When we got to the palace with Christina and her children, the kids were awestruck, standing in the middle of the main entrance with their mouths agape. Christina was still crying a little as the king and queen came in from the dining hall.
"What's going on?" the king asked Angel in an undertone.
Angel took her parents to the side to explain and I snagged a nearby servant.
"Can you ask the kitchen to prepare a special meal for this family?" I asked. "They haven't had a proper meal in a while."
"Yes, Sir David," she said and hurried down a set of stairs.
Sally turned to me with huge eyes.
"This place is really, really big!" she said and I smiled.
"Do you want a tour?" the king asked, walking over.
The four kids nodded eagerly and sprinted up the stairs after the king. Christina hung back, still looking uncomfortable and unsure. The queen stood in front of her with a smile. She took Christina's hands in hers.
"Come with us," the queen said to me and we all went to the tea room. A servant passed around the tea and the queen turned to me. Her eyes were serious and I had a feeling I knew what she was about to say. "David, I need you tell us what happened to this young woman's husband."
"Why is that important?" I asked and her gaze softened. I sighed heavily and put my tea cup down. "It was my father," I murmured. Christina's hand was shaking as she took a sip of tea. "Bryan.... When I was a teenager, I need to learn how to farm so that we could get some produce on the table. Bryan was the one to teach me to grow carrots and other vegetables. My father found out one day and beat me. He said I should be smart enough to learn on my own.
"When-When I left to come here, he got drunk and hunted Bryan down. I guess he never really got over it. James told me that he got into an argument with Bryan and-and he put a spade through Bryan's throat."
Christina stifled a sob and Angel rushed to her side. The queen looked like she was going to be sick and I hung my head. I felt so terribly guilty and responsible. After James told me, I did everything I could while I was still building my house. The meat William gave me went to Christina. Her kids didn't know how he died so Christina told them he had gone off to war and died then. Someday I knew they would have to be told the truth but not now.
"I am so very sorry," the queen whispered, placing a hand on Christina's knee. "You and your children will become permanent members of our home."
Christina went into another bout of sobs and I excused myself, knowing the women could help more than I could.
I was in the painting room later when Angel sought me out. I was brainstorming different things to draw when she came in. I put my quill down when the door opened.
I smiled at her until I saw the tears in her eyes. I got up and wrapped her arms around her and she cried freely into my chest.
"Angel, what's wrong?" I asked, rubbing her back as she cried.
"I can't imagine having a father like that," she whispered and I closed my eyes, sighing.
"I wish you hadn't have had to hear that story," I mumbled.
"I'm glad I did." I stepped back, surprised. She wiped her tears away. "It helps me understand you more. If that's the-the monster you grew up with, it explains why you left...."
I took her hand and sat on the couch, pulling her beside me. I wrapped an arm around her shoulders as she curled up beside me. We sat in silence for a long time, both of us lost in our own thoughts. I had nightmares about the day my father beat me for Bryan teaching me and, though I hadn't seen it, they were now tainted with a spade and blood. Regardless of what the queen said, I felt responsible for what happened to Bryan.
"It wasn't your fault," Angel murmured suddenly. I rested my head on hers. "You were just trying to learn."
"I should have tried to learn on my own," I sighed, blinking away my tears.
She lifted her face to look at mine. Her green eyes drew me in and we were kissing again. I caressed her cheek, enjoying how smooth her skin and lips were. She pressed herself against me, running a hand through my hair. When she placed a hand on my chest, I felt a warm sensation spread from her fingertips to the rest of my body.
I put my hand on the back of her neck, deepening the kiss. The scent of her perfume surrounded me and I had lost track of all my thoughts. All that I was aware of was that she was in my arms and I would never let her go again.
Dinner was livelier than it had been in a long time. The kids were talking over each other to their mother about the tour they got from the king himself. Christina kept reminding them to talk one at a time but they were too ecstatic.
"I wish we didn't have to leave," one of the boys said with a pout and I glanced at the king, nodding.
"Well, I guess it's a good thing you don't have to," the king said and all the kids stared. He smiled. "You and your mother will be living with us."
"All of us?" Sally gasped and he nodded. She grinned at me. "We're going to be real neighbors now, David!"
I grinned back.
"Does this mean we can play ball with David whenever we want?"
I laughed. "Whenever we can get the time," I promised.
Dessert arrived which silenced the children.
"I'd like to do something," Christina said.
The queen thought for a long time. "Can you sew?" she asked and Christina nodded. "We need another seamstress. The current one is getting a little overwhelmed."
"You want me to help?" she asked, her eyes bright, and the queen nodded. Christina hid her tears. "Oh, I would love that!"
It was decided that, for the children, they would have classes every day for five hours, one hour for each subject. After lessons, they had homework they were to complete, and then they could play.
"The sooner you start, the sooner it gets done," Christina told them when they started to complain.
"I'll show you to your rooms," a servant girl said.
Sally had fallen asleep in her chair, having eaten herself to sleep. The boys were also starting to fall asleep but they were awake enough to walk. Christina picked Sally up and followed the servant. With the family gone, we were able to talk openly.
"To lose someone so harshly," the queen began and I turned my attention to my half-eaten dessert.
"What do you mean, my love?" the king asked, taking a sip of wine.
The queen told him what happened and his empty goblet fell to the table. I could feel their eyes on me. I ate the rest of my dessert, not really tasting it, and the king spoke again.
"So that's why you invited them to stay, Angel."
She nodded. "Well, in a way. I knew her husband had passed but I didn't know how violent it was."
"I'm going to bed," I said, standing so abruptly they all jumped. "Good night."
I left, taking the stairs two at a time. When I got to my room, I sat down at my desk with a long sigh. I ran a hand through my hair and cringed when someone knocked on my door.
"Come in," I said but kept my back turned.
"I brought some wine," I heard the king say and I turned to accept it, standing. "I'm sorry if I upset you."
I shook my head. "It wasn't you. It's just the memory of it all." I swirled the wine in the goblet. "I know it wasn't my fault, but I can't help but feel responsible every time I look at her and the kids. They lost their father at such a young age and Christina lost the love of her life all because my father was a drunk. I should've been there."
The king took a long swig of wine. He watched me for a couple minutes. I got the feeling he wanted to speak so I remained quiet.
"When I was a young man, I followed my father into war for one battle. I was to be his squire. I saw things that I never dreamed I would see. He had been injured greatly during the battle. The enemy struck a sword through his chest. I felt responsible; I was trying to pick his sword up from the ground at the time. He wasn't able to go to war any time after that. We won the battle but I went home a different man. He pulled me to the side after he recovered and we had the same conversation I'm having with you right now.
"We cannot stop what we cannot control. Could you have run forward and stopped your father?" I shook my head. "I couldn't stop the enemy from thrusting that sword into my father's chest, either." He looked thoughtful. "You still have nightmares about what happened to you, don't you?" I shifted in my chair and he nodded. "I do, too. It's been 50 years and I still get the chills; I still wake up in the middle of the night, remembering the face of the man who had changed my father's life with one stroke."
"So it never goes away," I muttered.
He put his hand on my shoulder. "No, it doesn't. But it does get easier. If you let yourself, you can experience life in a way you never dreamed you could. You can experience joy. You can experience love."
I looked up at his genial smile and knew what he was referring to. I tried to think of something to say but I couldn't so I finished my wine. When the cup was empty, I handed it to him, reaching out to shake his hand. Instead, he pulled me into a hug.
"It's okay to cry about it, David," he said softly.
I froze. I had never felt that before; the embrace of a father. I did my best but I couldn't hold it back anymore.
I burst into tears.