Juliette was inspecting the figurine Percival had given her when Adolf returned and sat down beside her with a sigh. He’d tried, but he didn’t feel as through Percival was interested in anything he had to say. He looked at the sky and relaxed in the warmth of the firelight. His traveling pack was a great deal softer with the blanket Percival had given him inside it, but it still wasn’t a pillow.
A little longer, he thought.
In just one more day, he’d leave Löffeltal completely behind and start making a way for his and his mother’s future in Paris.
Just one more day.
“Adolf,” Juliette said, “Could I ask you something?”
“You can,” he said, “But I don’t promise to answer.”
She smiled, “You sound like Percival.”
Adolf’s lips twitched. There was no way Juliette could have known what those words meant to him, and he would never tell her.
“Wish I could be more like him.”
“What happened to you?” Juliette asked, “To them?”
He chuckled and looked over to where the others sat around their own fire. He and Juliette sat beside Percival’s fire.
“Them? They grew up with selfish parents and selfish family members. They’ve never had to work for anything. Their parents are back in Troyes.”
”Because they thought they could do better and didn’t want to have to chip in at home since their parents lost everything. They’re old enough to do their own thing, so their parents let them go. I’m pretty sure getting rid of extra mouths to feed was the main motivator of that decision.”
Adolf shook his head, “They’ll probably end up menial labor like in Nancy and Troyes, but with their attitudes, I don’t imagine it will be easy.”
Paris wasn’t an easy city to live in unless you had a lot of gumption, a lot of luck and spoke the Parisian language. You had to be prepared to sacrifice early to get anywhere later, and they didn’t understand the word sacrifice let alone the concept of it. Adolf knew that it would be a hard road ahead for them.
“Okay. And you?”
Adolf sighed and looked towards where Percival sat. His mother had been a blacksmith. She wasn’t a mage, but she worked for Helena Leonhard ever since she’d come to Loefeltaal. His father left before Adolf was even born and the Leonhards had helped them immensely even with their gaggle of children. He and Percival met when they were older after Adolf’s mother had steadied herself and gone back to work full-time. Percival had always been rather quiet, but even in that quiet, there had been a joy and hope there. All of that light had died in Wiehre with Percival’s little sister Agatha.
“My mom’s in Troyes too,” he said, “She’s sick, so she couldn’t make the trip with us. I told her I’d go first, get established, and send money back so she’d be alright. I’ll go get her and bring her to the hospital in Paris when I’m established enough.”
He remembered her telling him that he would have it hard and to not worry about her. Sick or not, she wasn’t unhireable. They’d argued about it until she finally caved seeing exactly how distraught Adolf was over her sickness and over potentially losing her when they’d already lost so much.
Juliette nodded, “You’re a good guy.”
He shook his head looking towards Percival and wiped the tears from his eyes.
“Not as good as I should be.”
He’d been injured so really he shouldn’t blame himself, but his mother had dragged him out of Wiehre and left Percival behind at Percival’s insistence. When he’d woken up, and Percival had come into town like a ghost, he tried to reach out to him, but Percival had all but shut him down. Then, his mother had fallen ill. The scramble to leave Freiburg as soon as possible had filled his mind to the point that he’d forgotten to try again with Percival. The terror that had consumed him when the physician told them that it was a magical sickness that could only be treated by physicians elsewhere had nearly destroyed what was left of Adolf’s sanity. It had been Percival who’d recommended the hospital in Paris. Percival who’d saved his life in Wiehre. It had also been Percival who’d come back for him even when it seemed that there was no hope. Just like his parents, he’d been noble until his breaking point.
In another life, there was no doubt that he and Odette, his eldest sister, would have become the next leaders of Löffeltal. He was even now more a leader than they deserved given the way everything had gone, and Adolf couldn’t even manage an apology for being such a terrible friend. When he’d asked Percival to come with them, he hadn’t expected the other to agree. He knew exactly how marketable Percival’s skills were and how smart he was. Percival had no reason to say yes. When he’d said yes, Adolf hadn’t really had a chance to think about it, to think that, maybe, there was a chance that they could be friends again as he was still trying to figure out where he stood with Percival internally.
Agatha had died in Wiehre because he’d been injured and unable to carry her. His mother had been ill already and had barely managed to drag him into Freiberg with her own strength. Percival had entrusted Agatha with someone else in the caravan who’d thrown her to the wolves, not even a full minute after they’d sworn to take her with them while Percival headed up the rear. If he’d been paying more attention, if he hadn’t been so dizzy with hunger, if he’d been stronger none of it would have happened. He should have taken the meat that Percival offered him instead of giving it to that woman who’d left Agatha to fend for her life and ended up dead anyway.
He should have thought of himself first, but wouldn’t that have made him no better than that woman or the men who thought it a good idea to steal from the caravan and strike out on their own with most of their supplies? Those men and that woman who were now dead. Adolf woke up before Juliette and found Percival still in the same position that he’d been when they’d gone to sleep wrapped in a thick blanket, breathing slowly and watching the sunrise.
He licked his lips and stood. He tucked the blanket around Juliette and walked to the river to splash his face. Feeling refreshed, Adolf took a seat near Percival and sighed.
“Percival,” he started looking over to where the other sat, “About…”
Percival didn’t say anything. He hadn’t ever said much, but at least before he knew where he stood with Percival.
He offered a scrap of paper with the address of the place he’d be staying on it to Percival.
“I know once we get to Paris you’ll be doing your own thing. I’m not going to ask where you’ll be. Just give you my information, so if you ever want to talk or hang out, we can.”
Adolf waited, prepared to hold the paper out to him for hours if necessary, but he knew that it would only take Percival turning away from him to know that whatever relationship they had once had died in Wiehre. Percival turned his head to meet Adolf’s gaze, contemplating his expression maybe contemplating the paper in his hand.
There was a light in Percival’s eyes, a twitch at the corner of his mouth that Adolf wasn’t sure how to interpret. Percival reached out, took the page, and tucked it into his pocket. Adolf let out a breath he didn’t realize he was holding before gasping at the piece of paper that Percival pulled from his bag and offered Adolf.
He smiled, warm and hopeful before taking it from Percival. He folded it and tucked it into the small pouch beneath his clothes where he kept all of his documentation and money.
“Thank you, Percival,” he said with a thick and trembling voice, “I– I should get the others up so we can get moving.”
“It’s not your fault,” Percival said before Adolf could walk out of hearing distance.
His voice held no malice nor any joy. There was no forgiveness or emotion in those words, but Adolf felt it like a stab through the chest made half of relief and half of agony.
“Maybe one day I’ll believe that.”
Adolf walked back. Juliette had woken up a little bit after he’d gone to sit with Percival. He’s grateful that she doesn’t comment on the way that he has to furiously wipe his face to keep the tears off his cheeks. He pointed toward the stream where Percival sat for water and set about waking everyone else. Most of them groaned, got up and managed to stuff what meager rations they had left into their mouths or grumbled about being hungry before Percival came to join them fully dressed and completely unfazed. Adolf doesn’t know if he still has his address, but it doesn’t matter. He took it, and that was the first step.
Percival took the lead back onto the road towards Paris. The longer they walked, the sparser the woods became until it gave way to flat, unwooded land, and they could see the city of Paris in the distance. From the distance, he could smell just a whiff of the city’s streets. It’s a beautiful city at the distance, but not at all like he’d imagined it from his parents’ descriptions of Paris.
“I can just taste the baguette,” Juliette moaned beside him, “Warm and soft and delicious. Maybe I’ll splurge and get some soup too.”
Adolf laughed, “I haven’t had soup in ages.”
“What about you, Percy?” Juliette asked, hurrying to walk beside him and grin up at him. The rest of the group trailed behind them looking through the ads that Adolf had given them.
Percival stopped walking stunned by Juliette’s voice, her looks and the nickname all at once. The path to Paris faded away and was replaced with the phantom of their hometown. There’s the sound of small, quick feet running up behind him to launch a smaller body at him. The feeling of arms around his shoulders and legs around his waist forcing him to carry the weight of them both.
She was his elder sister but made sure to only use her birth order to get his other brothers to do things for her. With Percival, there wasn’t much she couldn’t ask for him to do. Since it was usually as simple as carrying her home for lunch and make her something to eat, he always obliged.
Stop being so mature, Percy, she’d say, Make me lunch?
“I’m sure whatever you’ll be eating will be magically delicious,” Juliette said with a dreamy sigh pulling him out of the memory, “You seem to have a way with food if not money. Eat really good for us struggling folk, okay?”
“I’ve got business,” he said and forced himself to resume walking, “But I’m sure I’ll get around to eating.”
Juliette nodded, “Business. Bet it’s lucrative. Wish I had business waiting for me! They don’t advertise jobs the same way they advertise living arrangements.”
Adolf snorted, “More like you didn’t want to take any of them.”
Juliette huffed and threw up her hands, “None of them were worth the time! Living in Paris working and for Freiburg dollars: it’s a travesty.”
“Have you tried the palace?” Percival asked, “The youngest princess is in need of a new handmaiden.”
She blinked and looked up at him curiously, “How do you know that?”
“Gossip,” Percival said, “the real currency of merchants.”
Percival felt the twitch in his shoulder as he said it. Words from the grave that never seemed so present. It was something Wolfgang would say so frequently that he bet that even Adolf had committed it to memory.
“The palace of Versailles is always hiring. The Comte of Paris keeps firing people; the eldest princess hires the wrong people, and the middle and youngest princesses are always fixing the staffing.”
“One of these days I’m going to get the full story of what you were up to in Troyes, Percy,” Juliette said with a curious tilt to her lips, “And a smile.”
Where’s my smile? Her voice asked tugging on his ear one sunny day as he carried her home from her classes.
Juliette looked just like her.
Percival stared at her for just a moment before turning his eyes forward. He shoved his hands in his pockets to keep them from shaking noticeably at the shock of pain in his chest. It doesn’t take long for them to reach the streets of Paris already alive with French and rushing people. They stopped in the middle of what looked to be a marketplace, and Adolf addressed them all.
“Well, it’s been great traveling with you all,” Adolf said, “Let’s keep in touch, yeah?”
Percival said nothing, stepping away before Juliette grabbed his wrist looking up at him.
“You too, big guy,” she said placing a slip of paper in his hand, “My address, for now. Don’t lose it, understand?”
It’s not Juliette that he’s nodding at, but someone smaller, a younger face pressing a shiny object in his hand for safe keeping. Little Agatha still alive and smiling up at him, something precious to her in his hand, a good luck token or just a strangely smooth and brilliantly colored stone from the old mines.
Don’t lose it, big guy. Promise?
“I promise,” he told the phantom and watched her fade away to Juliette.
Juliette’s eyes widened. Percival isn’t sure why, but he bet he stuttered or perhaps had barely whispered something close to a tearful promise. Whatever it is, she doesn’t ask, but smiled and released him. He opened one of his trunks and pulled out the two parcels he’d tanned in the woods and placed them in her hands.
“But this is…”
“Keep them,” he said, “If you sell them, don’t take anything less than two for the wrap and five for the cloak.”
“Two and five thousand,” he clarified, pulling out a small notebook to write conversions for her and giving them to her as well as selling notes, “Good luck, Juliette.”
She looked at the piece of paper dumbfounded as he turned, “Wait a minute! I think I should get your contact information just in case.”
Percival stopped and looked at her, then Adolf, “Ask Adolf.”
Then he walked on, into the sea of people with his luggage following him.
“Which way did he go?” One of them asked Juliette as she stood, staring after him.
“Percival. Which way did he go?”
Juliette frowned and looked up; he was gone, and for a man his size, that was quite the feat.
They huffed as Juliette walked to Adolf, and they began walking towards the German side of town to meet their landlords and pay their first month’s rent before moving in. The place is far nicer than they thought it would be and far nicer than the advertisement had said. The family who owned it were warm, welcoming, and promised to feed them dinner to welcome them as they gave them the tour. It was a townhouse with two bedrooms, one bathroom, and a full kitchen. Though it was small, it was large enough for the two of them to prepare food regularly and easily. The icebox was old but still worked well.
Juliette and Adolf signed the paperwork for the utilities, the renting contract, and the insurance agreements before beginning to unpack.
“I call shower first!” Juliette yelled, and Adolf laughed waving her on as he opened his bag and pulled out his scrying mirror.
He thought of his mother and waited until she appeared in the glass. She smiled at him with a relieved expression and looked healthier than she had when he left. Apparently, a doctor from out of town came in to see her and gave her a new set of medication that had seemingly put her on the fast track to recovery.
“Do you need anything?”
She shook her head, “That’s the strangest thing. He came in and arranged everything with the hospital without asking for anything from me. I don’t even know how he knew who I was. Did you send him?”
Adolf blinked and shook his head, “No, I just arrived and–”
Adolf’s voice broke off, and he thought back to the small room in the hospital as they waited to hear the verdict from the physician who’d run all the tests on his mother. The man had walked in, and Adolf had seen someone standing just outside listening. At the time he’d thought it was just his imagination, but now, he was pretty sure that it had been Percival.
His eyes burned and tears escaped as he hung his head in shame, shook his head, and gasped around the pain in his chest.
“Adolf? Sweetheart, what is it?”
He closed his eyes sniffling and tried to dry his eyes, “It’s– I– Mom, Percival.”
Her eyes widened for a moment, and she covered her mouth in something like shock before closing her eyes and offering up thanks to the two wonderful people who’d raised him, to the gods who’d still allowed for a bit of kindness left in his heart, and for Percival to find the peace he needed more than anything.
“What do I do?” Adolf asked her.
“You thank him. When I’m stronger, I’ll thank him myself.”
Adolf nodded and let out a breath, pulling out the paperwork he kept with him and opening the slip of paper that Percival had given him.
It’s a note in Percival’s ever-neat cursive.
The healer’s name is Michel De Luna. He’s from Italy and specializes in magical illnesses. He treated my grandfather and was a friend of my parents. Don’t worry about paying him, it’s already been taken care of. You can scrye him if you have any questions. Your mom will be moved to his private hospice in Paris when she’s strong enough and should be able to go home in a few months time.
Adolf frowned looking at the address on the letter. He’d apparently planned on just mailing it to him though they lived in the same city. He wondered how much pain Adolf’s presence caused him that he had considered mailing a letter he could have easily walked a few blocks to give him?
“What’s wrong?” Juliette asked rubbing her face with a towel that he was pretty sure wasn’t hers.
Percival must have given it to her.
Adolf chuckled. It seemed like as much of a disconnect as Percival had from his emotions, his chivalrous and caring streak still ran miles wide for those in need. He was his parent’s son after all.
He would have been a great leader.
Is, Adolf corrected himself. Even if the entire Black Forest remained under the unforgiving storm until the end of days, the Leonhard and Lang family would always be the leaders of it.
“Where is Avenue de Villars?” he asked contemplating the address.
Juliette frowned and shrugged turning towards the map the couple had given them. She scanned the city’s streets, but she could not find it.
“It’s not in Paris.”
He hummed and moved towards her to help her look before spotting the name attached to a looping street off Rue Moxouris.
“That’s in Le Chesnay,” she said, “Near Versailles where the palace is.”
Adolf smiled wryly; he shouldn’t have been surprised considering who Percival’s parents were. They’d been the type to make sure all of their children could take care of themselves, and Percival had inherited evenly from both sides of the family. He’d be fine. Adolf let out a sigh of relief.
Percival would be fine, and his mother would live. He couldn’t ask for another blessing.
“Got work to do is all.”
Juliette nodded, “Yeah, we do.”
They shook hands briskly before she turned to sit down at the desk on the other side of the living room and Adolf continued unpacking his more business related things at the desk on his side before walking up the stairs to the unclaimed bedroom and setting his bag and scrying mirror down on the floor.
Later, they find a sandwich wrapped in magic cloths still warm with a note from Percival wishing them good luck and good fortune.