Traitorous Hearts: Chapter Nineteen

Adelina looked over her shoulder again, unable to shake the feeling that someone was watching them. 

Drustan shook his head, laughing. “You can relax, Adelina. We are well protected here, and no one is going to follow us. We already convinced my father that you are headed in the exact opposite direction. And even if he did send someone to make sure, half of the guard is on our side at this point. There are very few people that he could send that would actually harm us.”

Adelina blew out a breath, trying to take his advice. “I know. I am just nervous- we are so out in the open. I haven’t traveled like this in a long time.” 

“I know. But it’ll be alright. Bartholomew and his men are looking after us. We don’t have to worry.” 

Adelina nodded and gave a weak smile. “I’ll try.” 

They had been riding for over an hour, making their way south to Andrew’s home. Adelina hadn’t been able to relax the entire ride. She felt as if she was placing herself directly in Haimon’s hand by going out in the open while he was searching for her. But it would be much worse for Edwin and Anissa if Haimon were to have somehow found her there. This was the best choice for all of them. She just had to keep reminding herself of that. And besides, she was being guarded by seven of the most highly trained guards in the region. She would be safe with them. 

She looked over at Bartholomew as they rode, noticing for the first time how sullen he looked. He was a serious person, but he looked almost sad now. She pulled her horse over to ride beside him. 

“Are you okay?” She asked quietly, glad to have something else to focus on. 

He glanced over at her before focusing on the road ahead. “I’m fine, my lady.” 

She raised an eyebrow. “Bartholomew, you know that you can talk to me. I don’t want you to view me as more of your ruler than your friend.” 

He didn’t look at her. “I know. And I don’t consider you more of a ruler than a friend.” He smiled a little. “You are just like your father- you care about your people and those close to you, rather than just using them. But there’s nothing that you can do for me right now.”

“What do you mean?” She asked. 

He sighed. “I don’t like being away from home at a time like this. When I know that Haimon will be going into the town and searching high and low for you. My family and… others live there. I don’t like being so far away that I can’t protect them.” 

Adelina bit her lip. “I’m sorry, Bartholomew. If I had known, I wouldn’t have asked you to come with me.” 

Bartholomew looked over at her, meeting her eyes finally. “I made the choice to come here. It was my plan. It isn’t your fault that I’m here- and as a knight, I have to make hard decisions sometimes. But if Haimon harms a hair on their heads…” he clenched his jaw, looking down. 

“He wouldn’t dare hurt the family of one of his guards, would he?” 

Bartholomew shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t think he cares. And even if he wouldn’t hurt my family, there are other people that I care about that he would.” 

Adelina was silent for a moment, finally realizing what was going on. “Did you tell her that you were leaving?”

He laughed bitterly and shook his head. “No. I didn’t want to scare her.” He sighed. “But now that I’m gone, I wish that I had.” 

“You’ll be back soon enough, and you can explain everything to her. I promise, she’ll understand.” 

Bartholomew smiled slightly. “I know she will. She’s kind like that. And she hates Haimon just as much as I do. Once I tell her about the cause, she will help in a heartbeat. But if she refuses to let her home be searched, as I know that she is likely to do… I don’t know that she’ll be there for me to come back to.” 

Adelina put her hand on his shoulder. “Have hope, Bartholomew. We are on the road to victory right now. God will not allow injustice to prevail.” 

“Who is giving the advice now?” Bartholomew smiled. “Thank you, Adelina.”

She smiled. “Of course.” It was silent for a moment. “So what is she like?” 

Bartholomew groaned, but he was smiling. “She’s amazing. She’s stubborn and brilliant and beautiful. But for some reason, she chose me out of all the people she could have chosen to love. I will never fully understand it. But I love her. More than anything on this earth, I love her. We haven’t even talked about marriage yet, but I know that I’m going to marry her. There is no one else. No one else that I could possibly look at, for the rest of my life. It’s only her.” 

Adelina grinned. “That sounds beautiful.” 

Bartholomew shrugged. “I don’t know about that, but I know that she is.” 

“I’m sure that she feels the same way about you. How could she not, when you talk like that?” 

Bartholomew lowered his head, hiding his smile. “You will make a wonderful ruler, you know, when we get rid of Haimon. Whether everyone knows that you are the one making the decisions or not.” 

Adelina looked down at her hands. She hadn’t really talked about that with anyone- not even Drustan. It was hard for her to accept that after all of her fighting, her husband would be the one that truly ruled. Asher would rule Alourin, and her husband would rule whatever region he inherited- Nyro, if she had her way and could marry Drustan. She would simply be a support for her husband and her brother.  And while she loved both of them immensely, and would gladly support them in their rule, she couldn’t help but wish for more. She had been fighting so hard for her people, and she wouldn’t even be allowed to rule them. That didn’t seem fair to her, as much as she loved Asher. But she didn’t have a choice- she would have to come to terms with it eventually. 

“Thank you.” She answered Bartholomew finally. 

“I’m just returning the favor that you have bestowed upon me by allowing me to be a part of this.” 

Adelina smiled and was about to answer when one of the guards rode up on the other side of Bartholomew. 

“We have a problem.” He said quietly, glancing between the two of them, and then over at Drustan. 

Adelina looked over at Drustan, her eyes wide. 

“What’s wrong?” Drustan rode over next to them. 

“Some of your father’s men are following us. He must have either been suspicious, or believed that we needed more help.” 

Adelina felt herself go pale. “What?”

“There are only five of them. We can easily take them. But if any of them escape somehow, and goes back to your father, we are going to have an issue. He doesn’t know that any of us are involved in this yet- especially you, Lord Drustan. It could post a serious problem if he finds out.”

Drustan nodded. “Someone will have to get Adelina out of here, and to Andrew. It is only another couple of hours. If we push hard, we can get there soon. How far back are they?” 

The guard turned around in his seat, squinting. “Likely only a mile or so. We are exposed right now though, so maybe if we were to go into the trees, they wouldn’t be able to track us.” 

“If we stay on the road, is there a chance that we can beat them there, and deal with them under Lord Andrew’s protection?” 

The guard contemplated what Drustan was saying for a moment. “If we pick up our pace, and keep moving, yes. Our horses are more rested than theirs are, because they have likely been pushing their horses a lot harder than we have been. So there is a small chance that we can make it.” 

“But we need to be prepared for a confrontation, don’t we?” Bartholomew asked. 

The guard nodded. “Exactly. And even just slowing down to have this conversation, they are closing the gap.” 

Drustan nodded. “Then let us pick up the pace. We only make necessary stops, and even then, only if we have widened the gap.” 

Adelina took a deep breath, trying to push away the fear creeping into her heart. What would happen if the guards were to catch up to them? She wasn’t sure that she could handle a bloody confrontation. 

“We’ll be okay, I promise.” Drustan said softly so that only she could hear him. 

She looked over at him. “What if we aren’t?”

“Don’t think like that.” He answered quietly, then turned to address the rest of the group. “I don’t plan on allowing those men to catch up to us. But if they do, they cannot escape back to my father, and they cannot capture Adelina. We cannot afford to make mistakes here. Now, let’s go.” 

They all spurred their horses forward, pushing them to move faster. The horses willingly lengthened their stride, clearly tired of being held back. They had a lot of pent up energy- energy that would be very useful at a time like this. 

They were making good time now, keeping the gap at a steady distance, if not lengthening it. As they rounded a corner, finally losing sight of the men chasing them, Adelina’s horse stopped short, rearing. She barely caught sight of a snake slithering across the path as she desperately tried to hold onto the reins. Her horse came back down hard, slamming her teeth together and sending a ringing noise through her head. Before she could get her bearings again though, her horse reared again, even higher this time. She could hear Drustan yelling her name, but she couldn’t make out what he was saying- and no one dared get close to the horse. 

Adelina tried to keep her seat, but it was no use. She was going to fall off, and she couldn’t stop it. She kept trying to grab onto anything, but the backwards momentum was too much and she could feel herself beginning to slip. She was going to fall, and she was going to fall hard.

She finally crashed the ground, involuntarily crying out as she hit the ground. She had dealt with a lot of pain over the years, but this was one of the worst pains she had ever felt. 

Her horse bolted as soon as she hit the ground, running off into the woods. She saw a few of the men try to go after it, but it was too far gone. 

Drustan knelt next to her, cradling her head in his hands. 

“Are you okay?” He asked, checking the rest of her body for injuries. 

She nodded, groaning slightly. “I’m alright. In pain, but I’m alright. I don’t think anything is broken.” 

He helped her sit up, making sure that she could support herself before letting go of her. “Where does it hurt?” 

“Just in my back.” She stretched a little, inhaling sharply. “Nothing broken, like I said, but definitely going to be sore.” 

“What happened?” Bartholomew asked. 

“A snake came across the road and my horse spooked.” She answered. “He was a younger horse so he wasn’t as seasoned and accustomed to that type of thing. Though I’m not sure that even my own horse would have kept calm in that situation.” 

Bartholomew glanced up behind her. “Are you alright to ride with Drustan? We need to keep moving. They have taken advantage of our delay and significantly closed the gap.” 

Adelina looked over her shoulder, frowning at how close they were. “I think I can ride.” 

Drustan carefully pulled her up from the ground, walking with his arm around her waist over to his horse. 

“They’re getting really close.” One of the guards said nervously. 

Drustan shot him a glare before glancing down at her. “Are you sure you’ll be okay to ride?” 

“I don’t really have much of a choice, do I?” She smiled, trying to put on a brave face. “I’ll be fine. And I’ll have you right there with me just in case.” 

He didn’t seem to share her optimism, but hoisted her up onto the horse anyway. “So long as you think that you can handle it.” 

She looked behind them again. She could hear the guards yelling at them to stop now. They were far too close for comfort- their chances of getting away without a confrontation were going down every moment. 

“It’s time to get out of here.” Drustan mounted up behind her, wrapping his arm around her waist to keep her from falling. 

But it was too late. The men were beginning to round the corner now, and one of them was aiming an arrow directly at her and Drustan. There was no way to get out of it now. They had delayed too long, and now they were going to pay for it. 

God save us. 

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

Drustan turned his horse, preparing to dismount and begin fighting the guards coming at them, but Bartholomew put his horse in between them and the men. 

“You have to get her out of here.” Bartholomew said quickly, drawing his sword. 

“You are going to need my help.” Drustan answered, shaking his head.

She is going to need your help. We cannot leave her defenseless. It is more important for you two to reach Andrew than anyone else. Now go.” 

“I don’t want to leave you.” Adelina said frantically. “We can’t leave you here.” 

“I will always be with you, Adelina.” Bartholomew smiled reassuringly. “I intend to watch over you for a long time when you are duchess. But at this moment, getting you to a safe place is what is most important, my lady. So you must go, now.” 

Drustan didn’t want to leave his men like this, but Bartholomew was right. Someone had to take care of Adelina, and he was the best person to do it. His men still outnumbered the guards coming to attack them- and his men were far more skilled than they were. They would be able to handle this. He had to believe that. 

“I’m counting on you to get you and your men out of here alive.” Drustan said grudgingly. “I cannot do this without you.” 

Bartholomew smiled. “You have my word that my men will return to you, safe and sound.” 

Drustan couldn’t help but notice, as he turned his horse away, that Bartholomew had not included himself in that promise. He didn’t have time to worry about it now though. 

Adelina fought against him as she realized what he was doing, trying to turn back to look at the fight about to ensue behind him. He kept his arm firmly around her waist, allowing her to turn slightly, but nothing more. He couldn’t risk her jumping off of the horse and going back- which she was more than likely to do, if she felt it necessary. 

“Bartholomew!” She cried out, tears filling her eyes. Drustan could feel his heart being ripped out of his chest at the pain that was dominating her features. He was sure that his own expressions mirrored hers- the idea of leaving Bartholomew and his men to handle this themselves killed him. He couldn’t bear the idea that he was abandoning his men when they needed him most. But Bartholomew was right- someone had to protect Adelina. And Drustan wouldn’t have been able to live with the idea of someone else doing it. 

“This is going to be a rough ride.” He said into her ear. “We have to move quickly. If you are hurting too badly, let me know. Until then, I’m going to have to push us as fast as we can go.” 

Adelina nodded but wouldn’t look up at him. She was still staring over his shoulder at the fighting. She didn’t turn around, even as they rounded a bend and left the men behind. Drustan couldn’t help but wonder if he had made a terrible mistake. 

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

Drustan paced up and down the room, rubbing his beard. They had been at Andrew’s home for nearly an hour, and Andrew still hadn’t met with them. Drustan was sure that Andrew just didn’t realize that Adelina was there, but it was annoying, nonetheless. He was still nervous about the fact that Bartholomew and his men hadn’t arrived yet, and his nerves were beginning to get the best of him.

Adelina sat in a chair, staring at the ground. He could tell that she was trying not to think about anything so that she didn’t overthink things- like he was- but he could still see the pain in her eyes. 

“Lord Andrew will see you now.” A servant suddenly appeared in the doorway. 

Drustan spun around quickly and Adelina looked up. 

“Bring us to him immediately please.” Drustan walked over to him, standing with his hands behind his back.

The servant raised an eyebrow. “I do believe that it is implied that I will bring you to him when I say that he will meet with you.” 

Adelina crossed her arms, standing. “You are addressing the son of a baron, and will treat him as such. I will personally speak to Lord Andrew about this if I must.” 

The servant looked between the two of them before looking down at the floor. “Yes, my lady.” 

“Now bring us to the baron.” She said, lifting her chin. 

“Yes, my lady.” The servant turned quickly, leading them down the hallway.

Drustan grabbed Adelina’s hand as they walked, squeezing it. He could feel the nervousness emanating from her. This was the first time that she had revealed herself to anyone in a while, so she was bound to be anxious about it. And Andrew had been one of their closest companions growing up so this was a particularly important person to let in on the secret. 

Finally, the servant stopped outside a door and knocked. 

“Enter.” A voice came from inside. 

The servant opened the door and motioned for Adelina and Drustan to walk in. 

Drustan entered first and Andrew stood, looking him up and down slowly. It was the same old Andrew- his blonde hair was slightly longer than it used to be, but his brown eyes were still piercing. 

“Drustan.” 

“Andrew.” Drustan bowed his head slightly. “I present to you, Lady Adelina Hamlin of Alourin.” Drustan stepped aside, allowing Adelina to fully enter the room. 

Andrew’s eyes widened and his jaw dropped. “Adelina? How is this possible?” He came around the desk that he had been sitting at.

Adelina smiled softly. “God works in mysterious ways.” 

Andrew hugged her, smiling. “But how did you escape the fire?” 

“I was never in the fire to begin with. I was in the library. I saw Baron Haimon kill my father, and listened to him give the order to light the fire. I was riding away before they ever started it.”

Andrew’s jaw hardened. “So you know then, about Haimon and Anabelle’s treachery?” He glared past Adelina at Drustan. 

Adelina looked over her shoulder at Drustan, her face falling. He knew that her worst fears were being confirmed at this moment- and Andrew was not being gentle about it in any way. 

“It is true, then? My mother was involved?” She asked quietly. 

Andrew raised an eyebrow. “You did not know?” 

Adelina shook her head. “We had our suspicions, but with her dead and Haimon keeping his mouth shut, we had no way of being sure.” 

Andrew frowned. “I am sorry, then, that I was not more sensitive. Had I known, I would have been more careful in my phrasing.”

Adelina shrugged sadly. “It is not your fault. I just wish that Haimon had not been able to corrupt my mother so easily- especially against my father.” 

Andrew motioned for them both to sit. “Yes, I have often thought that myself.”

“So you knew the whole time?” 

“I knew that there was something happening with Anabelle and Haimon. Your father would send me to watch after her in secret, just to make sure that she was safe. She would often meet Haimon in her rose house.”

Adelina stared at him. “Did my father know about what was going on with them?” 

Andrew sighed, nodding slowly. “He did. He didn’t know that they were planning treason, but he knew that something was happening.”

“And he allowed it?” 

“He wasn’t sure what else to do. Tension was already running high with Haimon and your father didn’t want to risk him hurting your mother or you. So he just kept quiet about it.” 

Drustan could practically see Adelina’s heart dropping into her stomach. Her entire childhood had basically been a lie- or it was in her eyes now. 

“We are trying to stop my father, Andrew. We want to overthrow him, and take all of his power.” Drustan needed to steer the conversation away from Adelina’s parents. 

“And so you came to me?”

“You are one of the only people that we can trust.” Drustan nodded. 

“Well-” Before he could finish, the servant walked into the room. “What have I said about interrupting me when I am in a meeting?” 

The servant bowed his head slightly. “I know, my lord. I apologize. But several knights just rode into the stable yard. I figured you would want to be notified.”

Drustan and Adelina looked at each other. “Those are our men.” 

“Let us go meet them, then.” They all stood up and the three of them followed the servant through the castle. 

As they walked out into the stableyard, Adelina’s face finally broke into a true smile- and he was sure that his own face mirrored hers. Their men had made it back safely. That guilt that he had been carrying could finally go away. The men had brought the guards who had been after them back- and they would hopefully be able to convince them to join their side. This was a victory for all of them. 

But the men were not smiling. There was no joy on their faces. Something was seriously wrong. 

Drustan scanned their faces, looking for Bartholomew to tell him what was going on. But Bartholomew wasn’t there. Drustan looked over everyone again to make sure that he hadn’t missed the large man, but he was nowhere to be found. 

Drustan slowly looked back at the man that was coming over to him, his head down. Drustan shook his head, his heart sinking. 

“Please no.” Adelina whispered breathlessly.

“I’m sorry, my lord.” The guard- Drustan believed his name was Jonathan- said quietly. “We could not get them contained fast enough. One of them was coming after you, and Bartholomew went to stop him. He killed the guard, but not before being hit with a deadly blow. There was nothing that we could do. He was dead within moments.” 

Adelina crumbled to the ground, sobs erupting from her body. Each cry sent a shard of grief through Drustan, but he couldn’t even move to comfort her. His entire body felt numb, as if he was looking in from the outside. This couldn’t really be happening, could it? They couldn’t have really lost Bartholomew. There had to be some mistake. 

“Bartholomew?” Andrew asked softly. 

Jonathan hung his head. “Yes, my lord.”

“You pulled Bartholomew into this?” Andrew looked over at him slowly, his eyes filling with tears. 

Drustan couldn’t meet his eyes. How could he have made a mistake like this? How could he have abandoned his men at a time when they needed this? How could he have let Bartholomew sacrifice himself?

He turned, walking out of the courtyard and into the castle. He could hear someone call his name but it sounded so distant. All he could think about was Bartholomew. Bartholomew didn’t deserve this. He didn’t deserve to die. He was a good man. Drustan hung his head. It should have been him.