After Ford finishes reading the letter, he rings a bell, calling his secretary. The secretary peeks into the room with their head.
“The mayor wishes?”
“Liz, I’ll be out for the next hour. Please make sure nobody enters my office!”
The mayor walks over a bookshelf and fiddles around with the books. I can hear a click and the mayor opens the shelf like a door, revealing a secret passage.
“Please follow me,” the mayor says and walks into the corridor.
Rowan and I follow the mayor. He leads us through the maze. I can’t remember which turns we took. We pass by several doors and corridors. After several minutes, we arrive in a wide room. It doesn’t have any windows, so it must be a hidden room, but yet its walls lined with heavy looking fabric. There’s a round table in the room with several chairs surrounding the table.
“Please wait here,” the mayor leaves the room and closes the door behind him.
“Mittens, did you map the path?” I ask.
“Yes, should the need arise, I should be possible to lead you back to the mayor’s office. I even took the liberty to use ultrasound to scan the area.”
The map appears in my mind. It’s an extensive map. From what I can gather, it seems we are in the castle. That must mean, the mayor is getting some high official. Just as expected, Granny must have mentioned my shuttle in the letter. I hope it doesn’t stir up too much attention… Rowan and I sit down and wait.
Some moments later, the door opens. Rowan and I stand up to greet them. But it’s just two maids bringing us tea and some cookies. They greet us before putting everything on the table, but they don’t seem to be in the mood for talking. Just quickly as they arrived, they left, leaving Rowan and me alone in the room again. It’s quite a lot for just the two of us, so I guess someone will be joining us soon.
Several minutes later, the door opens again. We stand up again to the arriving people: it’s several people, among them four Leoninthropes. The others stand by the door. I think those are guards. Does this mean those are… No, that’s impossible!
I take a closer look at the four people that walk to the table. It’s a middle-aged man and woman along with a young man and a girl about our age. I think she’s slightly older than us. The four of them wear fine looking clothes, they seem to be of similar cloth quality to mine. It’s just they are cut differently and a lot of ornaments added to them. Looking closer at the young man, he looks like an older version of Rowan, just with a lion mane. Are they somehow related to Rowan?
“So you’re the youngsters from Dewick,” the man greets us, “I’m Cian Tatilans, king of Tatilans.”
“I’m Queen Grace Tatilans,” the woman adds.
“I’m Rory Tatilans, the first prince,” the young man continues the introduction.
“And I’m Finn Tatilans, the first princess,” the girl finishes the introduction.
So it’s the royal family! I didn’t expect this…
“I’m Rowan from Dewick Village,” Rowan introduces us to the family, “and this is my fiancé Aster Cayden. Erm… it’s a pleasure to meet your highnesses.”
“Don’t worry about formalities, we’re in a hidden room,” the king answers. He glances at his wife as if he was expecting her to say something.
“Anyway,” he continues as she doesn’t say anything, “Fezzoxa’s letter said that Aster here calls a flying home his own.”
“Yes, I do,” I answer, “we travelled here from Dewick in it. But as it attracts too much attention, we parked it in a forest nearby.”
“Aren’t you worried someone might find it and take it for themselves?”
“No, it wouldn’t let anyone else in without my consent.”
While we’re talking, the princess is looking at me with bright eyes until the queens whispers something into her ear. Whatever she said, the princess eyes changed to a slightly teary one. I’m somewhat glad she stopped looking at me with those bright eyes, but those teary ones make me feel slightly uncomfortable.
“From the knowledge passed down only in the royal family, you seem to match the requirements of calling a flying home your own. But what I want to know is what are your plans for the immediate and farther future.”
“Getting back to where I was born is a futile prospect, so I decided to settle down in Dewick in the long run. Right now, I’m preparing to join my lovely fiancé in his pilgrimage.”
“And what about you, Rowan?” Queen Grace asks.
“Right now, I’m just preparing for the pilgrimage. But after that, I want to start my business as a merchant.”
“I see,” she answers, “my dear husband, would you send for Cyril?”
“Of course,” King Cian rings a bell and sends for Cyril to be brought here.
What or who is Cyril? While I would like to ask, it feels futile, since we’re going to see it anyway.
“Mother…” the prince Rory addresses the queen.
“I know,” she answers, “but I just want to be sure.”
I wonder what they are talking about. So far, they’ve only asked us about our plans. Nothing about Rowan and why he looks like Prince Rory.
A few minutes later, the door opens and a long, slim-bodied creature with cream-coloured fur and dark brown rings along the length of its body jumps towards Rowan and circles around him. The person who carried in the creature bows and quickly leaves the room again.
“Woah, it’s a Woosel!” Rowan exclaims, “there are as lovely as I was told!”
It seems to have take a liking to him and snuggles him. I have a look at the creature, it somewhat resembles a ferret. But unlike other mustelids, it has even more stubby limbs.
“That Woosel is called Cyril,” Prince Rory explains, “there’s something special about that Woosel we need to tell you about.”
“What is it, Prince Rory?” Rowan asks.
“Just Rory is fine. It’s from a breed of Woosels that only bond to members of the royal family and those closely connected to them.”
So after all, Rowan is…
“Why does it like me so much then?”
“Easy, from what we can see, you seem to be my bastard half-brother.”
“Your bastard half-brother? But…”
“We knew the moment we saw you,” King Cian answers, “the fact Cyril likes you so much is just proof of that.”
“Wouldn’t it be better if you didn’t tell me?” Rowan asks, “I mean, I don’t have any legitimate claims to calling myself your family…”
“It’s complicated,” Queen Grace answers instead, “you told us you wanted to become a merchant. Naturally, that means you will be travelling and have dealings with many people. With you looking so much like Rory, that will naturally create problems if we didn’t address them beforehand.”
“No, we are not prohibiting you from becoming a merchant,” Rory adds, “there’s no need to cry.”
“I’m not crying,” Rowan answers.
“You were about to,” King Cian says, “we just want to give you the skills to solve any problems some nobles might throw at you. While you have your fiancé whom I will recognize as an honorary noble, but you still need to be able to stand on your own regardless of that.”
“Besides, Finn and I always wanted a younger sibling,” Prince Rory adds.
So for the royal family, it’s solving a lot of problems with just that. It’s quite a coincidence Rowan happens to be the bastard of the royal family. I’m not thrilled about them being so pushy about securing a connection to me, but since this seems it will help Rowan, I’ll just let this pass. In return, I’ll just try to secure a more favourable deal for me. I pat Rowan on the shoulder and smile while nodding.
“I see… In that case, I’m happy you’ll have me, fa… father, mother, brother, sister.”
The four of them smile upon hearing Rowan calling them family.
“So that means I even have more in-laws now!” I add, “please take care of me, father, mother, brother, sister.”
“It’s so refreshing to hear!” Finn says, “too bad, we can only hear the two of you say that when we’re among us.”
“When are you travelling back to Dewick?” Queen Grace asks.
“In 3 days,” I answer, “we’ll meet with two others from our village.”
“I see, if it’s only that long… We can pass it off as us personally teaching the Aster and his spouse etiquette and table manners.”
“So in public, we’re building relations because of my flying home?” I say it in tone to convey them the fact I don’t like people getting closer just because I happen to have my shuttle. I wonder what they could gain from anyway.
“Well, I would be lying if this wasn’t one of our ulterior motives, but to most people around here just the fact of you having that flying home is reason to stay in your graces. It wouldn’t be an understatement to say your words carry quite some weight. People think your words are the words of the flying home that command.”
“Then what if the home had their own voice?”
“There’s no precedent for that. Why do you ask?”
“Mittens, that is Aster’s flying home, has its own voice,” Rowan answers instead of me.
“I see, in that case, I believe if we made it known, it should lessen the impact your words have. But you’re still seen as protected by the flying home. So people might still try to get into your graces. In the past, there have been cases of people meeting misfortune after angering owners of flying homes. And there’s the other thing: your predecessors were known to improve living conditions with their knowledge, some people might try to capitalize on that knowledge.”
“I just don’t want extra attention. All that extra attention makes me feel like I don’t belong here in this country.”
“In that case, I shall announce you want to be left alone when I give you your title. With that, the reasonable ones will keep their distance. For the unreasonable ones, I will have to think of another solution.”