Chapter 11: Comprehension

            I had not seen Beau for ages and for him to visit me was a rare event. Cael and Beau were too preoccupied with reforming the country and also tending to their new bride. I had accidentally heard from Cael that he did not want an heir yet, so during the night, Beau would be the one who shared a bed with Queen Chiyoko. The two had been arguing in Cael’s office then. I remembered how infuriated and frustrated Beau had become.

            “This is preposterous!” Beau had hollered. “She will suspect that you cannot father children!”
            “This is only for the first year of our marriage,” Cael’s voice had remained rather calm.
            “You need an heir. Your time is limited!”
            “My time here may be short, but Salim guarantees at least a year or two, so there is nothing to worry.”
            “I do not believe you are making a wise decision,” Beau had steadied his tone.
            “No, I do not believe that you are making the right decision. You very well know that—“
            “Have you ever thought of the Queen’s sentiments?”
            “What do you mean?”
            “She is only a young girl, who clearly adores you . . . because you charmed her then.”
            “She wanted to be charmed. Moreover, the Emperor of Kosei will not dare to cause trouble now that we have his precious daughter on our side.”
            “I will not bed her.”
            “Oh, you will. You will . . . unless you would like to crush her heart.”
            “She will recognize my scars.”
            “Be careful then. Blindfold her. I do not care how you do your job. Just do it well. If you do not mind, I have more important matters to attend to.”
            The doors had burst open from Cael’s office. Beau had seen me. He had to have for I was standing a few steps away from him. He had only glimpsed at me before storming down the corridor. That one glance was sufficient to make me rest my hand on my heart. I remembered having trouble catching my breath, and biting my lower lip until it became numb. I knew I should not have felt this way. He was nothing to me, but a friend. He had his own life to follow. He could not always be by my side. I knew all those facts, yet somehow, I could not stomach this harsh reality. Selfishness was consuming me and if I had not cared, then . . . everything would be fine. We would be less than friends. We could be strangers, and I would have been fine seeing him with her. I might have even commented on how adorable they were as a couple.
            As I slipped a bookmark to the page of my novel, the doors to my chamber had I was about to sleep when he had entered my chamber. I had no idea how he could have just barged in like that, but somehow, I didn’t mind. When I saw his glum grin, I even felt at ease.
            “It has been a while since we last talked,” he murmured.
            I leaned my back on the headboard of my new bed. I had to discard the old one for I couldn’t bear sleeping on that tarnished memory. Now, I wished to throw away any memory associated with Beau as well. I wished that he would also disappear. I didn’t want to talk to him at all. There was nothing much to say, except congratulations.
            He must have sensed my frustrations for he posed, “Are you angry at . . . us?”
            “No.” I giggled. “Why would I be?”
            “Because of Chiyoko’s marriage to Cael and the death of Desiderium,” he explained.
            “I am not angry,” I repeated.
            He stared at me too intently, arguing, “Do not lie to me or yourself, Chiyu.”
            I crossed my arms, and demanded, “Stop calling me that. For heaven’s sake, I do not even know what it means.”
            “It means little one.”
            “Yes, I know I am not very tall, but—“
            “For a beloved one,” he interrupted.
            “Beau . . .”
            No wonder the Queen had thrown a tantrum before. She must have known who it was who had loved me. This name was too precious for a young girl.
            “Now, do you understand?”
            He placed his hand on top of mine just like that time. He didn’t dare to grasp or even flinch. He just acted as a shield protecting me and giving me warmth. This type of affection was too easy to accept, but if accepted, I knew I’d never be able to withdraw from it. So, my hand backed away, and I answered, “Beau, I thought we agreed that—“
            “I am not acting as him, Jiyuna,” he uttered. “Rather, I am choosing to be this way. I am choosing to love you.”
            I shook my head over and over again. “No, Beau, you are not,” I refuted. “You are confusing the past with the present.”
            “I may remember Ghislaine, but I do not love her,” he reinstated. “You are the one that I am drawn towards.”
            “Beau, you are already married,” I reminded him.
            With a nod, he admitted after a deep breath of air, “I know, but I just wanted you to understand me and now, please understand Cael’s situation.”
            I didn’t want to think or sympathize. I shouldn’t have even cared or even been angry.
            “You know what I never understood . . . how you can keep serving Cael even when he forces you to go against your will.”
            “Because he is my brother . . . and without him, there would not be me.”
            “What do you mean?”
            Beau just stared intently at me with his mouth slightly open. I knew he wanted to explain everything, yet he wasn’t sure how to begin. Judging from the way he frowned, I recognized how difficult this must have been for him. I chose to give him all the patience and time I could offer to welcome him to confide in me. I understood how strenuous it was to tell the whole truth, the complete story of one’s life, and so I waited for his one breath.  
            There was that composed sigh, and soon, he stated, “Cael . . . is not the only one who is destined to usurp the King. He and I were foretold to be able to overthrow our father, but we had to cooperate for everything to be in place. Nestor, though, lied to our father, saying that I was the usurper, and that I had been murdered.”
            “What happened to you then?” I pondered.
            “My mother . . . the Oracle raised me while Cael lived in the Palace,” he continued to explain.
            “So, you should have lived a peaceful life. Why would you ever—“
            “Because brothers were destined to meet,” he interrupted and then proceeded with a chuckle. “We met each other at the Market. Cael had secretly snuck out of the Palace because he was tired of being caged by the King. The King was still worried that Cael would eventually rebel, so he did all he could to contain Cael. That is probably one of the reasons that Cael has a deep hatred for the King.”
            I posed, “Then, what happened?”
            “A woman had been robbed, and I was chasing after the culprit,” Beau clarified. “Cael, in the end, captured the fiend, but in the process, he was poisoned. The robber had dipped his sword in a peculiar poison and was aiming for me. However, Cael had blocked the attack for me, so his chest had somehow been slashed.”
            “The Oracle should have known that this—“
            Beau took another sigh before uttering, “She knew, but some things cannot be prevented. She did not think that I would lie that I was attending school, just to go to the Market.” Again, there was that weak laugh coming from him as he said, “When I took Cael home, she was too surprised, and it was then that she knew what was to come. After she nursed Cael to a stable condition, she spent the night telling me everything and what would happen.”
            “And what would happen?”
            “Everything that the Oracle foretold occurred,” Beau murmured. “Cael’s health was weaker than before. The Queen had fetched me so that I would become his shadow. Finally, I would have to learn to accept my fate.”
            I scoffed, thinking that he was being silly for believing that his fate was fixed, “That is not true.”
            “I believe it is true,” he answered firmly. “The Oracle said I would not understand the meaning of her sentence until it was time, and now, I can say that I fully accept my fate unlike before.”
            Beau nodded, adding, “I do not know if you recall this, but as Raphael, I died full of regret. Although I agreed to become your brother, I did not want to accept it. I kept thinking that I could have an opportunity to be with you, but now, I truly accept my role as a brother.”
            He was looking at me as if something was wrong. Then, his finger swiped across the edge of my eyes. Don’t look at me, I prayed, yet he didn’t listen. His stare had grown softer and gentler. His voice too was comforting as he muttered, “It is fine. You can cry. I know I have been troubling you for too long, and it will not be long before I leave you—“
            “You do not have to leave me!” I shouted while sensing tears streaming down my cheeks. “I-I-I do not want you to—“
            Patting my head tenderly, he said, “This does not mean that I will leave you or love you any less. I will just alter this feeling to one for a sibling.”
            I buried my head in my knees. I didn’t want to disrupt his happiness. I didn’t want to regret. I was making a firm decision right now. I had already done so before, so I had to keep my promise. I had to fulfill his wish for once. After all, I owed too much to him. He must have known what I felt for he lulled my head to lean on his shoulder. Somehow, he was already sitting beside me in bed. I hadn’t noticed just how much I needed someone’s comfort until his hand stroked my hair.
            “I am sorry,” I whispered meekly, “for being so selfish.”
            This time, his laugh was meant for laughter. “Then, can I request a wish from you?” he asked.
            Without thinking much, I replied, “Of course.”
            Beau’s eyes sparkled as he suggested, “Can you lie beside me when you sleep? I promise I will do nothing, but rest by your side. I will leave before you awaken.”
            “Yes, you may,” I answered. “I trust you.”
            Still resting on his shoulder, I closed my eyes. Like he promised, he didn’t move. I felt he was telling me that he would protect me. This, though, was the last time that he would protect me as a lover. By morning, he would treat me like a sister. Yes, this was how it was supposed to be. I was just helping him with his fate. No matter how cruel I seemed, I would stay strong. Yes, I would tell myself to start afresh . . . just like . . .
            My eyes adjusted to the dimming light. My body was heavy, and my muscles were achy. I felt a lady rocking me back and forth, shouting in Koseian, “Your Imperial Highness, Your Imperial Highness, there is a guest waiting for you.”
            Groaning in pain, I tried my best to climb out of bed. My winces, though, were too loud as the guest rushed to my bedroom, yelling, “Ghislaine! My heavens! What . . .”
            My giggle was too atrocious for me to hear. “He wants a male heir, Raph,” I heckled while holding onto my waist to guide myself to the living room. “According to the physician, it is difficult for my body to bear a child.”
            “Surely, he has concubines,” Raphael argued as he helped me to a chair. “They could bear him a child. It is not as if you would care if you bore an Emperor.”
            “That is true, but,” I scoffed and adjusted myself to the wooden stool, “he only wants me to become jealous with those concubines of his. He never touches them.”
            Receiving the cup of tea from my maid, he let out a relieved smile. “Then, he loves you dearly,” he countered.
            I almost laughed too much that I forgot about the pains in my muscles. Love? This was how someone would love another dearly? I shook my head in dismay, arguing, “If he truly loved me, then he would have set me free.”
            There was that grin again creeping from Raphael’s lips. “And if you were free, you would not be with him,” he reminded me.
             “My happiness, though, is not with him.”
            Staring at me with doe-like eyes, he wondered, “Would you . . . would you actually have been happier with—“
            “Of course,” I scoffed. “I would not have minded abandoning everything for him. In fact, I would have if . . .”
            “Hotaru and his marriage will be held soon,” Raphael announced.
            I bit onto my lower lip, and gasped for a short breath. Looking away, I raised my voice, uttering, “Oh? Is that so? Shall I send my congratulations?”
            “He did not tell you?”
            “It is interesting how the Emperor did not even inform me of this situation,” I added. “How are we supposed to entertain our guests then? He is clearly not tending to his—“
            “I was not referring to His Imperial Highness,” he interrupted rather hastily, licking his lip in the process.
            Grabbing hold of my elbows, I cackled, “I am the Empress. How would I have contact with a Prince?”
            “If you want to know about his—“
            “What he does is none of my concern anymore.”
            “Ghislaine,” Raphael’s voice grew softer, “This is simply a misunderstanding. He would only marry her because he believed that you—“
            “That I betrayed him?” I huffed, shaking my head in the process.
            “I understand the burden was on you to save the country, but I am sure that if you explain yourself—“
            “There is nothing to explain, Raph,” I hollered. “Nothing! I let him bed me. I let him, Raph.”
            “For the country you did.”
            “Stop uttering that nonsense,” I harked. “It was all of you that wanted me to do this for the country. You . . . Raph . . . you were one of them too. Do not lie to me. You told him, did you not? You told him of my—“
            “I did not, or at least, I did not mean to,” Raph attempted to explain. “He could just realize what I was thinking.”
            Frowning at him despicably, I announced, “I will never forgive you, Raph. I will never forgive you and him.”