Claiming an Ally Ch. 06bytitania123©
"Well, my boy, that is Emera. I'm sure you no doubt said something offensive to her and she let it be known. She is quite competent at telling you your faults, believe you me. But, I know my daughter well, and she holds affection for you, Edrich, I am sure of it."
"Perhaps," he said softly, wishing it were true, "but I will not force her to marry me when she has her reasons why she would not want to. I will never force her."
"What if you were to talk with her, before you make your decision?" the king offered.
"Because she would know, or at least suspect, that the marriage would be part of the treaty. She would feel obligated. She is very loyal to her kingdom, sacrificing much for them. In the end, she would be feel forced. No, I am sorry, but you must trust me that marrying me is the last thing on your daughter's mind."
Arnold sat back in his chair and leaned back. He rubbed his hand throw his short beard and thought. "Well, I suppose if you don't think it would work between the two of you, perhaps it is best we forget it. I only thought...well, no matter. Shall we sign then?"
Edrich nodded and the two men continued. Though they were happy with their enterprise, the air had turned between them and now lay awkward in the silence. Edrich rose and bowed to Arnold. "It has been an honor, sir, however, I have urgent business in Lidio that I am afraid my prolonged absence has compromised. My men and I will depart presently. If you should need anything, I would be grateful to assist you."
Arnold stood and was about to argue to keep the man near for a few days more, but, upon seeing the resolve in his eyes, shrugged and extended his hand. They shook as he said, "Thank you, Edrich, my boy. It has been a rare pleasure." As he escorted him to the door he said humorously, "And Edrich, should you change your mind, the offer always stands." He slapped him on the back and bid him fair journey.
Edrich raced casually up the stairs, nearly boiling out of his skin in eagerness to escape. Through his illness, he only remembered a few pieces. He mostly remembered Robert waiting upon him yesterday, but he knew, without being told, that Emera had been there, had nursed him to health. He couldn't remember what was dream and what was real. He had been lost in darkness, battling demons of dubious origin, black and invisible. He had been blind, he had been starved of water, been naked and dead. But through it all, he felt pulled into glowing salvation by golden beauty. Her voice, sometimes her smell, even her touch had penetrated the blackness and pulled him through.
When he awoke that morning, one thing, and one thing only was more certain than the sun spilling through the window; he loved Emera. And realizing he loved her, he was crushed by the harm she had received at his hand. He was sickened to the core. He knew now, he couldn't have her, couldn't keep her, not when he had so viciously ripped her being apart. Even if she did return some sort of feeling for him, he wouldn't trap her to him. He wouldn't be her captor, never again. Though it would kill him, he would set her free. Free to find happiness again, somehow.
He found Robert going through the clothes he had brought with him for Edrich, trying to decide what to dress his king in for dinner. "Pack now, we leave immediately."
"Sire?" Robert questioned, caught off guard by the urgency in the king's voice. "Did things not go well during your talk?"
"Things went very well. The treaty has been signed and we are therefore finished. Everything has been put right, so we are now needed to find Jenner. That traitor will not escape me. So pack, and let's be off." Edrich left to find his guards. By the time everyone was packed and the horses saddled, Edrich was saying his goodbyes to the king one last time. They stood in the large hall at the entrance of the castle. As Emera strode by in the balcony in the grand entrance, she paused at hearing Edrich's voice. She had been told when she arrived from her ride that the visiting king was well, and he and her father had signed the peace treaty. Desirous to see him, she slowly walked to the edge, leaning against the railing, looking down upon them.
Edrich was shaking her father's hand. Her smile faded when she heard him say his goodbyes. Her father caught sight of her. "Emera! Do bid the king goodbye. Edrich is departing from us."
Her breath caught as the weight crushed down upon her chest, squeezing it most painfully. Edrich was looking at her, watching. His eyes were dark and potent, intense beyond bear. He made a gracious bow, took one last look, and marched out the double doors. Emera stood, stunned. Only the fat, hot tear rolling down her face betrayed any emotion. She quickly wiped it off and turned, running down the hall and up another flight of stairs to her chamber. Robert watched her leave, and then looked after his king who was already mounting his horse in the courtyard.
Robert followed, and soon the small party was upon the road, headed towards the mountains. Fortuitously, Edrich's stallion threw a shoe near the first small village, still within sight of the castle. They stopped at the local smithy and waited while he fashioned a new shoe. Edrich strode quietly away from his men and leaned upon a tree in the back. He watched the white stone of the castle turn soft orange as the setting sun threw her colors upon it. He sighed and closed his eyes, imagining Emera at his side, leaning her head against him.
"Your Majesty," Robert called, his voice breaking his moment of peace.
"Your Majesty, you know I would never presume to question you in doubt, but, seeing your countenance just now, I am compelled to wonder, what is it that troubles you?"
"I think you know very well what troubles me. I wouldn't have believed I am strong enough to give up the thing I desire most, especially in the face that it feels as though I will die," he confided quietly.
"I see. Your Majesty, may I ask you, what you remember when you were taken with fever?"
"Not much, bits and pieces, some of yesterday. But certainly nothing of the day before. Imagine waking up and learning you've lost two whole days of your life. Quite unsettling," he commented.
"Yes, you were taken with great hysterics and delusions. Are you also aware that her highness attended you the entire time?"
"Yes, her father told me."
"Hmm, did he also tell you, by chance, that she slept with you?"
His face stretched in surprise and then darkened. "No, he did not, nor would he be likely to. Just exactly, what are you implying Robert? And chose your words carefully, old friend, lest they be your last."
"I imply nothing, your Highness. Only that the guard that stood out your door the first night told me, in strictest confidence, that he heard not only you, but her Majesty...coupling."
Edrich adamantly shook his head. "You are wrong, she would have called out for help if I had attacked her..."
"And if she did not return your affection...as it was, she made no cry for help," Robert offered gently. "Not only that, but she remained, even against the bequest of her father, at your side until I arrived, without any emotion but concern and care." He watched Edrich's reaction.
"Willingly?" he said in doubt. "Are you saying willingly?"
Robert gave a slow, confirming nod. "I know I am being presumptuous in asking, but did we leave in such haste so you could avoid seeing her? Because you knew but had, what?, grown tired of her?"
Edrich grabbed him by the shirt and slammed him against the fat trunk of the tree. "I warned you, watch what you say," he growled. He released him and stepped back. "No, I did not know what you claim, and most certainly did not grow tired of her. I left because...because I did not want to see her plagued by my presence. I wanted to leave her in peace, to be free of me."
"While that is noble, I will tell you one last thing. At your departure just now, she cried. Now, do you think that is the action of a woman who feels freed by your absence, or pained by it." All the claims Robert had made were wheeling through Edrich's head.
He had tried to keep hope from his heart, knowing that it, coupled with his own want would be enough to overpower him from what he believed to be the right thing to do, that is, leave her alone. "Your Majesty? Your horse is shod. In which direction do we travel this evening?" Robert asked satirically.
Emera fell defeated in front of her large window, her arms and face resting on the large window seat. She sobbed in loud torrents, tears falling with fury. With her heart shattered into a thousand pieces, the emotions she had fought with her entire being to restrain flooded from her. She clutched her chest, the pain this time would surely kill her. But when her heart beat in the next moment, and then again in the next, she knew she would live, only feeling as though she were dying each moment of her life.
She sat in that position for nearly an hour. The tears would slow, and then stop. When they were almost dry, the river would pour forth once more. Eventually, she was entirely spent, and the energy she had spent the past few days refueling had been depleted. Through the emptiness in her head, rumblings in the hall drifted, but she gave no attention to the quiet commotion.
When her bedroom doors flew open and crashed against the walls, she jumped at the crash and flung her head up to see the bow that had shot the arrows through her heart standing in the doorway, looking around the room.
Edrich quickly scanned the surroundings. His eyes fell upon the billows of skirt that piled on the floor near the window. Her face was streaked with tears and her eyes were red and swollen. He witnessed her agony for all it was. She was in pain because of him.
His face gave way to agony, and Emera could see the sorrow and regret in his handsome features. Her heart fluttered as he strode near to her. "Emera," he whispered after he squatted down so he could reach a tentative hand out to stroke her cheeks, erase the tears.
Her face eased and her eyes pleaded. "Why have you come back? I thought you had left."
"Emera," he paused searching for the words. But Emera saw the emotion in his eyes without them. She flung herself toward him, wrapping her arms around his body. She cried in joy as she felt his arms fiercely hug her in return, crushing her to him, as it should be.