Chapter 21

The touch of crimson settled on Rowan’s cheeks as a euphoric tingling rushed through her body, jolting her awake. She settled back down into the plump mattress that had been struggling to lull her to sleep since she had arrived. Last night it had finally succeeded in bringing her comfort. Unfortunately, that comfort was now marred by a slight damp feeling between her legs. Rowan looked to the glistening wetness of her fingers and sighed. 

She had found the partner in crime to her dream and she wasn’t sure how she was supposed to proceed. Cleaning up after herself wasn’t exactly an option and even if it was, she wouldn’t know where to begin. At the same time, broaching the subjects to the maids wasn’t exactly an easy ask, either. What was she supposed to say? 

Rowan threw off the covers in frustration and shuffled out of bed. It was a surprisingly difficult challenge due to the softness of the mattress but she managed. Now free, Rowan tried coming up with some ideas of what to say while offering them up to her highly judgmental reflection. 

“Hey, Avra, I just masturbated! Could you get someone to change my sheets, please?” That was her third attempt and she couldn’t help but cringe. Even just saying it to herself sounded ridiculous. “I mean, it’s a totally normal thing, isn’t it?” she mumbled to herself. “I’m sure most of them have done it at least once and it’s not like I had sex. That’d be a much bigger mess. Maybe I’m overthinking this and dinnae need to say a thing? But what if they gossip?”

Rowan needed to clear her head and get away from the scene of the crime before anyone realised she was awake. It wasn’t that she felt like she had done anything wrong, she was just extremely embarrassed and it would be clear to anyone that saw her. Seeing her might not even be necessary for people to feel her embarrassment; Projection was just one of those abilities she hadn’t learned to control; that’s why she needed to clear her head.

Unfortunately, an army of vigilant servants stood between her and her non-existent destination. 

“I should probably have one of those,” she muttered quietly to herself.

That was the first step and it was a rather essential one. Unfortunately, her options were rather limited on account of not really knowing what there was to do or see around the palace. Then she realised there was a place that she had been neglecting on account of time that would be perfect for the task at hand; somewhere that could guide her emotions away from embarrassment. There were other, almost perfect locations, but they would need to wait. 

Sorry, Amran.

For now, however, she had her destination; the Royal Gardens awaited her arrival. Before she could leave, however, there was still one thing she needed to do that could put her entire operation in jeopardy; bathing. Unfortunately, it was very much a requirement, given the fact that she was still a wet sticky mess.

Before she took her dip into the large bath, Rowan readied herself some casual clothes in the form of a burgundy tunic with a gold trim and midnight blue leggings. She also made sure to set aside the badge that marked her as a guest of the crown as a just in case.

She didn’t dwell in the water for long. Her embarrassment had started to die down, but she was set on not alerting anyone for the time being. It was actually nice to have time to herself. Occasionally that is. Too much time alone is an isolationist hell that Rowan wouldn’t wish on anyone that struggled with loneliness. It’s just that being around people can be its own form of draining or terrifying hell due to the sheer weight and magnitude of people’s emotions. Rowan’s own were already enough for a small army so some momentary respite from everyone else sometimes gave her the chance to centre herself. It also gave her the chance for her to vent any excess emotions without anyone seeing. That was her hope at least; she hadn’t had much opportunity to be alone and free over the past five years after all. 

Once she was ready Rowan enacted her escape plan which, in a mirror of her destination, started in her own private garden. It was an enclosed space to offer some open luxury without sacrificing the palace’s defences. However, such defences were designed to keep people out, not in, especially a determined Ardent. Furthermore, the enclosed nature of the garden meant that Rowan also had access to the upper levels. All she needed was an open window and zero witnesses. It was a rather fun challenge despite stealth not exactly being her forte.

Somewhat surprisingly, the open window came without much difficulty. In fact, Rowan had several to choose from. Of course that introduces its own suite of problems, which became very apparent with the first window she tried. In hindsight, the evidence all pointed towards trying any of the windows besides that one, but the moans fell on deaf ears as she climbed the large cherry tree that had made the choice for her.

As she pulled herself up on the window sill she discovered a young man enthusiastically thrusting into one of the maids against the far wall. At least Rowan guessed that she was a maid by the hastily removed uniform that still clung to her body. Rowan found herself entranced by the rhythmic measure of the man’s hips and the way he passionately kissed the woman’s neck as she clawed at his back.{

The couple nearly caught Rowan staring as they made their way to the bed but she managed to drop down and hang from the window before they spotted her. That’s what she hoped at least, but it was enough to remind her of the task at hand and that the window had been removed from the equation. Before retreating back to the garden she took one last peek before thanking the Goddess that the tree had provided extra cover from everywhere else that she could have been seen from.

The second time she put in a little more thought into choosing an escape route rather than taking the easiest route. It was more challenging than she had hoped as her mind kept wandering to the couple upstairs and how they were rather brave having somewhat audible sex with an open window. Then again, they were practically fucking against the door so they probably weren’t trying to keep the deed a secret.

Rowan muttered something to herself as she recalled some novels she had read when she was a child. Admittedly they were significantly less explicit than what she had just witnessed. 

“Aren’t maids and noblemen supposed to be some kind of forbidden romance,” she said quietly before sighing in frustration. “All this sex is far too serendipitous. I’m not still dreaming, am I?” Rowan pinched herself to make sure only to call into question how reliable a method it was for checking wakefulness; everything else felt real after all. 

Her only choice after that was to try and focus again. She had seven windows to choose from, six if you discounted the one she had already tried.

“This would have been so much easier if I’d actually been up there more than once.” Unfortunately there hadn’t been much reason or freedom to explore the palace in the short time she had been staying there. Despite that, it seemed likely that most of the windows would be leading to bedrooms, offices and other private spaces for various guests, officials, and diplomats that called the Dusk Wing home, none of which were ideal. 

After thinking about it for a little bit longer, Rowan realised that would need to risk being a voyeur to get a better vantage point on the windows. Ideally, climbing the tree again would let her find an empty corridor on the other side of one of the open windows. Empty in the sense of zero people that is. A completely empty corridor would probably weird her out.

As she climbed the tree, Rowan did her best to remain as quiet at possible so that she didn’t alarm the couple in the nearby room. To further aid in not alarming them, Rowan also made sure to stay on the other side of the tree and not climb quite as high. Unsurprisingly she did see a couple of people once she was in position including an aged man sleeping at a desk.

Rowan was actually a little worried about him as his window was one of the open ones. Alas there wasn’t really anything she could do about it so she instead continued with her search. As her head panned towards the row of windows above her apartments, she found what she had been looking for in the form of a hallway lined with vases and small decorative figures on either side and paintings between the doors on the far wall. It had some traffic but not too much in this still early hour. All Rowan had had to do was time it right and she’d be free.

With a route in mind, Rowan hopped down from the tree and made her way back towards her apartments so that she could climb up. Before getting there, however, she decided to take a slight detour by way of the old man’s study. It was an awkward climb but Rowan didn’t want him catching cold when she could have at least mitigated some of the risk to him. It was a corner window which made things a little easier in the face of keeping quiet as it allowed her to stem up the wall. Typically she would have preferred running up the wall but she wanted to avoid any potential surplus noise. There was another advantage to stemming in that it would be easier to hold herself up with legs as opposed to her arms as she pushed the window closed.

A couple of minutes later the window to the man’s study was almost completely shut. All it needed was to be fastened in position. With that done, Rowan got back onto the task at hand. The way to the hallway required a different approach as the window was more central. Fortunately, there was a light fixture that Rowan was able to mount for some extra height. Doing so provided her with most of the height that she needed buy she was still short a few feet. She had the option of jumping but, though she knew how disastrous that could be if she failed. Furthermore it was far too ‘loud’ an action when she was trying to be stealthy. That left her dependent on the very small gaps in the stonework where the mortar had broken away over time. Fortunately, Rowan had rather small hands and a surprising level of strength. She still had to be careful, however, because Seres and the maids would throw a fit if she damaged her nails immediately before a ball.

Rowan started by clawing her left hand to get full coverage of a hold just above her while smearing with her right foot to get some extra height. That gave her a nice hold for her right hand, letting clamber up the rest of the way. She had to hang there for a second as one of the servants to pass. Then she pulled herself up, extremely grateful that the window was still open. 

To avoid any potential awkwardness Rowan walked in the opposite direction to the servant only to stop dead in her tracks as someone else walked onto the corridor. Rowan instantly found herself blushing as her eyes fell on the maid from earlier, now fully dressed.

Seeing a flustered Rowan, the young maid stopped and asked her, “Can I help you?”

“No, I’m good,” Rowan replied a little too quickly.

“Okay then,” the maid replied, resuming her path down the hallway only to be stopped a few seconds later.

“Actually,” said Rowan, “I’m a little lost.”

“Oh?”

“You see, I’ve only been here for a few days and I felt like going for a walk, but I don’t really know my way around yet and I wasn’t really paying attention to where I was going when I had the bright idea of visiting the Royal Gardens, but I don’t know how to get the from here.” 

By the time Rowan had finished speaking she realised that she had practically forgotten to breathe, a feat which garnered her an impressed look from the made.

After waiting a few seconds to give Rowan a chance to breathe, the maid responded, “If it’s the Royal Gardens that you seek, I can take you there.”

“I wouldn’t want to distract from your other duties,” Rowan replied with a slight cough in an attempt to hide any signs of embarrassment or insinuation from the maid.

“Worry not, I can put aside some time to assist an honoured guest. My duty is to serve, after all.”

“I’m sure I’d manage with just a couple of directions.”

“I’d feel more confident guiding you myself.”

This maid is impossible! 

Rowan was not prepared for this encounter. A random maid or servant would have been one thing, but this one particular maid at this particular time was the one of the most awkward potential encounters imaginable and she wasn’t getting any of Rowan’s hints.

In the end, Rowan gave up and let the maid take the lead. Her name was Avalin and Rowan learned rather quickly that she was surprisingly talkative. In just a short amount of time she learned that Avalin typically worked front of house which led Rowan to believe that her sojourn to the dusk wing was just for pleasure. Thinking about it, guiding Rowan was a good excuse to bring her back to where she was supposed to be working.

Avalin was still talking as they walked through the large Palace doors en route to the gardens. “Even to this day,” she was saying, “I don’t know why they call the front of the palace the day wing. Like I understand the day part because it fits in with how the other areas of the palace are named after times of day, but it isn’t a wing like those areas.”

“Maybe it’s a leftover from when the palace was smaller?” Rowan suggested.

“I hadn’t considered that,” Avalin replied.

“I remember reading about it in a book when I was younger,” Rowan admitted.

“Ah. I’m not really much of a reader. Never had much reason to be really. Anyway, before I lament my lack of childhood reading, the Royal Gardens are just up ahead through that gate. I must get back to work now, but if you need any assistance, ask any of the staff on hand and they’ll be able to aid you or send for help.”

“Thank you,” said Rowan with a smile, bidding Avalin farewell and making her way to the garden. She was glad to be relatively alone again. There were other people around as well which made things ideal as it meant she wasn’t completely isolated. Anything was better than isolation.

The garden was sectioned off from the rest of the palace grounds by way of a large sweeping gate and elaborately patterned hedge walls. Somehow they had managed to combine various differently coloured plants to paint a whole array of beautiful patterns on a canvas of verdant green. Standing on either side of the gate were two ceremonial guards wielding spears. They looked a little funny with their overly serious expressions and obnoxiously feathered hats. Even so, Rowan couldn’t help but feel like they were exceptionally deadly in spite of that. They also let her walk right past them without so much as a glance, at least not any that Rowan saw.

Once inside, Rowan was treated to a sight beyond her wildest imaginings. It was as if she had been thrown into a fantasy world in between blinks. Immediately before her lay a vast lawn on either side of the central path that led towards a fountain. 

As she walked along the path, Rowan could see hints of colour amidst the grass. It was difficult to see exactly what the colour was however, as she lacked the height to get a good look. Furthermore, she was a wee bit more focused on the statues that lined the path. Unlike normal statues, these ones looked like they had been shattered, yet they still held a semblance of form. That is to say that the parts floated in the air, connected only by wires to keep them in shape and prevent them from drifting apart. It gave them the appearance of heroes that had been broken down but still refused to give up. That was Rowan’s interpretation at least and it only added to her awe. It was her first time seeing Gravitational Resonance after all, and it was a lot to take in. She had read about it before, but the idea had always seemed farfetched. Now she had no choice other than acceptance. 

To top it off, the statues weren’t even the last of the fantastical elements that Rowan has been presented with. The fountain at the end of the path gave rise to a herd of glimmering, sea green, horse-like animals that seemed to gallop out of the water. As Rowan got closer she came to realise that the animals were made almost entirely out of water. If it weren’t for her brain insisting that there had to be something else to give the water shape she would have just left it at magic. Instead, she’d need to look deeper when she had the chance.

The water for the fountain was provided by a artificial cascade waterfall. There were stairs on either side of the cascade leading to the upper levels. To the flanks of the stairs were rows and rows of tiered flowers, most of which Rowan had never seen before, and they were all arranged in such away to complement the surrounding flowers. All in all it was a feast for the eyes.

Rowan walked up the stairs to yet another incredible view. Unlike the lower level, this level was divided into quadrants by the same stream that was feeding the fountain below. Each quadrant bore a different theme: day and night, dawn and twilight. The twilight quadrant bore similarities to her private garden, only scaled up and much more impressive which was no small feat. In the centre of the four quadrants, stood a brilliant white and gold pavilion with what looked to a rather impractical sundial on top.

Rowan decided that the pavilion was a perfect place to collect her thoughts and recharge. It was, after all, relatively quiet and out of the way of the gardeners who were already out in full force; probably so that they could get the majority of their work done while things were less lively. 

She took a seat and closed her eyes, letting her mind drift. Hopefully doing so would allow her to sort through her thoughts and feelings at least a little bit. 

Being an Ardent was hard. Going through life with your emotions turned to eleven was exhausting and that’s ignoring the added challenge of being overly sensitive to even the slightest emotional stimulus. There were times when it became so much that Rowan couldn’t even express everything she was feeling. Then again, Rowan wasn’t sure that was all because of her being an Ardent. She was like this even before she Awakened, just not quite as extreme. Granted, that may have been because the Naliir bloodline was pushing her to be more like an Ardent even back then. There were so many possibilities.

Instead of dwelling on the challenges of being an Ardent and how her bloodline may have influenced her, she cast her thoughts to her immediate family. Fortune had reunited her with her brother. Now only Tehri and her father remained. She wanted to see them, to hold them in her arms. She hoped that she would be able to get some aid from the Queen to help in that regard once things had settled down in the palace. 

The first step would probably be Næmyris and her father. It was a fairly simple trip after all, almost completely river bound. Rowan also wanted to see her mother’s grave. Tehri on the other hand required finding first which was easier said than done. It didn’t help that the only lead that Rowan had is that she last saw Tehri five years ago in a forest that was probably between Næmyris and the east coast. Rowan just hoped that was enough to narrow down the search. 

Alas, only time could tell and the living weren’t the only family on Rowan’s mind. She looked deep into soul and thought of Rina. With a small spark of hope she spoke out to her lost twin.

“Hey, Rina. I don’t know if you can hear me or if I’ll be able to hear you, but I had to try.”

There was no answer.

“Well I wasn’t expecting this to work straight away. It’s not like I know how this works anyway.”

Again, nothing.

“I guess I’ll just speak and hope you can hear me. Maybe I should have tried this while holding Elan Fiir or while my emotions were boiling over. I think I’ve only ever heard you when I was in a super charged emotional state. Any ideas why? Some other time, maybe. Anyway, I wanted to ask about a few things and I’ve just had an idea of how to get through to you.”

This time, Rowan didn’t wait for a response and instead started to remove her clothes. 

“Some genius I am. Coming here was supposed to help me sort through my embarrassment, not make me more embarrassed. Can you…”

“Of course I can hear you! You’re the one that never listens. “

“Well that worked,” said Rowan with a small measure of surprise. 

“Probably because you’re getting all flustered about flashing a bunch of gardeners. Even I can tell that your mind has been in the gutter all day. Now I’m all worked up because of you.”

“I cannae help it. Also, gross.”

“Not like that. Now ask me what you wanted to know so I can tell you. And be quick about it before I retreat to the non perverted part of your soul.”

“Wow, rude.”

“I can leave now and your nudity would be for nought.”

“Please don’t,” Rowan pleaded.

“Fine! Just hurry up. It’s cold in here.”

“You can feel the cold?”

“It was a joke.”

“Oh, sorry. Anyway, way back when, you said you were incomplete. What exactly did you mean by that?”

“You’ve already guessed some of it. When I died, I was still complete which meant that my soul could mature alongside you. Then the eclipse happened and I was able to act with a little bit of independence. It was nice to have some freedom for a change. But then they killed Mother. Even in death she she refused to abandon you. If I hadn’t stopped her, she would have called upon the Goddess and our ancestors to take her entire being into Elan Fiir. She would have sacrificed everything.”

“That’s stupid!”

“I know and I refused to let her do it. At the same time, I knew I couldn’t fully convince her, not in the time we had, nor could I take her place.”

“Why not?”

“Because my soul doesn’t have an essence to Resonate with. At least not one that has any meaning on its own.”

“Are you being cryptic on purpose or is it just me?”

“You’re the one that wanted answers. To put it simply, my essence gives power though sacrifice. I died, but in return, you’re a better Ardent.”

“That’s not at all grim.”

“It’s true though. Anyway, after connecting with Mother, I reminded her that by sacrificing herself, she was just delaying the inevitable.”

“Not even that. She’d be bound to the sword even when we’ve moved on.”

“Exactly. So instead I suggested that we split the load. Part of me would strengthen her essence in the soul and the other part would reinforce her soul on the other side. That would leave this small fragment with you.”

“Do you think I could talk to her?

“The part in the sword for sure. She’s already gotten through to you once. With a fair bit of difficulty I imagine.”

“Rude.”

“Deal with it.”

“Could I talk with the version of you within the sword?”

“I’m the only me that is still me. With that said, I think your embarrassment is about to be deafening.”

“Excuse me?”

“In three, two, one.”

Out of nowhere, Rowan heard someone clear their throat behind her. She turned to see Avra standing there with a stern look to her face.

“Good morning, Miss Rowan. You do realise that you are in the Royal Gardens, do you not?”

“Aye?” Rowan wasn’t exactly sure why she answered with a rising tone, but it felt appropriate. 

“Do you also realise that you are stark naked?”

“Ah right. About that. There’s a reason for that.”

Rowan was quickly turning crimson as she fumbled around for an appropriate answer.

“Be that as it may, the Royal Gardens are no place for such overt exhibitionism. That is of course assuming that you have not been granted some sort of exceptional status by Her Majesty when I wasn’t looking.”

“I don’t think so?”

“I thought as much. Now put your clothes back on. All this nudity is confusing the gardeners. They did, however, request that I pass on their compliments.”

This time Rowan invented a completely new shade of red with her embarrassment. Meanwhile, Avra bore the faintest hint of a smirk as she sore Rowan’s reaction.

“While you process that, I’d like to request that you inform me or another member of staff assigned to you when you decide to go wandering. The princess wishes to break fast with you and she was greatly disappointed when we informed her that you had disappeared. I imagine she is quite hungry now.”

“Sorry.”

“Apologise to her, not me. And your tunic is on back to front.”

A minute or two later, Rowan was dressed again and en route to starting her day proper.

Author’s Notes: Hello again. Its been another massive delay and I’m really sorry. I hate being unreliable with releases but as I mentioned in the last few chapters I returned to work around a month and a half ago. Unfortunately, it completely destroyed me physically, emotionally, and mentally. Anyone that has spoken to me knows that I was not in a good place and it was massively impacting my ability to write. It got to the point of being too much so I decided to resign last week. Now I’m getting back to a point where I can better manage my mental health and just as importantly, enjoy writing again. I’m looking forward to sharing more Ardent Tears with you all very soon.

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2 thoughts on “Chapter 21

  1. “Rowan found herself entranced by the rhythmic measure of the man’s hips and the way he passionately kissed the woman’s neck as she clawed at his back.{”
    There’s a { after the sentence

    “After thinking about it for a little bit longer, Rowan realised that would need to risk being a voyeur to get a better vantage point on the windows.”
    missing word “she” between realised and windows

    “Doing so provided her with most of the height that she needed buy she was still short a few feet.”
    buy should be but

    “She had the option of jumping but, though she knew how disastrous that could be if she failed.”
    only one of either but or though needed

    “That gave her a nice hold for her right hand, letting clamber up the rest of the way.”
    missing word “her” between letting and clamber

    “She had to hang there for a second as one of the servants to pass.”
    missing word “came” between servants and to

    “You see, I’ve only been here for a few days and I felt like going for a walk, but I don’t really know my way around yet and I wasn’t really paying attention to where I was going when I had the bright idea of visiting the Royal Gardens, but I don’t know how to get the from here.”
    in “I don’t know how to get the from here”, the should be there

    “By the time Rowan had finished speaking she realised that she had practically forgotten to breathe, a feat which garnered her an impressed look from the made.”
    made should be maid

    “The water for the fountain was provided by a artificial cascade waterfall.”
    a should be an

    “To the flanks of the stairs were rows and rows of tiered flowers, most of which Rowan had never seen before, and they were all arranged in such away to complement the surrounding flowers.”
    away should be a way

    “In the centre of the four quadrants, stood a brilliant white and gold pavilion with what looked to a rather impractical sundial on top.”
    missing word “be” between to and a

    “She looked deep into soul and thought of Rina.”
    missing word “her” between into and soul

    “Of course I can hear you! You’re the one that never listens. “
    the quotation marks after Rina’s dialogue here are beginning quotation marks instead of ending quotation marks

    “Even in death she she refused to abandon you.”
    there’s an extra she here

    “You’re the one that wanted answers. To put it simply, my essence gives power though sacrifice.”
    missing r in through

    “Meanwhile, Avra bore the faintest hint of a smirk as she sore Rowan’s reaction.”
    sore should be saw

    from Author’s Notes:
    “Its been another massive delay and I’m really sorry.”
    missing apostrophe in It’s

    Like

  2. yay good thing you are okay Ren, and new chappy double yay.

    Aa I really thought the 2 big souls were some old ancestors from Rowan’s family, not that it would be her sister and mother. It’s both sad and relieving that both are taking care of Rowan in different ways. Too bad Rowan need to flash people to be able to listen. Lol

    Obs: at least the gardeners thanked her for the treat.

    I wonder if there is some Ardents with gravity as the thing they call upon with their emotions hmmmm.

    Like

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