Ifeoma Isabella Okeke
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A warm smile spread over his face- a smile that I had no idea I’d missed so much. But I couldn’t return it. I knew he was here to take me away and I didn’t want to go. It was too soon.
The room was silent as we studied each other. It’d been eight years since we’d last seen each other and I must admit, I’d always thought of him as the little boy I’d tossed energy balls at. But now he stood before me, very much a grown man and a powerful one, at that. I could feel the Power emanating off him. Unlike me, he had continued his training.
Shane took a hesitant step towards me, his green eyes watching me intensely, very aware that I was fighting the urge to turn and run. Even after all our time apart, I was still an open book to him.
He smiled again, attempting to draw one out of me. “It’s been a long time.”
“Yes…very long. I thought…I didn’t know if you’d…”
“Died? Well, apparently not.” He chuckled and the deep, rumbling sound in his chest caught me off guard. I could still remember his childlike giggling and such a sound coming from him was very foreign to me. But I liked it. It was a warm, disarming sound and I found myself relaxing. “I’ve been looking for you.”
My muscles tensed again and the reason he was here came back to me. I looked upon him as the enemy and immediately moved to Gadel’s side. I threaded my fingers with his and Shane saw this and arched an eyebrow. His lips downed down into a scowl and I could feel Gadel’s muscles tense. He was sizing Shane up with stony eyes and instinctively pushed me behind him. But Shane ignored Gadel’s defensive stance. His attentions were on me.
“I need to speak with you…alone.”
“Anything that will be said will be said in front of me,” Gadel growled.
Shane sighed and shot a perturbed glance at him. Then he turned his eyes back to me and in elfish asked, /Do you remember this language?/
/Does he know who you are?/
/He knows all he needs to./
Shane laughed. /I wonder if he’d be protecting you so if that were true./
/Do not question his loyalties./
/He is Groithian!/ he shouted. /You are crown princess of Danubae! Obviously you have forgotten!/
/That’s not who I am any more. I am not the girl you put on a carriage eight years ago./
/Maybe not. But she is still in you somewhere. And we need her. Her country needs her./
/She would be of no help to them. I would be of no help to them. Her country has its sovereigns./
/Not for much longer. Your father was captured and executed./
I gasped. Blindly I fumbled for something to lean against. One hand found a chair back as the other freed itself from Gadel’s and flew to my mouth. “No.”
Gadel, who had been looking between Shane and I with confusion, glared at the other man. “Havara! What did you say to her?” he demanded, wrapping an arm around my waist. He was ignored.
“I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news. But you see now why I’ve come- why I’ve been searching for you.”
/Alive. Commanding armies from a hidden outpost in the alps. She will not be found. Her Power protects her. But she needs another by her side. That is why she sent me to find you./
/She knew I was alive…and never searched for me?/
/She knew. She knew you were safe and happy./ His emerald eyes fell on Gadel. /Obviously she didn’t know how happy or she would have sent me sooner./
/I won’t go. I can’t. I love him./
/Must a country fall because its sovereign is the enemy’s whore?/
I growled and before my mind had control of my body, I’d reached out and slapped Shane across his cheek. His head whipped to the side with the force and he winced, rubbing the red mark of my hand. I gasped and stared at my hand in shock. Shane looked at me but there was no anger in his eyes.
/That is who we need ruling the country./
“I think it’s time you left,” Gadel spoke up, stepping between Shane and I.
“I’ll leave…if Havara wants me to.” Both men looked at me expectantly. I merely stared at my hand. Shane was right. The part of me that had taken control of my hand was the part that my country needed- the part that loved my country and wanted to save it- the part that had been the tiny voice in my head all these years, telling me my life at Colias Manor was not permanent. That part hated what I had become. I hated what I had become- a subservient slave content with her captivity, defenseless, powerless.
But I looked at Gadel. I loved him. I wanted to live my life with him, bear his children, and grow old and die with him. Timmy’s words from that day so long ago at the auction played in my head. “Sometimes life doesn’t work out like it’s supposed to. You’ve got to accept that.” When she had first spoken them, they were meant to quell my hopes of returning to Danubae as princess and then queen. But now they were the opposite.
“Let him stay the night,” I said, my voice barely a whisper. Shane smiled with satisfaction.
I straightened my back and held my chin high. “He stays,” I said in a voice I hadn’t used in eight years. And with that I began to leave the room. Shane’s voice paused my steps.
/Welcome back, your majesty./
I nodded stoically and left.
It was late afternoon when Shane came to find me. I was in the apple orchard, in the spot where I’d been when Gadel came home from the war.
“I was harsh earlier,” he said without introduction, coming to sit beside me on the ground.
“You said what you had to.”
“You will come with me, then?”
“Give me tonight. Then we’ll go tomorrow.”
He nodded and we sat in silence. I could feel his eyes on me but I didn’t want to look at him.
“You’ve grown into quite a young woman, you know.”
I couldn’t stop the smile or the blush his statement brought to my face. “I’ve been told.” My eyes drifted to his broad chest and long legs. “You’ve grown into quite a young man.”
He chuckled. “I’ve been told.” For a moment he sat in thoughtful silence before saying, “I wanted a better reunion than we had. It’s been eight years…I’ve missed you.”
“I’ve missed you, too. I prayed for you. I didn’t know what’d happened…we heard of the siege of Iae Wiltur and that mother and father had gone into hiding. Every day I prayed for you all.” I laughed. “I use Liliquoi’s shoe to pray.”
He smirked. “You still have that?”
“It’s the only thing that’s survived the years.”
“I can’t imagine what you’ve been through.”
“Too much for a sixteen year old. And you…have you been through too much for an eighteen year old?”
“Not like you. I made it safely from the palace during the siege. But mother…she…”
“I know. I mean…I don’t know how I know. But I know.” I sat thoughtfully. “I had dreams…and when I’d approach Aliqua…she’d be so…pale and lifeless and then she’d vanish.”
“Your mother, she tried to contact you to forewarn you of my coming.”
Once again we fell into silence. Both of our minds were abuzz with recent events. I don’t know how long we sat there but soon I couldn’t fight the urge to say what’d been on my mind all afternoon.
“I’m not his whore, you know. It’s not like that. We’re in love.”
“I know. It’s plain on both of your faces. I was harsh before. I’m sorry.”
“I don’t want to leave him.”
“It hurts- loosing someone you love, doesn’t it?”
I looked up at him, finding his green eyes locked on me. I only nodded.
That night, after the house had retired, I crept down to Gadel’s chambers. Not bothering to knock, I slipped inside. He was standing at the foot of his bed, shedding his tunic and the click of the latch as I closed the door alerted him to my presence.
He looked at me, pressed against the door watching him, and shook his head. “I don’t suppose you’ve come here to explain to me what exactly happened today.” My silence was his response. He snorted to himself. “Of course not.”
I walked to him, keeping my eyes on his face. I wanted to remember every detail. He regarded me warily as I slipped my arms around his neck.
“Why does this feel like goodbye?”
I only kissed him. I wanted to taste him, memorize the feel of his lips and his tongue. His hands found my waist and as I continued my memorization of his mouth, they ran over my hips, pulling me against him and then up and over my chest. I pulled away and with a soft smile, took his hand and led him to the bed.
The next morning I awoke before Gadel. He lay beside me on his back with one arm around my shoulders, clutching me to him. I watched him sleep for a long time, listening to his steady breathing, feeling the rise and fall of his chest. But soon I extracted myself from his grasp and crawled out of bed.
I pulled on my robe and quietly slipped out into the hall. I shut the door behind me, trying to be as quiet as possible, but almost screamed when I turned and bumped into Shane’s chest. I checked the scream, however, and stood blushing before him.
“I hope you haven’t changed your mind.” His eyes looked purposefully at the closed door.
“I haven’t.” I looked him in the face, meaningfully. “I left Havara in that room.”
He smiled, but it was a sad smile. “Drianna has returned.”
I nodded. “She has.” Thoughtfully, I looked to the stairwell that led up to my room. “I’ll get dressed…then I need to say goodbye to someone before…”
Shane nodded. “Take your time.”
I was dressed and had headed down to the kitchen to say goodbye to Timmy. It was surreal, walking into the kitchen for what might be my last time. She was huddled over the counter top, kneading bread with her round fists. She looked up at me with a smile when she heard me enter.
“Why the long face, dearie? Come, let me fix you something to eat.”
“I can’t. I don’t have time. I just came to say…” Suddenly my voice cracked and without thinking of it, I was in Timmy’s arms, sobbing.
“Hush, hush child. There’s no cause for tears.”
“But there is. I…I…”
“You’re leaving aren’t you?” Her voice was kind and patient. “That young man- the stranger. He’s come for you hasn’t he?”
I nodded. “I don’t want to go. I don’t want to leave the manor- to leave you and Oli and Gadel. But I have to,” I sobbed.
“Hush now. I knew this day would come. It’s always been your fate. I knew even as I told you to forget it. Now…you must embrace it. Don’t leave me with regret. I’m proud of you. You’ve been a better daughter than I could’ve imagined and I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
She wiped away my tears and patted my shoulder. Then she looked away though not before I saw the glistening of tears in her eyes. A moment later, in a shaky and overly cheerful voice she said, “Go now…take back your kingdom.”
I smiled sadly and kissed her round cheek before leaving the kitchen. Shane was waiting for me in the hall. His cloak was already tied around his neck and he handed me mine with perceptive eyes.
“Are you all right?”
I nodded. “Let’s go.”
I led the way through the foyer, down the long gold runner, past the family portraits, and to the door. But as I turned the great knob, a voice called out to me from behind.
“Miss Havara! Miss Havara!” the young maid hurried up to me. I turned to look on her with sullen eyes. She stopped, inspecting my traveling clothes and cocked her head inquisitively. “Are you going out, Miss Havara?”
I ignored her question. “Was there something you wanted?”
“Haven’t you heard? It came not thirty minutes ago. A rider brought it for Master Gadel…he said it was urgent,” she explained in a frantic, high pitched voice.
“Master Gadel is still sleeping. What came?”
“Oh, he’s not sleeping anymore. No…not at all.”
“What came?” I pressed impatiently.
“The…the notice. Lord Colias…he’s dead.”
I gasped. I’d never liked the lord. He’d always seemed to me a harsh and cold man and I was not sad that he was never at the manor. But Gadel was very fond of his father and I knew they were close. It pained me to think of what this would do to him.
I looked up at Shane and he shook his head. “No. There’s no time.”
“I have to see how he is. Give me five minutes. Five minutes is all I ask.”
Shane sighed but nodded consent and I raced up the stairs to Gadel’s chambers. I found him sitting in the anteroom by his fire, his father’s prize collection of wine and brandy laid out before him. He stared blankly into the flames and intermittently took long sips of amber liquid. I went to him and fell to my knees by his chair. He glanced at me and then back at the fire.
“I-I heard…I’m so sorry.”
Gadel tossed a piece of black parchment at me. “A hero’s death.” He snorted and finished the bottle of liquor. I looked at the paper. It was from the royal palace, commending Lord Colias for his faithful service and detailing only that he’d died in battle.
“I don’t know what to say to you…I’m sorry. I know the pain of losing someone you love.”
“I should’ve been there.”
“There was nothing you could do.”
He turned his face and glared at me. The light from the fire cast frightening shadows on his face. “I should have been there,” he growled then turning back to the fire, “I should’ve been with him in battle…not here…bedding a slave.”
The force of his words struck me and I shrank away from him. “You’re drunk.”
“I’m very drunk and yet, not nearly drunk enough. Be a love and hand me another bottle.”
“No. No. I won’t.” I stood and grasped his face in my hands. “Stop this. Don’t go down this path.” Fiercely, I pressed my lips to his, cringing inwardly at the bitter smell and taste of the liquor on his breath. Then I pulled away, looking down at him with pity. “I love you.”
And without another word, nor another look in his direction, I left. I hurried down the stairs to where Shane was waiting and together we mounted our horses and rode hard and fast from Colias Manor.
To Be Continued…
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