“I never saw myself falling so far.”

“Constantine, may I ask you a question?”

“Of course, Madam. I am at your disposal.”

“…it’s not a very comfortable question. You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to.”

“Let’s hear it, then.”

“Who were you before the war?”

“…”

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have asked.”

“No, no, Madam, I just wasn’t expecting that… It’s been a very long time since then.”

“That’s why I’m curious… You weren’t always like this, were you?”

“No… Once I was just a child. I made mistakes, learned from them, fell in love… I’ve lost a lot, since then. But I’ve gained a great deal, too. But, to be honest… I never saw myself falling so far.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. You’ve helped pick me up again.”

“What was the palace like?”

“Stuffy.”

“Haha, really?”

“I sneaked out every chance I could, as it happens. Always ducking classes and feasts to scurry about the back streets of the capital. That’s where I met her, you know, trying to break into the castle.”

“Did you stop her?”

“I told her there was nothing worth taking. She had something no amount of palace finery could ever buy.”

“And what was that?”

“She had freedom.”

“…you certainly were an odd child.”

“I was introspective, thank you, not odd… Well, not that odd, at any rate.”

“What did she say to that?”

“She laughed. I think I fell in love right there, honestly. Her whole face lit up and she had the most beautiful laugh. Made you want to laugh with her. She told me I was odd, took my hand and led me through the city. I hardly remember anything we saw, I just remember her.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. I loved her. That’s more than most people get in a lifetime. There’s nothing to be sorry about there.”

“But you lost her.”

“Yes. But for a time, she was my world. I gave her everything, and she gave me just as much. I never doubted for a moment that she loved me for me, not for my money or my title, or anything else. She loved the person no one else got to see… The man I was before the war.”

“You never told me her name.”

“Tradition. The person you give your heart to… When you lose them, you don’t speak their name to anyone else; you preserve their memory with silence. My father never spoke my mother’s name after she passed, nor did I speak her name… My brothers spoke often of their lovers, but I kept mine a secret, even to the end. I mean no disrespect.”

“No, no, that’s quiet alright. I’m glad you had someone so precious.”

“As am I.”

“Was she buried in the capital?”

“No. She wanted to be buried in her homeland… I left Cecelia with my old governess and took her remains back myself. It was four days on foot; also tradition… I’d never seen so many beautiful sunsets as I did during that time. I remember laying out under the stars in a field of lavender, singing her favorite song, tears streaming down my face… I was a mess the whole way there. I met her parents, told them what had happened. I’d never seen a couple so in love, or so at peace with the death of a child. They let me spend the night with them, put me in her old room, told me to take anything of hers I wanted as a memento.”

“Did you?”

“Her home was up in the mountains to the west, a mining town, known for their beautiful jewelry… She had a pair of earrings, crystal hearts… I made a pair of necklaces out of them. One for me, one for Cecelia.”

“And she gave it to Dante.”

“Yes. I told her the hearts would always keep us connected, to each other and her mother… Seems I was wrong.”

“I don’t think so. I think you’re still all connected. Dante just joined the family, is all.”

“Maybe you’re right… Did that answer your question, Madam?”

“Yes, thank you Constantine.”

“Of course, Madam.”

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