The Fae Worlds

Learning More

Talking to Adrianna

For a few seconds I just stood there, staring at Niamh, wondering how things had changed so quickly. I walked into the ball with Nate by my side, not believing for a moment my oldest friend might be capable of betraying me. Blinking, unwilling to let any of the tears fall in front of a total stranger, I tried to let it go, to do what needed to be done, to leave the emotion until later. That had never been something I’d been all that great at, and I’d used up most of my willpower to not burst into tears in front of the Duke of West. Someone who wasn’t him… well, it didn’t matter anywhere near as much. An unwanted tear trickled down my cheek.
“I’m sorry.” Niamh stepped closer to me, and surprised me by wrapping me in her arms. “Having been there myself I know how much it hurts. You can cry. Sometimes it even helps a little.”
Maybe that was what I needed. In the arms of a woman I had never met before I found myself sobbing, the loss of Nate so much more painful than I could ever have imagined. Before him I’d made the decision that trusting anyone was a foolish choice. I was better off on my own. He’d been the one to work past the shields, choosing not to pay any attention when I told him to leave me alone. The longer he spent doing that the easier it had been for me to let him in, choosing to open up to someone a little more than I had done before, knowing that there was a chance that everything would fall apart in the future. Knowing that and believing it was possible were two very different things. After all the time he’d spent getting me to see him as a friend I’d got to the point where I had truly trusted him. He was probably the only person I did trust. Having him break that… I didn’t know how much it was going to hurt.
“Why did he do it?”
“That’s the most complicated question you could possibly have asked.” Niamh’s voice was gentle. “I wish I had some sort of answer for you, but no answer I can give would ever be the true explanation of the choice Nate made. He, unfortunately, was always easily led by Richard, and finding out who you were… I hate to say it, Adrianna, but he made the decision to use you.”
“Knowing that book…” I shook my head, trying to pull myself together. “By doing what he did he could have lost himself. It would have been so easy for it to convince him to make the wrong choice. All he needed to do was put one hand on the cover, and when I first walked in I thought he had.”
“He was wearing gloves.”
Nodding, I looked at her. “I noticed that too late. If I’d seen it before…” I sighed. “It wouldn’t have changed anything. Richard and Nate came here for the book. To them I was nothing more than collateral damage.” Just saying that was enough to have more tears welling up in my eyes. “Nate didn’t give a damn about all we’d been through. Power meant more to him than I did.” Another one of them trickled down my cheek, and I scrubbed it away, half angry with myself for being so stupidly emotional. “There’s this voice in the back of my mind telling me I shouldn’t give a damn.
“I shouldn’t be letting his choice hurt me like this. I should be stronger, but I’m not. I loved him. He was my best friend, and…” Then they were streaming down my cheeks again, and I didn’t know what to do about it. “I hate him, and I don’t hate him, and I don’t know how to deal with this. The whole plan was to never let anyone in. That way no one would be able to use me, and no one would be able to hurt me. Only I let him and, and now he’s tried to do both, and I just…” I breathed in deeply, trying to get a hold of myself, but it wasn’t easy. “I’m sorry. I’m sure you didn’t want to have to deal with me being a mess.”
“You’re allowed to feel what you’re feeling.” She stroked a hand over my hair. “I know it can be hard to let yourself feel. I’ve been there, darling, more than once, but it’s good that you do feel. It means you’re not like them. You are a better person.” She smiled. “Be gentle with yourself for a while. Letting Nate in turned out to be a mistake, and for the next few days you’re going to go over every interaction you had with him to see if there was any way you could have stopped this from happening. I’m going to tell you now that you wouldn’t have been able to stop it. He made his decision, but, even here, he had a chance to put an end to what was happening. He could have made the decision to choose you, and he didn’t. That’s on him.”
“Yeah, it is.” I sighed. “I can’t believe he willing brought me into the Duke of West’s house, and believed I was going to use that book.”
“Like I said he has always been easily led by Richard, and it’s Richard who truly wants the power. Not Nate. Nate… to be honest I don’t think he’s ever had any idea what it is he wanted. Richard, on the other hand, was always much more like his father, and that man…” Niamh shook her head. “Well, they’re both making the same mistakes. He should know better than to walk this path. After everything that happened his decision to do something so stupid is something I’ll never be able to understand.”
Running my tongue over my lips I looked at her. “How do you know them?”
“The same way Cowal does, mostly. I’ve had interactions with Richard’s father in the past, which didn’t go well, and so did Cowal. He was a man who believed he was destined for power. Back then he thought he was going to be able to claim the seat of West, believing he would be better than the Duke of West would, and that led to us both spending a lot of time with both Nate and Richard when we were a lot younger.” Niamh looked at me. “How did you meet Nate?”
“Back when I first left my family I was having trouble earning enough to be able to survive. I’d made the decision I wasn’t going to rely on my power. That was what they’d done, and when I looked at them… I knew I didn’t want to end up like them, and then Father started talking about a possible arranged marriage. Hearing that was enough to make my decision for me. I left, knowing it was the best possible choice I could make for me, but I had no idea how to survive alone. No idea how to survive without magic, or money. Had I thought about it there were probably people I could have gone to. Instead I did what I had to do, and some of the decisions I made weren’t always the right ones.
“On the night I met Nate I’d hit rock bottom. I had nothing, no one, and wasn’t willing to use magic to save myself. What I did do, to me, seemed like the better decision, which probably gives you some idea of where my head was. A woman I met told me there was always going to be work for a pretty young thing like me, so I took her up on it. Nate would have been my first client, only he… I don’t even know. He paid for an hour. My expectation… he walked into the room, looking like he wanted to be anywhere else, and when we looked at each other I think he knew I felt the same way. There were still sparks between us. For him I would have been willing, but he didn’t want that. Instead we spent the hour talking, and in that hour he convinced me there was a better choice.
“Had he not done that I don’t think I would ever have let him in the way I did. By taking the time to see me as I was he gave me hope for the future, and that was something I hadn’t had for a long time. He didn’t know my real name. He didn’t have any idea who I was related to. Yet he still wanted me to be a part of his life. Having someone who wanted me for me… it made it easier for him to break through all the shields I’d built up through the years. I thought there was a chance he might be the person I’d spend the rest of my life with, until I realised I wanted freedom more than I wanted anything else, so what we had worked.
“When he was in town we’d spend time together, sometimes I’d join him for a job, and we’d always end up falling into bed together. There were times when I thought about telling him the whole truth, but maybe I knew that would end up leading to this. No matter how much I meant to him he was always going to choose to work with Richard, to make me claim what they probably believe is my birthright. Only they don’t care what that means for me.”
“Cowal, back then, was only the heir to the Duchy. He would have helped you, if he could. By the time he came into power you’d already found yourself a path, one you seemed to be happy with, and he made the decision not to interfere, even knowing who you were. Letting you have your freedom was important to him. Having never had it he wouldn’t have been willing to take it from you.”
“From what I know of him I do have trouble believing that.”
Smiling, Niamh nodded. “That’s what he wanted. He doesn’t want anyone to think of him as being different to those who came before, even though he is. Being the Duke of West, when the previous ones have been so dark, isn’t easy for him, but he makes it so no one really sees him for who he is.”
“Apart from you.”
“Those who knew him before he became the Duke know who he really is. Nate and Richard do, but they seem to have been willing to let themselves believe that he’s become someone else since taking over the Duchy.” She studied me. “A promise was made, many generations ago, and he made the decision he was going to use it as a reason to help you. Mostly, I think, it’s because he knows how you see him. By doing that he made it easier for you to accept the help, although you feel as though you never had a choice in the matter. You did. He would have let you leave. He would have made sure there were people looking over you, to do their best to keep you safe, so you could have your freedom. I told him to do the opposite. I always thought it would be better for you to be here, where it would be next to impossible for them to be able to get to you.”
“You’re an empath?”
“I have that skill, yes. My family have often been natural empaths. That’s why Cowal asked me to stay with you. He knew you were going to be able to stay strong around him, but then after that you would fall apart. Unlike his father he’s very good at reading people. Without that skill I don’t think he would have survived as the Duke for as long as he has.”