Remaining silent, Adan followed the group of soldiers through the forest. She was not alone in keeping her speaking to a minimum, but, from the little that was said, Adan could gather that it was also Lynne’s first time meeting these people. She hadn’t figured out why the handsome boy needed an escort for his travels, but apparently the group of bandits had arrived just as Lynne’s original escorts were heading for the meeting point with this group. A fierce battle had ensued, eventually culminating in the handsome boy’s capture.
The soldiers, or rather the royal guards, had arrived just moments too late and thus began the chase for Lynne, or Princess Hayden as they called him.
Not much else was discussed. The older guy, the one who had persuaded their commander to allow Adan to join them, kept asking if ‘Princess Hayden’ needed anything, also assuring that they didn’t have to walk much further. Clearly he was concerned for Lynne’s well-being and just as clearly the man treated him as a female royal.
Adan used all her senses to monitor the people around her and, judging by how they acted, most of them shared the man’s sentiments – at least on the royal-female-part. They would address him very respectfully, but some of them rolled their eyes whenever Lynne did things like going out of his way to protect the fine fabrics of his gown. Especially the commander seemed displeased with this type of behavior.
Lynne himself didn’t seem to mind though; if anything, it seemed like every disapproving glance egged him on, making him spend even more time on safeguarding his appearance. Adan almost burst out laughing when Lynne asked to be carried over a slightly soggy patch of moss, managing to coax an audible snort from the commander. Amused, Adan chose to oblige the boy.
“Why do you keep provoking them?” Adan asked in a hushed voice as she easily carried Lynne across the bog. She had had enough interactions with this man to gather that his concerns about the state of his clothes didn’t stem from his own vanity.
Lynne snorted. “Since you don’t seem to understand anything, let me tell you this: I’m not actually royalty – not on a future ruler-of-the-nation level anyway. My future najo is.”
“Najo?” Adan didn’t know the word but Lynne misunderstood her confusion.
“Yes, najo! Do you now understand why I wanted to escape? With the royal guards here, I have no choice but follow them to the capital and marry the prince!”
[Added translation: Najo – husband. (88%)]
The message flashed by Adan’s eyes, giving her a probability for the assumption she had already made.
“Oh,” she said. “I take it he doesn’t know . . .” Adan glanced down at the well-obscured yet very male body she was carrying in her arms.
“That I’ve got more hanging between my legs than on my chest? No!” Lynne hissed, yet again ignoring his feminine mannerisms.
“But why?” Adan asked.
Unfortunately, the answer had to wait as they had reached the end of the bog and Adan had no reason to continue carrying the boy. She lowered Lynne’s feet to the ground and the latter elegantly curtsied in thanks before moving away a few steps, futher indicating that their talk was over.
“Perhaps it has something to do with the crystal on his chest,” the A.I. suddenly suggested. “From the gathered observations, no other male has had a blue mark, nor has any female had the red equivalent. This could also explain why they are assuming that you are male.”
Adan nodded slightly. She had found it a bit odd that her gender had so quickly been assumed to be male; Adan might not be the most feminine of females out there, but she was a far cry from manly. In fact, some would even argue that she, and all the other members of the Amazon Platoon, were the very definition of beautiful; their genetically designed appearances were all strongly influenced by the golden ratio – a surprisingly universal ratio for perceived beauty – and few could match them in looks.
There was also Lynne himself. Although definitely fair enough in his general appearance to pass as a woman, it was nonetheless a bit of a stretch. Adan figured that even without her sensitivity to human pheromones, she would still have assumed him male at a first glance.
“But why the secrecy?” Adan wondered. “Judging by how Lynne interacts with these guards, his upbringing can’t be simple. Still, he would rather marry the king as ‘female’, than get out of it as ‘male’. . . . There must be something more to it.”
“Sai agrees and suggests that you allow these people to continue assuming that you are male for the time being. Type O civilizations are prone to superstitions; there is no telling what a red mark on a female might mean to them.”
Without the need to actually voice her shared sentiments to the A.I., Adan silently followed Lynne and her guards through the forest. The older guard was true to his words, because it didn’t take long before the trees parted way for a small clearing in which a fancy-looking carriage and twelve large, four-legged creatures were patiently waiting.
The carriage was made out of pitch black wood and had golden leaves and ice blue flowers elegantly twisting over its surface. The beasts were all white, smelled of leather and their backs were almost as high up as Adan was tall. Adan had never seen such creatures first hand before but, according to the vast information stored in her A.I.’s database, they were likely akin to the ‘horses’ of ancient Tellus.
The commander of the guards whistled sharply just before the group stepped out into the clearing and, instantly, Adan could hear rustling within the carriage. Moments later, the gold-adorned carriage door swung open and a plump little man rushed out.
“Finally!” he exclaimed as he approached. “I was starting to worry that you-. . .” The man’s sentence was cut short as his eyes fell on Adan. Shocked, his steps faltered and was momentarily frozen in place – unable to tear his eyes from her. Adan likewise was inspecting the man, although with more curiosity than shock.
He was short – barely reaching Adan’s chest – but what he lacked in height, he made up for with width. At first it might seem like all of it was fat, but the data screens in front of Adan’s eyes told an entirely different story: the man was nothing but muscles! Contrary to the other guards, this man didn’t wear any armor, instead opting for a loose-fitting robe, clearly meant for grandeur and flair rather than practical purposes.
What stood out most about him, though, was neither his height nor his clothes, but his skin. It was dark – even darker than Adan’s – and the small red crystal on his chest glimmered like a glowing ember in the night. Thick black hair curled down his neck, disappearing down his back in a long pony-tail. This was the first person that Adan had seen since her arrival who wasn’t pale to the point of almost looking sick, but apparently he found her appearance just as exotic as everyone else had.
“Ywno’blk. . . .” he breathed, sounding almost reverent. Adan could have sworn the man was about to bow or even kneel when he suddenly seemed to remember where he was. Instantly, his back straightened ever so slightly and he turned his attention to the female commander. “What took you so long?”
“My apologies, Duke Kimba,” the woman replied; “we were misled.”
“By a bunch of rogue bandits?” The duke didn’t look impressed. “Guard duty has made you lax, Colonel Dallas. Perhaps it is time for you to return to the front. . . .”
Adan noticed how not only the berated commander tensed slightly at the mention of this supposed ‘front’; the underlying emotions were different, but everyone reacted. Some were excited, others showed worry – Colonel Dallas seemed mostly annoyed.
Ignoring the soldiers’ reactions, the Duke turned to Lynne, his rough face plastered with a wide smile.
“Lady Lynne of Hayden, it’s a pleasure to finally meet you again – although I suppose I should refer to you as Princess from now on.”
“Lady Lynne is just fine, Duke Kimba; I am not married yet.” Lynne smiled softly at the short man. “Speaking of which, how is your wife?”
“Marvelous; redecorating yet another room at the manor as we speak.” Duke Kimba smiled back at Lynne, but neither of the two men’s smiles seemed very heartfelt to Adan; their micro-expressions didn’t match and, so far, Adan had gotten no indication that those would be different here.
If Lynne noticed, he made no show of it. Instead he changed the subject. “Let me introduce you to my new personal guard, Adan,” he said and led the short muscly duke to Adan’s side. “He is traveling to get his core awakened. He happened by me just as I was being kidnapped and was kind enough to save me.”
Adan didn’t miss the slight sarcastic undertone as Lynne mentioned being saved, and rolled her eyes. She could perhaps sympathize with his predicament but if he didn’t want to be saved, then he shouldn’t have been screaming for help.
“Perhaps the two of you have met? Adan is from . . .” Lynne paused. “Oh my, I realize that I never got around to asking where you’re from, Adan. Are you from Les or Biws?”
For a moment, Adan lamented over which option she should pick, fearing what follow-up questions that might ensue, but before she was forced to choose her lie, Duke Kimba intervened. “Neither of the above, I dare say,” he cut in, giving Adan a surprisingly warm smile. “I bet you were raised in a single family – in the wilderness somewhere. Perhaps even some place not too far away from here?”
Momentarily Adan hesitated but, looking at the Duke’s body language, he had gotten nervous when Lynne asked about Adan’s origins and now seemed very hopeful that she would accept his backstory. Intrigued, Adan nodded her head. “The Duke is correct,” she admitted with well-faked wholeheartedness.
Lynne’s eyes twitched slightly but then widened in feigned surprise. “Untibowabso, Duke Kimba, how could you tell?”
The Duke’s smile didn’t let off. “Sir Adan here is traveling for an awakening, but doesn’t bear the traditional markers of an okscujawo-to-be,” he explained. “Only those raised outside of Les and Biws would be missing those.”
Adan felt rather grateful to the short duke. Blending into a foreign culture was always hard, even more so when you didn’t know what mines to avoid. She didn’t know why Duke Kimba had helped her, but for whatever reason, he had saved her from some tricky future explanations.
“Fascinating. . .” mumbled Lynne before stifling a yawn. “Forgive me, Duke Kimba, it has been a stressful day. Might I trouble you to let me use the carriage by myself for a while?”
“Naturally, Lady Lynne,” the duke replied with a bow.
“Good.” Lynne grabbed Adan’s wrist and started pulling her towards the carriage.
“Um, Lady Lynne?” the duke called, confused, but Colonel Dallas was less passive. With a flash she appeared in front of the cabin door, barring Adan’s path.
“It is not fitting for a maiden to bring male company into a private carriage.”
“Maiden?” Lynne giggled. “Madam Dallas, I’ve been raised in a military fort, surrounded by nothing but men. If the future King wants a pure flower as his wife, he should look for another one.”
Surprisingly enough, the battle-hardened woman flushed and faltered enough to let Lynne pull Adan past her. By the time Colonel Dallas snapped out of it, Adan had already been shoved into the carriage.
“Don’t worry, madam Dallas,” Lynne added as he paused by the carriage door, “I simply want some calming company while I sleep – I know what’s expected of me.”
With that, Lynne closed the door behind him, confining him and Adan into a small yet lavish compartment that could, at best, seat four people. Clearly it wasn’t meant to be slept in.
“You know,” Adan started, “if you hope to keep the . . . feeble damsel image – one who needs help crossing dirty rivers and such – then I wouldn’t mention being used to men.”
“Feeble damsel?” Lynne looked rather pleased as he slouched down opposite Adan. “Who called me that?”
“Colonel Dallas. And some – well, all – of the other women among the guards.”
“None of the men?”
Adan shook her head. “Not really, no.”
Lynne clicked his tongue, clearly disappointed. “Well, perhaps my comment just now changed their opinion. . .”
Noticing the growing look of confusion on Adan’s face, Lynne sighed. He leaned forward, tugging open the fabric over his chest. He tapped the pale blue crystal embedded in his sternum.
“Do you know what this is?”
“A core,” Adan replied matter-of-factly, hoping Lynne wouldn’t call her bluff.
“…it’s blue?” Adan offered.
Lynne gave her a suspicious look. “Not only were you raised in the forest – are your parents third generation unmarked or something?”
Adan shrugged, picking a noncommittal approach.
Lynne sighed again, louder this time. “To think a vibkywj ruined months of planning. . . .” he muttered to himself before reaching over and grabbing Adan by the collar of her clothes. “Listen, kywj, until my real bodyguard arrives, you will have to do the job and I can’t have an idiot helping me, so listen closely, okay!?”
Adan smiled slightly – she found all of this rather amusing, but Lynne mistook the humor as ignorance and fell back in his seat with a look of annoyance.
“All brawns, no brains, huh?” Yet another sigh. “Guess that’s better than nothing. . . .”