Noah stared at Asher in disbelief. This guy is the prince of Birith? There's no way...
"You're... kidding, right?" Noah asked, letting out a laugh. "This has to be a joke."
Asher answered, "I wouldn't joke about holding such an important title. Well, whether you believe it or not, I am the crown prince of Birith." He then turned to the woman standing beside him, wearing a traditional maid outfit. "Carrie, would you kindly help my retainer get settled in?"
"Yes, your highness." Carrie responded. "Don't forget you have a meeting with the Duke of Lamia in thirty minutes."
"Thanks for reminding me..." Asher sighed. "Well, I've got to run, so have fun setting settled in!" He then turned around and walked down the corridor.
As soon as Asher was no longer in sight, Carrie let out a long, heavy sigh. "Doing whatever he wants..." she muttered.
"Huh?" Noah asked.
"If you open the door to your room," Carrie started. "You'll find a bed, a desk and chair, a table, and a wardrobe. Please keep it clean; I don't want to deal with your mess. Breakfast is served at nine in the morning, lunch at noon, and dinner in the early evening. Every meal will be delivered to your room, unless you want to go to the kitchens to get it. If you need help, ask one of the many servants in the castle. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll be taking my leave."
Carrie turned around and started walking down the hall. "Oh, and before I forget," She said as she stopped walking. "The prince is your problem now." Carrie continued walking until she was out of sight.
"What does she mean by that?" Noah muttered to himself. Why is he my problem? He then turned towards the door and thought it might as well be worth checking out the bedroom given to him.
Opening the door, Noah saw a double-sized bed, a small desk with drawers, a chair, a bedside table, and a medium sized ornate wardrobe - just as Carrie had said. There was also a small window for Noah to look out of. He also noticed the room itself was twice the size of the room he had at the hideout, which wasn't so bad.
"This room isn't that bad," Noah said to himself. "But unfortunately, I ain't staying for long." He started heading towards the door before hearing his stomach growl. Well, I guess I'll stay until after dinner.
Just then, Noah heard the someone knock on the door. A female's voice spoke through the door "E-excuse me, is... is anyone in here...?"
Noah swung the door open, startling the girl. She had golden yellow hair tied back in a neat ponytail, light blue eyes, and was wearing the same uniform Carrie was wearing.
"What?" He asked in a monotone voice.
"I... I was told... by the head maid... that..." the maid nervously spoke. "That I was to... to..." her face reddening, she took a deep breath. "that I was to escort you to the bath!"
There was a long pause before Noah closed the door in the maid's face, leaning against the door. "W-w-wait!" She exclaimed, panic rising in her voice. "I-it's the prince's orders!"
It's true; I haven't had a bath in a few days, thanks to the guards, Noah thought.
Sighing, He made his way to the desk and opened one of the desk drawers. Noah took the old photo out of his pocket, along with a few trinkets, and placed them into the drawer. He also took his necklace off - the ring still attached - and placed it in the same drawer, closing it soon afterwards.
Noah opened the door, startling the maid yet again. He stared at her for a couple of seconds before asking, "Any change of clothes prepared?"
"Y-yes, of course." The maid answered. "His highness picked them out for you to keep. And you don't have to worry about your current pair; it'll be taken in for laundry. So... just leave them on the floor of the bathroom." She took a step away from the door, adding, "Um... so... follow me... please..."
Noah followed the maid in silence as she nervously led him towards the bathroom. "You got a name?" Noah asked, growing tired of the silence.
"My name!?" Startled, the maid asked. "You... want to know... my name?" Noah nodded. "Oh, uh, I... I'm Alice." Alice then looked at Noah with slight curiosity. "May I know your name?"
"It's nice to meet you, Niles."
"Oh! We're here!" Alice walked towards a small, wooden door with a sign attached to it. The words "bathing room" were written on it.
"I'll be taking my leave now." Alice said, slowly walking away. "Again, it was nice to meet you."
Noah waved his hand before heading into the bathroom.
Noah emerged from the bathroom an hour later, feeling refreshed for the first time in a while. He was now wearing dark blue trousers and a red tunic, which he was not fond of. Noah headed back to his room, where he opened the drawer holding his possessions. He put his necklace back on, stuffing the ring underneath his tunic. After closing the desk drawer, Noah flopped onto the bed, stomach down.
Two knocks, followed by a man's voice came from beyond the door. "It's me"
Noah let out a heavy sigh into the pillow before getting off the bed and opening the door. He found Asher on the other side, waiting patiently.
"Yes?" He asked in a disinterested tone.
"I was wondering if you would like to eat dinner with me." Asher replied cheerily.
"It gives us a chance for us to get to know each other better, don't you think?"
"Oh dear, I just assumed you'd accept my invitation, so I told the cooks to send your plate up to my chambers. My apologies!"
Noah was taken aback. He would have been fine if he skipped a meal, if he hadn't been sitting in a cell for the past few days.
It's as if he's treating me like a dog; dangling food right in front of me...
A moment passed before Noah let out a reluctant sigh "Fine, I'll join you."
"You will?" Asher asked. "In that case, follow me."
The walk to Asher's chamber wasn't as long as Noah originally thought; only needing to walk down a hallway and up a long flight of stairs. When the two reached a pair of wooden doors, Asher opened one, holding it open for Noah to enter.
The room was a large common area, hosting a medium-sized round table with four chairs, a window, two sofas, and a fireplace. There was also a small bookshelf near the couches and a grand piano in a corner of the room. The window drapes were golden yellow, while the carpeting was a red and gold pattern, giving an unexpected warmth to the room that made Noah stare in awe.
"Having fun, are we?" Asher asked Noah, whose focus was only on the room. "Dinner is waiting on the table when you snap out of your daze." Asher sat down at the table, waiting only a moment before Noah noticed and followed suit.
Noah gazed at the food, realizing then just how hungry he was. His mouth watered seeing the roast beef and mashed potatoes served with gravy, spaghetti squash drenched in a sauce of brown sugar, and fried apples served in its own bowl. But then, Noah noticed the one thing so putrid, so disgusting, that it made him lose his appetite... mushrooms. If it weren't for the man in front of him, Noah would have given a disgusted look to the mushrooms.
Just eat around them, Noah. He thought to himself. Don't let him know you hate them.
Noah started eating just as Asher opened his mouth. "I was about to suggest we say grace first." Asher said, laughing meekly.
"Screw that." Noah responded before taking another bite out of his meal, carefully avoiding the mushrooms without arousing suspicion.
"You're awfully hungry." Asher commented, taking a bite out of his roast beef.
"The food they served in the prison was crap."
"Then what are you used to eating?"
"Food that's not crap. Nothing as extravagant as this, though."
"So, what did you do to get yourself thrown into prison?"
"I could ask you why you why you were outside of the castle alone, seeing as how you hold such an important title."
"Why do you want me to be your retainer?" Noah asked in a serious tone. "Surely you could've asked one of your guards to be your retainer instead?" Why place such an important job to an outsider?
For just a moment, Asher's expression became serious - almost sorrowful - before quickly changing back. That moment was just enough to be burned into Noah's memory.
"It's a secret." Asher replied in a carefree attitude. "By the way, I see you haven't touched any of your sautéed mushrooms."
Noah's jaw drop. The grip he had on his spoon full of mashed potatoes loosened enough to slide from his hand, landing with a loud clatter back on his plate. "I ah... like to save them for... last..." Lying was the only thing he could do without letting Asher catch onto his hatred for mushrooms.
Asher raised an eyebrow. "Really?"
"Yeah, but I'm a little full, so I think I'll pass on them tonight." Noah forced out a yawn. "Mind if I head to bed right now? I hardly got any sleep the past few nights."
"I don't mind," Asher answered. "Since you'll be busy spending the entire day training."
Jokes on you, prince. Noah thought. I'll be long gone before anyone notices my absence.
"Well, see ya." Noah said as he walked towards the double doors. He quickly exited the room before giving Asher a chance to reply back.
The common area was quiet for a minute after Noah left the room. "So, he doesn't like mushrooms..." Asher said to himself.
A small smile formed on his face, which was going slightly red. "How cute."
It was in the early hours of the morning when Noah emerged from his room, not fully awake. He had made sure to take his photo with him before leaving. Noah tried retracing the steps he and Asher took to get into the castle, looking for anything that could help him. He moved quickly throughout the halls, while staying as silent as he could manage.
After a while, Noah found the entrance to the secret passage, feeling a little relieved. Before opening the entrance, he looked around for anything that could light the torch waiting inside, finding a lit torch nearby. Noah then opened the entrance, took the unlit torch, and lit it using the torch in the hallway. He closed the entrance to the secret passage after walking in, making sure no one was around.
With only the light from the torch to guide him, Noah walked down the long corridor, growing increasingly impatient for the exit to show. His mind wandered to when he left Gralea all those years ago, when he only meant to find his sister. When he didn't mean to get abducted, ending up halfway around the world.
Before his mind wandered too far, Noah came to the end of the passageway. He placed the torch into a holder, looking upwards to find a trapdoor above. He opened the trap door and put out the torch before ascending out of the passageway. He closed the trapdoor, hiding the entrance from sight, then walked out of the abandoned house in the slums of Oxford.
It didn't take Noah long to get close to the ShadowRavens' hideout. Not knowing whether anyone was still there, he opted to hide in a nearby barrel, flipping it lid-side down so none could peer in from above. Noah found a conveniently placed hole small he could use in case he heard any movement; just small enough to let him gaze through it with one eye. He planned to stay hidden either until nightfall, or until he saw someone emerge from the hideout.
As the minutes passed into hours, not a single person moved through the doors of the hideout. Within the barrel, Noah tried to quietly pass the time, almost falling asleep in the process. Only when sun was starting to set did Noah hear the sound of a door opening. Looking through the hole, he was able to see Teddie smoking tobacco while leaning against the hideout door.
If he's out here smoking, then the other guild members must still be here... That, and it's almost dinner. He then began to think of the different foods that the guild members would be having.
Noah's stomach growled at the thought of food, loud enough to be noticed by Teddie. Noah tried to think of something else while the doorman was looking for the source of the noise. His stomach growled again, louder than before. A string of curses aimed at his empty stomach flew through Noah's mind while Teddie grew closer to his hiding spot.
The barrel was then pulled upward, revealing to Teddie a frightened Noah. When his stomach growled a third time, Noah let out a nervous laugh. Teddie's responded by sighing, followed by grabbing Noah's arm and drag him into the hideout. Noah tried pulling away, but the doorman's grip on his arm was too strong to break free from.
Teddie didn't stop dragging Noah until they were in the main area of the hideout, where they both found Daniel, Ellie, Gabriel, Xavier, and Agnes waiting around the dinner table. Teddie let go of Noah's arm and moved in front of the doorway leading upstairs.
"Noah?" Agnes looked up from the table, "What happened?"
"We noticed you left for your mission without wearing your uniform." Xavier said.
"After you left, all of us started to worry about you." Ellie continued.
"Especially since you've had a serious look on your face since the meeting last week." Gabriel chimed in.
"To be honest, I left to see if you were doing alright during your mission..." Daniel spoke. He took a breath before continuing. "That's when I saw you getting arrested by the guards."
"And you told Boss...?" Noah cut in, anger gradually rising in his voice.
"I had to!" Daniel yelled, his face guilt-ridden. "What if, sooner or later, you ended up telling the guards about the ShadowRavens?!"
Noah wanted yell out at them, to tell them he would've never told the guards, but he doubted he could've kept it secret. Instead, he spoke, his anger falling. "I don't know." He took a deep breath before speaking again. "Where's everyone else?"
"They all left." Ellie answered. "Even Boss."
"He had been talking to me about relocating the guild to a different city for about a year now." Teddie cut in. "Guess you just gave him the excuse to do it."
"The five of us – along with Teddie - decided to stay behind and live normal lives for the time being." Agnes continued.
"If you don't mind me asking," Xavier said, changing the subject. "What did the dagger look like."
Noah's voice became stone-faced. "Oh. That." He answered in a monotone voice. "Wait here." He exited the room, only to come back a few minutes later with a photograph and his dagger.
"This was the dagger that I was supposed to steal from the auction the other night." Noah explained, throwing the photograph on the table. "That dagger, which supposedly belongs to the prince of Gralea, is a fake."
"What?!" Everyone except Teddie exclaimed.
"How long have you known?" Ellie asked.
"And why do you know it's fake?" Gabriel added.
"I've known it was a fake since the meeting." Noah answered. "I didn't have to see the picture to know it was a fake. Boss announcing it as a mission for us was how I knew. As for how I know..." Noah hesitated before deciding to unsheathe his dagger, placing both the dagger and the sheath on the table. "This is the real one."
Daniel gingerly picked up the dagger, looked it around, then put it back on the table. "Why do you have something belonging to the prince of another country?" He hesitantly asked. "And for how long?"
Noah kept quiet for a few moments. "...It's mine." He breathed. "I've had it since I turned ten."
"That doesn't make sense!" Agnes yelled, interrupting Noah. "How could you have had it since your tenth birthday if you're born the wintertime?! The prince of Gralea went missing in late spring ten years ago?!"
Daniel, who was the only one who looked over the dagger, lunged towards it and took a closer look at the blade. "Noah Alden IV..." He read aloud. "Noah, you're actually..."
Noah nodded. "I am Noah Alden IV, the lost Prince of Gralea."