“I can hold my own against them,” James insisted. “Now pay attention.”
Having lost their interest in playfulness after thinking about their friend battling monsters that he hardly understand, they focused on him and what he had to say. James took a few more minutes to explain how they were to meet their new guide, as well as the other items that he had for them, and was finished. They tried to convince him to stay, but he refused to delay even another moment.
“How will we know that you’ve made it back to your father’s house safely?” Cerys asked.
“You won’t,” he replied.
“Then how…” she went on. “What if…”
“Don’t ask such questions,” he told her. “Get some dinner, then get some sleep. The village gates will be open tomorrow just after dawn, so after breakfast you can start heading north. Don’t stop for anything but the border guards until you get to the next village. There is only one tavern there, and your guide will be waiting for you.”
“Sure,” Cerys said, “but what about you? Will the guards even let you through the gates right now?”
“They couldn’t care less if some stranger wanted to play the fool on the road,” he replied. “Is there anything else that you need before I take my leave?”
The teenagers looked to one another and shook their heads hopelessly.
“Just for you to stay the night,” Cerys told him, “but you already said you won’t.”
James did not look impressed. “Anything else that you need, you can ask the villagers. You are intelligent enough to know what you should and should not say to them.”
“I’ll be extra sure to say where we come from,” Peter added sarcastically.
The baron’s son only shook his head. Then there were hugs shared all around, and James gave his farewells and good-lucks. He insisted on leaving alone, declining the offers to walk him outside, or at least to the doors. And with that, he was gone.
Cerys waited only a few minutes before walking back to her room with Himeko. “He couldn’t even make a joke when I asked him to stay the night,” she sighed.
“Did you really want him to?” Himeko asked.