Traitorous Hearts: Chapter One

Adelina opened her eyes slowly to the sound of footsteps walking loudly in front of her room. She blinked a few times, trying to gain her bearings- those footsteps had stopped in front of her room. 

She slid off the bed quietly and picked up her sack. She pulled out her belt and sheath, tying it around her waist and making sure that her knife was secure. She hoped that she wouldn’t need to use it for the first time- she had trained but she was no match for a large man. 

She grabbed a few coins and threw them onto the bed, backing towards the window. She opened it and looked down. It wasn’t an ideal distance to the ground but she would be able to manage. 

She looked back over her shoulder quickly when there was a loud banging on the door. 

“Open up girl!” The owner of the inn continued knocking, getting louder. “You and I have some things to talk about.” 

Adelina tried to push away the fear but it threatened to paralyze her. What if he had figured out who she was? What if he had realized what her secret was? What if he had told someone else? What if Haiman was coming after her right now? 

She took a deep breath, looking back out the window. It was now or never. She pushed herself up onto the sill and dropped down, hanging by her fingers. She glanced up and down the alley, breathing a sigh of relief that no one was around. She let go of the window sill and fell to the ground, trying not to groan from the pain. It had been even further than she had anticipated. 

She pulled her scarf over the lower half of her face and yanked her cloak out of her bag. She tied it around her shoulders, pulling the hood up and stuffing her blonde hair into it. She couldn’t risk anyone else recognizing her here- she needed to get to Haimon directly before anyone else. 

She walked quickly through the streets, careful to be wary of her surroundings. It was early, so the streets were fairly empty, but there were still enough people to make her concerned. She thought she recognized a few people but she couldn’t be sure. It had been two years since she was presumed dead- people had probably changed a lot. 

She stopped at the livery, going up to the man standing behind a desk. “I’m here to pick up my horse.” She kept her voice low- she had been to the livery frequently as a child. While she didn’t recognize this man, there could be someone else she knew here. 

“Didn’t you just drop him off last night? Leaving so soon?” 

Adelina fixed the man with a hard stare. “I have things to do. Can you point me in the direction of the ruins of Duke Rorick of Alourin’s castle?” 

The man watched her warily as he walked back to the stalls and opened Alistair’s. He led the horse out and brought her tack to her. She quickly saddled Alistair and waited for the man to tell her where to go. 

He narrowed his eyes but pointed down the road to the south. Adelina nodded and mounted Alistair, riding in that direction. In truth, she knew exactly where the ruins were. But she wanted to seem foreign, and that was the best way to do that. 

As she rode up to the ruins, she could see a new castle being built directly behind it. She watched the men work through narrowed eyes. She hadn’t been informed that anyone was occupying this land. 

She dismounted and tied Alistair to a post. He tugged on the rope, pulling towards where the stable still stood. Apparently the fire had been stopped before it reached the stable. She stared at the stable for a moment but continued walking into the ruins of the castle. 

She knelt where the library was supposed to be, and looked through the remains, searching for any remnant of what had happened. She couldn’t find anything- the fire had taken it all. That explained how Haimon had managed to get away with his crimes for so long. 

All that remained of the castle was the few bits of stone walls around the outside. What the fire hadn’t destroyed, weather and time had taken instead. The castle had always been old and unsteady- her father had always wanted to update the predominantly wooden structure to a stone castle but they had never gotten the chance. A fire had been exactly the thing they had wanted to protect against, but they had kept putting it off. 

It hadn’t been a very large castle to begin with- there had been enough rooms for everyone in the family and a few guests, a library, and a kitchen. Other than that, only a few of the necessary rooms had been added. Her father had been a firm believer in not wasting anything.                                                                  

“Can I help you?” A man’s voice asked. 

Adelina turned and stood quickly. “No-” she was staring straight into the eyes of Edwin Caspell- Drustan’s best friend. She stuttered for a moment. “I’m just looking at the remains.” 

He smiled awkwardly. “I can see that.” 

He raised a hand to block out the sun and Adelina’s eyes locked on a wedding ring. She looked back at him quickly- who was he married to? Was it Anissa? They had been friendly when Adelina knew them, and Anissa had spoken of marriage more than once, in confidence. 

She dropped her eyes quickly, praying that he hadn’t recognized her. “I apologize for intruding, sir.” She turned and began to walk back to Alistair when a carriage pulled up. 

A young woman descended, stepping lightly towards Edwin. Her curly red hair shone in the sun.

“Edwin, darling, you are late for lunch.” 

Adelina froze- it was Anissa. Anissa had married Edwin. Adelina forced herself to keep walking towards Alistair with her head down. 

“I apologize, my love.” Edwin answered. “I wanted to make sure that this visitor had everything that they needed.” 

Adelina winced but didn’t stop walking. Why did he have to bring attention to her?

“Oh, who is this visitor?” Anissa asked innocently. 

“I don’t know for sure.” Edwin answered slowly. Adelina’s eyes widened slowly- he was onto her. “Excuse me, madame- who are you?” 

Adelina stopped and turned slowly. “I’m just someone who is curious about the history of this town.” She had to risk one more question. “Can I ask who owns this land now?” 

Edwin watched her, his eyes darting from her to Alistair. “Baron Haimon of Nyro. His land neighbors this one. When there was a tragedy two years ago, he nobly stepped up to take it when no one else had the money or desire.” 

Adelina clenched her fists. “I’m sure he did.” She turned on her heel and was about to walk away when she felt a touch on her shoulder. 

“Adelina?” Anissa whispered, peering under her hood. 

Adelina took a few steps back, shaking her head. “I’m sorry. You must have the wrong person.” 

“Alina.” She grabbed Adelina’s hand and pulled her back. “Alina, it’s you, isn’t it?” 

Adelina tried to pull away but she couldn’t. Anissa pulled her hood off, and her scarf down. 

“You’re alive.” She said in disbelief. Edwin was staring at her as if he had seen a ghost. 

Adelina sighed, looking down. “I’m alive.” She looked around, suddenly fearful. “I can’t be seen here. We need to go somewhere safe if we are going to talk.” She stared up at Edwin. “And you cannot- whatever you do- cannot tell Haimon that you saw me. As far as he is concerned, I’m dead. And that goes for his sorry excuse of a son too.”

Edwin nodded slowly, his eyes still wide. “I won’t tell him- I won’t tell anyone.” 

Adelina nodded. “Good.” She turned back to Anissa. “Where is safe?” 

“My home will be safe. No one will find you there- and you’ll be protected if they do.” 

Adelina raised an eyebrow. “I don’t really trust guards anymore. Will it be safe even without them? Private?” 

Anissa smiled graciously. “Very safe- don’t worry.” 

“Then we can go there.” 

“Edwin, stay here and make sure that everything is okay. Make sure no one saw her. And then come back to the house so we can talk.” That was something that Adelina had always admired about Anissa- she didn’t need to know everything to know that it was serious. She looked out for people, regardless of how much she knew. 

“I will.” 

Anissa led Adelina to the carriage. “One of my footmen will bring your horse to my stable. He’ll be well taken care of there.” 

Adelina climbed in warily- she wanted to trust Anissa but she was scared that it was all one big trick to get her killed.

“And you promise you won’t turn me into Haimon or Drustan?” She asked. 

Anissa nodded. “I promise. I would never turn on you, Adelina. Especially not after just finding out you are alive after two years of assuming you were killed in the fire.” 

Adelina nodded. “I realize that this all must be quite a shock for you.” 

Anissa smiled, her eyes tearing up. “I’ve been so hoping that you were alive, Adelina. They didn’t find your body in the fire, and I thought maybe that meant you had escaped. But when you didn’t come back for so long… I thought that you must have been so consumed by the fire that it didn’t even leave a body. It started in your room, you know. How did you get away from it so quickly? How did it start?” 

Adelina sighed. “Haimon started it.” 

Anissa’s jaw dropped. “Haimon?” 

Adelina nodded. “I promise, I will tell you everything. But we should wait until we get back to the safety of your home, and Edwin can join us.” 

Anissa nodded quickly. “Of course, my apologies.”

“How far is it to your house?” Adelina asked. 

“Just a few more minutes. We moved into Edwin’s parents’ home when we were married last summer. And now that both his parents have passed, we are truly starting to make it our home.” 

Adelina frowned. “I’m very sorry to hear that they have both passed. They were always very kind people.” 

Anissa nodded sadly. “It was a very difficult time for us when they passed, and especially so soon after our wedding. But we have been doing our best to move on and not dwell in the sadness. They are in a better place now, so we cannot very well be upset about it.” 

Adelina was silent. She had never thought about it like that. She had never thought that her parents might be in a better place. She had always just been focused on getting justice for what happened- she wasn’t sure that she could focus on anything else now. 

She shook herself a little, forcing herself to pay attention to Anissa. 

“So what is this new wardrobe of yours?” Anissa felt the skirt. “Cotton? That’s a bit below your station, isn’t it?” 

Adelina shrugged. “It’s functional. I had to do something that I could move in, be warm in, and be comfortable in. And nobody would expect a duke’s daughter to wear it, which means that nobody would suspect it was me. Besides the fact that everyone thinks I am dead.” 

Anissa pursed her lips slightly. “Well, once we get back to my house, I’m putting you in some proper attire. I assume it has been far too long since you have worn proper clothing, and I can’t wait to see you back in your proper rank.” 

Adelina laughed a little- Anissa had always loved dressing up. She was born into a rich family and enjoyed the finer things in life. 

“I am at your disposal, Madame Caspell.” 

“Good. We have so much to talk about over tea and you need to look good for that.” 

“As long as no one that you don’t trust sees me.” Adelina reminded her. 

Anissa nodded. “Of course- I will only allow my most trusted servants around you. They would never share my secrets with anyone- even the other servants- and they’ll be paid extra just to make sure.” 

Adelina smiled. “Thank you, Anissa. You have no idea how much this means to me.” 

Anissa smiled back. “I have a little bit of an idea- and I’m happy to do it either way. If this has half as much to do with Haimon as I think it does, then I’ll do anything I can to help.” 

As they pulled up to the house, Adelina raised an eyebrow. It had gotten even bigger and better since she had last been there. She could tell that many improvements had been made and that Anissa had worked hard to make it her own. 

They walked into the house and Anissa led her upstairs and into a large bedroom with several smaller rooms branching off of it. 

“Anissa, you could live up here and never leave if you wanted to.” Adelina laughed. 

Anissa shrugged. “Edwin and I were used to the finer things in life, and we wanted something big to suit us. Most of the rooms were already here, but we did add some of the rooms to make sure that we had everything we needed.” 

“It’s beautiful.” It wasn’t exactly what Adelina would have chosen but she couldn’t say that it was bad. Adelina was much more interested in keeping things simple- whether that was because of her personality or because of the way she had spent the past two years, she wasn’t sure. She would have chosen to line all of the walls with bookcases and books, but she knew that that wasn’t quite Anissa’s style. 

“Edwin will be home any minute and then we can talk.” Anissa pulled a rope and rang a bell on the wall. “We can get ready for tea now, while we wait for him.” 

Adelina wasn’t sure what getting ready for tea entailed but she was pretty sure that she would like it. 

************

Drustan walked into his father’s office, his head high. He had finally been able to get an update on the new house they were building. His father had been wanting one for weeks, and he would be very happy to finally have some news. 

“What is it now, Drustan?” His father, Baron Haimon of Nyro, looked up, a bored expression on his face. Underneath his bushy gray eyebrows, his eyes pierced Drustan.

“I apologize for interrupting, Father. I bring news of the new house. The foundations have been laid and built, and they are beginning work on the rest of the structure now.” 

“You mean the new castle?” His father corrected him.

Drustan held back a sigh and nodded. “Yes, Father. The new castle.” Nothing would ever be good enough for his father. 

“Good.” His father moved on like nothing had happened. “The sooner we get that castle built, the sooner we can really establish our claim on that traitor’s land.”

“Traitor?” Drustan was confused. 

“Rorick of Alourin was a traitor- why do you think someone set fire to his land? Regardless of the fact that I had nothing to do with it, they still deserved it.” Even though it pained him to admit, Drustan knew his father was right. Rorick had been a traitor, and he had deserved to be brought to justice. While Drustan would have chosen to notify the king, the fire had done it before that was possible. 

“Of course, Father. Forgive me- I forgot about what Duke Rorick had done. There are so many traitorous noblemen now that I cannot keep track of all of them.” But how many of them were truly traitorous and how many of them were killed or harmed because it helped his father? 

“I accept your apology, son. Now, I want you to speak to Edwin about speeding up the process. I want that castle built quickly. And I want it to be a strong fortress that no one can break into. If it isn’t done by the end of the year, I will blame you personally, Drustan. Remember that.”

Drustan stared at his father, then nodded slowly. “I understand.” He also understood that with every passing day, his father cared less and less about him. 

He bowed slightly, then turned on his heel and walked out. He couldn’t stand to be in his father’s presence any longer. The weight of his disapproval was becoming too much to bear. 

“Drustan, darling, can you come in here?” Drustan’s mother called from Kingsley’s room. 

Drustan took a deep breath and stepped in. 

“Yes, Mother?” 

“Can you play with Kingsley for a few minutes while I go talk to your father. I heard you talking to him about the new castle and I want to make sure that all of the plans are to my liking.” 

Drustan grimaced slightly, but nodded. “Yes, I can play with him.” He picked the little boy- who was young enough to be his son instead of his brother- up and tossed him over his shoulder. 

“Drustan, be gentle!” 

“I’m being gentle, Mother. He’s laughing, see?” Drustan rolled his eyes. “He’s two years old- not a glass window.” 

“Even so, that’s my baby! Be careful with him. We don’t get another one.” 

“Like you did with me and Clay?” Drustan sobered. 

His mother frowned. “You know I don’t consider Kingsley your redo. And we have never considered you as Clay’s replacement. You all are wonderful individuals.” 

“Try telling Father that.” Drustan turned cradling the little boy in his arms and tickling him. 

“I’m getting too old for arguments like this, Drustan. You know that I hate when you talk like this.” 

Drustan forced a smile before turning. “You aren’t that old, Mother.” 

She sighed. “Well, I’m older than I’d like to admit. And older than a woman with a two year old should be. I can barely keep up with him these days. It’s a good thing we have so many maids looking after him, or else he would probably get lost constantly.” 

Drustan shrugged. “He’d find his way back eventually.” 

His mother laughed, shaking her head. “I’m going to go talk to your father.” Drustan watched her leave the room, his fake smile slowly fading. 

He looked back down at his little brother. The child stared up at him in awe, playing with the leather on his shirt. 

“I’m going to get you out of here someday, Kingsley. You were born for more than a life like this. As soon as I have the power, you’re going to have everything that I never had.” Kingsley just stared up at him, not comprehending any of what he was saying. 

“Dru.” Kingsley gave him a toothy grin as he said it. “Play with me, Dru!” 

Drustan couldn’t help smiling. “Play with you? I don’t know if I can play with you. I think you might be too big for playing.” He set Kingsley down gently, pretending to start leaving. 

Kingsley wrapped his arms around Drustan’s leg. “I’m not too big! Play with me, Dru! Please?” He could barely say the words, but he said them with so much passion that Drustan couldn’t help laughing.

Drustan picked him up and tickled him. “Okay, I guess I can play with you.” 

“Yes!” The child cheered. 

Drustan played the role of the uncaring man well, but when he was around Kingsley… he couldn’t keep up the act anymore. 

******

Drustan rode up to Edwin’s house and dismounted. There were no servants around so Drustan took his horse into the stable and took off his own saddle. He glanced down the row of horses and noticed one that was more familiar than the others. He walked over to it, studying it. He knew this horse from somewhere, but he couldn’t place where. It clearly knew him too, because it moved towards him and nudged his shoulder. Where was this horse from? 

He shrugged and walked back out of the stable and across the yard to the house. Where was everyone? 

He knocked on the front door and a servant opened it. His eyes widened slightly when he saw Drustan, but he quickly regained his composure. 

“I will go tell Master Caspell that you are here.” He turned and walked quickly down the hall, an urgency in his steps that Drustan didn’t understand. 

A few moments later, Edwin walked down the hall towards him. 

“It’s good to see you, Drustan.” Edwin seemed fidgety, but Drustan dismissed it. A visit from him usually didn’t mean good things- Drustan was smart enough to know that. “What can I help you with?” 

Drustan sighed. “My father wants the castle done by the end of the year. And my mother has been making sure that all of the plans line up with what she wants, so you may see some changes coming soon.” 

Edwin nodded slowly. “That’s only eight months, though. Does he know that?” 

Drustand shrugged. “I would assume so. He just wants this castle done quickly. He wants to solidify his claim on Rorick’s land.” Drustan looked down at his feet. 

Edwin sighed. “I’m sure. Well, I will do my best, for your sake. I know that your father must be putting a lot of pressure on you about this.” 

“I don’t know why. It has nothing to do with me.” Drustan muttered. 

“Because he knows that it will hurt you.” Edwin answered. “He knows that building on Adelina’s land hurts you. And he wants to rub it in. That’s the kind of man he is, Drustan. We both know that. You can try to hide how much it hurts from everyone else but I can see it. I see through your cold demeanor.” 

Drustan shrugged. “There’s nothing to see through, Edwin. This is who I am now. And my father isn’t as bad as you think- he’s just particular about certain things. He doesn’t want to have to do the work himself, so he pressures me into doing it for him. I don’t think he really realizes he does it.” Drustan didn’t feel entirely right about defending his father, but he couldn’t help but be loyal. Edwin was entitled to his opinion, even if Drustan was pretty sure it was wrong. “He probably doesn’t even remember Adelina or realize that it affects me. All he remembers is that Rorick was a traitor to the crown, and deserves what happened.”

Edwin frowned but didn’t say anything- Drustan could tell that something else was on his mind now. “Adelina would have wanted you to be your own person, Drustan. She wouldn’t have wanted you to be tied to your father.” 

Drustan sighed. “I should go now. I need to get home before Father comes looking for me. The last thing you need right now is him storming into your house, looking for me.” 

Edwin smiled a little. “Things will change, Drustan. This will not be forever.” 

Drustan nodded. “I know. Someday I’ll be the one with the title, and I’ll be the one storming into your house. I’ll remain loyal to my father until the end, but there are days where I wish that would come a bit sooner.”

“We all do.” Edwin clapped him on the shoulder. “The Bible calls us to have patience, Drustan. We’ll get there eventually.” 

Drustan smiled. “Thank you, Edwin. Your friendship and honesty has been invaluable to me these past years. I know that I can tell you anything, and that you will tell me everything.” Edwin’s smile seemed to fade a bit, but Drustan wasn’t sure why. “I will leave you to spend time with your wife now.” 

Edwin nodded. “Ride safely- a storm is coming in.” 

Drustan nodded and turned, walking out into the yard. Just like Edwin had said, the sky was dark with clouds. Drustan would need to ride quickly to get home before he was completely soaked. 

He saddled his horse quickly, giving one last look at the horse at the end of the row. He stared at it for a few moments. He knew this horse- he knew this horse well. He could picture it in another stable, or in the fields. He had seen this horse many times. But where? 

He turned to walk out, then froze and slowly turned to look back at the horse. Alistair? He walked back to the horse, looking him up and down. He held out his hand and the horse nudged him again. 

“What are you doing here, Alistair?” He whispered to the horse, as if it would answer. “You disappeared after the fire.” 

Why did Edwin have Adelina’s horse in his stable? And why had he never told Drustan that he was there? What was Edwin hiding from him? This didn’t make any sense. 

Drustan stood with the horse for a few more minutes, studying him to make absolutely sure that it was Alistair. 

He seemed to be in fairly good condition- he was older and stronger than when Drustan had last seen him but he was well kept. He seemed clean and healthy. Whoever had been taking care of him in the past two years clearly cared about his well-being.

Drustan leaned against the wall. Should he go and confront Edwin? Or should he wait until Edwin said something about it to him? Drustan wanted so badly to know why Alistair was back after all of this time but he wanted Edwin to tell him of his own accord. He didn’t want Edwin to feel like he was being forced to talk about it because of Drustan’s father. 

Drustan led his horse slowly out of the stable. As he walked through the yard, he looked up at the house. A face was in one of the windows, barely visible. As soon as he looked up at them, the face disappeared. 

Something strange was going on here- Edwin and Anissa were definitely hiding something. The question was what? 

I know I said these will be spread out- and after today they will be- but today was a special day so I wanted to share this with you all as a little treat! I hope you enjoyed the first chapter and learning a little more about Adelina and Drustan!

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