Traitorous Hearts: Chapter Eight

Adelina hated needing to wear her cloak so tightly around her when it was so hot outside. But it was the only way to make sure that no one recognized her. She had already seen several people that she knew, or was at least acquainted with. She couldn’t take any chances. She hadn’t changed that much in two years.

It had been three days since she had last seen Drustan and she still hadn’t heard anything from him about where Ellian’s parents were. It wouldn’t be long before she took matters into her own hands. She knew that she should probably heed Drustan’s warning about Ellian but she needed to know. She had to find out where they were. They could become essential in proving her father’s innocence, and Haimon’s treachery.  

“May I help you find something?” A young woman holding a basket of flowers stopped her. 

Adelina shook her head. “No, thank you.” 

Upon hearing her feminine voice, the girl stopped. “Are you sure you wouldn’t like a flower?” 

Adelina nodded. “I’m sure. Thank you, though.” 

“You aren’t from around here, are you?” The girl asked, stopping her again. 

Adelina took a deep breath. “I was born here, but left a long time ago.” She probably should have lied and said no, but this couldn’t hurt, could it? “And I’m just passing through.” 

“Aren’t you a bit hot in that?” She meant all of this innocently, but she was starting to get on Adelina’s nerves. 

“I prefer to be warm.” Adelina pushed past her to continue walking. 

The girl didn’t go after her but Adelina began to worry that she had been too rude. What if the girl alerted some of the townspeople that she was causing trouble? She would need to be more careful and make sure that she didn’t draw any unnecessary attention to herself. 

“Have you heard the rumors?” She forced herself not to turn when she heard the whisper between two stall vendors. 

“Which ones?” She pretended to examine some apples. 

“The ones about that dashing Lord Drustan dancing with some mysterious stranger. She was supposedly the most beautiful woman at the ball, but no one knows who she is.” Adelina couldn’t help but smirk at the flattery. 

“Well, who do they say she is?” 

“They think that she is one of the king’s daughters.” The woman glanced around. “They say she was there to see if Haimon is really as bad as they say he is.” 

“Where did you hear that?” The other vendor’s eyes were wide. 

“My sister’s best friend is a servant at that dreadful man’s castle. She saw the whole thing. She said that Lord Drustan seemed quite smitten with her. It would be a most advantageous match for him if he married the princess.” 

“The king would never let his daughter marry a baron’s son- especially not if he was a traitor.” 

“Don’t hold the son accountable for the sins of the father.” The woman raised her eyebrows suggestively. “And if that Drustan looked at me the way they say he looked at her, I would leave my husband and children and drag him to the altar.” 

The other woman laughed loudly. “Oh, Claudia. The stories you tell. You? Married to a baron?” She shook her head, her face turning red from her laughter. “Besides, you know what they say about Drustan- the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree in that family.” 

“I have hope, Marie.” Claudia pointed her finger at Marie. “I have hope that the kind hearted little boy who used to come to our stalls and buy apples for the poor when he was training at Duke Rorick’s castle. I have hope that that little angel is still in there somewhere.” 

“Well, if he is, I have a nice daughter about his age that would really benefit from the title of baroness. Forget a princess- how about a good girl that can cook a nice meal and is nice and sturdy for childbearing?” Marie laughed loudly again. 

Claudia rolled her eyes. “Oh, Marie. You think too small, you-” 

They both glanced over at Adelina suddenly, finally taking notice of her. 

“Can I help you?” Claudia’s warm demeanor suddenly changed to cold and mistrusting.

“No, thank you.” Adelina said hurriedly. “I was just admiring your apples. They are quite big and seem to be very fresh. Where are they grown?” 

“In my husband’s fields, just east of town. We grow the finest apples in the area.” There was still suspicion in her voice. 

Adelina nodded. “I’ve never seen finer apples.” She looked around. “Who rules over this town?” 

“Currently, the Baron Haimon of Nyro has taken over Alourin.” Marie answered. 

“Oh? Is Nyro near here?” Adelina pretended innocence, but she knew that the hood was going to keep them from trusting her. 

“Yes, it borders us to the north. It’s about a half of an hour’s ride from here on horseback. The Baron’s castle is just on the border.” 

“You said currently- who used to rule here?” Adelina slowly removed her hood, deciding it was worth the risk to make these women trust her. They seemed to know a lot- whatever she could learn from them would be beneficial.

When they saw her face, they both softened instantly. Maybe it was because she was a young woman, or because she wasn’t someone they had ever seen at Haimon’s castle, she wasn’t sure. She didn’t really care, though- just so long as they trusted her enough to give her information. She had a feeling their want to gossip would overcome their desire to remain suspicious of her. 

“Duke Rorick of Alourin, God rest his soul. He was the best man I ever met.” Claudia shook her head sadly. “It was quite the tragedy when he and his family died.” 

Adelina pretended to be clueless. “What happened?” 

“No one really knows.” Marie looked around to make sure that no one else was listening. “All we know is that one night, the whole castle caught fire. The entire family perished in the fire- even their precious, two day old son.” 

“Two days later, Baron Haimon announced that he would take over until a more permanent solution could be found.” Claudia cut in. “But that was two years ago.” 

“And no relatives have stepped forward to claim the duke’s title?” Adelina hadn’t thought about it before, but she did have family somewhere. Why hadn’t any of them taken her father’s land and title? Why was Haimon the one to get it? 

“If there are any, Haimon made sure that they stayed away. He’s been trying to get other nobles’ land for years- since his father died and he inherited his title. Nyro is a small domain, and he had barely any land. It should have been enough but no… he jumped at the chance to take Duke Rorick’s when he died.” 

“Does anyone know how the fire started?” Adelina asked. 

“There are… suspicions. But no one knows for sure.” 

“What are the suspicions?” Adelina asked, her eyes wide. 

Claudia motioned her to lean closer. “Some say that lying, conniving Haimon set it when everyone was asleep. Others say it was just a candle, accidentally left burning by a servant.” 

Adelina leaned back quickly, letting her mouth fall open. “And nothing has been done to investigate this?” 

Marie shook her head sadly. “No. All the nobles in the area are too afraid to ask questions. And the king- the one who can actually make a difference- believes the rumors to be just that- rumors. Made up by jealous nobles that want to see Haimon stripped of his title and lands.”

Adelina sighed. “How terrible- did any of the family survive the fire?” 

“Not that anyone knows of…” Claudia trailed off. 

“But?” Adelina prompted. 

“Come here.” Marie motioned her forward to the space between their stalls. The three of them sat down, and Marie leaned close. “They never found the daughter’s body.” 

“Couldn’t it have been burned up in the fire?” 

“That’s what everyone thinks- the fire started in her room, so they say it burned her so quickly that there was nothing left of her body.” Her words sent a chill through Adelina, even though she knew that it wasn’t true. “But I don’t think it’s true.”

“We think she is still alive, but in hiding. She must have some hideous burns on her body that she doesn’t want people seeing.” Claudia whispered. “But one day, she will come back and take the title away from Haimon.” 

Adelina widened her eyes. “Can someone really do that?” 

The women nodded. “I wish she would come back.” Claudia looked off into the distance woefully. “She was such a nice girl. And she would free us from the tyranny of Haimon’s reign.” 

“Is that one of his guards?” Adelina motioned to a man walking around with a sword. 

Marie nodded. “They patrol through here all the time. Any conversations we have, we have to whisper. They’ll take anything they hear and use it to arrest us and get us thrown into Haimon’s dungeon.” 

“Even you ladies?” 

Claudia nodded, pursing her lips. “Even us ladies. The only people they won’t arrest are the people with money. We aren’t rich enough for people to notice when we get arrested.” 

“Well, what do they do when they arrest you?” Adelina glanced up to make sure that the guard wasn’t coming towards them, but he was more concerned with the girl selling flowers than watching their whisperings. 

“They keep us in the dungeon for a few weeks and then let us go with a warning. They don’t actually have grounds to hold us so they let us out every few weeks, making room for the next round. Everyone in town has spent at least a week in one of those cells.” Marie shook her head in disapproval. “It’s a shame that Duke Rorick had to die. He was so good to us.” 

“So the rumors about him being a traitor- they’re false, correct?” 

“Oh, of course- what do you mean, the rumors about him being a traitor?” Claudia looked over at Marie. 

“We never mentioned him being a traitor.” Marie finished for her, her eyes narrowing. 

Adelina looked between the two. “Oh, you must’ve. I know I’ve heard it somewhere.” 

“Are you getting information from that girl over in the pottery booth?” They both began making scolding sounds. 

“She isn’t very reliable.” And just like that, they were trusting again.

“The girl is absolutely head over heels for that handsome, dashing Lord Drustan.” Marie pursed her lips again. 

“Lord Drustan?” Adelina asked. 

“Yes, the son of Haimon. Nothing like his father.” 

“As far as we know.” Marie put in skeptically. 

“Marie here isn’t a believer in second chances. But she forgets that we’ve only ever seen Drustan hit someone twice. And both times, they were actual thieves. Any other time, he just sits on his horse while his men do everything.” 

“Condoning it is almost as bad as actually doing it.” Marie answered, throwing a dirty look at Claudia. 

“Personally, I believe it’s that father of his that is corrupting him. Drustan grew up here, training to be a knight at the Duke’s castle. He would always come through here with Lady Adelina and they seemed so happy and kind. Everyone thinks that if she had lived longer, they would have gotten married. I saw them kiss once, when they thought no one else was paying attention. It was the most passionate thing I’ve ever seen- I could nearly feel the love myself.” Adelina could feel her face turning red but she tried to ignore it.

“But he isn’t like that anymore.” Marie sighed. “It is a shame.” 

Claudia nodded in agreement. “Such a shame. And an even bigger shame that now, within two years, he’s moved onto the princess.”

Marie nodded. “The princess is rumored to be one of the prettiest ladies in the land, but nothing could compare to Lady Adelina’s. It is so sad to see a nice young man like that move on so quickly, when she died so tragically.” 

Adelina nodded. “He does seem rather unchivalrous, from what I’ve seen of him.” 

Both women looked at her, their eyes wide and mouths open. “Oh, no!” Claudia shook her head. “He is the most chivalrous man to ever exist. Yes, he may be a bit roguish and mischievous at times, but he’s the epitome of chivalry. There have never been rumors of him being with any of the women in town- even though plenty of them throw themselves at him. He’s always been kind to everyone, unless he is here on his father’s orders.” 

“Even I can’t find fault with him as far as his chivalry- and I try to find an issue with him anywhere I can.” Marie laughed loudly, snorting a little. 

Adelina couldn’t help but smile- these women spoke so honestly and freely with a complete stranger. They had no idea what her secret was, but they trusted her with all of theirs. The strangest part about it, though, was that she liked it. She liked being here with them. She liked talking to them and hearing their opinions and what they had to say. They were a bit dramatic and exaggerated everything- she was nowhere near as pretty as the princess- but that had a certain charm to it. She knew for sure that she would be coming back here as soon as she could. 

“Maybe he isn’t as bad as I thought.”

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Drustan walked quickly to his father’s office, opening the door and slipping in. No one was around to see him- his parents had gone out to visit the site of the new castle, and most of the servants had taken advantage of that time to relax for a bit. Besides, no one would think it was strange if he went into his father’s office- and no one would turn him in even if they did find it strange. 

“Alright, what am I looking for?” 

He started flipping through papers on his father’s desk, careful to put everything back where it was before he touched it. He couldn’t afford to let his father know that he had been in there. While he had plenty of excuses lined up just in case, he knew that it was better not to have to use them in the first place. 

There was nothing on the desk older than six months- and nothing that mentioned Rorick. Most of the papers contained finances or plans for the new castle. 

He opened a drawer to find several large, leather books. He opened one to find his father’s journal, dating back to the day that he was named Baron of Nyro twenty years before. 

Drustan flipped to the end, but the book only spanned a year of time. Drustan continued looking through the books, putting each one back exactly where he found it. 

He finally found the book that started just six months before Adelina’s parents’ deaths. He began reading it, searching for any mention of Rorick or Anabelle. 

His gaze stopped on Anabelle’s name in an entry seven days before the accident. 

“Anabelle believes that we can convince Rorick to help us. She better be right. I would hate for something to happen to her and her family if she fails. She has been feeding him information for months now- in one week, we will strike. We must stop those ‘traitorous’ men in the west before they overthrow our ‘wonderful’ king.” Drustan raised an eyebrow at the quotation marks- he was surprised his father would give even a hint of his disapproval of the king, even in a private document. “Anabelle and Katerina are both going to give birth soon. I shall finally have another son- one who will not disappoint me the way Drustan has. That is, given Katerina does not fail and give birth to a female child. That would be a fate worse than no child at all.” Drustan clenched his jaw, looking up. He could not read any more. This did not give enough evidence of what his father had done, but he couldn’t read his father’s terrible thoughts. He already hated his father’s outward expression of his feelings- he could only imagine how bad his true thoughts got. 

He flipped a couple pages over, searching for the correct date. He found the day before, but as he flipped the page, there was nothing. It continued on to the day after the accident. Drustan studied the pages for a moment- something had been ripped out. The pages from the day of the accident had been removed. Drustan couldn’t tell if it had been recently, but evidently, his father had written about it somewhere. Were the pages hidden somewhere, lying around? Or had his father destroyed them? 

Drustan quickly skimmed the following pages, making sure that there were no more mentions of the tragedy, or of Kingsley really being Asher. But his father had made sure that any mentions of Rorick and his family were vague- nothing that would incriminate him if found. 

Drustan slowly closed the book, putting it back in the drawer. There had to be evidence of his father’s misdeeds somewhere. Even if it wasn’t about what he had done to Adelina’s family, there had to be something about his other crimes. But where was it? 

Drustan looked around the room, trying to find anything suspicious- his father would hide things that he wanted to keep a secret either in plain sight or behind lock and key.

But there was nothing that stood out to him- no hidden drawers or cabinets or rooms. Everything seemed perfectly normal. He wasn’t sure if that made him more or less suspicious- nothing was ever perfectly normal with his father. There had to be something he was missing. 

He walked to the window, crossing his arms and looking out. It was a clear and sunny day- that would keep his parents out longer, inspecting every last inch of the building site. He had plenty of time to do more snooping. It was just where he was supposed to do it that he couldn’t figure out. 

Where did his father disappear to when he didn’t want to be bothered? Drustan thought for a moment- his father was pretty secretive. When he didn’t want to be bothered, he went to a place that no one knew about. 

Drustan looked around the room again, trying to figure out if there was anything- a clue, a book, anything- that would help him. His eyes fixed suddenly on a Bible, tucked away on one of the shelves. He had seen it a million times and never thought anything of it. 

But now he questioned it- why was there a Bible in his father’s office? His parents weren’t religious in any way, and his father would have taken it out by now if it had been put there against his will. So his father had purposefully kept that Bible there for years. But why? 

Drustan walked over, pulling it off of the shelf. He opened it slowly and it felt open to a page in the back naturally, as if it had been opened there many times. A small section of several pages had been cut out and resting in the hollow that had been created was a key. But a key to what? 

Drustan picked up the key, holding it in his palm. He stared at it for a moment, trying to figure out what it could possibly unlock. His father carried most of his keys on a belt around his waist, so this one must be important if it was hidden where no one would find it. 

Drustan looked up slowly, still thinking. He stared at the bookshelf, thinking of every possible nook and cranny in the house that his father would hide something in. 

It took him nearly two minutes to realize that he was staring right at the keyhole. Apparently, his father had had a secret drawer installed in the bookshelf, and had hidden the key right in front of it. He nearly hit his forehead in frustration- how could he have been so oblivious? It was a small keyhole, but large enough that he should have seen it. He should have noticed that it was there, right behind the Bible that housed its key. 

“You are a sly one, Father.” Drustan whispered, putting the key into the hole and turning it. “Just not sly enough.”

The drawer popped open and Drustan pulled it out, searching through its contents. 

It contained three pieces of paper, a ring- his father’s signet ring from before he had become a baron, which was very similar to the one that Drustan wore now- and a dried up rose petal. Drustan opened the three pieces of paper. They were all three letters from his grandfather- his mother’s father. They accused his father of treachery, but said that as long as he didn’t get caught, he could still marry Drustan’s mother. 

So his grandparents had known that his father was a bad man when he married their daughter- they just didn’t care. 

But if his grandparents knew that his father had been involved in something treacherous, maybe they would have evidence. And if they had evidence, they might be willing to testify against his father. He was sure that it wouldn’t take much convincing- he would just need to tell them that if they didn’t testify, he would tell the king that they knew what his father was doing, and didn’t tell anyone. They would be much more worried about preserving their reputation to the king than keeping their relationship with their already estranged daughter and son-in-law. They were getting older, but they were still young enough to spend several miserable years in prison. 

Drustan knew that it seemed heartless to blackmail his own grandparents like that, but he was still his father’s son. He might not have agreed with everything his father had taught him, but he definitely remembered it all. And he would do anything he had to in order to get justice for Rorick. Even if Adelina never thanked him for it, he owed Rorick that much. The man had been more of a father to him than his own, and he had taught Drustan everything good that he knew. Drustan couldn’t easily forget that. 

“Well, Grandfather, thank you, for helping to seal my father’s fate.” Drustan put everything back in the drawer and placed it back in its slot. He put the key back exactly where he found it and put the book back on the shelf. 

Everything looked exactly the way it had been when he took it. His father would never be the wiser. He would think that Drustan had been out riding all morning- not sneaking around his office. And that was exactly what Drustan needed him to believe. 

And while Drustan hadn’t found any real, solid evidence yet, he would. This was just the beginning. He would find more, somehow. And then his father would realize that while he had been underestimating Drustan this whole time, Drustan had been growing stronger and smarter. He had been using all that his father had taught him and storing it up to use against him. His father would come to regret trusting Drustan so much- he would learn that he should have made sure Drustan was on his side before telling him any of his secrets. Would he be proud of Drustan’s secrecy and success at betraying him using his own tricks? If he was, it would be the first time in Drustan’s life. 

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