The river pirates set sail and Celtie’s capital disappeared into the distance.
Jonathan wished the emotions he had gotten during that brief stop would go away with it. Self-loathing choked his throat in a way that hadn’t happened when he had met Emlyn and Millan again.
“You’re usually a bit grumpy, but this is far more than usual,” Chester pointed out. “It’s been several hours. I won’t leave you behind next time when we’re shopping if you really hate it that much.”
“It wasn’t you.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“Alright, alright.” Chester held his hands up. “That’s fine. I won’t pry further.”
“Good.” Jonathan didn’t want to think about why he was unhappy.
Chester stayed nearby, unusually silent for once. He leaned against the railing.
Jonathan didn’t like the silence, but found himself unable to speak. The silence forced him to think. Despite this, he didn’t want to confront becoming what he hated and understanding those who had been forced into the same sort of situation. How many transmigrators were like him, and had not chosen to end up as someone else in another world? How many had taken over the lives of strangers and fearfully pretended to be those strangers?
He was in the same boat. He had done some of the same exact things.
Did he need to let go of his hatred?
He might need to, before he just ended up hating himself more.
Jonathan was startled out of his thoughts by a hand on his shoulder.
“It’s time for dinner,” Chester told him. He didn’t voice his worries that Jonathan had been staring into the river for over an hour. The bard had already said enough tonight.
A few days later, Jonathan, Chester, and the mercenary band disembarked the ship. They all set down the road. They were now in the country of Malamut, and out of the Hrea Empire.
Biscuit, Magnus, and the other horses were happy to stretch their legs on a long ride. Once they set up camp, some people watched and laughed at the horses frolicking around in the field.
Jonathan, after properly bribing Hans to give him more food, settled down at one of the fires and watched Oceton attempt flying; either the bird’s flight feathers had still not fully grown in or he was too scared to really try. He had managed to succeed in short flights, but anything longer and towards the sky had failed.
The mercenaries had taken to trading the bits of gossip they heard while in Celtie’s capital. Each of them tried to outdo each other.
One of them started it by saying that the Second Princess Adoncia, the daughter of Consort Cressida—Governor of Reagle—was looking for a husband. However, she was unable to find any royalty willing to take her because of her older sister, Queen Deimena of Alita.
Buffo, as well as other mercenaries, laughed and called the speaker out for repeating old news.
Another piped up and said that Duke’s daughter, Clementine, had been engaged to Prince Emlyn after the death of Prince Roscoe.
Jonathan didn’t comment on it. He was rather glad he had managed to warn Emlyn and Millan about her before.
Hans sat down and casually added, “After the death of her parents, Aderes Constantine has regained the throne of Lembroke. She’s only nineteen and her relatives seemed a bit too interested in the position.”
This information broke into a rousing debate about how the new Queen of the subjugated country would fare. Her relatives were her worst threat, as Hans had pointed out. If she caused trouble with Nu or the Imperial family, her position was also rather precarious.
“What happened to her parents?” Jonathan asked. “We were in Maskiff for a while and missed a lot of news.”
“They were killed by someone,” Han stated. “ No one is sure if Nu tried to stop the war, or if the Imperial Crown Prince killed them for disobedience.” He was sorting through the fresh herbs he had picked and no one offered any counters to what he said.
“Interesting,” Jonathan replied blandly. He had no idea how to take that information.
Chester didn’t flinch or tense. The bard’s smile was just far more hollow. “Alright, alright. Time for my question. Why are all of you so scared of The Blade?”
Buffo laughed heartily. “If you’ve ever seen a boar kill three men, you learn to respect the boar.”
“Fair enough,” Chester replied.
Jonathan got up and went to watch the mercenaries who were sparring. Some used their real weapons, others used dull blades or heavy sticks.
Rando called over, “Do you know how to use a sword?”
“I’ve used something like a rapier, but I’ve never been in an actual sword fight.” Jonathan had done quite a bit of fencing, even winning several tournaments. Fencing was how he had met his childhood best friend and it was the only thing about him his mother approved of. He had continued after he left home as he rather enjoyed fencing and made some money off tournaments. However, that experience wouldn’t help him too much for actual sword fighting unless he practiced it.
“Well, we can go over the basics and see where you are.” Rando picked up two longswords, heavily dulled from use, and passed one over.
Jonathan wasn’t suspicious at Rando being helpful. He had gotten a bit closer to the cold mercenary over the past few weeks stuck together on a boat. The transmigrator also acknowledged he could use the help. “I’d appreciate that.”
Rando had Jonathan run through basic attacking and defending postures. He had his arms
“I can tell you have some experience. Because of your habits, you should probably go for a broadsword.”
“Why a broadsword?”
“The way you’re holding the handle . . . you’re not comfortable with it, right?” Rando waited for confirmation and continued, “I assume that you’re used to something with a basket hilt. If you get a sword, instead of just carrying around that dagger, a broadsword will suit you best.”
Jonathan nodded. “Thank you.”
Rando smiled, which was not a good sign. “Why don’t we have a quick spar?”
“Sure.” Jonathan accepted his fate. It would not be a fair fight, but he could pull some tricks and make sure he wasn’t the only one walking away with bruises.
Twenty or so minutes later, Jonathan was proved right. Rando was far too good at using a longsword for him to have a fair chance. Jonathan’s arms were sore; a familiar feeling he didn’t hate. What he didn’t like was the bruises on his side he could already feel.
“Stopping already?” Rando asked. He wasn’t breathing hard, but he had a nice black eye forming already.
Sparring for mercenaries was more of an ‘anything goes’ type of fight and Jonathan had indeed taken advantage of that.
Jonathan stared at the mercenary, with a flat expression, and handed over the longsword. “I’m fine.” The lesson had been useful. He would at least have an idea how to use a real sword when he bought one.
Rando nodded. He hesitated and said, “You held up surprisingly well.”
“Thanks.” Jonathan snorted. He was going to go lie down and regret all of his life choices that had led to him being beaten up in another world by a mercenary.