Nala was not particularly surprised to hear the sound of pebbles hitting her balcony door. She slowly got up from her reading chair and emerged onto her balcony. The sun had set not too long beforehand, and the night air was crisp and clear. Below in the yard, Kaidan was looking up.
"Can I come up?" he asked, just loud enough for her to hear.
"And how to expect to get up here?" she questioned. Kaidan pulled out a length of rope from behind him.
"I was hoping you'd help me up," he said with a smile and a shrug. Nala sighed but smiled back and opened her arms to catch the rope. She tied it around her waist and gripped it tightly. "Ready?" Kaidan asked.
"Ready," Nala replied, preparing herself. Kaidan quickly began climbing the rope. Nala was immediatly pulled into the railing on her balcony. She gasped for breath and struggled to keep her balance. "Hurry up!" she whisper whined. Kaidan quickened his pace.
"Almost there," he grunted. When he finally reached the balcony, Nala hefted him over the railing and they both gathered up the remainder of his rope.
Nala wiped her brow when they had finished. "Alright, Kaidan. What's this about? It had better be worth all the trouble it took to get you up here," she said. Kaidan nodded slowly.
"Maybe. I just wanted to see you again. No one has seen you for a long, long time. And I'm not just talking about Riea and Jayrah and Stean and I. I mean the entire kingdom. You've locked yourself in here for such a long time and we're growing worried."
Nala shook her head. "You guys don't need to worry about me. I'm fine. I'm just trying to deal with things." There was a long pause. "How is everyone?" she asked finally.
Kaidan shrugged. "They're fine. Working hard everyday for their families."
Nala was baffled. "They need to work hard? Why? What happened? We've never had any problems with poverty here!"
Kaidan looked at the ground. "Things have changed since the king died. The queen- your mom- hasn't really been doing a good job maintaining the kingdom. Since she got really sad, well, the kingdom has been getting less and less... prosperous."
Nala shrugged it away. "Nonsense! My mother is a fine queen! There's nothing wrong with her," she squeaked, not really believing her own words. Kaidan just shook his head in response. After awhile, Nala put her head in her hands. "Oh, who am I kidding. Everything is wrong with her. You know she never even speaks to me? I saw her today for the first time in months. This can't be normal. Normal families are not like this, are they?"
"No..." Kaidan answered. "But normal families also don't have to deal with the many things that yours does." Nala nodded, accepting that fact. "You know..." Kaidan began, "well, you've known- in fact, everyone's known that I really care about you. I mean, I have for a long time..."
Nala stared at him. Kaidan was blushing and scratching the back of his neck, his white hair was messy but clean. "Well... I didn't think-"
"Look, Nala. Jayrah misses you. Riea misses you. And... and I miss you, too. Why don't you come and visit us one day? We might not still play Buckerball in the alley everyday, but when we're not working, we do talk and hangout. We'd be happy to have you with us again," Kaidan said quickly. Nala was wide-eyed. She couldn't believe what she was hearing. Had her friends really forgiven her when she'd done nothing to seek their forgiveness? Perhaps even making things worse? And what was that she kept hearing about work? Her friends should have to work! She was a princess! Surely she could help them out herself.
"What kind of jobs do you have?" she asked softly. Kaidan seemed surprised by the question.
"Oh! Well, Stean and I work at the Lumber Mill just outside of the city. Riea and Jayrah are working together as messengers," he answered.
Nala took a step towards him. "Are you guys sure that you don't need any help or anything?" she asked. Kaidan gulped and shook his head.
"What? Oh! No, no, not at all. We're all very fine. The work is good for us and the people we work for appreciate what we do. Thank you for offering, though. But, about what I said before-"
"I don't think I can go back," Nala said quickly, turning away from him. "I've been here too long."
Kaidan reached out to touch her shoulder, but stopped himself. His hand fell limply to his side. "Well, think about it, would you? Please?"
Nala was silent, but she met his gaze and nodded. "I will think about it." She turned around again. "You should go before Carliah catches you."
Kaidan took a moment to gather his thoughts, then nodded and lowered the rope over the balcony. Nala held the rope as he climbed down, and dropped it when he had safely made it. She then went into her room, and lied down on her bed, thinking over the conversation she'd just had with one of her old friends.
From outside of her room, she heard a loud cough and the sound of hurried footsteps.