The next day, Lynne was awakened by a chipper-sounding voice, breaking through his blurry dream.
“Morning, Princess! It’s a fine day!”
Before Lynne had a chance gather his wits and reprimand Adan for calling him ‘Princess’, bright light flooded the room as the youth pulled back the heavy curtains blocking the windows. The sudden light caused Lynne to moan as he protected his eyes by disappearing beneath his covers.
“Oh no, you don’t,” Adan countered with a laugh, and seconds later, Lynne found himself lying exposed on his bed with only his sleeping gown to cover his shame.
“Hey!” Lynne growled and made an attempt to grab back his stolen duvet, but to no avail.
“Sorry, Princess, but it’s time to get up. We have a whole castle to explore!” Adan’s voice sounded annoyingly excited, and once Lynne’s eyes had finally adjusted to the light, Adan’s beaming smile confirmed his suspicion.
“You are a one of those morning persons, aren’t you?”
Adan laughed and started walking over to the door. “Something like that.”
Without warning, Adan opened the door, only to reveal a serving maid standing on the other side, her hand raised and ready to knock. “Breakfast?” he asked and, without waiting for a response, pulled in the trolley that the girl had brought. “Thanks.”
With that, the door was closed again and Adan gingerly pushed the trolley of food to the gold-lacquered table at the other end of Lynne’s room. “Oh, omelettes!” he exclaimed happily as he started to lay out the food on the table.
“What are you doing?” Lynne found himself asking as he stared at the phenomenon that was Adan.
“Preparing to eat my breakfast?” Adan asked back with a look that seemed to wonder if Lynne was an idiot.
For a moment, Lynne felt as though there was something more important that he was referring to, but the more he thought about it, the less important it seemed. With a shrug, Lynne also headed over to the table and snatched the freshly baked bun Adan was about to take a bite out of.
“You mean my breakfast.” He popped the bun in his mouth, savoring the still warm bread and missing the brief look of sadness in Adan’s eyes.
The following days were fairly uneventful at the palace. Before Lynne’s father arrived with more maids, Adan was his only fixed company. Apart from having dinner with the king and a few others once in a while, most of their time was spent familiarizing themselves with their new surroundings. The King had thought it was a reasonable enough request for the future queen to want to know more about what would become her home, and gave them fairly free reins to walk about as they wished.
Lynne couldn’t help but notice that Adan seemed particularly interested in the king’s library, always wishing to return and move back and forth between the book-filled shelves, touching the books as he passed. There would always be a slightly more concentrated look on his face when he did it, as if he were trying to figure something out. It wasn’t until the third time they visited the library, still without Adan actually opening a single book, that a curious notion occurred to Lynne.
“Adan,” he asked as the young man ran his hand along yet another bookshelf. “Don’t tell me you can’t read?”
Adan froze, and the dazed look on his face was enough to make Lynne unable to hold back a laugh. Adan scratched his head, looking a bit embarrassed.
“Come on, bumpkin, I’ll teach you.” Lynne didn’t hesitate. He scavenged through the bookshelves until he found some relatively simple books and a large roll of blank paper. Lynne then pulled the slightly resistant Adan back to his suite and locked the door behind them.
Lynne felt very excited; he had finally found something he could use to at least partially return Adan’s favor of saving him before and helping him escape his fate in the future.
“No need to be embarrassed,” Lynne urged as he rolled out some blank paper and started scribbling down the alphabet. “I bet you didn’t need to read or write were you lived before, but it’s never to late to learn. Come, come, I’ll explain the letters for you.”
Adan smiled stiffly, unsure if she should laugh or cry. She was certainly embarrassed. For Adan, she only needed to flip through a few dictionaries and her A.I. would be able to piece together almost any written language and teach it to her. Unfortunately, Adan had been too preoccupied by trying to figure out how to get into the mystery space that her BioArmor sentinels couldn’t enter and had missed the moment to explain. She had already figured out that it had something to do with the library, because her sentinels would always lose and regain the King when he seemingly walked through the wall and disappeared into that unknown space, but neither Adan nor her A.I. could figure out how he did it.
In the library, Adan had been too focused on figuring it out and totally didn’t consider how her behavior would seem from Lynne’s perspective. Who wouldn’t guess that she was illiterate after returning to the library so many times without ever reading anything? Now she would have to “slowly” learn the written language together with Lynne or risk raising his suspicion yet again.
“Why didn’t you help me come up with an excuse?” Adan accused her A.I..
“Sai has logged a recent uptake in instances where you ignore Sai’s advice regarding interactions with the native Lynne.” The A.I.’s voice sounded almost smug. “Sai deemed it unnecessary to attempt advising you again.”
“Yeah, yeah. . . .”
Adan mentally rolled her eyes. At the same time, she couldn’t help but smile a little when she saw the eagerness in Lynne’s eyes as he explained how letters sounded differently depending on how they were arranged. She picked up the pen Lynne had offered her and started to make shaky copies of Lynne’s elegant writing.
“I guess there are worse things I could be doing.”
Like this, the first week passed quickly. While Adan had not yet managed to figure out what was inside the impenetrable box, nor indeed how people managed to enter into it, Adan had gained a lot of insight into what was going on at the palace. She couldn’t help but feel a bit saddened by Lynne’s fate; the boy was fighting an uphill battle and he didn’t even know the half of it. It was, however, not up to Adan to decide his fate.
The more information she received from her spying sentinels, the more she realized how important Lynne’s future was for the fate of the country; even helping him a little bit was bound to affect hundreds of lives. With this information at hand, the A.I.’s restrictions would make it difficult for her to engage at all without facing serious consequences.
Meanwhile, Adan was growing increasingly fond of Lynne. There was no doubt that he was a very thoughtful guy, although he did his best to hide it. He would appear cold and distant in front of everyone, but he kept asking Adan to learn more about the palace servants’ well-being behind their back. He often spoke about escaping, but privately worried about what consequences it would bring for others, even taking Adan into consideration. It was a novel feeling, having someone so significantly weaker fearing for her safety. It made Adan eager to help, but her hands were tied.
Lynne’s annoyed voice roused Adan from her distant thoughts. He was leaning over her as she sat cross-legged in her small room.
“What’s with you, Adan? I called twice without any response, only to find you here, meditating? Some bodyguard you are.”
Adan smiled wryly. It wasn’t like she hadn’t heard him, but she and her A.I. had been busy going over the more obscure protocols in hope of finding some loophole for her to use. Lynne’s calls had been purposefully blocked out.
“What can I help you with, Princess?”
Lynne clicked his tongue, something he always did when Adan teased him about his cross-dressing. “Stop playing around! I was just informed that my family has arrived; we are to greet them in the grand hall.”
“Sai,” Adan prompted as she stood up and indicated for Lynne to lead the way.
“Affirmative; altering focus,” the A.I. responded, and an area of Adan’s field of view blurred slightly before a recording from the main hall took its place. Adan could see two men standing at the center of the hall, the King seated in front of them and a minor horde of people kneeling in an orderly manner behind them. They had brought quite a substantial group of servants, probably for Lynne’s use.
Adan’s gaze traveled to the older of the two men. He was a bulky man, built for war and tested through countless battles. His eyes were sharp as he exchanged superficial pleasantries with the King. The man next to him was too young to truly be called a man, sixteen at best, but his eyes were just as sharp as his father’s; clearly, he had already seen plenty of battles. Both men bore a striking resemblance to Lynne, but none of them carried his softer, more exotic air. They might gain attention within a crowd, but they didn’t demand it like Lynne did. Adan’s lip curled into an amused smile before she shook her head to dismiss the thought.
“When we greet my father, let me do the talking,” Lynne suddenly demanded as he hurriedly turned another corner. Most would just assume that he was eager to meet his family, but Adan could tell there was more to it. She wondered if Lynne himself knew his mood had changed.
“Sure,” she replied absentmindedly and had to grind to a halt as Lynne abruptly turned around, his clear blue eyes prying into hers with rare seriousness.
“Promise me, Adan. No speaking without my say-so.”
Surprise danced on Adan’s golden brows and she tilted her head quizzically. “What is he afraid of?” she wondered, but held back the question in the end.
“You have my word, Lynne.”
Lynne held his gaze a little longer before finally sighing and turning around to once again hurry down the corridor. With his pace, it didn’t take long before the pair reached the main hall. Adan watched as Lynne stopped outside the big doors, adjusted his dress and took a deep breath, trying to force his heart to beat a little slower. It wasn’t helping. Lynne clenched his fists.
“I’ve got your back,” Adan blurted out before she could stop herself.
Lynne shuddered before slowly turning to look at the young man behind him, an odd look on his face. Adan stared back at him before sheepishly raising her hand to cover her misbehaving mouth.
“Sorry! Not a word, right?” Adan apologized with muffled words from behind her hand. “My silence begins now, promise.”
Lynne snorted and, no longer hesitating, strode into the main hall.
“You are unable to resist helping him,” the A.I. stipulated, but Adan just sighed softly before following Lynne into the hall.
The youth ignored everything else and headed straight for his father, stopping a pace in front of the latter. With fluid elegance, Lynne curtsied deeply and then refused to raise his head.
“This daughter greats her honorable father!” Lynne managed to keep his voice steady, but Adan noticed that his body had tensed up again; he didn’t want to look up.
“Or perhaps doesn’t dare. . . .” Adan mused.
Her gaze shifted to Lynne’s father. The man’s eyes had softened for a brief moment when he saw his son and at Lynne’s greeting sadness had filled them, but they were back to their sharp determination by now. Standing next to his father, Lynne’s younger brother was slightly less adept at hiding his emotions, but he covered it with a laugh, breaking the silence in the hall. He stepped forward and helped his “sister” stand up.
“Father will feel sad if you greet him so distantly; why not give him a hug like you used to?” the brother urged, a clear teasing tone in his voice.
“Branton!” Lynne retorted, finally looking up from the ground, all his nervousness gone. “Manners!”
Adan shifted her weight to hide a stifled laugh. She was discrete about it, but the motion still caught the attention on Lynne’s father, who suddenly seemed to notice her for the first time. The man didn’t even try to hide how he inspected her from head to toe, his gaze constantly darkening as he took in her lean figure.