Traitorous Hearts: Chapter Twenty-One

Adelina couldn’t shake the dread of seeing Anissa and Edwin again as she and her entourage finally arrived back at the house. Having to explain everything to them and relive the trauma of his death all over again… she wasn’t sure that she would be able to take it. And she knew for certain that Drustan wouldn’t be able to. She was determined not to put him in a position where he had to talk about it- or even hear about it- in depth. Things had been better, since their long talk in the barn- or rather, their long hug. 

After Drustan had gotten upset and finally let all of his emotions out, they had just stood there, hugging, for a long time. They talked a little bit, but it was easier not to say anything. It was more comforting just to be with each other, and know that they supported each other. They didn’t have to necessarily talk about how they were feeling. 

There was still a bit of tension, though, any time the topic of Bartholomew or Drustan’s father was brought up. As if it triggered a defense in Drustan that made him clam up. She was worried about him, and about what he was truly feeling. But she had promised him that she would keep her distance in that respect, and she would. He would come to her when he was ready. Or at least, she hoped he would. 

She planned to keep the conversations mostly focused on the news that Andrew had given them, and what they would use it for. He knew things that Adelina had no idea about- things that would be incredibly useful as they finalized their plans to overthrow Haimon. 

She would talk to Edwin and Anissa about Bartholomew once she had a moment in private with them, without Drustan around. While he trusted and cared for both of them, he couldn’t even talk about his feelings with her. There was no way that he was going to be able to talk to Edwin and Anissa about them. Adelina knew that she should probably be upset or bitter that she was going to have to do all of this by herself, but she couldn’t bring herself to. This was her way of being there for Drustan without truly being there for him. She could sacrifice and serve in this way, even if it was difficult. 

“I will meet you at the castle.” Drustan said to his men, dismissing them to bring a ‘report’ to his father. It would be completely false, of course, planting the seed that she was with the king in Haimon’s mind. This would get things moving quite quickly, if their plan worked. “If my father asks where I am, tell him that I wanted to check in on progress on the castle with Edwin. If he sends men to find me, make sure that at least one of you is among them. And if there is any way to keep Ellian from being in that group, make sure that way happens.” 

“Yes, my lord.” One of the men answered, guiding the others back towards the castle. Adelina sent up a silent prayer that Haimon wouldn’t give them trouble, and would believe their elaborate story. 

“Will it work?” She asked as they rode away. 

Drustan looked over at her. “I hope so. When I get there and corroborate their story, that will help. I only hope that he doesn’t put them in the dungeon in the meantime.” He smiled a little, trying to seem reassuring.

“Don’t joke like that, Dru.” She rolled her eyes. “Not when it’s all too likely to happen, knowing your father.” Nevertheless, it was good to see him smile again. It meant that he was healing, little by little.

“He won’t actually- he’ll just want to.” Drustan answered, a hint of a smile still lingering on his lips. 

“We better get you inside before you completely lose your mind.” Adelina teased.

It was nice, being able to have a light hearted conversation again. It had been so long since they had truly talked about anything but their grief. And now, going into another difficult conversation, it was a welcome break. 

They both left their horses in the stable, walking up to the house together. Adelina took a deep breath, bracing herself for the questions and pain that were coming. It was Edwin and Anissa- how bad could it really be?

Anissa came running around a corner, nearly slamming into them. 

“You’re back!” She exclaimed, trying to regain her breath. “I saw you walking out of the stables- we didn’t expect you to be back so quickly.” 

Adelina couldn’t help smiling. “Slow down, Anissa. Yes, we are back a little earlier than we planned. We learned everything that we needed to, and wanted to return as quickly as possible to continue putting our plans into action.” 

“Well, what did Andrew have to say?” Anissa asked, guiding them through the house to Adelina’s room. She poked her head into her own bedroom, motioning to Edwin. 

Edwin stood, walking with them. “How was the trip?”

Adelina glanced at Drustan. “It was very informative. Andrew had a lot of information that neither of us had any idea about.”

“Well, let me get the maid to bring us some tea, and we can discuss all of it.” Anissa smiled. “You both must be exhausted.” She motioned for them to sit down, leaving the room. 

Adelina sat down in her desk chair slowly, smiling ruefully. “Exhausted? I don’t know the meaning of that word.” 

Edwin laughed. “I’m glad to see that you returned with your sense of humor intact.” 

Adelina could not bring herself to answer, but merely smiled. Edwin had no idea how much work it was taking her to maintain a positive, happy outward appearance. Inside, her heart ached to be able to openly grieve. To visit Bartholomew’s loved ones and bring them the news. To reveal herself to them and beg for their forgiveness. To stay with them and talk with them and just be with them.

But that was impossible. She couldn’t. Not now, at least. She needed to tell Edwin and Anissa first, and then maybe she could go to his family. Her friends would all tell her that it was too risky but she didn’t care. She would do it anyway. She had thought about it over and over, and it was worth it. They deserved to hear the truth about Bartholomew from the person that had caused all of this. 

Anissa walked back into the room carrying a tray with a pot of tea and cups on it. “Now, what did Andrew tell you?”

Adelina took a deep breath. “He confirmed that Haimon and my mother were involved with each other, and that my mother was a part of Haimon’s plot to overthrow the nobles in the area.” 

Anissa sighed. “I’m so sorry, Adelina. I know how badly you wished that it wasn’t true.” 

Adelina smiled sadly. “Thank you, Anissa. I believe that I am coming to terms with it. The hardest part was that my father knew the whole time and did nothing.” 

“What?” Anissa’s eyes were wide. 

“He knew. But he didn’t do anything, because he didn’t want to risk things exploding and anyone getting hurt.” Adelina sighed. “So my entire childhood was basically a lie. 

“Did Andrew have anything else to say?” Edwin asked. 

Drustan shrugged, speaking for the first time. “Not really. He promised to stand by us when we make our move on my father. Now, it’s just up to us to continue the plan.” 

“Well, we have plenty of time to do that. There are still a few months until the castle will be done and we will need to finish the plan.” Edwin nodded. 

“It can’t come soon enough.” Adelina answered bitterly under her breath. 

“What?” Anissa looked over at her, eyebrows raised. 

Adelina shrugged. “Nothing, I was just talking to myself. I apologize.” 

Drustan glanced over at her and she could tell that he knew what was going on. He knew that it wasn’t just nothing. She had no doubt there would be a discussion about it later. Fornow, she just hoped that he didn’t push it in front of Edwin and Anissa. 

“Well, why don’t you just finish your tea, get freshened up, and we can get down to some more planning.” Anissa smiled, brushing off the awkwardness. “We can make it quick so that you both can get some rest. I know that I keep saying that you must be exhausted and then not allowing you to rest, so I will do my best to actually let you get some sleep.”

Adelina smiled. “We can afford to go a little bit longer without rest, if it means getting one step closer to getting rid of Haimon.”

“It seems that you have returned with a renewed resolve.” Edwin pointed out, smiling slightly. “It’s good to see you motivated towards something again.”

Adelina was quiet for a moment, then forced a smile. “I am trying.” 

“Well, I should get back before my father misses me and starts to get even more suspicious.” Drustan stood up, smiling grimly.

Edwin and Anissa both nodded. “Let us know if there is anything that we can do to help.” Edwin answered. “And sometime in the next few days, the five of us can try to get together and further develop the plan.”

Adelina glanced between Edwin and Anissa. “The five of us?”

Anissa nodded. “Bartholomew, of course. He gave us the last plan and it was so well executed- he should be a part of the next steps, don’t you agree?” 

There was a deathly silence in the room, which was all too fitting given the circumstances. Drustan’s small smile disappeared, his face a mask of stone. 

Adelina inhaled sharply, desperately trying to think of something to say. 

“Drustan, you should go now.” She finally managed to force out. “I’ll continue discussing things with Edwin and Anissa.” She walked over, kissing him on the cheek and squeezing his hand. “I’ll meet you in the forest tomorrow.”

Drustan looked down at her, taking a deep breath. She nodded a little, pushing him slightly towards the door. She needed to get him out of there before something unpredictable happened and the entire story came out in front of Edwin and Anissa. She would tell them immediately anyway, but much more delicately than whatever could potentially come out of Drustan now. 

“I’ll see you tomorrow.” Drustan answered quietly before walking out quickly. 

Edwin and Anissa stared at Adelina. 

“What just happened?” Anissa stood. “Why was Drustan so upset?” 

“It isn’t like him to get upset like that out of nowhere. There is something that you aren’t telling us.” Edwin continued for her. “I noticed it when you first came in but I brushed it off as exhaustion. But it’s not exhaustion. It’s something else.”

Adelina took a deep breath, rubbing her hands together. “I needed to wait until Drustan was gone to talk about it. That is the only reason that I didn’t tell you as soon as we got back. He can’t talk about it right now.” 

“Just tell us what is going on, Adelina.” Anissa said. 

Adelina took another deep breath. If only it were as simple as just telling them what was going on… 

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

Drustan stood in his father’s office, every inch of his body tense. He had prepared his story well, and he knew exactly what to say to his father. But it wasn’t his story that he was worried about- it was how his emotions would get the better of him when he was telling the story. 

“Well, did you find the girl?” His father pursed his lips, not even looking up at him. 

“No. We were unable to track her down. She must have hidden in the woods somehow- we searched everywhere but were unable to find her.” Normally, such a blatant lie would make him feel bad. Not now, though. He felt no remorse telling his father these things. “We have reason to believe that she was headed towards Draven, however.” 

“Towards Draven?” His father’s head snapped up, his eyes narrowed. 

“Yes, sir.” Drustan pretended to grimace, as if regretful. 

“And you didn’t stop her before she could reach there? If she gets the king on her side, all of our plans will be over. You and I could both be executed for this.” 

“Then we must do something to ensure that the king believes our story.” Drustan answered. “Who is going to believe the testimony of a girl- who no one could truly identify after two years- over a well known baron and his son? We must simply find a way to convince the king that we respect him and are loyal to him.” His father was going to take the bait, he could just feel it.

“Yes…” his father thought for a moment. “There are several ways to do that. I could go and see him, and tell him of our incredibly difficult situation.” 

“But if the girl has not gone to him, as we believe that she has, does that not seem incriminating?” Drustan asked. Just one more nudge and his father would think of the idea himself. “And you and I are both needed here for the building and opening of the new castle. A process like going to the king could take several months, and you wouldn’t be here in time. And we couldn’t simply send any of our men to do such a serious job.”

His father nodded slowly, stroking his beard. Drustan resisted the urge to smile as he watched Bartholomew’s plan come to fruition. 

“What if we give a formal invite to the king, welcoming him to our new home, as the guest of honor at the first ball held in our castle?” His father said finally. 

Drustan raised an eyebrow. “Would that be too dangerous? Bringing him so close to people who may be your enemies?” 

His father shook his head. “No. They wouldn’t dare to do anything- especially within my home. They know what the consequences would be.”

“If you believe that this will be the best course of action, then I will begin arrangements.” Drustan nodded. 

His father laughed, his lips twisting into a cruel smile. “And if we invite the king, maybe he’ll bring his daughters and we could arrange a marriage between you and one of them.” 

Drustan smiled slightly. “I have heard that Princess Morgana is quite beautiful.” 

“And wealthy.” His father nodded. “An alliance with Princess Morgana would be quite an auspicious match. And it would guarantee that we have a permanent alliance with the king.” His father truly was delusional if he thought that the king would marry his oldest daughter to 

“We have come to a decision then. I will send someone with an invitation, and I will make sure that it reaches the king swiftly.” Drustan bowed slightly, turning to go. 

“Drustan. I have been informed that Bartholomew was lost on this trip after the girl.” 

Drustan didn’t turn around, but looked over his shoulder slightly. “Yes, my lord. We were attacked by bandits as we were returning home. We far exceeded them in skill but they were well armed and outnumbered us. Bartholomew was killed.”

“Replace him as swiftly as possible. I cannot afford to lose any time, resources, or loyalty at a time like this. Choose someone you trust- who will inspire the men to further support us in our time of need.”

Drustan nodded. “Yes, my lord.”

He walked out before his father could say anything more and cause him to break down. 

He wasn’t sure if it was better or worse that his father had been so casual about Bartholomew’s death. On the one hand, he was angry that his father was so callous about losing a knight who had been such a great leader and an amazing man. But on the other hand, if his father had shown any remorse, Drustan would not have been able to keep it together. He wouldn’t dwell on that right now though. He needed to make absolutely certain that the king accepted the invitation and came to the ball. It would take work, and likely some help from Andrew, but they would accomplish it. 

“Drustan!” Ellian turned the corner towards him, his eyebrows raising in surprise. “You’re back so soon.” 

Drustan took a deep breath, forcing himself not to react too strongly. “We were unable to track down the girl, so we returned home.”

Ellian shook his head scoldingly. “I told you father that he should have sent me with you. I would have been a very valuable asset in finding her- and I’m sure that with my help, you would have been successful.” 

Drustan smirked. “I’m sure that you would have been. Fortunately, you were needed here.” 

“I believe you misspoke when you said-”

“I meant what I said.” Drustan smiled, crossing his arms. “Now, if you don’t require anything more, I have some important matters to attend to for my father.” 

Ellian’s pleasant facade dropped, his eyes narrowing. “I’m starting to believe that you didn’t want to find the girl, and that’s why you didn’t want me there.”

Drustan laughed. “You truly are desperate, Ellian. I’m not the one that should be worried, though. I’ve heard a couple of rumors that you were lazy in my absence- and I’m sure that my father has heard them too. Apparently when I am not here to keep you in line, you like to do your own thing.” 

Ellian clenched his jaw. “I highly doubt that.” He seemed to shake himself out, smiling slightly. “Besides, if I had been with you, Bartholomew wouldn’t have died. But he wasn’t quite as loyal to your father as you all seem to think, so that is for the best, I suppose.” 

Drustan shoved Ellian against the wall suddenly, pushing his forearm against Ellian’s throat. 

“You ever mention his name again and I will kill you. Anytime, anywhere, in front of anyone. I don’t care. You deserve to be in his place right now- make no mistake of that. My father may not be able to see through your laziness and your deception but I can. And I will not hesitate to end your madness the next chance that you give me.” 

Ellian gasped for air, trying to push Drustan back unsuccessfully. 

“Am I understood?” Drustan could see the darkness in his eyes reflected by the panic in Ellian’s.

Ellian continued clawing at his arm, trying to get air. 

“Am I understood?” Drustan pushed closer, staring into Ellian’s eyes. 

“Yes.” Ellian finally croaked out. 

Drustan stepped away, allowing Ellian to fall to the ground, desperately trying to regain his breath. He wouldn’t bother Drustan for a long time now- the fear in his eyes had assured Drustan of that. 

The only problem now was that Drustan had nearly blown his cover. Ellian was onto him and if Ellian was onto him, then his father would be soon. It was nothing new for Ellian to be suspicious of him. But this time he was hitting a little too close to the mark. Drustan would have to step up his acting and go even further with his commitment. And as hard as that would be on him, he would do it. He would have to handle it. He had already lost too much to turn back now- and the last thing that he needed was to get caught. 

With any luck, he would be able to carry this charade all the way through to the ball, when the complete truth would come out. If anyone were to figure it out before then, Drustan likely wouldn’t even live to go to the ball. 

He couldn’t worry about that now, though. He needed to focus on keeping his composure, getting the castle built, and working through his relationship problems with Adelina. 

He felt bad, practically throwing her to the wolves with Edwin and Anissa. But she had told him to go, so it was okay, wasn’t it? He had thought about it over and over and still couldn’t come to a satisfying conclusion. He just had to trust that if she was upset with him about it, she would say something to him and be honest with him. He could do that. They had been working on trust, so he would trust her.

He had thought about it the entire ride home from Edwin and Anissa’s. What was she saying? How were they taking it? Was she telling them just how badly he had taken it? How catastrophic the entire situation had been? He couldn’t blame her if she had. It had been a traumatic ordeal for the both of them and their best friends deserved to know the truth. He just couldn’t quite bring himself to imagine how disappointed they would be in him for becoming so dark so quickly. He had made so much progress since finding out that Adelina was alive. He didn’t want to think that he could ever go back to who he was before. He didn’t want to believe that he could be so hypocritical. 

He had gotten angry with Adelina for doing that very thing- for giving in to the darkness and allowing it to overtake her. But at that moment, hearing that Bartholomew was dead… he had gone to the exact same place. But Adelina hadn’t blamed him. She hadn’t made him feel bad, or shamed him, or invalidated him. She hadn’t done what he deserved, after how he’d treated her. She had treated him with grace, acting completely different from how he had treated her. She understood that he wasn’t trying to be like this and that it was out of his control. That was something that he hadn’t been able to do for her. 

What had he done to deserve this woman? To get someone like her to love him- with all of his flaws and with all of his mistakes. She would likely argue that she made just as many mistakes, but he couldn’t agree with that. Her mistakes paled in comparison to his. 

Every time he thought about it, he became more and more ashamed of himself and his behavior. He had treated her like a criminal for even having the thoughts, when he was the one that had carried them out in the past. He was the one who had killed a man. He was the one who had followed his father’s orders without question. He was the one that had done wrong things- not her. Yet he had been the one to condemn her? Had he really been that selfish and nearsighted? And she had taken it. She had accepted all the blame and accepted all of the things that he had heaped on her. She hadn’t deserved it, but she had taken it. And she would always take it. He knew that she would. That was just the kind of person that she was. She took the burdens of others and handled them with such grace. Why could he never do that for her? Why could he never provide that same care for her? Had his father influenced him so heavily that he could only be a burden? That he couldn’t support the woman he loved? Was he such a mess of a man? 

But these were the kinds of thoughts that he wasn’t supposed to be having. He was supposed to be thinking positively about himself and his past, not negatively. He had moved on from the bad things he had done and the difficult things that he had faced. He was a different person now. He was a child of God now. None of his past mistakes were supposed to follow him here. He was out of their reach. So why did it feel like they were clawing at him, desperately attempting to draw him back?