The cabin was quiet, and no lights were on.
Aderes held her lantern up to let them see around the main room.
There was a pile of unconscious teenagers on the floor bunched together like sardines, and Peter had claimed the bed in the other room for himself with his right of being old.
“Bas and L’ua came over,” Jonathan noted once he spotted the new additions. He was slightly surprised to see Kern in the middle of the pile as the oldest of the group usually preferred to take one of the armchairs. It was fortunate, however, as the three adults would need to take the two armchairs or couch.
Chester looked at the pile. “Why do you have so many children?”
“They’re not mine,” Jonathan corrected as he headed towards the kitchen to make food. He knew all of them were hungry.
“Alright, alright.” Chester held his hands up. “You’re lying to yourself—they’re like family, something like your little siblings—but I won’t call you out on it further.”
Jonathan looked at the pile of teenagers and privately conceded the point; he personally blamed his old best friend’s influence.
Aderes pushed past both of them and went into the kitchen. She was focused on food.
The next few minutes were full of questions about locations, Jonathan explaining where things were, and some actual cooking. The results were two large pastries which possessed far too much chocolate or cheese to be eaten by a sane person. Fortunately, none of them were sane and they agreed to split the food.
A bottle of local mead was uncorked and Jonathan poured each of them a glass. He didn’t exactly have glasses in his cupboard and instead substituted with some glazed cups from the village’s potter.
Aderes enjoyed the new flavor paired with the pastries, Chester found the taste nostalgic, and Jonathan appreciated having a bit of a drink after such a long day.
“Alright, alright. Anything you two want to talk about?” Chester asked. He was always the one who always started up the serious conversations in the group, the first to notice that someone was bothered by something. The bard put down his plate, but kept his cup in his hand as he leaned back against the wood cabinets.
Jonathan picked his fork up, and fiddled with the utensil, turning it around between his fingers. It was a nervous tick of his, to mess with whatever he had at hand. After a few moments, he came to a decision. He wanted to trust them a bit more fully. They hadn’t backstabbed him yet and they had plenty of chances. Chester and Aderes had both respected his secrets, and shared some of theirs, without any prying questions about his past. “What do you want to know about me?” He found it almost funny how quickly they turned to him, mouths agape.
“Where are you from?” Chester blurted. There was a sort of giddy excitement in him. He was a curious man, but he trusted his friends enough not to pester them about anything.
“I’m from another world, but I ended up possessing this body.” Jonathan scowled. “No, I didn’t have any choice in it.”
Chester muttered something under his breath.
Aderes put down her plate and glass. She had a feeling she might drop them. “Whose body is it?”
“Prince Roscoe the Fourth, of the Hrea Empire.” Jonathan was slightly amused at the reactions. He had wanted to tell them that part for a while.
Chester bounced his leg against the floorboards in excitement. “Did you come back after he died? Are you actually undead?”
“I faked my death,” Jonathan corrected. He gestured around them. “And now, I’m here, a normal life as a lumberjack.”
Aderes held a hand to her forehead. She believed him entirely, but she didn’t really want to. At least she didn’t have to compete against one of her best friends politically. “I . . . When I ran into you for the first time, you had just faked your death and ran away.”
“It’s a bit strange then.” Aderes dropped her hand from her head. She wasn’t quite sure what to think, just finding out the irony of everything that occurred. “I’ve always been after a throne, and you’ve….always been running in the opposite direction.”
“Responsibility is good, but I’ve never wanted to be a ruler,” Jonathan stated. He put his fork down on his plate. “You did.”
“It’s hard, but I don’t regret it.”
“I don’t regret my choice either.”
“Good,” Aderes responded. She held out her cup and clinked it against Jonathan’s.
“I’m actually surrounded by royalty,” Chester said with a playful groan, smiling at how the two rolled their eyes. He elbowed Jonathan and asked, “Have you met any other people like you?” He was not going to waste what might be his only time to get answers.
“Yes. People who end up in other worlds are transmigrators. There were some in mine. I hated them.”
“Why?” Chester immediately picked up on how personal that was.
“I met two transmigrators in my first world. They either switched with or simply replaced my best friend of twenty years and my girlfriend. That girlfriend became my fiancé before . . .” Jonathan seemed pained by the conversation, but he continued, “. . . she admitted she was a different person and begged me to forgive her. I broke our engagement. It felt like I had lost everyone and just didn’t realize it.”
Why didn’t he notice? The question was still stuck to Jonathan, sticky adhesive that he kept trying to scratch off his skin and never could.
“Do you want to talk about your best friend?”
Chester winced and tried to steer the conversation into a more positive direction. “What was your family like? I think you mentioned you had siblings.”
“In my first life, I had two younger sisters.” Jonathan could still remember them clearly as babies, and then toddlers, and then children. He had only seen them as teenagers at the funeral. “My mother and I did not get along, and I left home just after I became seventeen. I talked some to my dad and my sister Artemis, once she was old enough to travel by herself and come visit me quietly. Once my parents passed away, my sisters despised me.”
He had gotten the news while he was streaming, and everyone had seen his reaction.
The video had gone viral.
He had gotten the fame he thought he wanted.
3,000,100 people knew who he was.
It turned out that what he actually wanted was happiness and the cost he accidentally paid for fame was his parents’ deaths and his personal grief.
Some people wanted to support him, and views poured in on the other videos, vlogs, and streams he had up. There were even commissions for his carvings. Others made fun of him breaking down and used his expression as a reaction image.
Fame, and the wealth that came along with it, felt hollow.
“You never got the chance to reconcile with them?” Aderes asked.
“No.” Jonathan had been taken to this new world before he had a chance. He had wanted to let them grieve and move on privately, despite how much attention he had brought to their family. If he went out in public, people came up to him like vultures stalking a dying animal.
“That’s . . .” Aderes wasn’t sure what to say. “That’s sad,” she put simply. “I’m sorry for your loss and all of the bad things that happened to you.”
Chester put a tentative hand on Jonathan’s shoulder, trying to offer some support.
The conversation petered out. This day had tired them out, emotionally and physically. They put their plates in the sink and sat down on the couch.
Before the other two fell asleep, Chester asked a question, “What do you think about going down to the village in the morning?”
They agreed, without any hesitation.
Chester gave a half-smile that fell down. “Good. I think I’m ready to talk to my parents finally.”
Finally, I give you all some answers about Jonathan’s backstory. It’s been a long time coming and I hope you all enjoy having mysteries I set up since the beginning be revealed.
I’m putting up this chapter now because I will be busy next week.
The fan day was a fun time. Come check out the art and the retelling of An Unwilling Prince in Shakespearean prose. https://aupfanevent.carrd.co/#creations2023
New prologue and chapter 1 for An Unwilling Prince here: https://eatapplepies.com/prince-0/ https://eatapplepies.com/prince-1/
New animation here: https://youtu.be/l3VsS8fluoU