The last person she had expected to find in her child’s room this day was her ex-husband. After months of becoming more and more distant and Bareris had left – on Laurelia’s birthday, no less – with less than an hour’s warning, leaving no information on where he was going, no way to contact him, and no hint of when he would be back. He had a new venture, he told her… something to do with space goblins? It was no crazier than anything else he’d done or said in the seven months since his miraculous return to the world of the living. And if it was more important to him than his precious child – well, Astoreth had learned over the last year that arguing with Bareris about priorities would earn her nothing more than a headache. Before he left Bareris gave leave for Astoreth to pursue her desires (i.e. Westel) as she wished in his absence, and she was so taken aback by the gesture at the moment that it wasn’t until much later that she saw it for what it was: a bribe, a bonbon to soothe the petulant child, and make certain the last impression of him was a favorable one, in the expectation that she might forget how she was treated before.
Still, she had spent a great deal of time missing him before the realizations and the anger and the resentment had set in, and seeing him again with Laurelia giggling in her crib nearby, smiling as he had in the days he had first courted her, threw her for a loop. “Bareris!” she said. “What – where have you been?”
He grinned, that same old grin that had won her heart. “Well! That is a good question, now isn’t it? I wish I had a good answer for you; however, I don’t. I’ve been nowhere I can describe to you, but I can tell you that I’ve been… shall we say, reinventing myself.”
“I can see that,”Astoreth said. And true, Bareris’ voice was warm, alive; his eyes a sparkling blue with no hint of their former fel taint, his confidence radiating from him – the difference in this man from the one who left was remarkable.
He nodded, and grinned at her abashedly. “I haven’t been by, because… you seemed as if you’d found happiness. Happiness that I had not provided you with in a long time. So I thought it’d be best if I let you alone, stayed in the shadows. I want you to be happy, Astoreth.”
I want you to be happy. Had he ever said those words to her before? Astoreth was stunned. “You’re not… angry?”
“Angry? No! In fact, I left Westel a letter telling him to take care of you when I left.” Bareris took her hand and pressed it to his chest. “Astoreth, I love you, and I always will. I am happy I was married to you and had such a beautiful daughter. But I knew when I left that I was not good for you.” He smiled at her. “I want you to be happy,” he said again.
Astoreth stared at him in wonder, speechless for several moments. “…oh, Bareris,” she said finally. “I love you too,” she confessed. “That’s why it hurt so much. And I will always be grateful to you, for everything you did for me as well. Giving me a lovely daughter. Teaching me to trust, and to love. You did that for me.”
She smiled back at him… and in that moment, everything was beautiful.
Bareris grinned playfully at her and took a step forward. “We are technically still married, you know.”
…crap. Astoreth winced internally. “I filed for divorce months ago,” she said as gently as she could. “I sent riders to find you, but they were unsuccessful, so it passed uncontested.”
“I never filed any paperwork,” countered Bareris, chuckling. “I may not be your husband, but you are still my wife.”
Astoreth smiled, shaking her head sympathetically. “That’s not how it works, dear. You could dispute it, if you wished.…”
He shook his head. “No. If I were to try to win you back to me it would not be through the courts. If you wish not to be my wife, I will not fight you over it.” He laughed lightly, his hand rising to cup her cheek warmly, his eyes locking with hers. “Would it be wrong of me to kiss you, then?” he asked.
She blushed. “I don’t suppose a kiss would do any harm.”
He pulled her close and kissed her – lovingly, passionately, the way he had not kissed her for quite some time even before he left. “I’m sorry I left you,” he said when they finally parted.
Astoreth quickly changed the subject.
They talked for some time. He noted that Darksworne Manor’s defenses had been compromised; she told him briefly of the trials she had been facing in his absence, and he told her he did not truly care; the manor was hers to do with as she wished, despite her insistence that she enjoyed her own new, lovely house and did not need his. He explained to her that he had been busy with his new profession, which he described in short as ‘being a superhero’. Astoreth chuckled and shook her head. For all that he appeared to have changed for the better, Bareris was still a man who loved his drama.
“So you’re happy, then?” she finally asked.
“Yes,” he said, “but lonely.” He pulled her close again. “Astoreth,” he purred in a sultry tone, “leave Laurelia here and come with me, see what the ‘new me’ is all about…” He grinned at her in his old mischievous way, and whispered his true intent in her ear –as if she hadn’t already caught his meaning.
She shook her head and pulled back again. “Bareris, I can’t. I’ve made a commitment to Westel.”
Instantly things changed. The paladin’s face darkened. “Once upon a time,” he said, with a hint of danger in his tone, “I knew a woman who was not bound to any one man, Astoreth. Who was a free spirit and would be angry even with her husband if he tried to hold her down. I am not asking for your heart. Just your night.”
“I kept the promises I made to you. Should my word be worth less because I’ve given it to someone else? You must understand—”
“I do not understand!” he snapped at her. “Was his not always the voice in your ear who told you the fidelity I desired was wrong?”
“Westel always respected my faithfulness to you,”Astoreth countered. “And perhaps he would not mind me spending a night with you,” she added for sake of argument, though she knew very well he would. “But I will not, not without his consent. I did the same for you once.”
“You change for him, and not me?! I know the things you did with him! I know the things he said to you! I saw it all,” he insisted. “So fine – be the woman I wanted you to be, now that you’re with him! But do not tell me to respect it. You’re both beyond hypocritical!”
She stood firm. “I am sorry you feel that way.” I’m not the one who changed.
“Do not apologize to me, Astoreth,” he snarled. “Apologize to Laurelia. Apologize to yourself. I expected you to be with Westel – what I did not expect was hypocrisy and lies. You are pointing at the sky and calling it the ground. Your logic falls short of sense and your laws fall short of justice. If you can look at Laurelia and deny that your love for me is not more potent than this fling you’re having then I pity you – for either you never loved me, or you have lied to yourself to love him.”
Her face darkened. “Apologize to Laurelia? You’re the one who walked out on her – on us!” She kept her voice soft for the baby’s sake, despite the harsh words. “I loved you, you asshole. But I was unhappy – you acknowledged it yourself. I am happy now. I’m sorry, but this is how it is. Call me a hypocrite all you want, but I will not be a liar. Not even for you.”
“Hate me and despise me for the things I did, Astoreth!” he ranted, though she’d never said anything of the sort. “Yet all of them I did for you! I was captured and tortured by demons. I returned tormented and half insane. I left again because of you. You swore vows but you were clearly not prepared to live up to them. I did. If the sacrifice of all I am and was, of my life, my sanity, my comforts, my home and my riches was not enough for you then I truly feel sorry for Westel. Apologize to Laurelia because now she will be raised with divorced parents because you are unwilling to live to your vows and be the wife you were meant to be for me. Because you do not understand how good I was to you!”
Astoreth sighed, shaking her head. “You haven’t changed so much at all. Still reinventing history and putting words in my mouth. I am sorry that we cannot be happy together. But regardless of what you think I should or should not have agreed to with Westel – and I don’t think honesty is an unreasonable expectation – are you really berating me and asking me to cheat on him with you tonight, solely on the basis that it will be somehow ‘unfair’ to you if I don’t?”
“You never understood me, Astoreth.” Bareris shook his head. “I am sorry you feel berated, or whatever. I am sorry you saw me at all. I won’t let that happen again.” He leaned over and kissed Laurelia on the head. “Goodbye, sweetheart. Mommy doesn’t want Daddy around anymore,” he whispered to her, giving her head a quick rub before moving to leave out the window, and Laurelia began to cry. “Sorry, Astoreth,” he said. “One day perhaps you will get what I am saying…”
* * * * *
A week later, standing in the entry of the home she shared with her fiancé and their daughters, Astoreth slipped her finger under the flap of the first of two rather official-looking envelopes and withdrew an equally official-looking parchment.
A case has been filed against you for unlawful divorce. An investigation will be started on your case within a few days. Investigations vary in time. Please make yourself available for questioning as our detective team does its work. A refusal to participate in said investigation is a direct violation of the laws as detailed in Silvermoon City Law Article 15 Section 37. During this investigation you will be unable to file for a marriage license. Until the conclusion of this investigation you will retain your legal status of
– Married to Bareris Darksworne
Should the investigation come out in your favor your marriage will become lawfully nullified, and your freedom to file for a new marriage license restored.
Thank you for your cooperation,
Silvermoon Justicar Department
“So much for not fighting it,” Astoreth growled to herself. “I should have known he’d never let it go so easily.” She shook her head, sighing softly. At least it would be a fairly open-and-shut case – she had followed procedure to the letter, and her divorce was not going to be made any less legal due to Bareris not liking it. She’d get the name issue sorted out first thing in the morning – regardless of what bribe Bareris had made to some junior official to get that little tidbit thrown in, there was no way that would hold up under the least bit of scrutiny.
Astoreth was still scowling with the annoyance at the idea of all the paperwork she was going to have to file when she popped open the second letter from the Justicar’s Office.
A custody case has been initiated over the following child:
– Laurelia Darksworne
This is a notice informing you of the pending investigation over the custody of your child. Investigations vary in time. Should you be found unfit to raise your child custody will be transferred to:
– Bareris Darksworne
The reason/s for this investigation is/are
– Alleged adultery
– Unsafe care
– Abandonment of child for lengths of time longer than two weeks for reasons other than work or leisurely vacations
Please make yourself available for questioning. Failure to cooperate is a direct violation of Silvermoon City Law Article 15 Section 39.
Thank you for your cooperation.
Silvermoon Justicar Department
She blinked. She read it again. And again. She gripped the parchment so hard her knuckles turned white.
She stood there for a long moment before walking down the hallway to the bathroom, and entering without knocking. Westel looked up from where he was guiltily enjoying the enormous tub, and his brow furrowed when he saw Astoreth’s face. “Something wrong, doll?” he asked her.
“That man,” she replied calmly, “has no idea who he is fucking with.”