"Are we not hurting him by buying more books? Is this not simply feeding his obsession?"
"Being studious is not a negative trait, Trisha."
The Dutchess paced back and forth while wringing her hands. The click of her heels softened by the soft carpet.
"Being completely shut-in... tell me that is not a negative trait, Braster."
Trisha waved her hands in an aggravated fashion. The Duke waited nearby, watching her carve a path into the carpet.
"The books will help him. Besides, there is a plan to get him to socialize, even if he stays locked inside the library."
"This all too stressful, dear. He was fine until that bitch of a maid ruined him. It is our fault for pushing him to find someone. Not being closer to him. Leaving him alone for an entire week! And it is MY fault. I trusted her and, and..."
Braster finally stopped his wife's pacing and held her in his arms.
"You are not to blame. You are a woman; of course you sympathized more strongly with her perceived plight. I believed her at first as well! I was the one who hired her and vetted her. She slipped by us both. All we can do now is help Bellavarn recover."
"How? Bellavarn never leaves. I haven't been able to hold a conversation with him in over a month. He refuses to attend any social gatherings, and it is getting harder to find an attendant to put up with him. And the rumors..."
Every since breakfast nearly a month ago, Bellavarn has turned the study into his home. It has become a small library with all the additions of new books. Their son eats and sleeps there. Thank the lord he keeps himself clean and tidies up after himself. However, Bellavarn has never been more withdrawn.
Bellavarn became sensitive to the sight of maids. He wouldn't act out or panic, but he did retreat within himself. It didn't help that the maids couldn't help but gossip and stare. They all made him uncomfortable, especially the younger ones. Braster needed to have the male staff revolve around him.
The closest the attendant they could get was Kerv. He was still employed as a guard, except now he acted as a personal attendant to Bellavarn, which included... nothing. Since Bellavarn never asked for anything other than new books or deserts. Kerv's role devolved into a redundant one. Bellavarn cleaned up after himself, kept safe, secluded, fed himself, and was overall self-reliant.
Which was what worried Trisha.
Bellavarn was still young, under twenty. A bachelor who should be out making friends or courting a woman. Trisha could tell that the gazes of others bothered him, making him feel judged and ridiculed. Instead of confronting the problem though, he ostracized himself even more by locking himself away, allowing rumors and gossip to permeate the mansion and outside. Kerv was supposed to help with social interactions, being a friend to Bellavarn since Kerv was one of the more outgoing employees. Yet, Kerv reported that all Bellavarn talked about were books.
Bellavarn would speak about the stories. Sometimes he would talk about history or magical theory. All of it went right over Kerv's head.
An imperfect solution to a complicated problem.
Trisha was terrified he would never leave that room.
"He needs to meet other girls. To see that Melody is not unique."
"It was his first love, my love. We need to give him time. For now, I believe I have a way to reintroduce him into society. And I think it is also time we tell him the good news."
Trisha looked up into her husband's icy eyes.
"You think? Is it not too soon?"
"Were you not the one last night saying that he should know."
Trisha slapped her husband's chest playfully, but her eyes shone like twin jewels.
It doesn't make sense. The story is too full of holes.
Bellavarn sat on a small step ladder with an open book in his hands. He was on page 34 of Magical Engineering Primer Volume II. The first volume sat on a step behind him. He paid neither book any notice and continued chewing on his pinky finger.
Why the bit about her sisters? Did she really make them up just to make me feel sorry for her?
Kerv sat on a couch nearby, looking simultaneously relaxed and as worried as can be. Bellavarn had been cooped up in here for a month. Occasionally he could hear the young master mumble indistinct words—the most prominent word being a certain maid's name.
Even if she was a new maid... Her home was too run down. Are all the maids from such low-income families? I've never asked any of them about their own lives... have I?
Bellavarn got up and started pacing, book still in hand. The library was formerly a study. All the books Bellavarn requested his father obtain served to expand the study into a collection and could now be called a small library.
The West wall was lined with books; four partition bookshelves broke up the space into sections. Bellavarn organized it all and even kept a ledger, accounting for every book. He created the entire system, which served to impress his father when he visited.
With the doors leading in attached to the Southern wall and large windows allowing light in along the Northern wall. That only left the Eastern wall. Near the doors was a corner section that harbored a large selection of romance novels. A cozy fireplace with cushioned couches and chairs completed the center section. The last 1/4 of the room held a substantial desk topped with a few books, paper, ink, and pen. A shorter bookshelf was present nearby, providing easier access to all his favorite books or the ones he referenced the most.
Bellavarn stopped pacing. Bell was Kerv's nickname for him. It served to get his attention more often than not.
"You were pacing again, Young Master."
"Oh. I see. Thank you for stopping me, Kerv."
The guard and friend gave a small nod. He wasn't armored but instead wore more comfortable clothes. Kerv refused to wear a butler's outfit, and he requested to shift out of his uniform after realizing all he did was sit and lounge around. A sword and scabbard were still attached to his waist, the only oddity.
Kerv's appearance was that of a 25-year-old man. He had grizzled facial hair which he scratched often. Otherwise, his brown hair was combed back, and his narrow brown eyes always seem to droop.
Scratching his beard again, Kerv leaned forward on his seat.
"Was it about Melody again?"
Bellavarn sighed. Of course Kerv guessed it. What else could have him so flustered? An entire month and all he could think about was her.
"It just doesn't make any sense. What she did, I mean. Why settle for so little? She had me! All she had to do was ask."
Kerv sighed and shrugged his shoulders. They've had this conversation before.
"I don't pretend to know a woman's mind."
"Why become a maid for the Sallows? There are plenty of lower houses that would have accepted her readily. She was playing with fire by choosing us. Father could have had her killed without anyone batting an eye."
"But he didn't. Your father let her go and even paid her."
Bellavarns voice rose.
"He did! For me. Because I was seduced. A stupid kid falling in love with the first person he sees. What an idiot I am."
It was happening slowly and painfully. Still, it was happening. The wounds were healing with time. Kerv remembered the first few discussions where Bellavarn would plead to him. "I thought we got along" and "Was I not enough."
Now, Bellavarn was still incriminating himself but he no longer believed that Melody was entirely innocent. Steadily, the intense feelings of love and affection were fading.
"I am overjoyed you have finally realized it."
Bellavarn paused, bewildered by Kerv's words.
Did he just agree I am an idiot? Can he do that?
There was a moment of silence before they both began to laugh. Then the doors opened.
"I am pleased you both are feeling well enough to laugh."
Kerv was at attention so fast that the imprint he left on the couch hadn't registered his absence. He saluted and shivered under the frosty gaze of Braster Sallow.
"Father? And Mother? Why are you both here?"
Trisha Sallow stood arm in arm with her husband, beaming, as if everything was right in the world.
"We wanted to see you. Plus, we have some news for you."
Bellavarn set his book down at his desk and addressed his parents.
"News? I assume it must be good news indeed to make you smile so?"
Trisha only smiled wider, nudging Braster in the ribs. With a cough that covered a grunt of pain, the Duke spoke with a light air in his voice.
"Your mother and I are having another child. You will be an older brother soon."
Bellavarn stumbled a bit, his eyes wide. Another child? He was going to be an older brother? To a younger brother? A sister?
"Truly? Haha... Truly? This is wonderful news!"
Bellavarn skipped over to his mother, enveloping her in his arms. She squeaked as she was stolen from Braster's side and twirled in the air. How did Bell have the strength? Setting Bellavarn down, he got an angry look from his father.
"Your mother is pregnant! Be more careful with her."
Bellavarn only laughed and hugged his father, doing the same. His mother chuckled as Braster squirmed and cursed until he extricated himself. Kerv didn't dare so much as twitch.
"I know how happy you two must have been. You've been trying for years, haven't you?"
"Well. I... hmm."
Trisha slapped her uncharacteristically stammering husband.
"Yes, we have. I was shocked when I began to get morning sickness again. And your father was beside himself with worry."
"I was not. I was just... concerned."
"That is what worrying is, dear."
Bellavarn laughed heartily, in the best mood in years.
"How far along are you? When can I expect my sibling?"
Braster cleared his throat.
"The doctor says it has been about two-three months. So we are expecting it to arrive sometime around the beginning of fall."
Bellavarn did a double-take at his mother's stomach. Indeed, it did look slightly larger than what should have been normal. How were they hiding it all this time? Or... was it because he never saw his mother lately?
His parents noticed his mood turn somber, prompting them to exchange a conspiratorial nod.
"We've kept it a secret for as long as we could, so don't feel down if you didn't notice. Only the doctor and a few others knew."
"But now, since everyone will know, your father informed the King. He sent his congratulations and would like to host us for dinner in a week's time."
Bellavarn glanced from face to face. He knew what that meant.
"You'll be joining us, of course. The King's family will be in attendance as well. This will give you the chance to socialize."
Was he ready for such a thing? With the King? The princes and princesses? Could he go out after so long? Bellavarn could feel his resolve firm and his shoulders square.
"Of course. I'd be delighted to have dinner with the Royal Family. It is in celebration of my younger sibling, after all!"
He smiled and opened his arms widely. If it was for his future brother or sister? For his loving parents? Bellavarn would brave anything.