Belfamor Hemetal sat on a third-floor balcony overlooking one of the main streets in Heretoral, one leg crossed over the other, holding a drink in one hand and a tablet in the other. It was raining, of course, but fortunately the balcony was shielded so that it remained perfectly dry. Although his main purpose in taking leave and coming home was to convince his father to bring Shala Votalin with him to Trisitania, he still wanted to take advantage of his time off to do some relaxing. It helped that his mother was busy with trade negotiations all day, and it turned out that she was the one he needed to convince. If he had to wait to talk to her, better to use this time for relaxation than just sit around and wait.
“So, I hear you want me to go to Trisitania?” said a female voice suddenly. Belfamor frowned and looked up at Shala Votalin.
“Please understand, it has nothing to do with you personally,” he sighed, setting down his drink and his tablet. “I simply want what’s best for House Hemetal.”
“That’s fair,” Shala said, settling down in the empty seat adjacent to Belfamor’s. “To be honest, I tried talking your mother out of this plan, but she was adamant. Not that I want to go to Trisitania, mind you. But I just wanted you to realize that it is not my goal to harm House Hemetal in any way.”
“I…,” Belfamor began, and then frowned. “You really would be willing to return to your father for the sake of House Hemetal?”
“Yes,” she said softly, but intensely. “Your family has done so much for me, and been so kind to me, and I don’t deserve any of it. The last thing I want is for my father to destroy your House to get to me.”
“But… Your father…he…well…,” Belfamor stammered, his face flushing.
“I know full well what my father will do when he gets his hands on me again,” Shala replied, her eyes narrowing and her voice hardening. “Do you think I am a fool?”
“No, it’s not that… It’s just… I can’t…quite see anyone…willingly returning to that situation,” Belfamor said, thoroughly uncomfortable.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Shala said, her gaze becoming distant. “I never want to see my father again. I want him to die a horrible, fiery death, his agony stretching on into eternity. But living with your parents has taught me something that had never occurred to me before. Our lives are not measured by how happy we are, or how beautiful we are, or how successful we are, or anything like that. In the end, it all comes down to this: when given the choice, did we do the right thing?” Belfamor was silent for a long time, gazing at Shala pensively, while for her part, Shala seemed thoroughly transfixed by the rain dissipating as it fell on the shield surrounding the balcony.
“You are a stronger woman than I gave you credit for,” Belfamor finally said. Shala slowly closed her eyes and shook her head.
“Do not flatter me, Belfamor,” she whispered. “I am a coward. I say that I would return to my father to spare your House, but what have I done about it? Nothing. Your mother is not my master, but I tell myself that I cannot go to Trisitania because she will not allow me. She is just a caila. If I truly wanted to go against her wishes, there is no power in the universe that could stop me. But I won’t.”
“It is a hard thing,” Belfamor agreed, “and you almost make me think I should not attempt to change my mother’s mind. But I can’t sit by and let House Hemetal suffer destruction and not try to avert it. I’m sorry Shala, but I must do what I must do.”
“Of course,” Shala replied briskly, sitting up straight. “We all must. I would not expect anything different of you.” She stood up and strode towards the door of the balcony, but then she stopped. “Would you like to hear something funny?” She looked back at him, but didn’t wait for his answer. “When we were children I had a…a crush on you, I guess you’d call it. I used to imagine that you’d storm Votalin Manor like some sort of knight or something, and rescue me from my father’s clutches.” She let out a bitter, ironic chuckle. “Fortunately, I have since outgrown the foolish fantasies of youth.” She gave him a sardonic grin, and then she once again turned and swept out of the balcony, leaving Belfamor alone with dark thoughts.
Of course, he didn’t want Shala to be abused by her father. If he could have protected her from her father’s perversions without endangering his own House, he would have done it in a heartbeat. But the welfare of House Hemetal had to come first. Didn’t it?
If only Shala hadn’t intruded on his relaxation time. Before their brief conversation, he had been one hundred percent certain that sending her to Trisitania with his father was the right thing to do. After all, despite what Lorgad might have thought, he had succeeded in planting his strong sense of right and wrong in his son. Belfamor would always do the right thing, no matter what. The problem was, suddenly he didn’t know what the right thing was anymore.
He still needed to talk to his mother. Ilena was the key. If his mother could be made to see that the interests of House Hemetal were greater than protecting one young woman, then that would confirm in his mind that sending Shala to Trisitania was the right thing to do. And if he couldn’t persuade his mother that sending Shala to Trisitania was the right thing to do, then it wouldn’t matter. Neither his father not Shala were willing to go against Ilena’s wishes in this matter. So, persuading Ilena was essential if House Hemetal were to survive. Belfamor just wished he didn’t feel like he was doing something horrible by even trying to persuade his mother.
To be continued…