Chapter 4: Departure
It was still early morning, the sun barely above the horizon and the surrounding mostly covered in darkness. However, the back gate of the castle creaked open as it lowered little by little over the waterway outside and effectively turned into a bridge.
On the other side of the bridge was a pair of horses with two figures standing next to them. It was obvious that they were geared up and ready for a long journey.
The male, Ragna, was wearing leather armor and chainmail for his primary protection. His arms were covered by a pair of elbow-length leather glove with steel plates at the back of his hands. His legs were covered in leather trousers and a pair of boots with metal shin guards.
On the other hand, Melisa was wearing light armor made of cloth and leather, altered to fit her feminine figure. Her arms were covered in leather bracers with steel reinforcements that extended from her elbow to the back of her hands but left her fingers exposed so she could wield her sword with no issue. Her lower half was partially covered with a knee-length leather skirt and tights, while below the knee, she covered herself with armored boots.
Standing in front of them were several people wanting to see them off. The crowd included: the King himself, the prime minister, the royal knights and for some reason, Maya and Sophie as well. The king stepped forward as a representative of the crowd,
“I’m sorry that we are unable to have a fanfare to see both of you off…”
Ragna and Melisa exchanged glances before the former answered the king,
“Please don’t worry about it, your majesty. We both understood that our mission is hard enough even with discretion on our side, the last thing we need is a fanfare that would be tantamount to announcing our existence to the enemy.”
Seeing that the blonde next to him nodded her head in agreement, the king finally let himself relax slightly, yet guilt still laced his words as he spoke,
“Thank you, both of you. We know that this was a tall order for anyone and we deeply regret that it was necessary for youths like you to undertake this… Please believe us, had there been a possibility for me to take your place, I would have gladly taken this burden from you…”
Melisa shook her head and a gentle smile appeared on her lips as she spoke,
“Please don’t put this in your mind, your majesty. I chose this willingly and was fully aware of the possibilities and responsibilities. The goddess had chosen me, I believe there must be a reason for it.”
The king finally showed a small smile as he spoke,
“On behalf of this kingdom and the people living in it, I once again thank both of you… may the goddess bless and protect you on this journey… I swear upon my name that as long as it is within my power, I shall let no harm come to your family..”
Both youths nodded before giving the king a bow of respect, the past week was enough to prove to them that the king was a man of his word. Thus, their hearts were at ease with the king’s promise.
They climbed onto their respective horses before turning them around and galloping out the castle. The king with his entourage watched the pair go until they were out of sight before his expression turned solemn as he spoke,
“Geis… Tell me what are their chances of success… Alive.”
The prime minister stepped forward to stand beside his king before answering,
“With just the two of them… it would be extremely slim. However, both of them are outstanding youths… Marse… sorry… Miss Melisa is the owner of a deeply compassionate heart and determination to do what is necessary. While that youth, Ragna possesses wisdom and tenacity that one rarely finds in someone so young. Most importantly, they both possess near implicit trust in each other… Somehow I feel that that would determine their success or failure.”
He paused for a moment before continuing,
“At first I was quite skeptical about whether they really could do it but… now I believe that if there is anyone who can finish this monumental mission… it is them.”
The king nodded silently before turning around and walking back towards the castle as the prime minister, the royal knights, and the two maids followed him. Abruptly, he stopped just as he was about to enter the castle and locked his eyes onto the two maids behind him as he spoke sternly,
“How much longer are you two going to continue with this charade? Isn’t it about time for you to turn back to your real self, or do you really think that I wouldn’t be able to tell?”
Sophie and Maya looked at each other before a matching grin appeared on their lips as the former replied to the king,
“We have no idea what your majesty is talking about~”
Maya too, released a giggle before joining in on the conversation,
“Indeed, what exactly is your majesty accusing us of? We are nothing but lowly palace maids~”
The king released a sigh before speaking, his tone now laced heavily with resignation,
“Enough with the joke… You two really take too much after your mother… I’m telling you to take off your disguise already… Sophia… Maria….”
The two maids exchanged glances again as they giggled together. They exchanged a high-five before clasping their hands together they muttered a short incantation.
The pair emitted a glow for a brief moment before their outer skin seemed to melt away, revealing another layer beneath it. After their disguise disappeared, both maids looked extremely different from their previous appearance.
Sophie had lost her light brown hair and now displayed a straight bright red mane that fell down to her waist, her round, brown eyes now replaced with sharp-angled lilac eyes similar to the king’s as even the freckles on her face disappeared. She was, in fact, the 19 years old of the two daughters of the king of Luminario, Maria von Luminario.
Similar to her companion, Maya’s short dark hair had transformed into a shoulder-length silvery-grey hair much like the king’s, her dark green eyes, although retaining their shape, had changed into a pair of dark blue irises. She also lost a few centimeters from her former height, making her slightly shorter than her accomplice. She, was the other 18-year-old daughter of the king, Sophia von Luminario.
The king couldn’t help but shake his head in resignation as the two princesses, still dressed like a maid, walked past the knights to catch up with their father. The king finally released a heavy sigh before addressing them,
“So, what do you think about the hero, Melisa? You two have been pretending to be her exclusive maids for a week, I’m sure you already have some opinion on her.”
The princesses exchanged glances before Sophia spoke,
“She’s a good girl, great, in fact. Considerate, honest and kind….”
Maria nodded in agreement before adding her opinion,
“It’s just that… call it a woman’s intuition but she isn’t actually holding up as well as she wanted us to believe. It’s more as if she was afraid of inconveniencing others….”
Sophia interjected once again,
“I know right…? It’s like she’s quite… guarded in her interaction with others, as if she’s afraid to be judged. It’s… fine while her mask lasts but… if it ever cracked….”
The king stopped walking as he spoke to his daughters,
“You two are worried that she will crack under the pressure?”
The princesses nodded in unison as Sophia spoke up, all trace of humor vanishing from her tone,
“Is it so surprising though? Having her identity forcibly changed so abruptly, and being forced to undertake what is basically a suicide mission and having the weight of the world placed on her shoulders. Anyone would want to run away… ”
Maria immediately continued after her sister,
“Any lesser man would have already gone crazy from all this… having a complete gender change alone would send anyone screaming and cursing. Yet, Miss Melisa simply grit her teeth and even tried to reassure us instead. This is NOT normal… if she continues like this, she’ll break… and when it happens… I’m afraid there will be no return for her….”
King Albert paused in silence as he contemplated on his daughters’ insights. He raised his face towards the ceiling as if trying to look for an answer written above him before speaking,
“Alas… now we can only pray… May the goddess protect her.”
Finally, he continued walking into the castle followed by his companions. All of them prayed for the hero and her companion within their hearts.