Chapter 15

The short week that took them to San Franciskus was quite uneventful. They stopped a few times in the villages they passed to visit their subjects, and browse the markets for presents for Aracely’s friends.

When the Royal carriage arrived in Aracely’s village, the town square was filled with her friends and she was the first one out of the carriage to run into the arms of Halling and Vala, much to the despair of the Royal guards.

“At ease…” John muttered as he stood next to the carriage, unsure what to do with himself. “These people won’t hurt your Queen.”

He could see how Gabriella nearly tripped in her way over to her people, and shook his head laughing. Once again, he felt a knot in his stomach, probably of regret. Why on Earth did he had to fall in love with someone whose village was so far away?

“Good to see you again, Sire,” Lorne approached him, holding another man’s hand. “Congratulations on everything.”

“Thanks Lorne, congratulations yourself.” John smiled widely.

“This is David, and I can’t thank you enough for letting me stay here.”

He grinned. “Don’t thank me, there’s nothing more important than… oh! I had Ronon clean out your house and your belongings will arrive in a couple of days.”

“Oh… how embarrassing…”

“Don’t worry, Ronon didn’t mention the odd paraphernalia in your house to anyone,” he replied with a wink.

“Gee, thank you, Sire.”

Aracely was busy moving from one person to another as they each ooh’d and ahh’d over each other. So much had changed in the short time and she couldn’t be any happier than seeing her friends alive and well as they were. Halling even looked much healthier than she remembered last and from that she could tell that it was simply by eating his meals rather than saving them for his family.

A loud squeal from behind the crowd sounded before a mess of raven hair pushed her way through the crowd to get to the center and its attraction. The small and still thin frame of Vala jumped on Aracely and wrapped any part of herself that she could around the woman.

“You’re not leaving again!” Vala sobbed. “I miss having a laugh and a chat oh and gossip with you!” She then took a step away from Aracely and smiled widely. “You look great! Come, let’s head into the tavern, you must be tired and hungry from your journey.” She put her arms around Aracely and gently pushed her towards the tavern. “We have so much to catch up with!”

“I have heard! You are expecting a child now!” Aracely remarked as she waved off a set of guards with a glare as she wrapped her arm around her friend’s and followed her into the tavern where Danyel stood shaking his head at the door. “John? Are you coming with?” she called out before they disappeared inside the building.

“Oh I am… we are and I couldn’t be more happier, but I found out I can be, because you’re here!” Vala grinned. “What would you like to eat or drink?”

“Just some fruit and water please,” she smiled as she sat down at the girls’ usual table. “We received the note from one of the soldiers that returned just 10 days ago. I wanted to leave then but John insisted on waiting until we heard more about the status of the Chulakkans before he thought it be safe enough for travel.”

“I had not believed he would follow through on his promises, I must admit. It was a big surprise when his men arrived to the village.” Vala replied.

Aracely nodded. “It was not yet a full day after the King’s passing that John ordered them to investigate. You would not believe what they learned even if I told you,” she said. “I am still finding it difficult to believe myself!”

“Ohh!” Vala returned with a platter of fruit from the kitchen. “I must say, life has been easier since we became certain of the attacks having seized, everyone is happier, and David has been trying to teach everyone the right way to grow crops now that he doesn’t have to worry about draught and fertilisation of the fields.”

She smiled at her friend. “It is wonderful to hear. Tell me, how has Radell been holding up?” she asked with deep worry. “I heard that they manage to get miss Katie before they could get her into hiding.”

Vala sighed and nodded sadly. “Katie had broken her ankle a few days before that, she was too slow, and that was only why they were able to get her. Oh we’ve searched the woods with the soldiers, Lady Aracely, but we could not find her. Radell pretends he’s doing alright, but he’s even more broken than he already was!”

“I will be sure to visit him today, if not tomorrow at the latest. I already spoke to John and I hope to bring him back to the castle with us. We all know how he hides himself inside that shop of his – I don’t want him to fall deeper into something that no one can do to help bring back,” she frowned.

“Oh, please don’t take Radell away from us, we’re taking care of him, making sure he is alright. I know you have always taken good care of him, but please, if you take him away from what he knows and loves, he might become an even bigger recluse than he already is.” Vala begged her.

Aracely looked at her and felt torn. She really wanted someone other than Gabriella with her and to travel to visit would only get more difficult as she grew. “Will you be coming to visit at least? As often as you could. I know I have Gabriella there but they have been working to have her take over the duties of the house mother so I rarely see her.”

“Of course, but our horses are old, you know that. We’ll have to trade with other villages, and to do that, we need food or other tradeable goods.”

She sat back and grinned brightly. “There are a number of cows, horses, and a stock of chickens already on their way here. About two suns behind us,” she confirmed.

Vala nearly lunged herself across the table to hug her friend. “Thank you thank you thank you! Of course I will come to visit you, as often as I can, even hopefully before my child is born.”

“Oh! Please! Easy now!” Aracely cried out as the suddenness made her stomach uneasy. “There is something else I should tell you but after the room stops spinning…” she added trying to not appear so pale.

“Are you alright? Do you want me to pull your husband inside the tavern?” Vala looked outside the window and chuckled. “He looks a little uncomfortable… who’s that woman he’s talking to? His mistress?” She then looked back at Aracely. “He doesn’t have a mistress, does he? I thought he wasn’t like any of the other Royals you’ve told us about in your stories! I’m going to kill him!”

“Vala!” she yelled before her friend could run out the door. “That is Amelia, one of my maidens,” she said once she got to the window. “He’s probably just giving her orders on where to go or what to do now that we are here. He has not been with anyone other than myself. While I have my own bedchambers, he said that he wants me to stay with him in his. He really is quite a gentleman and I think he will make a wonderful father, don’t you?”

Vala looked at her friend and shook her head. “I don’t know,” she bit her lip. ” Johan , maybe, but the King?”

“It was the King that made certain the soldiers were sent to help,” she smiled. “The King that brought me back to you at seeing my loneliness despite the risks…”

“Oh dear lord, should you ever get blessed with a child, I fear that child will be spoiled rotten!”

“I have to admit that I agree with you,” she grinned as she lowered her hand to her belly.

Vala looked at her in shock. “Nooo! You’re with child too?” she squealed.

Aracely nodded happily. “It is rather soon but I truly could not be happier,” she sighed. “John is very much a mother hen when it comes to my comfort now that we know it is certain.”

Vala pointed in the general direction of her husband Danyel. “He wants me to rest after lunch, after LUNCH I tell you!” She then hugged her friend tightly. “Now you will have to stay here so we can be pregnant together!”

“we carry their heirs,” she pointed out. “Still the men know not yet of what /we/ will endure in the end.” Aracely frowned into the hug and kept her head bowed when she was let go.

“I’m already looking forward to the endless massages Danyel has promised me.” Vala grinned as she sat back down. She took a sip of her juice. “Do you enjoy your life at the Castle? Are you happy? I mean, truly happy?”

She followed her friend and thought about it carefully. “I would like more familiar company but I think I am. Vala – I cannot stay here for the length of my own pregnancy. There is – a great deal of business that John and I must tend to on our return.”

Vala shrugged. “You’re staying, whatever it is, you can do your official castle business from here. Please?”

“Vala – we may have to go to battle with the King of Proculus,” she said seriously.

“Ah!” Vala put her hand on Aracely’s mouth. “No castle talk. Now eat your fruit., I’m sure that by now Halling has prepared your room and your king’s room as well.”

She narrowed her eyes. “John and I will share a room,” she replied. “Where is he so that I can tell him…”

“I know you will, but you know Halling, he is… well, he was, just as strict about dealing with nobility and royalty as you were.” Vala shrugged.

“Bah!” Aracely said as she threw her hands up. She went out to the door and looked up the road for the taller man. Seeing John instead, she went up to him and raised an eyebrow. “Have you seen Halling? I just was informed he is preparing separate rooms for you and I.”

“Uhm… no? He dissappeared around the same time you did… where did you go anyway?” John replied. “I sent Teyla and Amelia to your old house with whatever they needed, maybe he’s there?”

“Let’s go find him. I was with Vala – I thought you were aware of that,” she sighed as she took his arm and started for her old home.

“No, I wasn’t. And as soon as you were gone, the people left the square as well and I didn’t really know what to do… I directed the guards towards the stables of the tavern so they can take care of the horses and find a sleeping spot, although I’m not sure if that’s okay.”

“Why not?” she asked.

“I don’t know…” John said slightly uncomfortable. “The only person who spoke to me was Lorne, the rest kept looking at me with a look that was a mixture of me having taken away their favorite toy and was dangling it in front of their faces and of shock and awe… I just didn’t want to assume that it was okay for the guards to take the barn at the Tavern in case Danyel throws a fit, but they had to go somewhere.”

She smiled up at him as she worked her fingers between his. “They will get used to it,” she said. “They will be fine in the stables. He has other concerns from the way Vala spoke. He has been watching over her carefully because of the pregnancy.”

“Well that’s because she’s carrying a fragile new life, and life here hasn’t been that easy, I can understand Danyel.” John softly kissed her hand. From his time almost completely alone in the middle of time square, he could see that the villagers had already started to try and rebuild their village.

Of course, most of the villagers were old or in ill health, and John was already thinking of sending a few masons, carpenters and one of Carson’s apprentices once they got back to help with the rebuilding of San Franciskus.

“Come,” Aracely almost sang as she pulled him along through the sun filled street. Eventually they arrived near the highest mark in town where her family home sat overlooking the market and main road. “Halling?”

Halling opened the door with a smile. “My queen, my k-”

John glared at Halling and then rolled his eyes.

“Aracely, John…” Halling tried again.

She smiled at her old friend before reaching up to hug him tightly. “Oh I missed you!” she cried and pulled him in tighter.

“I missed you too, Lady Aracely.” Halling smiled. “Welcome in your home.”

“How have you and your family been? You have been comfortable here, yes?” she asked as she followed him into the house, pulling John behind her.

“Of course we have, we still thank you every day for allowing us to live here,” Halling replied. “You look well.”

“Thank you. And you look so much healthier my friend. Such a change in the colour of your face!”

“Thanks to you and the King,” he looked at John and then smiled at Aracely, “We lead such a more relaxed life.”

She smiled as she walked into the familiar rooms and hugged Halling’s wife and young son who left the group to themselves as she prepared tea for them. “Vala informed me that you were preparing separate rooms for John and I my friend. That is unnecessary,” she commented.

“Aren’t you staying?” Halling asked surprised. “Or does Vala’s tavern offer more suitable accomodations than your own home?”

“We will be staying a few nights yes, but John and I could share a room,” she explained.

“As you know, there is no need, there are plenty of rooms in your house. Your bedroom is just as you left it and the guest room is still there.” Halling said confused and then looked at John. “My King, if you wish, we can free up an extra room for your concubine.”

John blinked at Halling. “Would you please stop?”

Aracely narrowed her eyes. “It is unnecessary and there is no – concubine…”

Halling looked at the Royal couple in shock. “Is everything alright? Did I do something wrong?”

John put his hands on Halling’s shoulders and looked him in the eyes. “I’m John , that’s Aracely . We sleep together in the same bed, just like you and your wife. There is no other woman. We’re equals, remember?” He then rolled his eyes at Halling. “You’re even worse than she was!”

She couldn’t help but to snicker at the expressions on the men’s faces. “We are fine, better than actually. I am happy.”

“Yeah, you hear that? She’s happy.” John nodded. “Believe me, I would have known if she wasn’t.”

“John, quiet,” Aracely said sharply before looking to Halling. “My friend, we are are also anticipating our first child.”

Halling first started to laugh at Aracely’s correction of John and then looked at the both of them in shock. “God help us all!” Halling then scratched his head. “Congratulations.”

You do not believe that we would make good parents?” she frowned, hugging her small stomach. “I was in shock but each day I grow more excited about the future of this child.”

“You two are… different , it will be interesting to see who the new heir to the throne will grow up to be.” He replied and hugged Aracely. “Of course I am happy for you. Have you come here to give birth?”

“No. We came to visit once we were sure that the threat of the seasoning was over,” she smiled. “Unfortunately the stay won’t be as long as I would like as there is business that must be tended to as soon as we return,” Aracely continued, glancing at John knowingly. “Halling – I am curious if you had come across anything that may have belonged to my parents since you began to stay here.”

He looked off as if he tried to think hard. “There are some trunks that we moved into the safety room that appeared to be from their time. I can retrieve them for you first thing,” he bowed slightly.

She smiled and layed a hand on his arm, shaking her head. “Nonsense. They could wait until sometime later before we need to return. First, we must resolve the issue of sleeping arrangements,” she grinned.

Halling nodded with a laugh as he looked over to John. “Would Aracely’s sleeping room be suffice for you?” he questioned.

“It will be just fine for him,” she interrupted before winking over at her husband. “Gabriella could stay in her old room as well. We would need somewhere for Teyla and Amelia to sleep.”

“My son can sleep in the livingroom.” Halling replied.

“Nonsense, I’m sure that Teyla and Amelia can stay at the tavern.” John responded.

Aracely nodded in agreement. “I am sure that Vala and Danyel will make sure they are comfortable.”

It took both John and Aracely hours for Halling to be… Halling and not in shock and awe. John then realized that he probably shouldn’t have come and excused himself from the residence to go and find Lorne to talk shop. He knew that there were certain things that Ronon hadn’t told him about what had happened in San Franciskus and Lorne would.

“Sire? What are you doing here?” Lorne laughed as he opened the door of his and David’s house. “Shouldn’t you be with your wife?”

“Nah, I want to give her some alone time with her friends.” John shrugged.

David ambled through the room seemingly oblivious to the King as he tended to his many plants that hung about. “The village is quite happy to have Aracely back,” he commented, stating the obvious.

“I know,” John replied. “She’s been asking for a while now to return, but it wasn’t safe, especially for her.”

“Your Highness?” Lorne asked, questioning as the tone that the man used wasn’t as one would think. That it was more than just about the woman being the Queen now.

“Didn’t Ronon tell you that the splinter group of Chulakkans would continue to attack until all women of this village were either theirs or dead? Surely, you must have fought by his side while he was on a warpath with his own people.”

The man heaved a deep breath and nodded. “Yes and no sir. He led the group into Chulakka and ordered me to stay in the village to defend against those that made it through his march. After he returned he didn’t say much – if anything – other than needing to get back to you to inform you of the events.”

“Ah, well, the theory is that the Chulakkans – and our men at the station – were being bribed to deny any help to this village and to find the rightful heir to the throne of Proculus. We still need a little more proof than a dusty old genealogy book that’s being kept by our genealogist, but we suspect they were after Aracely.” John looked up when the herbalist dropped something heavy on the floor.

“My father… he was an apprentice herbalist for the King back in the day before he lost the ability to use his hands and walk, used to tell me stories about that! I thought they were bed time stories, fairy tales, but…”

“What do you know?”

“Well, according to those stories, when the King of Proculus died, the rightful heir and his wife and child were kidnapped and locked up so that the younger brother could take the throne in his absence, probably because Prince Robert was a gentle soul, and his brother Nicolas was more of a rebel, he also didn’t marry anyone of nobility just to tarnish the bloodline.” David replied and waved his hand. “The story continues with our own King, after having learned from the coup, went on an illegal and stealthy search to find Robert and his family and freed them from their imprisonment. Robert, fearing for the life of his daughter if he’d confront his brother, was granted permanent residence in our Kingdom, to live freely amongst our people, in the hope that one day, the truth would come out and someone stronger than our King would make sure that everything would turn out alright.”

“My father knew of Aracely?”

“Yes and no, he never asked for the girl’s name for her own safety and protection. He also did not know where they were going to live. I think it was meant to be that you went on a quest to find your one true love instead of listening to the castle’s rules, my King.” David smiled as he gently bowed his head. “I will get us some tea,” he said before walking off.

Lorne let out the breath he had been unintentionally holding through the story and looked over at the King. “So it seems you did marry noble blood after all. At least that is one less thing to worry about with the council,” he shrugged.

“I always said she was from nobility, her father was the Earl of Hoffe. Besides, I have nothing to fear from the council. Anyone who wished to leave because they didn’t agree with my views, were sent into the Kingdom to do some village inventory so we can find out how to help.”

“If your father really had them freed, then it is possible that while he did not know where they were, he knew them well enough. Given them false names to live in anonymity yet with some of the familiarity of their stature?”

“Probably, I don’t know.” John sighed. “I don’t really remember much of my father from before my mother died, which is when his behaviour changed radically. I haven’t found any kind of journal that he would have kept, I doubt there is one.”

He smiled at him as David returned with a tray of tea. “He was always a private man that I recall, but I am confident that all will work itself out in the end. You found your Queen after all.”

“I am fortunate I did, she’s amazing.” John smiled widely. “She’s carrying my child.”

David gasped and let the tray filled with tea drop to the floor. “Oh, ouch, how terribly clumsy of me, congratulations, your Highness.”

“Yes, congratulations Sire, though I will be more enthused in my well wishes when the child is actually born. It seems that maintaining healthy pregnancies in women from this village is few and far between. I had met with their alchemist and it seems she provides some medicine of sort when she learns of someone expecting to help keep the baby strong. Those that had the misfortune of not having her help lost their child either before it was time or in childbirth,” Lorne frowned.

“Does this alchemist have access to food supplies?” John said alarmed.

“Samanthia grows her own. It is not much but it is enough for her. She is not very trusting of the way others grow their crops,” the herbalist explained. “She would not accept your offer of support if you gave it.”

“I would not offer her anything, but now I’m afraid that if Aracely eats something here that our child will be born dead. Thanks.” He furrowed his brow.

“Bring Aracely to her. She can tell you if the child will be well. Her word has never been wrong that I have learned. And don’t be feared of the food. There has been births despite the mystery. Just those that lived were not quite as strong as others. My mother did not accept her help but I am also not the most healthy in comparison either,” he said patting the King on the arm and moving to clean up the spilt tea.

“That’s the thing, I don’t trust all knowing people. She must be doing something to the food supply to make people come to her for help.”

David chuckled. “How could the woman do something when she never leaves the land her home sits? No, the problem was much worse before she began to live there. That I can assure you.”

“Who’s visiting her often?” John wouldn’t let this go. What if the herbalist was wrong?

“Ohhh,” he sat thinking. “Aracely and Halling used to go to her together for medicines for his wife. She was very ill for a long time after she gave birth to Jinto. She is much better now. Walking!”

“And obviously, Samanthia made an awful lot of money.” John pointed out.

“No, not really. You can ask Aracely. She would offer her gold but she took pence just to be able to purchase more seedlings. No, no. Samanthia is one that respects the land and despises riches. Go to her. See for yourself.”

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, David, but Aracely is my wife, she doesn’t have to worry about anything, she can buy whatever she pleases, now tell me, is this alchemist of yours a threat to my wife?”

David looked at the King with large eyes. “Why would you think of such a thing! Aracely would visit her just to be sure she was well, ignoring her request to be left alone! You should know by now that Aracely does what Aracely wishes if it meant it was for good.”

“Vala hasn’t been able to bear children for a long time… no something is off.”

“No she hasn’t. But she thought like you as well. Everything that is not easily understood was suspicious. After you took Aracely back to the castle, Danyel and her announced they would go meet with her finally. To see for themselves the trust that Aracely placed in her.”

“I want to meet this alchemist, right now.” John said and got up.

Lorne looked out the window at the setting sun. “It might be best to wait until sunrise. I haven’t met the woman myself but if she is as much of a recluse as people say, she may have set traps around her land to protect herself from unexpected visitors. I know I would after the Chulakkan attacks.”

” Now , Lorne.” John insisted. “Don’t make me order you.”

David looked at him and shrugged. “Let me get you some light so that you can see your way,” he said as he left the room to locate the torches he used when he scowers the forests for his plants at night.

“Why? I mean, what could one night of not knowing hurt?” Lorne asked as he reluctantly got up. “I trust David, and he trusts the alchemist.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” John glared at his friend. “Lives could be at stake? This village doesn’t have enough women as it is, the alchemist could be working with someone to poison everyone in this village and then, to make them trust her, offers a cure? I’m sorry, but it just sounds a bit off.”

“But if she wanted the people to die, then why help them to live?”

“She likes to see the suffering? I don’t know, Lorne.”

“Fine. Let’s go. I know how you can get crabby from not knowing things.”

After David supplied them with torches, he and Evan set out to the alchemist’s home. David hadn’t been kidding when he said that her house was hard to get to; there were tree branches hanging over the path, weeds and crawling plants across the path itself, making it hard to see where to walk, and it was completely dark.

They managed to get to the door without too many scratches and John knocked on the door.

It was several long moments before the heavy door was slowly opened by a tall, yet very thin woman. She did not appear to be in the best of health herself, worse than some of the people in the village even. “Am I correct to assume that you are the son of King George?” she asked with a tired voice.

“I am,” John said, feeling sorry for the woman, she looked as if she was with one foot in the grave already. “Are you responsible for the ill health of this village?”

She struggled to pull the door open wider for the men to enter. With a loud sigh, she eventually hobbled her way over to her sitting chair in front of a blazing fireplace. “In a way, yes. It was the poison from some plants that I grew that caused the illnesses,” she admitted. Reaching for her cup of broth, her hands shook from weakness of her own demise.

“Are my wife and unborn child in any danger if they stay in this village?”

“Your wife? I have not heard news of the Prince marrying,” she replied with a clearly shocked look on her face.

“Recluse, sir,” Lorne reminded him.

“My father has passed away a couple of months back. Before that, I went on a quest to find my heart instead of doing what my father and the council wished me to do and marry and found her in this village.”

Samanthia studied the young man carefully. “Who is the Queen now then?”

“Aracely.”

She sat back in her chair as she let the information fill her. “Aracely. Supposedly of Hoffe. Load of lard if you ask me that situation,” she huffed.

“Ma’am, David told the King about the stories his father had told him about the Proculus Royal family and King George’s involvement.” Lorne replied.

“Then you will know they are true. That scoundrel Nicholas was always good for nothing. After that last day that fool stepped foot in this house I refused to leave. I can’t imagine what he has done past what I already know. I knew what he wanted from me but I refused. That fool stole nearly my entire crop to poison the well!” She spat.

“Surely after all these years, your poison will have lost its potential?” Lorne asked, glaring at John, who was still fuming.

She nodded. “I believed so as well. I do not know how they managed to keep it strong, but I am sure they found a way. So I did all that I knew to do. I began to work on something to counteract the toxins. It did not work for everyone but it helped the great many that it could. Robert feared that something like that would happen… paranoid old man. I know that many alchemists in this region have suffered the same fate as I. I have no idea how they figured out that he was here in the first place. He had me work on something to keep his child strong. To survive if she were to be what he hoped for her.”

“I’ll ask again; are my wife and unborn child in danger if they stay in this village?”

Samanthia looked over at John and smiled. “No. I gave Robert supplements for her based on the plants I found missing. When she started to come to me for help for her friends, I could see that she surpassed even my own expectations of her survival. Her heart is filled with fire! You will have your hands full with that one yes!”

“That I do… is the rest of this village still in danger?”

“I fear so. Even more now that you stopped the seasoning as they called it. Whoever contaminated the well will continue to do so until they are sure they have killed the heir to the Proculus throne.”

John took a deep breath, and nearly choked on the taste of the incense burning. “With all due respect, it looks like you could use some medicine.”

“I could, but I won’t take it. It was my own foolishness that contributed to the village that this is my penance to them,” she waved him off.

“But who’s going to cure the sick when you’re not around?” Lorne said hesitantly.

“Your heart, my dear,” she smiled. “He has been learning a great deal on his own although he has yet to come see me himself.”

“I doubt he will.”

She let out a hacking cough and took a sip of her broth. “He will when he is ready. That I am certain of.”

John thought it would be saver for the village and its inhabitants if he would bring them back towards the castle, maybe permanently, or at least until they had this situation under control. He did not want to send another group of soldiers out here to maybe chase ghosts of the past and wait at the well or its beginning to see who was poisoning this village. “Thank you, Samanthia,” John finally said. “I’ll make sure Aracely comes to visit you before we leave.”

“Thank you, but I can tell you that the people won’t be receptive of what you are considering,” she said knowingly. “The look on your face tells all. This is their home, through the ups and downs. I am sure you had doubts that Aracely would have accepted your proposal in the beginning, no?”

“I know, and I want to keep these people safe. With a temporary relocation until this matter is resolved, they can get help from the best doctors this country knows.”

“You are still asking them to leave behind what they know. If you wish to save them, then do something about Proculus. They are the root of the problem.”

“I wish it was that easy, I need more proof, I don’t want to make the same mistakes as my father and go to war with a country without being able to back up my suspicions.”

She pushed herself out of her chair and made her way into a small room in the back of the hut. When she came back, she held two bags. “This. This is the plant that causes the illness from the water. If you find it, you will know who is the source. It is not common and does not grow wild. And this, it is for you and your Queen,” she smiled as she handed them over. “She will understand it.”

Lorne snickered, he knew what it was, he had learned some things from David. “I’m sure they will love it.”

“Thank you, but please, you deserve to live, cure yourself. It’s not your fault, it all started in Proculus and you’re just a cog in the wheel.” John said.

Samanthia said nothing but simply bowed her head silently before returning to sit in her chair and work on her broth. It was the end of the conversation and visit for her as she expelled a great deal of energy simply speaking to them. The weight that she held with the knowledge of Aracely’s father was also bearing on her so in sharing it, it too exhausted her.

“I uh think it’s time to go your Highness,” Lorne said, glancing at the woman. “You got your answers.”

“I hate politics.” John muttered as they exited the woman’s home. “Thank you for taking me, Lorne.”

“No problem,” he shrugged. “Now let’s just get back without killing ourselves in the process.”

For some reason it took them longer to exit the garden than it had taken them going to the house, and when they were finally through, John said goodnight to Lorne and headed back to Aracely, carrying both bags he had received from Samanthia. He needed sleep, he had been an idiot for doing the things he did after a long trip but he needed to be certain that at least Aracely would be safe during their stay.

Aracely had sat by the window in the room that overlooked the main road. It was almost reminiscent to the last days before she left with John to go to the castle, to be his wife. While she was sure he went to see to his men, she had anticipated his return long ago, but when he had not shown for supper, her worry grew.

She watched the road, like a hawk, waiting for signs of his presence and when the shadow of two men emerged from the forest edge in the distance she frowned. When it later appeared to be John and the herbalist’s partner, she only then let out a sigh of relief as she watched him turn up the road to the house.

Before John could knock on the door, the door flew open, revealing Halling, looking none too pleased. “She’s in the sitting room, John , it would be kind of you to share supper with us tomorrow.”

“Sorry Halling.” John apologized. “You know David… he likes to talk.”

“That he does,” the man chuckled as he closed the door behind John and followed him to the sitting room where John put the bags next to the door.

Aracely stood by the window silent and glaring at her husband. She did not say a word but a look to Halling made her friend quietly say his goodnights and disappear down the steps.

“I eh… I’m sorry?” John tried.

“You fear for my safety yet you go off into the woods, at dark?” she asked. “I have been sitting here terrified for you. We do not know if there are threats still hiding from your men…”

“I was with Lorne, you know, the soldier I left behind to be with your herbalist? I was safe as a kitten.” John nodded and approached her after covering up his arms from the scratches that Samanthia’s thorns had given him. “I am sorry.”

“One man! John!” she retorted as she made her way to him and hugged him tightly. Her figured dug into the fabric of his shirt as if he would have disappeared on her. “You cannot be foolish like that. I lost my parents to the woods. I do not wish to lose you as well.”

“Will it help if I told you that I have a lot of information to share with you thanks to David and Samanthia?”

She pulled back and looked up him. “You went to the alchemist at night? Are you mad?”

“I feared for your safety!”

“I am safe with you!”

“No, you’re not!” John sighed as he sat down in the chair and pointed to the other chair for her to sit as well before he shared the information he had received from David and Samanthia.

“So someone is after me. We knew that already,” she commented as she did as he asked. “I will not live my life in fear. I don’t want our child to either.”

“And you won’t, I’ll make sure of that, but thanks to David, I thought Samanthia was after you, but she wasn’t.” He sighed.

Aracely looked at him blankly. “I could have told you that. In fact, I believe I may have,” she snapped. “Samanthia has done nothing but help the people here.”

“Yeah well, the way David said it, made me fear for you, I’m sorry!” John then pointed at one of the bags. “I’ll have my men search for that plant tomorrow to try to make a stop to this, and when we return, I will try to politely ask the Royal family of Proculus to come over for a civilized talk.”

She got up and picked up the bag, looking at its contents. “This is not from around here,” she shared before looking at the other bag. At seeing the leaves her face reddened as she quickly lowered it behind her and glanced down the hall and stairs to make sure that no one else was around. “Oh my!”

“And she said that other bag is for us and that you’d understand… what is it?”

“It is entirely inappropriate, that is what it is,” she whispered harshly. “Vala would kill to have just a few of these leaves!”

“I’ve had mind altering herbs before, it’s nothing to be ashamed of…” John shrugged.

She laughed nearly hysterically as she tried to keep it down. “Nothing like this I’m afraid. It’s more than mind altering John. It is supposed to make – experiences – stronger. A lot stronger.”

He grinned. “I can’t wait to try that!”

“I had heard rumors of it when I traveled but no one ever actually saw it. I didn’t particular care for the stories but when I was visiting one time, I asked Samanthia about some of the plants she grew and I knew from the description that this was the one I heard about. And you! I thought you were happily satisfied without any – help,” she glared at him.

“I am!” he laughed. “But sometimes, just sometimes, it’s fun to enhance your senses.”

Aracely threw the bag at him but grinned nonetheless. “Just please. Do not go off like that again. You could have waited until morning and not be attacked by the trees and shrubs surrounding her home that you could not see.”

“We had torches,” John nodded smugly as he set the bag down before making his way over to her and kissed her tenderly. “I am sorry, I love you and I will not do it again, however, I promised Samanthia that you’d visit her before we leave and I suggest you do.”

“I will,” she smiled up at him. “But not tonight. Now it is time us to retire for the night.”

“What are your plans for tomorrow?” John asked her.

She shrugged as she made her way up the steps to the bedroom. “I figured I’d just walk around, like I used to. Spend some time in the market.”

He followed her up and sighed. “I’m sorry I took you so far away from your friends.”

“I know you are,” she sighed. “You need to stop thinking like that. As much as I miss everyone, the path I chose led me to you. I do not regret it and do not ever think that I have second thoughts.”

“I know…” he replied and entered her bedroom. It was silly, but they had never slept together in her bed before and it felt weird.

Aracely took the night robe that Gabriella had left out on the bed for her and started to change, even though John was in the room with her. She had grown accustomed to his seeing her body and there wasn’t anywhere else to change either. Looking back at him as he stood by the closed door still she smiled. “What is wrong? You have seen the skin of my body more times than I can count now.”

“It’s nothing…” John shook his head. “Just some weird thought.”

“Would you like to tell me?” she asked as she picked up his sleeping clothes to hand him. “Do you wish to change or sleep in what you’ve worn all day? Or nothing at all?”

John smirked. Sleeping in nothing was weird now that they weren’t at the castle and especially with Aracely’s friends around. “Tempting.” he nodded as he placed the clothes back on the bed and started to get out of his clothes before getting into his sleeping attire. “I don’t know… it’s just weird, this is your room. It’s the first time that you and I will sleep together in your bed.”

“It is as much your home now as it is mine,” she commented as she made her way over to him and wrap her arms around his waist. “Put such silly thoughts aside and just be. You are not the King here. Simply John.”

“I know…” he buried his face in the crook of her neck and sighed. “I am, but it’s so tiring that I have to keep repeating myself that I am and even then they don’t stop…”

“Tomorrow you will wear what you wore as Johan. I am sure that there is something around that will fit.”

He chuckled and nodded. “I think that would make a great difference.” He caressed her hair and softly kissed her neck.

“But first, we shall rest. It has been a long day for both of us,” she smiled. “I have no intention of leaving this bed very early now.”

“You never have to,” he replied as he lifted her in his arms and gently placed her onto the bed.

“Will you stay with me in that case?” she asked as she tugged on his shirt for him to come down closer to her.

“I’m not going anywhere…” he crawled onto the bed and took her in his arms. After six days of travelling upright, the bed was a relief.

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