Chapter 04

At the first sign of day light, John decided to continue with the holes outside of the village. He would thank Aracely for her hospitality later. He also wanted to meet with the village alchemist, discussing ideas on how to use the explosive powder in the defense of the settlement.

John was grateful for the soft bed Aracely had provided him, and he had been able to get a good night’s sleep, despite the thoughts going on inside his head. He realized that he had asked Aracely to give up everything she knew and loved. For him, mostly. And the entire kingdom would benefit from their arrangement as well. He felt awkward about it, and found the rule of marriage a bit useless. He had been fine on his own, he could be a great King by himself. Of course, when the time would come that he had to give up the throne he had no one to give it to. So maybe the rule wasn’t useless after all.

He still couldn’t help but feeling like a fool.

She had watched him and her friends from a safe distance. What choice she would make, she still did not know. Lost in her deeply confusing thoughts, Aracely failed to hear her friend approaching from behind.

“He is certainly a looker, yes?” Vala asked with one of her smiles.

“Johan is an attractive man, certainly. Why do you ask?” she answered turning to look at her.

Shrugging the married woman leaned over to get a better look than what she had on her approach. “How do you know that I speak of our new friend? I personally think that dear Cameron has quite a number of attributes for a single woman as yourself.”

Narrowing her eyes, she looked at her friend and bit back the sigh that wished to escape. “You are just being silly now.”

“Am I?” Vala asked back. “He has done more for us without living through what we have. I think that would say a lot.” She then smiled. “I can’t help but wonder if Johan is a match for you.”

Aracely frowned coldly, turning to face the woman. “Why do you say that? What have you heard?”

“Nothing,” Vala answered, “It is generous of him to help our village, it was certainly bold to return with a cart filled with food and medicine, however, Danyel thinks that Johan is a bit strange, as if he has lead a sheltered life and seems to have no knowledge of what is going on on the lands.” She then made the gesture of ‘crazy’. “But I do have to admit though, he’s cute.”

You have no idea how sheltered, she thought as she looked back at the men working. It was almost as if they knew they had been watched because John had looked up then towards where Aracely stood with Vala, looking back. She smiled weakly and gave a small smile in response to the man’s clear grin. “I am a fool,” she said aloud. “What do I do?”

“Follow your heart.” Vala giggled. “We can keep an eye on you should you decide to pursue him, we might actually have to free up some space in the tavern to accommodate him until you two wed.”

“I do not believe Johan would be staying with us long. He shared with Halling and I that his father is gravely ill,” she said before turning away to return to the village. “He is likely to leave us when he finishes helping with his – holes.”

“But he would return after his Father passes, I am sure he would.” Vala cocked her head and looked at Johan’s butt. “He must, he seems to like it here.”

Aracely knew that he would not because if she did not leave with him, he would surely wed Chaya to quickly assume the throne. She was although confident he would hold his word to her that he would assist the village against their aggressive neighbors, and for that she would be forever in his debt. The despairing look she gave Vala was enough to express that she had known that what her friend said would not become reality.

“Positive thinking, Lady Aracely.” Vala smiled and put an arm around her shoulders. “I was going to get some food and water down here for them, would you like to help?”

She nodded quietly. She had to do something however small because until she came to a decision, she felt that she was not of any help to anyone then.

“If you do not wish to pursue Johan, maybe you could accept Sir Lorne’s advances?” Vala suggested. “At least he seems to be having his affairs in order.”

Aracely glared at her friend. “He simply wants a pretty face on his arm to cover his true affections for someone else in our village.”

“Who?” Vala thought for a second. “Our herbalist?” she asked in confusion.

She nodded with a tight smile. “Yes. Have you not observed his frequent – visits there after I turn him away from my door?”

“Yes, true…” the woman said making a face. “However, our herbalist is a man…”

Aracely simply shrugged her shoulders. “I do not understand it and I am afraid to ask but as long as they are – happy – we should not interfere.”

“Of course we should not. And I won’t… although I might as well visit our herbalist at the same time as he.”

“Only you would wish to see such things,” she grinned at her friend. “Lets go bring the men some refreshments. I am sure they are quite hungry with all the hard work they have done.”

John really hoped that what they were doing, the idea that he had offered up, would be a success in at least making sure that some Chulakkans would be hurt and surprised. All he needed now was Radell to give up his swords so they could be put inside the holes, and then the holes needed to be covered up.

Just as he was about to climb out of the hole and have Halling join him for something to eat, he saw Aracely and the tavern owner’s wife walk towards them with food and something to drink. “Hello ladies.” He smiled goofily as he helped Halling out of the hole first before climbing out of it himself.

“Hello yourself,” Vala greeted. “We have brought some spirits and meats for all your hard work. Of course, if you wish for other rewards, there are other ways that the Lady and I could serve,” she winked.

“Vala!” Halling warned her as he took some of the food and drink.

She turned to look at the tall man innocently. “What? Surely you have seen the same as I?”

“Sometimes, woman, I wished you would not speak your mind as openly as you do.” Halling sighed and shook his head.

“But that is why Danyel loves me,” she smiled smugly as she did a little curtsey for the men before taking the empty tray with her as she left, leaving Aracely with them.

Aracely finished pouring the drinks quietly. She would tend to her friend’s behavior later but in the meantime, she had to work on maintaining John’s ruse of his role with the village. Regardless of his desire to be treated as one of them, it was still of great difficulty because in the end he was still the Prince.

Making her way around the edge of one of the large holes that they had dug, she smiled as she handed John his glass. She did not stand immediately and remained low to the ground as she peered into their work.

“Thank you, milady.” John smiled widely and took a sip. “What do you think? Are these holes going to work?”

“It is possible. They will come with the goal of obtaining mates so they would not suspect us to have a defense in addition to simple hand weapons,” she said turning to look at him, realizing just how close they were again.

John smiled up to her from his position. “Maybe you could ask your alchemist today if she could do something with the explosive powder. Father’s… ehh.. people put it in bottles with something else to make it explode on a safe distance after throwing it at the enemy.”

Aracely nodded. “I can take you to her tomorrow if you wish,” she answered softly. Lowering her head, she let out a breath as she looked away. She knew what she had to do, but was she truly ready for such a change? “When you return for the evening, Johan, we will speak more.”

He gently took her hand. “I was meaning to thank you for your hospitality and letting me have dinner with you, as well as stay the night in your guest room.”

She looked down at his soft touch and frowned. Raising her eyes, she swallowed hard and nodded carefully. For her it was one of the most terrifying decisions she ever had to make as a woman and voice for her village. Aracely knew then that it was the wisest thing to do.

“We’ll have these holes filled and covered up by night fall.” He said as he downed his glass of wine, reminding himself to have something to eat and fast before he’d pass out drunk. His mother had always said not to drink wine on an empty stomach and he now realized why. He took a bite of the chicken.

Nodding again, Aracely stood to leave the men to their work. Returning to her home, she found herself walking through the walls that she lived in most her life and wondered what her own parents would have advised her in this predicament. “I miss you,” she murmured as she gazes at a portrait that was done not long before their passing.

It would not be long before night fall arrived and she had Gabriella leave some warmed food out for John when he would return. Sitting near a window where she often looked out at the moon and tree tops, she waited and wondered what the days ahead would bring.

“We should go home,” Halling had been urging him to stop covering the holes for a long time now.

“We’re almost done, Halling.” John replied as he put some more tree branches over the last hole, being careful not to fall in, as the hole was filled with sharp objects.

“I must insist.” Halling said again. “You can not let Lady Aracely worry about the both of us, the sun has already sunk, and it’s starting to get dark.”

“I’m sure she’ll understand.”

Shaking his head the older man frowned. “If she is to be your bride, it is her place to worry. She does care for you and your safety even if she may not express it clearly. Surely you would not wish that burden on her if you truly have emotions for her.”

John thought for a moment. Halling was right, he shouldn’t let Aracely worry about him, but what was the worst that could happen? Right, the Chulakkans attacking and then the Kingdom wouldn’t have a prince anymore and when his father would die, his cousin Jack of Simpsonia, would get the throne and he was not someone John thought who would be able to lead an entire country. “Fine fine, you’re right.” He sighed. “Let’s call it a day then.”

Halling smiled and clapped the boy on the shoulder. “Go find her. As much as you want to put your skills to work, I feel she has some words to share after seeing the way she left after high sun.”

John nodded and said his good night to Halling as he started to walk towards Aracely’s home. He knocked on the door, and realized he was yet again, still sweating buckets despite the temperature had gone down a quarter of daylight before.

Gabriella came to the door and smiled, standing back. “Johan! You do not need to request entry as long as you are Miss Aracely’s guest,” she greeted before scrunching her face. “I will draw you a bath at once. If you wish to see the Lady, she is in the sitting room up the steps.”

“Thank you, Miss Gabriella, but it’s hardly inappropriate for me to just walk inside the Lady’s house!” He chuckled as he entered. “Thank you, I will tell Lady Aracely that I have returned.”

She nodded as she went to collect the clean garments that her friend had intentionally left for the man’s return. As she drew the bath water, the girl could hear him climb the steps and smiled.

Aracely turned from the window and looked at John as he walked in carefully. “Hello,” she said softly. “Um, I had Gabriella leave supper out for you for when you are ready.”

“Hello,” He greeted in return. “Thank you, she is drawing me a bath at the moment… I will not come closer because I smell.” He wrinkled his nose, his own stench nauseated him. “I am sorry for staying out so late with Halling.”

She nodded as she looked at him. “You do not need to apologize. You are free to make your own decisions,” she replied. Looking back out at the window, she was unsure of truly how to behave with the man. “When do you plan on returning to your – father?” she asked carefully.

“Hopefully not before the Chulakkans attack the village.” John replied. “Should my father take a turn for the worse, I am sure someone will notify me of that, now that they have an idea of where I am staying.”

Aracely nodded again as her back was still to him. “You will let us know before you depart?”

“Of course I will! I will not leave without saying my goodbyes, especially not to you and Halling.” John sighed, what kind of man did she think he was?

Speaking slowly, her fingers traced the window pane. “I will return with you when you leave then.”

“Sorry?” John said confused. “What?”

She turned and faced him without an expression of uncertainty. “I will go with you, when you leave.”

“Really?” He said unsure. “Are you sure?”

She gave a small smile and nodded but did not make any movement other than to hold to the sill. “It is the appropriate decision and I did not come to it lightly.”

Despite his inappropriate smell, he decided to approach her. “No offense, milady, but that sounds as if you’re making the wrong decision for the wrong reasons.” He ran a hand through his hair. “I told you, your village would be safe, no matter what decision you make.”

Aracely let out a breath and closed her eyes. “You misunderstand me,” she said quickly. “I cannot explain the – emotions that come with the choice, however as you have clearly indicated that it was I that needed to choose my path and you would accept my answer no matter which way it would lead. I still do not understand myself why I choose to go with you but it is – my choice…” she said trailing off as she slowly looked back up at him.

“Then I am happy to hear that.” John smiled at her, something in her eyes clearly had changed and it made him feel warm on the inside. He took a risk by carefully reaching out to brush the back of his hand along her cheek and into her hair when Gabriella’s voice called from the doorway.

“Mister Johan? The water is ready for you,” she said uneasily as she had clearly walked in on a quite the most intimate moment between the two. “My apologies. I did not mean to intrude,” she added, her face flushed with embarrassment before she left to hide away in her own room.

Aracely had not dared to move, not that her body wished to. “I will have to speak to her about our – arrangements. I do not know how to tell her but she does deserve to know.”

“You won’t have to come with me by yourself, Aracely. Even a queen needs servants – despite me not seeing to point why to have servants only to do things that we can not do such as cooking -, and what is better than taking your own trusted friend with you?” John smiled, and stopped Aracely from objecting. “She has obviously served you well over the years, she is loyal to you. I really don’t see why she can not come if she wants to join you.”

He gently caressed her arm and smiled. “I wish I knew how to proceed now but I am a little out of my depth,” he admitted, “However, once I have taken my bath to clean myself up, I will go – with your permission – to Halling, to formally ask if I could have his blessings to ask you to be my wife.”

“I suspect he had already has done so,” she could not help but to smile. “He did not have to speak it but I knew last evening that he approves of you otherwise he would not have left the way he did.”

“But still… I think it’s proper if I’d do that, don’t you?”

“Halling would just say that you would be wasting precious time. However if you feel the need to do so, I will not stop you…well, perhaps I would. You really should go bath before the water grows cold,” Aracely said making a face.

John chuckled. “I will. Thank you, Aracely, for making me the happiest man in the land.”

“Please, Sire. Do not thank me yet,” she said quickly. “Until it has been formalized, neither of us know what may happen to change the course of events.”

“Frankly, I don’t care.” He grinned. “Maybe I’ll just die of happiness when it’s been formalized!”

She stepped around him but was amused. “You may find that you do not like me as your wife. How would that end?”

“Probably better than my father’s option.” John nodded as he left the room quickly and laughing, to take his bath.