There was another knock. Serah obviously wouldn't go away. He got up from his bed and unlocked the door.
"I knew you were there. Why did you make me wait so long, boy?" Serah looked up at him with a sour face.
"I'm sorry, Serah. I just didn't feel like doing much today. I feel like..."
Serah stomped past him into his room. "I don't care what you feel like. One does not keep the Princess waiting. Now you can't go to the Princess like that, you look a mess. Comb your hair and I'll get you some clothes."
Small John sighed and did as he was told. Serah began to rummage through his drawers, pulling things out one at a time, huffing at everything that wasn't clean. He didn't want her to yell at him again, but he also couldn't hold his tongue any longer.
"I know I shouldn't have locked myself in." Small John yanked the comb through his hair to get the knots out.
"That's right. There's no good reason to keep a Princess waiting." Serah had already found a good pair of pants, but was struggling to find a stainless shirt. "You should at least let the maids come in here to clean your clothes."
"I know. I know. It's just that lately I've been feeling like I'm not being true to myself. "He put the comb on the dresser and turned to face Serah. "I enjoy spending time with Wendy. I really do. But she lives in a completely different world. I don't belong here. And I just feel like I have to be something that I'm not in front of her." Tears began to sting his eyes. "And that's all that I have, because if I look back. If I remember what I've lost. Then I... I..."
"Oh dearie." Serah dropped the dirty clothes she was holding and pulled Small John into her arms. "You poor thing, you. I know it's hard. We all have lost people dear to us at some time or another. It's as bad as it gets for you of course, but don't worry, my boy. Don't worry. The sun will shine another day."
He felt the small, plump woman pat his back. He knelt down to her so that she could reach over his shoulders. It was an awkward position, but it was comforting nonetheless. It felt good to be held, to be understood.
"It's just that." Small John sniffed, even though his snot was surely already on Serah's clothes. "I spend so much time with Wendy that I don't have much time for myself. For my thoughts. Sometimes I drift off while we sit together and I remember what my life used to be like. Then... then it hits me all over again. They're all gone. And there's nothing I can do. They were slaughtered by Orcs and I'm here. As far away from those beasts as possible. Safe, in the castle." A big sob left his lungs. "It's just not fair. It's not right."
Serah squeezed him tight and held on to him for a moment longer. When she pulled herself away he felt all alone again. "Now I don't know if I can be of much help. If you like we can sit and talk every once in a while. You definitely shouldn't speak to the Princess about any of this. It would be too distressing for the poor girl. It was right of you to keep this for yourself. At least in front of her."
"Thank you, Serah. I just think I needed to let it out. I've been keeping all of this locked inside for too long. I just wish there was something I can do. Something to make things right. So that I don't feel like such a coward. A useless boy, hiding in the castle."
A spark came to Serah's eyes. She looked him up and down and began to smile. "You know what? There might be something you could do. Not just for your lost ones, for your family and friends. You could be of service to the whole kingdom. You're a strong and tall lad. You could join the new battalion. You could go out to fight the Orcs."
Small John wiped his nose on his sleeve. She was right. He had never thought of joining the King's army before, but maybe that was where he belonged. Maybe that was the place where he would find a purpose and would be able to avenge his village. "But what about Wendy?"
Serah smiled. "She might worry about you, but she will understand. She might even like the idea of you in a suit of armor." She chuckled.
What did she mean by that? He thought about Wendy and knew he would miss spending time with her, but he never belonged in her company either. This felt right. This would let him be true to himself. "I'll do it. How can I join?"
"Calm down, my boy. Calm down. Let us first get you ready to visit the Princess. Then I will talk to the Commander and will get you a spot in the battalion. There's no way he would give up the chance of getting a young strapping lad like you under his command." She picked up the least dirty clothes she could find and shoved them in his hands. "Now go get dressed. The Princess is waiting."