Kefalia, Stocastin, Akintos, and Narcius all walked into the throne room somewhat nervously while Exelda hid her face as she walked behind everybody. A woman with similar features to Dason sat in one of the gilded chairs and looked at several pieces of paper exasperatedly. When she saw the five of them enter, she breathed a sigh of relief. The royal servant announced, “Princess Aleta, here are the people you requested.”
“Yes, I can see that,” Aleta responded to him dryly. She turned to the heroes and regarded them, “Oh, thank gods, you’re all here! I… Wait, where is Exelda?”
Stocastin and Narcius stepped aside to reveal Exelda, who sheepishly said, “Oh, hello there! I, um, I was just-.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah!” Aleta interupted her. “I’m happily married now, so I don’t care about that incident from the past! Besides, I have more important things to worry about. With my parents totally out of it and my brother missing, I’m next in line for the crown! One minute I’m living a life of luxury, and next thing I know, I’m up to my elbows in paperwork and people needing me for this and that! I don’t know what all this means!” She indicated to her paperwork. “Why do I have these bills for services you received? A bathhouse, a tailor… wow, you found a female cobbler?”
Akintos corrected her, “Actually, Nike is a guy.”
“Really?” Aleta puzzled. “Why would he go by a goddess’s name?”
“He started to tell us, but we decided we didn’t want to know,” Akintos reported.
Aleta raised an eyebrow but did not press the subject. “Whatever. Just tell me why your bills are getting sent to the palace!”
The five heroes shifted guiltily, and Exelda explained, “We received these services while on official duty. It came as a result of us fighting the monsters, and Dason promised to pay us, so we figured that you could subtract the bills from the money we’re supposed to receive.”
“Oh, that makes sense,” Aleta replied. “How much did he say he was going to give you?”
Exelda thought about it for a moment. “Hmm… I don’t think he actually said a specific amount.” The other four corroborated her conclusion.
Aelta let out an aggravated sigh. “How in the name of Plutus am I supposed to know what the proper amount to pay you is?” She buried her head into her arms, which rested on throne she sat on. “Why didn’t he write any of this down? Why did he have to go missing in the first place? I just want to go back to being a pampered housewife! That’s all I want!”
She kept her head buried as a young, teenage boy entered the room from a door behind her. He had a piece of parchment and a quill in his hand as he approached her. “Aunt Aleta?”
Not moving her head at all, Aleta muttered, “What?”
The boy requested, “Can you help me with my academic work?”
“You’re asking me this now?” She popped her head up an expression on her face as though she were about to cry from frustration. “I’m in the middle of-!”
“I’m supposed to see my tutor soon and I don’t have any of it done!” he exclaimed. “I can’t go with an incomplete assignment!”
Before Aleta could burst, Stocastin volunteered, “Perhaps I can be of assistance. I’m quite learned in the academic arts.”
The boy seemed a little skeptical. “Really? Do you know anything about mathematical formulas?”
Exelda, Narcius, Akintos, and Kefalia all laughed knowingly while Stocastin’s eyes lit up in sheer joy. Kefalia assured the boy, “Stocastin knows everything about mathematical formulas! He does them on his own for fun!”
“Really? Oh, okay!” The boy stepped off of the throne platform and sat next to Stocastin on the floor.
Aleta’s overwhelmed demeanor mollified a bit as she watched Stocastin delightedly explain how to solve the formulas on his parchment. She then turned to the papers in front of her and concluded, “I guess I can just pay these and keep a record of what you spent so we can figure out how much to pay you when the job is done.”
Exelda promised her, “We’ll try not to charge anything else to you.”
“Well, as long as you don’t crazy with your spending, you can still charge things to the palace,” Aleta decreed. “I want to make sure you have everything you need to get the job done, after all! I mean, your work is unbelievably important! Oh, I’m so glad that Dason hired you before he went missing! I don’t know what I would have done if he hadn’t!”
“Well, the senate came up with this idea,” Exelda pointed out. “You would have done just fine!”
An idea suddenly struck Aleta. “The senate! Of course! Dason must have left the details of his decisions with them!” She turned to her servant and directed him, “Please bring in the senate leader!”
“Yes, Princess!” The servant half bowed before he left.
Aleta returned her attention to the heroes. “If there’s anything you need, please let me know! I’m confident that Dason will return one day, and when he does, I want to make sure you’re all in one piece! He’d kill me if anything happened to you guys! Especially you, Exelda!” Aleta winked at her.
“What do you mean, especially me?” Exelda probed.
Aleta’s face fell slightly. “Oh, he didn’t talk to you about…?” She saw Exelda’s blank expression, which answered her question. “Oh, he’s not going to like that I just said that! Oh well! Since the cat’s out of the bag now, he’s been talking about you non-stop ever since he met you! He finds you charming and sweet, and he’s infinitely intrigued by all of your achievements in the war. He thinks you’re the prettiest person in all of Greece too, so I told him-.”
“He’s wrong!” Narcius interjected. “I’m the prettiest person in all of Greece!”
Aleta looked a little perplexed at his cause for disruption, but it was Kefalia who admonished him, “You can’t interrupt the princess!”
Narcius didn’t seem deterred by her reproach. “You know it’s true!”
“I’m starting to think it’s not so important anymore!” Kefalia huffed.
Aleta was obviously confused, “so Akintos advised her, “Feel free to cut them off anytime!”
Exelda jumped in, “If Dason really felt this way about me, why didn’t he seek me out? He could have found me any time he wanted to, so why didn’t he? Did he believe all of the rumors spread about us?”
“We’re not ones to rely on rumors,” Aleta replied. “As public figures, we have all kinds of gossip swirling around about us. Do you believe any of them?” Exelda mulled it over for a second and shook her head. Aleta continued, “He always wanted to find you, but he never did because he never thought he was good enough for you.”
Exelda’s eyes went wide in shock. “Not good enough for me? But he’s a prince! He’s so handsome and smart and kind… He could have any girl in the kingdom at a moment’s notice! And yet he’s worried about not being good enough for me? Me, a disgraced soldier turned peasant woman! He could have a girl with a flatter stomach, a high social standing, and more… more everything than me, and yet he thinks he’s not good enough for me?”
Aleta sagely stated, “It’s not like he’s perfect! He has faults just like everyone else, and dating a royal comes with some baggage! Besides, you may not think much of yourself, but he thinks a lot of you!”
Exelda’s cheeks reddened immensely, and she couldn’t help but beam broadly. Kefalia cooed, “Awwwwww!”
The royal servant returned and got everyone’s attention by clearing his throat. “The senate leader, your highness.”
Cyrek entered and commented to Aleta, “You interrupted a very busy assembly… And I can’t thank you enough! How can I help you?”
“Finished!” the boy declared. “Thank gods! Who uses the Pythagorean Theorem in real life?”
“You’d be surprised, kid!” Stocastin reacted.
Exelda told Cyrek and Aleta, “We should get going! We still have a lot of research to do!”
Narcius and Kefalia groaned, but Akintos joked, “Relax guys! Every time we try to do research, we get attacked by a monster. So if you don’t want to do any book work, don’t worry, we won’t! Maybe they’ll save us a trip and attack us before we leave!”
“That’s not funny!” Exelda punched his arm. “If we do get attacked by another monster on the way, I swear to Gaia, I will-!”
A royal guard suddenly barged into the room and urgently called out, “Help! The Agrotis village is under attack!”
“By soldiers?” Akintos timidly asked.
“No,” the royal guard answered. “Our farms are under attack by a hideous monster!”
Akintos repined, “Damn!” Exelda glared at him, so he boldly asserted, “You can’t kill me ’til after we defeat the monster!”
Exelda stared at him with raised eyebrows. “You’re not allowed to make any more predictions!” She commanded to the others, “Let’s go!” They followed the royal guard out of the palace.