Owain received Beatrix and Keiran into the drawing room shortly after the outlaw arrived.
But outlaw no more, of course.
The letter of pardon lay in one of the drawers in Owain’s desk. Signed. Sealed. Ready. All he had to do was give it to the court for their approval. Not that they would disagree with his decision. The corrupt Erls who had backed Aaron had been stripped of their titles after fair trials and a number of them banished to far-distant lands such as Vespara, Graecia or Ramesh. Hathering was Owain’s advisor in chief. Lockspate was finance minister.
A grand memorial had been held in remembrance of all those who had died in the battle, and all those who had died as a result of Aaron - Annesdale and his family, Roald...
It hurt just to think of them. Roald’s death was a heavy weight on Owain’s shoulders, a dull ache deep in his stomach, a tightness in his jaw. And that he had been blamed for it... He would never forgive himself. Not now, not ever.
‘Friends,’ he said. ‘Sit, please. I have something of... something of great importance to tell you.’
Beatrix chose her chair carefully, positioning herself so she couldn’t see Keiran and he would only see the side of her head. It was best that way, she told herself. It would cause them both less pain.
Owain sighed, running a hand through his hair, and she noticed lines gathering around his eyes - not the lines of laughter that criss-crossed Keiran’s face, the lines she could trace with one finger even without seeing him - these were lines of tiredness, even age. Exhaustion had carved itself into his very being. And now it was on the outside, for all to see.
‘Look. I won’t try to conceal it from you any longer. I... Beatrix.’
She felt herself flush.
‘I love you, Beatrix. You know that. I think you’re the most amazing person in the world, and I feel so happy around you, like I can do anything. But I’m not blind. You’re not happy here. I can tell that.’
‘Owain-’ she began, but he cut her off.
‘No, please. I’ve been working up my courage for a while now. If I stop, I might just never start again.’ He closed his eyes momentarily, and when he opened them, he was looking at Keiran. ‘I have your pardon ready. It’s the least I can do - you have helped me so much. I would offer you a position in my government if I thought you’d take it. But I know you won’t.’
‘It’s nice to be asked, anyway.’
Owain smiled weakly. ‘I’m glad you think so. But what I really wanted to tell you is... Beatrix, no matter how much I love you, I want you to be happy, even if that means being away from me. And, to be honest, my court would prefer it if I married a princess from Vespara. So... I break off my engagement to you. You’re free.’