Author's Note: Sorry that this chapter is late. My co-author had to poke me with a long, sharp stick to get me to update the fan fiction after taking a year break due to school and other things. I hope you will enjoy it. This chapter was inspired by the Celtic song, "Firelands" and fan pictures of Dilandau. Oh and also this really cute song Merle sings on the Escaflowne soundtrack. I'm not really sure what its name is since it's written in Japanese characters. Oh well. This chapter was probably also somewhat inspired by sleep deprivation and all of the chocolate my family bought for some strange reason that I keep eating…also for some strange reason, as I really don't like chocolate. After reading this chapter, you may think to yourself, "Gee, it seems like the authors of this fan fiction really want to hook everyone up. Maybe that is just my imagination." Well, I will clarify right now; it is NOT your imagination. We are in fact trying to hook up as many people as possible. It's our fan fiction; we can do whatever we want! So now, enter the chapter where you find out that Charden has a heart. Gasp! Is it possible? Read to find out!
A Week in Tokyo
Chapter Fifteen: In Which Charden Finds a Heart
Charden hadn't even been asleep for three hours before his father sent a servant to wake him. The servant explained that his father wanted to discuss something with him in his study. Charden reluctantly pulled himself out of bed and followed the servant to the study at one of the ends of the house. The servant gave Charden a proper introduction and then left the two men in silence. Charden walked into the study and found his father staring at the upraised screen of the Tarndulosk again. He frowned.
"I see that you are back to work sealing off the power spots. Don't you ever sleep old man?"
Vlad gave a short laugh and gestured for his son to sit. Charden pulled up a chair and sat beside his father. Vlad gestured to the screen of the Tarndulosk.
"I haven't been using the Kebarean Pendant to seal off the power spots; I've been watching the events that took place after you and Foruma stole the Atlantis Pendant and kidnapped the princesses from Egzardia in the Tarndulosk. It seems like no one has noticed their disappearance. It is late at night, and the royal staff probably assumes that the princesses are asleep. Anyway, it isn't tonight that concerns me; it's tomorrow, early in the morning when they try to wake the princesses and they discover that they are not there. This is where I need your help."
Charden frowned as he rubbed his eyes. He could see that he wasn't going to get any sleep and although he was noticeably bothered by this fact he didn't mention how he felt to his father.
He merely asked, "What do you expect me to do about it?"
Vladimir gave an evil smile that exposed his grey teeth.
"You are going to pose as a royal messenger for the royal house of Egzardia. I will cast a spell on you, using the Kebarean Pendant that will make your appearance change to fit the position. Then, you are going to journey to Fanelia with Silha and Kolt and seek an audience with the Royal Adviser, Merle Irini. When you get an audience with her, you will tell Merle that the princesses intend to stay in Fanelia because they want to witness how the rebuilding of the kingdom has been going after the war. Then you will get one of the princesses to ask Merle to send a messenger to Egzardia on an airship to inform the royal house of their intentions to stay in Fanelia for as long as time permits them to. It is crucial that this plan is a success. If we fail, I will be forced to move things forward quicker than I would like, which will not put me in a good mood."
Vlad stared at Charden with his dark blue eyes coldly and Charden visibly stiffened.
"Don't worry father, I won't fail. But isn't it a little late in the evening to give the Fanelian Palace a surprise visit? Won't that seem out of the ordinary?"
Vlad shook his head.
"The princesses have a reputation for being eccentric throughout the kingdoms. It won't surprise anyone in the least that they have decided to travel to Fanelia on a whim. But we have to act fast or everything we've worked so hard for will crumble beneath our feet."
Charden nodded and stood to his feet.
"Alright then; change my appearance so I can make your plan a reality."
Vlad stood up from his place beside the Tarndulosk and held the Kebarean Pendant at eye level as he said the words, "Orious Ormen."
Charden's appearance instantly changed into that of a man with curly brown hair and light green eyes. His new persona was wearing an Egzardian messenger uniform. Charden examined himself in the reflective screen of the Tarndulosk. He was totally unrecognizable, which would work to his advantage.
He gave his father a small salute and said, "You have nothing to worry about. I will wake the girls and complete this mission right away."
His father nodded and gave Charden his blessing before he headed out of the study, down a hall, turned a few corners, and reached the sleeping chamber of Silha and Kolt. Charden entered the room abruptly and shook each of the princesses awake. They each sat up in their respective beds and stared groggily at the new person standing in front of them with question in their eyes.
"Who are you?" Kolt was the first to ask.
"I am Charden. Vlad cast a spell on me to make me appear like an Egzardian royal messenger. You girls are going to help us with a little problem we are currently facing."
Silha immediately recognized Charden's voice and her eyes lit up like an oil lamp.
"We will do anything to serve you, master. What do you want us to do?"
Charden gestured toward one of their windows which revealed the city of Fanelia below the cliff top his family's manor rested on.
"We are heading to the Fanelian palace as soon as you are able to make the journey. We will seek an audience with the royal advisor, Merle Irini, and you will tell her that you intend to stay in Fanelia for the time being because you are interested in its progress. When the introductions are out of the way, you will ask her to send a messenger to Egzardia and tell the royal house that you intend to stay for as long as you are permitted to."
The two princesses got out of bed and kneeled before their master.
"Yes Charden. We are ready to leave now, if you need us to. We are still dressed in our formal wear, since we didn't have any night clothing to change into. We can straighten our appearances on the way there."
Charden nodded and gestured for the princesses to rise from their kneeling positions. He then headed toward the bedroom door, with the two girls following close behind him. Charden led them out the front door to the stables where Foruma and his horses had been left in the care of the stable hands earlier that evening. He helped Kolt mount the brown horse, and Silha mount the white thoroughbred. Then he led the two princesses down the steep pathway that led to the entrance of the city below, by the reigns of the horses.
They walked through the streets of the city until they reached the main entrance of the palace. There was long slope of steps that led up to the top platform of the palace where the entrance was located. There were guards on every level and they had already taken notice of their presences. The palace guards immediately walked toward the center of the staircase and drew their swords. When they reached the three travelers, they pointed their weapons at them, making sure they could progress no further. The head guard moved in close to the three travelers and frowned.
"What business do you have at the Fanelian Royal Palace at this hour? The council will not see you without a formal appointment."
Silha drew out a necklace from her dress that had the Egzardian Royal Crest on it and the guards immediately backed down.
"I am the Crowned Princess of Egzardia, Silha Dravarion. I have come here with my sister Kolt Dravarion and one of our royal messengers. We seek council with the Royal Adviser, Merle Irini. If you do not comply with my orders, I will take it as a sign that Fanelia does not want to have friendly relations with my country. I am hoping this is not the case, as I would like nothing more than to stay in this country and learn about its customs. That our purpose for journeying to the palace."
The guards proceeded to back away from the two horses and bowed. The head guard did a full prostration in front of the group.
His face was pressed against his outstretched hands touching the floor when he said, "Forgive me, your majesties, for my rudeness. I was not made aware that you would be stopping by the palace this evening. You are free to go to the Council Chamber. I will lead you there myself."
Silha dismounted her horse and placed her hand on the Head Guard's shoulder, as a gesture that he could rise. He rose to his feet and turned momentarily to face his men.
"Unit seven, inform all of the guards of the palace and royal staff members that the princess of Egzardia are visiting the kingdom of Fanelia. That is a direct order from me. Don't let me down."
A group of fifteen knights at the far end of the stairs gave a salute in unison and marched off to carry out their assigned task. The Head Guard bowed slightly and gestured for the group to follow him as Kolt dismounted the second horse.
"If it suits your majesties, please follow me this way. I will send someone to look after your horses."
The Head Guard signaled for a royal guard man to take the horses to the stables, and immediately the order was carried out. The Head Guard started to walk up the stairs, with the two princesses and Charden following behind. Silha looked around at the architecture of the palace as she climbed the stairs. The stairs were made out of a white stone with emerald veins running throughout them. They climbed a large hill that led to the main base of the palace, which was made out of the same white stone. In the moonlight the emerald veins sparkled, making the staircase and platform appear as though it was covered by a million green fireflies. It was one of the most beautiful things that Silha had ever seen in her life.
On either side of the staircase, there were two fortresses that were built out of the same white stone. The towers of the fortresses had a gothic look to them and were lined with royal guards on the top levels. When they reached the top platform, they stood in front of a large stone door that was built in the shape of a pointed archway. There were two guards posted on each side of the stone door and when they saw the group approaching they pulled the doors open in unison. The group made their way through the large doorway into the front entrance of the palace with the Head Guard leading the way.
Silha was not the only one who was impressed by the sheer size and majesty of the palace. Kolt was looking around at the main entrance and then each of the chambers they passed with awe. The inside of the palace was built in the same gothic theme as the outside. There were pointed archways, large stained-glass windows illustrating Fanelia's history, and beautiful statues of the Gods and Goddesses of the world at every turn. The palace was simply breathtaking. Kolt had traveled to many kingdoms over the years, but none of them had a castle as mysterious and beautiful as the castle of Fanelia.
Finally, after walking down a large corridor, the Head Guard finally led them to the Council Chamber. It was a circular room with many paintings lining the walls. In the center of it, there was a stone table in the shape of an oval with twelve gold chairs positioned around it. The gold chairs had sculptures of dragons adorning them, and each had a red cushion fastened to the back of them as well as the seat. The cushions were made out of silk and were stuffed with a rare cotton that was only found in that part of the word. Charden had to hand it to King Van; he had impeccable taste when it came to making cosmetic decisions for his castle. There wasn't anything else on Gaea quite like the Fanelian Royal palace.
When the group was led to the center of the room, the Head Guard gestured for the palace guests to take a seat. Charden, Silha, and Kolt sat in the three chairs nearest to the entrance of the chamber as the Head Guard gave the group another formal bow.
"I will summon Merle Irini to you immediately."
The Head Guard rose from his bow and walked down the corridor toward Merle's room. Merle's bedroom chambers were located at the Far East wing of the palace. It took the Head Guard a while to get there, but when he reached her room, he saw that the door was open. Merle was awake, fiddling with her nail file necklace as she sat at her desk and stared absentmindedly at the stack of papers in front of her. The Head Guard knocked on the open door as a courtesy and bowed slightly forward. The knocking snapped Merle out of her dazed state and she turned toward the front door to see the Head Guard bowing at her.
"Lady Merle, the Princesses of the Royal House of Egzardia wish to speak with you. They are waiting in the Council Chamber for your arrival."
Merle groaned and returned her nail file necklace to its usual place around her neck.
"Why did they come so late? I have this stack of papers to work on this evening. The council assigned me to look over them in Van's absence. Can't they come back in the morning, Ibrem?"
Ibrem rose from his bow and frowned.
"I am sorry Lady Merle, but the princesses say that they need to talk to you right now. It is an urgent matter that can't wait until the morning."
Merle sighed and rose from her place at the desk.
"Very well then; let's get this over with so I can get back to work. I Guess I can look at it like I'm taking a break. I wasn't getting too far with the paperwork anyway. I can't believe that Van has to read over that boring stuff every day. It's no fun at all!"
Merle walked past Ibrem to the other end of the door and then the two of them started down the hall. They walked for some time before they reached the Council Chambers. Upon arriving, Merle saw that the three visitors were keeping themselves busy with a card game they kept on the center of the table for people who were waiting on one of the council members or the king to aid them. When Charden caught sight of Merle he immediately stiffened. His father had never told him that Merle was a beast woman.
Without thinking, he put down his hand of cards and blurted out, "Fanelia has some weird customs, letting people of the forest take up high positions in government."
Merle growled in a low tone, the way most cats do when you are doing something that bothers them as a warning to cut it out.
"My clan is considered scared to the people of Fanelia, just like pack leader Ruhm's clan is sacred to them. The cat people of the surrounding area helped to build the first castle, and the wolf men helped guard the city from invaders during the first war. It is only natural that we would have high positions in government and in the community as well."
"And what could forest animals have to offer to government officials? I'm sure the council members don't want advice on how to store acorns for the winter."
Merle hissed and her fur stood on end. Ibrem gulped and took a few steps back. He knew very well the way Merle got when her people were insulted, and he would rather not be involved in the fight unless it became absolutely necessary to intervene. Merle stared menacingly down at Charden, her eye pupils retracting sideways into two straight lines.
"Just because I came from the forest it doesn't mean I am some back woods hillbilly. I was raised in the castle and I studied classic literature from a young age. I am educated like any royal family member ought to be. What era did you come out of, the stupid one? Things have been changing since the war with Zaibach anyway. Beast men and woman are getting more rights all over the world. So even if I wasn't part of a sacred tribe, I still have a right to be here!"
Charden was taken aback by Merle's words. That was the first time anyone besides his brother had ever stood up to him. He didn't know why, but he actually started to feel guilty about what he had said.
He cleared his throat and then said, "I am truly sorry. It was wrong for me to assume things. You are right; beast men and woman have been getting more rights since the war. I hope you can forgive me."
Charden couldn't believe what he had just said. Was he actually giving in to an enemy's demands? He placed one of his hands over his mouth in shock and stared up at Merle. She was smoothing out her ruffled fur and trying to make herself more presentable after her outburst. He momentarily caught sight of her dark blue eyes and felt his heart beat fast against his chest. They were detracting into their normal, round shape and they shone under the artificial lights of the Council Chamber, adding to their beauty. She didn't have the eyes of an ordinary person; they were wild and mysterious and playful all at the same time.
He glanced up at her hair, which she was desperately trying to smooth out. It was long and pink, with silver ornaments fastened into it. Poking out from each side of her face were two long cat ears. Charden's eyes traveled across her form. Her skin had a small layer of brown fur, and she had black stripes on her legs her arms, and her face. She was wearing a small blue dress which stopped at her knees. It had a halter top, which meant it exposed skin in the back. Charden realized that merle had a short dress because she had a tail sticking out from behind her, which was also stripped. She wore two elegant navy boots which had buckles and rose to her calves. She was unlike anything Charden had ever seen in his life. He slowly lowered his hand and continued to stare at Merle in awe as she made her way over to the table.
Merle pouted and looked down at Charden when she reached his place at the table.
"Well, I guess I can forgive you this time, since your apology sounded genuine, but don't go around saying stuff like that again. If you do it won't earn you any trust from the locals. You might even get into a few fights."
Charden nodded slowly as she took the seat beside him. For some reason, he couldn't keep his eyes off of her. Just what was his problem anyway? Charden's thoughts were broken as Merle smiled at her guests. Charden felt his heart pounding hard against his chest again when he saw her smile.
"I am sorry that I reacted like that. I'm just very protective of my clan and other beast men and women; especially after all of the trouble my people have faced in the past. I hope you can forgive my rude behavior."
Silha smiled from her side of the table.
"It isn't any trouble at all. It is natural that you would feel that way. You will have to forgive us; in Egzardia, we do not have many dealings with the people of the forest, so we are not informed of their ways. I hope you can excuse my royal messenger..."
Silha paused for a moment to think of a name and then continued, "…Azrael Tarek, for his rude behavior."
Silha shot Charden an annoyed glance as he had almost blown their cover, but he didn't pay it any mind. He was still focusing on Merle and trying to understand why when he looked at her he felt the way he did.
Merle brushed off Silha's worries with a small wave of her hand.
"Don't worry about it. It was just a misunderstanding. So, now that we've got things resolved, let's get down to business. Ibrem; can you leave us please? I think our guests would feel more at home if you were not in the room. Return to your duties guarding the front of the palace. I will take care of our guests from now on."
Ibrem said, "Yes, Lady Merle" and gave a short bow before turning to walk out of the room. When he walked through the door he headed down the hall to return to his guard duties. He was relieved that Merle had calmed down and that he didn't have to stop her from getting into a fight. This showed visibly on his face as he made his way to the front entrance of the palace and signaled toward the front entrance guards to let him through.
Back in the Council Chambers, Merle was smiling at all her guests, which caused her eyes to sparkle under the artificial light.
"Now that Ibrem is gone I will formally welcome you to our kingdom. My name is Merle Irini and I am the Royal Adviser of the Kingdom of Fanelia. I serve directly under Lord Van. I also sit on the Royal Council as a special member. On behalf of Lord Van who is on a hunting trip with friends, I welcome you with an open heart to our kingdom."
Kolt returned Merle's smile, as did her sister. Charden was still watching Merle in a sort of daze. He couldn't figure out for the life of him which was making him act the way he was. He was able to snap himself out of his daze long enough to give a short nod in the cat girl's direction.
He said gently, "We appreciate the warm welcome and we thank you for your generosity. As the royal messenger of the house of Egzardia, I will formally introduce the princesses."
Charden gestured toward the silver-headed princess and said, "This is Silha Dravarion, the Crowned Princess of Egzardia."
Silha bowed her head and raised it up gracefully as Charden gestured toward Kolt.
"And this is Kolt Dravarion, second in line to the Egzardian throne and the head of the Egzardian Royal Army."
Kolt also bowed her head and rose it up gracefully as Charden moved to shake Merle's hand.
"And I, as you have learned from Silha, I am one of the royal messengers, Azrael Tarek. It is a pleasure to meet you."
Merle shook Charden's hand and then faced each of her guests with a warm smile.
"It is a pleasure to meet you all. What brings the princesses of Egzardia to country of Fanelia at this hour, if I may ask? I hope that you haven't met with any trouble in your country."
"Oh, we have not met with any trouble at all. Egzardia is a peaceful country. We are rarely engaged in war with the neighboring kingdoms. The first war our country fought in was the Gaean War and we have remained peaceful since then. The reason we have come to Fanelia is to have a well-deserved vacation from our royal duties. You see, my sister and I have been preparing for the arrival of Prince Chid for the past two weeks. We didn't sleep for at least one week, making all of the necessary arrangements. There was a merchant who came to our kingdom last week and told us of a peaceful kingdom called Fanelia where many people take trips throughout the year. He told us that its beauty was unrivaled and that its leader was a kind and gentle man. My sister and I just had to see this for ourselves."
Kolt nodded and picked up where her sister as left off, as if on cue.
"But you see, our father was so determined to have us meet Prince Chid. We knew he would never let us go on a trip like that with Chid visiting the castle. He wanted to show the beauty of his daughters to the Prince so he might be inclined to take one of us as his wife in the future. That is why he had us work so hard on the preparations. He wanted everything to be perfect, and everything to set the mood. Still, my sister and I knew we needed a vacation, especially after a long week making preparations in every way possible, so we set out earlier this evening on a Levi-Ship and headed to the kingdom of Fanelia. We wanted to leave in the middle of the night so our father wouldn't' try to stop us. So we are asking, Royal Adviser Merle Irini, will you please allow us to stay in your kingdom and learn about your country for a while? We also want to request that you send a message to the kingdom of Egzardia on our behalf and let them know where we are so father doesn't get worried. We would be most grateful if you could help us with this."
Merle sighed. The Egzardian princesses lived up to their reputation, all right. Everyone on Gaea knew that the princesses of Egzardia were eccentric and this little stunt they pulled was further proof that the rumors were true. Merle felt like she was developing a headache from everything the princesses had told her. Didn't they know that running away in the middle of the night could be seen as something very bad? Their kingdom might even blame Fanelia for persuading them to come and try to get them back through means of war. Fortunately, Merle had a very good relationship with the Egzardian Royal Council, so she was confident that she could work something out.
After looking at the princesses for a few moments with an annoyed look on her face she finally said, "Alright, I'll see what I can do. I will send one of the Fanelian Royal Council Members to discuss things with your father. You are lucky that Fanelia has such a good relationship with your country. I am sure that King Barsarak Dravarion will be delighted to have you stay in Fanelia; especially if I tell a little fib and say that you are interested in setting up trade between the two countries. Don't forget; Fanelia is one of the most powerful nations on Gaea, besides Asturia. Your father couldn't be angry about you wanting to get to know our trading system better. I'll even tell him that you are doing it as a sign of friendship to Freid, since Van is so fond of Prince Chid. Does what I told you make you feel a little bit better about coming?"
Silha's eyes shined with happiness.
"I am most pleased, Royal Adviser Merle. Thank you so much for helping my sister and me out. Egzardia is forever in your debt. And you know what? Setting up a trade route between your country and ours sounds like an amazing idea. Why fib about it? If it is alright with you, I would like to discuss it with you and the other members of the council at your next meeting. What do you say?"
Merle's look of irritation was quickly replaced with one of joy. Van was going to be so happy to hear about this when he came back!
"Yes, that sounds great! Our next meeting will be two days from now. We can talk about it then. Until then, you two can stay in the palace for as long as you like. We have many guest rooms. Just pick the one that you like the best. I will show you now…"
Merle stood up from the table and motioned for the group to follow them out of the room. Charden tensed up in his seat. Having the Egzardian princesses stay at the Fanelian palace was not a good idea. It would make carrying out tasks for him or his father more difficult and people would suspect something was up if they kept watching the princesses head off toward Vlad's manor whenever they were summoned by him to perform a task.
Charden thought for a moment and when he had come up with a good enough cover he said, "Actually Lady Merle, my father has an estate at the edge of town. We have already made arrangements for the princesses to stay there during their visit. I think they would be more comfortable with us anyway, as our household serves Egzardian dishes and is more familiar with Egzardian customs. If it is possible, I would like the princesses to stay with us as at our estate as some of the Egzardian royal guard is stationed there as well."
Merle thought about the arrangement for a moment and then nodded.
"There shouldn't be any problem with it. The princesses should stay in a place that has all of the things they are accustomed to. I will make sure that the Fanelian council member who serves as the royal ambassador will tell the king Barsarak that Silha and Kolt are staying with the Tarek noble family. I will also make sure that the royal ambassador tells King Barsarak that the princesses will attend a meeting concerning the future trade relations between our two countries in two days. Make sure the three of you come early on Jotoria (author's note: Friday), around eight o'clock if you can manage it, so you will get properly seated in the council room."
Charden rose from his seat and gave a slight bow.
"We will see you then Lady Merle. I will escort the princesses to my estate for now."
Silha and Kolt nodded and rose from their seats as well. Shortly after Merle summoned Ibrem to escort the three guests to the entrance of the palace and retreated to her chambers to finish the paperwork she probably should have had done a lot earlier that day but had been too distracted by court business to touch until later that evening. Ibrem made sure that the princesses were safely mounted on their horses and out of sight of the palace before returning to his post at the top of the palace lookout tower.
On the way back to his father's estate, Charden remained silent which left the two princesses to talk amongst themselves sitting atop the two horses that had led them to the palace at the beginning of their journey. Charden guided the white thoroughbred carrying Silha and the brown horse carrying Kolt by each of the horse's reins. For some reason, he couldn't seem to shake the image of Merle Irini from his mind. There was something that captivated him about her although he couldn't quite place his finger on it. He had to admit that the idea that Merle stood up to his father and removed him from the Fanelian royal council endeared Merle a little to his heart. Charden was afraid of his father and would never dare to do anything as foolish as getting on his bad side. On the other hand, Merle had not only dared to stand up to his father but had even gone as far as to strip him of all of his political power. Merle might be his enemy but she had to be given credit for being as straight forward as she was.
Eventually the three travelers made their way back to the Kent Estate. The horses were returned to the stables, the princess were sent off to bed, and Charden reported all that had happened to his father who seemed to be very pleased with the results of the visit. After Vladimir changed Charden back into his original form, Charden made his way back to his bedroom chambers engrossed in his thoughts. He was still thinking about Merle's enticing stare and the way she had yelled at him for insulting her people. As he stepped inside of his bedroom door and took off his armor for the second time that evening he continued to play the scene over and over in his mind. He couldn't understand why he didn't get angry with Merle. Usually he forced people who didn't agree with him to do as he told him to by imposing his thoughts on their minds. However for some reason this time he had let Merle off of the hook. He even acted polite towards her; something he could never see himself doing even when he was trying to put on an act to get something he desired.
Charden sunk to the floor, gathering his undershirt up in his hands in front of him. He felt like the room was turning black around him which distracted him from any of his previous thoughts. For a moment he thought he saw something like a vision pass in front of his eyes. Merle was sitting at the bank of a river washing clothes with a giant washboard. Charden walked up to her and asked what she was doing which started a long chat between the two. Eventually the two parted ways, and he reported something to the Zaibach Empire via a communication device he had carried with him during his outing into town. In the next segment of the vision he was under a large bridge. Its shadow fell down on him causing the atmosphere to grow colder. All at once a pair of white hands wrapped around his neck and he felt the air being choked out of him. Everything went blank after that. Charden remained hunched over on the floor grasping his shirt and was now breathing heavy. The room returned to its original form and the questions came rolling back into his mind like a wave. What had he just seen? Did that vision mean he had actually met Merle before?
After a while of asking these kinds of questions to himself, he managed to calm himself down long enough to raise himself up from the floor and cross the room to his bed. He sat on the edge of his bed feeling confused and mortified all at the same time. If he had met Merle before, that would explain why he was so willing to give into her demands when he was in the royal council chamber. The thing was that he didn't remember ever meeting her before that moment and this is what had him so troubled. He also didn't remember ever being choked. Charden decided after some deliberation that his mind was just playing tricks on him and chalked the strange series of events up to not getting enough sleep. He pulled himself into his bed and gathered the covers around him. He vowed that he was going to forget all about Merle and whatever effect he had thought she had had on him while he was visiting the palace as he drifted off into a dreamless sleep.