Riner called the attention of a man who was standing to the side. It was one of his own attendants, Eugene had never seen the man before.
“Bring it here,” he told the man.
The man bowed. “Yes, Your Majesty.”
There was a dome-shaped object covered in thick cloth at the man’s feet. It was tall enough to reach his knees and wide enough that he had to carry it with both his arms. He set it down in front of them on the coffee table. Slowly, he uncovered it to reveal a bird cage.
“Oh my,” Eugene gasped. There was an eagle in the cage. An eagle with two horns. The Fire King’s lark, Krak.
In her novel, the Fire King had an eagle-shaped lark that perched on his shoulder. Larks didn’t often change into wild animals, so it was special that Krak had turned into an eagle.
Even so, it couldn’t use its beautiful wings, it could only run on its two legs.
“I was quite amazed by our last meeting,” he said, “So I conducted an experiment. I tried to make the lark smaller—”
Kasser raised a hand to stop him. “Wait.” He signaled for the servants to leave and Riner asked his people to leave as well.
“Now, where was I?” Riner asked. “Ah, yes, the lark. I made this guy small enough to fit into someone’s pocket—now, why are you acting up.”
He frowned as the lark in the cage began to grow skittish. Its eyes were staring right at Eugene.
She remembered what it was like when she first met Kkoma, but she acted oblivious to Krak’s reaction to her.
“It’s so loud,” Riner complained as the eagle flapped its wings. “Anyway, whenever I took a few steps away from it, it would become uneasy. It couldn’t stay in someone else’ pocket.” He looked at Eugene. “How were you able to do it? Was that lark really the Fourth King’s?”
Eugene and Kasser shared a look.
“It’s mine,” Kasser answered.
“The black panther?” Riner furrowed his brows. “But it’s weak.”
“I only got it recently.”
“The seed vault.”
“How recent are we talking about?”
“A few months.”
His questions came pouring out. Eugene could see Riner’s obsession with the larks and how much Kasser didn’t actually mind.
The two kings were so familiar with each other, in a way that maybe no other kings were.
How nice, Eugene thought. Kasser would have freaked out if she knew she was thinking that.
“Give it to me then, since you’ve only had it a few months,” Riner said. “I’ll pay you handsomely.”
Kasser frowned. “Stop talking nonsense.”
“If you’ve only had it for a few months, then the connection is still loose. It’ll be fine.”
“That’s not the problem. Why do you want my lark?”
“I’m just negotiating here.” Riner held his hands up defensively. “Why are you so serious?”
Eugene’s memory went back to the other day when he had told her out of nowhere, “Let’s get married.” It seemed like he was the kind of person to just say whatever it was that came to mind.
He was the complete opposite of Kasser in that regard.
She coughed tentatively to halt their conversation.
“Your Majesty,” she said, “The lark isn’t able to stay away from its owner because it’s special, it’s because I am. I have a certain ability.”
Riner’s attention was on her at once.
“I can’t tell you what the ability is,” Eugene continued before he could bombard her with questions. “You wouldn’t reveal your secrets so easily either.”
The Fire King stared at her in deep thought. “Is it something you can never reveal?”
Before she disagreed, Eugene had a thought. What if they snuck the oil drum out through the Fire King? His reputation was well-known, no one would dare search his belongings. Aside from that, he had just arrived in the Holy City, so Sang-je wouldn’t be focused on him.
“A deal can be made,” Eugene said.
Kasser looked at her but didn’t intervene.
“What kind of deal?”
“Deliver something for us.”
Riner leaned back. “Easy, done.” He wasn’t curious about whatever it was Eugene wanted him to deliver after she told him she would reveal the truth after he had completed the task. He even offered to take it right then and there.
“You said you were planning on attending the party, so won’t you be staying in the City for a while?” Eugene asked. “You can just come by some other time.”
“I don’t want any more fuss,” was all he told her.
Though his reasons weren’t exactly sound, Eugene understood. The Fire King lived the way only he saw fit. After considering it for a moment, she called a servant to bring in the oil drum. She didn’t believe he was an irresponsible man.
While they waited for the oil drum to come, Riner turned his attention back to Kasser.
“One more thing,” he said, “Fourth King, do you want to have another go? We can’t use Praz since there isn’t really an empty field in the Holy City, but we can fight with our fists.”
Kasser just stared at him, unwilling to even acknowledge the suggestion.
“Come on,” Riner insisted. “I’m itching to do something. I haven’t gone lark hunting in a while.”
“No,” Kasser said with narrowed eyes.
“I don’t want to.”
“Tell me why?”
Does being around a childish person make another person childish? Eugene was amused by how Kasser acted like a different man when the Fire King was around.
He acted like he was in his early twenties rather than the grown man he was. She had to admit she liked it.
When the servant came in with the oil drum, the two kings stopped bickering. Riner accepted the oil drum and the invitation Eugene handed him.
“Anika Jin,” he said suddenly.
“Yes, Your Majesty?”
“My offer at the Holy City’s Palace still stands. Think about it.”
Eugene stiffened in shock before looking over at Kasser. He looked like he could summon a storm.
Through clenched teeth, he asked, “By any chance, is this offer your proposal to my wife?”
It was Riner’s turn to be flustered. His wide eyes moved between Eugene and Kasser.
“Anika Jin, did you tell him?”
Eugene couldn’t help but laugh as the two men simmered in their current predicament.
“But you don’t have a child—” Riner stopped himself from saying anything else as soon as he saw the look on Kasser’s face.
Just like that, he moved quickly out of the drawing room. He was worried that Kasser would attack him on his way out, so he counted himself lucky when he made it out of the room unharmed.
As he left, he heard Eugene’s kind voice say, “Kasser.”
He didn’t stay to hear the rest of the conversation. He took one last glance at the closed door of the drawing room and began to move away.
He had to admit, he was a little shocked.
They definitely didn’t seem like just any other regular couple.