Rin looked as if he wanted to protest, and truth be told he did. He wouldn’t voice it out loud yet—perhaps never—but the thought of leaving Aoife behind had an inexplicable sense of sadness fogging his mind. He knew it was madness. They were friends, sure, but when it came down to it, they barely knew each other. And yet despite that, when he looked at her, he knew she was the girl he wanted to marry one day. Swanning off to Olmaea for four years, at the very least, wouldn’t do wonders for that plan. He supposed he could always propose now, but what if she said no? She had her ideals, after all, and he could already imagine the scandal that follow an uncourted engagement. Not only would he be leaving Aoife behind, but he could potentially be leaving her behind as a friend as well. He would rather have her as a friend than not have her at all.

And so his protests died before he had even given proper thought to voice them. Instead the young man was silent, taking his seat beside Aoife once she had made herself comfortable at his grandfather’s desk. He knew his grandfather didn’t approve of them reading from the book, but there was little the old man could do to stop them during working hours. No matter where he hid it, Rin would always be able to find it, and so the old man simply resigned himself to feigning ignorance on the matter should his grandson ever be discovered. The less he pretended to know, the less his protege would get in trouble, or so he hoped.

The final story in the book, as the two youths would discover, was marginally less interesting than the rest of the book. It spoke of a prophecy from years ago which should have seen the monarchy tossed from their throne, and the wildsmen restored their rightful lands. Given that King Ruben sat on the throne and his son Nox was soon to act as his father’s successor, the prophecy contained on those delicate papyrus sheets was clearly a farce, and a disappointing end to the duo’s adventure. The two sat in something of an awkward silence, neither quite willing to close the book and truly put an end to things, or to believe that what they had read was really the end. For Aoife, this moment would act as her first lesson in life’s disappointments.

“Is that it?” Rin spoke, question hanging in the air, not really directed at anyone in particular.

He turned the page, as if he were expecting to see some other entry concealed behind it, but all that greeted him was the back cover of the book, yet more etchings of wolves scrawled onto it. And that was just a further insult in the young apprentice’s mind. For all the imagery the book had presented, there hadn’t been one mention of anything even remotely close to a wolf. What was the point in decorating a novel with such specific detail, without giving a single mention of the detail in question? It just didn’t make sense to him.

“Don’t let it disappoint you, Rin,” Aoife said, hand resting on his arm to try and comfort him, the way she’d seen young ladies do to their brothers and fathers.

Rin heaved a sigh, shrugging off Aoife’s hand as he closed the book in a decidedly frustrated manner. He knew he’d never hear the end of it if he’d damaged it, but frankly he felt it deserved a little rough treatment. He’d make it up to Elias later. He rose from his chair, leaving Aoife with little to do but watch and wait for his tantrum to run out of steam, and paced around the cramped workshop, gangly limbs disrupting his grandfather’s work more than once.

“Don’t let it disappoint me?” he echoed, fingers running through his hair, messing up its perfect styling. “Aoife, all this was supposed to be for something. It was supposed to have some grand epiphany at the end, not a load of old bollocks about some fake prophecy.”

“What are you talking about? Rin, it’s just a book, please calm down,” Aoife said, frowning.

“You can’t tell me you weren’t expecting something more than that, Aoife,” he asserted, turning to face the young woman. “Why would a book like this be banned, if not because it spewed some sort of heresy? Why all the wolves? Maybe there’s a page missing. Yes, that must be it, we’ll have to find it.”

“If it’s missing, it’s likely gone for good. I know you said your grandfather restores banned books, but I doubt any other man takes that duty as seriously. Or would you scour the world for something that might not exist?”

"Yes, I would," Rin said moodily, arms folded across his chest as he sulked.

"Then go to Olmaea, study at the university there, and then try to find it. That way you get the best of both worlds."

"And what about you?" Rin asked, temper starting to cool once more. "What will you do? You only have a week to decide now."

Aoife was quiet then. She’d been trying to pretend that her birthday wasn’t drawing ever closer, but between Rin and Niamh, it had been hard to forget. Niamh had been pressuring her to stay, and Rin had been pressuring her to leave, and neither party were willing to compromise or even entertain the idea of doing the opposite—something all the more confusing in regards to Niamh, given her eagerness to arrange a good marriage for herself and be rid of the Cathedral once and for all.

“I think I’m going to stay,” she murmured, eyes downcast as she spoke. She knew Rin wouldn’t approve, but despite all her dreams and ambitions she knew that, realistically, she didn’t have a life outside of the Cathedral. She would sooner remain in service to the Maker than risk destitution and other unspeakable things.

The look in Rin’s eye said he wanted to protest, but the young woman could only silently thank him for keeping his opinions to himself. She took one last look at the book they’d shared, carefully slipping off the delicate white gloves she’d grown so accustomed to wearing, before getting to her feet, skirt filling most of the cramped space.

“Thank you for showing me this regardless, Rin.” She offered her friend a smile. “I’m sure you’ll do brilliantly at university.”

“I never said I was going,” Rin countered, but Aoife flashed him a knowing look. “I still have a month, Aoife. I won’t leave without saying goodbye, I promise.”

Aoife gave her friend another smile, moving across the room and wrapping the young man in a hug, an action most unbecoming of a woman who held herself as highly as Aoife did. With one last farewell, she let herself out of the workshop, pausing just long enough to allow Rin to follow, and then she was gone.

Rin was lost. Aoife and his grandfather both wanted him to go to Olmaea, to study, to become a learned gentleman and make something of himself. Though he’d long since distanced himself from the man, he knew all too well his father wouldn’t approve of that plan of action, either. His family were labourers, not scholars, and as long as his father’s shadow hung over him, he would never forget that. He wanted to go, but in his gut he knew something wasn’t right. Something would go wrong, or maybe something was going to happen that he had to be in Eturia for. He couldn’t explain it, but something was keeping him rooted in his second home, and he wasn’t going to leave without finding out what. The hopeless romantic in him hoped that thing was Aoife, and that his destiny was to save Aoife from a life in a habit, but he knew that was likely little more than a pipedream. Still, that didn’t mean he couldn’t try anyway.

The End

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