Chapter 16 - Truths
Chapter 16 - Truths
“I’m sorry I’m late.”
The sound of his voice caused a familiar sensation to travel across her shoulders and down her back. She felt Tilly turn to face the person that spoke but she didn’t move. She feared that her mind had played another trick on her. Something within her needed to see him, but she was afraid that if she turned around the illusion would be shattered.
“I got your letter.” The same voice continued.
Alexandria looked down yet again at her ink stained fingers. It wasn’t an illusion.
He got her letter.
A smile found its way to her face, but when Alexandria turned toward him, she found herself blocked by her escort. In barely a whisper the girl informed, “Your Highness I’m not sure that this a good idea.”
Alexandria tried to reason with Tilly, “I’ve lied to him enough, he deserves to-”
“It’s alright Tilly.” His voice interrupted.
She heard sadness in his voice, and she couldn’t help but be confused by it. Why would he be sad?
He had said Tilly. He remembered her escort’s name? How? It had been nearly two months since she mentioned it to him in the town stables.
Alexandria walked around her escort finally able to see the man in front of her.
She almost didn’t recognize him.
He seemed different, more reserved perhaps.
He wasn’t wearing the clothes of a member of Society. Instead he had on a pair of worn wool trousers, and a dark brown tunic. His face carried a busted lip and the hint of a bruise hidden behind his bangs just above his left eye.
“What happened?” She asked in his direction.
He ignored her question and instead asked her escort, “Could you give us a minute Till?”
“Noah,” Tilly cautioned further confusing Alexandria by not using his title, “what if someone-?”
“I’ll be careful I promise.”
The two shared a silent moment before she sighed loudly, “Get out of the streets.” Tilly warned. She waited for him to nod in agreement before continuing, “You know where to find me.” With that she was off.
Alexandria’s eyes scrutinized over the person in front of her. What was going on? Who was he and how did her escort know him so well? And why did he look like he had been robbed?
His shirt; the red stains on the front of it. Had something happened at the ball? Had he been injured? Was that why she hadn’t seen him again?
“You wanted to talk.” His reminded.
Alexandria was unable to respond, she just kept staring at him while questions piled up in her head.
“We need to get out of the streets.” He informed. Alexandria could feel him watching her as she struggled with the situation. “Do you trust me?”
He held out a hand in her direction and although she was still trying to comprehend the earlier events she remembered the words she had written on the letter-
- you are one of the few people that I believe I can trust completely -
Without a second thought Alexandria grasped firmly onto his hand and let him lead her away from the growing crowd. As they weaved through the people Alexandria couldn’t help but concentrate on the feel of his hand around her own.
What was wrong with her?
Why were her thoughts flooded with images, memories, and moments the two of them had shared?
A short time later they reached a small bookstore. As they walked in a chime attached to the door sounded their arrival. “I’ll be there in a moment.” A raspy voice called out from somewhere unseen.
“Otis, it’s just me.” Noah called out, “Is the back reading room open?”
A wheezy chuckle came from the same location. “I guess I can lend it to you, if you buy something.”
“Maybe next time.” He answered the elderly voice.
“Next time,” the voice nagged, “always next time with you. If you-.”
She didn’t catch the rest of his sentence.
Noah laughed warmly at the old man. He motioned for her to follow him as he began to weave effortlessly through the towers of old books
The room he led her to reminded Alexandria more of a storage closet than a reading room. There wasn’t a door, but she doubted anyone would overhear them, given the maze-like path they had taken getting there. A small window near the ceiling made it easy to see, but the numerous piles of old and worn books made it difficult to navigate.
“You can take the chair if you wish.” Noah informed as he leaned against the doorframe.
“Thank you.” Alexandria replied carefully eying the dusty old chair.
She looked towards Noah once she was settled and noticed that he had pushed some books aside to reveal a small bench. When he had sufficient room to sit, he looked up at her expectantly.
Alexandria looked back at Noah completely confused. Her feelings swirled around helplessly; her mind wondered what had happened to him while simultaneously it debated about how she should tell him the truth, and her heart? Her heart was another matter entirely.
“Perhaps we should ask each other questions again.” He offered, as if able to understand the cacophony of thoughts that she was dealing with.
She looked at him curiously. He seemed to be as hesitant as she was. “We should add statements.” She decided realizing that merely asking questions would get them nowhere.
“I don’t understand.” He inquired confused.
“I will tell you something about myself, and then you will say something about yourself. Afterwards I will be able to ask you a question, and then you will be able to ask me one.” She wasn’t exactly confident that it would work, but it was worth a shot.
He appeared to contemplate her offer, after several seconds a small grin pulled at the corner of his mouth. “That seems fair. You sent me that letter, Annabell.” He reminded, “I suppose that means that you would like to start.”
“Yes.” Alexandria took a deep breath and steadied herself on the chair. There was no going back from this, “My name isn’t Annabell.” She forced out quickly.
“What?” He asked confused. “What do you mean?”
“I can’t answer that yet.” She informed flatly.
He blinked at her, apparently unable to grasp what she was saying, but then asked. “Why not?”
“You must first return my statement with one of your own.”
He opened his mouth as if to rebuke her statement, but then closed it again determined.
“Fine.” He agreed. “A statement it is then.” He laughed nervously. “I have lived in Alminia nearly all of my life.”
She hadn’t expected him to say that. “So, then you’re not from Terrafeuw?” She wondered trying to better understand him.
“Is that your question?” He asked, that grin back on his face.
“No.” She realized, retracting her question. She took a moment to think about what it was that she wanted to ask him. Hundreds of questions flooded her thoughts, but his statement and the way he handled himself around Tilly gnawed at her. “Who are you?”
“That’s your question?” He asked again to clarify.
“Yes.” She confirmed.
“Alright,” He said with a sigh. She noticed how he ran his hands through his hair and smiled because she recognized what it meant. He still acted the same as he had that night at the ball. So, who ever he was, that night hadn’t been a lie.
“My name is Noah Jenkins.” He answered finally.
She smiled, elated by his answer, but then realized that he wasn’t finished and that he hadn’t said ‘Lord.’
He took a deep breath before continuing. “I am the caretaker of Lord Johnathon and Lord Ronald Montego, the newly adopted sons of Lord Louis Montego.” He paused and looked at Alexandria poignantly. “I have been in the employment of their mother, Lady Cathliene Manchester Montego, for as long as I can remember.”
Alexandria couldn’t believe what he had just told her.
He wasn’t a servant.
He couldn’t be.
Was he joking? Did he think this was a game?
The look on his face didn’t support her theory and yet she couldn’t believe it. The way he carried himself, the way he held her as they danced, and even the way he had protected her from his vile cousins; they were all instances were she couldn’t have doubted that he was a member of Society.
But he wasn’t.
And those men weren’t his cousins.
If he was their servant, then they were his masters.
Those vile men owned Noah.
He had gone against everything it meant to be their servant in order to protect her from them.
She nodded dumbly in his direction to let him know that he had sufficiently answered her.
“So.” He eventually began. She noticed how softly he had spoken, how carefully he was treading, and knew that if she wanted to call the whole thing off he wouldn’t have questioned her.
Alexandria didn’t like this side of him. He wasn’t teasing her, he wasn’t chiding her, he didn’t offer her the sideways grin that sent shivers throughout her being, he just stared at his feet and avoided making eye contact. It wasn’t natural. “I believe you have a question to ask me.” She reminded unable to take the silence.
“I don’t know where the line is here.” He informed. “I might accidentally offend you Annabell, or-whoever it is I’m speaking to.”
“I’m still me.” She prompted, knowing the question that he would ask.
“Who are you?” His voice was quiet. If she hadn’t been expecting it, she wouldn’t have heard his question.
~~~ Change Character Focus
“Who are you?” Noah could barley ask the question. He knew he was stepping over boundaries and crossing lines, but he couldn’t stop himself.
He had realized a while ago that the woman he had thought of as Annabell, had completely stolen his heart, and whatever happened after today... well at least he’d have a name to go with the face that would constantly haunt him.
Still as profound as his resolve was, he wasn’t expecting the words that came out of her mouth.
“My name is...well my full name with title...” She paused. “When I walk into a room I’m usually introduced as Her Royal Highness Alexandria Maxine Georgiana Bell, Crowned Princess of Alminia.”
Noah’s mouth went dry, but his eyes never left her face. He noticed how uncertain she was and he needed to put her mind at easy. Also, he had to now acknowledge the person in front of him.
She wasn’t just any person she was a Princess. She was the Princess.
And she was sitting across from him in a dusty old chair in the back of a bookstore.
He couldn’t help but notice that she was still there.
After finding out about his background, and even after admitting who she was, she hadn’t left.
She hadn’t blamed him.
She hadn’t yelled at him.
She hadn’t demanded that he never seem her again.
Her Royal Highness was sitting across from him and, try as he might, Noah couldn’t bring himself to bow to her. He simply couldn’t.
He looked over at her and noticed how she had become conveniently interested in some random book that had been sitting next to her. She looked uneasy and it worried him. He wanted to see her smile again. He needed to see her smile again.
It didn’t matter who she was.
“Georgiana Bell.” He said with a grin realizing the truth behind her name. “Annabell, it’s clever.”
“Thank you.” She only offered him the smallest smile, but the blush that painted her cheeks was more than he could have asked for.
Why was he acting like nothing had changed.
Her declaration changed everything.
He couldn’t go back to acting the way that he had around her.
Now that they actually knew who the other was, surely she would treat him differently.
He looked up and saw her watching him intently from behind the book.
“I’m not sure what I’m allowed to call you.” He admitted.
The relief that washed over her face was more than apparent, but Noah didn’t know why she would be relived. “You can continue to call me Annabell.” She declared the blush on her cheeks darkening. “I actually like you calling me Annabell.”
Noah didn’t know how to respond, but it seemed Annabell wasn’t finished speaking just yet.
“I feel different when I’m around you.” She informed.
Noah looked at her quizzically.
“Before I met you,” she continued, “it was always, yes your Highness, of course Madam, right away Princess.”
Noah forced himself to not cringe when she said the word, Princess.
“I was never treated like how you treated me.” She went on to explain, “You have laughed at me; you have teased me, you have admitted to listening to my conversations, and you almost-” She gasped slightly interrupting herself as she placed a small hand in front of her mouth reminding Noah of the moment they almost shared at the base of the garden steps.
“I-” Noah started ready to apologize.
She lifted her other hand and stopped his apology, “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, Annabell.” He didn’t know what else to say.
“That counts as my statement.” She insisted nervously, becoming immensely interested in the book once again. “It’s your turn.”
“I...” Thinking back to all of the conversations he had with her helped Noah think of something to say.
“To clarify my earlier statement, yes I have lived here nearly my entire life. But, I was not born in Alminia. My mother fled Terrafeuw shortly after the war with Rramnon started. She gave birth to me just before crossing the Shanri Desert.”
“That is a dangerous journey.” He heard her say softly. “Your mother must have been a great woman.”
Noah smiled at her words.
“She really was.” He responded.
Again a silence hung over them, but this time it felt peaceful.
“May I ask my question now?” She asked solemnly. He wasn’t sure why she was the one asking him, her status alone gave her the right to ask him anything she wanted.
He silently dreaded what she might ask, but he still nodded to her question. “Ask me whatever you wish.” He invited.
“You left the ball suddenly.” She stated confidently. “Why?”
Noah couldn’t help the shock that found it’s way to his face. How had she known that? He debated on how much he should tell her, but realized that he had made a promise to himself to tell her the truth.
Before he could talk himself out of it, he pulled his hair out of his face and showed her the extent of the bruise on his forehead. His back, chest and shins were still pretty sore, but he couldn’t show her those marks and remain decent.
A strange sensation tugged at his heart when he heard a small gasp escape her lips.
“Servant Discipline Law, sections 4 and 6.”
She looked at him with wide eyes and quoted the law. “No servant shall publicly speak against any actions their employer might take while disciplining them. All servants are prohibited from any form of retaliation in regards to their employer’s method of discipline.” She remained quiet until her words sank in. “They did that to you?”
Noah nodded in her direction. “Even if they didn’t recognize me, I am bound until my release from their service.”
“They would do that to someone that they believe was a fellow nobleman?”
He noticed that she had gone white, and he wished that there were something that he could do to lighten the situation. Noah was use to the Twin’s temper. Their actions no longer fazed him, but he couldn’t tell her that.
“To fully answer your question,” he stated shrugging of the his Masters’ actions, “I was unable to return due to my altered state. I would have been questioned, and my identity revealed.”
“I’m sorry.” He heard her whisper.
Noah couldn’t stop the laugh that escaped him, “There’s nothing for you to be sorry about. You did nothing wrong.” He noticed how she stared off into the distance, clearly unconvinced by his words. “Annabell,” He insisted causing her to look him in the eye. “I mean it.”
“Thank you.” She replied solemnly. She seemed to be debating something, but soon released a tension filled sigh and said. “What would you like to ask me?”
They stayed in that reading room for nearly three hours, learning about each other as best as they could.
He couldn’t stop the smile that appeared on his face when she insisted on accompanying him to Willaminia’s Shop so that he could complete the errand that Lady Cathliene had sent him to the market for.
Noah didn’t expect how easy it would be to converse with her. It nearly astonished him how effortless it was to return to the playful banter that they had enjoyed on the palace balcony. Still, Noah knew that they were both avoiding the one question that in his opinion actually mattered.
What would happen after today?
He couldn’t help but be concerned about her.
Noah knew that she had agreed to spend a day with both Ronald and Johnathon, and memories of how they treated her at the ball made him nervous about it.
“Just watch yourself around them.” Noah insisted as they made their way to Willaminia’s. “I wouldn’t want you to get hurt.”
“I’ll be fine.” She answered him courageously. “Their knowledge of my status, shall keep me from harm.”
He wished her words made him feel better. Eventually he forced himself to put thoughts of the Twins behind him, and focus on spending time with the person who, after everything, still stood by his side.
He didn’t know how long the carefree atmosphere between them would last, but he was determined that nothing, not even himself, would ruin it.
He had no way of knowing that someone was watching them.