It was hard to forget the first time he met Sphintus and Marga. They were looking at Titus in disbelief, tears slowly forming in their eyes, big bright smiles blooming in their faces as they rushed towards the blonde.
It was rare to see pure unbridled joy like that, and he knew - he just knew - these two would be staying with his new magi for a while.
"Muu." Titus called, and the boy looked so much like Lady Scheherazade in those first few moments, it was frightening. "I want you to meet Sphintus and Marga. They're..."
He trailed off abruptly, as if realizing something.
Muu didn't have a hard time guessing as he asked, "...coming with us?"
He watched as Titus looked up to meet Sphintus' eyes. "If they want to."
Sphintus looked just as exhausted as the rest of them after the big battle, but he still managed to lift little sleepy Marga up and send Titus an arrogant smirk. "Why are you even asking?"
Titus smiled, looked back towards the Fanalis captain and nodded. "Let's go home."
Sometimes, when the young magi's back was turned to him, it was easy to see Lady Scheherazade - a waterfall of long shiny blonde hair, a firm grip on the tall golden staff and a certain air of serenity around his small build.
Muu snaps out of it shortly because the late high priestess (at least the one he knew) was all strong grace and solemn silences, and she would certainly not humor a young Heliohapt magician with a silly argument about something or the other (for the umpteenth time that hour) at the top of her voice.
He passed by the magi's chambers one night with the door ajar, just enough for him to see Titus sitting up on the bed beside Marga who was holding open a thick book. He couldn't hear anything, but as he watched their lips moving in sync, they must be reading the story out loud together.
He idly wondered if this was how Lady Scheherazade would have treated Titus if the boy had gone through a normal childhood.
"Can you tell me more about Lady Scheherazade?" Titus once asked him as they sat together one quiet afternoon.
Muu blinked. "I thought you had her memories?"
"Her wisdom of magic, yes." the blonde frowned distractedly. "But her own memories… they're hazy at best. I have difficulty putting them together." Then the boy shrugged. "Anyways, my lady's experiences are her own. I just thought it would be interesting to know how you remember her."
"Well..." Muu thought of where to start, but as he looked down, he got his answer quickly. "She liked tea very much."
Titus looked up at him and sat a bit straighter to pay attention.
"She preferred eating soft foods, like you. The cooks know her tastes well, because she always told them when she loved something they made. She also liked insects, for some reason."
Muu nodded, chuckling. "I never quite understood, but she was very fascinated with them. On her days off, sometimes we'd dress up in civilian clothes and we'll sneak out."
"Sneak out? To where?"
"To the city, of course. She liked to watch the people, the marketplace, specially the children playing..."
They spent the afternoon just like that, Titus listening in rapt attention as Muu told him everything he could remember about the late High Priestess. Muu found that he enjoyed sharing maybe just as much as the boy enjoyed listening. They kept going until Marga returned from her reading lessons and Sphintus joined them on a break from his own studying.
The servants worriedly told him that the High Priest was not in his bedroom, in the sitting room, in the gardens, or in the usual places. It had only been two weeks. There had been unrest as some of the other royals didn't agree with Titus' new title, and they could have-
"Have everyone search the whole castle! We need the High Priest found safely!" he ordered, and the servants and nearby guards scurried to obey.
Muu braced himself as he knocked urgently on the door of their new healer's private chambers. Sphintus had the right to know that something was wrong with their magi.
"Hey." the young man yawned as he opened the door. "Uh... you need anything?"
"We have a problem. Nobody has seen Titus-sama this morning and-"
"Oh." Sphintus blinked, then scratched his head. "Yeah, err..." he gingerly stepped aside and let Muu take in the sight of Titus and Marga curled up together on his bed, both sleeping soundly. "Marga was feeling under the weather last night, so he brought her to me, and they, uh, slept over."
Marga's other side also looked slept in - Sphintus must have been with them only moments prior.
"Is... that so?" was all the captain was able to reply.
As far as Muu was concerned, Titus could have just sent a guard or servant to get Sphintus - but obviously he still had much to learn about how things worked between the new magi, his healer and his young ward.
"It's no big. Marga's okay now." Sphintus continued. "Hey, d'you really need him up right now? He kinda stayed up late lookin' after Marga, so maybe you can give him an extra hour or two. He'll pretty much be useless otherwise anyway. He's a real pain short of 6 hours of sleep, I tell you."
Muu had to stop himself from scolding the healer for calling their honored magi 'useless' and 'a real pain', but he just stepped back and nodded.
Muu wondered what the proper response should be to seeing a foreigner treating the Reim Empire's High Priest like this.
"I said. Stop." - a quick slap to the blonde's prying hand - "It's not done yet!"
Titus pouted. "But it smells so good already!"
Muu would have to agree, though. He was just standing by the doorway, but the kitchen was filled with the scent of delicious cooking.
Titus had to step back when Sphintus practically shoved the ladle to his face, scolding. "You have to wait."
But Titus just leaned over, poked the ladle and then brought his finger to his lips. "Mm! It tastes great-"
Sphintus grabbed some vegetable lying around and hit the magi on the head with it. "Spoiled brat!"
Muu just chuckled. Maybe he'll let this one slide.
Titus had told him that he was inviting Sphintus' family over. Muu made nothing big of it, since Reim wasn't exactly at odds with Heliohapt, and he doubted Sphintus would let even his family compromise his new home. The healer wasn't that kind of person.
Muu simply didn't expect the whole clan to show up.
He could complain about the sudden abundance of Heliohaptians and their foreign antics in the castle, the noisier halls, the busier kitchen and rowdier mealtimes - but he didn't.
Instead, he watched as Sphintus' mother fussed over Titus and Marga. He listened to the Carmen patriarch talking to Titus about politics and giving encouraging advice. He smiled as the aunts always kept the children healthy and fed, while one of the healer's uncles always suggested that they take a break, take time to see the sights around Reim instead of just filling their days with endless meetings.
Muu wouldn't take this away from Titus, because this is what the Alexius family had never been to the boy. They had given him his name as a cover for his identity upon Scheherazade's request, but it ended there - because they saw him as a mere clone, an agent of the High Priestess.
Titus deserved a family who actually treated him as their own, and even if that family turned out to be eccentric Heliohaptians, Muu couldn't care less. He knew Lady Scheherazade would have wanted this for her son too.
It was almost surreal, the scene in the gardens. Titus sat in the grass relaxed, reading from a scroll, while behind him Sphintus was teaching Marga how to braid hair using the long blonde locks that ran down the magi's back. They were a mess of hair, flowers and petals.
Muu knew the war wasn't really over, but watching the three of them, he couldn't help but think that this is what peace looked like.
"You have to be more careful with your words and actions, High Priest." he told the boy after a particularly heated session with the other rulers of Reim. "I know you're fighting for what you think is right, and Lady Scheherazade would be proud, but not all the royal families are fond of you yet."
Titus looked at him then and asked, "Are you on my side, Muu?"
The question took him aback. He had never been asked that question. Scheherazade never doubted his loyalty, not once. "Of course I am."
The boy nodded then. "That's why I'm not worried about them. I know you won't let any harm come to me."
Muu's blood ran cold the moment he heard a small voice's cry and turned to see a flash of something attack the falling child. His hand went for his sword and Fanalis speed kicked in only for him to stop abruptly in his tracks as Marga sat back up in the grass, laughing breathlessly as Kukulcan slithered around her neck and tickled her ear.
He was able to breathe again when he heard Sphintus' voice call out from the distance. "Marga, I told you not to excite him too much! Are you okay?"
He takes his eyes off them for a minute and there goes the assassination attempt.
Thankfully Titus himself was a force to be reckoned with - he was able to take the assassin down on his own by the time Muu came running in with the guards and some officials. All the magi got from the fight was a shallow cut on his arm.
Muu saw Sphintus come out from behind a pillar with a scared Marga in his arms. The captain was surprised when the healer passed the girl to him before taking Titus' arm to examine the injury.
"It's not that deep, really." Titus said with a chuckle. "Let's just wrap it up."
"It might be poisoned." Sphintus countered, already examining the wound closely.
"You hid?" one of the officials demanded then, outraged. "The magi was under attack and you chose to save yourself?"
Muu was about to tell the the official to step back, let the healer do his job - but he didn't have to. Instead, both Titus and Sphintus turned towards the official with matching sharp glares.
"I was not saving myself." Sphintus answered coldly.
Titus didn't let him finish. "He was taking Marga to safety before the assassin can use her to get to me."
When Marga whimpered at the sharp tone of the blonde's voice, Titus sent her a comforting smile before turning back towards the official, a deep frown on his face.
"Now if you have any other concerns, it can wait. Because right now, my healer is doing his job, and from where I'm standing, you're the one distracting him from saving my life."
Muu would be lying if he said he wasn't pleased with how that part went down.
Muu knew there were no battles during the trip, but Alibaba Saluja's household looked worse for wear when they arrived. Without their king candidate, they trailed after Aladdin with hesitant expressions. They were in mourning, and they looked lost. They were still finding their footing in this new, unfamiliar country.
Aladdin's expression was far too tired and guarded for a boy his age, Muu thought. He caught Titus reaching out to hold on to Sphintus' hand, and the healer gripped back tightly as they watched their friend approach. The captain knew: they didn't expect things to be this bad. Maybe this was the worst shape they'd seen the blue-haired boy in.
It was Marga who broke the ice, breaking into a run from Titus' side and meeting Aladdin with a tight hug. She didn't know the details, but she had been told that a precious friend had died. Aladdin was surprised but he smiled softly as he hugged the girl back.
The expression of relief and comfort in his face seemed to be a cue for Sphintus and Titus to follow suit, greeting their friend and their guests with reassuring smiles and the promise of safety.
'They're so young.' Muu couldn't help but think as he watched Titus and Aladdin walking together in the gardens, faces serious as they talked. He watched their worried expressions, a significant contrast to the carefree feel of the flower crown that rested on Titus' head and the garland around Aladdin's neck, courtesy of Marga.
Hundreds of years of wisdom, but they were still children. He couldn't imagine how they take the weight of the world.
He could only hope that whatever it was he's doing, offering his support, his protection, his strength, was easing some of the burdens off their shoulders.
It wasn't all bad things, however. There were some… interesting developments as well.
"So, Muu..." Titus started with that, a light blush in his cheeks and his eyes hesitant. "Um, about… last night, err… you… you saw…- Right? D-Did you?"
Muu wanted to sigh. Of course. 'Of course I saw.' But he had a feeling that the boy would get more awkward if he answered like that.
So he simply reached out and pat the blonde on the shoulder. "It shouldn't be any of my business, and I'm not one to tell. Just an advice… if you're trying to keep it secret, maybe you and your companion should… keep it behind closed doors, and avoid the balcony."
Titus only looked up at him in awe before nodding. "Right. Thanks, Muu."
Muu wanted to sigh again. Because of course Sphintus would follow.
"Uh, about… the, err… late Lady Scheherazade? Don't answer me if you don't wanna but… uh, would you know if… if she had any… err. Relations?"
Unlike with Titus, Muu somehow thought it would be fun to tease the healer.
He answered with a completely innocent face: "As far as I know, she considered Titus-sama her son, and all of Reim her family."
And clearly Sphintus didn't have the patience for teasing, because the young magician just narrowed his eyes at the captain. "Cut the crap. You know what I'm talking about. Titus told me that you know."
Muu just laughed at the teen's annoyed but flustered face before he smirked. "In the time I knew her, I don't remember knowing her to be in that kind of relationship with anyone. But the lady lived centuries, so who knows, really?"
"But is it… y'know… okay?"
The fanalis couldn't help but chuckle at how awkward the young man sounded. "Is it okay for you to be kissing Titus-sama? I think you'd have to discuss that with him, kid."
Sphintus rolled his eyes. "I mean, is it… accepted? Around here?"
Muu shrugged. "I don't think anyone would complain. We are pretty accepting here in Reim."
"Right." Sphintus looked relieved now. "Thanks, I… Just… Yeah. I'm not a local, so I wasn't… sure. About… anything."
"You should know, though..." the captain started, slowly smiling knowingly. "If you hurt him, you might make an enemy of a whole empire."
Muu could practically tell when the young man's blood ran cold.
"OH. Y-Yeah, of course, I knew that." the healer laughed nervously. "I totally knew that! Thought long and hard about it. Hahahaha… ha…?"
"Good." Muu said. His job was done here.
Even as the rest of the world had given in and joined the trading company, even as the Great Empire of Kou had bowed its head, even as their own advisers and ambassadors had said that it was the best course of action, Titus Alexius stood his ground.
"No. If it's change we want, we'll be the ones to do it! We can walk alongside the rest of this changing world on our own feet."
It may have been delivered with a haughty pout and a childish stomp, and what Muu saw was an innocent kind of wisdom in the boy's eyes - but it is still wisdom, and he thought that perhaps it is the wisdom their country needed now as they picked themselves up after the war.
"Even Lady Scheherazade thought it would take a great deal of time to successfully convince the council to abolish slavery..." he told the young magi. "It's hard to believe you were able to push the decision like that."
"Well, my lady thought she still had plenty of time, perhaps enough to see it through." Titus said with a wistful smile. "But I know the feeling of having limited time. Knowing you'll be gone soon, regretting and thinking you wasted a lot of precious time."
Titus looked at him with clear blue eyes and a bright smile. "I don't want to feel that way again. So now, everyday, I just try to do what I know I can do. So when the time comes, I know that I didn't waste the time given to me."
He was sitting alone in the castle balcony overlooking the city, enjoying some snacks and refreshments when he heard someone call his name.
By now, Muu was familiar with the girl's sweet voice.
"Marga!" he greeted back with a smile. "Have some snacks, I know I have some of your favorites here."
The child thanked him, climbed up on the seat across his and took one of the sweeter treats.
It took him a few moments to realize that she was without her usual company. "All on your own?"
The girl nodded cheerfully as always. "Titus and Sphintus are sleeping together."
Muu wasn't sure exactly what he heard, so he had to ask again. "Err… W-What was that… about… sleeping?"
Marga answered obediently. "I'm done with my lessons so I went to go help Titus or Sphintus, but they said they're tired so they're taking a nap. I joined them at first but I can't sleep, so I left."
The captain sighed in relief. And here he thought he'd have to give his magi and their resident healer a stern talk about… discretion.
"What about Muu-san?" she asked then.
"I have nothing to do for the day, and I like it here. The wind's good, and we can see the city."
Marga turned to look towards the city as well and she grinned in delight. "You're right! It's so pretty. So many people..."
He watched the child nibble absently on her snack while she observed the city for a few more moments. Then like her, he also looked out at the view.
"What should I say when they ask me why I'm in the castle?"
Muu looked at the girl. She had stopped eating, and was looking at him innocently. "Who's 'they', Marga?"
"The other people. The old ones who come here to talk to Titus." she answered. "One of 'em said what is someone like me doing with someone like Titus. I don't know what to answer, so I just hid behind Sphintus."
Muu considered his next words for a few moments before saying them. "Why do you think you're in the castle, Marga?"
He saw the hesitance on the girl's eyes.
"Go ahead, I won't tell anyone." he said gently.
Her voice was small as she answered. "Because I love Titus and Sphintus and I want to be with them. I want to grow up soon and learn lots of things so I can help them. Because they helped me, and I want to do it for them too."
The girl looked down and smiled sweetly, fidgeting. "Titus reads stories to me and takes me to new places to see new things. Sphintus always plays with me and makes sure I never get sick again. Aladdin and Mor-san and the others too! I don't remember a lot about my family, but… but that's what family does, right?"
"There's your answer." the captain said, grinning and ruffling the girl's hair. "You're here because you're Titus-sama's family. And when those old people are ever mean to you, you tell me. I'll talk to 'em."
Marga laughed, comforted by the man's words. "Muu-san is great! Can you be my family too?"
That made Muu pause for a second, but after that, he just chuckled. "Of course."
They were then joined by Sphintus and Titus, who both looked straight out of their naps indeed.
"Marga! There you are!" Titus said with his bright smile. "We were wondering where you went off to."
Sphintus raised an eyebrow. "We woke up and you weren't there- Oi!" he yelped when Marga stood up on her chair and jumped at him, giggling. The healer groaned in struggle as he caught the girl and adjusted her in his arms. "Man, you keep growing and I won't be able to carry you like this anymore."
"But you're growing too, Sphintus!" the girl reasoned, and they got into a light-hearted debate about the topic.
Titus took a seat in the table, and nodded when Muu offered to pour him some tea.
Muu watched - like always - as the blonde looked at his young, happy, carefree family with a fond smile on his face.
The world was changing rapidly, and Reim was keeping in pace with it.
They've abolished slavery and freed the gladiators. They were given the same rights as any other citizen in their new republic. Their trade was not the best compared to the others in the international alliance, but it was stable enough to keep their economy running, to keep their people, culture and traditions alive despite the changing world.
There was some brewing unrest, he knew - but for now, they were doing well. It was enough.
His own people were living good lives, Muu concluded, looking over the training grounds where the Fanalis Corps and some members of Alibaba's household were watching a practice match between Masrur and Morgiana.
As he walked along the castle, he saw a glimpse of Toto and Olba with Sphintus. Olba was standing to the side, while Sphintus' glowing staff was hovering over Toto's stomach. Sphintus was smiling as he spoke to the couple, and the two burst in excitement at the healer's words. Muu had a pretty good guess about what the news must be.
A few moments later, he arrived in the gardens where Marga was sitting in the middle of a group of younger children - some of whom sported bright red hair and red eyes. They were all listening attentively to the older girl reading a tale of adventure.
When she seemed to fumble with an unfamiliar word or phrase, Marga would turn to look behind her, where Titus and Aladdin were sitting nearby having a hushed conversation. Both magi would smile at the children, and Titus would patiently provide Marga with an answer.
Then, the story would continue.
The servants worriedly told him that the High Priest was not in his bedroom, in the sitting room, the gardens, or in the usual places.
This time, Muu knew better, and he told them to calm down. He'll find Titus for them.
Marga had her own room now. She was nine years old, after all. Muu took a quick look and found the girl still sleeping soundly in her bed.
He once found Titus asleep beside the child, an open book still lying open between them. This time, there was no sign of the blonde, and the tell-tale book was laid neatly on the bedside table, so Muu moved on.
He made sure to knock first, and after a few moments, Sphintus opened the door.
Muu didn't have to say anything as the healer said, "He's just brushing his hair. And… you know… he's got a lot of hair."
Muu heard Titus' familiar voice from somewhere inside the room. "I'll be done in a bit!"
The captain only chuckled and shook his head. "Take your time. The servants were wondering, is all. I'll tell them not to worry."
"Thanks, Muu!" came the distant reply.
Muu took his leave, but he didn't miss Sphintus sigh before saying, "Fine, I'll help you with that, lordling." as he shut the door.
He smiled to himself. The world has changed, but some people stay the same.
Aladdin was leaving, taking Morgiana with him - and while Titus assured Muu that it was a personal choice for both of them, the captain knew that there was a deeper meaning to it.
Something has changed. Again. Something was happening that was beyond his understanding, and this child - Solomon's proxy - was leaving to face it.
Again, Muu couldn't help but cringe. Aladdin and Morgiana… they were just children.
"You know that I wouldn't let them leave if I knew they were running head-on to danger." Titus reasoned, but his expression didn't look as bright as Muu would have wanted.
Still, he knew that they have made their decision. The best he could do was send them off properly.
He told Morgiana to be careful, and to remember that their people will be ready to welcome her anytime. The girl smiled a genuine, grateful smile at him and thanked him for everything he had done for her.
He said pretty much the same things to Aladdin. Like the others, Aladdin had grown much over the past few years, but Muu couldn't help but reach out to pat the boy's head.
"You'll always have friends here in Reim."
"And I'll always look after you all, through the rukh." the young magi smiled, and Muu couldn't help but think that his smile used to be much brighter before the war. He hoped that there will be a day when he'll see that light gradually come back to the boy's eyes again, because it seemed like it had disappeared the same time his chosen King Vessel left this world.
Muu smiled back. "Titus-sama and the others would still miss you dearly, I'm sure."
Aladdin chuckled. "Titus, Sphintus and Marga… they'll be alright as long as they have each other." Then, to his susprise, the boy looked at him with his eyes that had always been too wise beyond his years. "And they have you too, Muu-san."
The captain blinked. "Me?"
Aladdin nodded. "They're lucky to have you."
Before Muu could ask further, it was time to go, and Aladdin bowed to him one last time before he went to say goodbye to the others.
He stood behind them as they waved Aladdin and Morgiana goodbye, the two riding on an old but trusty flying carpet.
Marga got teary-eyed. After all, Aladdin was one of her first friends. She clung to Titus' robes and he pressed her to his side, while Sphintus laid his hand on her head comfortingly.
Aladdin told Muu that they were lucky to have him.
He felt otherwise.
Muu was lucky to have them.