The twentieth day, they raced on the way to the next town. Chester won, but Aderes argued about whether it was a fair race. Jonathan ignored them and bought supplies. This town didn’t seem to be doing well financially, which led the three to move on and camp in the forest for the night.
During dinner, they all sat around the fire and talked. They had cleared some of the wild grasses around their campfire to keep it from spreading.
Jonathan had started on three carvings. They were all small mandolins.
“I have to admit that I’m curious. Do you two have knacks?” Chester asked.
“What sort of question is that?” Aderes flipped her hair back and gestured towards her spear, which was stored with the rest of the supplies as usual. “Of course I have one.”
“Awesome,” Chester cheered. His eyes held both praise and further curiosity at what the knack was. He had apparently decided not to pry, as he moved the conversation on. “And you, Jonathan?”
Jonathan pondered for a moment. From what Aderes had said, knacks appeared at random in the populous with no preference on age. He didn’t know if Roscoe had one and would rather not pretend to have one as it would be troublesome to keep up. He was going to say he didn’t have one, but the transmigrator suddenly remembered his time in the Imperial Library. He could interpret symbols and letters he didn’t know. “I’m not sure what it is,” he carefully hedged, “But I think mine has to do with languages.”
“Alright, alright. That’s fine. It takes time to figure out knacks,” Chester assured. “As for me, well.” He threw his hands up with a chuckle. “I don’t have one at all.”
Today, the twenty-sixth day, they kept to a slow pace. They all knew they were almost at the end of their time together.
The sky was overcast, but it wasn’t raining yet. The valley they were in—one of many they crossed—was full of random vegetation. Covering much if it were wild flowers which would have wilted under the noon sun, but stayed vibrant even throughout the afternoon due to the cloud cover.
Chester usually carried his mandolin on his back. With the pace being the slowest it had been for the past few weeks, he could finally play while riding. He pulled out his mandolin.
“Each day we search for treasure,
Having heard tales forlorn
The captain has passed away,
But we have no time to mourn
Our pockets and hearts are heavy,
We know of trouble, yet there’s more,
Without our captain’s steering steady
We know we have much in store
We are headed down the River Ket,
Carrying gold and ivory horn
Our minds are set,
But our hearts are torn”
There was silence from the other two for a bit.
“Sea shanties . . . they seem to fit you. The lyrics are decent,” was all Jonathan offered.
“Thank you. It was written by my older brother, Elysius.” Chester’s smile was half-bitter. “He actually ran away from home before I managed to.”
Aderes abruptly asked, “Will you ever go back?”
“Go back home?” Chester replied. He didn’t seem too bothered by the question.
“Yes,” Aderes clarified.
“I think . . . I might.” Chester frowned for a few seconds before he continued, “I’d like to visit at least.”
“I’m going back home right now,” Aderes explained. “I feel like I need to.”
Their gazes turned to the third member of the group.
Jonathan gripped the reins tight, wishing that he could carve instead of riding. “I won’t. I can’t.” He was actively running away from the home and responsibilities of Prince Roscoe. And . . . he wasn’t sure if what he had with his own family could be called a home to begin with.
The two picked up on his changing mood and moved the conversation along. Aderes wanted to learn the lyrics and Chester was happy to teach her.
They split up near the capital of Lembroke, where the road forked three ways. One was further North to the capital, which was in a valley encircled by mountains. The other two were North-West and due West.
A wild breeze blew past them in the narrow, rocky valley. There were a few trees that had managed to survive, growing crookedly between the stones, and spreading out to catch as much sunlight as possible.
“This looks like where we part ways,” Chester said, reluctant. He found it hard to find good people to travel with. None of the musicians or jesters he had met wanted to.
Aderes bit her lip. She slid off Biscuit and grabbed her bags. Her spear was slung across her back. She would be continuing on foot. Fortunately it was a short distance. “I have something I should tell the two of you.”
The two young men waited.
“I’m Princess Aderes Constantine. I’m going to the capital to claim the throne of Lembroke. You can come with me. Once I become Queen, I will reward you two for your help.” She seemed to have braced herself mentally for whatever response would happen.
“Ah,” the two friends replied.
“Ah? I tell you I’m royalty and you just say ‘ah’,” Aderes said in disbelief.
“It’s really not that surprising,” Jonathan deadpanned. “Your name is the same, you’re going to the capital, and you’re carrying a spear that’s worth about a few hundred gold.”
Aderes threw her hands up, frustrated. “Are you coming with me or not?”
Chester winced. “I wish you luck, but I don’t want to get wrapped up in politics.”
“Same.” Jonathan smiled slightly. He had learned to avoid the trap of fame and fortune meaning happiness in his first world; family and friends were more important. “You’ll do fine, just make sure you’re learning.” After saying that sort of brotherly advice, he regretted it. He hated goodbyes. It made him feel sad and unnecessarily sentimental.
However, at least this time, he was able to say goodbye.
“Thank you.” Aderes pulled out her magic crystal and handed it to Jonathan, as she didn’t have a use for it. In return, she was given a small, wooden mandolin.
“Catch,” was all the warning Jonathan gave.
Chester fumbled the small item, almost dropping it. He examined the small carving; it was a small mandolin with the letter C carved into the back. “Ooo. Did we each get one?”
“Yes,” Jonathan hesitantly admitted. He turned his head to ignore the smiles directed towards him.
Aderes put a hand over her heart and bowed. The manners drilled into her as nobility showed once again. “Thank you two for traveling with me.”
Jonathan nodded his head. He watched Aderes go down the road to the capital. He knew everyone left eventually. It didn’t make it hurt less.
Chester glanced between the two Western roads, then at Jonathan. The bard looked uncertain.
“What?” Jonathan asked.
Chester hesitated and asked, “What road are you taking?”
“West, towards Nu.”
“Would you . . . mind if I tagged along? I’m really just wandering.” Chester’s voice held an underlying timidness that was unusual for him. He enjoyed being able to travel with friends.
Aderes as a princess, the whole time. Not exactly very surprising considering she kept the same name. It’s not so much a big twist, as a show of trust from her.
If you were royalty, would you try to reclaim your birthright or would you abandon it?
As for Strange Trio, I got overly attached to these three while I was writing this novel, as did my editors. They should get more time together eventually, don’t worry.