I just learned that both Varen and Natalia's names are very fitting in regards to this holiday season. Varen apparently means gift, and Natalia means born on Christmas day. So what does this newfound knowledge get you? Snippets from both!
(or Family Reunions Usually Aren't THIS Awkward)
Gods, why did I get so teary there? I couldn’t trust him! Not yet! There was still so much I had to know, and if I let my guard down now, I would never have my answers.
But he was happy to see me. And he was surprised by our warning of the Crownbreakers’ plan of attack. If he really had managed to manipulate the Crownbreakers beforehand, to kill me no less, then his reactions just didn’t add up. Either he was completely genuine, or he was one of the best liars I had ever met. I wasn’t sure which one was more unnerving.
But Varen trusted him. And he was always much, much better at reading people than I ever was…
But Varen was gone now. After we had warned him, the Emperor sent him off to warn his generals of the impending attack, but I stayed behind. Good thing too. There was no way I’d be able to think with him hovering around nearby.
“Are you not going with him?” the Emperor asked curiously.
“Actually, my lord,” I said. “I was wondering if we could talk,”
“Of course!” the Emperor gave a confused little smile as sank into his chair. “And please, call me Acton,”
“I want to know about my father,”
“Ah…” the Emperor’s demeanor changed dramatically. His bemused expression was immediately replaced with one of trauma and resignation, and he seemed to sink even deeper into his chair.
“Your father, Adam…” he sighed despondently. “He was my older brother, and the heir to the throne. But more than that, he was my best friend. I loved him and respected him like no one else, before or since,” he chuckled a little bit to himself. “When we were little, we would sneak out into the town and go swimming in King’s Bay. Our nanny would always have a fit when we came back with sand in our hair…” his eyes lit up as he spoke, and he beamed mischievously, as though he had just now gotten back from such an adventure. I couldn’t help but smile too.
“He was a prodigy you know,” the Emperor shifted himself in his seat and leaned forward intently. “They said he was a genius. It really was no surprise at all though, at least to me,” the Emperor grinned and shook his head. “Adam had a memory like no one else. And oh! Was he good with people! He could get anything he wanted with that silver tongue of his! Not that he ever did…” the Emperor suddenly became contemplative. “No, he would always do things on others’ behalves. Adam lived to please others. That’s why your mother loved him so much,” he snickered at first, then burst into laughter, before quickly cutting himself off. I could only stare at him incredulously. I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about.
“Forgive me,” he chuckled again. “But they really were quite a pair! Adam would do anything for Dawn, and she would have done anything for him. They were so in love, it was almost disgusting,” he chuckled. “And I introduced them you know. Dawn was the best person in the world for him. They were always together, They were the talk of the country! Everyone knew who they were. But unfortunately, they were not so famed because of their feelings for one another,” he sighed again. “You see, Dawn was not of any royal family. In fact, she was merely a peasant woman. And because of it, my parents were furious. Only caring about their political standing in the world, my parents refused to accept their love. They would have rather forced Adam into some arranged marriage to obtain more political power! They said that they would disown him if he chose to pursue his relationship with your mother!” the Emperor’s tone shifted to that of righteous indignation.
“Of course, I’m sure you can guess how it turned out,” the Emperor said gloomily. “Adam chose to stand by Dawn, no matter what. And my parents threw him out, their compassionate, genius son, and made me the heir to the throne. Adam and Dawn moved out into the country, where, eventually, they had you,” Then suddenly, the Emperor burst. “My parents were fools! Their pride and lust for power doomed this country! If they would have only accepted your parents’ love, then Adam, the better man, the smarter man, would have been king! If only it were so, then perhaps this country would not be in such a mess due to my incompetence!” Visibly drained, he sank back into his chair again, his story apparently finished.
I was struck immediately. Now everything made sense! Why I was never aware of my royal status, why I had never met my family before, why I was completely cut off from everything. Everything made sense but one thing. Why did my father send me away? That just didn’t make sense! There had to be more to the story.
“But how did he die, Acton?” I asked. “When I was only seven years old, he took me away and left me in a monastery of the Eight-Pointed star. He said that we were in danger. After that, I never saw him or my mother again. Please,” I begged. “What happened?”
The Emperor sat in silence for what seemed like forever, purposefully trying to avoid my gaze. Then, tears began to well in his eyes, and soon, they were falling freely down his cheeks.
“Fifteen years ago… I finally saw your father again,” the Emperor wept. “He told me that he was being hunted. That assassins had… taken Dawn’s life… and were after his as well,” the Emperor buried his face in his hands. “I promised him that I would protect him! That I would find out who was behind it, and that I would make them pay-” the Emperor cut himself off as he tried to choke back the tears. “Th-then that very night… F-for the first time I h-had seen him in eight years, I h-heard a t-terrible scream,” the Emperor sobbed. “I w-walked into h-his room, and th-there he was. H-his th-throat sl-slit and h-his eyes r-rolled b-back… Th-there was b-blood everywh-where…”
My stomach sank.
“S-so I l-launched an investigation,” the Emperor rubbed his eyes. “A-and d-do you kn-know who was behind it?” he began to weep uncontrollably. “M-my parents… Apparently, by s-some law, A-Adam was st-still heir. S-so th-they k-killed him for me…” the Emperor wailed. “So y-you kn-know what I d-did? I k-killed them. I h-had them h-hung! I m-murdered my own p-parents t-to avenge m-my brother… My whole family was killed because of me!”
The Emperor was disconsolate. I had no idea what I could do, what I could say, to try and make things better for him. But now I understood why he was so shocked to see me, why he was so emotional when he met me. I had gone and dredged up all of these old feelings about his family just by being around.
I laid my hand on his shoulder.
“Not your whole family, Acton,”
How it Should Have Been
(or Dancing in the Moonlight)
Well, it certainly had been an eventful day.
The Emperor had taken our warning of the Crownbreakers with great seriousness, and within a few hours, it seemed like the whole capitol city was preparing for war. He had us spread the warning to all of his generals and he himself had even sent word to the ten Dukes. It seemed like all of Geridia was waiting with feverish anticipation for the Crownbreakers, but he still seemed preoccupied with Natalia.
Honestly, I was too.
She just kept acting stranger and stranger as the day went on, and when the Emperor gave her her own room in the palace, she just disappeared into it. I had to know what was wrong.
But something held me back. Only when it was late at night was I able gather enough courage to speak to her. And even then, I must have stood outside her door for ages before even trying to knock.
But finally, I managed to gain enough composure to act. I opened the door.
She was sitting on her bed, apparently lost in thought. Pale moonlight poured in from her window, illuminating her slender form, her long, golden hair glowing in the soft light. Gods, she was so beautiful.
“Tali?” I asked hesitantly as I entered. “Can we talk?”
She looked up in shock when I spoke.
“Oh! Varen!” she said, surprised. “Why are you here?”
“I’m worried about you,” I said. “You’ve been acting strangely recently, and I want to know if you’re alright,”
“What is it with you?” She gave a slight laugh. “I’m perfectly fine. You don’t need to worry about me,” She tried to give me a reassuring smile.
“But I do,” I said. “You’ve barely spoken to me in weeks, and you hardly ever even look at me. Why? Have I done something wrong? Are you ashamed of me? Do you not really love me…?” I was starting to get choked up. “Please Tali… I’m afraid I’m going to lose you,”
Natalia turned away from me, and just sat in silence for what seemed like ages. Then, slowly, she began to roll back her dress, revealing a tiny scabbard that had been tied around her leg. Carefully, she unsheathed a long, slender knife and laid it on the bed.
“Why?” she turned to me. “Because I was going to break your heart,” Her large blue eyes seemed to be staring right through me. “I was going to kill the Emperor, and I was going to tear you apart… But maybe if we weren’t so close anymore, neither of us would have been hurt as much... At least that’s what I thought,” she kept getting quieter and quieter as she spoke. “And then I just couldn’t bring myself to kill him. He really wasn’t what I thought…”
A chill ran down my spine. I was absolutely stunned. I had no idea what to think. She had just confessed that she had planned to murder the Emperor! I thought that she had changed! I thought that she was through with the Crownbreakers! I was stressed and confused, but as I looked at her, as I saw her pained expression, I knew that there had to be more going on than what I was thinking. And Gods, no matter what, I would love her. So not knowing what to think, I walked over to the bed and sat down next to her.
“Tali, what is going on?”
She sighed heavily.
“One year ago, I met my father for the first time since I was seven years old,” she said sadly. “He was at the ruins of the monastery, with Father Daugherty. He said that the Emperor was behind the attack, that he was trying to kill me to ensure his claim to the throne would be safe!” she kept getting more and more agitated as she spoke. “So I had to take over the Crownbreakers! I had to lead them, to do everything in my power to strike out against the Emperor! So when you finally gave me a chance to see the Emperor face-to face, I had to be prepared to kill him! He had to be evil! That would have been the only way that I could have justified my actions! That would have been the only way I could have ever brought out a greater good from the deaths of all of those innocent people! But after meeting him, after getting to know him, there is just no way that it could have been him!” she broke down into tears. Not knowing what else to do, I tentatively grasped her hand in mine. “Gods,” she laid her head against my shoulder. “I’m a complete failure! Everything that I’ve done has been for nothing! I’m worthless!”
“No,” I said firmly. “You are anything but. You’ve made mistakes, and you’ve done things that you regret, but it’s never too late to start over, to finally make things right. Now you know the truth of the situation, and now you can finally act. There’s still just so much that you can do!” She smiled through her tears and squeezed my hand appreciatively.
“Start over, huh?” She laughed again, but this time she seemed genuinely happy.
The next thing I knew, she had wrapped her arms tightly around my neck and her lips were locked tightly around mine. I became lost in the moment. It just seemed to go on forever, but when she finally pulled her lips away from mine, it seemed far too short.
“This,” she murmured. “This is how it should have been,”
Then she pushed me down into the bed.