Traitorous Hearts: Chapter Sixteen

Adelina took a deep breath and let it out slowly, trying to calm her nerves. Drustan wasn’t even here with Asher yet, and already Adelina felt like vomiting. She was about to meet her brother for the first time in two years, and she wasn’t sure that she was prepared. How did one prepare to meet their long lost sibling- who was also siblings with their lover? She wasn’t quite sure how all of that worked, but she tried not to think too hard about it. 

It had only been three days since she had told Drustan that she wanted to meet Asher, and he had immediately begun planning it. He would tell his parents that he was taking Asher to do some riding lessons. Most parents would be suspicious of this excuse, but knowing Baron Haimon, he would simply be proud that his son was learning to ride so early. He could barely walk in a straight line, but they trusted him on a horse for some reason. She couldn’t help scoffing at the idea of a two year old being an expert horseman. All of this just helped her to realize that Drustan’s childhood had been so much worse than she had ever imagined. 

She turned quickly at the sound of hoofbeats. Drustan rode into the meadow slowly, with Asher in his lap. He was looking over his shoulder, but he didn’t seem concerned about someone following them. That was a good sign. 

Adelina stood, taking a  deep breath and smoothing her skirt. She could do this- he was only a two year old. And she wouldn’t even be introducing herself as his sister. While Drustan trusted the boy enough to know that he wouldn’t mention it to their parents- or if he did, without enough detail to raise suspicion- they didn’t trust him that much. She would just be Drustan’s friend, Allie, from the village. If questioned about it, Drustan would explain that she was just a girl in the village that they had passed on the way to training, and they had talked to her for a moment because she seemed distressed. If Kingsley brought up anything else, Drustan would dismiss it as him being incredibly imaginative, and hope that his parents accepted it. They had every possible problem solved and thought through. Drustan had handled most of it- he hadn’t wanted her to have to worry about something that was so important and happy for her. 

Drustan shot her a smile as he dismounted, and lifted Asher to the ground. She tried to smile back, but couldn’t quite. She was too nervous. 

Asher eyed her warily, slowly walking up to her with Drustan. She smiled down at him- actually smiled, somehow- and knelt down to be at his level. 

“Hello, Kingsley. My name is Allie. I’m one of Drustan’s friends.” 

He glanced up at Drustan for reassurance, and when Drustan nodded, he gave her a small smile. “My name is Kingsley.” 

“Would you be okay if we spent a little bit of time with Allie today, Kingsley?” Drustan crouched down as he asked. “We have some lunch to eat, and we are going to have a picnic.”  

“A picnic?” Kingsley asked, looking past Adelina to the blanket and the basket that was filled with food. 

“Yes, a picnic.” Drustan smiled. 

Kingsley nodded. “Okay.” He walked past Adelina happily, then stopped and turned back, motioning to her when she didn’t follow. “Come here Allie.” 

Adelina couldn’t help laughing a little. “I’m coming.” 

Kingsley sat down on the blanket, waiting for his food expectantly. 

“What would you like to eat, Kingsley?” Adelina asked after a moment. “We have chicken and blueberries- I heard that those are your favorite.” 

Kingsley grinned. “Yes! I want those.”

“How do you ask?” Drustan interjected. 

Kingsley sighed. “Please?” 

Adelina smiled. “Of course.” 

They all ate quickly, Kingsley talking in between bites. He was a friendly child, considering all of the pain that he must have already endured, even in his two years of living. Adelina had a feeling that had more to do with Drustan being a supportive sibling than their father going easy on Kingsley because of his age. She was thankful that he was friendly though. It meant that he was more than willing to share everything about his life without hesitation. He didn’t really mention the bad parts- whether that was his brain protecting him, or he was just smart enough not to mention them, she wasn’t sure. But she was okay with him not talking about the terrible things that his father did to him. Instead, she got to hear all about his favorite colors, and his favorite animal, and what the name of his favorite horse was. She got to hear about his nursemaids, and the games that they played with him. Everything that a normal two and a half year old would be talking about, she got to hear. 

She hadn’t expected him to be so verbal and comprehending, but she also didn’t really know how intelligence corresponded to age. From what she could tell, he understood everything that they told him, but he couldn’t quite say everything that he wanted to tell them. He was smart, to be sure, but there were some things that he just couldn’t figure out how to express. And like a normal two year old, he was passionate and a bit emotional, getting upset when he didn’t get his way. According to Drustan, however, this happened much less often than it would with a normal two year old. Because of the way his parents responded to outbursts, he wasn’t nearly as emotional as others his age would be. 

Adelina couldn’t help but be saddened by this information. If Haimon hadn’t killed her parents, and taken Asher, his life would be so different. He would be able to throw tantrums and get upset like a normal two year old. He would be able to talk about how much his mother and father loved him, and the games that they played with him, rather than his nursemaids. He wouldn’t be going on secret picnics with a girl that was his only living relative, even though he didn’t know the truth. She wouldn’t be forced to lie to the most important person in her life. Drustan wouldn’t have to lie to his parents. Life would just be so much simpler if none of this had happened.

“Favorite color, Allie?” Asher looked up at her, waiting for her to answer. 

She thought for a moment. “Dark green. Like the evergreen trees in the winter.” 

“Dru favorite color is brown.” Asher said solemnly. 

Drustan laughed. “No it is not! My favorite color is red.” 

“Then why your shirt brown? And your pants brown? And your shoes brown? And your hair brown? And your eyes brown?” He probably would have kept going, if Drustan hadn’t interjected- though the child did have a point. 

“Because I can’t wear red all of the time. Could you imagine how silly I would look if I wore everything red?” Adelina had to admit, it was an amusing picture to imagine. 

Asher laughed and pointed at Drustan. “You’d look funny.” 

“Exactly. So I wear brown in order to not look silly.”

“Good idea.” 

“Thank you, Kingsley.” Drustan smiled down at him. 

Adelina could tell that, even now, when he knew that Asher wasn’t really his brother, he still loved him like one. The love in his eyes every time that he looked at Asher could rival even the love in his eyes when he looked at her. Adelina wasn’t complaining about that, though- she could live with sharing Drustan’s love with her younger brother. 

“My favorite color is blue.” Asher asserted, content that the attention was firmly on him for the moment. 

They had already been over what his favorite color was, but he didn’t seem to remember or care. Adelina assumed that that was often the way that it was with children his age. She didn’t really have that much experience with children, though, so she couldn’t quite be sure. 

“What do you like that is the color blue?” Adelina asked. 

Asher was silent for a moment, thinking. Then he held up his blueberries. “Blueberries! And the sky. Love the sky.”

“You love the sky?”

“Yes.” Asher nodded. “So big. So bright.” 

“Do you see that cloud there?” She pointed to one that was overhead. 

Asher nodded again. 

“Doesn’t it look like a horse?” 

Asher stared hard at it for a moment. “No. Looks like a cow.” 

Drustan and Adelina laughed. “I suppose that works too.” Adelina answered. 

“That one looks like a duck.” Asher pointed to another one that looked nothing like a duck.

“That does look… something like a duck.” Drustan nodded his head, suppressing his smile. 

“At least he can tell what kind of animal it may be.” Adelina pointed out. “When I was two, I didn’t even know the difference between a cow and a horse. I always wanted to ride the cows in the fields, rather than the horses in the stables. Or at least, that’s what my parents always told me growing up.” 

Drustan laughed. “I’m sure that it would have been quite a sight to see you riding up to your castle on a cow. It’s a shame that your parents didn’t encourage it, so that I could have seen it when I came to live with you.” 

Adelina rolled her eyes. “At least I was able to ride something. You were barely able to ride a pony when you came to live with us.” 

Drustan put a hand over his heart. “My lady, you wound me. I thought we had a deal to never bring that up.” 

Adelina laughed. “We did- but when someone dies, I believe that all vows are then broken. So since I was technically considered dead… our deal is null and void.” 

Drustan narrowed his eyes. “We had several other deals then, that I am sure you do not want me to break.” 

“Such as?” She wracked her brain as she said the words, hoping that there wasn’t anything too embarrassing. 

“Such as our deal never to eat mushrooms because even though I loved them, you hated them. So now I get to eat mushrooms again.” That wasn’t too bad- she had expected much worse. “And our deal to never speak of the time that you slipped on a puddle and your feet flew so high in the air that you landed on your back with your petticoats showing. Right in front of the Duke and Duchess of Davin.”

Adelina put a hand to her mouth. “I had completely forgotten about that.” 

“Now really, since that deal is broken, I think that it is only fair that Anissa and Edwin should learn about it.” 

Adelina raised an eyebrow. “Then they get to know about your riding inability.” 

Drustan shrugged. “Fine. But I was quite young when I came to live with you. And you were quite old when Duke Darell and Duchess Delia saw something that they will never forget.” 

Adelina began to retort when Asher finally spoke up. 

“Dru, play with me! Ride horsey!” He pointed to Drustan’s horse, standing up and beginning to walk towards him. He had finally realized that the attention wasn’t on him anymore, and he was determined to get it back. 

“Okay, okay, we’ll do a little bit of riding.” Drustan stood, going after him and picking him up. “But just a little. I don’t want you to get hurt.” 

Adelina watched them ride for a few moments, smiling. Was this what her life could be like, if they succeeded in overthrowing his father? Could she truly be this happy all of the time? She wasn’t sure, but she would do anything to keep the joy that she felt in this moment. Anything. 

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

Drustan helped Adelina mount her horse, glancing back to make sure that Kingsley was still sitting in the grass a few feet away. 

“I think that today went very well.” He whispered. “I know that you didn’t get to talk as much as you might have hoped, but it was a good start.” 

She smiled down at him, nodding. “I agree. Sadly, I think that it would be best to wait a little bit before I see him again. That way, he doesn’t become so comfortable with me that he mentions me around your parents in a way that you can’t explain.”

Drustan sighed. “That’s probably a wise decision. Eventually, once we take care of my father, you will have all of the time in the world with him. Don’t worry.”

She smiled. “Thank you, Drustan, for helping me with this.”

“Of course.” He took her hand and kissed it. “I’ll see you at Edwin and Anissa’s as soon as I can get away.” 

She nodded. “I’ll be waiting.” 

She rode away quickly and Drustan scanned the area to make sure that there was no one coming into the meadow that would see her. 

“Drustan, I’m tired.” Kingsley complained, walking over and pulling on his hand. 

Drustan picked him up. “We are going to go home in just a few moments.” He brushed the child’s blonde hair out of his eyes. “Did you have a good time today?”

Kingsley nodded. “Allie is nice.”

“That she is.” Drustan smiled. 

“See her again?” Kingsley asked. 

Drustan nodded. “Soon. We’ll see her again soon.” Drustan contemplated telling Kingsley not to say anything to their parents, but he figured that would raise the likelihood of him mentioning it, not lower it. 

“Good.” He yawned. “Go home now?” 

“Yes, we’ll go home now.” 

Drustan surveyed the area quickly to make sure that there were no signs that they had spent a prolonged amount of time there. Everything seemed to be in order. He lifted Kingsley into the saddle and carefully climbed up behind him, holding the child close. 

Kingsley had learned how to ride a horse at a young age. He couldn’t ride by himself, but he knew how to keep himself upright while someone else mounted. Soon, their father would begin pressuring him to learn to ride on his own but Drustan was prolonging that as long as possible. He hadn’t been able to ride well by himself until he was at least ten. He planned to have Kingsley follow in his footsteps, unless Kingsley himself truly desired to learn how to ride sooner. Drustan was sure that their father would eventually figure out that Kingsley wasn’t progressing the way that he should be with how many riding lessons that Drustan supposedly gave him. But Drustan was praying that they would have his father in a prison cell before that could happen. 

As they rode into the yard, towards the stable, one of their father’s guards eyed them warily. It was Bartholomew- one of the guards that Drustan had been meaning to talk to. He had once been a guard under Adelina’s father, as Drustan and Andrew had been. He was the first guard that Drustan was going to convince to join their side. And it seemed that there was no better time than the present, based on Bartholomew’s expression. 

“Good afternoon, Bartholomew.” Drustan dismounted and lowered Kingsley to the ground. “How are you today?”

“May I have a word with you, my lord?” Bartholomew’s face was hard. 

Drustan motioned to another guard. “Please take Kingsley up to Anna. He is in need of a nap.”

Drustan watched the guard guide Kingsley carefully across the yard and into the castle before turning back to Bartholomew. 

“What do you need?”

“In private, my lord.” Bartholomew motioned to one of the towers.

Drustan nodded. “Of course.”

The two of them walked in silence through the castle and up to one of the towers. Drustan was careful to be sure that no one else was around that would eavesdrop on them. He could see Ellian down in the yard below, so he wouldn’t need to worry about him listening. None of the other guards would listen in on his conversation- they weren’t bold enough. 

“What do you need to talk to me about, Bartholomew?”

“I know that something is going on. And I want to know what it is.” Bartholomew crossed his arms, watching his reaction.

“Why do you say that?”

“Kingsley never comes back from his riding lessons that joyful. He is always crying. So you clearly couldn’t have been riding. And you have been sneaking out of the castle quite often lately. You use the excuse that you are checking on the castle but no one needs to check on the progress of a building that often. And when I have ridden out to bring you back, you are never at the building site. So I know that you are hiding things from everyone- and your father will soon enough as well, if you aren’t more careful.”

Drustan took a deep breath. “I’ve been meaning to speak to you about that, Bartholomew.” It was now or never. “You’re right, there is something going on. And I need your help with it. You are the only person in this castle that I trust.” 

“Because we grew up together?” Bartholomew shook his head. “That is no reason to trust me, Drustan.” 

“Because I know that you are a good man who has not been corrupted by my father’s foul influence. Rorick raised you even more than he raised me.” Drustan answered. 

Bartholomew nodded. “Then what is it? I cannot help you if I do not know the job.”

“It requires great secrecy, Bartholomew. You cannot let anyone know what I am about to tell you.”

“You just said that you trust me. I will not fail you, Drustan.”

Drustan nodded. “I do.” He took another deep breath. “You were there, the night that the whole Alourin family perished, were you not?”

“Yes.” Bartholomew’s eyes narrowed. 

“But no one ever found the bodies of Adelina and Asher, correct?” Drustan could tell that Bartholomew was beginning to understand what was going on, but wasn’t quite there yet. 

“Correct. It was assumed that the fire enveloped them so entirely that no trace was left of them.” It was a generic answer that Drustan had heard his father say a thousand times. Bartholomew clearly didn’t believe it. 

“But you’ve had your suspicions, haven’t you?” Drustan asked. 

“Yes.” 

It was silent for a moment. 

“She needs you, Bartholomew.” Drustan said quietly. 

“How?” Bartholomew’s stern facade crumbled for the first time that Drustan had seen in two years. 

“She was never in the fire in the first place. She was out of the house before it even began. And my father took the baby.” 

Bartholomew raised his eyes to meet Drustan’s slowly. “Kingsley? He took Asher, and told everyone that he was Kingsley?” 

Drustan nodded. “My real brother died at birth. No one but my parents know it though. Everyone else that was there that night were so old that they are dead.” 

“Your father did all of this? Rorick, and Anabelle?” 

Drustan nodded again solemnly. “Rorick refused to follow my father’s plan to overthrow the neighboring nobles. But he already knew the plan, and my father couldn’t let him get away with it. So he killed Rorick.” 

Bartholomew clenched his jaw. “I’ll kill him.” 

“You don’t have to.” Drustan shook his head. “He will face justice, Bartholomew. I swear it. But not at your hand.”

“She has a plan?”

Drustan nodded. “The king will take care of him, once we get his attention. But there are several things that need to fall into place before then.” 

“What do you need me to do?” Bartholomew asked, his chin held high. 

Drustan smiled. Bartholomew would not fail them. He would stay loyal to anything that Adelina led, just as she had said he would.  

“First, she wants to see you again.” 

Bartholomew took a deep breath. “When?” 

“Today.” 

Drustan hadn’t planned on bringing him to her today, but the sooner that they filled Bartholomew in on the entire plan- and he knew for sure that it was legitimate- the sooner everything else would work out. With Bartholomew on their side, the other guards would be even more likely to join their side. 

Bartholomew looked over at him quickly. “How?”

“We’ll go to the building site. I’ll get a message to her there to meet us in the woods.” 

“Let us go, then.” Bartholomew opened the trap door and the two of them began climbing down the ladder. 

They walked in silence once again, not speaking until they had ridden out of the yard and were on their way to the building site. 

“How long have you known?” Bartholomew asked.

“Several months. She revealed herself to me at my father’s last ball.” 

“The woman that you danced with? That everyone thinks is the daughter of the king?”

Drustan nodded. “That was her.” 

Bartholomew seemed impressed. “She is quite proficient at staying in hiding, then.” 

Drustan smiled, but didn’t respond. There would be more time to talk when they were with Adelina. 

After they finally arrived at the building site, and Drustan had sent a message through Edwin to Adelina, they made their way into the woods. Drustan smiled to himself. So many good things had happened in these very woods in the past several months. He couldn’t help but feel that another good thing was about to happen. 

They stood in the forest for nearly half an hour, but they barely spoke. Drustan was too busy thinking about the next steps and the plans that they would need to make. And Bartholomew was staring at the ground, obviously thinking about the fact that Adelina was still alive. 

They both looked up quickly as Adelina rode to them. Her hood was up and her cloak was on, but Drustan could tell that it was her. 

Bartholomew’s eyes were wide, and he took an audible breath in. Drustan knew that even after the half an hour to prepare himself, he still couldn’t entirely believe she was alive. Bartholomew was able to keep a stoic face most of the time, and appear serious, but underneath, Drustan could tell that there was turmoil. 

“Bartholomew.” Adelina dismounted and lowered her hood. “It has been a long time, my friend.” 

Bartholomew swallowed visibly, staring at her. “That it has, my lady.” 

“I know that this must be quite unexpected for you. And you do not have to accept my plea for help. I understand if not. It is dangerous-”

Bartholomew cut her off, kneeling before her with his head down. “My loyalty is to you, my lady. You, and no one else.” 

Drustan smiled at Adelina over Bartholomew’s head. This was just the beginning- it could only get better from here.