Traitorous Hearts: Chapter Twelve

Adelina sat down. “Anissa, I need to talk to you.” 

Anissa looked up from the letter that she was writing. “I’m listening.” 

“And you’re going to think that I am crazy, but I can’t keep this in anymore- I need to tell someone.”

“Adelina, just tell me. It’s okay.”

Adelina took a deep breath. “So you know that I’ve been struggling with a lot of different… feelings recently, right?” 

“Yes, I know.” A smile was growing on Anissa’s face and Adelina wanted so badly to stop talking. But she had already started and Anissa wasn’t going to let her back out. 

“And I haven’t exactly been the most honest with everyone about what those feelings are. I’m not exactly the best at sharing feelings, as you already know.” 

“Adelina, darling, I love you. And I love hearing you talk. But I also love getting to the point. I’m not going to judge you, so just spit it out!” Anissa laughed. 

Adelina couldn’t help smiling a little. “I’m getting there! Now, you remember that Drustan and I used to… like each other?” 

“Like each other? Adelina, you told me that you were going to marry Drustan. You did a little bit more than like each other.”

Adelina could feel herself blushing. “Okay, yes, we wanted to get married. An idea that I should have known was never going to happen. But the point is that we were in love. And then everything happened with my parents and his, and I thought that was totally impossible. I hated the very thought of him at all, much less the thought of marrying him.” 

“And?” 

“And now…” Adelina put her head in her hands. “Now I don’t know. I think… Anissa, I think I may be falling in love with Drustan again.” 

Anissa’s eyes grew wide and her mouth dropped open. “You what?” 

“I know it’s crazy and I shouldn’t want to be with him but… I think I’m falling back in love with Drustan. After everything he has done, I shouldn’t like him.”

“What brought this sudden reawakening of feelings on?” Anissa asked. 

Adelina sighed. “It started at the ball, when I saw him again. I thought that I hated him, and then I saw him. And then when we met again in the forest, everything just kept coming back to me. I couldn’t get rid of it. It didn’t help that he wouldn’t stop flirting with me and looking at me like he used to.” 

“And how is that?” Anissa raised an eyebrow. 

“You know- how Edwin looks at you. Like you are so important and like you are their whole world. He used to look at me like that all of the time- even when he was angry with me. I didn’t notice it until the day he brought Sarah here, but looking back now, I can see it. Even at the ball, it was slowly starting to creep back into his eyes. I thought he hated me until that day. I can’t believe I didn’t notice it until now.” She shook her head in disbelief. How could she have been so clueless?

“I’ll admit, you were quite blind at first. We noticed it from the moment we saw you dancing at the ball. We figured that it wouldn’t be long until you realized it, but we were nearly preparing to tell you ourselves since you were taking so long.” 

Adelina looked up at her quickly. “You could tell?” 

“Adelina, you have been flirting with each other since the moment you first laid eyes on each other again. Granted, most of that flirting was death threats, but you were flirting. Edwin and I knew that you two still had feelings for each other.” Anissa smiled a little. “And Drustan has made his feelings very clear to Edwin from the beginning. He loves you, Adelina, no matter how well he does at hiding it.” 

“Why wouldn’t he say something then?” 

Anissa laughed. “I believe that he did.” 

Adelina searched through her memory, trying to remember. “That day in the forest… he said something along those lines. I was too angry to take it seriously at the time.”

“What’s important is that you take it seriously now.” Anissa answered. 

“I wanted to deny it for so long. I didn’t want to have to deal with my feelings. He… he has hurt me so many times. I thought it would be easier if I didn’t think about or admit how I was feeling. But I can’t stop it now…”

“Was this why you were so frazzled yesterday?” 

Adelina nodded slowly. “I talked to Sarah about forgiving people. And I was describing what a person becomes when they hold a grudge. Then suddenly, I realized that I was describing myself. I didn’t know that that was who I was until I said it out loud. So I went to the river to spend some time alone and think. I needed to process what I was feeling.” 

“And how did that go?” Anissa prompted.

“I realized that over the past two years- nearly two and a half years at this point- I have hated Drustan for something that he didn’t do. I’ve hated him for ruining my life. And I’ve convinced myself that he really did do something to hurt me. But he didn’t. He never did anything but love me. Even when we began talking again after I came back, he never really hurt me. He wanted to, just like I wanted to hurt him. And just like me, he couldn’t do it. And while neither of us may have fully realized it at the time, it was because of how we felt about each other deep down.”

“Are you sure this is really how you feel?” Anissa asked. “I just want to make sure that you know exactly how you feel.”

Adelina nodded. “It’s been creeping up on me since I got here. When I first saw him, all I could think of was how much I had missed him, even if I hid it. And whenever I saw him… all of our memories together came rushing back. They were overwhelming, but they were wonderful. And I couldn’t get rid of the desire to relive them and make more. I still can’t.” She laughed a little. “I don’t know how I didn’t see it until now. The day that he brought Sarah here, I was so angry with him and I didn’t understand why then, but I do now.” 

“Why?” 

“Because he was flirting with me and acting as if we were together- he was trying to give Sarah the impression that we were in love. I wasn’t sure why, and I was so angry. But now I know that I was angry because it was so hard to resist him when he looked at me and talked to me that way.” 

Anissa smiled. “I noticed that there was something that day- it was the same way that Edwin would talk to me after he first told me how he felt about me. I thought that maybe Drustan had decided to really tell you how he felt.” 

“Every time I have seen him since then, something else has happened. I can’t escape how I’m feeling any longer, so I decided I would just be open about them and confront them. Which involves telling you.” 

“I am quite flattered then. I know that getting you to talk about your feelings can be quite a feat at times.” 

Adelina rolled her eyes. “There’s a reason for that.” 

“I know, I know. Nevertheless, I’m glad that you told me.” Anissa looked at her slyly. “So are you going to tell him?” 

Adelina sighed. “I’m not sure yet. I just don’t know how I would tell him or what I would tell him. And would it even change anything? Or would he just tell me that it was more worth it to stay apart and not have to deal with feelings?” 

“I highly doubt that he will tell you that. He has been practically begging you to take him back from the very beginning. Yes, there were moments where his survival instincts took over and he nearly did kill you, but if we are being honest, you did push him to that point. He doesn’t want you dead, he doesn’t want to go back to being enemies after all of this is over, and he certainly doesn’t want to be friends. He wants to be with you, Adelina. And I think that the sooner you tell him, the better.” 

Adelina bit her lip. “But what if for some strange reason, he’s just been faking it all and you and Edwin are wrong? I don’t want to risk that humiliation- if his feelings aren’t real, he will never let me forget about it.” 

“Would you rather live in fear of humiliation and be alone- and miserable- for the rest of your life, or would you rather be with the person who has loved you for the past six years, even when you were dead? It’s your choice.” Anissa shrugged, standing up. “I have some things that I need to attend to now, and I think that you have some more thinking to do. No matter what happens, I’m glad that you told me, Alina.”

Adelina watched her leave, then groaned. Talking to Anissa was supposed to make things clearer and simpler- not more difficult. She hadn’t been looking for more questions, she had been looking for answers. But Anissa was right- she did have more thinking to do. Even if she didn’t want to do it. 

Should she tell Drustan? It seemed like the best course of action. But what if he couldn’t see past how horribly she had treated him for the past three months? What if he truly did hate her for it? 

She took a deep breath. Her father had always taught her to have faith. To have faith in God, and believe that he would protect her. He wouldn’t let her get hurt like she was so afraid of. And she had always trusted her father and thought that he was right. But her father was dead now… what did that say about God and his protection? If he was supposed to protect his children, why had he not protected her family from being ripped apart by Haimon? Why had God let this happen to her? 

Her father’s voice, distant and faint, drifted through her mind. If bad things only happened to bad people, God would have no way to show just how wonderful he is at righting the wrongs. Her father had told her this when she was a child after one of her favorite maids had fallen down a flight of stairs and broken her leg. At the time, that had seemed like the worst thing that could ever happen. Looking back now, it seemed trivial. But her father’s words remained. They repeated in her mind over and over, until she could no longer try to ignore them. 

She had had a bad thing happen to her. But that did not mean that God didn’t love her. Deep down, she knew that, no matter how hard it was to admit. She knew that God still loved her and was still watching her. Even on that cold night, when she had felt so incredibly, overwhelmingly alone as she rode into the darkness, he was there. He was welcoming her parents home. And he was very quickly showing that he could right the wrongs in her life, even if it felt slow to her. 

She had to have faith. She had pushed it to the side these past two years, and she had been lost. She hadn’t been able to find her way until she had talked with Sarah about God. That had to be a sign that she was right. So she would keep going down this path. Even when she wasn’t seeing the signs, she would keep going down the path. That was what her father had always told her was in the Bible, wasn’t it? Walking by faith, and not by sight. And that was what she would do. She would keep walking, even when it didn’t seem like it was going anywhere. Trusting God had gotten her this far- why couldn’t it continue taking her forward? 

There was a knock at the door and Adelina looked up quickly. Drustan waved, smiling a little. 

“Permission to enter?” 

“What do you need?” She hoped that her voice and face didn’t reflect how nervous she was on the inside. 

“I needed some advice.” 

“And I’m the person you chose to come to?” She couldn’t help laughing. 

“I surprised myself.” He sat down in the chair that Anissa had vacated. 

“Well?” 

“It’s complicated, but it’ll make sense when I explain it.” 

Adelina raised an eyebrow. “Do you need to know how to hide a body? Because if so, that is really your father’s area of expertise and-” 

He cut her off. “Thank you for that, Adelina. I know that I can always count on you to keep me humble and on my toes. May I finish now?” 

She held up her hands in defeat. “My apologies- you set yourself up for it, and I couldn’t resist. You may continue now.” 

He rolled his eyes but she could see the hint of a smile playing at the edges of his lips. “Thank you. So I talked to my father today. He tried to,” he hesitated and she raised her eyebrows, “he tried to force me to court Lady Jessenia.” 

“Lady Jessenia?” Adelina’s jaw dropped. “The little girl who used to follow us around whenever there was a large ball that her parents were invited to?” 

“That one.” 

“She’s nearly four years younger than me!” 

“That was my point!” He answered. 

“Does he want you to actually marry her?” 

Drustan shook his head. “Just make her believe that I will long enough for him to use her father for whatever scheme he has going on right now.” 

“Won’t that make her father angry?” She asked. 

“It doesn’t matter. I told him that I wouldn’t do it.”

Adelina’s eyes widened even wider than before. “You did?” 

He nodded. “And I told my mother that I’m not going to put up with it anymore. I’m done being his puppet.” He clenched his jaw and she could see how serious this was to him. “I’ll do what is necessary to keep my title but anything more is off the table for me.”

“How did they react to all of that?” 

“Mother thinks that I’m foolish, and Haimon thinks that he can force me into it, no matter what. He can’t.” 

“I’m sorry, Drustan.” She knew that he had always hoped his mother would side with him. 

“I’m not. It is just one more step towards getting away from him.” He looked up at her with eyes so intense that she nearly blurted out her feelings right then. But she couldn’t. She just couldn’t. 

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

Drustan let out a deep breath as he talked to Adelina. It felt good to tell her how he was feeling and her actually listen. Normally she just shut him down, but something was different this time. She seemed interested. Maybe it was just because it had to do with his father and her plot for justice. But it seemed like more than that. She had been a bit abrasive at first, but now she was really listening to him and seemed to care about what he was saying. 

“I don’t know what to do now.” He said suddenly. 

She was quiet for a moment. “Do exactly what you told your mother you would do. Do what you have to so that you can become a baron when your father dies, and nothing more.”

“But what if that requires something that I don’t want to do- like courting Lady Jessenia?” He asked. 

“Pick your battles.” She answered. “If he is asking things that are outside of your moral code, decide which ones are truly the worst. And for the ones that aren’t so bad, do your best to do them in a way that isn’t so bad. Defy him no matter what you are doing, but be smart about it. Don’t make him angry enough that he will disown you- and definitely don’t make him angry enough that he will kill you. But make it clear where you stand- if not to your father, to your mother at least.”

He nodded slowly. “He’ll know. My mother will tell him. And even if she doesn’t, he’ll figure it out. He knows that I’ve been on edge for months. He knew when Clay was having doubts, and he’ll know that I am having them.” 

“Clay doubted your father?” 

“Yes. He hid it much better than I did, but he did. He knew more than I did when he was alive, since he spent his entire life training to become a baron. My father trusted him much more with everything, so he knew everything. And he doubted my father’s motives and methods, but not enough to do anything about it. He figured that eventually, he would become the baron and then he would change things.” 

“Did your father ever try to make him marry someone he didn’t want to?” 

Drustan shrugged. “Not that I ever knew of. Clay cared for the woman that my father wanted him to marry. They weren’t in love, but they were friends, and they cared deeply for each other in that way. They would have been happy together.” 

“Who was he supposed to marry?” 

Drustan thought for a moment. “I believe she is now Patricia Tarir, Baroness of Valta.” 

“She married someone else already?” 

“And has a son.” 

Adelina’s eyes were wide. “That was fast- it’s only been two years since Clay’s death.” 

Drustan nodded. “I know. I thought the same thing when she got married. But life moves on. People move on, even if they care about a person. She had to survive, and the best way for her to do that was to marry.” 

“Have you talked to her?” She asked. 

Drustan shook his head. “I think she has been at one ball that I was at, shortly after her wedding. I didn’t talk to her, though. I was too angry at that time to talk to anyone.” 

“Angry with her?”

He shrugged. “Angry at her, at Clay for dying, at you for getting killed. All terrible reasons to be angry with someone, but my reasons nevertheless.” He wasn’t ashamed to admit that they were bad reasons. Just because he thought that they were bad now didn’t mean that they hadn’t seemed real when it was happening.

“You and I never really talked about how things were when Clay died,” she started quietly, “and I don’t know if you want to talk about it but if you want to, I’d like to hear it.”

Drustan sighed. “Things were… hard when he died. You know that it changed my whole life. I couldn’t get away from what my father expected of me. All of the pressure that used to be on Clay was on me. My father hurt Clay more than anyone, but Clay took it because he wanted to protect me and my mother. Now that he’s gone, I guess I don’t know exactly how to handle it, even after all of this time. And I don’t have him to lean on to tell me what to do.” 

“You told me once that Clay was your rock when you were at home. That even when he hid it, you always knew that he cared.”

Drustan nodded. “He was good at masking his emotions. He didn’t want my father to know how he actually felt about others, because it would be used against him. My father didn’t even know that Clay thought of Patricia as a friend. But I always knew that he had my back and that he was looking out for me. When I would go home for holidays, he would always make sure that I was taken care of. He used the excuse that I had to be strong and healthy in order to be a good knight, but I knew that there was more to it.”

“I only met him once, but he seemed like a good man. He seemed like he would’ve changed things once he took your father’s place.” 

Drustan sighed. “He would’ve.” 

“What happened, once you went back?”

“My father told me that my mother had just given birth, but was weak and would not be able to see me for several days. He decided that it would be best if I spent several days with my grandparents.” His eyes clouded suddenly. “He told me that it would help me to adjust to my new life. That was when he came to your castle and burnt it to the ground. While I was too far away to do anything, or hear about it for two days.” He stood. “I have some things that I must attend to. Thank you for talking to me.” 

She looked up at him, her brow furrowed. She didn’t understand this sudden departure. But he couldn’t explain it to her. He couldn’t explain how even just talking about her death brought the memory of that day so vividly and quickly into his mind that he couldn’t even think about anything else. 

He made it all the way to the stable before it was too hard to even walk. He crouched down, putting his head in his hands, allowing the memory to force itself through the locked door he had put it behind. 

“Drustan,” his grandmother called from the other room, “I need to speak to you.”

Drustan walked into her sitting room and sat down. “What do you need, Grandmother?” He looked over at her, noticing the tears in her eyes for the first time. “What’s wrong?”

I’m afraid there’s been a terrible accident, dear.”

“Did something happen to my parents?” He pushed away the small amount of hope that came with that thought. 

“No, dear. Nothing has happened to your parents. It is much worse.”

“Please, just tell me what has happened, Grandmother.” He couldn’t stand this suspense. 

“There’s been a fire, Drustan.” She held up a piece of paper. “The letter from your mother just came. There was a horrific fire at Duke Rorick of Alourin’s castle and… the entire family has died. Including Adelina.” 

Drustan stared at her for a moment, the rest of the room beginning to spin. “What?” He could barely get the word out. 

“She’s gone, Drustan. I’m so sorry.” 

He pushed out of his chair slowly, trying to maintain his balance. She couldn’t be gone. He had just seen her a week ago. She couldn’t just be dead. He would’ve felt it if she were gone. He would have felt his entire heart being ripped out of his chest the moment that she died. Why hadn’t he felt it? Why could he still not feel it?

“Drustan? Sit down, dear.” He felt a hand on his arm but he pushed it away. He couldn’t sit down- he had to go. 

“I need to return home. I have to go back and help. I need to speak with my father.” 

“Your father believes that it is best to stay here for a few more days. Once they have sorted everything out, you will return. They think that it will be too emotionally distressing for you.” 

“I don’t care what my father says. I’m going back.” First Clay, now Adelina and her father. Had he done something wrong? Was God punishing him for something? What had he done to deserve this?  

“You should heed your father’s advice.” His grandmother grabbed his arm again. “You are in no state to travel.” 

He ran a hand through his hair, trying to appear rational. “You’re right. I think that I shall retire to my room now.” His mouth was dry and he swallowed several times, trying to get any sort of moisture. 

He walked quickly to his room, stumbling several times on things that he couldn’t see until they were right in front of him. His vision was blurred and his head was pounding.

“I’m not ready for this. I’m not ready for her to be gone. I wasn’t prepared for this. I wasn’t prepared.” He sank down against the wall, tears welling in his eyes. “You should’ve prepared me. You should’ve told me. Why, God?” He whispered the last words pleadingly. “Why? Why her? If you were going to punish someone, punish me. Take me instead. Not her.” The tears fell hot and fast down his face. It was the first time in ten years that he had cried. He had trained himself not to cry, no matter how much pain he was in. This was more pain than he had ever felt, though, and the tears came quickly. But he didn’t care- he didn’t even care that his father would’ve laughed at him. Adelina was dead.

Drustan opened his eyes, forcing himself out of the memory. It had been so vivid- so real. It was like he was right back there all over again. He could still feel the anguish that had flooded his body for a week after that. Even knowing that she wasn’t truly dead didn’t change it. That had been his lowest point. The point where he considered leaving everything and never coming back. Never dealing with his father’s abuse again, never looking on Adelina’s land again, never seeing his friends again. 

If his grandmother hadn’t locked him in his room, he would’ve done it. He would have slipped past the guards that night and ridden as far away as he could. But his grandmother knew him too well, and made sure that that didn’t happen. Now, he was glad. If he had run away, he never would have found out that Adelina was still alive, and he would’ve continued living a miserable life. At the time, he had been furious, and tried to climb out the window. His grandmother had foreseen that also, and had guards positioned below all of his windows. She had thwarted him at every turn and hadn’t let him leave for another week, like his father wanted. After the first two days of trying to escape, he had spent the rest of the week in his room, going over the two weeks before in his mind. His father coming and taking him away. His decision not to say goodbye to Adelina. His baby brother’s birth. His older brother’s death. Adelina’s death. It had all run through his head a million times. If only he had been there. If only he could have saved her. If only he could have seen her one more time. If only he could have stayed with her. And he had thought about how coincidental the timing of everything was.  

He took a deep breath. None of that mattered now, no matter how real the feelings still felt. No matter how bad the guilt still was. She was here now- she was alive, and she was safe. He would make sure of that this time. Even if she hated him, and he lost her forever, he would protect her this time. He wouldn’t let her get hurt again- especially not at the hands of his father. He had made the mistake of thinking that distance was best before. He wouldn’t make that mistake again. Today had been a good step towards repairing their relationship- he just needed to keep taking steps until she really trusted him again. 

He would have to work for it, but he would do it. He would prove that he was worth trusting again, and that he really did want to take care of her. He wouldn’t let his father’s greed get in the way again. And hopefully, along the way, Adelina would let him in and love him again.