CHAPTER 107: CHANGES
The wind greeted the morning. In the Plains the breezy wind of the morning is always refreshing.
The sun enters the tent and slowly the blanket move.
Slowly he opens his eyes, his hand went to his side and then he realized something is wrong.
No one is beside him and that startled Aril more than it should.
‘Velamina’ he asks and then he awoke with urgency.
With half naked body he looks inside the tent and then in the table beside the bed, he spotted a letter.
The premonition comes.
Slowly he open the letter, almost crumpled and some trace of water. Then from the first word, his heart sank.
From: Your Elvenan
This is my letter to you Arial, my star. You must be shocked by my disappearance. I must ask you to not search for me for whatever reasons. To this I ask you to forgive me. I am not so obtuse or so oblivious of your situation. Honorable man you are, you must have thought to take responsibility for me. That is your personality isn’t it Arial? A responsible and honorable man. If it were any other men, I would have gladly accepted but since it came from you I must then decline. Do not misunderstand my refusal as a sign of dislike but more for your honour and well-being. I know how and what manner of treatment that you will be subjected if you bring me back to Davarus. I may not know much about human culture but at least I know this much. A human like you bringing an elven bride? A man of your stature, a prince, must have burden I can only imagine. I am a free elf and likewise I know living in a stone castle surrounded by guards is not the life I want. Life with a prince and all its burden it not what I want. You may call me selfish. Curse me! Hate me! But never forget me. Someday we will meet again when the stars are aligned and our fate crossed paths again.
Then on the bottom with scribbling that is filled with watermark that Arial could only assume is her tears , there is another words she wish to relay to him, almost like the letters are trembling and with great hesitation she wrote it, truly saying what she really want to say.
I…I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m…so sorry. I love you my star. I will see you on the starry skies every day, dreaming of your visage in my night dreams. I never hope you will curse me. I hope you will love me even though I have hurt you most terribly. Even though I love you. Even though I know I will miss you every night as I see the stars that lined the skies. A life as a lord bride may be not what I want but life with you? Gods, yes. But I have seen our fate. As there are winters and springs, there is a time for everything. And our time is not yet. And that broke my heart. How I cursed the fates. How I cursed them all. That there is still a long time before our time comes. But I will never forget any second of my time with you, however brief our encounter seems to be. I love you, my star. And you will not understand it, at least not yet. But it is because I love you, I leave you. Here I end my letter and one reminder. One may live as a conqueror, a king, or a noble; but he must die as a man. With all my love, your Elvenan
And there ended her letter. For a while Arial don’t know how to react. He sits still, frozen, his eye is moist and his hand is trembling.
With anger? Or was it regret? Could he change her decision? Can he run to her now? Seek the entire Plains?
The Fabled Forest? The dragon lands? Would it matter?
He sat still in the bed and for about half an hour, he kept reading the letter, could not yet recover from the surprise departure of Velamina or why she had thought that she would burden him.
He knows of course he will have a lot to explain to, and some mockery he had to endure, some papnoticon ban, probably from the church but that doesn’t matter to him.
After all, to Arial, love isn’t just a word he bandied about freely.
None of her worries mean nothing if she really love him. None of that matters.
None of that requires her to disappear. Is this his fault? Did she believe he is incompetent? That he couldn’t endure that much?
He had endured greater things in his life than superficial mockery.
And the church? He couldn’t care less about the church. He was perturbed at the conclusion Velamina has arrived at.
To think she thinks so highly of his position that she would rather disappear. Yet, when he utters this he was in a state of anger and disappointment.
He could search her. But where would he start? And how long will that take? While he wants to take responsibility, he also has responsibility back home.
To his family, his people, his friends….and then one thought enter his already disturbed mind of how will he account of this affair with his wife.
One night fling? No, he shakes his head. He loves her. No matter how he tries to deny it, he fell in love with Velamina and he is not ashamed of it.
But he also loves Helia. Helia for her calm mind, and noble disposition, for her gentle heart and for her great wisdom.
Velamina for her passion, her indomitable spirit and will, her unbounded freedom and the way he feel when she stares at his eyes and that mischievous smile of hers that always manage to tugged his heartstring.
Could it be possible to love two women at the same time he once questioned. And now he got his answer.
It is possible.
For one, he felt the nervousness of innocence while for another he felt the startling thunderous sensation every time they kissed.
In an hour after that, with thoughts that could not rest on nothing, asking why and why, again and again, the letter is unfolded again, and Arial begin perusing it again, trying to find meanings, hints or clues Velamina might have left him.
Her regrets and her advice is all remembered. That day, he should have begun preparing to leave but it would take him a week before he could move from that tent and return home.
Arial has returned home in the cold winter. And the city rejoices at the return of their lord holding a feast for a week.
By now, his tale of bravery is already spread among the people of his region and they could not help but be proud of their city protector.
‘LORD ARIAL HAS RETURNED SAFELY’ the announcer cried and the people would then sing of praise as they look at the castle of their lord, that huge and beautiful castle of the dragon.
Even though, they are feast and celebration in welcoming him home, he never look to happy, nor does he look overjoyed, his smile is subdued and there seem to be something on his mind that bothers him terribly.
Arial of course, as the lord, showing such behaviour, bother his council terribly, fearing their lord is in some kind of problem that they could not help, and might invite discord in the court so Arial assure to his council and his people, that such estimation of him, is an error of perspective and so the matter is concluded.
But Kyle his friend, notices that his friend is lying, that truly there is something that bother his friend mind but he dare not pursue it, for in his absence Kyle has done something terrible.
And seeing his friend and lord, he is terribly ashamed and guilty.
The Council quickly returns their power back to their lord.
Arial praise Helia on her efforts. Helia has kept Arrandy safe from threats, from the South Vangua conflict and also manage to remain in an amiable relationship with Southern Tai and Northern Chu.
Helia also step aside for his husband whose renown is already a tale among the human continent royalty.
The story they heard from the royalty of Arakath and the many stories originated from his many adventure in the Dark Lands elevate his status among the common folk and nobility alike.
Helia heard the story from one of the traders when a caravan arrived from Arakath sign with her husband name.
Then when she inquires of her husband whereabouts she is then told by King Azrael of how his husband is engaged in a war involving the Orcs and the whole region prays for their lord in churches and temples until they heard the military success of the duke in the land of Orcs that only increase Arrandy and its lord already famous renown.
There is also many quests that Arial seem to have completed in helping the Orcs before the war such as hunting monster and the such.
In Arrandy. however is a development of great pace, economically, and politically owing to the peace and prosperity that is dawning in Arrandy.
The trade in the region flourished like never before with variety of spices being sell and bought, better arms being traded, jewels and diamonds from dwarven lands, and contracts of trade post and trading center in the capital of Arakath.
Guilds is everywhere, blomming like a mushroom after the rain, and the Vermont family who especially dabble in the trades quickly grew in wealth again.
While Arial is away, a lot has happened.
Lord Daniel Lethe passed away in his home, attended by his loving families in 90 Whitemonth 1017 and Kyle took the position of Count and rules the area of Bernien and Farn Village.
Arial of course is not there at the time, so he sent his deepest apologies for not being there in the last moment of Lord Daniel and he even as to go so far to visit the Countess, Lady Alissa to deliver his apology for not returning early.
By now, Kyle is 20 and yet he has not taken a wife.
His vassal seem to bother him a lot in that respect as Arial once used to be bother by his courtiers of his marriage.
Helve Althea has also passed away so the area of the South is control jointly by Arial and Helia.
And this invites jealousy and envy from the royal family of Aetherland, mostly fear that Arial will separate from the Kingdom while Vangua in the South is also in a state of alert because now the dragon troops is guarding the border.
Arial express his regret for not being able to be present at the funeral and order that his father in- law must be honored.
But at least Helve has the opportunity to meet their daughter.
In that, Arial is thankful and grateful because according to many accounts, it seems Helve really like his granddaughter and even has opportunity to dote on his granddaughter.
She still doesn’t have a name since Helia insist to wait for Arial return. Arial promises to name her.
Soon as Arial left for his journey, a few weeks after that Helia began showing signs of pregnancies.
There is also happy news that is so unexpected Arial spurted his wine on the Council table when he heard the news.
The House of Palais and Lethe is now united in marriage.
West Palais and Lisa Lethe get married in 1 Seedmonth 1018, an auspicious date chosen by Henry Palais.
Many news shocked Arial. In a year that he is gone many have change.
The moment Arial return he hugged his beloved wife, and even though he is shocked by the sudden announcement of the birth of his daughter, he quickly regained his composure and embraces her with the most heartfelt gratitude towards God and his wife.
Their domestic harmony, the brilliance of Helia in the matter of the state, the reputation of Arial as a formidable foe and rival, and a burgeoning dynasty made them a formidable partnership.
And with the birth of a daughter Arial is happier than ever.
He holds a feast that week to once again celebrate his daughter being borne. No expense is too much.
He send alms to the poor, to the church and sponsor bard and minstrels, painters and sculptors to make his feast one of the greatest ever thrown.
He even goes as far to commission a church in which he name St Felicity for the Saint of Daughters.
The church is not just overjoyed but praises his action. And the feasts, the great feast of the Vermont start without any complication of any sorts.
And it succeeded.
The great city of Acro who is used to holding many festivals and fairs quickly offer themselves to be the city where the young prince would held the celebration for his beloved daughter and the prince who have a lot of history in the city readily agreed.
With the trades with the dark lands, Arrandy power is reflected in a marked cultural and economic development.
The towns of Beouen, Eraen, and Ayeux thrive on the profits of merchants and artisans, while to the south, a prosperous wine trade brought wealth to the duchy from neighboring Althea region and Vangua.
And with that wealth the Vermont built many castle and palaces for their family to rest themselves in times of summers or winters.
Many are still in construction but with Orcs trading in Arrandy and their willingness to work with human, construction in Arrandy is always fast in finishing.
And in the feast for his 2 year old daughter every man of great importance is present to send gift and offer some words of congratulations.
His broken heart is soothed by Helia kind demeanor and the birth of his daughter.
The feast is remembered as one of the most lavish feast ever thrown off in the continent.
In the courtyard a pair of silhouette can be seen looking at each other, obscured by the peeking eyes of the other nobles, while the sound of the feast, horns and trumpets, singing and dancing can be heard in the background.
The moon give a little light to this pair speaking in whispering tones, fearing anyone could hear the subject of their conversation.
The man and woman look at each other, a palpable tension between them.
Then the man speaks while approaching the girl
‘So how is it?’ Kyle asks as he is on the courtyard holding Helia hand. Quickly Helia grab her hand away.
‘DON’T DO THAT! I have warned you on taking such liberties with me, didn’t I?’
‘Liberties? Fine’ Kyle said while slowly releasing his grip
‘But I want to inquire you of an important matter that involves the both of us. Your feelings? Is it a lie?’
‘I was lonely at the time’ Helia said her eyes darted off at the Grand Hall and her eyes seem to be transfixed in a figure of a man, happily holding a baby and playing with the baby.
‘I was lonely and missing him. Missing my husband, grieving for my father death. You were there. You caught me at a disadvantage moment. Vulnerable and weak….and extremely, inexorably lonely. And when you confess your feelings to me, I wavered. But when I found out I was pregnant I have maintained my distance with you haven’t I? When I realized what it is that I’m doing, I stopped didn’t I?’
‘We trade love words. We whisper in the dark. We hugged. We kissed.’
‘I…yes…we did that. And it was a mistake’ Helia said her feet is walking away from the courtyard.
Kyle grabbed her by her waist and make sure that Helia look him in his eyes.
‘It was not a mistake to me.’
‘It is to me, Kyle! You want to betray your friend? Take away his wife and the mother of his daughter? I was ashamed, Kyle. To look my husband in the eye. How despicably have I acted!’ She said controlling her voices fearing any one would listen and find out what they are talking about.
‘The sense of shame is severe and choking me’
And slowly Kyle loosed his grip on Helia waist.
‘Then you would at least give me the opportunity for me to present my side of the story Helia, since you are so determine to make me out as such an unhonourable man in your eyes. I…I…would not have confess if you have not led me on, Helia. I would not have confessed if your only excuse is you are missing him. You are not truly happy in this marriage, at least this is my sincere opinion. You are a noble daughter and have lived like nobility of the greatest lineage but you are also in a way free. If not you would not have chosen to be a Knight and enjoying every moment of it. Arial may believe that you are his perfect wife, handling state matters with perfect calmness but I know you. I watch you most intently all these years. You are in a way disappointed in him aren’t you? You are still a maiden maybe not in body but in mind. You thought that you would live in perfect bliss with Arial singing love song only seeing you, for I know that you love the songs of love and for your lover to be always close to you, not to guard you from your enemies, which you could manage just fine, but to guard your heart, a steady hand to hold yours and to be always with you. You could not care less about diamonds, gemstones, riches or gold. You want a kind soul. You want to fall asleep, and wake, knowing your heart is safe. You want to love, and be loved. This, I know about you. But a few weeks after you are married he is gone. And you fear that it will be always be like this. You lean on me because you want someone to be there for you. A steady hand. A kind soul. I can be there for you. I can be that man Helia…if you let me. One word is all I need.’
Helia then stared hard at Kyle.
She then remember the misunderstanding, the crossed path between her and him and she had to wonder….in another world, if they did not misunderstand each other, would they be together now?
And not like this.Being two worlds apart.
Sometime she thought of this thing. If she did not misunderstand that night, years ago in the Academy, would her husband now, be Kyle?
But she is Arial wife now. So, she shakes her head and said.
‘Kyle you are my friend. His friend. His closest friend, almost like a brother to him. And we have been in many journeys together. True, it was not what I expected. True, I was disappointed and forlorn in the time of his absence but seeing his face now and the way he held me, the way he cares for his daughter, my daughter, my doubt if there is ever, is dispel. It may not be blissful all the time, surely my fantasy and delusions have deluded me before, but as long as I am with him, then I think that hardly matters. So forget about the kiss, the hugs and the words we shared in secret and don’t pursue me again. And don’t you dare tell this to him. I would not let him know that both of his friends, even because of a lapse in judgment betray him most horribly. I will repent for it by being a woman that is fit to stand beside him, to give him prestige and renown, and you, Kyle be loyal and repent and aid him in his endeavour. I will forget this conversation ever happen.’
And for a moment they share a glance and Helia walk away from the courtyard joining his husband on the Great Hall.
Kyle look at the fading figure of Helia walking away to the great hall. He looked at the stars, and he said in the deepest regret any man could ever display
“I have done wrong to both of my friends. But I could not forget, no matter what methods I employed, to rip apart the memory of her lips against mine” and with that he sighed.
And he too leaves the courtyard with heavy heart. Then from the shadows, one man appears.
‘Sheesh. So that is how it is. No wonder the Duchess always favor him those first few months and rely so heavily on him after her father death.’
The man sits on one of the stone chairs on the courtyard and ponders the implication of their conversation.
Clearly in his eyes, the duchess has done no grave wrong but the matters of the hearts are always the most complicated.
Even he, has a wife and as smart and cunning as he is, he still does not understand the complexity of a woman heart.
Plots and intrigues are easy.
There are signs. Subtle but it exists. But a woman heart? Changing like the winds. Could he blame the duchess?
Even he notices at the court of how she misses her husband and with the death of her father without a doubt that put her guard down.
Her husband is not in the court at the time and the pressure might have forced her to open up, to lean on the shoulder of a trusted friend.
And while Count Kyle is the Duke closest friend, it is not such an absurd notion that he would fall in love with the duke wife.
After all, it is famous that the House of Lethe, Althea and Vermont have their history together at the Academy.
But to say that they are completely faultless, is not the case either.
Whatever the Duke faults, oaths in marriage is vowed in front of God and not to mention his own friend try to betray him in trying to steal his wife away.
Where is the honour in that? The man from the shadows could see the desperation and hunger in the Count eyes, looking at Helia.
And while it is fortunate that nothing more than a kiss is exchanged between both of them, even such acts could be construed as a betrayal.
The duchess on his husband. The Count on his closest friend and his vassal lord.
The man in the shadow sighed. What should he do with this information? Should he tell the duke and hope for the best?
Hope that the duke understands? Or will the duke execute them if he believes he has been betrayed?
But to execute someone because they have kissed….and from his opinion, the Duchess is still very much in love with the Duke.
A momentary lapse in judgment. Should he let them go from his clutches? The man in the shadows is a formidable man.
He knows everything that is going on the castle and the region and outside it. He knows the sweet words exchange between the Count sister and the Count of Ayeux, West countless of time and how he try so hard to court Lisa until the woman fell in love with her.
There is no affair, or secret safe from him, excluding his lord, the Duke who always guarded his secret close to his heart.
There is no secret that cannot be penetrated; no secret can be kept from him.
Society to him is a masked ball, where everyone hides their character only to reveal it by hiding it.
However a dilemma occurred for the man in the shadows.
The Duke is his lord, his benevolent lord and has treated him most honourably and most lovingly.
Should he hide this from his lord and spare him from the truth or should he explain it in a way that will make the duke understand?
The loneliness of his wife. The grief she must have endured alone. And at this the man in the shadows wanted to put the blame in the Count.
The duchess was weak and helpless, shaken in mind and nerve, with the loneliness and grief. It was to take her at a disadvantage to obtrude love upon her at such times.
Worse still, she is already taken.
Was it honourable, for such a man who claim to be loyal to his friend and lord, should take such advantage of such lady?
And this time the man in the shadows look at the stars.
‘If only stars could tell stories but it can’t. I decided’ and with that determination he got up from his seat and walk away joining the other in the feast.