Earlier that day, Theo heard his challenger was still fast asleep, so the king postponed the battle later in the afternoon.
The king also preferred to have Theo sit beside him to listen to Sir Riquier Vaesey's report inside his study.
Sir Riquier initiated to leave some spies in the villages near Wrilon to uncover the truth of how the Naymagi entered. He got some leads but did not explain the details. His full report was written in a scroll protected by spells of which only the king could unseal.
After the report, Theodrech couldn't restrain himself from asking.
"Sir Riquier, how was that boy Freidrech when he was with you? Does he have any combat skills?" Theo asked with excitement on his face.
"Well...," Riquier seriously looked outside the side window, revisiting his time with the boy. He recalled Freidrech's outburst of anger for not letting him bury the dead villagers, mainly his family. On how he adapted with their harsh journey, sleeping together in fatal marshlands and rough desert sands without complaints, and fought the bandits using his brain more than his physical strength.
Then he lowered his head and smirked when the boy's endless curiosity came back to mind.
Riquier's changing facial expression heightened the king and Theo's expectations to hear a long and precise answer, or maybe to learn about the smart boy's clever deeds on their journey but . . .
"That boy is smart, cautious, observant, and very curious, your highness. But his combat skills is a crude one and his physique is weak," said Sir Riquier with a deadpanned face.
King Thierri propped his chin on his palm, clearly disappointed, while Prince Theodrech just sat there in silent contemplation.
Sir Riquier felt uncomfortable watching their expression, kind of unaware of his mistake. He gave them an awkward grin and asked, "Did I say anything wrong, your majesty, your highness?"
The king couldn't hold his temper anymore. "Is that all you can say about Louvel's boy after letting us wait for a spell?" said the king, his tone getting louder in every word.
"It's fine, grandpa," Theo interrupted.
King Thierri was astounded when he heard the grandson's calmness. His anger receded that instant and turned to happiness. This was the second time the prince showed his maturing temperament. The first was yesterday when he met Freidrech.
The truth, Theo had learned to control his temper for a year now, but those who saw him as a threat for the race to the throne used his past impulsiveness against him and called his calmness a disguise to gain followers.
Theo smiled, thankful the king saw his change. "Tell me more about him?" said Theo to the knight.
Sir Riquier was glad to be given another chance, so with eagerness, he told him about the Freidrech he saw throughout their journey. He talked for almost the whole morning until the king dismissed him.
Theo expected to hear good comments about Freidrech but it never occurred to him to hear high praises from this quiet knight who became talkative at this moment.
King Thierri was also entertained with the knight's longer evaluation of Freidrech. More likely, he anticipated this since he was the son of his late favored knight.
After Theo left, the king went to a pavilion facing West where Wrilon village was located. He stood there for hours as tears fell from his eyes in quiet solitude. His right hand clenching the unsealed report.
---- o ----
As noon came, to Freidrech's astonishment, Theodrech arrived and expressed he would personally escort him to the royal academy.
The prince was also surprised to see Freidrech, who had freshened up and dressed in clothes Theo chose. He never thought this village boy was good-looking with his tanned skin. Not more handsome than him, of course, but not average in the least.
His very long sleeved, animal skin jacket, the partly revealed white shirt with tie worn below, and the big belt buckle holding his simple black narrow pants which reached down to his bound leather boots, complemented him in every way.
Theo bet, from now on, the girls in the academy would include Freidrech in their list of boys to moon over.
While in Freidrech's point of view, today, the prince wore an outfit to match his in a different color, not slighting him in any way and it pleased him.
The two didn't notice caretaker Pheya watching them from a distance. In his eyes, they were like brothers standing together.
However, Theo's friendliness today was obviously off the charts. Freidrech was uneasy. He had no plans on getting close to this prince. The challenge was only to prove that he was not a pushover and an alibi to protect his life. At the same time, to find a way to get a recommendation to study under the academy's headmaster. Thanks to his father overpraising the headmaster.
Somehow, Theo's change of attitude let Freidrech bring his guard down to some degree. It even crossed his mind to ask the prince about the flower garden but held it for now.
T'was, not the right time and place, he concluded. For everything could have just been a childish dream for a child like him. Anyway, he was still twelve years old and newly lost his loved ones. But at least, he knew his mourning last night was real.
He hoped tonight the garden would reappear because those flowers gave him the comfort that his parents were near him.
Then he saw Theodrech walked near the greenwood chairs.
'Ahh, I forgot to test it yesterday. Never mind I have more time to practice later."
At this time, the prince observed Freidrech's changing mood. From a shocked face as if remembering something, back to pondering, and ended to a blank stare. He was curious about what this guy was thinking. Anyway, they better get going now, he thought, and coughed intentionally, alerting Freidrech back to the present.
"Before we go, I want you to know that I'm really sorry for the death of your family and villagers. Yesterday, was just a te…," Theo closed his mouth, feigning disturbed and sighed, "kind of ticked off by your challenge."
He hurriedly looked sideways and coughed again to hide his discomfort, feeling blockheaded. He almost admitted he was testing Freidrech.
Then when Theo moved his attention back at Freidrech, he saw the latter half-shrugged and smirked.
Unluckily, Theo misunderstood the gesture. He screamed inside, 'Ahh, screw it. Please don't read my heartbeat or I'll rather be called a royal fool.' Yet, Theo painstakingly kept his amiable smile, hurting his jaw a bit.
On the other hand, Freidrech was oblivious about Theo's troubles. He only smirked when he heard the prince was ticked off by his challenge. If he knew, he could have saved Theo from his discomfort.
Theo did not linger and led his guest outside the villa where two speckled horses with broad feet were roped. He jumped on his horse's back. "Just call me Theo. How about you? Can I call you Freid or any nickname your friends call you?"
Freidrech was about to mount the other horse, but the prince's request glued his feet on the ground.
Theo noticed Freidrech made a nervous smile and scratched his head.
"What? Is anything wrong?"
Distressed Freidrech shook his head and waved his hands at Theo. "Ah, no no no, there's nothing wrong, Your Highness. You can call me Freid or Drech, as you wish, but I'm not sure if it's fine for me to call you casually," he said as he looked away and scratched his head again. "You know, it's not the norm."
Theo's shoulders sagged. So much for friendship building plans. First attempt, perfect failure.
To think his grandfather and Freidrech's father were very close in the past. Yet, he couldn't get the son let his guard down on him.
Well, he could not deny he was at fault yesterday for acting high and mighty to test Freidrech. He even called Freidrech his footstool. Ah, he made a good mental slap on his face. It was all of his undoings.
Also, he was enlightened to the truth why the commoners avoided him every time he offered his hand in friendship, because "It's not the norm," Theo blurted out, his eyes staring into a distance.
This also made him understand a bit belying his show of leadership and amiability. He thought this was the best way to attract good followers both from the nobles and commoners, but it's possible they merely acted out of civility to a prince.
He took in a sharp breath. Theo thought he was now on par to face his uncles and brothers in the race to the throne but he was utterly mistaken. His tutor was right. "You are still young and simply starting your journey in the traitorous wilderness called politics."
And he deciphered all of these thanks to Freidrech's honesty. He looked over at his companion with respect and said, "Thanks for your honesty and concern, friend, but who cares?" He chuckled and opened his arms wide. "Let the ridicule come. That won't stop us from becoming friends, right? If they scold you, just tell them I'm waiting to hear them out. That would shut them for good."
Freidrech was moved with Theo's open-mindedness and sincerity. A glimpse of a change of heart began in him toward the prince. Even so, he was unsure how to respond but at most gave a simple nod and a shy smile as he mounted his horse.
On the contrary, Theo was not satisfied with Freidrech's response.
Then he recalled the heartbeat reading again. He decided to settle this once and for all and if possible stopped Freidrech from using this ability during their battle.
"Freidrech, I want to ask you something and I hope you will be honest with me."
"Ask away, Your Highness."
"Can you actually hear my heartbeat and can tell what I'm feeling now?"
Freidrech's horse moved. He held the reins, stopping the horse as he pondered hard what the prince meant.
"Ah!" Then his eyes brightened. It became apparent to him what the prince was talking about. "Your Highness, have you heard about my father's ability?"
"Be assured, prince. I don't have that gift. Make your heart pump wild as you wish and I'm still in the blind unless you turn pale or collapse."
Theo realized his foolish assumptions. He couldn't help but laughed his heart out with an upturned head. "Oh my goodness, I'm so stupid. Troubling myself for nothing."
"I think it's perfectly fine for a prince to be stupid sometimes. That means you're normal like everyone else," said Freidrech, warming up at the prince who acted out of character.
"Haha, hearing you say that without the tail 'your highness' feels reassuring."
The chat made the two lighthearted.
It's not that bad to befriend this prince, Freidrech thought.
In Theo's perspective, for the first time, he felt he could be himself with someone his age.
His childish playful spirit emerged. He raised his hand and used his ability to command the wind to carry the dried leaves on the ground to fly around Freidrech before sending them to a garbage dump.
"Show-off," said Freidrech as he brushed away his shoulder-length black hair covering his face.
Theo chuckled as he set the horse running with a slight kick at the horse's belly.
"Then show me your abilities too," teased Theo.
Freidrech started the horse as well. "Just you wait and I'll show you how smart I am."
"I'm looking forward to it. But keep in mind, after the battle, I insist that you'll call me Theo. You got that?" said the prince, giving the other a heartwarming smile.
"Okay, prince," said Freidrech. His eyes reflecting the excitement racing through him. He let his horse dashed beside Theo's.
"Come, let me show you our beloved Griftein Veimu City first before heading to the academy," said Theo.
At this moment, both were now in sync and friendship of a lifetime began.
If you like the story, please leave a review. I would be glad to hear from you as well. It will be an encouragement for me while writing this story. Expect more from our duo drechs.
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