“Lady Cecilia, sorry for taking so long to arrive,” Alonso said. At the same time, he bowed to the young girl sitting at the head of the long table. “The march took much longer than we had planned.”
“That was not all, wasn’t it, Lord Alonso? I heard you had trouble on the way,” she said in a cold and detached voice, looking the man in the eyes. “What happened?”
Alonso exchanged glances with Faela.
“We… encountered some villagers. They were Worshipers who tried to trick us but we dealt with them… at a great cost.” Alonso explained, closing his fist.
Seeing that demonic mark really affected him, Tetsuko thought as she felt her wielder’s energy stirring. Hope it doesn’t get in the way during the fight.
The young lady sitting at the table closed her eyes. The shadow created by the fire darkened her expression.
“Now you know how much the Worshipers have changed,” she said in a heavy voice.
“Yes. It’ll be much harder dealing with them. Not even your father could have foreseen that…” Alonso pressed the lips, his fist trembling as he tried to keep the noble facade, “I’m sorry for your loss, Lady Cecilia.”
“I’m sorry as well, my Lady. I fought a few times by your father’s side. He was a brave man,” Faela said in a low voice, bowing to the girl.
The young noble closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Thank you, you two.”
She’s holding back her tears, Tetsuko realized. She might look brave but she’s too young for all this.
Even so, she must deal with everything.
“Could I… see your father’s grave,” Alonso choked with the words. “I… I’d like to pay respect to my friend…”
My wielder is the same. Though he’s not that young.
“If you excuse me, my Lords. I need to check on the soldiers. They had a rough time coming here.” Faela excused herself and left.
With all the dignity of the noble in charge, Cecilia dismissed her guards and led Alonso outside.
They walked side by side without exchanging any words. After they left the castle, they climbed up a hill that faced the entire area. There, on the top, was a single stone tomb.
It had had no name nor anything that identified whose soul rested there. Even so, Alonso placed his closed fist against the chest and bowed.
“Diogo, my friend. You went too soon,” he said. “It’s… it’s not fair…”
With just the two of them, Alonso couldn’t hold back anymore. Neither did Cecilia.
“I’m sorry, Lia. I should’ve been here. I should’ve fought by his side…”
“It wasn’t your fault, uncle. You were having your own battle. Even here, I know how things are in the Kingdom.”
“I know, but it won’t bring papa… my father back… he’s gone… forever…” The girl cried even more, clinging to the lord’s cloak. Her noble mask who held back all her emotions was gone, and she was simply a little girl now.
Alonso wrapped his arms around her. She clutched his clothes even harder.
After a long time, they both finally stopped crying.
“Thanks, uncle. I needed a good cry.” Cecilia averted her face to clean her tears.
“You’ve been holding back for too long. But I guess you have to now. You can’t show any weakness before those idiots…”
“They… have been supportive… most of the time,” Cecilia said in a strange voice.
“Please, girlie. I know the nobles here. I fought with them.” The girl tried to stop as Alonso messed her hair. “They are looking to gain your favor. Everyone is…”
His tiny smile vanished as he turned to the nameless grave.
“Your father was too harsh on them. He didn’t allow his vassals to oppress the peasants and they didn’t like that. Now that he’s gone…” Alonso took a deep breath to hold back the tears again. “Now that he’s gone, you need to keep them in check.”
“I know, uncle. I know.” The girl fixed faced the grave as she fixed her hair. When she turned back to Alonso, her expression was back to the noble facade. “But right now, we need to deal with the Worshipers.”
“Yes… Like our fathers and our grandfathers before us.” Alonso looked with a strange expression to the noble girl.
“I know what you want to ask, uncle. The rumors about my father’s death,” the girl said, looking over the hill and the lake. “Yes, they’re true. Most of them. In the middle of the fight, papa… my father ended up swallowing tainted blood…”
The girl trembled as she recalled. Even so, she forced herself to speak.
“He had a high fever… A few days later he had gone… insane… He attacked anyone who got close. And… and he had the mark of Evil on his chest. But it wasn’t like the worshipers!” Cecilia added quickly. “Papa would never worship those Evil Gods of old. That mark looked as if–”
“Burned from the inside out,” Alonso finished the sentence.
“I know Diogo would never worship those demons. The Vidal family has lost too many members to those vile things.” Alonso grew quiet as he looked at the grave once again. “I saw it with my own eyes, Cecilia. It happened the same thing with a soldier on the way here.”
“So it wasn’t just papa…”
“The Worshipers have changed… they are stronger and more dangerous…” Alonso closed his fist. “We thought we had killed every last one of them last time… For days we searched the area for any survivors… but there’s always one left… Now the Kingdom has to face them again. And we can’t even deal with it properly because we’re being invaded from every side. And even the bandits are growing!”
The girl only watched the man in silence.
“Don’t put that blame on Faela,” Cecilia said after a moment. “She’s important in this fight.”
Alonso opened his mouth, but only let out a weak chuckle. “You’re more perceptive than your father, girlie. That’s good It’ll help you.”
“Thanks. But you’re not gonna talk your way out of this. We need her strength, uncle.”
“I know, I know… but this is all her brother’s fault… It’s not that I blame her. We can’t be sure she has no grudge against the Kingdom.”
“Papa fought by her side a few times. He trusted her.”
“If Diogo trusted her…”
“You should too. We need her in this fight,” she said looking him in the eyes.
The lord sighed and looked at the tomb. “You’re sharp just like your father. But by the grace of the Gods, you got your mothers looks.”
The noble lady punched him on the stomach in a friendly way. “You always say that. All these years and you didn’t get over the fact that she chose papa instead of you?”
Alonso showed a wry smile. “Can’t believe he told you that… the idiot promised he’d keep quiet.”
“Papa never said anything. It was mama. She liked to talk about you when she was mad at papa.”
“Can’t believe she did that…” The lord blushed, as he covered his mouth. Then he shook his head and messed the girl’s hair again. “It’s not the time for this. We need to prepare for the fight.”
Cecilia laughed and fixed her hair.
“Always finding a way out,” she said with a smile. The next moment, all the joy was gone, and she was back to the facade of the noble Lady. “Let’s go, my Lord.”