Traitorous Hearts: Chapter Twenty-Four

Adelina watched from behind a tree as Kingsley, Berthold, and Amos rode out of the courtyard and out onto the road. Berthold held Kingsley close against him, half covering the child with his cloak. Berthold would protect Kingsley as if he was his own- Adelina knew that much. 

She breathed a sigh of relief as they disappeared into the distance without any other men coming out of the courtyard to follow or stop them. Maybe Haimon truly did trust that everything was going exactly according to his plan.

Adelina smiled to herself, turning and running back to her horse. It was working. Everything was happening perfectly in line with the plan- not Haimon’s plan by any means, but her own plan. The plan that started by keeping Kingsley safe for the rest of his life and ended with Haimon in a prison cell. Getting Kingsley out of the picture was the beginning of the end and Adelina felt a thrill at the idea. 

At the same time, a hint of the old vengefulness crept back in, wrapping its icy hand around her heart. She pushed it away quickly, shaking her head as she mounted her horse. She wasn’t like that anymore. She wanted justice for her family- not vengeance. She had her limits and she would not allow herself to cross them again. She knew the right thing to do and when it came down to it, she would do it. 

“‘Vengeance is mine, says the Lord’.” She whispered to herself quietly, taking a deep breath. 

She nudged her horse forward, turning back towards Edwin and Anissa’s home. Drustan would be coming soon, once he was sure that Kingsley had been seen off without any suspicions. And Anissa had been declining even further in the week since she had found out that Haimon was suspicious of them. Adelina was beginning to worry that something was truly wrong and that it wasn’t just the grief anymore. But she was unsure of how to bring it up to Anissa- or Edwin, for that matter- without upsetting everyone more and causing further pain. She had left everything alone so far for the sake of simplicity and focusing on getting Kingsley to Chadd and Clemence. Now she had no choice but to think about it. 

Maybe she was just overreacting and everything truly was okay. Maybe she was still dealing with her own feelings and was just seeing them in Anissa because she wanted to feel less alone or strange for having the feelings. 

But no- that couldn’t be it. There had to be more to it than that, even if that was part of it. Something was seriously wrong with Anissa and everyone knew it. The servants wouldn’t whisper in the halls if this was just grief- and Edwin wouldn’t walk around looking so worried all of the time. 

Adelina rode into the courtyard slowly, glancing around before removing her hood and dismounting. There was no one around, but she was still always nervous that the house was being watched and that someone would see her. 

She was surprised that no one had seen her yet. She left the house nearly every day, even though Drustan had warned her against it several times. She wanted to see the people in the village and speak with them and connect with them. She wanted to build a bond with them. And she enjoyed spending time outside, rather than shut away in the upper floors of the house. It was a lovely house, well-built and elegantly decorated. But it could never compare to the smell of the fresh trees, often still wet from the rain, and the open air of the fields. 

She took a deep breath as she removed Alistair’s tack and began brushing him down slowly. It was so peaceful in this stable. So quiet. Of course, there were the sounds of horses moving about and the smell of their hay and manure, but it was peaceful. The birds were chirping outside and she could hear the wind moving through the trees.

“Adelina?” Edwin walked into the stable slowly, looking around. 

She looked up, holding in a sigh of disappointment at the peacefulness being interrupted. 

“Yes?” 

“I figured that I would find you here.” He leaned against the wall. “Kingsley made it out of the castle safely?” 

Adelina nodded, continuing to brush Alistair down. “Unless something happened after I left, no one followed them. I watched until they were out of sight and everything at the castle appeared to continue as usual.”

“Good. Drustan should be here any minute, then?”

“I believe so. I doubt he would let his father keep him long when there is so much to be done on the ‘new castle’.” She smiled slightly.

Edwin nodded. “I was thinking… Maybe today, instead of working on plans, we just spend time with the people that we love. You spend time with Drustan and I spend time with Anissa. Just spending time together, as if everything that is going on with Dru’s family doesn’t exist. Be normal for a little bit.”

Adelina stopped brushing, looking up at him with eyebrows raised. “Is there a reason for this?”

“I think we all need a break. We’ve been working ourselves like crazy just trying to keep everyone safe and protected. Haimon won’t do anything today- not after having just hidden Kingsley away. We can afford a day to relax and live normal lives for once.” 

“There’s just so much to do and-” 

He shook his head and interrupted her. “We have thought through every aspect of this plan over and over, Adelina. We know what is going to happen and exactly how it is going to happen. We keep getting stuck at these two extremes of doing absolutely nothing and doing more than we need to. We have been going full speed ahead for weeks. Anissa is exhausted, Drustan is stretched thin, and I know that you are tired of this. We can set aside one day to act as if none of this is happening and we are just four people that are happy.” 

Adelina bit the side of her cheek. “I suppose that you are right.” 

He nodded. “I know I am.” He shrugged. “Go down to the creek and have a picnic. Go riding together. Do something that a normal courting couple would do.”

“We aren’t a normal courting couple, Edwin.” She answered. 

“I know. But you can pretend.” 

Adelina nodded. “Okay. I won’t deny that spending time with Dru outside of planning a rebellion does sound nice. And I know that you and Anissa need a break.”

Edwin looked out the door of the stable. “Here is Drustan now. Would you like me to present our idea to him, or will you?”

“I can do it.” She answered, leaving the stall and moving to lean against the doorway of the stable. 

“I will see you later today, then.” 

Adelina watched as Edwin walked back to the house, waving as Drustan rode into the yard. Drustan looked after him for a moment, clearly confused as to why Edwin hadn’t stopped to talk to him. He dismounted, walking his horse towards the stable. 

“Good morning.” She smiled up at him softly. 

He smiled back at her, leaning down and kissing her quickly. “Good morning.” 

She could feel the blush creeping into her cheeks and she looked down, barely suppressing the girlish laugh that threatened to escape her. 

“I saw that Kingsley made it out safely.” She said, still not looking up at him. 

“He did. I think that my father truly believes that this plan is one of the best that ‘he’ has ever come up with.” She looked up just in time to see him roll his eyes. 

She made a face. “Yes, because his ideas always work out exactly how they believe he will.” 

Drustan walked past her, leading his horse to a stall. “I believe that you are living proof that his ideas don’t often turn out the way that they are supposed to.”

“Then we should count it as a blessing that you are the one that made this plan and not him.” She looked over her shoulder at him. 

He smiled. “Yes, we should.” 

It was silent for a moment before Adelina spoke again. “So Edwin had an idea.”

“Yes?” 

“He suggested that we all take some time to relax today, instead of planning and figuring things out. You and I could go on a picnic down by the creek?” She looked up at him hopefully. 

He nodded, lifting the saddle off of his horse. “I believe that sounds like a very good idea.” 

“I don’t know what he’s going to do with Anissa, but hopefully, it is something that will help to get her out of this difficult headspace that she has been in.”

“I have noticed her silence seems to be getting worse.” 

Adelina nodded. “I’m hoping that it is a passing issue that will be solved with time and healing. I just want her to be okay.” 

“I understand that. I felt the same about you when you first returned.” Drustan answered. 

Adelina sighed. “But we aren’t supposed to focus on the serious things today. We are supposed to relax, enjoy ourselves, and ‘act as if nothing is happening’, in Edwin’s words.” 

Drustan smiled. “I think that I can be okay with that.” He came over to her, wrapping his arms around her waist. “I’ll never be opposed to spending a day drinking in your presence.” 

She ran her fingers through his hair. “I believe that the feeling is mutual.” 

“Oh, you aren’t opposed to drinking in your presence either?” He teased. 

She scrunched her nose, dropping her hand. “Yes, that is definitely what I meant.” 

He kissed her gently. “That’s what I thought.” 

She smiled, rolling her eyes slightly. “I will go ask the cook to prepare a picnic for us if you will decide on where by the creek we should go, and figure out how to get there.” 

He nodded. “I believe that I can handle that.” 

“Good. I was a little worried that you wouldn’t be able to figure it out.” 

“Go on, go talk to the cook.” He gently pushed her away from him, rolling his eyes. 

She laughed slightly, turning and beginning to walk towards the house. “I’m going, I’m going.” 

“And make it quick- I forgot to eat breakfast.” 

She turned around, raising an eyebrow. “Don’t you know that you aren’t supposed to rush a good cook like ours?” 

He smiled. “My apologies- I haven’t had good cooking in a very long time. My father’s kitchen servants aren’t nearly as good as Anissa and Edwin’s.” 

“I suppose that we can forgive you, so long as you are patient.” She teased. 

“Get out of here.” He laughed, shaking his head and going back inside the stable. 

She smiled to herself, butterflies filling her stomach. Was this what normalcy was like? Laughing, teasing each other, and being open about their relationship? They hadn’t experienced this type of freedom in a long time and she had missed it.

She hadn’t been entirely sure of Edwin’s plan when he first presented it, but the more that she thought about it, the better it sounded. She had a feeling that she was going to remember this day for a long time. 

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

Drustan laid down on the picnic blanket, propping his head up on his arms and staring up at the sky. Adelina sat down next to him, eyes closed. 

“What are you thinking about?” He asked. 

She smiled, keeping her eyes closed. “How peaceful it is out here. The brook in the background, the wind in the trees, the sunshine, the birds, you. It’s perfect.” 

He smiled. “That does sound pretty perfect.” 

He closed his eyes, feeling himself begin to drift off. She was right- it was so peaceful here. He couldn’t help falling asleep in this beautiful place. He wouldn’t let himself sleep for too long, though. He would wake up with enough time to talk with Adelina. A few minutes of rest wouldn’t hurt, though. Just a few minutes. 

Drustan dismounted from his horse, careful not to drag Adelina down with him. He turned, holding out his hands. She grabbed them, jumping down into his arms. 

“A very graceful dismount, my lady.” He grinned. 

“Wasn’t it?” She rested her hands against his chest. “It was only because I had such a gentleman helping me down.” 

He winked. “But of course.” 

She smiled. “Alright, now we really do need to get some things for my father. He won’t let me come here with you anymore if we don’t get back soon with everything on the list.” 

Drustan rolled his eyes. “Oh please, he would let you go anywhere with me no matter what. He trusts me more than anyone else. It would be a bad thing if he didn’t trust me, given that I’m going to be inheriting his estate someday when I’ve married you.” 

He glanced down at her to watch her cheeks flush at the mention of marriage. It had already become a well-established fact that he intended to marry her, but it still made her blush every time that he brought it up. He would never get tired of that blush- and the way that her eyes lit up, her eagerness to be his wife continually becoming more evident. It was a mutual feeling. He was just as eager to be her husband and to provide for her and live alongside her as she was to be his wife. 

The two of them walked into the town square, Drustan leading their horse behind him. Everyone was careful to get out of their way quickly, noticing who they were. It still frustrated Drustan at times, the fear in their eyes when they saw him. He was determined to turn that fear into admiration someday, whatever he had to do. He wouldn’t allow his father’s name to follow him everywhere. He would do everything that he could to make sure that they knew he was their ally. 

Adelina held his arm, leaning her head against his shoulder. Drustan smiled to himself. The fact that Adelina would always trust him, regardless of what anyone else thought, made up for the stares and the mistrust of the people. He could do anything with Adelina by his side. 

He stopped at the baker’s stall, looking over the different breads and pastries. 

“These aren’t on our list.” Adelina looked up at him, eyebrows raised in amusement. 

“Can I not buy the girl that I love something to enjoy while we look for what we really need?” He pointed to a pastry. “How much for two of these?” 

The baker answered quickly- with a price that was likely based on their well-known status- and Drustan handed over the money. He took two of the pastries, handing one to Adelina and taking a bite of the other. 

They continued walking as the two of them ate their food, searching for the items on their list. 

“Thank you.” Adelina said, finishing her pastry. 

Drustan smiled. “You’re welcome.” 

“You really do look out for me, you know.” She looked up at him with wide eyes. 

“It is only a small thing to pay your family back for everything that they have done for me. And I will always look out for you, Al.” He stopped walking. “I hope that you know that. There will never be a day, no matter what our future holds, that I am not doing everything to make sure that you are well provided for, happy, and safe.” 

She stopped walking, lacing her fingers through his. “I know. You have always taken care of me, Drustan. I know that that will never change. You wouldn’t be yourself if you weren’t looking out for me- or if you weren’t looking out for people in general. That’s just who you are. And I know that.” 

She smiled up at him and it nearly took his breath away. She was so beautiful. She didn’t know it and she would never acknowledge it, but Drustan was sure that she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. No one else compared to her and he knew that no one ever would. 

He put his hands on the side of her face. “Good.” He rested his forehead against hers, tucking her hair behind her ears. “The day that I cease to care for you will be the day that I die. I promise.” 

She nodded, closing her eyes for a moment. He bent down, kissing her gently. He was careful to hold himself back, not wanting to embarrass her in front of all these people, but he made it clear what this kiss meant. It was his promise to her, in more than just words. It was his assurance that he would never leave her side, as long as he lived. It was every feeling that he had ever had about her, expressed in one kiss.

“They’re going to start asking questions.” She pulled away, that blush once again rushing into her cheeks. 

Drustan smiled, putting an arm around her and beginning to walk again. “I wish that they would. Then at least they would be talking to me.”  

“They’ll get there. It will just take some time.” 

He nodded. “I hope so.” 

They continued walking in silence but Drustan couldn’t help smiling to himself and reliving that kiss as the realization hit him- that was the first time he had ever kissed her in public. They were normally very careful about the image they presented to the public. Somehow, today, neither of them seemed to care about that. And after this, he wasn’t sure that he would ever be able to care what anyone thought about his relationship with Adelina ever again. 

Drustan opened his eyes, blinking several times to adjust to the light. How long had he been asleep? 

He looked over to find Adelina in the same place that she had been sitting when he fell asleep, but now she was turned and was watching him. She blushed at the fact that he had caught her watching him, but he smiled. 

“How long have I been asleep?” He asked, sitting up, noticing the blanket that had been laid over him for the first time.

She shrugged. “Not long. Maybe thirty minutes.” 

He shook his head. “You should have woken me. I didn’t mean to fall asleep and leave you alone.” 

“You needed the sleep. I could tell that you were tired. I was okay to sit alone for a little bit.” She smiled softly. 

They sat in silence for a few more moments. Drustan couldn’t help thinking about his dream- that hadn’t really been a dream at all. It was a memory. A memory that he had long cherished as one of the last ones that he had shared with Adelina before her parents’ deaths. It was the same memory that Adelina had brought up as the kiss that was still discussed in town among the gossipers. Drustan couldn’t hold back his smile at the thought of it. He had played it off in the past as an innocent, insignificant kiss. But it truly had meant everything to him at the time, and had been a kiss that he had felt on his lips for days afterward.

Adelina broke the silence suddenly. “Do you ever think about how pointless all of this has been?” 

He raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean?” 

“Your father’s entire point in all of this was to gain more land and power, correct?” 

“Yes, I believe that was the point.” He nodded. 

“And he was specifically after my father’s land. But all of this pain, all of this suffering, could have been avoided if he had just waited a few years more. You and I would have gotten married and you would have inherited your father’s land and my father would have named you heir to his land. I suppose that did change at Kingsley’s birth, but I think that my father would still have at least given you a portion of his land. Everything that your father worked for could have been obtained through legal, pleasurable means instead of all this.” 

Drustan thought for a moment. “Yes, I suppose you are right. My father has never been one to look towards the future, though. He is only focused on the present and what he can get his hands on immediately. And I don’t believe that he would have been able to rely on the uncertainty of my inheriting part of your father’s land.” 

“True. It had just never occurred to me before just how pointless this entire situation has been. I know that in general, it was pointless because this much blood and suffering is never necessary. But I had never realized just how ridiculous all of this is because all of it could have been avoided.”

He moved over closer to her. “I find that many of the things that my father does can be avoided. It’s one of his best qualities.” 

She rolled her eyes. “One that I am hoping you never inherited.” 

He smiled. “I am hoping that too. So far, past experiences have proven that most of the things I do have a good reason. Except for maybe this.” He leaned over and kissed her.

She pulled away and blushed, rolling her eyes. “So there wasn’t a good reason for that?”

He shrugged. “Other than the fact that I just wanted to kiss you, I suppose not.” 

“I’m not exactly complaining about it.” There was a sparkle in her eyes that he hadn’t seen in a long time. 

“I missed this.” He said quietly. 

“Life before your father tried to ruin things for us?” 

“I believe that a special emphasis should be placed on ‘tried’ in that sentence. Because he did try his very hardest, and yet we are still here. But yes, I do mean life before everything happened with my father.” He smiled a little. “I was just thinking about life before this. What it was like. How happy we were. And how we didn’t need to worry about any of this.”

“Yes, well, what is life without a little bit of adventure?” 

There was a sadness in her eyes that he knew she was trying to hide. She didn’t want him to see the pain that still followed her everywhere. But he knew that it was there, creeping into the darkest parts of her, dragging her down in her happiest of moments. He wasn’t sure that it wouldn’t always be this way- that in the back of her mind, there wouldn’t always be the sorrow of losing so much. He wanted with everything in him to take that pain away. But he wasn’t sure that even that would be good for her. That this pain didn’t make her who she was, and that having that sorrow didn’t remind her of everything she strove to be. Eventually, he prayed that it would become so deeply a part of her that it was inseparable from the joyful parts, and would no longer affect her. He wasn’t sure when that would be- but he was sure that he would do anything he could to help her reach that point. 

He stood, holding out his hand. “Dance with me.”

“There isn’t any music.” She pointed out. 

He shrugged. “Since when did there need to be music to dance?” 

She laughed, taking his hand and letting him pull her up from the ground. “I haven’t danced in a very long time.”

“Not since I first discovered that you were, in fact, alive?” 

She nodded. “Not since that night.” 

“Well, we will have to start practicing and brushing off your skills if you are to dance with me at the first ball in my father’s new castle.” 

She raised an eyebrow. “Are we really going to dance together there?” 

He nodded, as if it were obvious. “But of course. I don’t intend to dance with anyone else the entire night.” And he didn’t- there was no one that would be able to take his attention away from Adelina for even a moment. That was something that he intended to continue for the rest of their lives, regardless of what happened in their future. He would forever have eyes for her, and her alone, until the day that he died.