Alan was silent. Siana felt his blue eyes staring at her. She had a hunch that he knew everything about her life. The thought made her uncomfortable. It was true that they had been best of friends in their childhoods, but revealing her dire situation to him still seemed awkward. It was why it had distressed her so much when sharing the events of her life with Yulia in a letter. It just didn’t seem right.
She looked up at him, trying to steer the conversation in some other direction. “What about you?” she asked, “How have you been all these years? I just heard a man call you ‘Lord Legarde’. Are you an Earl now?” She tried to lighten the mood. “Wow. Do I need to address you as ‘My Lord’ as well?”
“It was more of a stroke of luck,” he said, waving his hand in the air, “Why would you be so formal when addressing me, anyway? We are childhood best friends.”
“But still…” she teased.
“Oh, come on,” he said, smiling, “Enough already. No one else knows about it, yet. Just you.”
“I guess it would be mighty awkward addressing you so formally,” she relented, “seeing how we used to run around all over the house when we were little.” It reminded Siana of the times they had spent together when they were young. When Siana’s father was still alive with his title and his status in this society. Siana had brushed off Alan’s formal greetings and insisted on being addressed casually. The tables had turned now. Alan was a man of title and status, and Siana had nothing but a debt to her name. It seemed like only yesterday when they were children and free from the shackles of grim realities.
Siana rubbed the back of her hand absentmindedly and looked out the window. “You could call them in, if you want,” she said, indicating the men outside, “They must be cold.”
“It’s alright,” he assured her, “They don’t mind waiting a while. They have braved high winds and cold weathers as part of their trainings, or otherwise. They will be fine.” The way he fondly talked about them reminded Siana of the status he held and the camaraderie they shared. “Instead of focusing on something else,” he said, “Why not welcome me home properly? I have missed you, Siana.” He spread his arms and approached her.
Siana hesitated. If it was the young, silly Alan, she wouldn’t have had even a moment’s thought in accepting his embrace, but he was a different person now. They both were, with years of division between them. He was taller and broader. She reminisced about the warmth she had felt in his friendship years ago and dragged her feet over to return his embrace. His sturdy hands wrapped around her and his chin rested on her head. Alan didn’t release her, even when she loosened her hands for a long while. After a few minutes, he let her go.
“I am sorry,” he said apologetically, noticing her downcast face, “If I have made things awkward.”
“Not at all,” replied Siana hastily. It had been awkward indeed, meeting him in this manner, when she had nothing and had been planning to escape to another country. While he had become a grown man with a respectful title to his name. But she could hardly ask him to leave her be, when they had met after so long.
“Are you sure?” he asked, concerned, “Why, then, are you not able to meet my eyes?”
“What? Um…” Siana grasped for any reason she could conjure at that instant, “It’s just out of habit. I am not used to meeting many people these days.” She didn’t want to let him see the distress on her face regarding the dismal situation she faced. She hastily tried to change the subject of their conversation, yet again. “Tell me why you are here,” she said, “You didn’t send any messages to inform me of your visit. When did you arrive?”
“This morning,” he said, removing his riding gloves.
“So you came here as soon as you entered the city?” she asked.
“Yes,” he said, looking at her.
“Why?” she asked.
“What do you mean ‘why’? I did say I would come back the moment I became an officer, didn’t I?” he said softly, “Also, I am here to fulfill the promise that I made to you.”
Siana gulped at his words. She had been trying hard to remember the so-called ‘promise’ they had agreed on in their childhood fancy. But no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t recall what was said.
“Promise?” she asked suspiciously.
“You forgot,” he said, smirking.
“I didn’t!” she said, more to wipe that smirk off his face than actually remembering it, “I remember.”
“Sure?” he asked, smiling brightly.
“I… of course!” she stammered.
Siana wanted it to be the truth so badly. His expectant smile disarmed her. She felt guilty looking at his smiling face. She wished with all the fibre of her being to remember that damned promise.
Siana avoided looking at him as he talked. He told her about his time on the battlefield, his training, his horse, everything. While she tried her hardest to listen as well as scrape the dregs of her past with him to recall the ‘promise’. She absentmindedly added an ‘of course’ or ‘yes’ and a nod here and there, just to show that she was attentive to his words.
“So when are we getting married?” he asked, suddenly.
“Of course,” Siana nodded inattentively, and then caught herself, “What?!”
“When is a suitable day for you to hold a wedding?” he asked again calmly.
Siana looked at him, stunned. “Why are you asking me that?” she asked incredulously, “I don’t understand.”
“Our promise, Siana,” he tilted his head and looked at her, “We promised we would take care of each other if we were both unmarried by twenty.”