Chapter 14 - Duty and Sacrifice
April 8, 1645
The Walled City of Arcadia, Capital of Ivaris
-King Seth Liam Ivaris XV-
“What?!? NO!!!” she screamed. “Very well then...” I said and started to raise my hand to signal the archers. I felt her fingers clutch on my sleeve. “No... Please don’t...” she pleaded once more. Tears were falling from those hazel eyes down to her cheeks now.
“Were you a bit hasty in throwing that refusal then?” I taunted and she cried harder even more. “Please not that... I can’t marry you.” She told me and I felt something twist inside my chest.
“Why the hell not?!?” I shouted as I turned her to face me. I heard growls from the group of men in front of me. Adrienne looked away from me and turned towards the brown-haired man whom she embraced just moments ago.
“Princess... No...” the man whispered. I felt Adrienne’s body tense and she slowly shook her head. “Don’t sacrifice yourself for us, princess!” one of the soldiers cried out to her.
I turned her head towards me once more. “Make your choice, princess." I emphasized the word princess and heard more growls from the men before me. One of them sprung into action but he was knocked back by the guards.
She took a long while to answer and I raised my hand. She quickly tugged it down and said “Fine! I’ll marry you! Don’t kill them, please!”
I lowered my hand and smiled at her. “Wise choice.” I told her and turned towards the archers. “Stand down!” I ordered and they lowered their weapons. To the guards holding the men in captive, I said, “Bring them to the dungeons.”
“Please don’t harm them!” Adrienne called out.
She moved to follow the guards but I caught her arm. “You’re coming with me.” I said and motioned for the guards to surround us. Adrienne silently obeyed but I saw tears still streaming down her pale cheeks. I felt my chest constrict but now is not the time to feel pity for such an accomplished liar like her.
We entered my study and I barred the door.
“Explain yourself.” I ordered. I saw her flinch. She stared down at the carpet and started twisting the cloth of her gown. “W-where do I start?” she asked me.
“Is your name Adrienne or Almira?” I asked.
“Both. My name is Almira Adrienne.” She replied.
“Good. Now I know what to write on our marriage contract.” I said sarcastically and all the color drained from her face. She bowed her head and I could see her shoulders shaking as she cried. “Are you going to back out now? Would you like to see your lover beheaded?” I taunted and her head snapped up and hazel eyes glared at me amidst the tears.
“I gave you my word that I’ll marry you, your highness. I won’t back away now... As long as you don’t back out on your word that you’ll not hurt my soldiers.” Her words sounded like a threat.
I raised both eyebrows at her. “I don’t think you’re in a position to bargain with me.”
There was a long moment of silence and I stood up and walked around my desk to retrieve a glass and my bottle of whisky. “Want some?” I asked and she shook her head. I walked over to the door and lifted the bar. A footman stood waiting outside and I asked him to summon two of my ministers and two scribes.
The footman dashed off and while waiting, I sat on my chair once more and savoured my whisky. The ministers arrived a few moments later.
“You summoned us, my Lord?” they said as they bowed.
“Yes. The two of you shall be witnesses as we agree upon our marriage contract. The lovely princess doesn’t seem to trust my word.” Adrienne shot me another icy glare.
The two ministers pulled up a chair and sat while the scribes prepared their scrolls and quills on the table.“You preside, Minister Gilmore.” I said and the minister nodded. He stood up and walked over towards the middle of the room as I sat down.
“Please state your names.” Minister Gilmore said. “Seth Liam Ivaris XV, ruling monarch of Ivaris, son of King Anstruther and Queen Joanna.” I replied.
The minister looked at Adrienne and she whispered softly, “Almira Adrienne Carthes-Amaranth. Daughter of King Andrew of Amaranth and Princess Irina of Carthes.”
Wow. Yet another new fact about my bride. I did not know that she was the product of monarchs of two different kingdoms. My parents never told me that my betrothed is the daughter of the Princess of Carthes, the only sister of the ruling King. I never knew that I would gain two alliances through this wedding: that of Amaranth and Carthes. I smiled at the realization while both ministers looked shocked.
Adrienne had a king for a father and a princess for a mother. My father was king when he married my mother. My mother, on the other hand, was the only daughter of one of the dukes in Ivaris.
“Your dowry, princess?” the minister asked Adrienne. She took a deep breath and then answered. “When it comes to land, all of Amaranth is my dowry. I have a huge amount of gold and jewellery that my parents set aside for me but when my kingdom was invaded, I know not what happened to it. The castle was burned and I doubt that the gold still exists. All I can grant now is the right to rule Amaranth and unite both kingdoms.” She replied with sadness in her voice.
The minister looked at me. “Is the dowry acceptable, my Lord?” he asked. “Yes. I accept it.” I replied. The scribes scribbled away and for a moment, only the scratching of their quills could be heard.
“The conditions?” the minister prompted. I gestured for Adrienne to go first.
“All the prisoners, the soldiers of Amaranth, will be released right after the wedding and they will be allowed to go free. They would not be followed and would not be killed by anyone from here.” She said. She obviously thought this through for she allowed me no loophole.
“Agreed.” I said to the minister. The scribes quickly wrote it down.
“Your condition, your highness?”
I thought for a long while before answering. “We sleep in one chamber. Wherever I am, my queen is with me. And you cannot bar me from our bed.” I said.
“No. You can’t possibly expect me to—” I cut her off by raising a hand “Fine. Deny it. Wedding’s off and everyone dies.” Her face turned red and I was sure that she would be able to rip her gown soon enough as she continuously twisted it between her fingers.
“Fine. Agreed!” Adrienne shouted and the minister flinched.
“Princess, anything else?” said the minister.
“All the mistresses go. I would not allow them under my household.” She said haughtily.
I choked on my whisky and I felt it burn my lungs and my nose as I coughed. I looked at Adrienne and she smiled with triumph.
“Denied.” I said.
“But my lord, it’s a reasonable request!” the minister said. I banged my fist on the desk and repeated, “Denied!!!” The ink pot rattled on the desk and the scribes looked up with fear in their eyes.
“Ask another thing of me. Not that.” I said and Adrienne looked deep in thought. “I am free to go wherever I want, whenever I want.”
“Granted. But either I am with you or Malcolm is. You are allowed nowhere if you are without an escort.” I said and Adrienne shook her head.
“Princess. The request is most reasonable. If you are to be queen, many would want to wish you harm. Please accept the stipulation that the king has given.” The minister pleaded and I was surprised when Adrienne agreed.
“My king?” the minister prompted.
“Amaranth will unite with Ivaris under one kingdom. And I have the right to divide some lands as I see fit to grant to our sons and set aside as dowry if we are blessed with a daughter.” I said.
“Agreed.” Adrienne said without any qualm. I saw a blush stain her cheeks and her neck. Also, this was the first condition in which she did not protest about.
“Amaranth will be restored to its former glory and I want to be the one to oversee all the rebuilding. Any changes to my kingdom shall be approved first by me.”
“As your husband and king, you tell me everything first.” I said and it was a long time before she nodded. “Write that down.” I told the scribes.
I pondered on my next condition for a moment. “I will not tolerate any infidelity. Any man who touches you will die by my sword.” I growled.
She held up her hand. “Please.” She said. “I am not like you who refuse to discard his mistresses.”
“Why you---!” I started but the minister coughed and shook his head. I took several deep breaths until I was sure that I got my anger under control.
“Next, I would like ten percent of the profit gained from Amaranth through trade. The money I could use as I see fit without interference from you.” Adrienne said nervously.
“As my queen, I would give you all the money you want. You need not ask from me anymore.” I said.
“No. I don’t want anything from you. I want my own money. From Amaranth. Not from your kingdom’s coffers and certainly not from you." She spat. The scribes looked at her with their mouths opened before the minister waved a hand and forced them to continue writing.
“Fine then. Whatever your heart desires, princess.” I replied.
“Anything else, your highness?” the minister asked me. “Nothing further.” I replied.
“Princess?” the minister inquired.
“I get to run Ravenswood. I get to be chatelaine of this home and I would like to make some changes.”
That seems a reasonable enough request. As my queen, she is really expected to handle my home. A small sliver of pride tingled inside me at the thought that my future queen wanted to be hands on with my estate.
“Granted.” I replied. I saw a hint of mischief in her eyes and I briefly wondered if I’d agreed to that too quickly.
“Anything else princess?” the minister asked and Adrienne shook her head. The two scribes rose and gave the minister the two papers which he read for a long time. Then he passed the papers to me and Adrienne. After finishing, we swapped papers to check if they both contained the same thing.
Then, we signed.
That has got to be one of the most infuriating ordeals I’ve ever had to endure. Yet if I refused the king anything, he’d threaten my people... I sighed and leaned against the hallway for a moment.
My guard, the one the king assigned me during the first Hakor, clutched my arm. “Are you feeling well, princess?” he asked. His voice was very low and I had a very difficult time understanding his words.
“Yes... Just give me a moment to compose myself.” I replied and he let go of my arm.
I touched my cheek to the cold and hard wall. Cold and hard... Like the heart of the King of Ivaris; if he ever had one, that is. How could I marry someone like that? How can I throw away my love for Duncan and all our plans for the future?
I guess the answer’s simple. I’d rather live an unhappy life knowing that Duncan lives and that he has a chance of being happy with someone else rather than see him die. Besides, I’m sure that if I did not agree with the king, he’d kill my people and then force me to marry him some other way.
I made my way down to the dungeons and no one dared stop me this time. I’ve suddenly jumped from a status of slave to princess and the future Queen of Amaranth. This time around, servants and guards bowed to me. One thing didn’t change though: the King’s mistresses still eyed me with disdain.
I reached the dungeons and ordered the guards to let me in. They didn’t budge at first but I threatened them and said that the moment I am crowned queen, my first edict will be to have them beheaded. They quickly opened the door and allowed me to enter. Thanks to the King of Ivaris for teaching me that blackmail works every time.
“Princess!” Brodie’s voice resounded against the hollow walls. I heard the sound of scuffling feet and chains being dragged and Brodie and the others clutched the cell bars. I checked them for any sign of injury but the King seemed to have kept his word and they were unharmed. I looked for Duncan and saw him leaning against the wall on one corner of the cell.
My heart instantly went out towards him and I knew that he was in so much pain right now. He stood there rigidly and stared out the small window instead of looking at me. “Duncan...” I called out and he looked at me. There was so much pain in those lovely green eyes.
The others shook their heads and backed away from the bars. They sat on the farthest corner of the cell to give me and Duncan some privacy. The chains rattled as Duncan walked towards me and every sound was like a punch to my chest. Duncan stood tall and proud like the warrior he is as he walked towards me but his eyes held so much pain. His jaw was set in a hard line as if he clenched his teeth just so he’d stop himself from screaming out his rage.
“Duncan...” I whispered and reached for his hand across the bars. He didn’t move but just stared at me. He didn’t take my hand so I lifted it and touched his cheeks and his jaw. He still didn’t budge and I leaned on the cold bars and let my tears fall.
I cried for the future we won’t have together. I cried for the love I’ve lost. I cried for all our memories. I cried for all the plans that won’t be fulfilled anymore. I cried for the sacrifice I am about to make. I cried for the pain I’ve caused the one remaining person who truly loved me for who I am. Lastly, I cried for myself and the love I am going to throw away.
It was the right thing to do: my people will live and my kingdom will be restored to its former glory. And all I had to do was marry the King.
Yet I had no idea it would hurt this much.
I cried there for a few moments before I felt a hand touch my lower back and pull me closer towards the cell bars. “Don’t touch the King’s woman!” one of the guards said but Duncan roared and the guard took a step backwards.
Duncan pressed his body closer to the bars and placed my head in his chest. “Don’t do this Adrienne...” he said. I looked up at him and saw his eyes were cloudy with unshed tears. “I can’t...” I whispered and he reached out, took my hand and kissed it.
“I’ll find a way... Don’t do this... Don’t marry him.” He said. His words held so much pain that I felt my own heart breaking.
“Duncan... Ever since I was young this was what was taught to me... Sacrifice... That is the duty of a princess. I have to do this for my people, my kingdom...” I whispered.
“No! You can’t go around sacrificing yourself every single time! What about you? What about your happiness?” he roared. “What about us?” he added in a pained whisper and more tears fell from my eyes.
“You knew this right from the start... I am a princess and my duty is to my people... Duncan, you’ll find someone else... Someone who could make you happy and grant you the family you desire.”
The other men in the cell were looking at me now and they echoed Duncan’s pain in their expression. Hunter shook his head and bowed again. My heart clenched at the sight of these men and their loyalty towards me and their captain... And it’s the reason why I just can’t let them die.
“No! Don’t say that! Don’t ever say that to me again!” He shouted and I heard his voice catch. He was sobbing this time. I saw the other men and they had their heads bowed.
“If I could throw away everything, I would! I’d like nothing better than to go with you! Our plans, I want them so badly that my heart breaks even more. But I can’t. I can’t see you die. I’d rather be unhappy for the rest of my life knowing you are alive rather than live every single day without you...!”
“I’d find a way. I swear this to you. I will go back here and I’d whisk you away. Yes, you’ll be sacrificing yourself to that devil but do not lose hope. I will come back and I’ll find you. We will go away and we’ll be together once more. Wait for me, my princess.” He vowed.
Ah, words... How wonderful they were to hear. How they were like a salve to my broken heart. How I would like to believe them and know that there is still hope. But no... There’s just no other way...
I’d have to harden my heart and forget this part of my life.
“I... I-I’m... a-afraid-d th-this.. is... g-g-ood-b-bye...” I barely got the words out for I was sobbing too much. Then I stood on the tips of my toes and pressed a kiss to his lips. I tasted the salt of his tears and I’m sure he tasted mine.
“No! Adrienne! Come back here!” Duncan shouted as I took one step away from the cell and out of his arms. I shook my head and took another step back. I clenched every muscle in my body to keep me from throwing myself back into Duncan’s arms.
I was about to turn around but I could not stop myself from stealing one last look towards Duncan. He had his other hand stretched out towards me as if he could pull me back to him while the other clutched a cell bar tightly. His green eyes were filled with pain and tears ran down his cheeks.
No... Stop it Adrienne.
I shook my head and ran out of the dungeons. I heard the sound of chains smashing stone and a loud roar that seemed to shake the very walls of the dungeons before I was able to run far enough that I could not hear anything anymore...
I ran up the staircase, past the great hall, out the doors of the castle and past the courtyard gates. I heard soldiers shouting my name and the sound of men shouting and running as they tried to catch up with me.
“Leave me alone! I only want some time for myself!” I shouted and ran faster into the woods. I ran until my chest ached and my lungs starved for air. The King’s soldiers caught up with me and hauled me towards the castle.
“Release me this instant!” I shouted.
“Your highness, this isn’t allowed!” one of the guards answered. “Can’t you just leave me alone for a few minutes? Go surround this area if you like! Just get away from me! Guard me from a distance. Can’t you do that?” I pleaded.
The guard’s eyes softened as he took in my tear-stained face and my pitiful state. He backed away and nodded towards the other guards and they disappeared into the woods one by one.
I ran towards a nearby tree and leaned my back on its trunk. Then I took a deep breath and screamed. I screamed as loud as I could and until I felt my throat hurt. I screamed until no more sound could come out. Then I cried until all my tears dried up. Then I sat there and endured the cold and the damp ground.
Then when my body couldn’t take it anymore, I let myself drift away into sweet oblivion. A place where there was just me and no one else. An alternate reality where I was not a princess who was about to marry the person she despised most. A princess who was not forced to give up the only man she’s ever loved...
Merry Christmas, everyone! <3