She heard the servant girl, Mara, run quickly to the voice, who was just far enough away that Freya couldn’t decipher what words were exchanged. Whatever they were, she heard one pair of footfalls retreat to where they came from, and then silence.
She knew this silence. It was the silent tread of a Terran, so she didn’t jump like Dr. Francis when she saw a young blonde-haired woman in a fashionable light pink dress appear at the double doors. Dr. Francis immediately tumbled out of his seat and took her hand and shook it. Freya felt quite embarrassed at his show and remained sitting straight-backed in her armchair.
The lady, Isoto, respectfully shook his hand and after introducing each other, she nodded to Freya as Dr. Francis returned to his armchair.
“You must be Freya,” Isoto exclaimed in her soft voice as she approached her.
“I am,” she bowed her head in respect and Isoto took the armchair beside her.
Mara arrived just at that moment with a tray of three teacups and a covered dish. These she set on the marbletop table between the armchairs and Dr. Francis was hovering over this within seconds. Mara glanced sideways at him but proceeded to serve the tea and opened the dish to reveal (delicate) tea cookies. Dr. Francis huffed and noisily sipped from his teacup.
“I told ye to get something I can digest.”
Mara said nothing but looked desperately at Isoto.
Isoto nodded, then smiled. “Please make Dr. Francis comfortable.”
“Lazy! She didn’t tell ye I asked for something the first time did she!” Dr. Francis huffed as he grabbed some cookies and settled down in his seat. Mara dashed quickly out of the room.
“I sincerely apologize,” Isoto bowed her head.
He mumbled something as stuffed the cookies into his mouth and crumbs scattered across his lap.
Freya sighed as subtly as she could, and Isoto was gracious enough to change the subject.
“Mara tells me Dr. Francis and his assistant wished to discuss something with me? Are you, Freya, in fact his assistant, or is this what convinced Mara to let you inside?”
It wasn’t exactly (rude) impolite and (demanding), but it wasn’t exactly a kind statement either. Awkward, really, and Freya wasn’t sure if that had to do with the inherent Terran directness of conversation or if they were in fact still soulless, as Sieem claimed. What exactly did happen to their souls, I wonder? “We’ve come from Daguerreo to find answers that could not be found there.”
“You are, indeed, the Freya who traveled with our brother, Zidane?”
She looked at the Terran, whose eyes were wide, with what she wasn’t sure. Curiosity? Innocence? Surprise? Like Sieem said, you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all, but that was only superficial. “Yes, I did.”
“Ah,” Isoto nodded and her eyes filled with wonder as she looked Freya up and down.
Trying her best to ignore the slight oddities, she sipped her tea. She noted that Isoto hadn’t even touched hers. The awkward silence was lengthening as Freya tried to ignore Dr. Francis’ munching.
“I apologize again,” Isoto interrupted her thoughts. “I am in astonishment and have much honor that you, a friend of my brother’s, would come to visit me.”
Freya smiled and blushed. “Zidane suggested I come to see you, actually. He had nothing but praise for you.”
“I am humbled,” Isoto bowed her head, but raised it almost immediately. “He is well, I hope? And you are well?”
“Yes, to both,” Freya replied.
“This ought to be a five-course meal,” Dr. Francis piped in from the other side of the seating arrangement.
Freya scowled at him, but Isoto exclaimed, “I hope you are pleasantly surprised.” And not a few seconds later, Mara returned with another tray with a number of covered dishes which she set down in front of Dr. Francis. He grabbed the napkin and fork and waited impatiently as Mara revealed steamed vegetables, soup, rice, and a main dish of roasted chicken still sizzling in its broth.
And while Dr. Francis ate, Isoto retold her story of having only glimpsed Zidane at the Black Mage Village and how she came to decide that she wished for being among Gaians and her journey through Treno and Alexandria before settling at Lindblum because of its unique character and beauty. In this city, she had worked at a restaurant in the day and worked at an inn at night for her residence until she had gathered enough money to get her own apartment. With her imagination and intellect, she became interested in restaurant design and eventually began her own business helping restaurants redesign both in appearances and operationally. Now, two years later, she had made enough money to buy a home to her liking and live here comfortably. Never once did she refer to Mara as her servant, but rather her best friend.
“If it wasn’t for Zidane, or friends like Mara, I would have never been successful anywhere. I am forever indebted to their generosity and advice.”
Dr. Francis wiped his mouth one last time and leaned back in his armchair. “Very interesting. How long do ye expect to be successful here?”
What kind of question is that? Freya glowered, but Isoto was still gracious. “As long as I am blessed.”
“How long do ye expect to live anyway?”
“I really don’t know. This environment is much different than where I came from, but I feel perfectly well.”
“Are ye older than Zidane?”
She shook her head. “I am not sure.”
“Hmph,” Dr. Francis wiped his hands and placed his napkin atop his empty dish.
“So what brings you here, especially to me, a lowly Terran? You say you are from Daguerreo? I would wish to see that place at least once one day. It has piqued my curiosity at times to know there exists such a place where intellectual minds dwell. It must be wonderful.”
“Bah,” Dr. Francis waved his hand. “It is insanity. One is crazier than the next. We only live there because there is no other place for us. We are outcasts, useless, no one listens to us anyway, as they shouldn’t. So I ask ye then: do Gaians accept ye here, outside of yer world?”
He’s more clever than I give him credit for, Freya smiled inwardly.
“We have no world of our own. Yes, we have a society at the Village where we are generally accepted, but now that we are free, we have grown in our minds. Our interests are varied, when at one time we had no interests at all. I still cringe at how mindless we once were. The Village may be our safe place, but so many of us do not feel settled there. I am much happier and content here than there. I enjoy the Gaians. I embrace my new life and I protect this place because it is mine, too.”
“Books and studies is my safe place, too, see. But are ye accepted here?”
She was silent for a moment. “Not entirely.”
She didn’t continue and Freya studied the pensive Terran whose eyes didn’t stray from the empty dishes. And as if she had sent a silent message, Mara strode into the room and picked up the tray. “More tea?” Dr. Francis agreed heartily and Freya obliged politely. She noted that Isoto still had not touched her first cup of tea.
Beginning to feel bad, Freya interrupted the silence. “Daguerreo may not be our home by choice, as the Village may not be yours by choice, but we understand your silent suffering. We may change the world as it stands, but we cannot change minds. This is something we accept, because there is nothing else we can do. We remain strong in what our hearts cannot deny, no matter if the entire world doesn’t understand.”
“Thank you,” Isoto looked up at her.
Was that gratefulness? Or just an reflexive response? Did she truly understand? Freya ignored the doubts. “We’ve departed from Daguerreo because there has been some strange events that occurred. Very tragic events. A doctor completed a manuscript titled ‘An Assessment of Terra.’ He committed suicide the night he completed it, and the book was stolen that same night too, and now after another suicide, please pardon them, in the name of Terra, the book was taken out of the library. We don’t know its whereabouts, and Lindblum being the closest city, we have begun our search here.”
She was quiet, maybe thoughtful, during Freya’s discourse. “In the name of Terra?”
Freya nodded. “I was witness to both.”
Isoto was expressionless, and that must have frustrated Dr. Francis. “It’s another one of those kook cults, they say Terra is alive and coming back and that all the Gaians are going to die. Some prophecy or other–”
“What is the prophecy?”
“The blue shall fade and the protectors of this planet are returning,” Freya intervened. That someone with two faces, hope and prosperity, deceit and treachery, is here. I don’t know if the protectors and this person are one and the same. I was unable to read this book, but I know that it does make the claim that Terra is still alive.”
Isoto shook her head. “It is not. We would know. Our red crystal is no longer. None of us feel it. This prophecy is nonsense, and if the prophecy came from this book, it is nonsense, too.”
“I can’t agree with ye more,” Dr. Francis declared, finishing up his tea. “But as it stands, this cult isn’t going to go away on its own. I’d like to think Daguerreo an unrelated incident, but I’m afraid it isn’t. We need to find out who’s behind it. But ye were our last lead.”
“Me?” Isoto looked puzzled.
“Not exactly…” Freya looked at Dr. Francis in bewilderment, too.
“Yes,” he glared back at her. “Our last lead of the day. It’s past suppertime and now where are we going to stay for the night?”
She turned red in embarrassment.
“You both are most welcome to spend the night here,” Isoto exclaimed a bit loudly. To get their attention or quell Freya’s (embarrassment)?
Freya quickly proffered a negative but was, of course, interrupted by Dr. Francis’ (hearty) agreement, to which he proceeded to stand up, stretch, and ask where his room was.
He has been up all night and all day, how could I forget. Even I, she suppressed a yawn at the thought, am quite tired.
“Mara!” Isoto called out, and the young lady appeared almost instantly.
“Please show them to their rooms, they will be spending the night here.” Mara stiffened at this, her mouth turning into a thin line. But she nodded once and glanced at Dr. Francis who was already standing beside her tapping his foot.
“I am most grateful,” Freya stood up when Isoto did.
“It is the least I can do.” Isoto looked up at her. “I’m sorry I could not be of more help. The prophecies make no sense to me. If you’d like, I can ask around about this book, but I can’t guarantee anything that is hearsay.”
“It’s alright,” Freya assured her. “We will get to the bottom of this.”
“I hope you do,” Isoto nodded. “You are free to do as you like. I will be retiring soon as I have an early appointment tomorrow morning. But you can stay as long as you wish, and Mara will oblige to whatever Dr. Francis wishes, I will make sure of it.”
“Here, I will show you your room. Please, you are my honored guests, what is mine is yours. Mara is always nearby if you need anything.”
Freya repeated her thank yous, blushing at the generosity.
Once in her room, she sat down on the soft bed and couldn’t help but sink into its enticing luxury. Sleep loomed like an unwelcome shadow, but her thoughts were a jumbled mess. And before she could attempt to organize her mind, Dr. Francis opened the door.
“Care to share a pipe with me outside?”
And a stiff drink, too. Nodding and feeling as if she could barely breathe, she followed the doctor down the hallway that led to a simple but quaint stone patio. Beyond the small yard that was privately surrounded on each side with tall bushes, the evening sky glowed brilliantly in rich purples and gold.
Dr. Francis poked his head back into the house and shouted for Mara. Freya shook her head as she almost collapsed into the cushioned patio chair, exhaustion creeping up on her. Poor girl. We must leave first thing in the morning too before he torments her any more.