“You have to try harder,” called Spiridon, his voice rough and hard. “You can’t give up now. The army is a thousand times more difficult than this!”
Catherina fell the ground panting. They’ve only been training for two hours and she already felt like she was about to die. Every muscle in her body ached and burned. It hurt to just sit up, much less do drills.
“Can’t I have some water first?!” Catherina panted her throat as dry as a desert. It was difficult to breathe.
“In the army you don’t get water whenever you want,” Spiridon said to her, pointing his sword down to her, the blade of it shining from the sun that was high above the sky,
“Please!” Catherina begged, getting to her knees. “Please, Spiridon, please!”
Spiridon froze for a moment from shock. The only people to call him his normal name was his parents and Ashelia, Jay, Cassius, and Cadence. Other than them, it was Prince Spiridon, or High Prince Spiridon. Never has a stranger called him so informally.
Never in his life.
“High Prince Spiridon,” he corrected.
She glared up at him, and he took a step back, even more surprised.
“Spiridon,” she said flatly to him. “I don’t have the energy to beg anymore, so get me water. Now. Spiridon.”
Spiridon stared at her, uncertain. Catherina gave him another look and he started running to house for a glass of water, his face heating up.
Never in my life, he repeated to himself.
“I remember when you were little you used to love these,” said Stephen, staring at small stuffed animals on the shelves of a store.
Nicia went over and looked up at them, smiling at the different kinds of animals. “Oh, that’s right!” she exclaimed. “You used to get me these all the time. I still have them too; they’re in my room at the castle.”
Stephen stared at her, surprised. “You still have them?” he asked. “I thought you had outgrown them. I thought surely you had thrown them away.”
Nicia looked up at him, staring into his eyes. “I would never!” she said, shocked that he even thought that. “I love them! They came from you, after all.”
Stephen stared at her, and then looked away; his face turning warm and he cleared his throat. “Well, uh,” he said nervously, his eyes roaming around to find something else to talk about. “They serve food over there,” he said, finding a building with people outside and inside, drinking and chatting. “Do you want to go?”
Nicia looked over and smiled at him. “Yeah, let’s go!”
“You were scared of birds?” Ashelia asked, restraining a laugh to erupt. “Even ones as small as your hand?”
Lucas shrugged, grinning at her. “It was because when I went to visit Cassius one time, Dominick had found some sort of rare type of bird home. The bird attacked my face.”
Ashelia laughed out loud this time. “So the invincible Lucas de Valle Camuilla has a weakness!”
He shook his head, laughing softly. “I’m not scared of them anymore, though.”
Ashelia frowned. “Oh,” she teased. “So you’re invisible once again?”
Lucas gave her a soft smile, watching her and staring deeply into her eyes. He reached across the table to her hand. “No. My weakness is you.”
Ashelia blushed, her face growing extremely warm.
She looked at their hands, touching, and a fluttery feeling started inside her, making her feel warm inside. Her eyes wandered around, trying to look at anything, anywhere; the other people around them sitting and eating, the sun high above them, and the different things happening in the world.
“It’s strange,” Ashelia said softly. “I’ve been all across Alister, and yet there are so many things I have never seen before. So many things happen at once, and you don’t even know.”
“Or notice,” murmured Lucas, still watching her. “Like you for instance.”
Ashelia looked over at him, a curious and confused on her face. “What do you mean?”
Lucas shifted their hands so they were holding each other’s. “When I first met you, you were so uncertain and scared. Yet at the same time so brave, somehow. I knew you have been through a lot; experienced things others couldn’t even imagine. There was so much hurt in you.”
Ashelia looked down at the table, recalling that time. Aeson had died and she was just so confused and frightened at everything.
“Now you’re…warmer. Brighter,” Lucas murmured in wonder.
Ashelia laughed softly. “Love is blinding you, Lucas.”
He shook his head. “My love for you makes everything clearer, on the contrary.”
Ashelia inhaled a breath, and felt her face growing even warmer.
Lucas tilted his head to her, as if thinking of something amusing. “I want to see something,” he said. Then he stood up and pulled her up, taking her somewhere that Ashelia had no clue about.
But she didn’t care.
“Where is Prince Lucas?” asked General Demetrius, his patience wearing thin. “I know he’s on an important business, but it’s been days.”
“The mission takes days to finish,” Dominick said casually, though inside he was screaming at Lucas too. He understood how important it was to meet Cassius, Dominick would want to stay with Cassius for practically forever too, but how many times had he reminded Lucas of his duties. He still has obligations to do. He’s the Prince and General of Amicah, what the hell was he doing?
General Demetrius sighed, and then looked up at Dominick. “You’re the Royal Collaborator, correct?” he asked. Dominick nodded. “Then do me a favor,” said the General. “I have to leave in a few hours to go back down south. We’re still in the middle of reconstruction after that blasted Prince Spiridon destroyed it, so I have to be there. But you,” he said, handing Dominick a pile of papers two inches wide, making Dominick grunt as the General just dropped it on his arms unexpectedly. “Go to Mica and head towards the secret archives of down in the lower level of the castle. A guard will ask you, ‘What business do you have here,’ and then answer, word for word, ‘The business of a stranger may be the business of a friend.’”
Dominick stared at him, becoming confused. “Um, okay,” he said. In all honesty he didn’t want to be doing that, because he still had to wait for Lucas’ return. But he was General Demetrius…so he didn’t say no.
“After, go inside and find any information about that,” General said, referring to the stacks of papers. “Got it?”
“Good,” said the General, and then he got his things and headed out the door.
Well, Dominick thought bitterly to himself. This sucks.
“A church?” Ashelia asked, staring up. It was a regular church, though still breathtakingly beautiful. As the sun shined down past the trees and to it, the walls seemed to shine and sparkle, making it even more divine.
“Look,” Lucas whispered, pulling her closer to the entrance of the church. They peered in to see many people there. The woman were all in elegant formal clothing, beautiful dresses were everywhere, their hair up in magnificent designs and styles that if Ashelia wore it, her hair would become a mess after a few minutes from needing to move around too much.
“A wedding!” Ashelia gasped, seeing how the bride already walked the aisle and already stood by her soon-to-be-husband. “It’s so beautiful.”
Lucas smiled at her. “Listen closely, okay?”
Ashelia nodded, unable to look away either way.
The priest started saying the vows, and all around the families of the bride and grooms started crying from pure happiness. Ashelia couldn’t help but have her own eyes become tearful.
When Lucas and I get married, Ashelia thought to herself. I wonder if it’ll be like this.
Ashelia wanted everyone to be watching and be there. All their friends, and family, everyone they cared about. Though Ashelia didn’t have a good relationship with her father, she very much wanted right then to have him be there. Ashelia had a sort of loathing to her father, after everything he has done and wants to do…but he is still her father.
“I do,” said the groom, and Ashelia could see tears in his eyes.
“I do,” cried the bride, tears already streaming down her cheeks. Even though she was crying, Ashelia could see that she was happiest she ever could be, and a warm feeling flooded through Ashelia.
“Ashelia,” she heard Lucas whispered.
Ashelia managed to look over at Lucas, and saw the serious and happy expression on his face. He took her left and took off her Royal emblem ring of the Iris that Spiridon had given back to her. His fingers touched her carefully, slipping on his own Royal Ring of the wolf that he had burned onto the back of her hand, showing that she was Lucas’ Royal Guard.
Ashelia stared up at him in disbelief. “Lucas?” her voice managed to call.
Lucas adjusted the ring to make it larger and slipped it onto his left hand, ring finger.
Ashelia’s vision was becoming blurry, and everything seemed to be shining in a bright, white light. Soon she could barely see, and she realized it was because she was crying.
Lucas held her hands, squeezing them tight. “Soon, we’ll have a proper ceremony,” he said softly, his voice soft and gentle.
The priest’s words rang throughout the church, followed by the extremely loud bells chiming.
“You may now kiss the bride.”
Lucas leaned down and kissed Ashelia.
When the six of them got back to the house, they were greeted with something extremely unusual.
They went inside and Catherina looked up at them as she sat on a couch, reading a book. In the kitchen, it smelled like something was burning and Spiridon was running around, various types of food splattered around from his attempt at cooking.
“Ashelia!” exclaimed Catherina excitedly, jumping up from the couch and running to her for a hug.
Ashelia couldn’t stop staring. “Is Spiridon cooking?!”
Catherina nodded at her. “He’s making me some food, which is understandable because his training is completely impossible! It’s like he expects me to be perfect on the first try! I am sore I can barely move anymore.”
Ashelia gave her a smile. “You got Spiridon cooking? You’re amazing, Catherina.”
She gave her a grin and walked back to read the book she had set down.
“I’m hungry,” said Jay, tugging at Cassius’ shirt.
Cassius knelt down beside him, resting a hand on his head. “Mother and father should arrive soon. Can you wait for a little while longer, Jay?”
Jay shrugged and walked to the kitchen, looking for some snacks until then.
Ashelia went over to Spiridon in the kitchen and smiled at him. “Do you have any idea how to cook?” she asked him.
Spiridon sighed, exasperated. “No. Cooking is more difficult than combat training!”
Ashelia laughed, taking an apron from a hangar and putting it on.
“I’ll help you,” she said.
Spiridon watched as she got the bowl that he was desperately trying to mix, but ended up spilling most of it instead. Ashelia knew how to cook. Not professionally, of course, but when she was young one of the things that she had been taught to be a ‘lady’ was to cook.
“I’m sorry,” Spiridon murmured to her. “You’re right. The things I had said were cruel to you as a woman. Please forgive me.”
Ashelia glanced up at him and gave him a small smile. “It’s fine,” she said. “I’ll forgive you. You’re my brother after all.”
“What?” Ashelia asked, looking at Stephen and Nicia, back and forth. They had called her up to a room, needing to ask a question.
Stephen went up to her and held up her hand, pointing at the ring.
“You tell us, Ashelia de Serennio Camuilla,” he said.
Ashelia pulled her hand back and made sure she closed the door. Everyone else was downstairs and she didn’t want them to hear. She looked back, her face heating up and her heart beating from hearing that name out loud.
“I’m not married,” Ashelia told them. “Not exactly.”
“That’s damn close enough,” Stephen said, his jaw tight. He leaned against the wall and crossed his arms.
“I wish I there,” murmured Nicia, her big blue eyes staring up at Ashelia.
“Do you have something against Lucas?” Ashelia asked Stephen. “He’s done a lot for you, Stephen. Remember that.”
He shook his head. “I don’t have anything against Lucas. In fact, I actually have a liking for him. But your choices, the things your doing Ashelia…their idiotic.”
Ashelia looked away from him.
“You’re life is still in danger from Queen Jade,” said Stephen. “And you’re keeping you alive for a reason. A reason that would probably be worse than death.”
“I know!” Ashelia exclaimed, and then her voice got soft. “I know…but I love him. With all my heart, I love Lucas!”
Nicia got up and rested her hands on Ashelia’s shoulders, giving her a small smile. “We know,” she said softly. “We’re just warning you, Ashelia. We don’t want you to get hurt.”
“I won’t get hurt,” Ashelia said. “As long as I have all of you with me, I won’t get hurt. So please…just trust me on this. Trust in Lucas and I.”
Nicia glanced over at Stephen and they shared a look for a few moments. Then Stephen sighed and nodded.
Ashelia gave Nicia a hug and headed back to the door, then paused, recalling the night she had seen them speaking through the crack in the door.
She turned to look at them.
“You two knew Aeson as well as I did,” she said to them. “We all know him well, and what he would want. Even now, we know that no matter what, he’d want us to be happy.”
She went and took Nicia’s hand, pulling her towards Stephen. She took Stephen’s hand and pulled their hands together, making them clasp tight.
Nicia and Stephen glanced at each other, their faces turning red from holding hands, which with all their insecurities, was probably the first time.
“He wants us to be happy,” Ashelia repeated softly. “He wants me to happy. And he wants both of you to be happy. You know that, don’t you?”
Nicia stared; her eyes starting to have tears fall down from them. She started nodding, as if she had known it all along but just needed someone to say it out loud. To make it reality.
Ashelia smiled at both of them, then took steps back until she reached the door. She started closing it so they had their own privacy, but she as the door clicked shut, the image of them embracing burned into Ashelia’s mind.
We’re listening Aeson, Ashelia said in her mind. We’re listening. And we’ll do what you want. We’ll be happy.
The past few days had been bliss for Ashelia. Everyone was so happy, and everything seemed to be going right. Lucas was smiling the whole time, which he should be, considering he found his brother, Cassius.
To Ashelia, seeing him happy made her happy also.
“Papa!” called Jay as Cadence and a man walked into the house, carrying a bag. The man set it down and opened his arms for Jay to run in them. Cassius walked over grinning and joined to hug too.
When it ended, the man stood up, bowing down to where Ashelia and Spiridon were standing.
“High Prince Spiridon, Princess Ashelia, welcome,” he said politely, then he turned to Lucas, his brown eyes bright. “And you must be Lucas. Prince Lucas, I mean.”
Lucas smiled. “Lucas is fine,” he said as he reached to shake the man’s hand.
“I am Fidel Diceto,” he smiled. “Countryman of Marcellus. Welcome.”
They all looked up to see Stephen and Nicia walking down to stairs, Stephen’s eyes fixated on the man. Fidel’s eyes widened in pure shock, stunned at seeing Stephen.
“You two know each other?” Ashelia asked, seeing their reactions.
“No,” said Stephen as he got down the steps. Nicia went to sit next to Ashelia but Stephen stood in front of Fidel. “Fidel Diceto was the previous Second Sword, before me.”
Ashelia gaped as she realized what he was saying. She instantly stood up and bowed before Fidel. “Fidel, sir! It’s an honor to meet you!”
The Swords of the country were quite special. They were the special guards of the military, particular to the first General. Like Matthias was to General Demetrius. Stephen is supposed to be for General Andreas, along with the First Sword of Marcellus, but the duty of Royal Guard always comes first.
Fidel smiled at Ashelia. “You don’t need to bow princess, really.”
Ashelia gave him a soft smile.
“Stephen…” Fidel murmured, looking back over at him, his brown eyes watching him, inspecting every single characteristic about him. “Is it?”
Stephen nodded, bowing. “Yes. Nice to meet you.”
“Don’t bow,” Fidel said, and Ashelia couldn’t get a nervous anxious feeling at how Fidel kept looking at Stephen.
Is it possible that he’s angry at him for taking his title as Second Sword?
“Fidel, honey,” said Cadence, walking to Fidel and clinging onto his arm. She gave him a warm and sincere smile. “You must be tired from that journey to Marcel. I made you your favorite dish tonight.”
Fidel gave her a gentle smile. “That would be great,” he said, glancing at Stephen one more time and then heading towards the dining room table.
“I heard of him too,” said Spiridon after Fidel and Cadence left the room. “An amazing Second Sword was what I heard. But suddenly he disappeared.”
Eyes looked to Cassius, assuming since he was Fidel’s son, he would know.
Cassius shrugged, a sort of softness crossing through his features. “Fidel and my mother won’t really speak of, and I already know Fidel doesn’t like to talk about it, so I never really asked.”
Ashelia frowned. “So…he has had a difficult life as the Second Sword?”
“Probably,” said Nicia beside her. “Something must have happened to want to forget his life as the Second Sword.”
Everyone else started speaking again, but Ashelia couldn’t help but start wondering.
What could possibly be bad about being the Second Sword? It was an honorable title.
Then again Ashelia was the princess, and she couldn’t help but groan at how her life had been.
She gazed around at the people around her.
Stephen and Nicia had been there all along, and became lifelong friends that she would cherish for the rest of her life.
Spiridon was her brother. In the beginning, she never acknowledged that he was really a brother, but now she saw the things he had gone through, and the things he is still going through. No one can replace Aeson, but Spiridon is a really special brother to her now.
Cassius and Jay had become friends to her these past few days. They weren’t as close, but she knew that if she spent more time with them, they would definitely become something like another family to her.
There were other people too. Philo, Dominick, Aislin, Catherina, and many, many more other people that had contributed to her life. She loved them all, and was so grateful she felt as though her heart might explode.
Without him, her life would be completely different. As she looked at him now, she couldn’t help staring into his eyes. The eyes of the man who had saved her countless times. The eyes of the man she loved with all her heart.
Sometimes words can never quite express how someone feels for another.
That’s what hugs and kisses are for, I guess, Ashelia mused.
Stephen quietly opened the door of the room Nicia and him was staying in, making certain no sound would escape from anything. Nicia shifted a bit, but she stayed asleep.
Stephen started making his way down the stairs, his hand already at his side. Stephen had grown up protecting Aeson and Ashelia, and he had grown a habit of never really falling a hundred percent asleep. His mind was always conscious of the surroundings. And tonight he had heard something outside.
As he opened the door and stepped outside of the house, he saw the dim outline of another man, and Stephen tensed for battle.
“Wait, wait!” called the man’s voice as Stephen had raised his sword, the blade shining from the moonlight.
The man stepped out from the shadows and Stephen saw it was Fidel.
Stephen quickly put his sword away and bowed. “I apologize sir!,” he said quickly. “I thought you were an intruder.”
Fidel gave him a small smile, his mind obviously preoccupied with other things. “It’s alright. I knew you were going to come down after I had made that noise. I expected no less.”
Stephen looked up at him. “You wanted me to come down on purpose?”
Fidel glanced at him and nodded, leaning against the wall of the house, his eyes set on the vast rolling hills around them, his eyes shifting to something distant.
“What is it, sir?” Stephen asked.
Fidel was silent for a few moments, then he let out s long, deep sigh. He looked over at Stephen and gave him a small smile. “I’ll just get right to the point, then,” he said. “Listen to my story, Stephen.”
Stephen nodded, curiosity filling him. He had always admired Fidel. When he was young he had heard many great things that he had done, but he never could understand why he had to suddenly stop and disappear. The castle staff and other nobles had told Stephen how he had very great potential to become a Sword also, and Stephen wanted nothing more.
“I was the Second Sword, as you know.” he started, his eyes still distant. “Life of the Second Sword is amazing, as you had already realized. But it’s also quite stressful. All that attention and honor you so crave you get, but in return, you’re always being watched. You are deprived of your privacy. Every mistake you make is known quickly to the public.”
Stephen nodded. Whenever he had gone out as the Second Sword, eyes watched him everywhere. Being a Royal Guard also made it a little better. He didn’t have to be the Second Sword all the time. He could go back to the privacy of the castle and just watch Aeson and Ashelia.
“One day,” Fidel said. “I was sent on a guarding mission…for Queen Ahleya.”
Stephen suddenly froze; his body tensing. A dark feeling starting to creep up on him.
“I accompanied Queen Ahleya to the town of Esua, since she had said she really wanted to go see something there.”
“Esua…” Stephen said, the map of Marcellus coming into his mind. “It’s the small town closest to Admes forest.”
Fidel nodded. “We were at the market. She said she needed to use the restroom, and I let her. I waited and waited, but she never came back.”
“She left,” said Stephen said slowly. “With Queen Jade.”
Fidel nodded, a bitter note sounding in his voice. “Yes. Jade.”
“You were punished after they found Queen Ahleya’s dead body. They didn’t believe she died of sickness.”
Fidel scoffed. “They did actually, which was idiotic. I’ll admit, at the time she had a cold. But it was a common cold, there was no way she could have died of simply that,” said Fidel. “It didn’t matter either way though. Jade had them fooled, manipulating them like they were her puppets. They believed everything she said.”
“They punished you, even though it wasn’t your fault.”
Fidel nodded, his eyes narrowing. “I had finally found traces of Queen Ahleya, and ran to her. But I got there too late. I arrived just as Queen Ahleya died, collapsing to the floor. I suspect poisoning.”
Stephen’s fists clenched. He had an extreme loathing to Queen Jade. He always had. Since he was always with Aeson and Ashelia, he always saw the way she had treated them. Like trash. Even before, he didn’t particularly like Spiridon, but even now he saw that Jade didn’t treat Spiridon all too well.
Fidel looked over at Stephen then, his eyes focusing on his face. “If I had just pretended to go along with Jade. That Ahleya had collapsed from sickness, and then all I would have lost was my title as Second Sword, and would have just disappeared normally, breaking my ties with Marcel.”
Stephen felt a chill run through him as Fidel continued to look him in they eyes.
“You lost more?” he asked.
Fidel nodded. “My son.”
Stephen froze, and that feeling that same feeling of knowing an enemy was nearby but he didn’t know where was there. That the enemy was going to pop up any moment and attack him.
“My wife, Andreas Claranus had just given birth to a healthy baby boy only a week before. The baby was being cared for at a hospital in Marcel. Unfortunately, she had died from giving birth.”
Stephen felt as if the world was tilting from under him. Listening to Fidel say all these things, he already knew. But he was still in denial, and nothing would come out of his mouth.
“At the time, I didn’t know the consequences. I just didn’t want Jade to get away with the things she was doing, so when asked what happened, I told them my suspicions,” said Fidel. “But…suspicions aren’t enough. Neither is just standard witness. I needed evidence, and I had none. They took my title and honor, banished me away from Marcel, and took my son for failure at the protection of Queen Ahleya and false accusation.”
Stephen looked away, his head starting to hurt.
“You look so much like her,” Fidel said softly, his voice barely a whisper. Stephen looked back over saw a few tears falling down his face.
It was the face of a man who had lost everything.
Though his eyes and the rest of his face was expressionless, the tears said it all.
Stephen leaned back against the wall next to his father. Life had thrown many things at Stephen, and this one was definitely the most surprising. Ever since he was little, he had wanted to know who his parents were, but gave up on the idea after finding out it was completely hopeless.
“Don’t speak of this to anyone yet,” Fidel said. “I may be banished, but I still know the things going on in the world, and the Princess already has too much on her hands. Any more surprises and I think she might have a heart attack. I think we’ll let everyone hear the news after they end the war.”
Stephen smiled softly. He recalled when they first got there and Jay made a thoughtful face when trying to remember something. It was the same things Stephen did when he was little. He still did at rare times, when he was thinking of something really hard.
“So...father,” Stephen said, his voice getting softer at the word. “About how many stars are in the sky?”
Fidel looked at him blankly, then blinked, looking up at the sky. The same exact expression crossing his face. “A lot?”
Stephen laughed softly, knowing he’d always remember this moment.
“Stephen de Claranus Diceto,” he said, testing it out loud. “So that’s my name.”
“Really, Ashelia, you don’t have to,” said Stephen, mounting his horse.
“I want to,” Ashelia said stubbornly, mounting her horse also. “You’ve been acting strange since this morning.”
As they set out into the hills, leaving the house behind them, the wind rushed around them, making Ashelia’s silver hair fly behind her. Stephen was out on his daily check around the perimeter around the house, seeing if anyone is near.
“I haven’t been acting strange,” Stephen said.
Ashelia sighed. “You’re a terrible liar,” she said. “You always were.”
Stephen glanced over at her, amused. Then he shrugged. “There is something…but I can’t tell you. Not yet.”
Ashelia frowned at him. “Can’t you tell me now?”
Stephen let out a laugh. “You’re acting like a kid, Ashelia. I’ll tell you, eventually.”
Ashelia frowned again, tightening her grip on the horse’s reins.
“There are still too many things for you to worry about,” said Stephen. “Don’t worry about me, please. You have nothing to be worried about.”
“On the contrary,” Ashelia muttered, “I have everything to worry about.”
Stephen glanced over at her, giving her a small smile. “Lately you’ve been happy, though, right?”
Ashelia smiled, her eyes still concentrated on the rolling hills in front of her. “Yeah.”
As the two of them made their way around, minutes passing, Ashelia thought about the past few days. It had been amazing, compared to her normal life. Being stuck in the Adora castle was fun with Aeson, but it was suffocating. Being there only made her worry, knowing the reason they were even there was because Aeson had gotten a terrible sickness. Though, it was a lot better than Marcel castle, with Jade and their father.
Ashelia never really understood him. At times, the way he looked at Aeson and Ashelia, she had hope inside her that he really did care. That he even loved them.
Tough love, was what she thought.
But she wasn’t sure anymore. Sometimes, there is such thing as useless hope.
Stephen stopped abruptly, his body tensing, his horse hoofs making dirt fly everywhere from the sudden stop. Ashelia froze, confused, stopping her horse as well.
“Someone’s here,” he said, his voice betraying the impending doom he was expecting.
Ashelia looked over to the horizon and squinted her eyes, trying to see who it was. She saw a group of people, maybe a dozen. All wearing the colors of Marcel. One was a woman in the very middle, leading them, wearing an elegant gown made only for the very most noble of ladies.
Ashelia breathed, disbelief making her deny it herself.
An arrow suddenly appeared, zooming past Stephen and Ashelia, landing on the ground. They looked to see it had the arrows of blue gold, with the sign of the diamond.
Jade’s emblem. Which used to be Queen Ahleya’s.
“Step back Ashelia,” Stephen, growled, moving his horse forward, his sword already raised.
Ashelia shook her head, knowing it would be useless. Stephen was a great swordsman, but even he can’t take on a dozen soldiers by himself, Knowing Jade, she would probably have taken great swordsman.
The group arrived in front of them, stopping a couple yards away. Jade looked over at Ashelia, an amused smile on her face.
“Ashelia, how nice to see you here,” she said snidely.
Ashelia scowled at her. “You knew I was here.”
She shrugged, smug. “Well it was strange that you and my son were to go to that castle in Adora where your brother had died. Spiridon had been acting…strange recently, so I took precautions.”
“You don’t trust your own son,” Ashelia said sharply.
Jade gave her another smile that made Ashelia’s stomach feel sick. “So I went to that castle. Guess who I didn’t find there?”
Ashelia scowled again at her.
Jade tilted her head to the side as if not understanding her reaction. “You know, it’s quite interesting that you’re alive and your brother isn’t.”
“You’re the one who pointed the castle out. You’re the one who killed him,” Ashelia snarled, remembering how Lucas had said a woman pointed out the castle they were in.
Jade shook her head. “What killed him was his sickness.”
Ashelia’s eyes narrowed. “You…was that your fault too?!” she snarled, trying to put everything together. Ashelia would not be at all surprised if it was.
“Actually,” Jade said slowly. “It was yours.”
Ashelia froze, her hazel eyes wide.
Jade shrugged. “I mean, I didn’t want to kill Aeson. I needed him. After you died, he would have gone completely insane, being the reckless kind of person who does things on a whim. He would have been putting his name to shame, along with his mothers, and her death wouldn’t have been as mournful, and my place as the queen would have become more stable. Of course, after that, I would have killed him.”
Stabbing pains were spiking in Ashelia’s heart, and her head felt like she might black out any second.
“You were trying to kill me?” she asked, her voice strained.
Jade nodded. “Exactly. The time you and Aeson had ran away before Spiridon had found you, the both of you went to a restaurant over in the city of Roka, correct?”
“The small portion of fish that you were specifically given, that’s where had the poison inserted.”
Ashelia couldn’t breathe. “…I hate fish.”
Jade nodded, sighing disappointedly. “I wish I have known that.”
“…I didn’t want it, so Aeson offered to eat it for me…”
Ashelia’s voice was fading, her thoughts still running high.
Was it really her fault?
Did she kill Aeson?
Did I kill my brother?
“Ashelia!” Stephen’s voice broke through Ashelia’s trance, and she blinked at him, her vision blurring. Tears were falling. “It’s not your fault!” he was saying. “It was Jade who poisoned who it, not you!”
Ashelia shook her head at him. “If I wasn’t such a spoiled brat back then, and haven’t been so picky, Aeson wouldn’t be dead!”
“Don’t say that!” Stephen said.
“Your best friend would be alive, Stephen!” Ashelia screamed at him. The guilt was eating her up inside, the knowledge of what truly happened was something she had wanted. And now at that moment she wished she had never known.
Stephen stared at her, silent. There was no denying that fact being false.
Ashelia couldn’t speak anymore. Was it really her fault? Was everything her fault?
“Ashelia,” Stephen said, his voice grave. He moved his horse so it was in front of hers, ready to battle with the Jade and her guards. “Go back to the house,” he said. “Warn Lucas, and get him out of here. There’s no stopping Jade from killing him.”
Ashelia looked at him, wide-eyed. “What?”
“Go!” Stephen spat at her, just as he raced forward, the enemy guards surging forward also, swords raised.
“Stephen!” Ashelia cried out, but she saw now that it was too late. Stephen’s swords crashed together with others, and the guards started surrounding him. Ashelia pulled hard on the horse’s reins, her heart beating fast, her adrenaline pumping, and she sped towards the house as fast as she could.
When she arrived, she simply jumped off the horse, landing hard on the ground, and she sprinted inside. Everyone looked up at her from the living room, their expressions confused.
“Jade’s here!” she gasped, out of breath. “She’s coming!”
Lucas, Cassius, and Spiridon went fast into motion, running to get all their things upstairs. Fidel went over to a cabinet that was locked. Fidel got a key he was carrying and opened it, which revealed many different types of swords and knives.
Jay looked around, not knowing what to do from all the rush. Ashelia went over to him and patted him on the head, giving him a smile. “Why don’t you go upstairs, Jay?”
Cadence went over then, taking her sons hand. “That’s a great idea,” she said, and she led him upstairs.
“Where’s Stephen?” Nicia asked, her eyes darting around trying to find him.
Ashelia couldn’t block the pained expression, and Nicia’s eyes grew wide.
“He’s stalling them,” Ashelia said, “But I don’t know how long. There were a dozen of them.”
Nicia’s hands flew up to her mouth as Lucas, Cassius, and Spiridon came back down from getting their things, and they all flew outside to the horses, Ashelia following.
“You need to get out of here as fast as you can,” Cassius was telling Lucas as he mounted the horse. “Jade won’t kill any of us, but she would definitely kill you on sight.”
Lucas nodded down at him, his horse already getting restless from all the commotion.
Cassius went over to where Spiridon was and Ashelia ran to Lucas, who reached down to take her hand.
“Ashelia,” he said, an unbearable expression on his face. “This is goodbye again.”
Ashelia’s tears were still coming, and she closed her eyes, holding his hand close to her. “I killed Aeson,” she murmured, the sobs breaking in. “Jade was the one to use poisoning, but her target was me. It was my fault that Aeson was the one to have gotten poisoned.”
She looked up at him, her heart breaking. “Lucas, I can’t bear to leave you again!”
“Ashelia—” His words were interrupted by the thunder of horses coming from the distance, and they all looked over to the horizon. Jade was still coming, and there were about three guards remaining.
Ashelia’s eyes whipped up to his, already panicked. “You must go.”
Lucas continued to look at her, his blue eyes hurt. He leaned down and gave her a long kiss.
“I love you,” he whispered on her lips.
“I love you,” Ashelia said. Then she watched as Lucas kicked his horse forward, turning to head towards the direction of the Admes forest, his figure disappearing in only a minute.
Jade and the guards came, their horses neighing loudly from the abrupt stop.
“Ashelia,” Jade scowled as she jumped off her horse. She went directly towards Ashelia, her face only inches from hers. “Listen here, little girl. Your life is in my hands. I could kill you anytime I want, but I chose not to because as of right now, you are still useful to me, having become an ally of that bastard Evander.”
Ashelia met her with a cold, apathetic look. “You are a pathetic woman, Jade.”
Jade scowled at her again and turned to where Cassius and Spiridon were, her expression dark.
She faced Spiridon, and Ashelia could see the frightened expression of a child to his parent in his eyes. “Spiridon,” Jade said darkly, “Pack your things, we’re leaving.”
She turned to Cassius then and he nearly jumped. “Cassius honey,” Jade said, her voice sweet, which was even scarier. “I’m quite disappointed in you.”
“Jade,” called Cadence as her and Fidel stepped outside. Ashelia could see that Fidel was armed. Nicia followed behind, running to where Ashelia was, all the while Jade gave her a menacing look.
“Cadence,” Jade said sharply, turning towards Cadence. “What is the meaning of this?”
Cadence looked over at Ashelia and she shook her head, telling Cadence that Jade didn’t know Lucas was there.
“Spiridon just wanted to show Ashelia to us,” Cadence said, forcing a normal smile. “Is that not normal?”
Jade scoffed, turning towards Spiridon. “I was told you were going to the castle in Adora. I was told you were never there.”
“We were headed there,” Spiridon lied. “But then changed our minds. We wanted to go here first, and then head to the castle after.”
Jade’s eyes narrowed at him, then she lifted her head, turning towards Fidel. “Good to see you again, Fidel.”
Fidel let all his emotions off his face, but Ashelia could see the veins of his hands tightening into a fist. “Jade,” he said flatly.
Jade stared at him, then laughed softly, looking over at Cadence. “I don’t see what you see in him. Just because he was there when you were banished, and he helped you, does not make you obligated to marry him.”
Cadence met Jade with the same fierce expression. “I love him, Jade, and I’m sorry you can’t accept that.”
Jade and Cadence looked at each other, and Ashelia was amazed at how Cadence could treat Jade like that. She remembered how they were best friends, and she wasn’t sure if best friends treated each other like that. They may been once, but it was obvious that things were changing.
Jade broke off the gaze and turned to everyone else, already starting to mount on her horse. “We’re leaving. Right now. No one is allowed to visit here ever again, unless you’re accompanied by me. Do so otherwise, and the punishment is death.”