The Broken Soul: Promises and War - Part Four
Tucked into the farthest corner of the castle gardens, Sarevor sought refuge from curious eyes, hidden behind an assortment of colorful plants, bushes, and one broad, flowering tree. He had often sat on the stone bench in this secluded corner, and most of those sittings had been with Cove Macduff. Now, he sat alone, his brown hat in his lap, toying distractedly with the crème feather protruding from it.
His mind was a torrent of troubled thoughts, and he couldn’t help but to continuously glance to his left at the empty slab of bench beside him.
Cove Macduff had been spotted, not far from Shenkuu. Cove Macduff had come only inches away from being brought back to this castle in chains. A chill of unease rolled through Sarevor’s stomach at this thought, but it was nothing compared to how he felt when wondering if Cove, like so many others, had gotten wind of his change in allegiances. What must he think of him?
What must everyone think of him now?
One, single choice, and he’d altered the fate of so many. Never had he imagined that a ploy to keep his head above water would drown so many others. He’d thought it was the wise move, but now he was seeing other sides. Now he knew why his allegiance had been so important to Mahyla.
She must have known or guessed, at least, about the Scarab Army, but she’d needed him on her side to demolish it, however indirectly. Sarevor had no doubt that she’d helped spread the news that he was on her side. It had taken nothing more for many to run scared and others to begin spewing secrets. Now, the ones that had trusted him with their lives were being brought in to work Mahyla’s fields and be hands in her castle. Their punishment for defying her.
And it was all his fault. All the citizens he’d fought so diligently to protect were being offered up as servants, because of one wrong choice. No matter how logical that choice had seemed at the time.
He’d done it to ensure the future of the Scarab Army, and, instead, he’d all but destroyed it.
Miserable, Sarevor turned his head as a hot breeze stirred, sifting the warm scent of flowers into his senses. It brought back to mind how incredibly hot the sun was today, and he tucked his hat back onto his head, shielding himself from the rays. It also reminded him how long he’d already been hiding out here. Since early morning, at least.
Sighing, he started to rise, and then froze when he caught a figure out of the corner of his eye. He stepped back and reached for his sword automatically, but his paw met empty air. He hadn’t bothered to carry his sword out here.
And then the figure stepped forward, out of the obscurity of almost overgrown plants, and Sarevor’s heart leapt to his throat.
The Draik whipped a claw to his lips, signaling for silence, and he glanced left to right to ascertain that no one was close enough to have heard Sarevor’s exclamation. The Usul could hardly believe his eyes. Though Cove was dressed in pauper clothes and swathed in a dark, green cloak, he was unmistakably the same. He only missed the regal garb, jewels, and face paint.
“How did you get in here?” Sarevor demanded.
His pulse was hammering in his ears, and he felt very much like he’d just seen a ghost. But hadn’t he? He’d stopped believing that he’d ever see Cove inside the castle walls again. He’d let go of that childish dream. Now, here he was again, as real and magnificent as ever.
Somewhere deep down, resentment stirred, but it was hard pressed to show itself through his own shock and delight. Though he should have been furious with the Draik that abandoned him, he hadn’t felt so relieved in months.
“You think I don’t know how to infiltrate my own walls?”
Of course he did. Cove was more clever than any other Neopian he’d ever met. Still, how had he not been spotted? Security around the castle had been reinforced and doubled.
“You shouldn’t have come,” Sarevor told him, though he’d never been happier at the sight of someone. “It’s dangerous here. She’s got too many looking for you.”
“No one will find me here. You’re the only one that comes here, but is this concern from a friend or a traitor?”
It was like a slap to the face after months of reinforcing an image that so many had given up on. It had been Sarevor that had carried on the hope that Cove would return. Sarevor who had constructed the army and watched over the people that Cove had left defenseless.
Indignant, Sarevor lifted his chin, his chest swelling with wounded pride.
“I did what I had to,” he said. “I did what I felt was best to protect everyone.”
Cove snorted. Never had Sarevor seen such blatant cynicism in him. It almost physically hurt him to see the suspicion in his former king’s eyes.
“And that involves aligning yourself with a tyrant? Sacrificing your own army?”
Sarevor hissed. The insult was one aimed straight to his heart and pride. He, above all others, knew how much Sarevor dedicated to protecting the citizens above himself.
“It wasn’t supposed to happen like that,” he snapped. “Mahyla was suspicious. I swore my allegiance to her to misguide her trust. I thought I was helping keep the Army a secret and the people safe. If I’d known this was what she had planned, I would have rather banished myself to the dungeons.”
Cove scowled at him, though he didn’t immediately retort. Under his critical gaze, Sarevor stood rigidly straight. He wasn’t used to having to defend himself in Cove’s eyes, and he could hardly believe that the king mistrusted him, or that he had any right to. He wasn’t the one that had fled in the dead of night.
“Against my better judgment, I might believe that,” Cove admitted finally.
Now it was Sarevor’s turn to snarl. No one had ever questioned or doubted him. He was fiercely loyal, and for the one at whom all this loyalty was aimed to doubt him was almost unbearable.
“I had to salvage what I could after you fled,” Sarevor told him, his voice low and unforgiving. “It hasn’t been easy, you know, picking up the pieces. I’ve only done what I thought best. Forgive me if not all of my choices were the right ones.”
Cove flinched, his angry exterior dissolving as fast as it had formed. To Sarevor’s surprise, he sank down onto the bench where Sarevor had—only a few minutes ago—imagined him to be sitting. He looked suddenly old and deflated as he sat there, his hands in his lap, his head down. The king had spent the last few minutes prodding at his nerves, and Sarevor had hit his in a single blow.
Though he was still riled at being questioned, he took the other half of the bench to his king’s left and sat down quietly beside him.
“I’m sorry,” Cove whispered. “I should have known you’d have your reasons for what you did. I just... I thought you’d given up on me too.”
Because it was uncomfortable to see his former king in an irregular moment of weakness, Sarevor turned his head away and stared instead at the nearest rose bush.
“It’s been difficult,” Sarevor conceded.
“I know,” Cove sighed. “I know.”
Though he stared fixedly at the rose bush, he waited. He waited to be told why he’d endured all this time with the weight of the burden Cove had left behind on his shoulders. He waited to understand why Cove had betrayed his trust and left him to fend for himself without a word of explanation.
But Cove said nothing else.
Irked, Sarevor was forced to prod. “Why? Why did you leave?”
The Usul saw a muscle in Cove’s jaw twitch. “I had no choice.”
It wasn’t the answer he wanted to hear. No matter what the situation, he was certain that Cove had had a choice, and that he’d merely made the wrong one, but if he wasn’t going to give him that answer, he could at least give him another.
“Who is Mahyla really? Where did she come from?”
The muscle twitched again. It almost pulsed. Here was the bit of information that would explain everything. The key question that had puzzled Sarevor the most and for the longest time. He hadn’t understood how, on the night Cove had disappeared, another Draik had seemingly materialized out of nowhere. There had been no knowledge of Mahyla existing before then. She had simply appeared.
There had been speculation that she’d been a relative of Cove’s that had coveted his title, but there no other logical conclusions as to who she was and how she could come from nowhere and frighten the most powerful king from his own throne.
“You deserve to know the truth. It’s time it was heard. I can’t hide anymore. No matter where I go, this continues to find me. I have to right all that I’ve done wrong,” Cove gushed, suddenly, startling Sarevor as he broke his silence. “So many others have paid for my mistake. But I hardly understand it myself.”
Sarevor reached out and touched his shoulder. “Start from the beginning. Tell me the story.”
Cove looked up, caught his gaze. Reflected in his blue eyes, Sarevor saw the sight of a drowning creature fighting to break the surface again. He nodded at the king. He would help him with this fight. It was time for the truth to be known, and if he could speak it, Sarevor could forgive him, finally, after living for so long with this horrible sense of betrayal. From there they could start to rebuild everything that had been broken.
Swallowing, Cove began, “It was almost exactly a year ago...”
To be continued...