"Your father?" Arya exclaimed at the same time as Vyron said, "The Duke of Raye?"
Mouse had never met the Duke of Raye, as he rarely came to the Palace and Arya was never inclined to take the long journey to the northern border town to meet with him. Raye was known for being Keiento's main border town to Decura, the northern Kingdom of Antaiya. Decura was, as most people thought of it, a barren wasteland. There was hardly any plant life in the dark northern Kingdom and it was shut off from the rest of the Kingdoms by its tall, looming, rocky mountains that sat along its borderlines and kept it secluded. Its dark, rocky plantain contrasted the bright, luscious fields of Keiento. It was the night to Keiento's day, the shadow to Keiento's sun.
The King that ruled there, King Lerren, was as cold as the land itself. He cared not for his people, forcing many of them to work in his mines to find him gold and gems, as fortune was all he cared about. His wife, the poor woman, never left the Palace, trapped in her own home, a prisoner. Queen Helena was forced unwillingly into the marriage just before her father, the previous King, King Azzac, passed away. Some people believed that King Lerren had killed his wife, as no one ever saw her. Others said that she was locked away in the tall tower and if you listened closely at night, you could hear her sad voice singing eerily through the darkness, a mournful cry of despair and sorrow.
Though King Lerren was an unpleasant and despicable man, he was not a man of war. He thankfully despised fighting, not liking to get his hands dirty, and was easily coaxed into signing a Treaty of Peace between the Kingdoms. It was basically an "I'll stay out of your business if you stay out of mine" kind of treaty, and though as much as Arya wanted to help the poor people of Decura, she knew that she could not or else she would be breaking the treaty and thus give King Lerren grounds to start a war, which neither Kingdom wanted.
"Your father told you to kill me?" Arya demanded of the young man. "Why would he do that?"
"Isn't it obvious?" he replied. "My father has always been known to be in favour of your elder brother, wanting him to rule and not you. And if you were to die, then who would the crown go to?"
"My brother," Arya sighed. "Marcus." The High Prince, Prince Marcus, was the next in line for the Throne, followed by the Young Prince, Prince Donavin, unless Arya were to have children (which was highly unlikely at this point in time) or if she were to name another heir. Mouse knew that Arya did not want to change the line of succession, making Donavin the next in line rather than Marcus because she knew that it would be like prodding open the old wound of being overlooked by their father and she did not want Marcus to hate her more than he already did.
"If you were told to poison me, then why didn't you do it the other night?" Arya asked. "You were rather friendly the other evening, not the murderous type."
"He just told me to today," Gerald replied, dropping his head in despair. "After my failure to woo you the other night, my father got angry, calling me no good and worthless, and said that I had no purpose, I was of no use to him, so unless I did as I was told, he would kill me as I was worthless to him. I had no choice but to obey him."
"You are honestly believing this?" Lord Penton cried, outraged. Mouse had not noticed that he had joined them in the room. "He could very well be lying just to cover his a-"
"That is enough, Lord Penton!" Arya silenced him, then turned back to Gerald."Please, continue." He took a deep breath before continuing, his eyes refusing to meet Arya's.
"So tonight when I offered to hold your drink, I slipped the powder that my father had given me into it. But..." he raised his head and looked Arya in the eyes. "But when I saw you dancing, saw the pure joy in your face, in your eyes, and how beautiful and graceful you were, I couldn't do it. I knew that I couldn't. I knew right then and there that I would rather take my own life than to take yours, so I drank the poison. I would much rather die than to be responsible for your death. And I'm so sorry, Your Majesty. I'm so sorry that I was too much of a coward to stand up to my father and say no, and too stupid and scared to tell you earlier. I should never have even dared to try to harm you. I'm so sorry. I can never forgive myself for this, for what could have happened, and I don't expect you to ever forgive me for my treachery." The room was completely silent as Gerald finished his explanation, even Lord Penton was unusually quiet. He must have seen what everyone else could clearly see, that this man was telling the truth. Mouse had never seen a more heartfelt and sincere apology in all her life.
"Your father is here?" Arya finally asked.
"Yes," he nodded. "He is in our chambers in the west wing, third door on the right."
"Guards!" Arya called out, turning to them. "Go arrest Lord Gregory for treason against the crown." She then turned back to Gerald. "You are pardoned for your part in this." She told him, placing a gentle hand on his. "But your crime cannot go completely unpunished. Therefore, you are hereby banished from the Palace. You are never to return here again." His face fell with despair and he buried it in his hands.
"Instead," she continued. "You are to remain in your secluded residence in Raye, leaving it only to check on your lands and people."
"Your Majesty?" he raised his head, confusion in his brown eyes.
"Well is it not the responsibility of a Duke to check on his lands and people?" Arya asked, a smile tugging on her lips. Mouse smiled as well as she realized what Arya was doing for him: she was making him the new Duke of Raye. Finally, realization dawned on him and his eyes widened and his lips parted, gapingly.
"You mean that I'm..." he trailed off, at a loss for words.
"Congratulations, Duke of Raye," she smiled. "I hope that you rule your lands better than your father did."
"Thank you, Your Majesty," he bowed his head in respect, tears rolling down his cheeks. "I can never thank you enough."
"Now once you are well enough, I will have my some of my men escort you back to your land," Arya announced, standing up to leave. "May the Creator watch over you."
"And may He ever watch over you," he replied, bowing his head to her again as she departed, Mouse and Vyron following right behind her.
"Your Majesty, a word, if I may," Lord Penton's voice followed them out into the hall.
"No," she whirled on him. "I will not be criticized by you. I did what I felt was right in there and I do not regret a word I said or a thing I did. No matter what you may say or think, I know I did the right thing."
"Yes, you did," his response surprised them all. "I know that I don't always agree with all of your choices..." his eyes flickered to Mouse. "But I do agree that you made the right choice tonight. Your decision was very honorable. Your father would be proud of you. I think I'm beginning to see why he chose you." He gave them a slight shrug. "Good night to you, Your Majesty." He bowed to her, then turned and walked away, leaving the three of them standing there, stunned by what they had just seen.
"Do my ears deceive me," Mouse broke the silence. "Or did Penton seem... almost human there? It just seems so surreal... That he actually just gave you a compliment!"
"I think we're just as shocked as you are," Arya replied, blinking her eyes a couple of times to make sure that she wasn't dreaming.
"Huh," Vyron exclaimed. "Maybe Lord Penton isn't such a bad guy after all... Though I still don't like him."
"And no one is asking you to," Mouse laughed, taking his arm in hers. "You don't have to like him, you just have to tolerate him."
"It's funny," Vyron commented. "You think you know a guy, and then he turns around and does something that completely surprises you and makes you think 'hey, maybe he's not the guy I thought he was.'"
"I agree," Arya shook her head, looking off in the direction that Lord Penton had taken. "You know what? I think that that was the first time that he has ever given me a compliment."
"Well, you know what they say," Mouse remarked with a grin. "There's a first time for everything, so I guess that it was bound to happen sooner or later!" Mouse smiled as her friends laughed at her joke, staring off in the direction Penton had taken.
And who knows, she thought to herself. Maybe one day he'll give me a compliment too. And maybe then we'll finally be in each other's good books. After all, everyone deserves a second chance, even someone like Lord Penton. I was given a second chance at life, so why shouldn't he get second chances too?