“Are you ready for this?” Cecil glanced back over his shoulder as the airship descended to the docks in the Baron Square.
“I was born ready,” Edge smirked and pumped his fist.
“I wasn’t asking you,” the Paladin murmured with a droll look.
But there was no more time for conversation. The engines of the ship fell silent, replaced with the deafening shouts of the crowd. So many people had come to welcome them back – peasants, nobles, Red Wings and Dragoons alike. They all watched with mounting excitement as the ramp lowered on the ship.
Am I ready? I don’t know. I didn’t think about this part of it…
Ben watched as his brother returned the cheers and calls with a warm smile. Edge paraded forward with a wide grin and a flourishing victory wave that seemed to work up the crowds all the more. Both of them seemed to know how to manage such a large group of onlookers.
I guess being kings, they have to.
Ben paused for a moment at the top of the wooden ramp, uncertain if he should be joining the two that led the way. Afterall, he wasn’t one of the hero-kings and shouldn’t be presumptuous enough to pretend he was. As he peered down, the Half Lunar’s green eyes gazed over the crowds of people. A sudden bout of trepidation blurred the image into nothing more than blobs of moving colors and sounds. He suddenly found it hard to breathe.
“Master Ben. We have to go down now?” Porom’s voice was hard to pick out above the cheering crowds.
But he could feel the grip on his sleeve. And another. And yet another.
Glancing down, Ben recognized several pairs of eyes peering back at him. Chase and Porom held his arm on one side. And on the other, Joran stood, looking nearly as frightened about facing the multitude of humans as he felt. She wove both of her hands around his lower arm in a grip that searched for support and protection from the unknown, alien world.
The whole situation with Joran had worked out far better than Ben could have imagined. The Master Wizard was really very surprised at Cecil’s reaction to her story. Ben was even more surprised at how willingly the Paladin had believed and trusted the things that he said, even though Cecil had no previous knowledge of the Lunar girl before this time.
They say that Paladin’s can sense evil… I wonder if he just knows by looking at her that she didn’t mean to do the things she did?
Regardless of the reasons, the outcome was a good one. They both had chosen to play it safe in the eyes of others until proper process could find Joran a victim of manipulation and circumstances in the eyes of society. Afterall, a lot of damage had been done. And humans were not the most forgiving of creatures.
Because of that, Cecil had arranged it so that Joran was left under Ben’s constant supervision. If anyone asked, she was still considered to be under watch. But the truth was, the girl was pretty much free to do as she pleased as long as she stayed within Ben’s immediate presence. They had even taken off the mageloks.
Neither of them had any complaints about the setup. Joran was more than willing to stay as near to Ben as she could. It was obvious that she was afraid and uncertain about what was going to happen to her. She was caught up in a place where she was considered a criminal and no one could speak her language, except a select few.
But there’s something more to it…
The feeling that Ben got when she looked at him… he had never quite felt that way before. He didn’t have the words to describe it. It was just so rare to know that someone looked upon him with trust… looked to him for protection and support… something about it left him feeling giddy and light in the chest.
I’ve never been someone’s guardian before.
It was a good feeling. So Ben did everything he could to hide his own fears for her sake. To be strong in the face of what frightened him… so that he could give her something strong to hold on to. Because he knew what it felt like to face so many people that were unlike himself. He felt that way every time he went to the Blue Planet or to the Lunar Homeworld.
“Are you ready?” Ben’s voice was low, echoing the words that his brother had spoken earlier. His large hand enveloped one of Joran’s in a firm but gentle hold.
She nodded silently, eyes focused on the hem of his cloak.
“Just remember,” he continued softly. “They don’t know a thing about you. Cecil said that he would protect your identity to the best of his ability. So don’t be afraid.”
Joran’s focus fell back upon the crowd, a bit clearer and less afraid. His words seemed to have registered and possibly even helped. Still holding his hand, she began to walk with the Half Lunar as they began to make their way down the wooden ramp.
The sound of the crowd did not change as Ben feared it might upon his appearance. People were happy at the arrival of their king. People were celebrating their hard earned victory against the invading army. People were relieved to have their loved ones still at their side, despite the time of hardship that had fallen upon so many of them. All of these things Ben could feel as his mind and vision cleared.
The plight, resilience and determination of the Human race.
Joran seemed to see these things as well, despite the fact that she could not fully understand the language spoken around her. The Lunar girl observed with a detached silence of an outsider… and the acute interest of someone from a distant land.
Most of the Lunars that had survived the breaking of Runne were quite young. Only children. In their world, they could hardly remember what it meant to have a family or ever a warm, supportive community. All of these things Joran watched in the humans as they made their way down the wooden plank.
A shout rang out over the square as the crowd jostled to and fro, pushed from something within the throng. Before Ben could make sense of what was going on, the shout rang out again, more clearly this time.
The girl turned to see her twin brother shove the final few feet out of a nearby group of people. Her face cycled through many hues of color, finally fixing on a slightly embarrassed pink. But the shimmer in her eyes spoke of a pleasure beyond the embarrassment. So did the fact that she was already rushing to her sibling without so much as a moment’s hesitation.
Ben watched with upraised eyebrows as the two of them met in a long, cheerful hug. Something in him couldn’t help but wonder if that’s how brother and sister reunited on the Blue Planet.
Should it be the same for brother and brother..?
The Half Lunar’s green eyes strayed over to glance at his own sibling thoughtfully. But Cecil wasn’t paying attention to him at the moment – he was also watching the twins’ reunion.
Me? With Cecil? Not likely…
Before Ben could work up further thoughts about his brother, he saw the crowd on the other side of the ship begin to part, though in a much more orderly way. It wasn’t hard to tell that people of importance were making their way towards the landing pad. And it wasn’t hard to guess who it was.
“Cecil!” Rosa’s heartfelt call could be heard far above the chatter.
The Paladin turned just as his blonde-haired wife rushed out of the parting crowd. She was waving her laced handkerchief in one hand wildly. The display between the two of them was hardly what could probably be considered proper courtly etiquette. But neither of them seemed to care as they rushed forward and came together in a passionate embrace, right there in the middle of the Square.
Ben felt himself stare a bit as they exchanged a long, affectionate kiss. Joran watched the exchange with a hint of wonderment. And the crowd just cheered all the more.
Edge had also rushed off, caught up in the moment of revelry, making a bee-line towards a small, green-haired woman who had arrived with Rosa. Though his memories were hazy, Ben thought he could recognize her, and knew from the way the Ninja acted that this had to be Rydia.
The girl-Caller from the Underworld.
Rydia met the Eblanian King with a scowl and flick of her hands. The furrowed brow warned him not to even try hugging her. No — not to even THINK about it. But there was some amusement in their give and take, something that spoke of friendship. Maybe even something more.
Everyone has returned to their loved-ones again. Maybe all will be well, after all.
Ben sighed softly, watching the scene of welcomes and reunions unfold before him. And without him. For all that he had wanted to believe Baron was a place for him to protect and return to… at this moment, he could only watch from the sidelines, very much alone.
He heard an echo of his own sigh and glanced down over his shoulder. Joran was standing somewhat behind him, near enough to have the protection of his presence. Far enough to not “get in his way” as she seemed so worried that she might do.
Joran, too, stood on the outside of it all. Even more isolated by the walls of language barrier. And unlike him, she had no real hope to be included in any welcome there on the Blue Planet.
She’s been away from home for a long time. I wonder if she misses it? I bet she wants to go back… I know if I were her, I would want to.
Once again pushing down his own thoughts, Ben turned to the girl and gave his best, most sincere-type smile. When he spoke, it was in the Lunar language. Not knowing where to begin, he told her of things she probably already knew, “This is the kingdom of Baron. It’s the home of my brother, Cecil. He’s the King here.”
At first, Joran seemed startled to hear words in her native tongue. And even more startled that someone had considered her in the middle of it all. The girl seemed to fish to find a proper response. The one she came up with was just as proper as any, in his mind.
“A human city?” she asked.
“That’s right,” he nodded.
“How does a Half Lunar end up the ruler of a human city?” Joran pondered. Then her chin jerked up as if she realized she might have said something that could have offended. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that at all!”
“I’m not really sure,” Ben waved away her concern with an answer. “I think the people chose him to be king. He was a hero from the Crystal War, afterall.”
“Chose?” the girl asked with no little surprise. After what Ben had read about the government of the Runnian people, he could understand why.
“There is no such thing as the Manor here,” the Half Lunar informed her. “Not that there can’t be. But so far as I’ve seen, there isn’t. The rulers are just and they really do fight and care for their people.”
“I see…” Joran nodded, sucking on her bottom lip. “Then that is the reason why KluYa wanted so much to come to live here. The Blue Planet must be a wonderful place to live.”
It was his turn to be surprised, caught off guard by the mention of his father. “Maybe so.”
After a long moment of awkward silence, Joran finally spoke again. “Do you have a place to stay here now? On the Blue Planet, I mean?”
“I have a guest room in the castle. It’s not really my own or anything,” Ben answered.
“Are you… planning on coming back here?” she asked, her words quavering a little.
“Coming back here?” he echoed, wondering why there was such a sudden shift in the sound of her voice.
The Half Lunar paused. It took him a moment to realize that it was actually a more valid question than he could have ever thought. But he shook his head as he picked his words carefully, “I don’t know. I really haven’t thought about it. I don’t know how much my brother wants me around, to tell the truth.”
“Oh,” was her simple answer. It was hard to tell what she was thinking at this point.
So he changed the subject, hoping to lighten up the mood, “Would you like for me to show you around Baron?”
As Joran’s head lifted in response to his suggestion, he could see something of the girl he used to know there. That hint of innocent curiosity. A wonderment for the world around her. Desire to learn and to know and to understand. All of the things that Ben now realized were traits that he really respected in someone else.
“Yes… I’d like that a lot?” she told him. Then with a hint of a smile, she linked her arm around the bend of his elbow. Her eyes shown up at him with a warm light. “Where should we start?”
Ben felt a strange heat creep across his cheeks as he stared down at her boldness. It was really going to be hard to go anywhere until he could figure out how to wipe the flush off his face…