin mustache, with dark eyes and thin eyebrows. Both of his ears were pierced; the left side had only a blue stud, while the right side had a long blue chain with a jewel on the end.
The woman taller woman was standing beside him, her arm interlocked with his. She had on a long dark blue gown with lighter blue lace ribbons down the front and lining the bottom hem. The sleeves were short, and she had on a dark blue shawl, covering her arms. Her neck was covered by a blue choker, which had a sapphire that was sparkling in the sunlight. She had bracelets around both wrists that were similar to Aleia's. Like her husband, she had short, shiny dark hair. It was pulled tightly into two French braids, which were tied with blue ribbons. She had a round face with thin lips and big eyes, and blue earrings dangled from both ears.
The shorter man, who looked close to Kairav's age, was dressed similarly to his father. He had on a dark blue coat with a black ruffled shirt underneath. His pants were black tucked into short black leather boots; they were laced down the sides with blue ribbon. His boots were also laced with blue, and had an elaborate design on the side. He shared his mother's round face but had thick eyebrows in contrast to his parents' thin ones. He had neatly cut, short black hair, shorter than his fathers, which was soft-looking. Only his left ear was pierced; it was a blue stud with a chain that attached to the helix of his ear. To top it all off, he was wearing a brooch; it had a shiny blue jewel with silver ribbons, encrusted with diamonds, twisting downward from it. Aleia remembered that the blue jewel on the brooch meant he himself was fighting in the Vahma Games.
The girl, who looked the same age as Aleia, was standing beside her mother. She had on a light blue dress, clashing with the dark clothing beside her. It was entirely a solid color with little variation. The dress itself was rather plain. It was knee-length with a dark blue lace bow around the waist and on the chest. The sleeves were short and poofy, with little bows on the hems. Her facial structure was closer to her father's; a broad jaw with thin eyebrows. However, she had her mother's big eyes. She had long hair which was woven into two buns. She had on the same earrings and choker as her mother.
One of the crew members nodded to Kairav, who started down the wooden stairs to the pier. Aleia stepped down after him, followed by Raghnall and his children, and then the Knights. The Royals assembled into a line before the Keghoras, with the Knights standing behind them. The Keghoras bowed deeply, and the Royals bowed their heads in return.
"Greetings, Majesties!" Sterne said with a smile. "Welcome to Kaghra Island. We are so happy to have you here. I am Sterne Keghora, and this is my wife Elke, my son Wynfield, and my daughter Ada. When we received word from the beautiful Queen that you were coming to stay with us early, we were just so surprised and excited and couldn't wait for you to arrive. My two children have been waiting on this pier for hours; they refused to listen to us when we tried to tell them the time of your arrival. The people of Kaghra City are also excited to meet you."
"Thank you, Lord Keghora," Kairav said with a nod. "We're excited to be here. When our mother told us we were coming early, it was a surprise for us, as well."
"As the Royals do at every Vahma Games, you will all be staying in the Vahma Stadium during your time here. An entire section of the stadium has been reserved for you and you alone. Of course, there isn't much to do at the stadium, so you are all welcome in our mansion whenever you like. You may join us for meals there, or you can eat in the stadium, whichever you prefer. Feel free to roam about the city, as well. There are limited restrictions placed upon you here," Sterne said. "Most of the men participating in the Vahma Games have already arrived on the island, and more arrive each day. It is an excellent opportunity to greet them and get to know some of them, and possibly even find someone you like."
Aleia chuckled. "My mother said the same thing."
"I'll assume you know about the brooches and their colors?" Sterne asked. Aleia nodded. "Well, then, if you'll allow me, I will show you to your rooms now. Please follow me to the Vahma Stadium. We must pass through the city to get there."
He gave a light bow before turning on his heel, pulling away from his wife and starting to the stairs up to the high ground level. Aleia and Kairav walked after him, followed by everyone else. Sterne's family followed the Knights once they had passed. They went up the steps and followed a brick path into the city, which was very close to the piers. Most of the buildings were built with white bricks, and some had wooden signs dangling above the doors, indicating the building was a store or inn. Aleia could see a lot of inns along the road they were walking on. The streets were bustling with people; many of them were men, and a lot of them were wearing brooches. Aleia saw brooches with jewels of all three colors. She noticed, however, that the men with the red jewel brooches, representative fighters, were taller, more muscular, and generally more mean-looking than those with the green and blue jewel brooches.
As they walked by, the people on the streets all bowed deeply before them, showing their respect. Some got excited and started talking to the person beside them. Sterne barely acknowledged any of them, he just kept walking straight. Aleia could see the huge stadium in the distance, at the end of the road. Aleia would occasionally nod to the people who were bowing and getting excited. Some of the younger men had smiles so big, they would fall off of their faces if they got any bigger. Aleia smiled back.
As they neared the stadium, it continued to grow larger and larger from Aleia's point of view. She knew the stadium was huge, but she had never seen it before and hadn't had an idea exactly how huge to expect. She looked to the people they were passing and saw a few faces she knew.
Coy was standing off to the side with his father. They both bowed as they passed. Aleia smiled and nodded to Coy, and a small smile touched his lips. He was wearing a brooch with a green jewel. She noticed that standing with him and his father was a man wearing a brooch with a red jewel. He had very tanned skin and short hair. He was a very tall man, and stood two heads taller than Coy's father. He had a lot of muscle, and had armbands and wristbands on both arms. He had on brown, worn-down boots. An open fur vest was all that covered his bare chest, where a large scar could be seen, running across his left pectoral muscle and down to his ribs. He had on a fur pelt that hung down, covering the left leg and part of the back of his dark brown knee-length shorts. Even though he looked tough, Aleia couldn't help but think he looked gentle at the same time. She automatically knew that the man had to be Aziel Balanatha, the man representing Coy.
After a while more of walking, they reached the gate to the stadium. The stadium was surrounded by a crystal-clear, yet wide moat, and the walls shot straight up without a ledge or anything for someone to climb onto. A huge metal drawbridge, which was raised, connected a large gate leading inside the stadium to the city road. When they arrived, the soldiers standing guard gave the signal to lower the drawbridge. Aleia watched as the bridge slowly lowered all the way to the ground, hitting the stone with a boom. Once the bridge was down, the gate to the stadium slowly opened. Sterne walked across the bridge and entered, and everyone followed. Once they were all inside, the gate began closing behind them. While it was closing, Aleia could see the bridge begin to rise once again.
Sterne stopped, spinning on his heel to face everyone. "Welcome to the magnificent Vahma Stadium."
The hallway they were in was inside, lit by sunlight pouring in through an open archway at the end of the hallway. There were smaller hallways branching off of the main one, and there were three staircases, one halfway down the hallway, and one on either side of the archway. The closer hallway was roped off, and two armed guards stood watch there, one on either side, standing perfectly still at attention.
"The Vahma Stadium is large and one can easily get lost. Because of that, I'm going to show you to your rooms first, so you can at least find your way there. It's easy to get to from the front gate," Sterne said, walking to the closer staircase. The soldier to the left quickly unclipped the rope, allowing Sterne to start up the staircase. Kairav and Aleia followed; the two soldiers bowed as they passed. Once everyone was on the staircase, the soldier roped it off again. "The Vahma Stadium has room for approximately eight thousand people in its stands. It also has barracks for participants. There are small rooms at the bottom of the stadium can hold around fifteen people, all together. This is typically where representative fighters stay. We only allow fifteen to stay here because we fear someone will sneak around or something of the like. The rest stay at the inns around the city, and travel to the stadium early on the days when the Games take place. There are three infirmaries to care for wounded in the stadium, all manned by the best doctors and nurses we can find. My wife Elke is the chief doctor."
Aleia looked back past the Knights to Elke. She smiled and gave a slight nod.
"The Vahma Games take place over the course of three days. There are ten battles on the first two days, and eleven on the third. Each day, you will be given a list of the battles that will take place that day. The will be updated as needed by maids who will be standing by."
They followed Sterne down several hallways, and through a large door, once again with an armed guard on either side. Aleia looked down at the floor of the hallway they were in once through the door. The floor was a glassy white, very similar to the floor of the palace. In the hallway there were several doors, all of which were almost completely covered in elegant designs. Most of the doors had a silver plaque with a name on it. Two of the doors had a smaller plaque beneath the larger one: one of the doors had three plaques, and another door, on the opposite side of the hallway from the other doors, had five small plaques.
"This entire section of the stadium is reserved for the Royal Family. Your names are engraved on the door plaques. At the Queen's request, the direct royals will share their rooms with their Knights. Please take a look at your rooms now, let me know if they are satisfactory. Once you have finished, I'll show you the rest of the stadium," Sterne said, giving a light bow. He stepped to the side. Everyone slowly walked forward toward the rooms. Aleia looked at the first door. It had a single plaque on it. It read: "Lady Mehar Daniah."
The next one was for Ademar. She kept walking, passing Raghnall's, and then she found hers. Her door had two plaques on it, one larger with a smaller one beneath it; the larger plaque read "Princess Aleia Rackzha," and the smaller plaque read "Lady Alvara Elvire."
Aleia opened the door and stepped in. The room didn't look much different from her room at the palace. It had a small dresser with a stool and mirror. There were two beds; one bed was larger and had a blue silk canopy, and the second was smaller and plain, but comfortable looking. Aleia's room had two windows with crystal-clear, thick glass. There was a hatch, indicating the window could open. There were curtains, but they were pulled off to the side and tied in place, allowing the sunlight into the room. Alvara stepped in behind her and looked around, nodding.
"It's nice," she said. Aleia nodded in agreement. They stepped back out into the hallway and Aleia closed the door. At the same time, the others had finished looking around as well and were stepping back into the hall, closing the doors. Taking the moment, Aleia curiously looked to the other two doors. The door farthest down the hall on the same side as her door was her mother's room, shared with Sir Himayat and Lady Minerva. The single door on the other side of the hallway with the five plaques was for the five remaining Knights. She assumed since there were five of them, that was why that room was the only one that side of the hallway; the room had to be larger than the others.
"I trust the rooms are to your liking?" Sterne asked curiously. Everyone nodded. "Excellent. If you at any time find something wrong with your room, do not hesitate to tell me. I will try my best to make you as comfortable as possible during your stay here. Now, shall we tour the stadium?"
Aleia nodded excitedly, and Sterne acknowledged her excitement.
"Well, for starters, through that door there"—he pointed to the door at the far end of the hallway—"leads to the seats reserved for the royal family and their Knights. It is separated from the rest of the stands, and the seats are much nicer, if I do say so myself. That is where you will sit during the games. That door there"—he pointed to a normal-sized plain door a little before the door leading to the stands—"is the restroom."
Sterne turned on his heel and headed back toward the first door that they had entered. Aleia and Kairav followed him first. They went back into the other hallway, where Sterne went back down the staircase. The soldier quickly unclipped the rope once again, letting everyone back into the main hallway before roping it back off again. Sterne started walking toward the sunlit archway, which appeared to lead into the stadium stands. They followed him there and stepped outside into the sunlight. It was the stadium stands; the inside of the stadium was huge. Aleia had no trouble believing Sterne when he said it could hold approximately eight thousand people, especially after seeing the stands. Down in the actual arena, there were six men practicing their moves, striking dummy targets. One of them was doing flips, flailing a chain with a knife on end around. Aleia specifically watched him, just waiting to see if he hurt himself or someone around him, but he never did. Even when he got a little close to the others, he would flip the opposite direction or jerk the chain away or above their heads.
Aleia looked when someone down in the arena shouted angrily. She watched as a well-dressed young man with a green jewel brooch, most likely a noble, stormed into the arena from the stands, walking straight toward one of the men practicing. Aleia could just barely make out the red reflection on the man's brooch. He looked too young to be a representative fighter in Aleia's eyes; he didn't look much older than Kairav. He had muscle but was still thin. His hair was a dirty blond and his skin was a little tan. He had on a zipped black leather vest with white pants that had black designs on them, tucked into black boots. There was a black tattoo running down his left arm. He wasn't holding a weapon; instead, he had on thick black gloves. He looked at the approaching man and looked like he wanted to attack him, but was restraining himself.
Aleia gasped when the noble punched him square in the jaw.
He staggered backwards but didn't fall. The other men all stopped where they were and watched.
"You idiot!" the man shouted, his fist still clenched. "Do you really think you can win if you fight like that?"
"The Games have not even started yet!" the young man shouted back. "You already know I can fight, so why should I have to waste my time here?"
"You have to practice! You're a great fighter, but you're not the greatest, and that's what I'm expecting from you!" He hit him again.
The younger man raised his fist to punch back, but the noble pointed at him and looked at him with a strange look in his eyes. He stopped his punch and stared at him. Aleia could see the fury in his eyes even from where she was standing. It was as though the noble knew something he didn't, or that if he had punched him, something would have happened. Aleia immediately thought the situation was suspicious. Was the noble blackmailing his representative?
Sterne must have noticed her discomfort watching the situation unfold.
"Excuse me, gentlemen!" he boomed. Aleia jumped a bit at the sudden outburst and looked at him. The look she saw in Sterne's eyes frightened her; it wasn't anger, she didn't know what exactly it was. Aleia finally caught her first glimpse of the strictness her mother had talked about. Going just by the look in his eyes, she could tell he wasn't afraid to take action. The noble's reaction further supported the power Aleia could tell Sterne had. His face immediately looked panicked, and he bowed his head. "You are in the presence of the Royal Family. Please, be on your best behavior. Save your quarrels for later."
The noble bowed again, toward Aleia and Kairav. Aleia noticed the young man wasn't even looking up at them or Sterne. His eyes, practically glowing with fury, rage, and hatred, were locked onto the noble. His fist was still clenched. Aleia couldn't help but wonder: if he hated this noble so much, why represent him in the Games in the first place?
Aleia's suspicions of blackmail grew.
"Forgive me, sir!" the noble called. Sterne didn't reply, he just turned and started walking toward another door to the left from where they were standing. Aleia and Kairav followed, but Aleia kept watching the two men. While the noble continued watching them walk, the man turned on his heel and started walking away toward a small archway on the far side of the arena that led back into the stadium, but on a lower level than the one they were on. As the man neared the archway the noble noticed he was leaving, and walked after him. They both disappeared into the doorway.
"Lord Kaghra?" Aleia asked. Sterne stopped and looked to her.
"Yes, Your Highness?"
"Who was that man?"
"That was Avarus Core, Your Highness. I can guarantee to you, Princess, that he is probably the most frustrating nobleman you will ever meet," he replied. "The other young man was his representative fighter. I'm afraid I do not know his name."
"Does it go against Vahma Game rules to blackmail?" Aleia asked curiously.
"Under certain circumstances, yes."
"Like what circumstances?"
"If lives are threatened, it results in immediate disqualification from the Games. However, if they're simply threatening to reveal embarrassing information, we let it slide. Why?"
"I'm just asking."
"Oh, I see. I know what you're thinking, Princess," Sterne said. "You're not alone. I, too, have been rather suspicious of Avarus lately. That representative fighter seems to hate him quite a lot, but every time they get into a fight, all Avarus needs to do is raise a finger, as though to remind him of something. I haven't been able to expose him yet, but my family and I are watching him like hawks, Your Highness."
Aleia didn't respond, she just continued following him when he started walking again. Kairav nudged her, making her look. He leaned over to whisper in her ear.
"I noticed it, too," he whispered. "That whole thing was really fishy."
"I don't like that guy," she whispered back. "Even if we're wrong about the whole thing…I definitely don't want him to win the Games."
"I don't either," he replied before straightening back up and quietly following.
They walked through the door and went back inside the stadium. They walked down a hallway before Sterne turned and glided down a flight of stairs. He stopped in another hallway.
"The purpose of most of these hallways is just to lead to the stands," Sterne explained, gesturing toward another archway that led to the stands, just down the hallway to the right. He continued forward down another flight of stairs on the opposite side of the hallway. They were in another hallway with an archway, but this time, the archway led to the arena rather than to the stands. Down the hallway to the left, were several doors, and then steps leading further down. Sterne walked to the first door. "This is one of our infirmaries."
He opened the door to show Aleia and Kairav the inside. The infirmary had several beds and tables, and doctor's equipment was scattered around. There was no one inside.
"There are two other hallways exactly like this one, each containing an infirmary," Sterne said, closing the door and walking to the next one. "This door leads to one of the small kitchens. There are three of them, one in each hallway. A few cooks will prepare the participants food while the Games are taking place, and usually feed them after they take place in a battle." He opened the door and let them look inside. There were several tables with chairs, and a large window that Aleia could see led to a kitchen. Sterne closed the door when they were finished and gestured to the stairs that led down. "Those stairs lead to the room where the fighters can stay. There is one at the end of each of these hallways. The small rooms hold five people each. Usually, all fifteen beds are taken during the Games. Like I said, usually representative fighters stay there. As of right now, about nine people have claimed a bed here in the stadium. However, I am not going to take you down there. There are men in the room now, and I'll assume you'd rather not disturb them."
Everyone looked when an extremely muscular man wearing a red jewel brooch jumped up the stairs. He looked at everyone with a look of surprise on his face, before quickly bowing deeply toward Aleia and Kairav.
"Good day, Majesties," he said. He jogged past them and went down the hallway, out into the arena. Sterne didn't mind him and turned away from the stairs, walking back to the other flight that led back up to the floor above. They started up the stairs.
"I know the stadium seems like there would be much, much more, but that is actually really all you need to see. The other sides of the stadium are basically the same; doors to the stands, to the arena, more stairs, and a hallway with an infirmary and a kitchen," he said. "If you do decide to wander around the stadium and can't find your way back to the main hallway, do not hesitate to ask one of the guards patrolling the stadium for directions. They'll all be happy to help."
The followed Sterne as they retraced their steps all the way back up and back to the main hallway. He stopped and looked at them.
"I'm going to leave you now," he said. "I must return to my home, I have things to deal with. Please, feel free to roam about as you wish, Your Highnesses. The Keghora Mansion is not hard to find if you wish to go there, as well. I'll usually be there. We'll send for you at dinner time, if you would like to join us. If you would not, just tell the soldier we send and food will be brought to the stadium for you. There are soldiers all over the city, so do not hesitate to go to them if there is a problem. Before I depart, are there any questions?"
"Why is the Vahma Stadium closed off?" Ademar asked.
"We do not want just anyone to be able to walk in, Sir," he replied. "We open the gates only for participants, my family, and, of course, you. The gate will be open and closed at your request, so you may leave and come back whenever you wish. When it is time for the Games to begin, the gates will open and anyone will be allowed inside or back out as they please. Unless the Games are taking place, the gates always remained closed. Are there anymore questions?"
"How many participants are there all together?" Raghnall asked.
"As of now there are forty-three, Sir. However, we are continuing to pick out ineligible men. By the time the Games begin, there will probably only be about thirty left, give or take a few."
Raghnall nodded. Sterne looked to the soldier standing by the gate, and he gave a signal. Aleia heard the drawbridge begin to descend, and, after a moment, the two large doors were pushed open the by two soldiers.
"I will take my leave now. It was an amazing pleasure to meet you, Majesties. I will see you later tonight, or perhaps before then," he said, giving a deep bow before turning on his heel and going toward the bridge. His family, whom had been at the back of the group the entire time, scurried past them and joined Sterne as he left. Elke interlocked arms with him once again, while their children followed behind.
"Do you wish to leave the stadium, as well, Highnesses?" he soldier standing by the door asked. Aleia looked to Kairav.
"I want to go out and look around the city," Kairav said, looking back to the Knights, who nodded.
"But I'm tired," Mehar whined.
"You can go and rest in your room," Arial said.
"I think I'll stay in, as well," Raghnall said. He and Mehar, followed by Aethylswyth and Arial, turned away from the others and went to the roped-off staircase, which the soldier quickly un-roped, and started up. Kairav looked at everyone that remained.
"Is everyone else coming?" he asked. They all nodded. "Okay, then let's go!"
They crossed the drawbridge and went back into the city. Aleia looked back and watched as the doors began closing and the bridge was pulled up by the large chains that went from the end into the brick wall. Once it was closed, Aleia looked back to Kairav.
"When you wish to re-enter the stadium," the soldier standing beside them started, "please tell me. I will signal for the drawbridge to be lowered."
"Thank you," Kairav said. The soldier bowed quickly and didn't move again, staring straight ahead.
"Well, then," Millard said, clearing his throat. "Where to?"
"I have no idea," Kairav said with a laugh. "I haven't been here since I was…what?
"Six," Millard replied.
"I don't remember where anything is."
"Let's just walk around like idiots, then," Aleia said with a smile.
"Sounds good to me," Kairav said with a shrug. They started walking. Alvara jumped a few steps and walked beside Aleia, rather than behind her. Ademar caught up and walked between Aleia and Kairav, while Millard and Horace stayed behind them.
They walked down the big street, looking at the people as they did what they were doing. Some of them noticed them passing by and bowed again, but others didn't even see them. They didn't mind and kept walking. Kairav pointed at a side street and they all turned, leaving the main street. Aleia looked down the street; it was a long road, packed with just as many people as the main street.
"This place is huge," Aleia commented.
"There are a lot of people," Alvara added, looking around.
"There are always a lot of people in the city before and during the Games," Millard explained. "The city wasn't always so big, either. They've added a lot in the last thirty years. The entire island consists of the city and its surrounding forest."
"Did you used to live here?" Kairav asked. Millard nodded.
"I only lived here until I was fourteen. After that, I moved to Léina, to finish my Knight training. My father was one of Queen Reia's Knight."
"He was?" Aleia asked. Millard nodded again. "How long have you been a Knight, Sir Millard?"
"I became a Knight when I was 18, and I was assigned to be Queen Lavanya's Knight. But once she became queen, they replaced me with Sir Himayat and Lady Minerva. However, Kairav was born later that year, and I was assigned to be Kairav's Knight. Here I am."
"Speaking of which…I heard a rumor that you and Queen Lavanya used to like each other," Alvara said with a sly smile. Kairav and Aleia looked at Millard, both surprised.
"What?" Kairav asked. Millard looked embarrassed.
"That was a long time ago! Who even told you that?" he demanded.
"So it's true?" Alvara asked. Millard looked even more embarrassed.
"I was only three years older than her…I won't deny I may have had a small crush on her," he murmured.
"Did she like you back?" Aleia asked curiously.
"She um…she said that she did," he replied.
"Did you ever kiss?"
"We did once…but only once."
"So what happened?" Ademar asked. "Between the two of you, I mean."
"Her Vahma Games," he replied.
"Oh, right…were you upset?" Ademar wondered.
"Well, there's a funny story about that. I was upset up until we got there. On the very first day we got there, she met King Reich, and I met the beautiful woman I married, as well. So, it worked out well. After that, we stayed best friends, but grew apart after so long.…Reich and I were close, as well."
"Wow, win-win situation, there," Alvara said. Millard nodded.
"You guy lucky. Heartbreak is the worst and it's terrible to live with," Horace commented. Millard shrugged.
"Shall we continue on?" Millard asked.
"Let's go down this side street here," Kairav said, pointing to a small street that broke off of the one they were on. They walked toward it.
As soon as Aleia turned, she collided with someone who had been running. They both grunted and fell, and whoever it was landed on top of Aleia. Alvara pushed them off and had Aleia back on her feet before she could even process what was happening. Taking a few seconds to steady herself, she looked at the person.
Once again, it was a boy who didn't look much older than Kairav. He looked strangely similar to the young man Aleia had seen earlier at the stadium, the one who had been punched by the noble. He had the same short dirty blond hair, and his skin had a very similar complexion. He was wearing tight black pants and black boots with blue designs on the side, along with a blue shirt and black sleeveless jacket. The shirt's right sleeve was long, tucked into a black glove, and the left sleeve was short. She saw he, too, had a tattoo running down his bare left arm, covering the back of his hand and going down each finger. And to finish it all off, he was wearing a blue jewel badge. She watched as he slowly stood up without looking.
"Ow," he said, rubbing his head. "Hey, I'm sorry, I wasn't watching where I was goi—ahaaa!" He looked at Aleia, and he looked like he had seen a ghost. He was clearly panicked. "P-Princess, I, uhh, I'm so s-sorry!"
He honestly looked like he had no idea what to do.
He gasped when someone grabbed him a headlock and swung his head away from Aleia. She looked at him. It was, in fact, the young man from the arena.
"Please forgive my brother. He's an idiot," he said. He tightened his arm around his brother's neck when he tried to get away.
"Let me go!" he demanded. Instead of doing what his brother said, he just gave a quick bow before turning to drag his brother away. "No! I'm still mad at you!"
"I don't care, I'm saving you from making a fool out of yourself," he said as he dragged him away. Aleia giggled a bit when his brother let himself go limp, becoming deadweight. He looked down at him with a funny look on his face. "What are you doing?"
"You'll have to drag me," he said, sticking his tongue out. The man dropped him and stood over him, looking down at him. His brother just crossed his arms and stared back.
"I'm not gonna drag you."
"Well, I'm not coming with you."
"You look like a fool."
"This is new?"
"You know the princess is still watching, right?"
"I don't care who's watch—wait, what?"
He shot up and looked in Aleia's direction, and met eyes with her. He scrambled to his feet, punching his brother's chest.
"You jerk!" he exclaimed.
"What did I do?"
"I hate you. Don't talk to me," he said as he walked past his older brother. He followed him, bowing lightly to Aleia and Kairav one final time.
"What did I do to deserve hate?" he asked as he followed him, poking at his arm.
"Don't talk to me! Stop poking me!" he exclaimed, smacking his finger away.
Aleia listened to their bickering until she couldn't hear it anymore. She looked at Kairav, and started laughing. He and everyone else laughed with her.
"Well, those two were interesting," Alvara commented. "It's hard to believe that man was the same man we saw in the arena."
"It was like we were looking at two different guys," Ademar said. "The guy back at the arena looked like he was ready to kill that noble, but the guy we just saw, I'd never say that he'd kill."
"Do you guys know who that was?" Aleia asked. Everyone shook their heads.
"Why, do you like them?" Horace asked, poking her.
"They're just interesting, that's all," she said, pushing his hand away.
"You like them!"
"I don't even know their names!"
"That can't stop a girl," Ademar added with a smirk. "Let's be honest, now."
"Be quiet, Ademar," Aleia demanded. Ademar held up his hands defensively and laughed.
"Well, I'm gonna keep looking around. The two of you can keep fighting if you want," Kairav said, patting both of their shoulders before starting down the road with Millard. Aleia and Ademar hurried to catch up with him, both shoving each other and laughing.