Traitorous Hearts: Chapter Twenty

Adelina watched through tear filled eyes as Bartholomew’s body was lowered into the ground. It didn’t feel real. It didn’t feel as if he was truly dead. She still expected him to walk around the corner at any moment, give her a hug and ask why she was crying. 

But that would never happen again. She would never talk to him again. She would never hear his wisdom again. He would never talk her out of her dark moments again. He would never go back to the girl that he loved. She would never know just how much he thought about her. She would never know why he left her and never returned. 

Unless Adelina told her. If Adelina risked going into the village and revealing her identity to a stranger, Bartholomew’s lover would know what had happened to him. Was it worth it? 

It was all far too much to think about right now- too much to process and deal with. She wasn’t sure how she was supposed to keep going after this. 

Until now, this had just been a plot for justice- or revenge, depending on the moment. That had kept her going. But it was different now. How much more would Haimon take from her? How much more pain would he cause her before it was enough? How much more could she handle? 

Adelina looked over as Drustan knelt to the ground, throwing some dirt on the coffin. He didn’t stand back up, but just knelt there, his head low. 

“I’m sorry.” She barely heard him whisper. “I’m so sorry, my friend.” 

She hugged herself, unable to speak, cry, or even breathe. All she could do was stare at the coffin slowly being covered in dirt. Drustan’s body was shaking now, and she wished that she could comfort him. But she knew that there was nothing she could say or do that would help. 

“Sir Bartholomew Aragon, a strong and brave knight under both Duke Rorick Hamlin of Alourin and Baron Haimon Prost of Nyro. He was a faithful servant of God, a loving brother and son, and a loyal friend.” Andrew took a deep breath as he spoke, letting it out shakily. “Anyone who knew him respected him and loved him. He always strove to do the right thing and fight for the weak. I had the pleasure of growing up with him. Bartholomew was the man that I always wanted to be. A man who truly loved God and His people. Bartholomew is with his Heavenly Father now.” Andrew’s face was distorted from his efforts to keep his tears away. “Rest in peace, my brother.” 

As he finished, the last bit of the coffin was finally covered with dirt. The men continued to bury it, making sure that the area was at least slightly even with the ground around it. With every shovel of dirt that fell, Adelina’s heart fell with it. 

Drustan shook his head, standing suddenly. “I can’t do this.” 

He turned, walking away quickly. 

Adelina turned around, reaching towards him, but he avoided her grasp. “Dru.” She called softly. 

He didn’t look back or answer her, but shook his head again. A second dagger of pain went through her heart. Would she also lose Drustan because of this tragedy? 

“Would you like me to go after him?” Andrew asked softly, coming up next to her. 

“Please.” She sniffed. “I don’t think that I can help him right now.” 

Andrew nodded. “I’ll be back.” He touched her arm for a moment before walking away. 

“I never meant for this to happen.” Adelina stared down at the grave. “I never meant for you to die. No one was supposed to get hurt. Especially not you.” She wiped her nose, sniffing again. “I’m so sorry, Bartholomew. I’m so sorry for doing this to you.” 

She turned away from the grave quickly, unable to look at it any longer. She walked quietly into the field adjacent to Andrew’s castle, barely even aware of where she was going. 

Adelina looked around slowly, feeling the breeze blow through her hair. It was calming, in a way. But not enough. Nothing could calm the turmoil within her. It threatened to tear her apart, from the inside out. 

The ache in her chest was becoming more than she could bear. A sob broke its way to the surface and she covered her mouth, trying to shove the cries back down. It was too late now, though. Her body shook with sobs and she sank slowly to her knees, pressing her forehead to the ground. She had no strength to stand, no strength to speak, no strength to even think. All that she could feel was the pain in her heart. 

Her friend- who, when even Drustan could not see what was wrong, had pulled her out of the darkness of her own heart- was dead. Her moral compass, and the one person who she felt truly understood her feelings, had been killed because he was protecting her. It was her fault that he lay in a coffin now, six feet underground. Her fault that he would never see the light of day again. Her fault that he would never go home to the woman he loved again, or his family. She had pulled him into this, and had practically given him no choice in the matter. She had opened her heart to him and guilted him into joining her cause. And now he was dead, because of her. It was as if she had been the one to personally take a sword and kill him. 

“Why, God?” She whispered through her tears. “Why? Why him? Why not me? Why couldn’t you have taken me instead? I don’t deserve to live- he does. He was a much better person than I am. He didn’t deserve to die, Lord.” 

It was silent- even the wind had stopped. There wasn’t a sound around her, except for her cries. 

“It should have been me.” She looked up at the sky. “It should have been me!” 

“You know that he wouldn’t have wanted that.” Andrew’s voice came from behind her. 

Adelina looked down at her lap, shaking her head. “I don’t care. I don’t care what Bartholomew would have wanted. Just so long as he was here to tell me.” 

“He knew what he was doing. He knew what he was getting into. He wouldn’t have done it if he didn’t fully understand what it meant. If he wasn’t fully willing to accept whatever came with it. Just as I am.” 

Adelina looked up at him quickly as he knelt in front of her. “No. I don’t want your help. I forbid you from being involved in this.” 

“Then it is a good thing that I don’t take orders from you.” He ruffled her hair, smiling a little. “I’ve been protecting you since you were nine. I don’t intend to stop now.” 

“Please, don’t.” She pleaded with him. “I can’t lose you like I lost Bartholomew.” 

“We haven’t lost Bartholomew. He is with our Father now, but we haven’t lost him. We will see him again eventually.” 

“It isn’t enough. I want him back now.” She shook her head bitterly. “This isn’t fair.” She looked up at him angrily. “When is it Haimon’s turn? When does he lose? When does justice prevail and the good guy finally win?” 

Andrew sighed, his eyes full of regret. “I’m sorry, Adelina. I wish I knew. I wish I knew the plan that was going on here. I wish I knew why these things were happening to us.” 

“I can’t keep going through this, Andrew. I can’t keep doing the right thing and watching my life crumble around me. God has allowed Haimon to take everything from me- my parents, my baby brother, Bartholomew, and now even Drustan is shutting me out. And I can’t keep going through this and just letting it happen. I’m angry, Andrew. I’m angry with God.”

Andrew was silent for a moment and she waited for him to answer. 

“Do you remember the story of Job, Adelina?” He asked suddenly. 

She bit her lip and nodded. “Yes.” 

“And how God allowed the Devil to take everything from him, except for his life?” 

“Yes.” She believed that was implied by saying she remembered the story, but she could play along.

“Well, Job never cursed God. No matter what was happening, and no matter how much he lost. No matter how his friends pressured him to just curse God and make it end. He never did.” Andrew put a hand on her shoulder. “Job went through far worse than what you are going through, Adelina. I know that it doesn’t seem like it right now, but that is the truth.” He sighed. “What if God is allowing the Devil to do the same thing to you right now that He allowed him to do to Job? You don’t know.”

“It’s very unlikely that that is happening, though.” Adelina answered skeptically.

“Should that matter? Why should we not live every day as if God was allowing our faith to be tested in order to make us stronger?” Andrew smiled sadly. “I know that this isn’t what you want to hear right now, Adelina. Quite frankly, it isn’t even what I want to hear right now. I want to scream at the sky in anger right now. But I’m not. I am trying very hard to look at the larger picture here and what else is at play.” 

“I just want my friend back.” She whispered, tears rolling down her cheeks. 

Andrew closed his eyes for a moment, taking a deep breath. She could tell that this pain was affecting him just as much as it affected her. 

“I know.” He pulled her up to stand and wrapped his arms around her. “I know.” 

She cried into his shoulder for several minutes before she was finally able to get control of herself. She took a deep breath and wiped her tears away, stepping back. 

“Where is Drustan?” She asked, trying to focus on something other than Bartholomew. 

“He’s at the stable, making sure that all of the horses are ready to go. I believe that he wants to leave as soon as possible.” 

Adelina bit her lip. “We still have so much to talk about.”

Andrew smiled softly. “We’ll get to all of it. Right now, the important thing is that you know that I will be by your side for whatever happens next. Give me the word, and I am there with my men.” He put his hand on her shoulder. “Your father once told me that we are all pawns in someone’s game. He said that the best king to serve was Jesus. Every other one will sacrifice us pawns to save themselves. Jesus sacrifices himself to save the pawns. Don’t be another pawn in Haimon’s game. Don’t allow him to manipulate you or your emotions like he has been.”

Adelina smiled, fighting back more tears. “Thank you, Andrew. You have no idea how much your words mean to me.”

“For God and country, Adelina.” Andrew answered softly. 

Adelina inhaled sharply. She hadn’t heard that in two years- the last person who had said that to her was her dying father. It seemed to all come full circle to hear it as she mourned the loss of yet another person who was dear to her. 

“For God and country.” Her lip quivered as she said it, but she attempted to smile. 

Andrew took a deep breath, hugging her again. “Drustan is probably waiting for you, so you should go. I’ll see you soon.”

Adelina nodded, turning away. This talk had definitely helped to put things into perspective for her- as had the others that they had shared over the past two days since Bartholomew’s death. 

It didn’t quite fill the hole in her heart. Nothing could do that. But it helped, knowing that there were people supporting her, and going through the same things. It helped, gaining Andrew again, even as she lost Bartholomew. 

Now she just had to make sure that she hadn’t lost Drustan. 

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

Drustan glanced up as Adelina came into the stable. He turned away, finishing saddling his horse. 

“Are you going to at least look at me?” She asked quietly. 

He stopped, forcing himself to take a deep breath. He couldn’t take his anger out on her- none of this was her fault. “I’m not intentionally not looking at you. I just have things to do. We need to return home  as soon as possible, before my father starts to get suspicious.” These were all true things. But if he was being honest with himself, they were all excuses to get him away from that grave, and the stench of death that hung in the air here. 

“I know. But I don’t think that you are in any state to return to your father right now.” She answered. 

He bit his lip. “I’m probably not. When has that ever stopped me though? And I can’t tell my father that, can I?” 

He heard her sigh. “No, you can’t.”

He turned around finally. “I’m not trying to take this out on you, Adelina. I swear, I’m not. I’m just not in a place right now where I can talk about anything but getting home. I have to be focused on one thing or else I’m not going to be able to focus on anything. And I can’t focus on the circumstances around us right now. That leaves limited options.” 

The sadness in her eyes cut him to the core, but he wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do to help it. When he was feeling just as broken and damaged as she was, how was he supposed to make her feel better? 

“I know. I don’t think that you are taking this out on me, Dru. I just… I’m scared for you.” 

He raised an eyebrow. “Scared for me? Why are you scared for me?”

“Because I can tell that you are angry and hurt. And I’m scared for what you will do if you don’t talk about this with someone.” 

He sighed, smiling bitterly. “You think that I’m going to go dark, because Bartholomew is dead?” It was the first time that he had said it out loud and it left a sour taste in his mouth. 

“I don’t know what you are going to do, Drustan. You’ve barely talked to me at all the past two days since we received the news. I can only go on what I see. And what I see is anger- and a darkness that I haven’t seen since the last time that you had a knife to my throat.” 

Drustan took a deep breath. “I’m okay, Adelina. I promise. I’m just processing everything.”

“Will you hurt your father, if we return now?” She asked quietly. 

He clenched his jaw slightly. “No. I’m not foolish or desperate enough to do that yet. Bartholomew created a plan, and I intend to follow it until the end.” He shook his head. “And besides, I’m not angry at my father for this happening. Not yet at least.” 

She stared at him for a moment and he could tell that she was trying to figure out what he meant. Why didn’t she just come right out and ask it? They had reached a point in their relationship where he would answer her honestly- even though he was sure that she wouldn’t like the answer. 

“If you aren’t angry with him, then who are you angry with?” She paused. “Are you angry with me?” She barely whispered the words, as if desperately hoping that they weren’t true.

Drustan smiled slightly, shaking his head. “I would never blame you for this, Adelina.” The fact that she would think that almost made him laugh- almost. “I blame myself. I left my men there to fight a battle alone. Even though they outnumbered my father’s men, it wasn’t enough. My father likely sent his best knights. I should have known that my men would be no match for them all together. If I had stayed, then Bartholomew would still be alive.” 

Adelina frowned. “But… you left so that you could protect me.” Drustan started to interrupt, realizing where this was going, but she stopped him. “So it really does come down to the fact that you think this is my fault, doesn’t it?” 

“I made a choice, Adelina. I could have chosen to send you by yourself, or I could have chosen to send you with someone else. I chose to be the one to go with you. In the end, the blame falls squarely on me.” 

“Why does it have to fall on one of us?” She crossed her arms. “Or anyone, for that matter? Maybe the blame should fall on the man that killed him. Or your father. Or no one. Maybe it is no one’s fault.” 

He shook his head. “I can’t accept that, Adelina. Not when I know that I could have made a different, possibly better choice, and didn’t.” 

“So it comes back to me, again. You chose to come with me. I was the deciding factor here and you chose me over Bartholomew and your men. I’m the one that made you leave them. So it is my fault.”

The last thing that he wanted was to keep going around like this with her. They were both emotional, and both tired. They had just gone through something difficult and traumatic. Now was not the time to be having this conversation. But he couldn’t quite bring himself to put an end to it. 

“You don’t really believe that, Adelina.” He raised an eyebrow. 

“No, I don’t. But I’m starting to believe that you do. I think that’s the whole point of why we are arguing.” 

“I do not believe that this is your fault, Alina!” He burst out. “I have been saying over and over that this is not your fault, and that it is mine. Just let me take responsibility for once! Let me be the one that gets to sulk and not be okay for once! I let you do it for months without one word of complaint. Why can you not just drop it?” 

She stared at him, clearly just as surprised by his outburst as he was. 

“Do you think that I sulk? That I won’t let you take responsibility for things?” She asked finally. 

“That’s not what I meant, Adelina.” He sighed, wishing that he could take back all of the words that he had just spewed at her like arrows. 

“Then what did you mean, Drustan?” She wouldn’t meet his eye and he could tell she was resisting the urge to cry. 

He took a deep breath. “I just meant that…” How was he supposed to recover this? “I meant that you’ve been taking everything on yourself the past two and a half years. You won’t let me take anything. Every time something has happened, I have felt as if you will go to everyone else before you go to me.” He hadn’t exactly meant to take it in this direction but there was no stopping the words from coming now that they had started. “You don’t seem to think that I am capable of handling anything- which is ironic, given how much I have been forced to handle in the past two years. And I don’t know that I ever truly realized that it was happening until now. But every time that you are hurting, you go to someone else.” He refused to be ashamed of the tears streaming down his face right now. “You go to Anissa or Edwin or Bartholomew or Andrew. And if I have made you feel as if you cannot come to me, I apologize. But I have tried very hard not to make you feel uncomfortable about coming to me. Yet you still go to everyone else. But every time that I am hurting, I have to come to you. We have to talk it through. And I love you, so I let it go, and I talk to you. Does it help me feel better? Yes. Does it make things easier in the long run? Yes. Is it still difficult to talk about things with you- or with anyone- when they are so fresh that it feels as if I am staring at my own heart outside of my body? Yes. It’s very difficult for me to talk about things when I am still internally processing them.” He let out his breath slowly, calming himself down. “So just this once, I am asking you to let it go. Let me bear the responsibility here, just for a little while. I will likely come to the conclusion that it isn’t my fault, because deep down, I know that it isn’t. But I have to be able to make sense of this in the meantime, and blaming myself is the way for me to do that. So please just… just let me have my time to process without immediately having to deal with it.” 

It was silent in the barn for a moment. Nothing moved and no one spoke. And that silence- Adelina’s silence- was almost more painful than saying those things. The confusion and hurt in her eyes as she tried to make sense of what he was saying was just another blow after Bartholomew’s death. 

“I didn’t mean to push you to talk about things before you are ready.” She started slowly. “If I had known that you were feeling this way, I would not have pushed you to share things. So I am sorry.” She took a deep, wavering breath. “I love you, Drustan. More than anything else in this world, I love you. I do not want to argue with you. So I will let you be, until we get home. Or after, if you really need me to.” She nodded, backing away towards the door. 

“Adelina,” he took a step towards her, holding out his hand, “wait.” 

“You want space, Dru. I understand. I will give you space.” She started to turn. 

“Adelina, I don’t want to leave it like this. I don’t want to ride the entire way home with you angry with me.” 

“I am not angry with you, Drustan. I am hurting for you. I am hurting, seeing you in pain. I am hurting, seeing you push me away again. But I will try to be understanding, because I love you. Because I want to support you.” 

Had he done something wrong, by saying that he needed space? He felt as if he had. He felt as if something had gotten terribly misconstrued somewhere, and he had made a mistake. He had somehow made some horrible mistake and hurt the woman that he loved, when he was just trying to look out for both of them. When he was trying to prevent a fight. When he was trying to stop something that could eventually break them apart. 

“Stop.” He closed the gap between them, wrapping his arms around her. She resisted at first, but eventually gave in and hugged him back. “I know that you are upset. I know that you are hurting. I know that you feel abandoned by yet another person. I know that you feel like God is taking yet another thing from you. I understand what you are going through. I understand the pain that you are feeling. And I’m sorry that I can’t help you right now. I’m sorry that after I get so upset about you going to other people, I can’t be there for you. I wish with all my heart that I could be. But I think that this is something that we are going to have to work through individually before we work through it together.” 

“I don’t want to be angry anymore.” Adelina gasped, her entire body shaking from her tears. “I don’t want to keep feeling like this.” 

“I know.” He kissed the top of her head. “And you won’t forever. I’m praying for you, love. And a lot of other people are too. With God, you can do this. We both can.” 

“I miss him.” She answered simply. 

“I do too.” He looked up towards Heaven, praying that God would make this all worth it somehow. That this all had a purpose that they would see in this lifetime.

“I keep expecting him to be here, talking and joking with me.” 

“I know. I do too.” Drustan sighed deeply. 

“I don’t see how any good can come out of this.” She rested her head against his chest.

“‘What you meant for evil, God meant for good’.” Drustan quoted. “You have no idea how many times I have told myself that over the past couple of days- or years, really. God will bring something good out of this, even if we can’t see it.” 

Adelina didn’t answer, but Drustan knew that she was listening to him. He had, without meaning to, been there for her and helped her. And it didn’t feel as if he was being dragged further down, but rather, lifted up as he reminded himself of the things that he already knew. The pain was still fresh, and it still stung; he couldn’t help still blaming himself just a bit. That wouldn’t go away for a while. But he felt better. Like a small bit of the weight on his shoulders had been lifted off. And for that, even in the midst of his heartbreak, he would endlessly praise the Lord.