CHAPTER 76: THE PROVOCATION
The morning sun enters his room. He rubbed his eyes slowly and he could smell her fragrance. He opens his eyes and felt happiness.
An indescribable happiness.
‘It’s not a dream’ he said.
Beside him is the most beautiful woman he has ever seen. Just lying there, looking absolutely gorgeous, beautiful and innocent.
“A Goddess” he muttered to himself. He traces his hand on her cheeks and smile at himself. Her naked body is hid by the fur blanket.
The morning air is refreshing and promising new beginning. He should get up now he said to himself.
But he can’t.
He was entranced at the beauty of this creature in front of him now. So entrancing, so beautiful he wanted to lay down all morning just staring at her.
She was sleeping peacefully, her cheeks are rosy. There is the smell of their lovemaking last night but that doesn’t bother him. That doesn’t bother him at all.
‘She is mine’ he says as he is hers.
Her hair is …..Perfect. His hand strokes her hair, feeling it tracing his finger.
Even after all that, she looks perfect. He could marvel at her all day, speak of her beauty, sing her virtues and he doubt he could describe how beautiful she look in that moments, so perfect he wanted to remember it forever.
‘This is what life is’ he said to himself.
To capture this moment, this once in a lifetime moment, when it shows itself and never letting it go, searing it to you memory, making the ordinary day extraordinary, filling it with this kind of memories.
‘How could her hair still look perfect?’ he asked himself.
And that is when he promised himself. Through the wrinkles of time, through the mask of years, he will always see the face he loved and won.
He will grow old together with her, have children with her and one day they will live full with love like his parents singing love song, argue, and making up and taking a stroll in the beach with their children.
‘She told me’ Arial muttered.
Arial remembered when Helia told him stories about when she was a child where her parents will always brought them to the beach during the summers.
She said it is one of her happy memories. One of the many stories she told him, and whether by accident, he remembered every single detail.
Maybe…he wondered….maybe he was attracted to her a long time ago too.
He stared at her and holds her hand, knowing that he can hold hers, that feeling of knowing, that if he wanted to he could hold her hand, that freedom, just staring at her face, wondering, and marveling how he could be so lucky to have her by her side. And suddenly jealousy welled in his heart.
In the original timeline did she ever married anyone else? Did she love any other man? Then he shakes his head.
This is ridiculous he said to himself. It has not happened, or to be precise in this timeline it didn’t happen. She is his.
“I could stare her face all day long and I will not get bored” he said smiling a happy smile.
She then holds his hand. He could feel her.
‘Still staring?’ she said still not opening her eyes.
‘I could stare you all day’ Arial reply.
She opens her eyes slowly and then she closes the distance between her and Arial.
‘My prince’ she said, her face is radiant and shiny, her smile traces around his lips and love marks mark her neck.
‘My princess’ Arial said.
And she giggles. Arial kissed her forehead, more like peck.
‘Suddenly you are meek?’ Helia said surprised.
‘There are times to be daring, dear’ Arial said.
‘Like last night’ she said and she laughs. Arial doesn’t like being teased so much so he closed his lips to her and said
‘Yes, like last night.’
His lip is so close to Helia that Helia suddenly to surprise at the sudden attack is at loss for words. Arial let the moment hangs.
He just looks at Helia as she unconsciously gulped.
‘You’re going to kiss me’ she asked.
‘I’m working up the nerve’ he said playfully.
‘You-‘ Then he is kissing her.
She yelped surprised and she is smiling. It is paradise for them. During their kiss, he said it again, those words, which sound like song, whisper into her ears
“I love you’ he said
‘I love you back’ she said.
Tears of joy fall down her eyes. She could feel his kisses, the feeling of his muscly body against hers, his breath against hers, and the touch of his hand on her flesh.
She could feel every single thing and she likes it. Then Helia broke the kiss.
‘What? Is it bad?’ Arial asked.
‘Your mother. Will she come here?’
‘No, she is in the mansion.’ Arial said confused and he hugged Helia back.
‘I better get out’ Helia said.
‘Words’ she said ‘are mightier than sword.’
Helia doesn’t want rumours that they have make love with each other outside of marriage.
Arial may not care, but his relation with the Church may suffer, and no matter how approving Helia father on the marriage Helia don’t think his father would like hearing that before marriage that they got together.
He wouldn’t like that at all.
She quickly wears her gown, a fur clothes from one of Arial wardrobes and approached the dazed Arial still lounging around on his bed.
‘Kiss me goodbye’ she said.
Arial look at her and said
‘I didn’t want to kiss you goodbye — that was the trouble — I wanted to kiss you good night — and there’s a lot of difference.’
In any other day this would make Helia happy but she fear about Arial reputation more. She gives him a peck on the cheek
“Meet me tonight at our balcony” she said and she rushed off the room.
Arial look confused at the whole scenario.
‘Just my luck’ he said smiling and then he prepared himself for the dull affair which is his job as lord of the castle.
After he has clothed himself, he went out of his room and walk to the council. Every morning unless there is an emergency he will check himself at the council chamber.
Mostly his council would be in the chamber discussing everything about measures that can be undertaken to enrich the region, or certain news that he needs to hear but sometimes according to his whim he can check the council authorities.
After all, left unchecked who knows what they will do?
He heard Massey drinking problem but at least he is a functional drunkard, Arial mused. Oliver told him in one of their wine tasting session, where mostly they talk about each other and more about them then the wine.
Arial did see some of the behavior display in one of the mock battle the military is obligated to do.
Massey was instilling confidence in his men while keeping a flask of ale of his own close by. He even toasted at their enemies but when his toast were interrupted, when Oliver at that time leading the opposition got annoyed and released dull arrow at them.
He then yelled
“That was ungenerous. I’ll take every single arrow you have!” he said and then his army hearing this yell, mistakes his outburst as a charging rally.
They stormed up Oliver troops with the seething Massey himself on the front, and while Oliver is a learned man in the art of diplomacy, he is not well versed in warfare and seeing this unreasonable anger from what Oliver describe as a prank, he fled in panic.
Well anyone would run when they see how crazed Massey look at that time with bloodshot eyes and with real sword he is waving around when even his own troops only used wooden swords.
On the way of the pursuit, Massey seem to forget that he was in a mock battle and he was in fact the only one in the battlefield still chasing the frightened Oliver until he realized it, or probably sobered up.
Probably he also runs out of ale by that time and finally realizes what he has done. But still, that quirk aside, he is a smart leader of military.
Then he finally reached the Council. He opens the door and every single eye in the chamber is directed at him.
Their chatter stopped as they look.
‘My lord’ they said in unison. Arial just nodded as he takes his place at the end of the table. Every single of his vassal is standing waiting him to take his place.
Actually there is something he needs to do today that is why he wants to come to the chamber. Arial has been thinking to share the news with his council.
When everybody is seated Arial relayed them the news.
Shock and fear can be seen in their eyes. Oliver on the other hand is very calm, one of his asset and why I chose him to be in the Council.
‘What do you think of this, Oliver?’ He asked his spymaster for guidance.
“Hmmm” he said contemplating his answer and after a while he voices his opinion
“We must send a formal letter to the Empire asking them to release the Princess or we will be facing a great interstate calamity here. If the army of the dark lands reaches here then surely calamity will befall our region considering our proximity with the Blessed Lands.’
‘True’ Arial said, nodding and he understand the grave situation they are facing right now. But no one understands it better than him.
The Invasion of the Human race, here, in the Human Continent. If the Demon King believes that his fiancé really is killed maybe the same tragedy will happen again.
But if I can somehow convince him that his bride is safe and I can deliver her to safety then maybe the invasion would never happen.
‘But can all of you risk war with Vern?’ He posed his own question to his council.
They fell silent. This is a matter of great importance. Can they really risk a war with an Empire as long as millennia?
‘Massey what is your opinion?’ Massey looked at his lord and utters his words carefully.
‘My lord, our army is without a doubt is the strongest, ehem’ he coughed ‘but forgives me for saying this, but Vern is bigger than us.’
‘And is more divided than us’ Oliver said. Then quickly he takes the chance to present his opinion.
‘My lord’ Oliver said
‘It is better to risk war with Vern then war with the demons that inhabits the dark lands. We do not know their capabilities, or how many they can muster troops. It is unwise to fight an enemy with so little information. Vern right now is in precarious position, rebellions from the Blood Brotherhood, Austen plotting and many other myriad of problems. And if we could strike a diplomatic agreement with the Dark Lands than it is better because we can ask their armies to fight with us side by side. If my lord information about the kidnapping of the Princess is true, then we could use that to rally the Demon King support to us.’ Arial nodded.
It is smart solution.
He will not lose anything and at the same thing he can stop the invasion. But can he really do it? Won’t some divine punishment will befall him?
How many things have since change since the beginning of this quest of him? How many people he has saved? How many people has he killed?
If the theory holds that any change even a ripple in a pool lake could disrupt a time continuum, then he has trampled over all the rules.
He denied it. Surely not.
‘Then what is your suggestion, Oliver?’
‘The Church.’ Massey said eager to give some suggestion.
‘We can ask the Church to help us.’
Oliver shakes his head, while rolling his eyes at Massey. Massey looked miffed with that.
‘The Church may have an amiable relation with us but even they will not try to rescue a dark Land Princess. You know how the Church is.’ He said looking at Massey.
‘He is right’ Arial nodded.
‘Then, I guess I just have to send a letter to the Emperor.’ Arial said and the other vassal nodded.
‘Oliver.’ He said
‘Yes my lord.’
‘Try to find out if the Dark armies have begun marching. Send some spies to the Blessed Lands. And….find some of these Blood Brotherhood followers and see if they can be persuaded.’
‘What are you thinking my lord?’
‘I’m thinking to support them with gold…if the Emperor is stubborn.’ Oliver nodded.
‘Other news?’ Arial asked.
‘How about Edward affair?’ Arial asked.
‘The Church has agreed to help’ Massey said.
‘They have sent their decree to the Orleans’
‘And their response?’
‘Their council is disbanded’ Massey quickly handed Arial the reports. Jean is dead. Harald is the new lord of Arleans. That is what the documents tell Arial.
‘Hmm’ Arial said.
‘Will they retaliate?’ Arial said.
‘Unlikely’ Massey said.
‘Defense on the South? ‘Arial inquire.
‘Top shape, my lord. Lord Helve has strengthened their forts and I have sent about 5000 troops to add to the forces there.’ Arial nodded.
‘Great job Massey.’
‘Thank you my lord.’ Maybe he should meet Edward and tell him this good news.
Arial believed that Edward is treating him like a brother and he too treated Edward like brother. He sympathizes with Edward fate and will help try to help him.
‘The Renasian movement?’ Arial asked.
‘They are advancing to other states.’ Massey quickly answered
What is their objective? Arial asked himself. It never happens before.
The Princess never did engage in this annexing of state before, he thought to himself as he reads the reports.
But it amazes Arial that the Princess is smarter and wiser than he ever expected. She left the local ruling families intact.
This shows she is not planning to just rape the cities she conquered but rule it under her rule. Something like I would do. He mused
Consolidating power. After reading all the reports he wanted to excuse himself. Then he wrote the letter to the Emperor and wait for Oliver reports.
He then excuses himself from their meeting. Arial walk to the courtyard where he sees Helia is speaking with his mother.
‘Mother’ Arial said approaching the Duchess.
‘Dear’ she said to Arial
‘Prince’ Helia said and he blush red like the Corian wine. The Duchess glances between Arial and Helia.
“Did something happen?” she asked.
‘Nothing happen’ Arial said still blushing.
‘Nothing happens, my lady’ Helia said to the duchess. Her cheeks are blushing, rosy red.
‘Mother why did you come here? Is there something wrong at the mansion?’ Arial asked.
‘No, nothing is wrong. I just wanted to come and look at my son. Your father also long for you. He wanted to meet you.’
Arial just nodded.
‘Adrianna?’ Arial ask.
‘She is fine.’
‘She is cute’ Arial said, remembering the last time she visit her little sister in the mansion. Everything she did looks cute to Arial.
‘And a crybaby’ his mother said.
‘Unlike you. I think we never quite appreciate how easy it was to raise you’ his mother said.
‘Maybe you have the Blood of light in you after all.’
‘Mother don’t jest like that. You’re the one who always say that I’m not divine.’
‘In times of great chaos and war, a step toward divinity isn’t that hard, son.’ She giggled.
‘2 years old’ Arial said suddenly, trying to change the subject
‘Adrianna?’ his mother said.
‘Yes. 2 years old’.
‘Maybe I should visit her more often else she will not know her brother.’
‘Maybe you should.’
After that they talked about other things and laugh until the evening.
That night Arial and Helia met again in their balcony and sings love song while Arial listen, and sometimes teasing her and at the end of the night he would take her and cradle her to his bed as they love each other until morning.
The winter has come. The winter cold has come to the castle and people outside holed inside their home, with their family.
The cold sets in. The snow has fallen and envelope the courtyard. And today news has come from the Empire which alarms the entire council.
The moment the messenger informs that he has received the letter, the whole castle is abuzz.
Arial has preside the council all his council member is present. Only the Ecclesiastical is not here.
They are sensitive about the Demons not to mention because of the matter of their faith. And mostly they irritate Arial, always preaching to him.
‘Give me the letter.’ Arial said. Quickly the messenger handed him the letter.
The letter is seal with a griffin holding a scepter.
TO: LORD ARIAL, PRINCE OF ARRANDY
FROM: EMPEROR GEORGE, FIFTH OF HIS NAME, RULER OF THE EMPIRE.
YOU DARE DEMAND OF ME! Come and I will kill your army before they even reach my land. I guaranteed it. If you dare take what is mine, I will kill every single one of your family and I will take your head and put it up in a pike. I will rain your state with arrows. I will come to your state and pillage it’s cities and rape its inhabitants I-
And Arial throw the letter to the brazier. His face is red with anger.
‘The arrogance of the Emperor.’ Arial has written politely in his last letter.
To think it will be received and reply in such lack of civility angers Arial. His vassal seeing this trembled. The dragon is angry.
‘BRING ME SOMETHING TO WRITE WITH!’ he yelled and Oliver in his fear dropped his bag. He quickly brings a paper for his lord to write. Quickly Arial write
TO: EMPEROR GEORGE, FIFTH OF HIS NAME, RULER OF VERN.
FROM: THE DRAGON
It is you that don’t know your position. I will give you a few guarantees of my own. I guarantee that even if you came here, even if you win, even if my cold, dead body is lying on the field, you will rue the day you ever set foot in my state. For every inch you advance I’ll exact gallons of your people blood. Your Empire will be washed in blood and fire. I guarantee that there will be not one family of the Imperial descent will be alive the day you decided to invade us. They will mourn and they will weep and cried their hearts out seeing the blood that I will spill if you dare marches against me. I guarantee that even if you are triumphant the fruits of victory will taste like dust in your mouth, tasteless and bitter, rotten. I guarantee that if you fail to kill me the day you march here, you will meet me again. You will meet me at every city, every town,every village, and every hamlet. You will meet me on every crossroad, on every hill. I will fight you with every sword at my command, with every arrow, with every dagger. I will fight you with pitchforks. I will fight you with the very rocks of the land you try to conquer. And in the end I will prevail and your throne will be nothing but ash, your palace will turn to rubble of stones, your descendants will be no longer. So, I dare you. Come and I will show you fire of the dragons. Because I tell you this. The Dragon is coming.
And with that he gives the letter to Oliver and tells him to send it to the Emperor. Under his breath he muttered,
‘The Emperor doesn’t know the repercussion of his action.’
If he have to war against the Empire he will. Better than fighting the Invasion horde.
Oliver seeing his lord so enraged doesn’t dare say anything. The whole castle tiptoe around the lord that day, fearing he would lose his temper.
Actually Arial is very lenient to his people, but because of his widespread reputation, people always seem to fear he would get angry.
That day they all waited in anticipation whether the provocation will be retaliated through force of arms.