Traitorous Hearts: Chapter Fourteen

Adelina backed down the hallway towards the servant’s stairs. Drustan, Edwin, and Anissa were all staring at her- Drustan and Edwin with panic and Anissa with confusion. 

“Adelina, what’s wrong?” Anissa asked again, taking a step forward. 

Adelina shook her head, stepping back again. “How could you?” Her voice came out as a hoarse whisper, betraying the emotion welling in her. 

“What?” Anissa looked between Edwin, Drustan, and her. 

“How could you not tell me?” She forced her voice to be steady and firm. 

“Please let me explain, Adelina.” Drustan stepped in front of the others. “This has nothing to do with them.” 

“Did you know?” She looked past him to Anissa, her lower lip beginning to tremble. 

“Know what?” There was a slow understanding dawning on Anissa’s face but she obviously hadn’t quite grasped the situation yet. 

“That he killed someone.” She could barely get the words out. 

Anissa understood now. Adelina could see it in her eyes now. And she could also see the answer to her question. 

“You all knew, and you didn’t tell me for almost four months?” 

“Adelina, please.” Drustan stepped forward again. “Just let me explain.”

“I heard more than enough in there.” Adelina shook her head bitterly. 

“I was a different person.” 

“I don’t care.” She answered quickly, her words coming out harsher than she had meant. “How could you not tell me?”

“I was afraid.” There was so much pain in his eyes.

“Of what?” She laughed incredulously. 

“This.” He motioned around them. “I was afraid of this happening. I knew that you wouldn’t understand.” 

“You didn’t give me a chance to.” 

“So you’re saying that you would’ve reacted differently, if I had told you before? That you wouldn’t have the same hatred in your eyes that you have right now?”

“Maybe! We’ll never know though, will we?” Her anger and pain was beginning to get the better of her.

Anissa and Edwin began to back the other way down the hallway, leaving her alone with Drustan. 

“No, don’t leave.” They froze. “I’ll go.”

She turned swiftly on her heel, walking quickly to the stairs and opening the door. 

“Adelina, please, listen to me!” Drustan caught up to her quickly, grabbing her arm and keeping her from going down the stairs. 

She looked from his hand around her arm to his face. “Don’t ever touch me again.” She ripped her arm out of his grasp and ran down the stairs as quickly as possible. 

She had to get away from him. She couldn’t face him- or anyone- right now. Everything- all of the trust they had built, any of the good conversations that they had, all of it- was different now. She would never be able to look at him the same way, knowing what he had done. Knowing who he had been. Even if he was different now- even if he was a Christian and had changed- she couldn’t forget it. She couldn’t just excuse it as if it were nothing. 

She ran across the yard, straight into the woods. He wasn’t behind her anymore and it would take him a long time to find her if she got far enough in without him seeing her. She barely even noticed the rain clouds overhead until the droplets started falling through the tree branches and soaking her hair. Even then, she didn’t stop- she had to keep going, even if she got wet. 

When she had finally gone a sufficient distance, she sat down behind a tree, drew her knees up against her chest, and put her head down on them. 

How could God do this to her? She had just started holding out hope again. She had just started believing that maybe they could make things work again. And now this happened. Why couldn’t it have happened when she was still convinced that she hated him? Why did it have to happen when she was starting to love him again? What kind of cruel joke was this? 

“You weren’t supposed to do this to me. I have already been through my fair share of hardships. You weren’t supposed to put me through this again. I wasn’t supposed to lose him again.” She cried softly, her body and her mind beginning to feel the effects of lack of sleep. She could hardly think straight, let alone decide how to handle this. 

All that she really wanted to do was run back into Drustan’s arms and tell him that it was okay. That she didn’t care. But she would be lying if she said that. She did care. He had killed someone. He had taken someone’s life. But it had been in self defense. He might not have been here if he hadn’t killed that man. And Edwin had said that the man hurt his family. 

But to kill a man… she wasn’t sure if that was something that she could get over. She knew that God could- and had, before Drustan even began to trust in him again- but she wasn’t sure if she was strong enough to do the same. 

She had known that Drustan had gone down a dark path when she left- that he was bitter and sad, and that those emotions had driven his actions. But she would have never thought that he would do something that terrible. It scared her to know the true depth of what he had become in her absence. What scared her even more, however, was the idea that he might become that again someday. He had gone that far once- what stopped him from doing it again? What if he were to fall into temptation again and hurt somebody? What if she made him angry enough some day that he hurt her? He was capable of killing someone. Even if it was in self-defense the first time, how could she know if it would be next time? She was afraid to take that risk. But would she let her fear win out? 

She lifted her head slowly. Where had that thought come from? It had made its way to the forefront of her mind suddenly, without warning. She looked up to the sky. 

“Is that your way of telling me that it’s okay?” She whispered. “That I shouldn’t let my fear rule me?” She sighed deeply, lowering her head again. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.” 

“I’ve heard it helps if you pray.” 

Adelina looked up quickly, instinctively reaching for her knife. Drustan stood several feet away, hands out in front of him in surrender. 

“I’m not going to hurt you, Adelina. You don’t have to take out the knife.” 

She stood, glaring at him. “I don’t know. I apparently don’t know anything about you, so how can I be sure?” 

He sighed, lowering himself to the ground and sitting. “You have my word.” 

“Since when has that meant anything?” She knew that her pain was causing her to be bitter and unkind, but she couldn’t quite get it under control. 

“Fair enough.” He looked up at her, his eyes so full of remorse that it felt as if her knife was going through her heart. “Will you at least let me explain what happened?”

“I heard you and Edwin. I know what happened.” She looked down at the ground. 

“Can I still tell you?”

She shrugged. “It makes no difference to me.” Except that it meant a world of difference to her. He just couldn’t know that. 

He took a deep breath. “It was nearly a year after you left. I had been working for my father, keeping order in the town, and carrying out his orders. I didn’t like it, but I thought that it was the way things were supposed to be. I thought that I was just too young to understand.” He sighed. “The people hated me, even when I tried to be as uninvolved as possible. None of them would say it out loud or do anything about it, but their looks were enough. Not enough to make me doubt what I was doing, though- not until it was too late. It was a sunny day, and I was out doing a routine ride through town, just like every other day. There was a disturbance down the street, so my men and I went to inspect it. I continued riding because I heard something else further down the street, and I knew that my men would be able to handle it. I couldn’t tell what the noise was until I was out of the village, and onto one of the quieter roads. It sounded like a child crying.” He put his head down. “And it was. There was a man there, holding his crying son, dragging him by the hair towards the woods. When he saw that I had followed, he let the boy go and told him to run. Then he started walking towards me. I dismounted and walked towards him, intent on giving him a stern reprimand for harming his child. He didn’t appear to be armed, and I was much younger and larger than he was, so I wasn’t alarmed.” 

He looked up at her, a tear falling down his cheek. 

“As soon as I was close enough, he pulled out a knife and stabbed me.” Adelina felt her mouth open slightly in shock. “I didn’t know how to react, I was so surprised. I didn’t even cry out. He pulled the knife out and was preparing to stab me again when I grabbed his arm, holding him back. I pushed him backwards, putting enough distance between us that I could unsheath my sword and at least defend myself. I didn’t want to hurt him. I just didn’t want to die. And I told him that- but he didn’t listen. So he came at me again, and this time, I blocked the blow with my sword. He kept on coming at me and I didn’t know what to do. He got me to the point where he had knocked me over, and he was standing over me.” He bit his lip to stop it from trembling. “And then he threw himself on top of me. Right onto my sword that I had lifted to protect myself.” He took a deep breath. “I didn’t want to kill him, Adelina. I tried every other option- my men didn’t even hear me calling for them. It was either his life or my life and my self-preservation won out.” 

She breathed in slowly, trying to remain in control of her emotions. But it was useless. She couldn’t hold it in any longer. She turned her back to him, covering her mouth with her hand to stifle the sobs. She didn’t blame him any longer. She knew now that it hadn’t been his fault, and that he hadn’t had any other choice. In a few moments, she would be fine, but it was all just too much to process right now. 

“Adelina, will you please say something?” Drustan asked softly from the ground.

Adelina took another deep breath, turning around slowly. “What do you want me to say, Drustan? That I understand? That it is okay? That I don’t hate you? Because I could say any of those things and they would be true.”

“Then why are you looking at me like that?” He pushed himself up from the ground.

“I’m not trying to. I promise I’m not. I just don’t know what to say, or what to do. I don’t hate you, and I don’t blame you. But this changes things. You didn’t tell me, Drustan. You knew that it would mean something to me, and you didn’t tell me.”

“I wanted to-”

“But you didn’t. You were more scared of how I would react than of what would happen if you didn’t tell me. And that scares me. You and I have had our ups and downs for the past three months since we started working together- I will fully admit that. But there has never been a moment where I thought that you would deliberately hide something from me. You gained my trust, Drustan. And then in five minutes, you had lost it again, just because you couldn’t tell me the truth about a very important time of your life. Hearing the story and the truth from you now, that changes things. It makes it better. But it doesn’t cover up the fact that you did hide something so important from me. If we are going to work together, and be-” she stopped herself before she said something she regretted- “any sort of friends, then you have to tell me everything.”

“Can you truly say that you have been completely honest with me the past four months?” He asked quietly, looking down at his feet. 

She let out a slow breath. “No. There are definitely things that I have hidden from you. My plan to meet Ellian, I hid from you. I’m sure there are other things that I’m not thinking of. And I’m sorry. I apologized for that. But Dru, you can’t justify your wrongdoings by mine.”

He was silent for a moment, and she could tell he was struggling to think of what to say. “I don’t want to lie to you, Adelina. I never wanted to lie to you.” He raised his head to look at her. “You just meant too much to me to risk ruining our relationship- our friendship.”

She stepped towards him, forcing herself not to reach out and touch him. “Drustan, we can’t be friends if we keep secrets from each other.” She whispered.

He was quiet for another moment, staring down at her. She could see the conflict in his eyes as he battled something in his mind. What it was, she wasn’t quite sure. But she knew that whatever it was, the wrong thing was winning. 

“Then I have one more secret.” His voice was low, his eyes studying her. 

“What is it?” She stared up at him. If it was anything like the last one, she wasn’t sure that she wanted to hear it. 

He grimaced, as if regretting his decision to say something. She wasn’t going to let him back out now though, so she watched him expectantly. 

“Nothing can be worse than what I just found out. Whatever it is, we can get through it together.” She grabbed his hand. “I promise, I won’t run away this time.” 

He looked down at their hands and took a deep breath. “I am so going to regret this.” 

“Please, just tell me.” He was not helping this situation. 

“Just promise that if you hit me, it isn’t too hard?” 

“Drustan.” 

He finally met her eyes again. “I can’t just be friends with you anymore. I love you, Adelina.”

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

There. It was out. Whatever her reaction would be, it was out. He couldn’t take it back- and strangely, he didn’t want to. He had been tired of hiding how he felt from her. Now, even if it ruined their friendship, she knew the truth. 

He watched her reaction carefully, waiting for the anger, the mocking, and the inevitable slap. But it didn’t come. There was no horror in her eyes- she actually looked almost relieved. That couldn’t be right though- he had to be misreading some signal somewhere. 

She looked so beautiful, standing there like that. She was soaked- as he was sure that he was as well- but he had never seen her look better. He knew that he thought that every time he saw her but it was absolutely true this time. Her eyes were bright from the tears that had filled them just moments before and her cheeks were flushed. There was a wild look in her eyes, like she might run if he said or did the wrong thing. 

He smiled nervously. “Adelina, usually when someone tells you that they love you, you say-”

“Just stop talking.” 

She rolled her eyes, and then suddenly, she was kissing him. Or he was kissing her? He wasn’t entirely sure but he wasn’t about to start complaining about it. 

He could have kissed her forever. For the first time in years, he felt relaxed. He felt happy. He felt like he was home. Nothing had changed- she was his home. 

Adelina stepped back, ending the kiss abruptly. 

He bit his lip, smiling sheepishly. “So what exactly does that mean?” 

She laughed, shaking her head. “It means that you beat me to what I’ve been trying to tell you for nearly a month.”

He stared at her for a moment. “Nearly a month? Why didn’t you say anything?” 

She sighed, then shrugged. “It was never the right time. And I was afraid. Afraid of what it would do to us if you didn’t feel the same. I couldn’t bear to lose you again, even as a friend. I suppose that makes us a lot alike- we were both too scared to tell each other the truth at the risk of losing each other.” 

“I wish you’d told me, Adelina. I wish you’d told me sooner.” He took her hand. “I don’t want you to be afraid to tell me things, Alina. Ever.” 

She nodded. “I know. And I feel the same. I just… I didn’t know how you felt and I couldn’t bring myself to risk it. Anissa told me that I should but I just couldn’t force myself to do it.” She bit her lip. “I was going to do it today. I was on my way to talk to you when I heard you talking with Edwin. And then my whole plan got derailed, obviously.” 

“I’m leaving that life behind. I don’t care what my father does. I don’t care what everyone else says. I love you, Adelina. And I will die protecting you. I promise you that.” He wasn’t going to allow his father to ruin his life this time. He would fight for her this time. 

She shook her head, scrunching her nose. “You had better not die on me, Drustan of Nyro. We both know how that can put a damper on a relationship. If you die, I die. I won’t live without you again.”

Drustan pushed some of her wet hair out of her face. “We’ve overcome it so far. I think we’ll figure it out next time.”

She pretended to groan. “I certainly hope there isn’t a next time.” 

He laughed, running a hand through his hair and pushing it out of his eyes. “We better start praying now, knowing my father.” 

She looked around. “We should get back to the house before we catch a cold out here- or one of your father’s men finds us.” 

He nodded, grabbing her hand and lacing his fingers through hers. “There’s just one thing that I need to do first.” 

“And what might that be?”

“This.” He pulled her forward, kissing her again.

He let her go after a moment, smiling down at her. 

As they began to walk again, hand in hand, she leaned her head on his shoulder. 

“Do you know how long I have dreamed of this?” She whispered softly. 

“Probably as long as I have, I’d imagine.” He answered. 

“Then far too long.” She smiled.

“Look at us, already agreeing on something. This new relationship is off to a great start.” He laughed. 

“Anissa and Edwin will be shocked.”

“That they will be.” He smiled down at her. “But I’m glad to give them something to be shocked about.”

“I am too. And I’m sure that they will both be very glad to not need to tiptoe around our tempers anymore. And it’s not like they haven’t been waiting for this for months.” 

Drustan laughed. “I think we will all be glad that we don’t have to tiptoe around each other’s tempers anymore. That was far too much work.”

“That it was.” She was quiet for a moment before speaking again. “I’m sorry, Drustan, for all the terrible things that I’ve said in the past several months. I was lashing out at you because I blamed you- even without knowing it- and I wasn’t thinking clearly.”

“I forgive you.” He sighed. “I’m sorry too. I was angry with you for not believing me, and I wanted you to feel the same pain that you were making me feel. I know now that that was wrong but at the time… it eased the ache in my heart.”

“We’ve both made mistakes in the past few months- and years. I think that we need to leave it behind us. We’ve spent the two and a half years letting our past define us. And while I still fully intend on getting justice for my parents and the countless other people who have suffered at your father’s hands, I am tired of living in fear of the past. I refuse to let it rule me anymore.”

She had no idea how good it felt for him to hear that. He had waited so long for those words to come out of her mouth- to know that she was going to let it go. To know that she didn’t hold it against him anymore. 

“I wholeheartedly agree.” He answered. “My father will face justice. I promise. He did his best to ruin our lives in the past. I won’t let him do it to our futures.”

“We are in agreement, then.” 

“So we are.” 

It began to rain harder, and Drustan pulled his cloak around the two of them in an attempt to keep them from getting completely soaked. He couldn’t deny that it was nice to have an excuse to be this close to her. He had waited nearly three years to be close to her like this and he would not do anything to jeopardize that- ever.