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Heliotrope: Devotion Comes in Purple

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When she heard the news of her husband’s capture of Madino Castle, she knew right away of what she must do. Deirdre, quite impulsively, decided that she must go and see her beloved as soon as she could. The two had been separated for weeks upon weeks as Sigurd took part in a seemingly everlasting war while she had been left behind to care for their newborn son. She had worried endlessly for his safety the entire time, her thoughts leading her down scenarios befitting of a never ending nightmare. However, now that Sigurd had seized Madino Castle, the road to the castle town would be free of soldiers. It would take her a good while and be difficult to travel there on her own, but she had already made her decision.

Deirdre had to see Sigurd safe and sound.

Yet, as she tried to leave, Deirdre was stopped by young Shannan, who was given the task of keeping her safe. “Wait! You can’t just leave on your own, it’s way too dangerous out there!,” he protested, stepping in front of Deirdre to stop her.

Deirdre did stop, leaning down a little in order to be more eye level with the little Prince of Isaach. She smiled and patted him on the head before saying, “The roads will be clear of enemies now that the battle is over. And don’t forget, I know how to fight, too!” Jovially, she rolled back her long sleeve and flexed her rather unimpressive muscles. Her true strength was in her magic, however. “It’ll be fine, I promise.”

“But… You were told to stay here and no one can accompany you because they have to stay and guard the castle,” Shannan continued to argue, looking rather distraught by Deirdre’s stubbornness. “And what about Seliph? Who’ll take care of him if you leave?”

Deirdre paused and thought about the question for a moment. It would be easier to simply leave her infant son in the care of Shannan and the others stationed at Agusty. But that would still leave Seliph without either of his parents. At such a young age, he needed them now more than he ever would. So Deirdre came to a conclusion, “I’ll take Seliph with me. I’m sure he misses his father just as much as I do…”

“That’s even crazier!,” Shannan shouted, his voice squeaking mid-sentence. “A woman and an infant traveling all that way alone couldn’t possibly end well! Please, just stay here and wait a little longer. For me? For Lord Sigurd? I’m sure he’ll come back for you and Seliph real soon. He wouldn’t want either of you getting hurt for his sake.”

Seeing Shannan get increasingly upset over the matter was starting to make Deirdre feel bad. He was only trying to protect her, but he was so young- too young- to be caught up in all of this war business. For a moment, she wondered what he could be thinking and how he felt about everything that was happening. She wondered what it would be like for her own son to be in a similar position.

Her heart wanted to break.

“Alright… I won’t leave, then,” Deirdre said softly, gently. Her smile was small, not quite reaching her eyes.

Relief washed over Shannan and he beamed brightly at Deirdre. “Good! Don’t worry Lady Deirdre, everything will work out just fine! We’ve just gotta wait a little longer.”

Lying was harder than being stubborn.

~~~

Later that evening, while everyone at the castle was partaking in dinner in the castle’s mess hall, Deirdre was preparing to depart. If she wanted to go see Sigurd, she’d have to leave now or never. It was easy enough to get Shannan’s protective watch off of her with the excuse of needing to feed Seliph, which was still true. She did indeed feed Seliph, however it was also a good chance to break away from the castle because of the aforementioned reasons. With everyone busy elsewhere and Shannan leaving Deirdre to her privacy, she hastily put together everything she’d need for her journey.

She didn’t grab much, just the most basic of basics like food rations and a water pouch or two, however she also made a makeshift harness from spare blankets to help carry Seliph the whole way to Madino Castle. It went from her shoulder, across her chest, and down around her waist, making it a little awkward at first, but she was able to make it work. After a minute or two of getting situated, Deirdre was confident that her baby boy was comfortable and would be safe. With that settled, she grabbed her Aura tome and swiftly and quietly absconded from the castle.

Getting through the surrounding town was less worrisome as few people knew her, let alone what she was planning on doing. Though she got quite a few odd looks as the townsfolk took a gander at where she was going based on her appearance, no one tried to stop her. So, Deirdre paid it no mind, instead focussing on her ultimate goal to distract her from thoughts of the consequences. It hurt to have to lie and betray Shannan by doing this, but it was too late to turn back on her decision. She’ll just have to apologize for it later and make it up to him somehow.

By the time the sun was halfway submerged beneath the horizon, Deirdre had made it a fair distance from town. Seliph had long since fallen asleep in his bundles, his mother still wide awake on their long journey. Stopping to look behind her, Deirdre noted that the castle looked so much smaller at this distance. Nothing like the behemoth it was up close. By now, someone probably noticed that both she and Seliph were gone. Shannan was likely worried sick over it, maybe even blaming himself for it in the first place for not trying harder to stop her. Deirdre hoped he wouldn’t, but she had gone too far to back out now. Either way, she mentally prepared herself for the earful she’d get later from the prince.

Turning forward down the road, she continued walking for a little longer before she was forcibly stopped by an ominous cloaked figure appearing from nowhere. Deirdre could feel the malice and harmful intent radiating off of them and immediately tensed in response. “At last… we’ve found the daughter of Sigyn,” they- he- said.

Deirdre reached for her tome with one hand and protectively held Seliph closer in the other, her first instinct telling her to protect her child. “Who… Who are you? How do you know my mother?,” she asked warily.

But the cloaked man didn’t seem interested in answering her. “Prepare for your rebirth,” he said between breathy chuckles to someone who wasn’t there. It was then that he finally addressed Deirdre directly, “Once we erase all your memories, we shall introduce you to your new husband. Give you a new family.”

A new husband? A new family? But what about the one she had now? Deirdre was happy with the husband and son she had already. She loved them dearly and would do anything for them and protect them at all costs. Whatever this man wanted, she wouldn’t allow him to have it. As he took a step towards her, she stepped back. “...Sigurd… Seliph…,” she said to herself, the names of the people who mattered most to her giving her strength and courage.

“We have no need for them,” the man said. He looked and sounded irritated and impatient. “You’re all that matters.”

Deirdre knew she had to make the first strike then. She pulled out her tome and casted Aura, getting a direct hit off on the man. He wailed in pain, though he wasn’t so easily taken out. The noise from the attack, however, startled Seliph awake, causing him to start crying. “Sh, sh, it’s ok little one… Mama will keep you safe,” She said, gently patting Seliph in an attempt to comfort him. It worked a little as he started to calm down, but Deirdre’s attention was stolen away by the man returning to his feet.

“You damnable woman…,” the man growled out. “There’s no use in fighting. This was preordained.”

Deirdre tried to attack again, however she missed as the man sidestepped the burst of light magic and started to cast his own spell. Knowing she couldn’t counter in time or risk Seliph getting hurt, Deirdre tried to run back towards Agusty, but she was frozen in place by whatever spell her opponent used. Unable to move, her tome slipping from her grasp, she groaned out, “S-Sigurd… I’m so… so sorry…”

The man approached her and tried to reach for Seliph, who’s crying and wailing had begun anew. But a mother’s will was a powerful thing and Deirdre powered through the spell just enough to slap away the man’s hands before curling protectively around Seliph. Though she mustered that small burst of strength, even just that drained her completely under the pressure of the spell. “S-Stay away from my child!,” she warned.

From behind his hood, the man had a deep frown. “How irritating… So be it, then. We’ll just have to take you both.”

The last thing Deirdre remembered before she was teleported away was the heartbreaking sound of her baby’s cries and the feeling of her own tears streaming down her face. She was powerless in the face of an unknown fate.

~~~

When Deirdre woke, she found herself in an unfamiliar city with no memories of how she got there or of what she did last or of anything at all for that matter. She opened her eyes slowly to the sight of the ground, realizing that she was laying down on her side. As her senses came to her, she noticed there were noises coming from a bundle held in a death grip in her arms, her long hair cascading over it like a blanket of soft purple. She sat up, easing her grip on the bundle, letting her hair naturally fall out of the way, and gently pulled away the dirtied cloth to reveal a baby.

He was sniffling and hiccuping, seemingly having already cried his fair share long ago. Deirdre knew this infant. Though she forgot nearly everything, she couldn’t forget this simple fact: she was Deirdre and this was her one and only son, Seliph. She started rocking Seliph, gently cooing to him, “Hush, little one. Mama's still here… You’re okay…”

Deirdre managed to get Seliph to calm down enough for him to quickly fall asleep before she felt all her fatigue hit her at once. Whatever she had done before waking here left her feeling quite a bit sore. She wished she could recall exactly what it was, but simply sitting on the dirty ground wouldn’t help her remember. Trying to force the memories to come back only caused a headache to grow as well. So instead, she decided to focus on the here and now.

Looking around, Deirdre noted that she was currently in a very dark alleyway between what were probably two shops if the crates and barrels blocking her view of the street were any indication. Getting up from the ground, she made her way around the supplies and stumbled out onto the street. With all the hustle and bustle of people coming and going from shops and whatnot, no one paid any mind to her.

To her left, Deirdre spotted a towering castle so close she might as well have been on the castle grounds themselves. The people around her also dressed quite nicely in regal robes made of the finest material money could buy. Deirdre wasn’t sure if she was a noble herself, but she was dressed nicely enough to fit in anyways. Down her right, a city sprawled out before her with no clear end in sight. Yet nothing she could see gave her any indication as to where she was, her mind continuing to draw blanks.

Holding Seliph close to her, Deirdre ventured further out into the street. That is, until a man bumped into her. “O-Oh, excuse me! I wasn’t looking where I was going,” she apologized immediately. In her arms, Seliph, thankfully, was not woken by the sudden jolt of movement. He must have been really tuckered out due to all his crying.

The man, in turn, said, “There is no need to apologize. These things happen in such a crowded place.”

Deirdre looked to him and found a man dressed in dark, yet clearly noble, robes that perfectly complimented his fiery hair and eyes. When they locked gazes, it was like time had completely stopped around them. He was handsome and something in Deirdre’s mind screamed to her that their meeting was destiny. Like she had been waiting a long time just for this moment.

“If I may, what is your name, oh loveliest of maidens?,” the man asked, his demeanor quickly shifting to one of a high-class gentleman.

“My name… is Deirdre,” she answered with a blush.

“It is a pleasure to meet you, Lady Deirdre,” the man replied with a courteous bow. “I am Lord Arvis of Velthomer.”

Deirdre was taken aback, surprised to have come across a Lord of all people, “Oh, no, the pleasure is all mine!” She bowed slightly in return, though made sure not to bother Seliph by doing so.

“Is that child yours?,” Arvis asked, changing the subject. Curiosity seemed to have gotten the better of him.

“Yes,” Deirdre said with a nod, “his name is Seliph. But… I’ve no idea of the father or even where I am. I’ve no memory at all…,” she trailed off with a downcast look.

Arvis put a comforting hand on her shoulder. “My sincerest apologies,” he said, his tone kind and sincere. “Please, allow me to help you. This is the royal capital of Belhalla. If you’ve nowhere to go, then how would you and your son like to stay at the castle?”

Deirdre couldn’t hide the shock she felt. “I couldn’t possibly…! I wouldn’t want to impose on you…”

“Nonsense! I insist. A beautiful woman such as yourself shouldn’t have to fend for yourself on the streets. Especially not with an infant in tow.”

“Well, if you’re so sure,” Deirdre conceded, “Then I can’t say no to a Lord.”

“Shall we be off, then?” Arvis held out his hand.

Shifting to hold Seliph in one arm, Deirdre took Arvis’ hand.

~~~

Deirdre’s arrival at the castle was met with an interesting reception. As she and her son were personal guests of Arvis, the staff on hand treated them well and were more than eager to please though Deirdre asked little of them. The nobles that came to and from the castle, however, were a mixed bag. Some didn’t mind her presence and simply acted as though she weren’t there, while others were concerned that she would have an influence over Arvis due to his quick invitation for her to stay at the castle. Several rumors were spread around about that exact topic, but they were all quickly shut down by Arvis himself.

Overall, Deirdre liked her new life here at Belhalla Castle. Somehow, it wasn’t unfamiliar to her and she was free to simply live there and raise her adorable little Seliph in peace. Arvis would also visit her often in between his noble duties and he always treated the both of them well. If she paid close attention she could almost believe that Arvis was smitten with her and as time went on, she felt the same for him. Whenever Deirdre saw him defend her presence at the castle or play with the quickly growing Seliph, she couldn’t help but think Arvis would make a good husband and father.

As days turned to weeks and weeks to months, Deirdre lost track of when she became a permanent fixture at Belhalla Castle. She never recovered her memory in her time there, though both she and Arvis tried to recover them, yet she found she didn’t quite mind so much. She was still happy here and now, like this.

And then something extraordinary happened during her now endless stay. It had been about a year since Deirdre had first come to Belhalla Castle and she was currently spending her time with Arvis and Seliph, trying to teach her young son how to walk for the first time. She was crouched down, arms held out towards her baby, encouraging him to walk just a few feet to reach her. Arvis stood just off to the side behind her, keeping quiet but invested nonetheless.

“C’mon, you’ve almost got it,” Deirdre encouraged as Seliph shakily got to his feet. “Just a few steps and you’ll reach mama.”

At her prompting, Seliph took a single step. But he didn’t trip and fall like the last couple of times. “Yes! Yes, that’s it!,” Deirdre said. “Just like that.”

He took another step and then another and pretty soon Seliph was walking on his own for the very first time. Until he tripped again with Deirdre meeting him halfway to pick him up. He didn’t get far, but that didn’t lessen the significant moment in the slightest. Deirdre nuzzled his cheek as he giggled and said, “I’m so proud of you!” It was only about two months ago when she got him to say “mama” and now he was able to take a few steps. Seliph was growing up almost too quickly for Deirdre.

Joining Deirdre's side, Arvis reached over to ruffle Seliph’s blue hair playfully and said, “Congratulations, Deirdre. Your son is really growing quite fast.”

Deirdre shook her head, her long curls swaying behind her. “Thank you, but it’s Seliph who deserves the congratulations, not me. He’s doing so well and learning so fast.”

“That’s not quite true,” Arvis argued. “He’s able to do so because he has such an excellent mother to raise him.”

“You flatter me too much, Lord Arvis,” Deirdre said, blushing. “I’m simply doing the best I can on my own.” Just then, she had to shift her hold on Seliph to keep from dropping him as he tried reaching out for Arvis. “I think he wants you to hold him!”

In all the times Arvis had come to visit, he’s actually gotten the chance to hold Seliph rather often. At first, it never lasted long since Seliph was much too fidgety to be in a stranger's arms for long. However, as Arvis became more familiar to Seliph, he started to want to be held by him. Deirdre couldn’t help but fondly remember the time she had just finished feeding Seliph only for Arvis to try and burp him, ending up with throw-up covering his expensive robes. Of course, Arvis would rather not be reminded of that, but Deirdre still liked to tease him about it every once in a while.

Deirdre handed Seliph off to Arvis and smiled seeing two of her favorite people in the world acting like a family. She silently wished they were, and it seemed she wasn’t the only one who thought that. Now in Arvis’ arms, Seliph reached out to touch Arvis’s face with his still chubby, little arms and said, “Dada!”

Deirdre would’ve praised her little boy for saying a new word if it weren’t for the implications. As it were, both she and Arvis were frozen in place having not expected Seliph to consider Arvis his father. Though, it should’ve been expected now that Deirdre thought back on it. There was no one she spent more time with outside of Seliph than Arvis and she still had no inkling as to who Seliph’s true father could be. It only made sense that the child, barely a year old and raised in such an environment, would come to recognize Arvis as his father with no way and no reason to know better.

“My- My apologies, Lord Arvis!,” Deirdre said. “I’ve no idea why… why he would say that…” She was worried about how he’d feel being called “dada” as he was unmarried and childless to her knowledge.

“Worry not of it,” Arvis reassured her, a smile gracing his face before shifting to a more nervous look. “But, actually, it reminds me. There is… something I wish to ask you.”

Connecting the dots, Deirdre’s heart started beating a thousand times per second as her mind ran through countless possible scenarios. To be reminded of a question he wanted to ask her by Seliph calling him “dada”, there was only one real direction Arvis was taking this conversation in.

“Deirdre, I would like nothing more than your hand in marriage. Would you do me the honour of being my beloved wife?”

At those words, her heart stopped. Deirdre almost couldn’t believe what she was hearing. The man who had taken her in when she had nothing save for the clothes on her back and asked for nothing in return now wanted to marry her. To love her and be her husband. How could she say no, when she in turn loved him back?

“Yes… Yes, of course I’ll marry you!,” She declared, before she looked to Seliph, who was observing the scene with wide and curious eyes, and pinched his cheek. “Hear that, Seliph? Lord Arvis really will be your ‘dada’ from now on!”

Arvis merely chuckled at Deirdre’s- now his fiance’s- antics. Shifting Seliph’s weight, he got the child’s attention before softly bopping Seliph’s nose, causing a cacophony of giggles. “You be a good boy for dear old dad, alright?,” he said, giving Seliph a small smile.

Watching the two, Deirdre couldn’t help but feel pure bliss. Everything in her life since waking up in the streets of Belhalla has been clicking into place so perfectly it was almost too good to be true.

~~~

Ever since the proposal happened, one thing after another just kept presenting problems or making the situation more complicated than it needed to be. It started when King Azmur was presented with the idea of Arvis and Deirdre marrying and immediately identified Deirdre as being the late Prince Kurth’s daughter. The proof was in the exalted brand she bore on her forehead, signifying the major Naga blood she possessed. This meant that she was the lost daughter of Prince Kurth. Naturely, this led to questions about where she had been all this time that she didn't know the answer to and questions about Seliph.

Many nobles, including the King, wanted desperately to check Seliph’s inheritance of holy blood, but Deirdre was unwilling to let any of them touch her precious child at all let alone check his body for a brand, so she had to determine it herself. She had never noticed before, but Seliph did indeed have the Brand of Naga, matching her own brand, placed in between his shoulder blades. However, there was also another, more prominent brand directly above it. A brand she didn’t recognize.

It had been awhile since Deirdre last thought about Seliph’s blood father as she got more and more used to her new life. But now, with the discovery of the mystery brand, she wondered if she made the right decision to not pursue her past anymore. Now that she knew the brand was there, the identity of Seliph’s father was narrowed down significantly. To have the unknown brand, signifying major holy blood over his minor Naga blood, his father would have had to be a noble with the same major blood. Question upon question popped into her head to the point that she wished she never found out at all.

Deirdre even checked herself just to be absolutely sure she couldn’t have been the source of the second brand and she was proved right on that front. She had a second brand for minor holy blood, but it didn’t match Seliph’s. However, she had somewhat limited knowledge on holy blood and how its inheritance worked. If she wanted any more answers she’d have to do research on her own time or ask someone directly. The ladder option, in and of itself, would lead to more problems.

If she told anyone, there would be a massive uproar over it. She may learn more about her past and about Seliph’s father, but it would cost her everything she had now. Especially if Seliph’s father happened to be a nobleman from a completely different country. Though Arvis has been nothing but kind to her since they met, she worried he’d leave her to her fate after finding out something like that. Even he would have to be upset about such a scandal. So that left Deirdre with a choice; risk everything to recover a past she couldn’t remember or keep what she had now with a simple lie.

So, she told everyone that Seliph simply bore minor Naga blood and nothing else.

The court, of course, had some… choice… things to say about it along with her planned marriage to Arvis. Doubts were thrown around over Seliph’s legitimacy towards his potential claim to the throne. Few in support of Deirdre and Arvis’ marriage claimed that Seliph was a legitimate heir as he possessed Naga blood and was a direct descendent of the royal family, albeit minor as his holy blood inheritance is. The vast majority, however, though neutral on the idea of the marriage, denounced Seliph’s birthright as he was a bastard child, born to an unknown father and completely unrelated to Arvis by blood. To them, having Naga blood wasn’t enough.

Deirdre couldn’t understand why they’d worry about such a thing when Seliph was merely a child, barely walking and talking. She could understand their concerns over Seliph’s unknown heritage to an extent, but the source of her worry and their worry regarding the situation were so vastly different.

Yet, throughout it all, Arvis had supported her, coming to the conclusion that it didn’t matter so long as he loved Deirdre. When he decided to marry her, he also decided to raise Seliph as his own son, for her sake if nothing else. Though, he had certainly grown fond of the child. This was a sentiment he expressed to Deirdre directly and it had put her at ease in such a taxing time. He even went out of his way to take care of Seliph when Deirdre couldn’t as she tried to get more accustomed to her role in the nobility, no matter how late into the night it got or how much it cut into his own duties. Sometimes he’d take Seliph just so Deirdre could simply have some rest.

Deirdre knew she could rely on her fiance. Arvis’ dedication to her was a constant reassurance that her choice to leave behind her past wasn’t wrong.

In time, they got married, officially becoming husband and wife and signifying the union of Houses Belhalla and Velthomer. It was perhaps one of the happiest days of Deirdre’s life, with or without her memories. Still, the grand ceremony, the cheers and congratulations of many, and the honeymoon phase couldn’t last forever. Very shortly afterwards, an impending war inched closer and closer to their doorstep, eating up Arvis’ time and leaving Deirdre to spend less and less of that time with him. She herself knew little of the details of the war, let alone a solid idea of who they were to be fighting to begin with. To make matters worse, King Azmur was now permanently bedridden, leaving Arvis to have to take care of nearly everything for the country.

All Deirdre could do was pray. Pray that her little family would remain unharmed and for the war to end quickly.

~~~

In a few short months that felt more like ages, the war edged close to its conclusion. Deirdre knew this because Belhalla Castle was currently in chaos trying to put together a welcoming ceremony to celebrate an ally’s victory. Deirdre didn’t get much information beyond that as no one was willing to tell her much. However, she found she didn’t much care for the nitty-gritty details so long as she knew the war was over. By now, Seliph was nearing one and a half years old. With the war concluding, he’d be able to live out the rest of his childhood without any worry. And he’d be able to spend more time with his adoptive father again.

Deirdre smiled at the thought. She hadn’t seen Arvis in far too long, being left alone to deal with the machinations of the nobility and to raise Seliph. Though it was difficult to balance both her duties as Princess Deirdre and as Seliph’s Mother, she never once considered a wet nurse to take care of Seliph. She’d much rather do it herself. Plus, there was the issue of someone discovering his second brand. She decided she’d tough it out until Arvis was no longer quite so busy.

But when Deirdre was able to see her husband again, it was because she was called from the castle to meet him at the welcoming ceremony set up for some returning allies. She wasn’t sure what purpose there was for it, but then she was introduced to someone who disrupted every thought she had.

“Deirdre, this is Sigurd. The son of Lord Byron, the man who murdered your father,” Arvis started, his tone having none of the kindness Deirdre had come to know. “Go ahead. Let him know how you feel.”

Deirdre was stunned, her grip on Seliph tightening to an uncomfortable degree for the child. She stopped herself at Seliph’s pained squeak, but still couldn’t tear her eyes away from the man before her. “This is… Lord Sigurd?” Though an amnesiac, Sigurd was familiar to her, far too familiar. That blue hair, those blue eyes…

In turn, Sigurd looked just as shocked to see her. “Wha-? Deirdre… and is that Seliph? He’s gotten so big…,” he said. “This can’t be happening!”

“Do… Do you know me? How do you know my son?,” Deirdre asked. She had to know, who was this man and why did he spark such strong, unknown emotions within her? She had barely spoken to him and her heart was already a whirlwind tempest.

Pure, unbridled anguish painted Sigurd’s face at Deirdre’s question. “Of course I know you! you’re my-!”

“That’s enough from you,” Arvis interrupted. “Deirdre, please step back. This man is dangerous. He is guilty of treason and is to be punished.”

For once, Deirdre didn’t believe Arvis’ words. Not one bit. The feeling she got when she looked at Sigurd was that he was an upstanding, chivalrous man who had gotten a bad run. He didn’t seem like someone who would willingly take part in the things Arvis claimed he did. She didn’t know why she got that feeling, but she did. And that feeling was strong. “But… this man is… please, can I speak with him just a little longer?”

Arvis strode closer to Deirdre and gently stroked her face to get her attention. “I’m sorry, but it’s too dangerous. I need you to take Seliph and return to the castle, ok? I wouldn’t want you two to stay here too long as things may get ugly...”

Deirdre didn’t answer immediately. Instead, she glanced back towards Sigurd almost as though she were trying to memorize his image. Maybe, deep down, she was. In her arms, Seliph squirmed around trying to grab at Arvis, chirping happy “dada!”’s all the while. If there was ever a single expression that could tell a story of loss and pain and regret that spanned months, maybe even years, it was Sigurd’s. The sight almost made Deirdre burst into tears right then and there.

“...Ok,” she said, and it came out unexpectedly quiet and broken.

Without another word, Deirdre and Seliph were escorted back to the castle to wait out whatever would happen next. Hours later, Arvis returned to the castle, everything said and done. But even though she got what she wanted, her husband home and by her side, Deirdre found herself unable to speak to him, her mind still reeling from the day’s events.

The man named Sigurd haunted her.

~~~

The next morning, Deirdre reluctantly left Seliph in Arvis’ care. Despite Arvis having never once treated Seliph or her poorly, Deirdre still felt conflicted about the day before. However, she needed to leave Seliph in someone’s care so she could raid the castle’s library for answers and Arvis hadn’t seen his adopted son for weeks. Though he would still be busy with the “clean-up” of the war, he was able to spare some free time just for his family. So Deirdre left the two to their devices and hurried off with the excuse that she had a few royal duties to attend to.

When Deirdre arrived at the library, she was pleased to find it devoid of any people. She went to work right away, pulling out any books related to the history of holy blood and their genealogies across the continent and placing them on a nearby table. Once she was satisfied with her findings, she started looking through the books that discussed the specifics of holy blood, discussing the knowns and theories of inheritance and specifying the differences between each type of holy blood. One book in particular also had records of what brand was associated with each holy blood lineage. Paying close attention to each brand as she read through the book, Deirdre took note that alongside the Brand of Naga, Seliph also bore the Brand of Baldr.

Pushing aside that book and others similar to it now that she had her first clue, Deirdre moved on to books about the history of each nation's noble houses. As she was found by Arvis in Belhalla, it was likely that whoever Seliph’s true father was would be a noble from Grannvale, so she started with the relevant collection of books. Specifically, she looked through history books talking about how each house was originally founded to see which one had which holy blood. After hitting dead ends with the inheritances of houses Jungby, Friege, and Edda, she was finally presented with another step closer to her answer in House Chalphy. The holy blood once belonging to the crusader Baldr and which now flowed through Seliph’s veins had been passed down through House Chalphy of Grannvale.

Heart racing at the prospect of being so close to finding an answer to her shrouded past, Deirdre stood from her seat at the table and rushed back to the shelves to find one last book. A book detailing the records and genealogy of House Chalphy. Each house in Grannvale had a similar record stored in the library and they were updated over time. Though it remained to be seen whether or not the records had been updated recently enough for what she was looking for.

Flipping through pages of detailed family trees and personal histories behind nearly every person in them, Deirdre finally landed at the newest pages. Skimming the last family tree in the book, she found the name she had been looking for: Sigurd. She brought her hand to her mouth as she dropped the book, slow to process the revelation that she knew, deep down, was coming. She quickly realized her mistake in dropping the book and picked it up, returning it to its place on the shelf and moving to do the same for the other books she had grabbed as she tried her best to control her train of thought.

With all the evidence she had found, it was hard not come to a singular conclusion. Sigurd of Chalphy was Seliph’s true father. Deirdre couldn’t truly deny it, not when everything pointed to that answer and not when she had met the man himself just yesterday. She wondered if Arvis knew that fact from the beginning or not. If he didn’t, then he must have figured it out when Sigurd practically confirmed it by immediately recognizing Seliph. After all, the only ones who should’ve known about Seliph are those who have been rather involved at Belhalla Castle. She’d have to keep an eye on Arvis from now to see if anything has changed to signify that he knew about Sigurd and Seliph’s connection.

But even as Deirdre found one answer, many more took its place. Why did she have a child with Sigurd? Were they lovers in the past? If so, what led to their separation and why? Why did she wake up in Belhalla with no memories to speak of? Would it be easier to simply pretend this never happened? As though ignoring it would be that simple. She had no more answers. She was powerless and stuck and all she could do was continue living and hope that things would work out sooner or later.

After all, the march of time waits for no one, not even Deirdre.

~~~

In the following days, Deirdre found that her time spent in Arvis’ company varied wildly. Some days he’d be far too busy with politics to see her until late into the night when he’d join her in their shared bedroom. Other days, they’d get brief meetings and nothing more, but on some occasions they’d be able to spend nearly the whole day together. Deirdre was relieved to say that her observations during those days didn’t reveal anything of immediate concern. Arvis, as expected, seemed to be hiding that he knew something in relation to Seliph, likely what Deirdre herself had learned, but he still acted like a good, nurturing father to Seliph.

Perhaps it should have been worrisome when for a while, Arvis would give Seliph distant stares, suddenly detached in a way he hadn’t been before. And, much like Deirdre, he also seemed conflicted. Deirdre couldn’t read minds, but she could read expressions and she saw guilt and torment surface upon Arvis’ face from time to time when he was around Seliph. Yet, even as she knew from the signs that both she and Arvis came to discover the truth, Deirdre also came to learn that neither of them were willing to talk about it.

It would be their unintentional shared secret.

And so life moves on.

~~~

To the surprise of few but the merriment of many, Deirdre’s family was set to grow larger as she became pregnant. Upon learning of the news, the court hastily sent around their congratulations, excitedly chattering about whether the child will be a boy or a girl and what holy blood they’d inherit. Either way, Deirdre was just happy with the prospect that her family was getting bigger. Though, she did get annoyed by the nobles who were hoping for a boy so that there’d be a proper heir to the throne, as though Seliph had no place at the castle.

Deirdre distracted herself from all the buzz by fantasizing about all the possibilities that came with having a second child. If it was a girl, she’d likely be beautiful and kind and take after her mother. Or at least that’s what Arvis said when Deirdre brought it up with him. As for a boy, he’d naturally take after his father in the same way and become first in line for the throne according to the desires of the court. As much as Deirdre hated the way Seliph would always be disregarded and illegitimized in this regard, there wasn’t anything she could really do about it.

So she looked on the bright side: if she had another son to take the throne, Seliph would no longer have to face the pressure of being next to rule the entire Empire of Grannvale. Granted, Deirdre’s potential new son would have to take that responsibility in Seliph’s place. However, unlike Seliph, his rise to power would not be frowned upon by the very people he was set to rule and work with every step of the way.

Regardless, all Deirdre really wanted was for her children to get along and she made a silent vow to love them both equally.

And when the time came, it turned out that she was actually pregnant with twins. A surprise to be certain, but a welcome one after so many hours of agonizing labor. Instead of having just two kids, Deirdre now had three and she couldn’t be any happier. And of her twins, she had a girl, who would no doubt grow up to be the spitting image of her mother if the tuft of purple hair and brand of Naga on her forehead meant anything. The other was a boy, bearing a different, unknown brand on his own forehead, with fiery red hair to match his father. Their names; Julia and Julius.

“They’ll grow up to be just as strong and compassionate as their mother, I just know it,” Arvis had whispered to her once things had calmed down and it was just the couple left in the room. He held Julius in his arms ever so delicately while Deirdre did the same for Julia.

“And they’ll be just as clever and determined as their father,” Deirdre whispered.

Together, they indulged in the soft tenderness of the moment. It was comforting and all encompassing and everything Deirdre could ever want out of life. They were only just born, but she already loved her twins just as much as she loved Seliph. She couldn’t wait for her eldest son to meet his new siblings.

~~~

When Seliph was first allowed to see his mother after several days of being told that she was “too busy”, he practically stampeded into her room shouting an excited, “Mama, mama! I missed you!,” with all the energy a two-year old could muster.

Deirdre found it to be oh so adorable and gently giggled at his excitement. “Sh, I missed you as well, Seliph, but you need to be quiet,” she gently reprimanded him from where she sat on her bed, blankets covering her lower body.

“B-But why?,” he asked, looking suddenly on the verge of tears.

“Come here and I’ll show you!,” Deirdre said in a barely contained whisper. She patted the bed next to her and Seliph quickly made his way over, struggling to climb onto the bed but getting up there nonetheless. Deirdre picked him up effortlessly and moved him to her other side, closer to the cradle that held both Julia and Julius. She leaned over to look into the cradle and Seliph, watching her actions very seriously, copied her.

Looking quite amazed at the two infants, Seliph asked, “Who’sat?”

“Who’s that, but in this case it’s ‘who’re they’,” Deirdre corrected before answering her son’s question. “They’re Julia and Julius, your new siblings. They’re sleeping, so you’ve got to be quiet so as not to wake them.”

“Oh, ok,” Seliph accepted easily. “Whuzza ‘sib-uh-ling’?”

“I’m your Mama right?” Seliph nodded. “Well, I’m their Mama, too.”

“Really?!,” Seliph shouted, to which Deirdre shushed him again to his embarrassment.

“Yes, really.”

“Is Arvis their Papa, too?,” Seliph asked.

And the question was so innocent coming from a child who knew nothing of the tragic truth. But Deirdre knew the truth and she knew that Seliph’s true father had been killed around a year prior. The question brought her back to the day she met Sigurd for the last time, but most certainly not the first. It was the last time anyone would see him alive before he would be sentenced to death for his supposed crimes. And now Seliph would never get to know Sigurd. Even now, after so much time has passed, that knowledge still haunted Deirdre and plagued her with nightmares. Sometimes, she swore she could almost remember bits and pieces of her past, but they would never stick.

“Mama, why do you look so sad?”

For a moment, Deirdre forgot where she was at and what she was doing. She shook her head and told her son, “It’s… nothing. Just thinking. Yes… you’re right, Arvis is their Papa. That makes you their big brother.”

Instantly, Seliph forgot about his mother’s sad look and beamed at her. “I’m a big brother! So cool!”

“You know what that means?,” Deirdre asked, trying to get her mind off the darker topics that would never truly leave her mind. “It means you’ve gotta protect them.”

“Protect them?”

“So, if someone is mean to them or they get hurt, you’ll be there to make it better.”

“Ok! I can do that!”

Deirdre couldn’t help but giggle at her son’s enthusiasm. Seeing him so eager to be a good older brother lifted her spirits and made her feel lighter. And then she heard soft noises coming from the cradle, pulling her attention to the source. “Oh! Look at that, Julius is awake,” she said, “and he’s looking right at you, Seliph!”

Seliph in turn, looked at his younger brother with a shine in his eyes and gasped. “He is, he is! Iz nice t’meet you, Julius!”

“Why don’t you hold your hand out to him?,” Deirdre suggested. Seliph was still too young and small to be able to hold either of his siblings, but he could do that at least.

With a determined nod and a hum, Seliph held his hand out close enough for Julius to reach. Julius, wide eyes studying Seliph, returned the gesture by wrapping his chubby, newborn hand around Seliph’s pinky.

“Wooooah, he’s so small…!”

Deirdre couldn’t help the smile that graced her face. “Mhm… they both are. So you have to be very gentle with them. You don’t want to hurt them do you?”

“No! I would never hurt them!,” Seliph shouted. “Then I’d be a bad big brother!”

“Sh, Julia is still sleeping!” Though both she and Julius were so far unbothered

“Ah- sorry, Mama…”

“It’s alright, just- ah- please get Julius to stop sucking on your pinky.”

“Wha?” Turning back to Julius, Seliph carefully pried Julius’ hand off his finger and pulled it away. Now without something to suck on, Julius started crying. “Wait, no, please don’t cry! Mama, I didn’t mean to make him cry!”

“It’s ok,” Deirdre reassured him. “He’s probably just hungry. Could you go play with Papa or one of the maids?”

“Aww, ok…,” Seliph said dejectedly, but he listened to his mother and left to go find something else to do.

Left alone with her newborns, she took care of Julius with Julia somehow sleeping through it all, as Seliph’s earlier question drifted back to her mind. It seemed like every time she thought she could finally let go of the past, it found its way back to her, to haunt her and torment her. She wanted it to go away so badly, but she had long since learned that that would never happen.

~~~

Even though Julius and Julia ate up a great majority of her time, Deirdre noticed that it didn’t seem to phase Seliph too much. There were a few times where he threw a tantrum because he could have his mother’s attention, but one reminder that he was supposed to be a good, caring older brother and he’d scold himself for “being a big dummy” and be more understanding. However, though he was incredibly patient for someone his age, he was still just a small child. Eventually, the day came where he was made upset by being ignored and ran away in a fit.

Deirdre tried to look for him, but with her having to care for both her twins, now a year and a half old, she couldn’t get anywhere. Luckily, Arvis happened to be free that day and so she roped him into looking for Seliph for her. She fretted over it all day, but it was worth it for the apology flowers (specially picked by him and Arvis) that Seliph brought her and the story Arvis had to share.

According to Arvis, he had found Seliph crying in a bush out in the garden. It didn’t take a lot of coaxing to get him to come out from his hiding place, bawling and trying to explain to his adoptive father that he felt neglected and unwanted because Deirdre couldn’t pay attention to him. Arvis, of course, explained to Seliph why that wasn’t the case, telling him that his mother loved him with all her heart. To prove it, Arvis had told Seliph a story about how he met Deirdre. About how she had been wandering the streets, caring for him all alone, and how when she first arrived at the castle she put all her time and energy into making sure he was happy and healthy. And Seliph had very intently listened to the whole thing, taking each and every word to heart.

From then on, Seliph tried his best to never get frustrated or irritated with having to share his parents. Instead, he did his best to help them with caring for Julia and Julius however he could. He played with them as they got older, teaching them games like tag and hide and seek, showing them how to sneak extra snacks from the kitchen when he thought no one was looking, and even helping them with learning to read and write. The twins quickly learned to rely on their big brother for all kinds of things, running to him when they got hurt playing or when they fought over who would play with their favorite toys (only for him to pick neither side, yet manage to get them to have fun sharing anyways). Though somewhat unintentionally, Seliph taught them what it meant to be siblings and that they should be there for each other, always.

It was a bond and lesson that neither Deirdre nor her husband could ever provide their trio of children on their own. It filled Deirdre with undeniable adoration to see her beloved children grow up so close and so well. Yet, even now, as Seliph was eight and Julia and Julius were six, the past still liked to rear its ugly head.

Deirdre sat to the side on the ground, watching her children as she worked on patching up one of Julia’s favorite dresses that she had torn playing tag. Julius was reading a book while Seliph was showing Julia how to make a castle with colorful, wooden building blocks.

“Brother, what does this say?,” Julius asked, pointing to the passage in question.

Hearing his brother’s question, Seliph left Julia to pout about having to continue building the castle on her own. Walking over to where Julius was seated, Seliph peeked over his shoulder to see what he was reading and said, “Let’s see, this says… wait, what book is this?”

Julius closed the book, using his thumb as a bookmark, and showed Seliph the cover which read, “Holy Blood: The Known and Unknown of Inheritance.”

“Julius, where did you get this book?,” Seliph asked. “It’s a difficult read, even for me!”

“I was looking through the library and saw it on the shelf,” Julius explained. “It looked interesting, so I grabbed it.”

“Does that mean Julie is really smart?,” Julia asked in between stacking blocks to make a tower.

“Don’t call me Julie! That’s a girl’s name!”

“But it’s cute!” And Julia looked so cute herself with her cheeks puffed out like that, Deirdre noted.

“It is pretty cute,” Seliph teased.

“Not you too, brother!,” Julius groaned. “Ugh, forget it. Can you just read me this paragraph?”

“Of course, show it to me.”

And so Julius flipped the book back open to where he was at and pointed to where he needed help. “Ah, ok, so it says ‘To have a brand means to have holy blood and to be descended from the crusaders of old,” Seliph started and Deirdre’s heart immediately stopped. A book on holy blood, the one secret that was keeping the truth about Seliph’s lineage from rearing its ugly head.

“What does ‘descended’ mean?”

 

“Uh, basically it means that you’re very distantly related to someone. As in, we’d be a descendent of our grandparents’ grandparents or even further back.”

“Ooooh, ok, I got it. Can you keep going?”

And Deirdre wished Seliph would say no more than anything.

“Of course! ‘The brand can appear almost anywhere on the body, but the most common areas are the forehead, back, chest, palm, or ad- abdomen. Rarely, if ever, does it show up in another place. It is believed that the placement of the brand is based on heredid- heredity, but this is yet to be proven.’ Any questions so far?”

“Yeah, uh, what’s an ‘ab-doh-men’ and a ‘heh-red-itee’?”

“Abdomen means tummy and heredity is the trait or traits we get from our parents.”

Please, Deirdre pleaded in her mind, please stop talking about this.

“The traits…? So what the paragraph says is that if our parents have a brand somewhere, then we’ll get a brand in the same spot?”

“Yup! An example would be how you and Julia have a brand on your foreheads, just like mother does!”

“So then, what about you big brother? Where is your brand?”

“It’s on my back! But heredity can mean more than just our brands. It can also talk about how we look or which hand we write with or anything else we could’ve gotten from our parents.”

Deirdre accidentally pricked herself with her needle in her distraction. But she hardly noticed as her mind was a whirlwind of anxiety, her hands shaking and all her energy being used on simply holding it together.

“Hm… Then the reason I look like father and Julia looks like mother is because of heredity?”

“Mhm!”

“But… Why don’t you look like mother OR father, brother?”

“Ah- I... don’t know…”

And so was the dreaded question. Deirdre didn’t- no, couldn’t- answer that truthfully or else who knows how badly it will end. Beyond just Seliph learning at age eight that his blood father was killed by his adoptive father and the crisis that will bring, there was the inevitable chaos of the court finding out that Seliph is Lord Sigurd’s child. The nobility would be… less than happy… to learn that he is the spawn of a well-known traitor as well as a fully legitimate heir to the throne. Not to mention the backlash both she and Arvis would receive for having raised him at all, regardless of whether or not they knew the truth from the beginning.

Yet, as Seliph grew older, his resemblance to his blood father only became more apparent. He was still young enough for it to not be immediately noticed or for it to be passed off as just a coincidence that they shared certain traits here and there. But eventually, it would get to a point where the resemblance would be unmistakable and it would become significantly harder to keep the secret. However, as long as Deirdre could keep his Brand of Baldr hidden, no one would ever have actual proof they were related. That was her only hope.

“Mother,” Seliph started, drawing her attention back to reality, “how come I look the way I do?”

“Well, er, it’s because…”

Deirdre didn’t want to continue and, luckily, she didn’t have to as Julia started wailing and crying about her castle falling over. Putting the dress and sewing supplies to the side, Deirdre rushed over to Julia. “It’s ok, it’ll be alright,” Deirdre cooed, trying to reassure Julia as she buried herself in her mother’s arms. “You can build another one. An even better one.”

“B-But that- that was th-the one I st-t-tarted with bi-big br-rother,” Julia choked out between sobs. “It wo-won’t b-be the sa- same if only I wo-worked on it!”

Joining his mother in comforting Julia, Seliph gave his sister a pat on the head. “Don’t worry, I’ll build another one with you!”

“Y-You will?,” Julia asked, calming down a little as she turned her head away from being buried in Deirdre’s robes.

“Of course!”

“But-! Brother, you promised you’d help me read this book,” Julius whined.

“Sorry, I know I did, but do you think you could wait a little while?,” Seliph asked, looking pretty abashed. “Or maybe read something else for now?”

“Hmph, fine,” Julius huffed. He spun around where he sat and grabbed a different book from his pile to read.

Julia laughed through her few remaining tears at her twin’s reaction. “Hehe, looks like I’m big brother Seliph’s favorite sibling!,” she announced and stuck her tongue out.

Julius whipped his head back around to glare at Julia, book raised up over his head as though he were meaning to throw it. “You are not! I am and I always will be!”

“But I’m much cuter and funner! All you do is read books!”

“At least I know proper grammar! It’s ‘more fun’, not ‘funner’!”

“I’m still more fun than you!”

“Ah, please don’t fight…,” Seliph said, but his younger siblings were too busy screaming at each other to pay attention.

And just like that, the children forgot the previous, loaded question and instead busied themselves with arguing over who Seliph liked more. Deirdre could feel the pressure from before lifting off her shoulders, leaving her feeling much lighter and more relieved now that she didn’t have to lie. Now she could just enjoy watching her children argue over such a silly thing. She wouldn’t be able to do that for much longer…

“Ahem!,” Seliph said rather loudly, drawing his siblings attention, “I believe I get to decide who my favorite sibling is!”

“It’s me, right?,” both twins asked in sync.

“Hmm… well, thinking about it… I have to say Julius is my favorite brother, but Julia is my favorite sister!”

Both twins stuck their tongues out at each other.

“Hah, you can’t beat that, Julie! I’m his favorite sister!”

“But I’m his favorite brother, so that makes us even!”

With that, Julia and Julius huffed each other but ultimately accepted the final decision. Each one one was just happy to be declared Seliph’s favorite in one way or another, not stopping to realize that Seliph basically said they were both his favorite sibling. When Seliph had gotten so good at dealing with them, Deirdre didn’t know and it made her proud as she and her eldest son shared a knowing wink.

Things were still calm and peaceful and everything Deirdre could ask for in her life. For now.

~~~

Later that night, after the kids had been sent to bed, Deirdre joined her husband in their shared bedroom. Tonight, she had decided, would be the night that she brought up the once forbidden topic that had been neglected for far too long. Climbing into bed next to Arvis, she started, “There’s… something important I wish to talk to you about.”

“Yes? What is it, my love?”

“It’s about Seliph’s father. His… true father.”

And when Arvis didn’t immediately say anything, she knew this was going to be a difficult conversation.

“I think we should soon tell him the truth.”

“Why do you say that?,” Arvis asked, looking at Deirdre as though he could see right through her.

“It’s… earlier today, when I was watching the children, Julius needed help reading his book,” Deirdre started. “It was about holy blood and while I’m proud of him for pushing himself to read more difficult works and learn about his heritage… it led to an uncomfortable conversation. At some point, he asked Seliph what the word ‘heredity’ meant and when he explained it, Julius got curious. He wanted to know why, if parents and children shared traits, Seliph didn’t look like either me or you. Luckily, Julia unintentionally created a distraction that drifted the conversation away from that so I didn’t have to answer, but… I worry that they’re reaching the age where we won’t be able to hide this anymore.”

“And the Brand of Baldr? Only we know of it?”

Deirdre felt that she should’ve been more surprised to hear Arvis so bluntly confirm that he knew Seliph’s father was Sigurd, but she had known that he knew ever since that fateful day. “Yes. The brand is on his back where he can’t see it without the use of two mirrors and neither Julia nor Julius know of it. They think he only has the Brand of Naga.”

“Then we omit some of the truth,” Arvis decided. “If he asks, tell him the truth that I’m not his birth father, but that you don’t know who his real father is.”

“Do you think that’ll be ok?”

“Eventually, he’ll learn that I’ve adopted him all on his own. It’s not a secret among the nobles and staff at the castle. If he doesn’t hear it from us, he’ll hear it from them. As long as we say nothing of his major blood, no one will ever know the full truth of the matter.”

“I… suppose,” Deirdre relented, but she still had her worries. It made her feel beyond guilty to have to keep quiet about such a crucial detail. “What if he decides he wants to seek out his blood father or accidentally discovers his other brand?”

“Perhaps… that is a problem for another day,” Arvis sighed. “It’s late, you should get some rest, my love. We can figure this out together when we get to that bridge.”

“...Alright”

But still, Deirdre had to wonder what the future held in store.

~~~

For Seliph’s tenth birthday, Deirdre gifted him her Aura tome and told him that from now on, she would be teaching him how to use it. It was standard practice for noble children to be taught how to fight in case of a war breaking out or for simple self defense. However, what wasn’t standard was that Deirdre decided to teach her son the ways of magic herself instead of hiring an instructor for him. Call her overprotective or paranoid, but she got a bad feeling whenever she thought about a stranger with combat training being in the same room as Seliph. Even the idea itself sent her into a fight or flight response for whatever reason, likely related to whatever happened in her past before she got amnesia.

Either way, she made it a point to dedicate at least one hour every day to teaching Seliph how to use light magic, sometimes more if a lesson dragged on or if Seliph wanted to keep going. For several months, this type of schedule held strong and Seliph did quite well grasping the concept of using light magic. At one point, he even asked Arvis to help him with using fire magic, however that went significantly less well and was never attempted again for… various reasons. Regardless, Deirdre was proud that he was able to get such a solid grasp of magic and take after his mother.

However, today unlike usual, Seliph seemed much more distracted and worried about something unrelated, contrasted against his usual enthusiasm for training. It was something Deirdre noticed immediately and so she decided to address it before anything else.

“Seliph, is there something troubling you?”

Snapped out of his thoughts Seliph replied, “What? N-no, there's nothing…”

But it was so obviously a lie, Deirdre could tell. After all these years of raising him, if something bothered him, she would know. “Hm… Well, that doesn’t seem quite true to me.”

“Ok, fine! There is something,” Seliph quickly admitted, pouting about cracking so easily. “It’s just… all the older nobles look at me funny, it’s weird. Especially that lady, Hilda. She scares me. I was just… is there something wrong with the way I look? Or did I do something wrong?”

Deirdre knew exactly what Seliph was talking about and, even worse, she knew exactly why it was happening. She knew that the other nobles of Granvale, specifically the ones who were around for the war, were starting to notice Seliph’s resemblance to Sigurd. They still had no proof of their relation, but the idea of it was enough to disgust them and she personally had been confronted about it a few times. Of course, she lied and said she still had no knowledge of her past.

But now the time came where she could get as close as she could to finally confessing the truth, yet still have to lie. And to her eldest child, at that. “There’s nothing you’ve done wrong, I promise,” she started, giving Seliph a comforting pat on the head. “The truth is… the reason they look at you that way is because you are not Lord Arvis’ child by blood.”

Seliph just looked at her with confusion. “I’m… not? Father isn’t really my father?”

Deirdre shook her head. “No, he’s not. I’m so sorry for keeping this from you for so long…”

“Ah- it’s alright, Mother! You don’t need to say sorry,” Seliph reassured her. “Lord Arvis is still the one who raised me with you. That makes him my Father, no matter what blood says!”

If Deirdre said she wasn’t surprised and relieved by her son’s quick acceptance of the truth, she’d be lying. “So… you’re ok with that? You don’t wish to learn of your birth father?”

“Well, I’d like to know about him,” Seliph admitted, “but you don’t remember him right? I’m happy with still having a Father, even if I’m adopted. And I have you and Julia and Julius, so I’ll be ok.”

Hearing that declaration, Deirdre pulled Seliph in for a hug that he easily returned. “Seliph, you’re a good, kind child. You will always be our pride and joy. I’m sure even your birth father, wherever or whoever he may be, would be proud of how well you’ve grown.”

“Mother, you’re embarrassing me…”

Deirdre chuckled, light and airy, as she pulled away from the familiar embrace. Leaning down to be more eye level with Seliph, she said, “How would you like to do something new today?” Seliph gave an excited nod. “Then today, we’ll start with learning how to use staves! Then you can help others with magic instead of only hurting.”

“Really?! I can do that?!”

And so, for the rest of the time, that was what they did, Deirdre teaching her eldest how to use a staff. He didn’t grasp the concept quite as fast as he did with tomes, but his determination had him picking it up without too much difficulty. However, while Deirdre was happy with how things turned out, the entire time she couldn’t completely distract herself from her wandering thoughts.

Had she spent so much time worrying over what would happen if the truth came out for nothing? Yet, still it wasn’t the whole truth and Seliph was still so young, he may not completely understand the gravity of it despite how sharp he is for his age. Deirdre wondered what would happen if she had mentioned the most crucial detail: that she actually did know who Seliph’s father was. Would Seliph, being as young as he is, learn of Sigurd being branded a traitor and come to hate the man who sired him because of it? Deirdre didn’t remember Sigurd, but she knew he wasn’t a bad person and she would never want Seliph to hate him. If Seliph was older, would he be more upset about the truth being kept from him and try to seek answers for himself? If he did, what would he find and what would he do about it?

There was still so much Deirdre didn’t know about the future or how her actions now would affect it. But for now, she just wanted to be thankful that everything was still ok.

~~~

Deirdre should’ve known that, eventually, everything would fall apart before her and she’d be powerless to stop it. It was her greatest fear, one that had plagued her for years and years though she tried to ease it.

The day this fear came to pass was a dark one, and her last one. That day, a man by the name of Manfroy, a supposed advisor to Arvis, came to Belhalla Castle bringing with him a tome he wished to present to Julius, now age eleven. She knew not of this man, but Deirdre’s instincts were telling her that something was wrong and that it was not as simple as it seemed. It felt like she had met him before and that their last meeting did not go well. Her gut instincts had rarely failed her, so she accompanied Julius to meet this seemingly safe visitor.

Deirdre’s other two children followed as well though she had tried to keep them from coming. They wanted to witness their brother receive such an important gift and explaining why they shouldn’t come was too difficult without definitive proof that something would go wrong. She supposed she’d just have to be prepared to protect them too if anything went south. If Arvis were able to come as well, she'd feel more confident about that statement. Unfortunately, he was much too busy with his work as Emperor to make it, so she would be on her own in that regard.

What they were supposed to witness was Julius, future King of the Empire, receiving a special and powerful tome to aid him in his ascension. That was what Deirdre had been informed, what her two other children were so excited to see. But instead what they got was far more twisted. And it happened instantly upon the moment Julius took grasp of that cursed tome. The dark power that radiated from it was powerful and suffocating, managing to fill the room with its twisted presence. Both Deirdre and her two children at her side were quickly sent on edge by it.

That awful power, it was no wonder it corrupted Julius the moment he took it. Like a candle light flickering out by a gust of wind, all of the kindness and dorkiness and everything that made Julius who he was, was snuffed out. His light was crushed by the darkness that consumed it. That much was obvious when he turned to face his mother and siblings, a murderous intent twisting and marring his face. Out of nowhere, Julius declared he would end the wretched spawn of Naga here and now and raised his hand to cast a spell aimed directly at the gentlest of the siblings.

“Julia!”

Both Deirdre and Seliph shouted for the unfortunate girl in synch, however Deirdre reacted faster. She reached out and cast a single spell with whatever magic she could call forth: Warp. Just before the impromptu attack could hit its target, Julia was warped away to an unknown destination, but one where she’d be safe.

“Tch! Blasted woman,” Julius said, annoyance clear in his tone.

And though those words were spoken with his voice, they were not his. Deirdre was certain of it. Julius would never even dream of hurting anyone, let alone either of his siblings. He was far too gentle for that and though he sometimes got into arguments with them and could get a little fired up, this was much too far for him. Deirdre could only assume that the tome he was given was the source of his sudden split personality. Manfroy laughing as he watched the scene unfold only furthered that idea.

“No matter, she won’t be able to escape my grasp for long,” “Julius” continued, dark and sinister. “Let’s see… Next, I should get rid of that one. He may not have the power to take me down, but he still has that disgusting blood. That’s enough of a nuisance for me. I wonder, how will his mother react?”

For his next target, “Julius” took aim at Seliph, almost as if he was doing it on purpose just to torture Deirdre.

Deirdre wanted to do the same thing for Seliph as she had done for Julia. She wanted to warp him away to safety, far away from here. But she simply couldn’t do it. She was already drained of her magic and so she could only do one thing to prevent the worst case scenario in her mind. She grasped Seliph in a tight hug and used her body as a shield, taking the blast of dark magic directly to her back. The pain was agonizing and she could feel the beginnings of blood drip down her back as she fell to her knees, taking Seliph with her. In her arms, Seliph trembled, frozen and unsure of what to do or say.

“M-Mother…,” was all he was able to get out.

“Seliph, please… you must live on,” Deirdre said, using the last of her strength to depart her final words onto her eldest son. “You must find Julia… and- and stop Julius… but please, don’t hate him… can you do that?”

“Ok… I will,” Seliph assured her, though he sounded on the verge of tears himself. It seemed he knew what was going to happen next.

Deirdre wanted to praise him for being such a wonderful son, but her life was fading quickly. The best she could do was muster a content smile on her face. At least then, Seliph wouldn’t have to see her die with an expression of pain, but rather one that spoke of a happy and fulfilled life. Deirdre’s end may be a painful one for herself and her beloved family, but everything up to this point, both good and bad, are things she would never trade away in a million years. It was the life she led, where she got to raise three amazing and beautiful children, married to a man she truly loved and who loved her back.

And when her vision was overtaken by a bright light, she could’ve sworn she saw a hand reach out to her. It reminded her of when she first met Arvis in Belhalla, only this time she was faced with blue and white rather than red and black. And just like before, she took his hand.

“Sigurd… I’ve missed you…”