AOH – Chapter 24

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I have been summoned by the House of Alan. I got the letter in the morrow. And in the morning, I wear my clothes, slip my shoes, and brought my entourage most of it my servants. I am a High Lord. So does Hadrian.
For no matter what, House of Alan is a High Lord as he himself. The only reason he dares summon me is because of the blunder I made. 
Usually he would snivel in the background like he is afraid, but Henry knows better. 
Hadrian is not a mouse. He is a Lion. Their House symbol might be a sword and shield but Henry knows that Hadrian usually used the sword than the shield.
No matter what he says this is his fault.
If Aries responded with military threats maybe he have a just cause. And with his more experienced army he could crush the Vermont family totally.
It might take years but in the end he will win.
But who would think that the common folk dare to question the decision of the High Lords?
Aries rule his county in a way different from the other lords rule their county. He gives the people in his city freedom unseen in other part of the Continent.
And not to mention a lot of people in his county are rich merchant and traders. Economic power is situated in one county. That is what Henry wants. 
Not this blobbing mess he is in now.
Revolts everywhere. Some merchants even began hiring sellswords to aid the ongoing revolt in the county of Acro.
And other guilds in Acro also began to move to end his rule in Acro. And before I knew it I reach the outside of the walled city.
The mighty castle of Alan. 
He and his entourage enter the city gate and he could see some nobles that he know, all with their servants, some still in their caravan. 
What is this? So many nobles came here? Unease fills my heart. Calm yourself.Be calm. He did what he did for the sake of the Dukedom.
He then finally reaches the castle.
Then with no other choice and dread filling his heart he starts entering the big gate. In it was all the Low Lords and sitting at a long table in the hall, a grand hall that could fit all this men and in the middle of the long table was Hadrian itself with his two sons standing beside him.
A chair is prepared for him in the middle of the hall.
“Sit, Henry” Hadrian said a smile is curving on his lips.
I then walked to the chair and sit down. This is a trial and I think the judgment has already been made.
“Hadrian, what is the meaning of this?”
“What do you mean?” he said feigning ignorance. 
“I said what this is. This clearly is a trial’
“Is it?”
“Stop stalling and say what you want.”
“Alright then. We would like to know if the rumors about you are true” he said the smile beginning to become wider. 
Alright this is not what he is expecting. He expects the lords will accuse him of neglect in duties or ask him why the riot has broken out. 
This is not the question he has been expecting. 
“What do you mean?”
“There is rumour that you want to be king.” Hadrian said his eyes fixed intently towards me
“This is absurd!” I said, began feeling unease. This is the same like Aries trial. 
“So you deny this accusation, Lord Henry.”
“Of course! This is an absurd notion’
“What if I manage to produce a witness that supports the truth to these rumours?” Hadrian said
“That would be impossible. I have no thought of being king!” I denied vehemently
Why suddenly this trial is moving to a different way than I expected? Then I saw Hadrian smile. 
He is amused at this. He is trapping me. I finally realize it. I rise up from my chair.
I need to go back. This is a trap. But then the guards suddenly unsheathe their swords from their handle. 
The atmosphere in the hall is tense. The other lords just looked at me. Some look at me like I disgust them, others I realize look at me with pity. 
“Where are you going Henry please sit down” Hadrian said amused
“YOU DIDN’T SAY THIS WAS A TRIAL” I yelled at Hadrian
“Yes but neither did I say it’s not a trial” he reply and he laughed. His word did not make any sense but I know he holds the upper hand.
Without any other choice I sit down. I have to argue my case
“I assure you, I have no intention of being a king.” I said
“The stories say otherwise” a noble pipe up in the back
“False stories, false rumour.” I reply to the accusation
“Is it true that you exile House Vermont because they knew your ambition?” one of the nobles that swear fealty toward House Villion spoke up. 
“YOU DARE-“ I said staring the man with killing intent and I was about to reprimand that lord when suddenly a huge roaring voice reverberated across the hall as a man stand up and pointed at me.
“YES HE DARE” yelled Lyle Guise. 
“You will not threaten my vassal Henry!”
“I’M YOUR LORD,” I screamed 
“This is what I mean” Arwin Rodan said sighing from the stand
“You threatened us. Who’s to say you wouldn’t t take our lands and declare yourself king?” Rodan is a low lord that did not swear fealty to any of the high lords. Their house is recently founded
The other noble houses agreed.
“Witness” I said 
“You said you have a witness. Who is this witness you said that will prove my wrongdoing. I have never thought about being King. I never wanted to become King after all .And I didn’t remember saying anything that would implicate me as such.”
Hadrian coughed a little. Then he spoke with a clear voice addressing the people in the grand hall
“May I present to the other lords, Lord Helve from House Zephyr’
 I could not hide my shock. Helve? The shock is too much. Did he betray me? From the other side of the hall, a man appeared.
“Tell me what you said to me the other lords, lord Helve.” Hadrian said gesturing Helve to come in front to address the other lords.
Helve come in front an look at the other lods and then he sighed. After that he speak….lies.
“It is as you said Lord Hadrian. I heard from his own mouth that he is boasting that he has removed the obstacles for his path of becoming King.”
The crowds gasped.
“The Vermont?” Arwin Rodan inquire
“Yes, the Vermont is a thorn in my liege side” Helve nodded. 
He is giving false information. He is lying, backstabbing sod. Even now, he couldn’t believe Helve is betraying him.
“And why have you told us this information even though it might be betraying your own lord, Lord Helve?”
 Helve sighed in regret, his sigh could be heard, stressing his enormous burden, a great acting in front of the congregation of all the lords of the realm, and then he said.
“I can no longer bear to hide such truths now that one innocent family and that the dukedom itself in danger of being controlled by a tyrant. Even though I might be called an unhonorable person, I will bear it for this dukedom” Helve said
Great words, great lies, I mused……But he has succeeded. With this….I am doomed.
I slumped in the chair. Helve betrayed me. Is it Hadrian….no, no…Hadrian seems to believe the story too. Then could it be Aries himself? I underestimated that family and now I’m…..
Arwin rise up from his chair and yelled. 
“No that is honourable, my lord! Duty towards the Dukedom comes first before personal allegiance. I Arwin Rodan will never call a man like you unhonourable.” Arwin said, that enthusiastically
“I second that!” the Lord of House Villion also rise from his chair and then the other nobles also began rising up from their chair giving support.
Hadrian put up his left hand in the air and the cheer and words stopped
“Now the truth has been uncovered. Now the only thing left is your punishment”
“He is lying” I said. One last word of desperation
“How could he? He is your own vassal. One of your most trusted, if I’m not mistaken. And you did summon him a few weeks ago didn’t you? Helve told me that it is at that time you were thinking of amassing a force to subjugate the other noble Houses”
“No that was for the riots.”
“Excuses” Alderam said disgust in his tone. The son of Hadrian said from beside his father seat. 
Hadrian creased his eyebrows seeing the behavior of his eldest but then he turned back his gaze to me
“After seeing the severity of the charges I and this council have decided to exile you from this Dukedom. You may bring your personal items but you will leave your castle never to come back. Does anyone objet to this sentence?” Hadrian said 
Silence fill the hall. No one disagree
“Then it is decided. You will be given 2 weeks. Your army will be put under my Houses until I appoint someone more reliable than you to hold the duchy”
I have no room to object. I just nodded and accept .I can raise an army and attack Hadrian. But with all the other nobles rally behind him, I have no chance of winning this war.
Is this what Aries felt?
Seren is a different Kingdom then the Dukedom. So is their architecture and culture. In the Dukedom the sun is not too hot; the winter is not too cold, the autumn brings fresh air and a new change of pace. 
But in Seren the sun is hot. Hotter almost than any other places. The continent of Human has been referred to by explorer to have such weird weather.
But that what leads to the architectural difference between Seren and the Dukedom. 
Due to the scarcity of woods in Seren the two predominant materials used here is sun baked mud brick and stone, mainly limestone. 
Though the Sharp Mountain were made from Gold. Stone is generally reserved for tombs and temples, while bricks were used even for royal palaces, fortresses and for any Kingdom buildings. 
Many of the common folk houses is made out of mud collected from the Mud River. It is placed in molds and left to dry in the hot sun to harden it for construction use.
Even the castle of the Eren is different. 
Their exterior and interior walls, as well as their columns and piers were covered with their Aerlich, the language of Seren a long time ago, though most of them speak the Common Tongue now. 
It is also covered with pictorial frescoes and carvings of animals and man, gods, and all other things depending on the motifs all painted in brilliant colours. 
Most of the motif is about fire, the sun, and more fire. They seem to have an obsession with fire.
Today a letter has come to my father. The Dukedom has requested us to return. Our name has been cleared. Palais family has been exiled from the Dukedom.
Though the exile of the Palais family was not what I intended. 
But thankfully their soldier is not lost. I need that soldier. The Dukedom needs it. For the greater good. 
My relationship with West surely will be strained. His father is exiled because of our family. 
But his father started to play this game first. He should have feel grateful for not losing his head.
But at least West will still stay in the Dukedom. The Knights take no part.
We are going to immediately return back to the Dukedom. Our servant is preparing to return and is packing our stuff. 
My parents are talking with the Eren family to thank them for their hospitality. I guess Helve finally pick a side after all.
“What are you thinking about?” Helia hugged me from behind
I blushed. I still feel what happen a few days ago, to be so sudden
“Nothing” I said. But my expression cannot lie
She stared at my face 
I turned around and watch her beautiful face again. I still could not believe that event.4 days ago, a girl came here, her hair shriveled, her face pale and the moment I open the castle gate she hugged me and kiss me. 
My parents were looking. 
I was embarrassed of course of my parent watchful gaze, and my own eagerness to reply to her kiss.
Then she said, her breath panting, she threw her armor, and hugged me once again, this time she held her face down
“I love you” she said.
 I was shocked of course. It is a sudden declaration 
“I know, this must be shocking for you” she said panting 
“I never knew that the feeling I felt for you is love. I don’t believe in love. My mother suffers for love, died for love. I scorn love. I pity those afflicted by it. Such madness! Then I met you. And by God, whether the Light or the Dark or the Fire God, or the Thousand Gods, I want you. ” My parents just held each other close listening to Helia words. 
“Let’s go in first” But she pushed my arms away.
“No, I will… I must say it now, because I don’t think I can muster this kind of courage again” she said her voice trembled either from the nervousness or the night cold air
I stopped on my tracks. And I listen. I knew her. She is a brave person and strong. But for some reason she couldn’t look at my face.
“I thought it was just a normal affection but I’m certain now. I love you……at this moment. And I have loved you for several days now, and all the moment I was riding here I was worried about you, thinking about you, dreaming about you. Since the first time, I felt what it’s like to feel your absence. To truly feel your absence, to think that you will never again return to me…..and that scares me more than I thought. We are always together in the academy right?”
I nodded
“Maybe that’s why it took me so long. Took me so long for me to realize what I really felt for you. Maybe it was always there. Or maybe it need something else….to make me realize…who I really like. We were always together. I thought what I felt when I was first went riding to seek you was the extent the penultimate of my feeling but now that I met you, that feeling is nothing compared to what I felt now.’
She still couldn’t look at me.
“It is nothing compared to then.”
“What do you want me to say?” I said. I began worried for her. She is shivering. What did she experience coming here?
“Whisper to me, Arial. Whisper to me that I have a chance for your love” And she collapsed but I managed to catch her.
 “Let’s take a walk”
She holds my hand and I felt butterflies.
And she walked while I was holding her hand staring at her. 
She walked her hair fluttered in the summer air, the lights somehow made her more beautiful than ever. It’s not like I didn’t know her feeling towards me.
But I think it would be too unfair for her. She deserves better. One day I have to make sacrifices. I knew that from the moment I take this path. 
I knew there might be sacrifices to be made. In order to stop the invasion my plan seems feeble but day after day I began seeing a light under that dark tunnel.
But every time I try to reach that light, I knew that darkness still resides in my heart. She deserves better. I am a coward. Was, I reminded myself.
She deserves a man that will make her happy, that would stay with her, that would make her their first priority. I can’t.
She can’t be my first priority. My priority will always be stopping the invasion. And if I can’t stop it, then I would lead this continent against the Dark Lands myself.
That life, the life I choose for myself, this path is fill with murder and blood. She gripped my hand tighter. She smiles at me. A smile I knew that only belong to me
“Today is a good day” she said nonchalantly
“It is”
“So?” she said more like a question
“What is your answer? Do you like me to? You never did say” she said hoping, her tone nervous
I looked at her. I would have laid down my life for her and I knew she would too. 
And that what scares me. To think I could care for somebody this deeply even more than my own parents. 
Could I also live with the burden of what’s to come while still living in this present? 
Because God, this……. right here, holding hand with her, feeling the summer breeze, felt right. It felt right, God. If I said no, would this be my greatest regret? 
I remembered during my death, all my regrets flashed in front of me. 
Now I experience so many thing then my previous lives. And surely there will be many more regrets I would experience. The more you experience, the more regret you accumulate. 
The regret of not saying something. The regret of saying something. The regret of doing something. The regret of doing nothing
So many regret in a lifetime. 
I knew what I felt for her. I loved her. I am in love with Helia. Even though I try to deny it for a long, long, long time, it’s there.
It has always been there….beneath our friendship. But can I love her knowing what lies ahead. To love is to burn.
I turned and look into her eyes. Her beautiful eyes.
“I love you. There is no denying that”
“Until when?” she said her tone excited.
“Till my last breath….and if there is a life after that….I will love you still” I smile. And she smile. 
And when the sun began to set I kissed her. God, this felt right.
“Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is eternity.” 

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