Chapter 16

Today was the last day Caleb could see Tia. He will spend the last night with her before she departs home. He was determined to ensure she got the proper goodbye he could give her.

Caleb had secretly spoken with his maids and servants to prepare a special event just for her. Zao took charge of the preparations, and so did Mei. Dunick was asked to keep quiet about the event, so he did.

“Lord Dunick, it seems your wife has arrived with the rest of the men,” Eckhart announces.

“Thank you, Eckhart. Caleb, would you like to meet her?”

“It is my duty, is it not?”

“Hahahaha, that is quite true.” Dunick leads Caleb outside of the manor. The large banner of House Aris rises high as the envoy approaches the gates. The main carriage drives forward and parks at the front. The men marching take a rest and sit down.

“Ahh! My beautiful wife has arrived! I’m sorry I went ahead darling, here let me-” The carriage door swings open, cutting off Dunick. A worried look and cold sweat drip across his face. “-and I might be dead…”

Walking out of the carriage, a beautiful woman with golden locks and aquamarine eyes gleefully smiles as she steps down. Slowly approaching the worried Dunick.

“I know it was about your brother, but running away for days ahead without warning can make a woman think of dangerous things, darling. You will answer to me later tonight.” Her smile doesn’t change, but the murderous aura around her never leaves.

“Is this the young brother you mentioned was in danger? He looks perfectly fine.” Her smile twists even more. She grips Dunick on the shoulder, and he nearly falls to his knees for her.

“Y-Yes, this is my brother! C-Caleb!” Dunick stutters frequently as he continues to shake in his boots.

“Oh good, it is nice to meet my brother-in-law. I am Yuno. I hope my idiot husband didn’t cause you any trouble as he has with me.”

“N-None at all; he’s all yours, my Lady.” Caleb bows before stepping away, knowing how to read the situation.

“C-Caleb, brother! Please don’t leave me! I need you to be my witness!”

“Sorry, can’t hear you over your own mistakes!” Caleb dashes back into the manor and closes the door. A blood-curdling scream can be heard behind the doors.

*

Dunick sits at the table with a hefty slap mark on his face and smiles with no emotion. My brother had a “moment” with his wife. She gracefully sparkles as she sits down in her chair along with the rest of the family.

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“I appreciate you are traveling such a distance to visit our home, Lady Yuno,” Valum speaks lightheartedly.

“It was no trouble at all; I am glad to arrive in due time. It is my pleasure to meet you all.”

Yuno speaks to all of us. Dunick lets down his guard and gives a genuine smile. He is madly in love with her; she is a very important woman to him.

“Will you partake in tonight’s events for the Eliska’s?” Valum asks.

“Unfortunately, certain circumstances forbid me from drinking or participating in any activities.” Yuno giggles and holds my brother’s hand. They both smile, and the hint of something more is apparent.

“Are you saying that-“

“Yes, we are expecting a child soon.” Dunick smiles with joy and pride.

I blinked momentarily, and the thought of my brother being a dad surprised me. However, the idea that I would be an uncle made me happy.

“This is wonderful!” Valum stands up from his seat, hugs his son, and kisses his daughter-in-law’s cheek. “I’m going to be a grandfather!”

“Congratulations, brother.” I bow and withhold my excitement. 

After having the conversation at the table, I was excused to my own time. I gave the orders to Zao to finalize the event for Tia and her father, which led me to find her sitting outside the manor next to one of our trees. She noticed my presence and spoke softly.

“Today is our final day to talk to each other. It almost feels unreal. It felt like it was only yesterday I was a scared little girl who didn’t know how to fit in with everyone. When I witnessed your abilities and that night of the assassin. Don’t you feel a little weird about it, Caleb?”

“I didn’t expect today to arrive so soon, but recovering for nearly two weeks can cause time to feel off. I do feel glad about the time we did have together.”

“You make it sound like we might never see each other again.”

“My family will be at war here very shortly. I fear I might see the battlefield before I can see you again, which terrifies me.”

“I-I don’t want to leave. But I know it would be better if I did.”

“I promise to see you again, Tia. I swear on it as the noble son of house Aris!” I slam my fist into my chest in a weird salute.

“Hahahahaha! What is that?! Oh, Caleb, you can be the biggest goofball I know.” Her laughter causes me to grow flustered in embarrassment.

I step up to her, and the wind blows through our hair. Her beautiful image burns within my mind as I extend my hand to her.

“I promise to survive this war to see you again. I will not allow myself not to see you at least one last time.”

“Caleb, make me a promise that doesn’t involve your cryptic tone. Don’t need to be so serious, honestly.” She reaches out and takes my hand.

“If I have this dance, then I promise to see you again. I will stop at nothing until I do.”

“Now, that is a promise I can accept.”

I pull her up from the grass, and her beautiful dress sways back and forth along with my suit. Surrounded by our guests’ onlookers, I proved the skills I learned from Zao and put them on full display, leading Tia in the middle of the hall. Her pretty smile captured my attention as we enjoyed the time to dance. The guests of the event watch in amazement at our performance. It did, however, come as a surprise that Tia had been secretly learning from her father in dancing. We had the same plan for each other. The night was filled with claps of joy and the spectators’ delights.

We finish our number and end with a bow to the guests—a considerable applause from everyone. I snap my fingers to cue Zao to proceed with the extraordinary event for Tia and her father.

“If I may, Lord Eliska and Lady Eliska, I humbly enjoyed our time together and want us to part with the most favorable terms. So please accept this as a token of my gratitude for our meeting!”

Tia and Soldia look in awe as a nice-looking cake and elven-inspired trinkets are wheeled out into the middle of the room. A custom-designed banner of our houses mixed together as the Scarlet rose wraps around the Duldat Kingdom’s tree emblem—the gift of our lasting bond and friendship.

Tia tears up as she sees the effort that everyone put into giving her and her father a graceful farewell.

And so, the last night with Tia proceeded as the attendants, and I provided a lasting memory for the Eliska’s.

During the last hour of their stay, I wanted to speak with Tia one last time as we approached the balcony like before.

“I am delighted to have known you and grown to know you, Tia. This past month, despite its hardships, was something I really enjoyed. So, thank you very much for your company.” I bow to her and show her my utmost respect.

“The honor was all mine, Caleb. I appreciate your efforts, which have made this experience quite memorable. If anything, I must thank you for such a wonderful stay.”

“Well, I guess I should say this to you before you go.” Tia’s cute ears perk up, and her elegant dress sways from the wind. The courage within my heart doesn’t stop me from expressing my feelings.

“I was angry when you first saw me. I was told that I was bound to marry, and the life I knew it would change without my decision. I now know that life has a funny way of disguising a blessing while taunting you. I am glad to be your future husband. Even if I am still a child, I can understand my feelings.”

“And what feelings are those?” Tia smiles warmly. She knows what I will say but wants to hear it for herself.

“My feelings for you are pure, and I don’t know what I can to express it. So, I will tell you without a second thought. I am in love with you, Tia. I don’t know any other way to say it, but I really am in love-“

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Without a moment to finish, Tia placed her lips on mine—an inexperienced kiss but one that shook my very core. Before I could respond, she stepped back with a heavy blush across her cheeks.

“That is a downpayment for the future. You’re not allowed another until you turn eighteen, so don’t go playing with other girls while I am gone!” Tia’s smile became the sun that night.

With our final encounter, Tia and her father had set off in the middle of the night. A heavy pain stung my chest as each second of the distance between us weighed heavily on my heart. My soft fingers run along my lips to reimagine the feeling of hers on mine.

“Tia… I will become stronger… I will be stronger than everyone in this world. That I vow to you…”

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