“You may leave now,” said Achilles, panting as he dusted his cloak. “All of you did well. Lin Dongqing has taken the bait, so you can return to the imperial capital now. I need to go and deliver the news.”
For some reason, perhaps it was due to the heat melting the North’s alps, but, despite it being summer in the North, water vapour that had been condensed for some time rose and rained down incessantly. As a consequence, summer in the North was freezing cold, so cold that one would feel as though it had seeped into their bones.
All of the merchants heaved breaths of relief. They spent every day in fear in the North, having to try and put on an act around Lin Dongqing. If he saw through them, they wouldn’t be on either side for Lin Dongqing would get back at them, and Her Majesty would mete out punishment for their failure. Lin Dongqing had taken the bait, spending tens of thousands of gold coins for thin air because they didn’t have any shares. All of the shares were with Queen Sisi, and it was her turn to play her hand.
“Lin Dongqing isn’t here, correct?”
“Yes, his wife took him.”
Achilles nodded and wiped his face. He took a swig of a strong alcoholic drink and wiped his face again for there was still rainwater dripping from it.
The lifeless merchants cheerfully packed their stuff. They even had their people prepare to head back in spite of the heavy rain. Not one person cared about Lin Dongqing. It wasn’t just about him going bankrupt. He might lose his freedom and future for good. They had his execution notice with them. They were the farewell party, but they showed no signs of sorrow, not that they could be blamed. What did any of it have to do with them, after all?
“It’s raining cats and dogs,” I commented as I set my teacup down.
Summer in the North got on my nerves. Nevertheless, it was a luxury to enjoy the warm fire over tea and the company of my beautiful, and silent, wife, who drank wine. Recently, I had been running around from the hotel to the merchants and the bank. I had no time to drink tea or watch the rain. I didn’t even have time to shave. I had tidied up my appearance and was listening in to the rhythmic rainfall outside with Veirya.
“What a leisure it is. I know that this life of leisure will only make me feel good now, however. Once I’m truly free, I won’t be able to bear it. I’ll head back tomorrow, but I’ll take a break for today,” I decided.
“Uhm.” Veirya placed her glass down and peered out the window. “It often. Rains outside. Usually at this time. Angelina. Likes to watch the rain.”
“Yeah? She’s given us her spot, though.”
I smiled and then faced Veirya. She made a small nod but didn’t say anything else. The two of us always kept our conversations simple. I knew that I was already as close as could be with Veirya. She didn’t know what love was, but she was willing to stay by my side, keep me company and got jealous when I was with other women. Isn’t that how a wife is? That was why we only had a thin wall left between us.
I put my words together in my mind and pried, “Veirya, once this is over, I should be able to make enough for us to spend for an entire lifetime. Additionally, we’ll have a never-ending stream of income. We won’t need to live here anymore. We can return to the imperial capital to provide Leah with the best living conditions and access to the best education. You can spend time with Sisi, too. Life will be simpler there, so erm…”
I wanted to propose. Alas, the words wouldn’t come out. I wasn’t having an inferiority-complex onset but purely shy.
Veirya responded with a small nod, uninterested then poured herself a glass of wine.
The rain outside suddenly belted harder.
“Is she happy or annoyed? Or is she okay with whatever? I don’t know how she feels. Will she be happy if I suddenly propose now? Does she know what marriage means? Will say yes? If she rejects me due to ignorance, how awkward would that be? Should I propose now or not? I don’t have anyone around me. I don’t have anyone I can ask, either. I really want to go upstairs to ask Angelina for help. I’m sure she’d help me. She’d understand this stuff. Plus, she’d definitely have a way of explaining it to her daughter properly,” I thought.
Veirya picked up her glass again, while I still couldn’t get out of the dilemma. Fidgeting with my cup, I mulled, “She’s already worn on the ring, and everybody has acknowledged us as husband and wife. It’d be weird if I don’t even propose, nonetheless, wouldn’t it…? Should I try? Wait, she can’t tell if I subtly test her, so would it be better for me to be straightforward?”
The rainfall drummed against the window, even rocking the flowers outside.
“There’s somebody outside,” abruptly interjected Veirya.
Veirya rose to her feet. I titled my head but then realised something. For someone to come all the way here in the heavy rainfall, they must’ve come for me. Veirya didn’t have her sword at her waist, but she still remained vigilant. I waved my hand with a smile: “It’s all right. They’re here for me. Don’t worry, Veirya.”
“What a strange person. Why not knock when you’re at the door? Have they not had the chance to yet?” I questioned in my mind as I went to answer the door.
The moment I opened the door, a sharp weapon burst rain droplets as the wielder thrust it toward me. I had no idea why I had a blade thrust at me. I just instinctively retreated one step, but the sharp tip went straight for my body. Suddenly, I was knocked into the wall by the side. My left arm hurt as if it’d been dislocated. Nevertheless, I didn’t have time to mind myself for I smelt blood.
A miner watched the rain dripping down and the blood gradually spilling onto his pitchfork. Veirya firmly grabbed the pitchfork plunged into her body.
My heart skipped a beat. My brain stuttered. I wanted to drag myself over to Veirya, but my arms and legs were numb. I felt as though I had bone stuck in my throat.
A sorrowful creek ran down the timber length of the pitchfork from the gap in those white fingers.
Veirya turned to me. There was no pain or sadness in her expression. “I’m glad. You’re okay.”
Veirya collapsed onto the ground, but she never averted her gaze off me. She looked relaxed and even happy…
I told myself, “This isn’t real… This isn’t happening… This can’t be real… No. This can’t be. This can’t be. I must be drunk. This can’t possibly happen. Veirya is the strongest. She won’t get hurt. Th-th-th-this m-must be an illusion… This is all fake. It’s fake. This isn’t happening. I need to wipe my eyes. This isn’t happening… Veirya. Veirya is all right. She’s all right.
“I should still be considering proposing to her. She should still be drinking in front of me. She should still be looking emotionless. This isn’t real. It’s not. It’s a dream… This isn’t real… it’s not real… It’s not real… I… I… I don’t believe it… This isn’t… isn’t…”
My throat slowly made way for my voice. I ignored Angelina, who had drawn her sword and was rushing downstairs. I ignored Leah, who screamed from the staircase. I crawled over to Veirya on all fours. I didn’t care how I pathetic I appeared.
Veirya’s ring was stained with blood, yet she wasn’t anxious. I could see her desire to protect me still burning bright. The moment I grabbed her hand, the world finally resumed turning.
That night, that man’s cry was louder than the heavy rainfall and more painful than being grinded on the ground…
“Mm…” Sisi turned her head and peered outside her window to see heavy rainfall. She irritably waved her hand: “The thunderclap shocked me. Shut the windows.”
Lucilia stood up, resuming her back and forth pace in the room. The child was asleep. Work was complete. There was nothing left to do for the day. Rain was belting down on the green canopies. It wasn’t dangerous by any means, having said that. It was another ordinary and redundant day.
“Why do I feel so restless today?”
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