Chapter 34

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            Rika folded her arms over her chest, doing her best to ignore the goosebumps spreading down her body from her head. “I heard a rumour there is one. That’s all I really know.”

            Zobah nodded. “There is a prophecy, one kept quiet among the royal family for years, that’s existed for more than a century, mayhap more than two. Only recently has it leaked out to the nobles, and apparently, the common citizens. We are fairly certain that you are the one the prophecy refers to.”

            She frowned, doing her best to keep her eyes on the lord and not on Shetton, who was sticking his head into the unlit fireplace. “What is the prophecy? How can you be sure I’m the one?”

            “When the royal tree has but a single, dying branch, a girl from another world will appear, book in hand. Let no man bar her way, for it is she who will guard the world.”

            Rika couldn’t help the shiver that ran through her body. “I still don’t understand why you’ve been looking for me.”

            “You are the one from the prophecy, the girl who will save this world. As a hero, don’t you think that many would listen to your words, especially on the subject of who the next king should be? That is why both myself and Atelic have been looking for you.”

            “How can you be sure that prophecy is even about me? I mean, I can’t be the first person to end up here by accident, or there wouldn’t have been a spell on a book in my world. And there might be more than book with that kind of spell on it, or even that when I go back, the book will go back too and someone else will pick it up.

As for saving the world, I can barely keep myself safe from a couple of soldiers, my magic’s pretty much useless, and all I’ve been trying to do is go home. Shouldn’t a hero be more…well, heroic? Like someone going around, fighting injustices, saving whole towns, and ready to take on entire nations? I can assure you, I’m none of those things. I’m just a high school student who likes reading too much, who obviously picked up the wrong book.”

The look Zobah turned on her reminded Rika of the expression Ahisu had on his face whenever he thought she was being stupid. Which, if she was being honest, was something she saw on a daily basis. It didn’t help that Shetton was now standing just behind the lord, in the same palce he tended to stand during her magic lessons. She shook her head, her chin rising as she met and held Zobah’s gaze. “A girl with a book isn’t very specific. There have to be thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of girls here who have books, some that they might even carry around with them everywhere.  How can you be sure I’m the right one?”

“You are from another world. You admitted it yourself while denying you are the one from the prophecy. As well, I have the reports from my agents who saw your strange garb both when you were in Saimore and when you left. There may be many girls with books, but there is only one who is from another world. I cannot imagine a spell complicated enough to take a person from one world to another would be so easily reset. And I know of no mage with the power to cast a spell of that strength, so I believe, you are the only one the prophecy could possibly refer to. Even if you wish it otherwise, it won’t change the fact that your arrival has been foretold and that it will be you, who keeps our world from falling into ruin. I suggest you accept it.”

While inwardly Rika’s mind jumped between rejecting the idea of being a hero as being impossible and squealing in excitement over being just like the people in her books, outwardly, she shrugged. “If I am the one this prophecy’s talking about, and I don’t think I am, then it really won’t matter whether I believe it or not, right? Cause either way, I’m going to end up saving the world or whatever.”

Zobah turned her words over for several seconds, twisting the end of his beard between two fingers before finally nodding. “You have the right of it, and far be it for me to contradict the words of a future hero. I can offer you my aid, in whatever endeavour you wish. I have many men, horses, and weapons, should you need additional protection. I beg you accept my apologies, but your current companions don’t look like they have the strength people so close to a hero should have.”

She glared at him. “My friends are my friends. Say anything bad about them and I’m leaving right now.”

“Please, I had hoped you would be willing to spend the night. I have had guest rooms prepared for you and your companions, as well as a feast for this evening’s repast. I would consider it an honour if you would join me for it. Already, my servants will have had hot baths and fresh clothing provided for you in those rooms. Should you need anything else, of course, you will be free and encouraged to let the servants know.”

Rika felt her resolve to walk straight out of there weaken at the thought of a hot bath. She hadn’t gotten clean in hot water since she’d gotten there. The thought of being properly clean was the worst temptation she’d had to face since finding herself in the forest…She shook her head. This wasn’t something she was about to decide on her own. She glanced at Shetton. He only grinned at her, giving her no hint as to what she should do. “I’d like to discuss it with my friends first.”

Zobah nodded. “Please do. I will have my steward escort you back to them. If you wish to remain, you have only to let him know. If you wish to leave, you will find all the doors leading outside unlocked and unbarred. I have no wish to imprison you here, and not only because I do not wish to risk your ire.”

There was something about the way he said that last part that had Rika frowning, but she couldn’t figure out why. She shoved it back to the back of her brain to let thoughts slowly percolate about it, before nodding to Zobah. He smiled back at her before ringing a tiny bell to summon the steward.

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