Traitorous Hearts: Chapter Twenty-Two

Adelina took a deep breath, wiping under her eyes and blinking a few times to clear the tears from her eyes. She needed to appear calm and collected when Drustan came up. She couldn’t have her sadness and bad mood reflecting on him. It had been nearly a week since she had seen him, and she wasn’t sure how he was doing. They had found ways to send messages through the trusted guards and Edwin, but he had been so busy trying to keep his father’s trust that he hadn’t been able to get away. That was what he had told her, at least. She couldn’t blame him if there were other reasons though. This past month hadn’t exactly been easy on any of them. Especially in this past week, they had all needed to grieve their own separate ways. They had all needed some space from each other to work things out individually. Adelina couldn’t lie, however. It had been lonely. 

She had spent the past week hidden away in her room, barely speaking to anyone. She kept trying to make sense of it all, but she couldn’t. Her mind refused to accept that Bartholomew really was gone. That the path of blood and pain that followed her had continued, exacting its gruesome punishment on such an unworthy recipient. But her parents hadn’t deserved it either. Or her baby brother. No one had deserved the anguish that Haimon had caused them. She had to remember that. She couldn’t keep going around and around like this in her head. It was going to drag her down even more than the loss of Bartholomew was. More than the loneliness of being stuck in her room with no one to talk to was. No one seemed to want to come in and deal with her pain. But she couldn’t even deal with her own pain, so how could she blame them? 

Edwin had left the house for hours after she told them the news. They weren’t sure where he went, but he seemed at peace when he returned. There had been anger in his eyes when he left, but when he came back, there was acceptance. Like he understood that this needed to happen in order for there to be change. She couldn’t quite understand it, but she respected it. He was handling it better than anyone, and she was glad. 

Anissa had gone numb. She had still been sitting in her chair, staring at the wall when Adelina finally got up and left the room. She had come into Adelina’s room a few hours later and they had sat on the bed, holding each other. That had been the last time that Adelina had truly seen or talked to her. Based on the whisperings of the servants, Anissa was quieter than normal now. She wasn’t the same spunky, joyful person that she had been before. There was something distinctly different in her air. Like all life had been sucked out of her. The servants worried that she was dying and Adelina wasn’t entirely sure that they were wrong. Her brief interactions with Edwin had made it clear that he was worried about something. He seemed fretful in a way that Adelina had never seen him act before. 

Things were going to change today, though. Drustan was coming back and Adelina was determined to leave her room for at least a few hours. She had taken time to grieve- and she would likely take the rest of her life to fully process this situation. But it was time to keep pushing through and go on. She refused to let Bartholomew die in vain. So she was going to make the effort to bring everyone together. 

She heard a door open somewhere downstairs and took a deep breath, straightening her dress. She could do this. 

“… and Drustan. We’ve been hoping that you would come soon.” Edwin’s voice drifted up the stairs. “It has been a while since you have been here.” 

Adelina walked out of her room and to the stairs, taking another slow, long breath before beginning to walk down. Edwin walked by the entry to the stairs, looking up slowly, his eyes wide. Adelina stared at him for a moment, unsure why he was looking at her so strangely. Drustan followed behind him, his face also tense. He shook his head almost imperceptibly and Adelina froze. This couldn’t be happening. Not right now. She was too exposed- there was nowhere to hide.

She turned quickly as another boot stepped across the doorway. 

“It is so good of you to invite me into your home on such short notice, Mister Caspell.” 

“I wouldn’t dream of turning such an esteemed guest away, Baron.” Edwin’s voice was tight. “I apologize that there isn’t food readily available- tea will be served soon.”

“I’ve never taken much liking to tea. I have developed a special appreciation for ale in my life though. I don’t suppose you have some of that handy?” Haimon laughed coarsely. 

“My wife forbids alcohol in the house. It is one of her personal convictions and you cannot argue with a woman and her convictions from God.” 

“You know, it has always been my understanding that a man is the head of the household. Isn’t that how God intended it?”

“Yes it is, my lord. But it is my conviction that marriage is a partnership. Her convictions become my convictions. And that means following those convictions in the freedom of our own home.” Adelina could almost hear the fake smile on Edwin’s face. 

“Yes, of course.” Haimon’s voice was cold and unfeeling- he clearly disapproved but he knew the unsteady ground that he was on. Edwin was one of the only people that would stand up to Haimon and when one person stood up to him, more would follow. Haimon needed Edwin on his side, even if he didn’t want him. Edwin was too popular and well known to kill- although Adelina wasn’t sure that had ever stopped Haimon before. 

“Is there a reason for your visit today, my lord? You are welcome in our home any time, of course, but if there is a certain business you would like to conduct I am sure you would like to address that first.” 

“I want to see how the plans for my castle are coming along, Caspell. My son tells me that they are moving along at the proper pace, but whenever I see the castle it doesn’t seem to be fitting what he is saying.” 

Adelina crept down the stairs quietly as the group moved further from the doorway towards a sitting room. 

“We are just finishing the most difficult and time consuming part. From here on out, it should be quick and easy. You must understand how difficult of a task this is, to build such an impressive castle. My men have been working incredibly hard to make sure that it is absolutely perfect for you and your family. We wouldn’t want even a single stone out of place.” Edwin was a good liar, Adelina had to give him that. She wasn’t sure that she could have pretended to like Haimon that much, even if he hadn’t killed her family. But Edwin had always been able to control his temper- or his emotions in general- better than she had. She had no doubt that this was killing him inside regardless of the fact that there was no way to tell on the outside. 

Adelina slowly made her way back up the stairs, realizing how precarious her position was. Haimon was unpredictable and could demand a tour of the house at any moment. And eventually, he would wonder why Anissa hadn’t come down, or at least been sent for. 

Adelina walked quietly down the hallway to Anissa’s room, slipping inside and shutting the door softly behind her. 

“Anissa?” She whispered, making her way to the bed. 

Anissa looked up at her from where she lay, staring at the wall. 

“Yes?” 

“Haimon is here. He is in a meeting with Drustan and Edwin. I believe it would be wise for you to go down and at least greet him.” 

Anissa sat up quickly, blinking several times. But no amount of blinking could disguise the fear in her eyes.

“Will you help me prepare?” She pushed herself off the bed, walking towards her wardrobe. “I don’t need to do anything overly fancy, just enough that it will seem as if I am putting my best self before him.”

Adelina stared at her for a moment. Was she keeping busy to distract herself from the sorrow of their circumstances? Anissa was an anxious and flighty person in general, but she wasn’t usually like this. Under pressure, she was normally calm and able to stick to a plan. Had Bartholomew’s death affected her this much that she had changed into a completely different person? Adelina prayed that this wasn’t true, and that with time, this strange behavior would change. Or that she would at least be able to get herself together before she went down to speak to Haimon. He would know something was wrong immediately if she went down like this. 

Adelina helped her out of her nightdress and into a fancier dress, making sure that she looked presentable. It was silent in the room and Adelina couldn’t decide if she should say something or just let Anissa be. Sometimes it was best to let her work things out for herself instead of pushing her to talk about her feelings. This wasn’t often a courtesy that she extended to Adelina but that wouldn’t stop Adelina from doing the right thing here. 

Anissa checked herself in the mirror one last time, tucking in a few curls and making herself look adequately presentable before taking a deep breath. 

“It’s going to be okay.” Adelina said quietly, looking at Anissa in the mirror. 

Anissa’s eyes met hers slowly. She nodded a little but didn’t say anything, her lip quivering slightly. 

She took another moment to compose herself before walking to the door and going out. 

Adelina sighed and sat down in a chair, putting her head in her hands. Would it always be this difficult? Would they all be so scarred like this forever? This couldn’t be it. This couldn’t be what they were meant to do for the rest of their lives. Adelina knew what it was to feel loss. More than anyone in this house, she knew. And she had lived with it and moved on. She was still fighting for her parents but it didn’t consume her entire being like it used to. She had a good mindset about it now- or at least, she hoped that she did. So why did it feel like this situation was so much worse than when her parents had died? They hadn’t deserved this anymore than Bartholomew had. Was it because she was now surrounded by the grief? Because everywhere she looked, there were traces of Bartholomew and his death. In Anissa’s eyes, in Edwin’s quiet movements, in Drustan’s silence. His death filled the air, enveloping her for miles. She couldn’t escape it, like she had escaped her parents’ deaths. She had nothing to drive her forward like when her parents had died. She was already doing the thing that would avenge his death, because it was the same thing that would avenge her parents’ deaths. She was already working towards that with as much fervor as she could find in herself. She couldn’t go anymore, she couldn’t draw anymore energy to fight. 

So here she was, consumed by the pain of her friends. It wasn’t even pain over Bartholomew’s death. The realization struck her quickly. She was done mourning Bartholomew. He was in a better place. A place where he was happy and he was away from Haimon. The grief of his death had dulled to a numb ache. She missed him but the pain that had been so overwhelming was gone. Maybe it was because she had already lost so much and had learned how to cope. She wasn’t sure. But something was distinctly different now. 

Now, her pain was just for her friends who weren’t handling things the same way. For her friends who were still in so much pain that it was debilitating them. For Anissa, who could barely get out of bed without being dragged. For Edwin, who was watching his wife fall apart while trying to hold it together himself. For Drustan, who had lost his best ally in his home because of his father’s greed. They didn’t know what it was like. They didn’t know that it got better. They only knew what was in the present. 

She couldn’t blame them. She had been in very much the same place- for two years, she had wallowed in her anger and pain. She had lived in the past, reliving her family’s tragedy over and over. They had watched it consume her. She couldn’t judge them now for feeling the same way. 

A loud voice from the stairwell drew her back from her thoughts. She walked quietly to the door, putting her ear up to the crack. 

“Things do seem to be progressing in a timely manner, Caspell. I still have my doubts but I believe that you’ll do whatever you have to in order to make sure that my castle is done in time. You wouldn’t do anything to disappoint me.” There was a clear threat in Haimon’s voice that made Adelina’s blood boil. He dared to threaten Edwin in his own home?

“Of course, Baron. I will do everything I can to make absolutely certain that everything is perfectly and exactly how you have asked for it to be.” Edwin’s voice was smooth. “Would you like for your son to stay for a few hours to continue going over the plans to make sure that everything is right? I know you are a very busy man and we weren’t able to go over every deal.” 

“An excellent idea.” Haimon answered loudly. “Drustan should know what I want by now.” 

Adelina smiled a little to herself. If only Haimon knew what would really happen after he left. There would be no reviewing of the plans- not the castle plans, at least. The plan to overthrow him, however, would be discussed in depth, as it was every time. He was giving them the perfect opportunity that they had been needing, even as he believed that it was to benefit him. 

Adelina’s stomach filled with butterflies at the thought of seeing Drustan again, as it did every time. She had missed him so much. Seeing him would make up for all the loneliness she had been feeling. 

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Drustan took a deep breath, walking up the stairs towards Adelina’s rooms. He could do this. His hands were shaking and he desperately tried to stop them. They were safe here. She was safe here. His father couldn’t touch her, not now. He was gone and they would all be safe, for the time being. 

She appeared in the doorway and his heart soared for a moment. It had been too long. Only a week, and every day had been excruciating. But he hadn’t been able to see her. He couldn’t let her see him like that. He had spent an entire day in his room, just trying to rationalize Bartholomew’s death. It hadn’t worked. His mind was still reeling. But he couldn’t let her see that. This was the time to hold her. To make sure that she was okay after she lost another innocent loved one to his father’s scheming. 

He walked quickly to her and she threw her arms around him. He wrapped her in his arms, holding her as tightly as he possibly could without crushing her. 

It was as if all of the pain, all of the sadness, all of the confusion, was gone. She took all of it from him, making him feel like he could truly move on. Like he was truly okay. 

He buried his face in her hair, breathing her in. 

She leaned back, holding his face. 

“I missed you.” 

He smiled softly, but it faded quickly as the world around them came back into focus. 

“He knows.” He couldn’t go on like this- he couldn’t lie to her and let her love him like this without the truth. 

“What do you mean?” Her smile faded just as quickly as his had. 

“He knows you are here.”

She shook her head, stepping back a little. “No, he couldn’t.” 

Drustan nodded, his heart sinking into his stomach. “He knows.” 

“But… how?” 

“I don’t know. But he threatened Edwin.”

“What did Edwin say?”

“He denied it. But my father knows. He is adamant about it. He’s given Edwin three days to give you up. Otherwise, he’ll find a way to make the problem go away.” 

She lifted a hand to cover her mouth. “I sent Anissa down there.” 

Drustan shook his head, taking a step forward. “She wasn’t there. Edwin wouldn’t have let her be in the room. She knows nothing.” 

“But how does he know?” The anguish that filled her voice was like a knife in his stomach. Her eyes met his slowly. “He could only know if someone told him.” 

Drustan stared at her for a moment, the distrust in her eyes surprising him. She didn’t trust him. She believed that he could actually be the one that turned her in. That he would put her and their best friends in danger. 

“It wasn’t me, Adelina.”

“Who else knows that I’m here? No one.”

Drustan took a step forward but she took a step back. He shook his head. 

“Adelina I wouldn’t do this to you. I would never put you in danger- you or Edwin and Anissa. You have to believe that I would never have done this.” 

“There is nothing else to believe, Dru. You are the only one who knows that I’m here.”

“So that is what you believe happened? That I turned you into my father after he so brutally murdered Bartholomew? That I would work with him? You have that little trust in me? Some of the guards know that you are here. It very well could have been one of them.”

“Because your father would believe a guard.” She shot at him. 

Drustan raised an eyebrow. “And he puts so much trust in me?” He didn’t normally speak to her like that but a ridiculous statement called for a sarcastic response. 

“He would if you came to him with news like this. It would get you in his good graces permanently.” 

He stared at her. “I don’t want to be in my father’s good graces! He’s a crazed murderer who has never loved me- who I have never loved. I love you. You are everything to me. I would never put you in harm’s way for even a moment if I could help it.”

“How am I supposed to trust that?”

“Because I’m telling you!” He exclaimed, exasperated. “I am telling you what to believe. You know me. You trust me. You love me. Or was that all a lie? Because if you really loved me, you wouldn’t have so little faith in me. I’ve done nothing to deserve this. Ever. I have only ever loved you and protected you.” 

“Then how does your father know?” She crossed her arms, stepping toe-to-toe with him.

“If I knew that, I would tell you.” He answered in a low voice. “But it wasn’t me.”

They stood there, inches apart, staring at each other for a few moments. Neither of them spoke, but the mutual frustration was clear. 

“You are the love of my life, Adelina. Nothing will ever change that. But if you cannot trust me, this can never work.” He brushed a finger against her cheek. “I have done everything I possibly can to show you that my loyalty is to you. My love is for you. You are my heart, living and breathing outside of my body. To hurt you would be to fatally injure myself. Every piece of joy in my life is from you. Please don’t throw this away because of your fear.”

He turned and walked away, leaving her with own thoughts. This had not been how he wanted this day to go. He had wanted to spend time with her, talk to her, hear her speak. But his father had ruined everything- as he always did. 

Drustan walked into Edwin’s office, sinking into a chair and putting his head in his hands. Edwin was silent for a moment before he cleared his throat.

“That didn’t sound like it went well.” 

Drustan shook his head, not looking up. “Not well at all.” 

“What is the problem, exactly?” Edwin asked. 

“She doesn’t trust me, Edwin. She’s never trusted me. No matter what I do, no matter how much I love her… it is never enough. She is the same broken, scared girl that fled her burning home two and a half years ago.” He sighed. “I don’t blame her for it. If anything, it only amplifies my desire to be with her more so that I may comfort her and be there for her. But I can’t be with her if she will never trust me. There could never be a relationship, a marriage, a life together if she doesn’t trust me.” 

Edwin was quiet for several moments. “Did you tell her what you know?”

“Everything. That’s the problem. I have no answers to give her, Edwin. But she needs answers. She always needs answers and I do not have them. I wish with all of my heart that I had them. But I don’t and because of that, she won’t believe that it wasn’t me.”

“She’s being unreasonable, and I’m sorry. There’s no reason not to trust you. But I understand why she is so worried. She needs somewhere to place the blame and you were the easiest target in her path. She’ll come around though, Drustan. She always does.” 

Drustan nodded. “I know. And I’ll take her back just as quickly as I can. I’ll always take her back. No matter what happens. It will never be easy, though, seeing this pain in her. This mistrust.”

“I’ve seen it a few times from Anissa. It stings and it causes issues for a little while but if you love her… it’ll be worth it. I know it will.”

“Will it ever change? Will she ever be able to trust me?”

Edwin sighed. “I believe with time, she will. When this whole rotten business with your father is over and done and she isn’t watching her back forever. I believe then, many things will change and she will become much more agreeable and understand where you are coming from. And maybe you’ll learn to understand even better where she is coming from.”

“I just don’t want my father and his greed to tear us apart. I couldn’t live with myself if I let him do that. I have to stop this. Whatever it takes.” 

Edwin raised an eyebrow. “That is a dangerous game to play, Drustan. You know that. You saw what that mentality did to Adelina. How it ruined her for so long. Don’t make the same mistake that she did. We just got her back from that- we cannot lose you to it as well.” 

Drustan took a deep breath, standing. “This is different. This, I can do something about in a way that she couldn’t.”

“But you won’t.” Edwin stood. “You will follow the plan that we made, and you’ll follow it the way that we made it. Don’t do this. Don’t throw away the foundation that we have worked so hard to build. Given time, this will work itself out, if we let it. We worked too hard on that plan for you to ruin it all now by being impulsive.”

Drustan clenched his jaw. “I won’t do anything now. But I cannot stand by and watch as he takes away the one thing that I have left.”

“I have given up many things for you, Dru. I am asking you not to put my family in any more danger. Please.”