The Silent Witness (Published)

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CHAPTER 19 - LOVE IN THE GARDEN

The celebrations were to last for three days. The Kings and Queens of both Marpøøn Gantal and Rake Turf spared no expense. King Hatmin and Prince Daris had contributed to the cost of the lavish celebrations.

King Alkan, however, believed his presence alone was a gift to the kingdom, much to everyone’s disgust. Gunner insisted that the entire kingdom share food and drink and partake in celebrating the union of both Northern Kingdoms.

Queen Shafis sent emissaries to the local magistrates of each district and were given clear instructions by royal decree to give each registered citizen of Marpøøn Gantal one silver barthic; the currency of Barathorn, introduced to mankind thousands of years ago by Færró, the god of commerce. Many of the aristocrats were appalled at this gesture.

While seated at the high table, Alkan asked Shafis, “Why would you empty the royal treasury by handing out barthics to everyone in this kingdom? Those funds could’ve been allocated and used for a better cause.”

Like funding a war?” Shafis thought. She looked at him indifferently. “It didn’t come from the royal treasury. It came from my own purse.”

Alkan nearly choked on his wine, his face turning red. Elarosh thought he should hit his king on the back to clear his air passages but refrained from doing so.

Let him die.” He hoped. But after taking a few gasps, he finally came round.

Isarin, not taking notice of Alkan’s distress, added her voice to the subject, “This kingdom has no debts. The coffers are full and Queen Shafis here,” she took the queen’s hand and gently squeezed it, “wished to show a little kindness towards her people. She wouldn’t dream of using peoples’ tax money. Many men and women labour long hours for a few copper barthics, but a silver barthic is at least three months’ wages for many of the lower class.”

“And with winter coming,” Gunner added, “the people will be able to purchase grain, wheat, and other supplies to see them through the harsh season.”

Alkan cleared his throat. “You truly are a unique individual, Queen Shafis.” She dipped her head in thanks.

“I wonder though,” Alkan mused, causing Elarosh to stiffen. “Would you be as generous to the people of Rake Turf as you’ve been towards the people of your kingdom?”

Isarin glanced at Hepharis, who was now looking extremely uncomfortable and shifted in his seat. Hatmin took pleasure in Alkan’s question. Hepharis had been using the royal treasury to upgrade the defences of his kingdom due to his ever-growing paranoia that Hatmin might invade. He further went on to take out loans from the Storm Glades Bank of Fate Ørn - the largest bank in western Barathorn.

Gunner saw Hepharis’s troubled look and quickly said, “My good Alkan, this is not a competition! We didn’t need a wedding as an excuse to give out money! As a matter of fact, we were planning to do this during the Feast of Vězra, in honour of the goddess who changes the seasons. We felt it was time to give something back and to show our appreciation to the people who put their faith and trust in us.”

“Hear, Hear!” Daris cheered, raising his cup to their host. They all cheered and drank together.

As the evening went on, Alkan would look at Ysha and hope the princess would look his way. When she finally did, he gestured with his eyes and nodded towards one of the doors leading out to the palace gardens. She looked at him and he could see she wanted to but was afraid. He got up to excuse himself.

“Forgive me. I would like to take a breath of fresh air. This wine is most excellent, but I feel I need to clear my head. I will return shortly.”

He gave one more meaningful look at Ysha and walked out. After he left, she was trying to come up with an excuse to leave and asked her husband if he would allow her to go freshen up.

Joshen thought nothing of it and Ysha left, pretending to walk towards the main stairs. She looked back to see if anyone was looking, then quickly darted towards the exit where Alkan had left.

Idly tracing her finger along the tip of her goblet, Shafis, who had witnessed everything, got up and kissed her husband on the cheek, promising she will return momentarily.

* * * * *

The evening sky was beautiful. Ysha was standing on the balcony that led towards the private gardens of the palace courtyard. She was trying to see where Alkan had gone when she heard someone come from behind, the doors closing. She found herself smiling and her heart was hammering in her chest.

“What do you think you doing?” Came the sharp voice of her mother. Ysha screamed when she heard Shafis and ran towards the doors, but Shafis grabbed her arm and twisted her around to face her.

“You’re playing with fire!” She hissed. “I saw how you two looked at each other in the temple! Not to mention the looks he’s been giving you during the feast! Are you so blind? We don’t need to make unnecessary enemies!”

Ysha struggled, but her mother’s grip was firm.

Shafis continued, “It was decided you were to marry Joshen years before and I will not have you give yourself over to the passions of the heart to someone who doesn’t care if you live or die!”

Tears began to spill over Ysha’s cheeks. “I don’t love Joshen!” she wailed. Shafis softened, but only a little.

She released her grip and took Ysha’s hand. “In time, you will learn to love him. I know he is stern and rather grim like his father, but he’s a good man. Did you honestly think I would simply hand over my only daughter to him if I knew he wasn’t? If you only knew half the things I know about him, you would fall on your knees and beg his forgiveness for showing your affections to someone else. I won’t tell you the things Joshen has done that made his kingdom a better place for his people to live in, I wish for you to find that out for yourself.”

Ysha took her hand from her mother’s and walked towards the balcony’s railings, staring out at the gardens.

“But you married for love?” Ysha ventured.

Shafis gave a small chuckle. “No, I didn’t!”

Ysha turned and stared at her mother. “But you and father are the epitome of the perfect couple!”

Shafis tilted her head. “Is that what you think? I was once betrothed to the Grand Ambassador’s eldest brother; Theavall Velthor, and we were deeply, passionately in love.” Ysha looked at her mother in disbelief.

Shafis took a seat and began her story.

“We met in our home city, Caper Løck and fell in love. In less than a few months, we were engaged. He and I couldn’t get enough of each other. We had our wedding planned out and I found I was counting the days until I would forever be his. Weeks before our wedding was to take place, the rebellion began on the Que Summøns Islands that became too dangerous to ignore. They were trying to revive their old ways of becoming a pirate haven. The council called for all fighting men to repel the rebellion.

“I begged him not to go, but he told me he couldn’t turn down his duty and honour for a safer life for everyone. On the day he departed, I again implored him to stay, but he wouldn’t. Every day I would stand on the shores near Pømel Tarq and watched with anxiety how the battle raged on in the far distance. You could hear the shouts of men, the screams of the dying. It was unbearable. After what seemed like a lifetime, the battle was finally over.

“Eventually, when the ships were bound for Caper Løck, I stood on the docks along with Gren, hoping, praying, pleading to the gods that Theavall was among the living. But when the last soldier came down and stood on the docks, facing the ship that brought them home, trepidation filled my heart. Sailors then appeared on the decks and brought the dead out on stretchers while the soldiers stood in silent salute as tribute to those who had fallen during the battle. Gren held me when they brought Theavall’s body and I wept so much, I thought all my tears would dry up and I’d never be able to shed another tear again.”

Shafis seemed lost in her memories.

“A year later,” she continued, “I attended the voting for new members of the Senate in Sajanell Døørs, hoping for Gren to be voted in when a man suddenly approached me. I hardly paid him much attention until I noticed he was surrounded by bodyguards. It was your father! He was a prince back then and he asked for my name.”

Shafis smiled at the memory. “I was still yearning for Theavall, and Gren lost the vote and he decided to settle in Fate Ørn and serve the Senate in western Barathorn. It felt as if I lost a part of Theavall all over again when Gren left. I was so preoccupied with what had happened in just a year that I failed to realise your father had gone to ask my parents for my hand in marriage!” Shafis laughed.

“My father was so pleased that his daughter had caught the attention of a prince, but all I wanted was the man I loved, even though I knew he was forever lost to me. My parents and I fought for many weeks until eventually I gave in and married your father. I was very unhappy, but your father had always been patient and kind towards me. I fell pregnant that year. Your grandfather, King Rion Price, passed away and the throne passed on to your father. The coronation took place in the great temple of the Thirteen. It was only after the death of our firstborn that we became close, truly close. To my utter surprise, I learned I could love again, and now? The rest is history.”

Standing up, she walked over and took her daughter in her arms. “Don’t be so quick to judge. Give Joshen a chance. Don’t rush these things.” Ysha said nothing. Shafis leaned forward and kissed her on her brow.

“Come inside,” said Shafis. “Your absence will be noticed.”

Ysha smiled and said, “Thank you, mother. I’ll join you soon.”

Shafis turned and opened the doors. She walked towards the hall where the sounds of celebration could be heard.

Before Ysha could follow, a voice rang out, “About time she left!” Ysha nearly screamed, but Alkan rushed at her and held her mouth, looking deeply into her blue-grey eyes. He felt her soften in his grip and released her.

“I have to go back to the feast,” Ysha was breathless.

“Do you always follow your mother’s bidding?” It was a rhetorical question, but Ysha felt compelled to answer.

“I am a woman who can answer for myself!” She turned and walked towards the doors her mother opened a few moments ago. He ran past her and put his arm out across the door frame. He then proceeded to close the doors and moved slowly towards her, his sea-green eyes roaming over her body from head to toe, while she backed away, only to stop in her tracks when she bumped against the balcony’s railings behind her.

“You’re so beautiful!” Alkan gently began stroking her cheek and moved his hand softly around her neck, then proceeded towards her chest, caressing her soft skin. He could feel her heart beating wildly.

Please,” she whispered, “I need to go back!” His other hand came round and rested on the small of her back, pulling her body closer to him. Her hands were resting on the railing behind her.

His hand softly traced around her lips, then to her shoulder where he slipped a part of her strap away and proceeded to gently kiss her bare shoulder and neck. Her breathing increased and he found himself aroused. He pressed his body harder against hers.

“Tell me you want me to go,” he whispered in her ear. She was unable to answer him.

Tell me!” he whispered again. She let go of the railing and placed her hands on his hips and let out a pleasurable moan.

She found herself whispering, “No!” Alkan closed his mouth over hers and directed her to a private alcove in the palace gardens and took away what only her husband had the right to claim.

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