Traitorous Hearts: Chapter Three

Adelina shook her head as Anissa pulled out yet another dress and held it up. They had been doing this for at least an hour- an hour every day for the past week. And every time, Anissa managed to find a new dress that she firmly believed Adelina would love- and every time, Adelina turned it down. She wasn’t one to be picky but she had been living in the woods for two years- she didn’t want to wear a big, fluffy dress. Anissa, however, was convinced that there would be one that Adelina absolutely adored. Adelina knew that eventually she would just settle for the least fancy one and be happy with it. 

“I’m running out of dresses, Alina.” Anissa sat down on the bed next to her. “Are you ever going to pick one?” 

“I told you, Nissa. I’m fine with anything. It doesn’t need to be fancy or big. It just needs to fit.” 

“Anything I have will fit you.” Anissa raised an eyebrow. “What is most important is that you fit in. And in order to fit in at this ball, you are going to need to wear the fanciest thing we can find you. If there are rumors that the king will be there, everyone will be dressed in their best clothes.” 

Adelina sighed. “I guess you are right.” 

“Of course I’m right.” Anissa stood, flipping her hair over her shoulder. “There was never any question about that.” 

Adelina rolled her eyes. “What else do you have?” 

“I have one more dress that I haven’t pulled out yet because I’m pretty sure that you are absolutely going to hate it.” Anissa walked over to her wardrobe pushing through several dresses. “But I’m running out of options so we are going to try it.”

“Go ahead.” Adelina prompted. 

Anissa pulled a light blue dress out, holding it up for Adelina to see. Adelina felt her eyes widen and she stood, getting closer to examine it. It was elegant but not over the top. The sleeves flared at the elbow and they were lined with a silver fabric, just like the hem and neckline. 

“I love it.” Adelina reached out and touched it. 

“Really?” Anissa raised an eyebrow. “You aren’t just settling to get this over with?” 

Adelina smiled softly and shook her head. “No. I really love it.” She took a deep breath. “It’s just like one that my mother used to wear when I was little.”

“Then it’s only fitting that you would wear it to this ball.” Anissa smiled. “Now, let’s try it on you and make any alterations we need to. This must be perfect.” 

Adelina laughed a little, pushing away the rush of emotions thinking about her mother brought on. “I don’t know about perfect, but I’ll be happy with something close to perfect.” 

“Good.” Anissa smiled even wider. “Now, let’s go over a few things. You haven’t been to a ball in a while, and you’ve never been to one of Haimon’s. He has a very specific way of doing things and he will definitely notice if you do something wrong. The last thing we need is for you to draw attention to yourself.” 

Adelina nodded. “What do I need to know?” 

Anissa paced as she talked. “Any time he comes up to you or you go up to him, curtsey very deeply. He is very particular about being shown proper respect. Do the same for Drustan, if you happen to meet him- although you should definitely avoid it if possible.” She thought for a moment. “Be polite to everyone and don’t cause a scene. That’s obvious, though. You still remember all of the dances?”

Adelina nodded. “I’ve been practicing this whole time. It helps with footwork in sword fighting.” 

Anissa laughed a little. “Of course it does.” 

Adelina shrugged. “It helped that I love dancing.” 

“Well, we don’t need to go over that, then. Now we need to go over what will happen if the king is there.” 

“I’ll go up to him and introduce myself and tell him everything.” Adelina answered. 

“No, no, no.” Anissa shook her head quickly. “What proof do you have that you are Rorick’s daughter? None. You are going to need people to back you up.” 

“Half of the nobles in this area have met me. They’ll know it’s me.” 

“But they may be too scared of Haimon to say anything. And I really doubt that Haimon is going to make it easy to get close to the king. You are going to need a plan.” 

“Okay, then what is your plan?”

Anissa smiled. “I thought you’d never ask. The best way to get close to him is to get close to his daughters. He brings them everywhere with him- even to the ball’s of his enemies. If you can get his daughters to like you and defend you, he is more likely to believe you and help you. He’ll do anything to make his daughters happy.”

“How am I supposed to do that in just a few hours?” 

“Get close to them, make conversation, compliment them. Do whatever you need to in order to get them to like you.”

“If you hadn’t noticed, I’m not exactly a likable person.” Adelina pointed out. 

Anissa sighed and sat down next to her. “Take down the walls for a little bit. The girl inside is very likable- it’s just her walls that are a little hard to love.”

“It’s a little hard to take down the walls when I’m in enemy territory.” Adelina raised an eyebrow. 

“Fair point- but you’ll do anything to get justice for your parents, and this is the way to do it. You aren’t going to get a much better plan than this.” 

Adelina sighed. “Fine. We will go with your plan. But if it doesn’t work, I’m switching to my plan. And Haimon can’t kill me in front of so many people so I’ll be safe in that respect, no matter what.” 

“Don’t underestimate him, Adelina. He’ll do anything to keep his power. If he figures out who you are, he will find a way for you to die that very night. Even if it means happening in front of people and making it look like an accident or like someone else did it. He does not care.”

Adelina nodded. “I’m going to be careful, I promise. And you’ll be there with me the whole time.” 

“I won’t leave your side unless I am taken away against my will.” 

Adelina smiled. “I’ll never be able to thank you enough for all that you two are doing for me.” 

“It’s our pleasure.” Edwin said, appearing in the doorway. 

“Where have you been?” Anissa stood, walking to him. 

“At the building site.” He kissed the top of Anissa’s head. “Drustan has been visiting every day for the past week. He’s starting to get suspicious of something- I can tell. All of the pieces are beginning to fall into place in his mind. When he figures it all out, we are going to need to convince him to join our side.” 

“He’s loyal to his father though, isn’t he?” Anissa asked, looking up at him. 

Edwin nodded. “Very. But I don’t think that it is true loyalty. I think that if he finds out what happened, he can be easily persuaded. I’ve been planting the seeds against his father for months now, and I think it’s working. But we are going to need to keep working on it. Once he figures out our secret, it’s going to change everything, whether he is on our side or not.” 

“What happens if he isn’t on our side?” Adelina was afraid to think of the answer. 

Edwin sighed. “We hope that he confronts us about it before he tells his father? And if he still isn’t on our side, we get as far away from here as we can before Haimon kills us.”

“And justice for my parents? And Asher?” 

“I think your parents would rather you were alive than get justice for them. And we would find some way to get Asher out of there. We’d do something to make sure he was safe.” 

Adelina pursed her lips and nodded. “We are just going to have to make sure Drustan is on our side if he ever does figure it out.” 

Edwin nodded. “I would much prefer that to running for the rest of our lives.” 

“Drustan was always closer with you than he was with his father.” Anissa said to Adelina. “He might not be so hard to convince.” 

“Deep down, he really is a good person. He is just misguided by his strong values.” Edwin answered. 

“Whatever you say, Edwin.” Adelina raised an eyebrow skeptically. 

“Keep doubting, Adelina, but when I’m right, you are going to be thankful.” 

“And when I’m right, you’ll be grateful because I’ll keep a knife out of your back.” Edwin just didn’t understand the situation well enough to realize that Drustan wasn’t the saint Edwin made him out to be.

“Okay, you two.” Anissa stood between them, holding her hands up. “Both of you can back down now. We are on the same side. No matter our differences, we all want the same thing, and we need to stick together. If we let them divide us, Adelina won’t get her justice and we won’t get our freedom from Haimon’s tyranny. So from here on out, Adelina, you need to be more positive about the situation and understand that things might be different than you think. And Edwin, you need to understand that a lot has happened in the past two years and Adelina has been through a lot.” She looked between the two of them. “Am I understood?” 

Adelina and Edwin looked at each other from beneath lowered lashes, both trying not to laugh at Anissa’s unexpected reaction. 

“I said, am I understood?” 

“Yes, madam.” Adelina bit her lip, barely holding back her smile. 

“Edwin?” 

He nodded. “Yes, my lady.” 

Anissa nodded. “Good. Now that we can all get along again, let us continue. I’m preparing Adelina for her first ball in two years and I need to make sure that I didn’t miss anything.” 

“I’m sure you have it all covered.” He answered. “Have you talked about what to do if she meets Drustan?”

Anissa shook her head. “We hadn’t gotten that far yet.” 

“So what’s the plan?” 

“Since running the other way as fast as possible isn’t an option… try to remain unrecognizable until I can get out of the conversation.” Adelina answered. 

Edwin nodded. “Sounds like a good enough plan.” 

“What do we do if he does recognize her?” Anissa sat down in one of the chairs. “Because let’s be honest- Drustan is no fool. If he is already suspicious, it is only going to take one look at her to figure it out.” 

Edwin sat down in the other chair. “Then we try to convince him not to tell anyone or make it obvious. He won’t have a large reaction. It’s not his way. He will consider it all quietly for a moment before doing anything- that will be our chance to convince him to keep quiet for a little bit.” 

“So act quickly and keep a clear head.” Adelina took a deep breath. “I can do that.”

“And if you can’t, we can. It’s a solid plan.” Anissa was trying to be reassuring but nothing could make Adelina feel less nervous. 

“We’ve still got another week or so to prepare- we’ll be fine. It’ll all work out. We can practice and get ready so that we are ready for any scenario.” 

Adelina nodded, taking another deep breath. “Right. It’s all going to be okay.” 

“Are you trying to convince us or yourself?” Edwin laughed a little. 

“A little bit of both, I guess.” Adelina took a deep breath. “Is Alistair in a safe place?” 

Edwin nodded. “I moved him to somewhere private and safe. He’ll be well taken care of and no one will be the wiser as to whose horse he is.” 

Adelina smiled. “Thank you.” She sighed. “I need to get a new horse soon. I love Alistair and I hate the idea of retiring him but he is getting older. He needs to rest and relax for the rest of his days.”

“I think most of your father’s horses are still in this area- when you get this business all taken care of, you might be able to buy one of them.” Anissa suggested. 

Adelina nodded. “I want to look into that. I want to find whatever is left of my father’s property and bring it back to his land.”

“Whatever we can do to help, let us know. Your father deserves to have his property restored.” Edwin answered. 

“I don’t know how I can ever pay you two back for everything that you are doing for me.” Adelina looked between the two of them. “I’m putting your lives in danger, and yet you still never stop helping.”

“It’s what good people do, Alina.” Anissa smiled. “You are our friend and we want to help you do the right thing. Your parents deserve justice, and so do you. Having even just a small part in helping you get that is enough repayment for us.” 

Edwin looked down at Anissa and nodded. “Anissa and I have agreed that if you are going to seek justice, we are going to be by your side. Haimon has taken enough from these people- our families included. We are tired of putting up with it.”

“Are you sure?” 

They both nodded. “Completely.” Edwin answered. 

“So what are you thinking now?” Anissa asked.

“I think Haimon should be very afraid.” If Adelina got her way, this would be the best night of her life. 

*********

Drustan looked out his window for a moment before putting his head in his hands. His father’s ball was just days away and he still hadn’t found some excuse to get out of it. It was too late now- he wouldn’t be able to get out of it. He was going to get stuck talking to all of the people who hated his father. All of the people who could barely hide their distaste for his family. That was the last thing he wanted to do right now. 

He had tried to take a ride to calm down and clear his mind but it had only made it worse. Nothing helped- he just felt more and more conflicted and confused about his life every day. 

He looked up at a knock on his door and took a moment to compose himself before answering. “Come in.” 

“My apologies for disturbing you, Drustan.” One of his father’s favorite guards, Ellian, came in. “Your father wanted someone to check if you had returned from your ride yet.” He smiled charmingly, revealing his perfect teeth.

Drustan nodded, resisting the urge to throw something at those perfect teeth. “Well, clearly I’m back, so you can tell him that.” 

Ellian nodded, clearly not planning on leaving any time soon. “If I may, Drustan, I would suggest that you spend some more time with your father. He seems a bit tense and having his son by his side may help.” 

Drustan clenched his teeth. “No, you may not, Ellian. Your advice is neither wanted nor appreciated. But I would appreciate it if you started addressing me as ‘Lord Drustan’. Seeing as how you are just a guard and I am a future baron.” 

Ellian hesitated a moment before nodding. “My apologies, sir. I just assumed that since we practically grew up together, and I’m like your father’s second son, you wouldn’t mind.” 

“I’m my father’s second son.” Drustan answered quickly. “If anything, you are like my father’s fourth son. But you aren’t even that because you are still just a guard. Your parents live a day’s ride from here. And you assumed wrong. That seems to happen quite often, Ellian, so maybe you should stop assuming.” Drustan raised an eyebrow. “Now, if that is all, I would appreciate some privacy.” Drustan turned back to face the window.

“Your father also wanted me to remind you of the ball coming up. There are rumors that the king will be there and he wants you on your best behavior.” 

“I don’t think he needs to worry about me being on my best behavior. It was likely a reminder to you, since you are, after all, like his fourth son.” Drustan glanced over his shoulder. 

Ellian ignored him. “Maybe the king will bring his two daughters. People say they are the most beautiful girls in the land.” 

“Leave it to you to be thinking of women at a time like this.” Drustan answered dryly. 

“I’m always thinking of women, Drustan. You know that.” Ellian laughed a little. “Since you don’t seem to want them, maybe your father will arrange for me to marry one of them.”

Drustan turned, walking towards Ellian. “No king is going to want their daughter to marry a guard.” 

“Maybe if your father makes me his heir, the king won’t be so opposed.” 

“You are delusional.” Drustan forced himself to stop walking  before he got close enough to hit Ellian. 

“Face it, Drustan, your father raised me more than he raised you. I’ve spent more time with him than you have. I’m practically more of a son to him than you are.” 

“Watch your mouth, Ellian. I can endure you most of the time but I am not in the mood right now. So watch it.” Drustan clenched his fists. 

“You don’t seem to care about the title anyway, so why not let me have it.” 

“It’s my title, Ellian, and you have no right to it. Go find your own.” 

“It would be so much easier to take yours, though.” 

“Are you threatening me?” Drustan crossed his arms. 

“Just don’t underestimate me, Drustan.”

“I couldn’t possibly.” Drustan threw back, confident that he had already won this fight. 

Ellian stopped for a moment, the insult taking a moment to process in his mind.

“You’re just jealous.” Drustan laughed- when Ellian started making these kinds of bold accusations, he was truly desperate. 

“The lowly guard says to the heir son of a baron.” Drustan answered, smirking. 

“At least I plan on going somewhere in life. I’m going to marry a rich woman. I’m not still hung up on some dead girl.” 

Drustan drew his sword, holding it against Ellian’s throat before Ellian could say anything more or draw his own sword. 

“I told you to watch your mouth, Ellian. This is your last warning. The next time I draw my sword against you will be the last.” Ellian’s eyes were wide with fear. After a moment, Drustan sheathed his sword and walked to the door, holding it open. “Now like I said- I want some privacy now.” 

“Yes, my lord.” Ellian left quickly, his eyes focused on the ground. 

Drustan shut the door behind him, locking it and walking back over to his window. Ellian had always taken things too far, but this was a new level of low. Drustan had learned how to deal with Ellian’s stupidity but there were days- like this one- that it took an immense amount of self control not to use his sword instead of his words. He would have thought Ellian would have learned by now that Drustan would always win a fight- especially a verbal fight- but he couldn’t seem to get it through his thick skull. That was fine with Drustan though- he enjoyed humiliating the guard, even if it never lasted very long. 

Drustan sighed, resting his head on the glass window. If Ellian could tell that he still had a difficult time with Adelina’s death, did that mean his father did too? Because if his father knew, Drustan’s life was about to become even more miserable than it already was. 

And then there was the matter of this ball. His father had always been very particular about Drustan attending every ball, banquet, or dinner. He thought that eventually there would be a woman who would strike Drustan’s fancy and he would finally be able to stop worrying about Drustan having heirs. Little did he know that Drustan never intended to marry or have kids. He would make Kingsley his heir- he wasn’t sure how, but he would do it. Because Ellian was right. Drustan did still love Adelina, even though she was dead. He had been a coward, and never told her, but he had loved her more than his own life. And now that she was gone, he would never be able to move on. Everyone else in his life expected him to get over it and marry someone else and forget about Adelina. But they didn’t understand exactly how much Adelina meant to him. She was the only person who truly cared about him and understood him. She believed in him- believed he could rise above his upbringing and do better. 

He sighed. Was he doing the wrong thing by aligning himself with his father? Did he need to break away? Make it on his own? It was probably what Adelina would have wanted him to do. But did that mean it was the right thing? Or was he idolizing what she would have thought was best because she was dead?

He took a deep breath, walking over and sitting at his desk. He pulled out a piece of paper and began writing on it. 

“Andrew,” he whispered to himself as he wrote, “I doubt you were expecting to hear from me any time soon. You probably thought I had forgotten all about you. I have not. We both served Rorick of Alourin together, and you are one of the best men I have ever met. And you were there the night Rorick and his family died. I want answers, Andrew. You are the only person I know who will give them to me. I’m coming to you two weeks from when you get this letter. Don’t tell anyone we are meeting. The only people who need to know are you and I. Don’t write back, or my father will find out. And I know you hate me, Andrew. But if you won’t meet for me, you will for Adelina.” He signed the letter and sealed it, putting it in his pocket. He would find a messenger tomorrow- one that wouldn’t tell his father what he was doing. 

Andrew had been his best friend when they had both been training under Rorick. They were the same age, but Andrew was years ahead in maturity. He had always been the one to keep all the young boys in order and Rorick had placed a lot of responsibility on his shoulders. Everyone had expected him to become the head guard once the old one retired. But Rorick had died before any of that could happen- and the head guard disappeared soon after. Everyone suspected that he had been a part of the plot to kill Rorick and they had tried to find him for a while but eventually gave up. It wasn’t worth it to find him. 

Andrew had been at the castle the night that the fire happened, and according to stories, he had been one of the people who tried to put it out. Drustan had no doubt that he had done everything he could to try to save Rorick and his family.

Drustan had only seen him once since it happened, and that was at the funeral. Andrew wouldn’t even talk to him- he only glared at him. At the time, Drustan hadn’t been able to understand it. He had just been so hurt. But now… if Andrew thought that Drustan and his father had something to do with the fire, he would hate them. And with good reason. Drustan would have felt the same in his position. It was just whether or not Drustan’s father had actually done it that was the question. 

Andrew would have answers- no matter what, he would have answers. And he would meet with Drustan, even if just so that he could insult him and hurt him. One way or another, he wouldn’t refuse to meet Drustan just because of a suspicion. It went against everything in Andrew, and Drustan was well aware of that. 

He stood, taking a deep breath. If Andrew didn’t have any information, Drustan would search out every last surviving servant and do whatever he needed to in order to find out the truth. He had spent too long being unsure about what had happened to Adelina. And now that he thought his father might have had a part in it… he needed the truth. He needed someone to tell him what really happened. He couldn’t do this anymore. 

He walked to his wardrobe and pulled out the outfit that his mother had forced him to pick for the ball. He felt the sleeve of the shirt, inserting his finger into the long and slim pocket. He pulled his dagger out of his belt, slipped it inside and made sure that it fit securely. The handle was slim enough that it fit in well, and wouldn’t be too obvious. 

Drustan hated bringing a weapon to balls like this, but his father demanded it. He thought that anyone might try to kill Drustan at any time- forgetting the fact that a ball would be too public for it. Drustan had learned not to fight his father on that a long time ago, and had accepted it. But he didn’t like that he always had to keep it in his sleeve- he would have much rather kept it in his boot where it was more out of the way. Once again, however, his father valued accessibility over comfort. So all of Drustan’s fancy shirts had a sleeve sewn into them. If it was an event that he couldn’t wear his sword or dagger on his belt, it was always in his sleeve. 

He never used the dagger- and he never would. He had sworn to himself that he would never attack anyone again. He had regretted it that last time, and he would not do it again. He relied on the guards to protect him, and let them take care of anything. He refused to be involved in any bloodshed. And he certainly wouldn’t do it at a ball. 

Just thinking about the ball again made him want to throw something across the room. He couldn’t think of any way to get out of it, short of throwing himself out the window. And he didn’t think that skipping the ball was quite worth that, no matter how miserable it would be. 

He would make it through, just like he always did. He would greet people and do whatever his father asked, like always. 

One thing would be different, though. This really would be the worst night of his life.