But Never Doubt I Love
“Althea, sis, are you ok?”
Althea hadn’t even noticed that she had stopped massaging Baldrik’s slightly swollen leg as she looked worriedly at the door. She had wondered if Durai would be coming in that morning to watch or if he would stay away. She wasn’t sure which she preferred.
“Huh? Oh, I’m sorry. Is it feeling any better?” she asked as she resumed her pressure and motion.
Baldrik bent over and took her hands in his. “Never mind that,” he said with genuine concern in his eyes. “I want to know if you’re ok.” Althea looked at him confused. “You’ve been late all week, you haven’t been eating much, and you don’t look like you’ve been sleeping.”
It was true that she had not been sleeping well. Her sleep had been haunted with dreams of disappointing Durai again, experiencing his hurt all over again. But more than that, she had dreams of the fast-running river and mysterious fog for the last two nights. This vision troubled her most of all, and she found that she could not return to sleep for fear of its return.
“Just some troubled sleep is all; bad dreams. It’s nothing. I’m sure it will pass. I’m sorry I’ve been late. It’s probably something I ate.”
“I doubt that; you’ve barely eaten at all.”
Baldrik’s words didn’t seem to register again.
“What have you been dreaming about?”
Althea looked nervously towards the door. “Oh, just the occasional bump in the night stuff. The kind you don’t go back to sleep easily from,” she said nervously presenting her half-truth.
Baldrik seemed to battle within him over a response. “Althea,” he started determined to speak his heart truthfully, “I’m really worried. I don’t mean to put my business where it doesn’t belong, but you’ve seemed … I don’t know, off? I don’t mean to pry at all in your private relationship, but since Durai went away, you know... lying to you, you …” Baldrik was suffering; he didn’t have faith in his words to fully convey his caring intent. Seeing her eyes darken at the mention of what transpired between her and Durai only made him fumble more.
“I’m not sure what you mean,” Althea admitted genuinely. She believed to be much better now that they had reconciled, besides the dreams. She was spending more time with the man she loved, he seemed much happier now and more satisfied with their relationship which made her happy, and she was making more time for things away from working so hard after following his suggestion. Of course, those things away from work she loved doing most was being with him and seeing him smile. She was really very perplexed at Baldrik’s concern.
Baldrik led her to the mirror against the wall in his room. He placed her in front of it while standing behind her. “Look at you,” he said painfully. “Your eyes have lost their shimmer. You’ve lost your color. When was the last time you went outside? You’re always here with me or hidden away with Durai.” Althea’s brow furrowed at the suggestion that this was wrong. Baldrik tried to redirect, “I’m not saying don’t spend time with him. But maybe get some fresh air. And maybe just spend some time with you for yourself. Your hair has even started to thin a bit.”
Althea wanted to ignore his words as ignorant and maybe jealous, but her guard against his truth was penetrated by the intense concern in his eyes. He did love her as family, and she was reminded that she did love him too. She had forgotten that it was ok to love someone as a brother and not a lover. When she woke to the fact that his words were not in malice, she did take a look at herself. She saw through his eyes and became even more confused. Was she becoming ill? She certainly looked like it.
Baldrik gently turned her around to face him. The warmth of his affection almost burned her in her fatigue, and she involuntarily looked down in shame. Baldrik lifted her chin, “Please don’t think I’m scolding you. I have no right even if I was. I just...” he faltered as his voice broke. “Please be careful. I just want you to be well and happy. Your soul deserves only the best of things.”
Althea said, “I am happy.” The words trailed off at the end as if carried away to wither in the sun.
Baldrik simply replied, “I just want you to be happy.”
Durai was held up with a meeting of the Courtside nobles, so for the first time in a long time, Althea had time to herself. She wasn’t entirely sure what she could or should do with herself. Before she realized it, she found herself slowly walking the halls of the castle without purpose or direction. Her mind was swirling like a whirlpool in a rushing river tossing between Baldrik’s words, the sight of her own tired face, and the nightmares she was being plagued with.
In her wanderings, she came to a common area for the palace guards and attendants and encountered Durai’s guard that she had healed. She was jolted out of her absentminded haze by his stare. Again, he looked at her with that indescribable expression. While the whole area was continuous motion of interaction, laughter, and conversation, he alone stood still and intent.
She wasn’t sure if it was her fatigue or exactly what possessed her to confront him, but the words spilled forth even before she herself knew they were inside her. “Have I done something to wrong you? I can’t understand these looks I’m getting.” She didn’t even recognize her own voice. She really must be tired, she thought to herself. But she spoke from her heart, and she wouldn’t apologize for it.
The guard looked down briefly as if realizing she really wouldn’t understand his reactions to her. He had been watching her for a very long time. He saw this once vibrant flower wither and dry as if plucked from the earth. He came to her and pulled her away from the crowd into the hall. He was taller than she remembered and much stronger. He was built like the very hill on which the castle stood. He his aura was proud but also sensitive she sensed. Though he appeared domineering, something radiating from him was far from malignant.
“Look at you,” he said with a voice he didn’t expect. She had braced herself for a voice that boomed like thunder, but instead she heard something much lighter. “I mean, just look at you. This is not what you were when you arrived here, when I first met you, when you healed me.” His face turned and contorted at the memory of that day, and she was surprised at it. She didn’t understand where this feeling was coming from.
“I don’t understand what you mean,” she lied.
“Yeah, I’m sure you don’t,” he replied sarcastically as he looked over his shoulder to make sure no one had followed them. He grasped her by the shoulders, and she looked down at his hands in shock at his boldness. She fought the fear she had at his sudden grasp of her and tried to remain controlled; she was just so tired. “You used to shine like the sun; everything about you glowed. It’s all gone now, hasn’t it? You look like you could fall over in a second.” Even as he spoke, she could feel her own weakness.
The guard continued to look past her into the hall and behind his shoulders. “You know what I’m talking about, don’t you?” he whispered to her.
“I really don’t,” Althea replied not matching his quiet volume, which prompted another scan from the guard.
“Your spirit is being sucked dry, isn’t it?”
Althea opened her mouth to protest, but she found she couldn’t. All she could do is stand there with her mouth open as if silenced by the force of God himself.
He took a deep breath as if he made a decision. “You saved my life. When it all comes down to it, the rest doesn’t matter. I’m sorry for what I’ve harbored against you. It wasn’t your fault.”
Now Althea was really confused as to what he was talking about. He didn’t have the patience or energy to try and solve riddles. “What are you trying very hard not to say?” she asked trying not to sound as annoyed as she felt. “I’m sorry, I’m usually more patient,” she added as she realized how unlike herself she had become with this man.
“Please, for both our sakes, keep my words between us.” He stopped until she responded. His eyes practically begging for her to understand, so she nodded. “You saved my life, now let me try to save yours.”
“Shhhh,” he said as he was looked around again. “That day that you met me and Durai, that was not the first time he saw you. He came to Base Village some weeks before to collect a child for training to be an Enchanter. He saw you walking across the way from him. He noticed your hair, he noticed your glow, he seemed like a man possessed.
“I’ve known Durai for many years. I’ve seen his charm, his craftiness. Never once in my life have I seen him not get what he wants. And that day that he saw you, he had decided that he would have you.”
The man paused hoping that he wouldn’t have to continue, that she would have the wits to figure out what he was trying to tell her without him having to say it. But she was too spent and too in shock over his desperate tone to think clearly.
“He set up a trap for you. He was the hunter; you were his prey. I don’t know why; I never try to fully understand him. I’m sure if he just asked...”
“What do you mean ‘trap?’” she asked still registering what he was saying.
He took another labored breath, “I’m sorry.” He tried again slowly and with more control. “Durai wanted you from the moment he saw you. He could think or speak of little else for a week. All his world revolved around having you. You had put a spell him. And when he gets this way, he finds any way to get what he wants.
“He wanted to see all you could do, to get close to you. I didn’t fall from my horse that day. That gash was no accident. He had to find any way to get you close and to see what you were capable of.”
Althea felt as if she wasn’t truly there, that she was still in a nightmare. She willed herself with all she could to try and wake up. She couldn’t possibly be hearing what she was hearing. Wasn’t she also hearing the fast-flowing river now?
Before she could come to herself, he looked past her and down the hall, and left her side quickly. She was alone with too many questions and too many thoughts. She thought back to every detail she could possibly recall of that day.
Hadn’t Durai worried over his man? She couldn’t recall his concern, only his eyes on her and her work. Hadn’t he hurried into her hut with urgency? To be honest, she couldn’t rely on her memories of that day; it all seemed to happen slowly like the fluid nature of a dream. Well didn’t they both confirm this was a terrible accident? They did, but she did remember the look between them when she asked about what happened. Like there was something wrong...
Then all that was wrong with the meeting came to her very clearly. The man wasn’t on his horse to ride away as she followed Durai; he was off the horse waiting for her as if he knew she would be coming - as if it were planned. My God, had the man she loved sacrificed this man’s life just to …
She flinched at the hand on her shoulder that came from behind her.
“Sorry to keep you waiting, Dove.”