The next few days were strange. The entire household seemed to be going through an adjustment of some kind. Lord Albin was so often either with his father or out and about helping to run the place, that Evadna only saw him at mealtimes, if even that. One time, during the morning meal, they were left abruptly alone when his father was called away on business. His mother was still taking her meals in her room. After a long stretch of Lord Albin asking her questions about the Follows and her answering, she finally managed to insert a question into the conversation.
“Why were you absent that day she was attacked?
“Father said some things to me which needed investigating,” he began, setting down his fork. “I took Jaxon with me and together we explored the surrounding cities and villages to find the truth of Father’s allegations.”
“What did he say?” she said, after he’d been silent for awhile, staring down at his plate but not really seeing it.
“The king seeks to erase magic from this world.”
“Yes, the king. And I’m the best person positioned to challenge him for the throne.”
Speechless, Evadna only stared at him.
“Father is right. Jaxon and I saw the proof of it with our own eyes and ears. Not only are there witch hunts going on, but there is widespread fear and terror at the hint of magic. Such fear and terror incites horrific, inhuman acts. As you experienced so brutally the day I met you.”
“Why are you best positioned to challenge the king for his throne?” Evadna said quietly.
“Because of who my mother is. The king has no heirs. He blames magic for his inability to procreate. His parents have long since left this world, and he only had one sister. My mother is her daughter.”
“And the right to rule is only given to men,” Evadna stated.
Smiling slightly at the bitterness in Evadna’s voice, Lord Albin said, “For now, that is the law.”
“And the right to rule is only given to blood relations,” she continued.
Lord Albin nodded in answer.
“What will you do?”
Lord Albin finally looked at her. “I will fight. I will fight for a world with magic. I will fight so people like you are not hunted down and killed because of the talents they were born with.”
“Even if you must become king?”
A determined set to his chin, Lord Albin replied, “Even if I must become king.”
Evadna stared at him long in the face, before saying, “I am with you.”
Taking a deep breath, Lord Albin said, “I am glad.”
“Has your father figured out who attacked Lady Elsinor?” said Evadna, changing the subject.
“The man was a ghost. Besides Mother, no else saw or heard anything. But according to her descriptions of him, Father thinks he knows who it is.”
“What will he do? Can your father bring him to justice?”
Frowning, he said, “He doesn’t think it’s likely. He believes the attack was ordered by the king. But he’ll do what he can.”
Reaching across the table, Evadna laid a comforting hand over his. Eyes flying up to meet hers at the contact, he squeezed her hand and then released it.
Standing up from the table, he said, “I better get started. I have much to accomplish today. I’ll see you at dinner.”
He left without waiting for a reply. Puzzled, Evadna watched him disappear from the room.
Her associations with Lord Albin did not improve in the coming weeks. If anything, they deteriorated more. She tried to talk to him about it, wondering if she’d done something to push him away, but whenever she tried to bring it up he made his exit.
She turned to Jaxon for help one day, asking him if he’d noticed the way Lord Albin had been avoiding her. They were walking through the garden, on their way to the stables.
“Yes, I’d noticed,” Jaxon eventually replied.
“Do you know why? Have I done something to anger him?”
“That is something you have to ask him about.”
“I’ve tried. He won’t let me. He practically runs away whenever I try to talk to him.”
“I don’t know how to help you. I cannot tell you, why he’s been acting strangely around you and I cannot force him to talk to you.”
“But you know why,” she stated, searching his face and finding her answer there. “You do know. Tell me.”
“I can’t,” he said.
“You can! You-”
Something had distracted Evadna. She stood beside him in a transfixed manner. Feeling somewhat relieved, Jaxon looked to see what had caught her attention.
They stood at an entryway between the hedges leading to a fountain, with flowers and benches surrounding it. Leaning up against the fountain was Lord Albin, his arms around a woman. They were kissing. The sight was not shocking to Jaxon, but then he remembered who else was witnessing the scene and he felt his body turn to stone.
“Evadna,” he managed to croak out, but didn’t find the power to say anything more. He watched as Evadna broke out of her trance, running the opposite way. Jaxon noticed she left in her wake a trail of footprints covered in blood red flowers.
When he glanced back in Lord Albin’s direction, it was to find Lord Albin watching him, the woman in his arms content to lay her head on his shoulders. Anger and disgust filled his chest. Shaking his head, he turned back the way he’d come.
Evadna slowed to a walk once she was far enough away. Her inner turmoil causing her to walk blindly. She just knew she had to get as far from the manor, from the garden, from Lord Albin as possible. Tears streamed down her face. She did not see the plant life that sprang up when each tear fell to the floor. All she saw was Lord Albin holding another woman in his arms.
When she reached the forest trees she delved inside their comforting presence, feeling as if they could hide her from the world. She started to run again, trying to escape the suffocating feeling pounding upon her chest. Rain started to fall. And as each drop fell upon her, she felt the dam building up within her break.
She cried. She ran. She broke apart.
Falling to her knees by a stream. She peered into the water and stared at her reflection.
“Fool. You’re a fool. How could he ever love you? Look at you. You’re not even pretty.”
Digging her hands into the grass, she turned her face into the rain. She heard the music in her heart, in her blood, and she gave voice to it. Singing and humming and crying at intervals, she worked some strange magic of grief and pain and a promise.
Jaxon was there waiting for her when Evadna returned from the forest. He was soaked through. Evadna thanked him for the horse and after mounting, they rode back to the manor. Jaxon could think of nothing to say to her. Upon leaving the stables, she asked him how long he’d waited for her.
“I don’t know. A while. I wasn’t keeping track.”
She gazed at him with a lifeless expression that troubled him deeply. “Thank you,” was all she said, and she went ahead of him into the manor.
The next day she left for the Follows.