Days began to pass by like falling rain. At first, Cole made every attempt to stealthily slip away from the castle when he could manage, hoping to abscond to some adventure which ended in Ruby's rescue, yet every undertaking was fruitless; Malachai kept a close eye him, and though Cole was continuously persistent, he was thwarted time and again by the woodsman.
Ruby's absence was a reality check for the young man. In West Sparrow he was carefree; his life was without restriction. He lived with his grandmother, but more time was spent in the tree house than anywhere else. The summers were full of memories and meals brought to him by his childhood friend.
Arriving at Avelen, he seemed to acclimate to the environment better than she did, because the experience was nothing more than some fairytale story that Ruby would often read to this juvenile king. Trolls, dragons, fae; these were legends in fictional literature, or at least they were supposed to be. Initially it seemed out of place, but after a day or two, the sword at Cole's hip felt like a natural addition to his attire. He was witness to many magical sights, but now it all became dispelled before his very eyes.
Presently Ruby was imprisoned in the clutches of enemy, and without her around, a few weeks in the castle felt like a hundred life times to Cole. Where was she? Was Ruby alive? This overwhelming uncertainty distracted him, which gave Jace the opportunity for a clean strike. He took it without hesitation.
Cole staggered backward, clutching his chest as he dropped to one knee. Beads of sweat dripped from the shaggy locks of his hair onto the stone floor.
"Hah, another point for me." Jace smirked his usual smile, but after a moment it faded from his lips. "What's wrong with you today? You are barely fighting back."
"He has a great burden upon his shoulders, Jace. Indeed we all do. It is something we must share and face together." Malachai crossed the chamber of the indoor garden and extended one of his hands to Cole.
The young man was still very furious about the decision to stay at the castle while Ruby was abducted, and it showed; he slapped away the hand of the woodsman and rose to his feet according to his own will. "If we're really sharing this burden together, why don't you or Jace marry the princess?"
Malachai sighed deeply while Jace just laughed.
"Not this again, my liege. How many times must I say it? You are recognized as the star-born king, therefore you are the only one worthy of Aira's hand."
"And if you have forgotten," Jace added, "we need the help of the fae, especially if we want to get rid of the Dragon King."
"But can't you just make a plea or something? I mean, you and your sister are fae after all." Cole's desperation was hard to conceal and easily detected. Jace simply shook his head in the negative.
"I understand your suffering, my liege, but this is the only way. We must continue to train until the coronation." Malachai made an effort to comfort Cole. "Ruby is still out there, and we have the chance to get her back. From the time she arrived in Avelen, I could sense she had an inner strength that was resilient, and the friendship you two possess will be the power that reunites you. Have faith, my king."
Cole was still distraught by the concerns he felt. Malachai continued, "I know this arrangement may seem unfair to you, but-"
Suddenly a fairer voice could be heard as a maiden cleared her throat. All attention turned as the three men laid eyes upon Aira. It can be said that Jace, Malachai, and many of the royal members of the castle began to feel a pinch of grief at losing such a precious person as Ruby. The only one who seemed to benefit from her lack of presence was the princess, who nearly leapt at every opportunity to attach herself to Cole's side.
"Ahem! But what?" Her glare pierced the air, but the woodsman was quick to react.
"Well, I was just about to say that he couldn't be marrying anyone fairer in the kingdom than you, my lady." He bowed his head slightly, as did Jace, who was all too quick to agree with Malachai for his own purposes.
"It is true! I cannot think of any women in this kingdom, human or fae, that could rival the exquisiteness of the princess." The same coy stretched across his mouth, as he thought to himself, "that is, ever since the absence of Ruby."
"Ah - you two understand the path to a woman's heart," she said as she clasped a pendant that hung from her neck, stopping at her partially exposed bust. "Perhaps our king will take more than just combative lessons from you."
Everyone present, with the exception of Cole, laughed at this reply, though they all had different reasons. After a moment or two, Malachai inquired, "What brings you to our training session, my lady?"
"I know you are all working so hard, but the wedding is already one week away. I am here to steal our handsome king away, because there are several plans which have yet to be made. There is a dispute of the floral décor, a matter of deciding on the perfect dishes to serve, where each guest will be occupying while staying at the castle, and so forth."
Cole frowned in obvious dismay. Even in West Sparrow, the young man had little thought or care for marital relations. He believed that the future was too uncertain to worry about something so trivial. Now in Avelen, he was being forced to plan his own wedding; the thought was tormenting, yet he wondered how much more tortuous the process might be if Ruby were to advise him in the matter, considering she loathed Aira with a fiery passion.
Malachai nudged the king, harder than usual, attempting to erase the discontent expression plastered upon his face. "Do not let Jace or I keep you. I have a few exercises we can run through while you are at it. Good luck my liege!"
Heaving a heavy sigh, Cole began to depart from the indoor garden. The princess hastily approached his side, and locked arms with him. Together they walked into an adjacent corridor. Aira turned to him with a seemingly noticeable twinkle in her eyes, "This is going to be fun!"