Tainted Saint, Chapter Twenty-ThreeMature

It took only a few minutes for Amadeo to relocate Lemuel Morris. Heart filled with both concern at the stable hand's absence and joy at his return, the King reached forward to offer his hand in a handshake.

Hesitating, Lemuel brought himself to meet Amadeo's eyes. After a moment's reluctance, he clasped Amadeo's hand in a firm handshake.

"Lemuel," Amadeo said, smiling. "Good to see you again. I was afraid you'd left for good."

Pausing, Lemuel averted his eyes. "I was hoping to talk to you about that," he said. "But I understand - now's not a good time. It can wait until tomorrow - that is, if you don't mind." He sighed, then quickly added, "Your Highness, I mean. Sorry."

Waving aside Lemuel's failure to remember his title, Amadeo shook his head. "Now's as good a time as any," he said sincerely. He recognized the shame in the man's voice. "Is it a matter we ought to discuss in a less crowded room?"

Lemuel shook his head. "I don't want to keep you from festivities."

"Nonsense! The sooner we talk, the sooner we can find dancing partners, right?" Amadeo said warmly.

"Thank-you."

Amadeo made his way out to one of the balconies that branched from the party room, grabbing a goblet of wine on his way out. Once the two were outside, Amadeo cut to the heart of the matter. Though he was sure he already knew the answer, he asked, "Where have you been?"

"I actually wanted to talk to you about that," Lemuel said. "I know I oughtn't to have left without any warning, so I completely understand if you don't want me to work for you again, but I - "

"But where were you?"

It was then that Lemuel was at a loss for words. Turning to face the vast expanse that was the castle grounds, he searched for words for a long time. Finally, he said, "I guess I just wasn't cut out for castle life."

"Why do you say that?" Amadeo pried further, trying to meet Lemuel's eyes. It was of no use. Lemuel Morris did not want to look anyone in the eyes.

"I haven't always lived the most...well, I don't know how to put it exactly. I haven't always lived the most 'morally upright' life, I suppose you could say."

Amadeo chose his next words carefully. "So you left to return to the life you knew before?"

"Leaving a life of pleasure to lead a life of morality isn't easy," Lemuel said, and Amadeo recognized the signs of defense rising in the stable hand's tone of voice. "If it had been any easier to stay, I swear, I would have. I couldn't help myself."

"You can always help yourself," Amadeo said. He sighed. "And if you're tempted to go back, you know you can always talk to me about it."

"You're the King."

"And as such, I care deeply about my subjects - even the ones who aren't exactly 'morally upright,' to borrow your term. But I think the real issue is, do you want to return? Do you honestly want to come back to work for me? Or do you only like the idea of working for me?"

But instead of answering the question posed to him, Lemuel turned and said with surprise in his voice, "Cassandra! I didn't know you were coming!"

The earth shattered then. Or at least, it did for Amadeo. She had arrived.

The End

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