"Mommy, how long are we gonna be staying here?” Callum asked his mother as she was putting the last of his shirts into a drawer. "And why are we staying in the castle?"
"Your aunt and I were asked to lead the crownguard Callum, I told you remember?" Sarai replied as she shut the drawer and turned to her son. "Why, what's the matter?"
"I wanna go home!" Callum exclaimed. "Can't we go home, and auntie Amaya too?"
Sarai knelt down to be level with him and took his hands in hers. "Callum, we can't go back home, I understand that you are scared. I know it can be scary about moving to a strange place like this, but your aunt and I will be right here to help you through it. But you know what's nice about moving to a new place?"
"What is it?"
"Making new friends! Earlier today I saw some children in the village playing in the square, maybe when we finish packing your aunt and I can take you there so you can make some new friends. I'm sure within no time you'll have some brand new friends and you won't feel so scared or lonely in the castle. Would you like that?"
Callum hesitantly nodded before his mother gently kissed his little hands and released them to encase him into a hug. "You'll learn to see this place as your home within time Callum, I promise."
"Sarai, are you even paying attention?"
Sarai snapped out of her thoughts to find the council looking at her.
"Sorry, just thinking about Opeli's suggestion on the trade route for Evenere." She said quickly and gestured to the map. "I think if we take...that route to get there faster." She pointed to one of the multiple lines painted on the map that led to the swamp kingdom.
"The path through Duren would be better though, wouldn't it?" Asked Viren, the kingdom's dark mage and advisor to the prince and king, and gestured to one of the other routes.
"Sarai actually has a point Viren, if we go to Duren it will take too long to arrive at Evenere, it'd be best if we took the other route." Prince Harrow said nodding at the general, who smiled to herself. "And if we're lucky with the weather, we won't have to stop as much and have enough towns to stop at to rest and replenish supplies."
Once the meeting was over, the rest of the members of the council left the throne room, except for Sarai and Harrow.
"That was a good strategy, even Viren agreed to it." The prince said as he came up to Sarai as she continued to examine the large map.
"I'm surprised everyone agreed to it, though I wonder what your father would think of it."
"I'm sure he would have said you picked a good route. By the way, is something bothering you?" Sarai looked at him in surprise and quickly shook her head. "Are you sure? You seemed a bit distracted during the meeting."
"No no sir, it's nothing." She assured him. “Just a bit lost in thought.”
Noticing that she was glancing at the window, Harrow walked over to it and caught sight of Sarai’s son outside in the courtyard with her sister. The little boy had his back to them and was busy doing something in the dirt while Amaya watched him, clapping when he moved to show her something he scribbled in the dirt with a large stick he had in his hand.
"He loves drawing, and he's actually pretty good at it." Sarai chuckled as she approached the window and watched her sister take the stick from Callum and started drawing something in the dirt next to his drawing. "Back where we lived, any scrap of paper that was not nailed down or put away will be scribbled on. He'd always draw either me, or Amaya, at one point he started stealing blank papers in the house to take them outside so he could draw trees or flowers. Our home was filled with all his drawings, and one time Amaya actually gathered all his drawings and tried to make it into a makeshift book so he wouldn't lose them."
"You still have it?" Harrow asks with a small chuckle, earning a smile and a small laugh from Sarai.
"Oh yes, and sometimes to put him to sleep I pull it out and tell him a story based on the drawing. Maybe if I have the chance, I should get him a small sketch book and a pencil for his birthday so he can draw whenever he wants and won't take some of my unused papers to draw on when I need them to write something."
Harrow looked out the window again to see Callum now running around the courtyard with Amaya until she caught him in a hug and lifted him off the ground.
"He seems quite happy here, has he made any friends?" The prince asked and Sarai shook her head.
"Callum is just too shy to make friends, this move has been a bit too hard on him." She sighed as she watched her sister and son play. "As much as Amaya and I love playing and spending time with him, one of these days he will need to have more friends aside from us."
"Have you introduced him to some children from the village?" Harrow suggested. He had seen some children around the boy's age the last time he went down to the village to say hello to them, like the baker's nieces, the tailor's children, the innkeeper's grandchildren.
"I did, and we left him alone with some children whose parents told them to play with him, but about an hour later he came running back to us crying his eyes out and saying he didn't want to play with them anymore!"
Now that was certainly sad, he'd only met the boy in person once and he seemed like a good kid. Harrow remembered Viren being the same way when they met, a quiet and shy boy who didn't care to play with any of the other children and attempted to make an impression by doing a simple wind spell to knock over some crates. Of course everyone thought he was weird, but that didn't stop him from approaching Viren and befriending him.
Wait a tick. Viren had children close to Callum's age, Soren who was about three or four years older, and Claudia who was the one more closer to Callum in age.
"I can definitely fix that." He announced out loud and quickly made his way to the doors of the throne room.
"Wait, fix what?" Sarai asked as she followed him out. "Your majesty!"
"Just call me Harrow, no need for formalities Sarai!"
Harrow managed to find Viren in the library with his children, Claudia curled up by the bookshelves with a large book in her hands while Viren sat with Soren at a table with several books and papers spread out in front of them.
"Viren! I need to-"
"SHHHH!" Harrow flinched at the sound of the castle's librarian shush him loudly from behind her book.
"Sorry. Viren!" Harrow whispered as he hurried over to his friend. "I need your help!"
"What is it this time?" Viren asked softly as he rose from his seat and pointed to the papers in front of Soren. "Finish your worksheets, then you can go read that book of knights and heroes Claudia is hiding."
"I hate math." The boy muttered and looked up at Harrow. "When you become king, can you ban math so we won't have to bother doing it?"
"I don't think I can, but we'll see." Harrow chuckled before he led Viren towards a different part of the library from the children.
"Alright, what is it now?" Viren asked once they were sure they were out of range from the children and the librarian.
"Do any of your children have friends?" Harrow asked and Viren looked at him in surprise.
"Well Soren has a few friends, some boys from the village. And Claudia doesn't really play with anyone, she prefers to be in the library reading old spell books." The mage responded. "Why, is something wrong?"
"No...well yes actually. It's the general's son, the little boy who just plays in the courtyard and draws pictures in the dirt by himself."
"Callum, Sarai's boy? What about him?"
Harrow then explained what Sarai had told him, her worries about her son being friendless and what happened when she and Amaya tried getting him to play with the village children.
"So...you want me to introduce him to my children?" Viren said when Harrow finished explaining. "I suppose that could work, Soren doesn't mind playing with younger children and sometimes used to ask me why he doesn't have a baby brother to play with because Claudia is "too boring to play with"."
"I was hoping for that, it seems a bit unfair that the poor boy doesn't have anyone to play with and his mother or aunt can't leave him alone to do their jobs." Harrow replied with a nod. "He kind of reminded me of you when we were younger, except you didn't draw in the dirt."
"Well then, I suppose I could ask my children if they'd like to make a new friend...in a week?"
"Two weeks would be good, just let me know when I can get Sarai and Amaya to come with me to introduce Callum to the children."
"Mommy, where are we going?" Callum asked his mother as he held onto her hand as they followed prince Harrow with Amaya holding Callum's other hand.
"Prince Harrow said he wanted you to meet someone." Sarai replied and Amaya have her nephew's hand a small squeeze. "Remember, be nice Callum."
"I'm always nice…" Callum mumbled as Harrow led the three of them into the gardens.
Callum gasped at the sight of so many colorful flowers and excitedly pointed to everyone of them to his aunt and mother.
"Callum, I'd like you to meet our kingdom's mage." Harrow said as he led them to a small gazebo where Viren sat at. "And he has someone you'd want to meet."
Callum instinctively moved to stand behind his mother's legs when he saw the two children who were with the mage, a little girl who looked his age with dark hair and a lighter haired boy who looked a lot older than him. Was this gonna be like the last time his mother tried to get him to make friends?
"Hello Callum, I've heard a lot about you from my friend." Viren said as he approached the little boy with his children. "He told me you had trouble making friends, right?"
Callum nodded quietly and hugged his mother's leg.
"Viren has two children who could use some friends." Harrow added, gesturing to the two children, who were now hiding behind their own father's legs.
"These are my children, Soren and Claudia, they just got back from visiting some family in Del Bar with their mother." The mage said, gesturing to the two children who clung to his robes. "Go on you two, say hello to Callum."
"Hi!" Both kids chirped in a cheerful tone.
The sandy haired boy stepped away from Viren and held his hand out to Callum. "Hiya! I'm Soren!"
Callum looked up at his mother and aunt, unsure what to do.
[Shake hands, Callum."] Amaya signed and bent down to unlatch him from Sarai.
"It's okay, I'm sure Soren doesn't bite." Sarai added with a small laugh.
"I can't cuz I lost my tooths a few days ago!" Soren said with a laugh and used his hands to spread his lips to show Callum two gaps in his mouth. "Mommy said if I put them under my pillow tonight the tooth elf is gonna come in and leave me a present!"
"It's the tooth fairy silly!" His sister yelled. "There are no such things as tooth elves!"
"I think tooth elves exist, they just help the tooth fairy." Harrow said helpfully. "But you shouldn't try to stay awake to catch them, otherwise they can't come to you."
"How you lose your teeth?" Callum asked quietly.
"I went sledding with my cousins down a big hill and I crashed into a tree!" Soren replied proudly. "Mommy said I was brave for going down the hill!"
"You were crying like a baby when she brought you into the house! Claudia laughed as she moved away from her father to approach Callum. "I'm Claudia, and I'm in training to be a mage like my daddy! Are ya gonna be training to be a soldier like your mommy and aunt?"
"No...I don't like violence." Callum admitted softly. "I...I just draw."
"Like….those drawings in the old books in the library?" Soren asks and Callum nods. "How well can you draw? Claudia can't even draw a stick figure!"
"I can draw better than you and so can Callum!" Claudia argued and grabbed Callum's hand, causing the boy to blush. "C'mon, let's prove it Callum!"
"Have fun dear!" Sarai called as Callum was led away by the two children. "And be careful!"
"I will mommy!"
"Done!" Soren yelled and dropped his stick. "It's Claudia!"
Claudia and Callum stopped their drawing to walk over to see what Soren had drawn in the dirt.
"That looks nothing like me."
"It doesn't really." Callum agrees and Soren makes a face.
"Well what do your guys drawings look like."
"I drew Callum, and it looks way better." Claudia stated proudly as she led them to her dirt drawing.
"His hair looks weird." Soren commented. "So I guess Callum drew me?"
"Yes…" Callum said softly and pointed to his drawing. "I tried."
The two siblings looked over at his drawing and we're very quiet before Claudia spoke up with a laugh.
"It looks just like Soren!"
"Yeah well my hair at least looks fine and doesn't look like a hedgehog!"
"Is...did I get it right?" Callum asked cautiously.
"Down to his hair!" Claudia laughed and patted his shoulder. "You are way better than us Callum! A whole lot better than us!"
Callum felt his little cheeks grow warm and immediately covered his face with his hands.
"Hey what's wrong? You're not crying are you?" Soren asked frantically, grabbing Callum's face. "Your cheeks and face are warm, Claudia I think he's sick!"
"No I'm not-"
"To the infirmary!" Claudia yelled as Soren grabbed Callum and heaved him over his shoulder like he weighed nothing.
"I'm not sick!" Callum cried out as the two children rushed in the direction of the castle's infirmary. "Soren!"
"Anya! Callum has a fever!" Soren yelled as he burst into the infirmary. "Save him!"
Anya, the castle's doctor, looked up from her desk to see Soren toss Callum onto one of the empty cots.
"He started turning red all of a sudden! Is he sick?!" Claudia asked as the doctor rose from her seat to check on the young boy.
"I'm fine!" Callum protests as he tries to slip off the cot.
"Calm down you two, I'm sure Callum is fine." Anya said as she knelt down to examine the young boy. "How about I check to be sure?"
"But I'm fine!" Callum protests.
"I'll just check to be sure, these two get very freaked out if someone is hurt or sick." Anya chuckled as she felt his forehead. "You don't feel warm, but they probably thought you had a fever because you all were outside and it's very hot. Here, have some water."
Claudia and Soren climbed onto the cot to sit on either side of Callum as Anya grabbed three empty cups and a pitcher of water.
"Have you two been drinking your eight glasses of water?" She asked as she poured the water into the cups and handed each of them one. "Especially you Soren, you've been playing a lot outdoors lately."
"Yeah, cuz I'm gonna be part of the Crownguard!" Soren said with a proud grin. "Mama said she was part of the one in Del Bar when she turned nineteen, and I'm gonna be just like her!"
"I suppose you want to be part of the Crownguard too then, since your mother and aunt are in it?" Anya asked turning to Callum, who quickly shook his head.
"He's gonna be an artist!" Claudia piped up as she handed the doctor the empty cup. "More please?"
"Well we don't always have to follow our parents footsteps, my father was a part of the army but my sister and I didn't join it like him, instead I became a doctor." The doctor said as she refilled the cup.
"A good thing too cuz Soren keeps getting hurt." Claudia laughs as she was handed back her cup.
"Because I'm training to defend Katolis from bad elves!" Soren declared loudly and stuck his tongue out at his sister.
"Now children, be nice. You have to set a good example for Callum if he's going to be hanging out with you two a lot." Anya scolded and gestured to the younger boy. "Now if you're done, you can go back outside and play. Just be careful."
"I'm fine." Callum said as he handed her back the empty cup of water. "Thank you doctor Anya."
"Your welcome Callum. Oh and do tell your aunt to come see me about that sprained wrist of hers before she forgets and tries punching something again."
The three children said their goodbyes to the doctor and hurried out of the infirmary to run into the courtyard.
"So, what should we do next?" Soren asks and Claudia claps her hands excitedly.
"Oh! Let's go to the library! We can show Callum some really cool books we found there the other day!" She suggested and smiled with Callum's face lit up. "C'mon! But we gotta be quiet!"
"Well isn't this a cute sight." Sarai chuckled to herself.
Earlier she and Viren had went looking for the three children, no one had apparently seen them. One guard told her she had seen the three of them running into the infirmary and then rush out a few minutes later into the library. Much to her delight, she found Callum and Viren's children under one of the tables with a bunch of books scattered around them and fast asleep.
Callum was wedged between Soren and Claudia with a book open on his lap and a bunch of loose papers scattered around him with drawings scribbled on them, snoring away with his head leaning against Soren's shoulder. Sarai smiled to herself as she knelt down to carefully collect the papers off the floor and place them on the table before doing the same with the books. She heard one of the children stir slightly before falling back asleep.
"Callum, Callum, wake up sweetie." Sarai whispered as she gently placed a hand on her son's knee and shook it slightly. Soren gave a loud snort and his eyes snapped open immediately, before he gave a yawn and stretched his arms.
"What time is it?" The older boy asked as the two younger children began to stir.
"Very late, you're going to miss dinner." Sarai responded as Callum reached towards her with a sleepy expression.
"Already?" Claudia asked as she pushed the book she had laying on her lap and crawled out from under the table with her brother and Callum behind her. "Mommy's right, time flies when you have lots of fun."
"I'm hungry." Callum stated as his mother got out from under the table to stand up. "Oh and doctor Anya said auntie should go see her about the wrist."
"I'll be sure to remind her." Sarai said as she took his hand and collected the doodled papers she collected off the table. "Here, I picked these up when I found you three."
"Thank you!" Claudia said accepting the papers and handed some to her brother and Callum before lowering her voice. "Let's do this again tomorrow after my lessons so we can sneak Soren out of his sword fighting lessons!"
"Yeah let's!" Soren whispered excitedly.
"And what are you three whispering about?" Sarai asked.
"Super secret plans." Soren replied and giggled. "We can't tell ya."
"Hmm, very well. As long as it doesn't involve running away to Xadia or running away from...here."
The three children giggled as the followed her out of the library, grinning to themselves at the thought of the plans they had for tomorrow.