Connecting the palaces, Imperial Library, and a few other important government buildings were flat, stone paved roads. There were not shops or markets or houses in between these roads, but large sprawling gardens tended to by several teams of beleaguered caretakers.
Jonathan wandered into one of the gardens, checking over his shoulder to ensure the butler wasn’t following him. He didn’t go far, as he was afraid of losing all sense of direction amidst the stylized trees, shrubs, and flowers.
He leaned over a pond, careful not to step on the muddy section of the bank, and started picking up rocks. The shale was too flimsy, the granite was the wrong shape, and the quartz was the wrong size. While he was thinking, he accidentally plunged his hand into the soft mud of the pond. The transmigrator immediately pulled his hand out and wiped his fingers off on the grass with a disgusted look on his face.
He regretted looking for a stone. His hand now smelled like rotting plants.
The transmigrator buckled down and put his hand back in, finally pulling out some sort of volcanic rock with a sharp edge. The size was small enough to fit in his palm.
He walked around for a bit, searching for a branch of some type of softwood. After finding one he crouched near the pond and used the edge of the volcanic rock to scrape away from the bark. Because of his tool, he caused several dents while he skinned the branch.
Something rustled in the bushes behind him. Jonathan turned his head; however he was too late to keep the thing from jumping on top of his back. He fell forward and his chin landed in the mud. Fortunately he had kept his mouth closed and didn’t swallow anything. This also meant it was easier to keep himself from cursing when he heard laughter from the child who had tackled him. He was not amused.
“Roscoe! Roscoe! I finally got you.”
Jonathan rolled his eyes. He reached around and pulled the kid off him, then stood up and started to clean his face off with the pond water. He ignored the protests from the kid, who had landed feet first into the mud.
The man sighed. He pushed the guilt and nostalgia inside of him even further down and ruffled the kid’s red hair, albeit with his still sort of muddy hand.
The kid shrieked slightly and leaned away, but he was grinning playfully. This was Liam, the one who had been sitting across from Jonathan at breakfast. “What are you doing?”
“Knife?” Jonathan asked and held out his hand. He wanted to borrow it, but he wasn’t just going to take it from the kid.
“Oh, I have a knife,” Liam said. He proudly pulled a small dagger from its sheath at his side.
Jonathan smiled slightly in thanks when the knife was hesitantly put in his hand. He figured that the kid had some emotional attachment to it.
Liam sat down next to Jonathan, on the mud free side. However, his shoes—which at breakfast had been immaculate—had already been covered in mud before he surprised Jonathan. He had likely been running around the gardens for a while. “What are you doing?” His eyes were filled with curiosity.
Jonathan smirked slightly as he rechecked the grain. He started to shape the branch with long scooping motions. The transmigrator didn’t need to mark out what he was making because the stick was rather straight and he had made so many of these before.
Liam didn’t seem dissuaded by the lack of response. “What are you doing? Aren’t you afraid of cutting yourself?”
Jonathan was doing it because whittling was calming, fun, and challenging. It helped him deal with stress and get his mind off things. The young man shrugged.
Liam frowned. He continued to ask questions and leaned in to watch more closely. The kid also had the habit of poking Jonathan in the side when he demanded to know something.
Jonathan wasn’t distracted by the questions or the jabs. He was used to it, both because of his job and his younger siblings. Slowly he relaxed and started responding with either a yes or no, or a roll of his eyes. He really wanted to start rambling to himself as he whittled, but he chewed on the inside of his mouth to remind himself he couldn’t right now. The more he talked the more likely it was that the kid would realize he wasn’t Roscoe.
“It’s a sword!” Liam exclaimed once he recognized what the other prince was carving. He leaned in even closer.
The transmigrator bit his tongue to keep himself from laughing and went back to his current task. He had successfully finished the general shape of a longsword. The wood was acceptably soft for whittling and the grain wasn’t complicated. He now started to smooth out the sword and make it look more cohesive. Jonathan carefully traced and whittled out a groove into the middle of the wooden blade. He wasn’t quite satisfied with just that, so he added a bit of detail to the cross guard, grip, and pommel. His spectator had fallen silent, too absorbed in watching the transmigrator create the miniature sword.
Jonathan held it up and blew off one stubborn shaving so he could critique it. It was not his best work by far. He was dealing with both a burden of time and lack of proper tools. A dagger was leagues better than a sharp rock, but a dagger could not compare to his toolbox. However, he found satisfaction in making something with his own hands. There was familiarity in the common action, something old in such a new, unknown world.
The transmigrator stood up and brushed away the remains of the small pile of curled wood shavings that had accumulated in his lap. He started walking away, paused, and then continued once he heard footsteps behind him.
Jonathan was glad he remembered the way back to the main path that led to the palace from the library. He huffed in relief before holding out the small sword in his hand towards the boy.
Liam bounced on his heels for a few seconds, overcome by joy. “Wait, really? I can have it?” He asked, then snatched his prize before Jonathan could respond in any way. He cast a glance at the sun to judge the time, crushed Jonathan in a quick bear hug, and booked it down the tiled path away from the main palace.
Jonathan blinked in confusion. Well, at least the kid had liked his carving.
Liam is an excitable ball of energy. Have you guys ever met children like him?