Chapter 34 - The Immortal Flower
June 1,1645 (Same day as when Aiken awakened)
The Seas Near Virlinn
The Sea Serpent (Duncan’s Ship)
-Queen Almira Adrienne Ivaris-
I was standing on a deck of a ship. It was elegant and bigger than any of the ships I’ve ever seen. I looked around and everything was shining. Everything seemed to be made of gold. A fine layer of mist surrounded the deck and no one else seemed to be in this ship but me. I looked up and saw the whitest and largest sails I’ve ever seen. On the middle of the main sail was embroidered a sun.
This must be a dream.
But something in me told me that this was no dream but a distant memory... It was as if I’ve seen this ship before. That I’ve been here a hundred times before and that I know every corner of this vessel.
I decided to explore the ship hoping that it would trigger something from my memory... Or maybe this was Selene’s memory?
The wooden floors creaked with every step I took and it made me wince. I tried to lighten my step as I explored. Everywhere I looked, there was the image of the sun. And when I wasn’t touching wood, I was touching solid gold.
Suddenly, a shaft of sunlight appeared and the mist cleared away instantly. I blinked and when I focused my gaze once more, a man stood on deck. He had his back to me as he gazed faraway at the vast expanse of ocean before us.
Something about him seemed familiar...
He wore a long golden robe and white breeches underneath it. The robe was tied off at one side by a belt which also carried a sword and some daggers. His hair was black yet it shone brilliantly with the sun.
As if sensing my presence, he turned around. And his face lit up with a smile when he saw me. He strode quickly towards me and gathered me in his arms.
“Seth...” I whispered.
He responded by placing a kiss on my forehead and holding me closer. He wrapped his arms around me as if he never wanted to let me go. I could feel his strength and his power envelop me. I closed my eyes and just allowed him to hold me. It felt like a really, really long time since I’ve been in his arms.
“You are alright? Did they hurt you?” he asked. His eyes now flashed with anger. He stepped back to look at every inch of me as if checking for any kind of mark that marred my skin. He found none and he breathed a sigh of relief.
“No... They didn’t hurt me...” I replied.
His tense muscles relaxed and he held me again. He seemed to revel in playing with my hair and inhaling my scent. He lifted his head and his eyes, which were the color of gold, gazed at me. I gasped.
“Aiken...” I whispered.
He continued to look at me. “I remember everything now...” he said in a voice laced with power. I looked at him questioningly.
“What do you mean?”
“I will get you back, my queen. And we will restore Ilyia...” he said. His voice sounded far away. I felt his power fading. I reached out to him but his form was flickering. I tried to touch his chest but my hand went through thin air.
“What’s happening?” I cried. I tried to reach out for him. I wanted to feel those arms around me again. I wanted to be enveloped by his powerful aura...
He frowned. “Someone’s interfering... You are about to wake up.” He replied. But I didn’t think that was the only reason. I felt something in the air. Another kind of power. Seth must have sensed it too for his eyes flashed with anger.
He reached for me and tried to touch my cheek but his hand only went through. He wasn’t deterred, though. He lifted his hand and placed it very near my cheek and he let it hover there. “I’m coming for you, Adrienne. Wait for me. Be strong and try to remember who you are...”
His voice trailed off and a mist surrounded the ship once more. This time, the white mist turned black and engulfed the entire ship. It also engulfed me until all I saw was darkness.
I closed my eyes and tried to fight off the fear that paralyzed my entire body. I reached out for anything I could touch but there was nothing. “Seth!” I called out. My cry just echoed in the darkness and there was no response.
I felt very afraid now.
And then suddenly there was a loud snap.
And then I was falling...
I screamed for a long time but still I was falling... My throat hurt from screaming and my lungs burned from the effort.
But still it didn’t stop...
Still I was falling...
Falling into a deep abyss.
I awoke from my dream because warm, strong arms were shaking me awake.
“Adrienne!” It was Duncan’s voice and it was filled with concern.
He was kneeling on the bed and I was sitting upright with my right hand stretched outwards as if reaching for something. Duncan had his hands wrapped around my shoulders to contain my thrashing.
“Shh... It was only a dream...” he soothed. He held me close to his warm, broad chest and rocked me back and forth. His action made me calmer and the fear of the dream faded away.
“Do you want to talk about your dream?” he asked. I was quite surprised by his question. For the past week since I’ve told him about my love for Seth, he made it a point to avoid me. I took my meals with his crew but he wasn’t there. When I was bored, the men took turns in keeping me company but Duncan has never approached me.
Whenever I saw him, he had this faraway look on his face. If our eyes met, he would always look away. It left me feeling sad for I missed our easy companionship. Still, I couldn’t blame him for I know that I hurt him badly.
If Seth suddenly told me that he’s in love with someone else, I think I’d die from the pain of it. Nothing in life would feel good if he’s not in it. It would be a life not worth living...
During the past week, I left Duncan alone. I understood his need to process things and I did not complicate it by forcing the burden of my presence on him.
And now, he was here... Holding me in his arms right after I suffered through a nightmare... It made me feel gulty that he was still here. He was always there for me and he never let me down. But I’ve let him down big time by falling in love with someone else.
I sighed and tried to move away from him.
He stilled. “Don’t.” He said and he wrapped his arms around me more tightly. He settled on a sitting position by the bed and I heard him sigh. I looked at the small window on the cabin and saw that the sun was already shining and it was about mid-morning.
I had a difficult time sleeping last night and it was already dawn when sleep finally claimed me. Maybe that was the reason I’ve overslept.
“Duncan... I’m sorry...” I said softly. He pulled away to gaze into my eyes. His thumb wiped the tears from my cheek and he kissed my forehead.
“I’ve had the past week to think about it, princess.” He started. He pulled away and sat beside me on the bed.
“Duncan—” I began but he cut me off by lifting a hand.
“Let me speak without interrupting. Alright?”
“I couldn’t help but feel that all of it is my fault. I know I’ve said this over and over and you’ve explained to me that it is not my fault. Still, I could not help but think that you being with that King is all my fault. If I realized that the plot to lure me away from Durnham was a trap, then I wouldn’t have left you vulnerable. We would never have separated and you would never have been taken as a slave and bought by him...”
I sighed at his words. No matter how hard I try to convince him that what happened to me is not his fault, he wouldn’t listen. I never blamed him for it but he constantly burdened his shoulders with blame.
Also, I believe that everything happens for a reason. Destiny, fate... Whatever it is, it works in mysterious ways. I believe that all of it was destined to happen so that I could meet Seth. Yes, we didn’t meet in the most fortunate or favourable of circumstances but it had the desired effect...
Our paths crossed... And then it tangled and intertwined. Until the point came that we were inseparable from each other. My beliefs were only strengthened when I knew that I was the reincarnation of Selene and he was Aiken.
In another life, we were lovers... And in that life, we died unjustly. He vowed to find a way for us to be together again and the Cosmos granted it. Here we are now... We have another shot at life and love. It has been destined.
But the thing I never liked with all of this is the fact that I hurt Duncan. If I could take his pain away and bear it, I would. But I could not... And here he is, standing in front of me. Hurting.
“Duncan—” he cut me off again. “No interruptions remember?” he reminded.
“I acknowledge your words that you love that King. However detestable he is, I think you might have found something inside him that called out to you. Or maybe you saw him as a sort of project or someone who needed rescuing. You have the most gentle and compassionate heart I know. You used to rescue all the stray animals near the castle before. It drove all the staff crazy but you wouldn’t be deterred from your goal... Maybe you saw him as someone like that. Someone you needed to care for. And maybe you thought you loved him.”
I shook my head but Duncan wasn’t looking at me. He kept his eyes down as if he didn’t want to see my reactions.
He was wrong.
He was far away from the truth as me from Ivaris.
It is really hard to say this but I know I love Seth. Yes, we may be destined lovers and all that but I met Duncan first, right? That means the choice was never taken away from me. It was always there and I made my move. I chose Seth. I acknowledged this by telling Duncan but he does not want to accept it.
I sighed once more.
“Adrienne... It’s hard for me to acknowledge you love him. But we can’t tell our hearts what to feel. You can’t order yours around and I can’t certainly tell mine to stop loving you. If only it was that easy...” he said with a chuckle.
“Yes, you love him but I know you love me too. Or you loved me once. If your feelings shifted from me to him then it can certainly shift back from him to me again. I just want you to know that I will do everything I can and I will not back down. I won’t lie down and have him step all over me even if he is a fucking King.”
I hung my head on my hands. This is getting more and more complicated. I just had a dream where Seth told me that he would do everything to get me back. I assume that part of that is letting my captors pay by suffering... And now, here’s Duncan telling me he’d do everything to win me back.
This is indeed getting more and more complicated...
And then Duncan surprised me by doing something he did a long time ago. He held out a Sylvan towards me. It was a flower which was very hard to find. It had eight petals which were blood red while its center was white. This flower, even when plucked never faded. It never withered that’s why it is also called as ‘The Immortal Flower’
“I give this to you, princess. As a token of my love for you and my good intentions for this courtship.” Duncan said as he held out the flower. With those words, I was taken back years ago. During the day he stated that he would try to court me and win my hand in marriage.
I sat atop my beautiful brown mare. I was clad in a riding habit and my hair was secured by a bonnet. My maids forced me to wear gloves so that the reins wouldn’t chafe my hands. I was also riding side saddle for it wasn’t proper of a princess to ride straddling.
My lips were in a thin line because I was irritated to hell. Yes, I am a princess but I could ride better than anyone else! Except Duncan, of course. He is the captain of the King’s guard after all. He is the best fighter and rider in our kingdom. My heart fluttered and I stopped myself from giggling as I thought of him.
“As you well know, princess. I am rich. My father is rich. We have made successful profits in trade and mining. I can give you the most beautiful diamonds, the biggest rubies, the shiniest sapphires. Also, I have a lot of achievements. I have yet to be undefeated in the sport of jousting. I also won the archery competition three years in a row now. My horse is also the fastest in all of the land.”
My companion, a duke of something, continued to drone on and on. For the most part of the ride, I ignored him and daydreamed instead.
“Don’t you agree princess?” he asked. I smile and nodded even though I really do not know whatever the hell it is I am agreeing to.
How much more should I suffer this ordeal? Gods, an hour more and I would gladly slit my own throat!
“Do you think you can give me a chance, princess? To court you?” he asked.
“I’m afraid you’d have to ask my parents for that. They have rejected all my suitors. I do not know why but no one seemed good enough for them.” I replied. I even raised my eyebrow in hope that he will take it as a challenge and ask my parents for permission in courting me.
Of course, all he would get is a big, fat ‘NO’.
I do not know why but my parents never allowed anyone to court me. They gave all kinds of reasons. Sometimes, I do not find any fault with the suitor but they always did. My mother found all insane kinds of reasons like: he is bowlegged, he sings like a girl, he’s too scrawny, he won the jousting competition only once when he should have won it thrice, he has a beard, he looks younger than you, etc.
The Duke’s eyes glimmered and I could see that he would indeed take up the issue with my parents. This time, I wasn’t able to stop the grin that shone on my face. Let him try... But I am sure... As sure that the sun will shine and set tomorrow that he would fail like the others before him.
It was time for us to return to the palace. And I couldn’t return there soon enough. I was so glad that the time for me to entertain this duke is over.
“You did say your horse was the fastest, right? Care for a race, my Lord?” I asked.
His chest immediately puffed up with indignation. Without him saying, I already know what he’s thinking about. He’s thinking that I am a woman and I could never beat him.
“We can do this, Chestnut.” I told my mare. She whinnied with excitement. I smiled at the Duke and tilted my head in a challenge.
“We shall race.” The duke declared. My grin widened.
And race we did. We went back to the palace with Chestnut trailing dust over the Duke and his stallion. I laughed as I entered the courtyard. I beat him by a long shot. I patted Chestnut and then handed her over to the stable grooms.
I scanned the courtyard and saw Duncan pacing. He looked agitated and he was continually pacing. I could see his lips moving which meant that he was also muttering. His hair was messed and I knew from watching him all these years that he has repeatedly run his fingers through it. Something he only did when he was nervous.
“Duncan!” I shouted. His head instantly whipped towards me and in a few long strides, he was standing before me.
“What happened? Did you like him?” he asked. His voice was almost a growl and his eyes held fury in them.
I laughed. “No. He was much too arrogant for my taste.” I replied with a snort. I have the ability to tell the truth from a lie. So far, my veins were like ice because of all the lies the Duke told me.
“You did not like him?” Duncan persisted. I rolled my eyes. “Not one bit.” I replied.
He exhaled loudly and looked very relieved. “He is one of the most eligible bachelors in his kingdom.” He stated. “Didn’t work for me.” I replied with a shrug.
“Let’s go to our river.” Duncan said. I smiled. “Now that is something that will brighten my gloomy day.” I replied.
He glanced around the area to make sure no one heard us. “Go on... Go there first. I had my men check it before and it’s secure. I’ll meet you there, princess.”
“Alright.” I wasted no time and quickly walked over to the river. I went to our favourite boulder and sat. I removed my shoes and my stockings and dipped my feet into the cold water. It was very pleasurable and I threw back my head and smiled as I felt the sun on my skin.
Within a few minutes, I heard footsteps... When I looked back, Duncan was there. He looked really better than how I saw him in the courtyard. His hair was now slicked back from his face and his uniform wasn’t rumpled anymore. Also, he was smiling and the anger in his eyes was gone.
He plopped down beside me and rubbed his neck. He usually did this when he was shy.
“Why didn’t you like the Duke? Aside from him being arrogant?” he asked.
“He lies. And I don’t really see him being my husband. I want someone who’d be strong and responsible enough to stand beside me while I rule Amaranth. I want someone who’s wise so that I could turn to him for advice with regards to ruling the kingdom. The Duke is a slob and I can see that he knows nothing about running a kingdom.”
Duncan chuckled at that.
“I agree with you regarding your observation. I heard that the Duke has terrorized most maids because of his demands for perfection in everything.” He remarked. Again, I rolled my eyes.
“I won’t marry someone like that.” I declared.
“No you won’t.” Duncan muttered under his breath. I was pretty sure I didn’t hear him right.
“What?” I asked.
He took a deep breath. Then, he raised his eyes to me. “Princess... I hope that you do not get mad at me for what I am about to say.” He said.
My eyes instantly widened.
‘Please say you like me, please say you like me, please say you like me.’ I chanted inside my head. I’ve always had feelings for him but not once did I feel that he liked me back.
“Ever since I first laid eyes on you, that day at the kitchen when we were younger... When you gave me some of the tarts you were eating... Back then I was a butcher’s son. A nobody... But since that time, I’ve been fascinated, mesmerized by you...” he said in a soft voice.
My heart jumped. I tried hard to stop myself from smiling. This is it! He’s finally saying his feelings! Gosh, this day certainly got better!
Duncan ran his hand through his hair again, thereby messing it once more. “What I’m trying to say here is that... Princess, I’ve been in love with you for a long time now...”
My eyes widened and my jaw fell open. I have dreamed about this for a long time now! But I couldn’t have come up with anything better! The way he said it just made everything inside me melt...
I looked at him and I saw vulnerability shining in his eyes. He was really laying out his heart for me. Traditionally, in Amaranth, if a man wanted to court a woman... He would start out by telling her everything he has to offer. That is when the woman would deem those worth or unworthy of her affections.
I knew that is what Duncan would say next...
“I can’t bear the thought of losing you. I can’t bear the thought of anyone else being married to you. Princess, I think I have everything you would desire in a consort. I may not have blue blood in my veins or lands but I can compensate for everything... I have watched you and your father run the kingdom for years. I have learned everything I can about Amaranth. I can help you run this kingdom should you wish it. When the day becomes harder than most, know that you will have me to turn to. I will comfort you always and never leave. I will be your stronghold, the person who you will always turn to...”
My chest squeezed and tears sprang from my eyes.
“... I do not have much riches to offer but I have enough to keep you in a comfortable life. I have saved all the gold I earned as Captain and acquired some more riches during raids. It will be enough to give you the best jewels and the most beautiful dresses. If you will allow me to win your hand, I shall prove to you much more. Words are fickle and words alone cannot be trusted. This is why I am keeping this short. I want you to see me for who I am and judge me for that and not based on the list of riches or accomplishments I can tell you. All I ask is a chance...”
He stopped speaking and looked at me with hope in his eyes. Now came the time for me to accept or reject his courtship.
I swallowed the lump in my throat.
“Duncan... Ever since we were young, you were there for me. I think you are the one person in Amaranth who knows me for what I am and not because of my status. Also, I believe that you are the person who knows me the best. I know you are a good man and you need not list your qualities or accomplishments for me because I know them like the back of my hand.”
He smiled at my words and my heart thudded faster.
“I accept.” I declared.
Duncan exhaled loudly and then his face brightened with a huge grin. He bowed his head which is a customary ritual after the woman has accepted the man’s affections.
“I cannot tell you how happy this has made me, princess.” He said, still with the smile plastered on his face.
He reached behind his back and took out a red flower. My eyes widened. It was a Sylvan! Only the most beautiful flower but also the rarest one!
“I chose this for you, princess. This may sound funny to you but... Well here goes. The Sylvan has eight petals and the word ‘PRINCESS’ also has eight letters. But more than that, the word ‘I LOVE YOU’ also has eight letters.” He said.
My eyes clouded with tears of joy. Duncan loved me!
“... It is also red which is the symbol for love and passion. But in its middle is the color white which symbolizes purity. My love for you is pure, princess... And so are my intentions... Lastly, this is called the Immortal Flower. It never withers. It never dies. It is just like my love for you, princess. It will never wither nor die...” his voice trailed off and he held out the flower towards me.
“I give this to you, princess. As a token of my love for you and my good intentions for this courtship.” He said.
I reached out and accepted the Sylvan. “I accept.” I said with a smile that matched the intensity of his.
I resurfaced from my trip down memory lane when I felt the bed dip. Duncan was coming closer towards me. I could feel that he intended to kiss me. But I could not let him... It felt like a betrayal to Seth.
At the last moment, I turned my head and he kissed my cheek instead.
He pulled back with a hurt written all over his face. He stood up and I saw that he held his entire body in a very stiff manner.
“I will now leave you to dress, princess. My men and I will wait for you on deck so that we could eat.” He said. He smiled again at me but this one was a sad smile and my heart ached for him. I dug myself another big problem-filled hole and buried myself in it.
Seth will come for me and Duncan will refuse to let me go... And someone will end up hurt.
Why do I always end up hurting the people I love?