"And what did he do?"
"He kissed me."
Aria spent the next day with Nolan. He had come into the lower towns on his weekly visit, and it could not have happened at a better time. It took nearly three hours—including dramatic pauses and speechlessness—for her to properly translate what had transpired in her life in the past several weeks. Her growing romance with Merlin was saved for last since that's the bit she knew he would take a particular interest in. Just as predicted, Nolan was all ears for the entire duration of the story.
"That's quite a story, sister," Nolan said with a light shake of his head as he downed a swig of spiced cider. Aria always kept a jug of spiced cider for special occasions only, such as Nolan's few-and-far-between visits. "So how does it end?"
Aria chuckled, gathering the plates from the table and placing them into the empty tub—she'd wash them later. Right now was family time, something she took with all seriousness. "I don't know," she admitted, rather breathy. "I guess you'll just have to wait and find out…same as everyone else around here." She sighed, tucking a bit of her hair behind her ear as she sat down beside her brother and faced the fire. "Nolan, I have a question."
"Sure, go ahead."
Aria sighed, looking him straight in the face. "Do you think there's any way to tell when someone is the someone for you, or is it just supposed to be left up to fate?"
Nolan thought his answer entirely through before he answered. "I think it's very possible, Aria. I think that when you get to know someone, something along your relationship should grow heated and passionate, eventually coming to your attention. If it's meant to be, fate will make it quite obvious. Even the most oblivious man in the world cannot shut out the twists of his destiny."
Aria shoved him in the shoulder. "No, seriously. Answer my question. I was being serious with you."
Nolan laughed a bit. "So was I. Look, Aria, I know I'm not one to be taken seriously one hundred percent of the time, but trust me on this. I'm currently experiencing something similar." Aria's brow rose in shock, which he silenced with a shrug. "No worries—I can handle it. I told you the truth. What I said can be applied to my situation, so I'm asking for your trust on this."
"And what if it happens that you're lying to me?" She cocked an eyebrow quizzically.
"Disown me," Nolan admitted, throwing his hands up in defeat, to which they both shared a laugh. "From the lengthiness you told me earlier, it sounds like you should definitely keep this guy around. He sounds like your type."
"Looks aren't everything, brother."
"No, but they do help, sister."
Aria smiled, folding her arms across her chest. "I just wish my love would be like Mum and Dad's, you know? They were so into what they felt that whenever they were in each other's presence, nothing else in the world existed but the two of them. Every day it was like that. It never waned and was quite beautiful." She sighed helplessly. "My own romance turned out to be quite different."
"But still beautiful in your eyes, I hope…?"
Aria nodded. "Aye, it's still beautiful. Still, it could do with a boost."
"Is 'boost' some kind of girl code for 'snog'? Because I could do with a hot, solid 'boost' myself." Aria nearly slapped him, choking down a bit of her cider as she mustered a cough-infested cackle.
"Cheeky, you are," she said to him.
"And I think it's time I took my cheekiness home," he said, rising from the table and slipping on his boots. "The farm is near the late Cenred's kingdom border and his men have been harassing us servants at the farm. It's gotten to the point where we're all carrying swords and daggers on a daily basis now on a 'just in case' basis."
Aria's eyes widened as she fetched his overcoat from her bed and helped him slip his arms into the sleeves. "What about father and the girls? Are they still at the farm?"
Nolan shook his head. "Thankfully, no," he said, readjusting his coat as he retrieved his satchel from the cupboard near the wall. "They were moved to a local village sporting a tavern, about half a day's ride from Camelot. I thank the stars every day that they're not within the reaches of these men."
Aria sighed with relief, instantly reminded of something she'd prepared earlier that day, prior to Nolan's arrival. "Here," she said, grabbing a small cloth filled with cooked meat and fruits, "it's not much, but it will see you home healthily." She smiled, placing the cloth into his bag before he could even mutter an answer.
"Aria," he said, wrapping his arms around her and pulling her close, "take care of this Merlin bloke. If I ever get the chance to meet him, I would take that chance only in your favor. I know how much it would mean to you if I were kind to your lover-boy."
"Hey!" she exclaimed, pushing him back away from her as she narrowed her eyes in sight of his cocky grin. "You haven't hugged me in years. Why start now?"
He shrugged lightly. "It's been a long time, and with Cenred's former lemmings—what's left of his supporters anyway—I don't know when I'll be back."
Aria smiled, kissing his cheek lightly. "Be sure to tell your girl I send greetings," she said with a wink.
Nolan nodded, squeezing her hand before stepping out the door to begin his hike back to the farm.
"Oh, God," Aria began to pray, "watch over my brother on his journey and keep him safe from Cenred's supporters. You especially know what they're capable of." She sighed, bowing her head and closing her eyes. "Amen."
Now was the time when magic would be of no use in protecting Nolan.