AN: A companion to 'When the Gem Knows.' Could be a sequel, but since it also reads as a stand-alone piece, I decided to post it seperatly. I hope you all like it! :)
Disclaimer: I do not own Deltora Quest. Emily Rodda does.
As far as Jasmine was concerned, Lief had been acting very strangely lately.
At first it had seemed like nothing, just him being a bit too busy with the duties that came with being king for him to have much time for her at the moment. Although she wasn't happy with it per say, she did understand it, and so took whatever small amount of his attention she was given each day and left him to distribute the rest of it as needed. With Kree and Filli by her side and the entirety of the castle open to her, she was neither lonely nor bored and so could live with her current situation.
It wasn't until this behavior had been going on for some time that she came to the realization that, once again, Lief was avoiding her.
Of course, it wasn't as if he was actively running away from her or anything, for if he saw her heading towards him, he would stop and talk for a while, asking how she had been and answering her own questions in that roundabout manner that she knew he knew she hated. But the thing is, that that was just it: when they spoke, he was too vague, too polite, and too proper, nothing like the Lief she actually knew and become friends with. He really did seem like a stranger, and the worst part was that it seemed as if he was only like this around her. Having followed him one day, she had, to her surprise, found him laughing and joking with Barda as if nothing had ever changed, an event that had only made her suspicions grow.
What if, just what if, Lief wasn't really Lief?
Although difficult, Jasmine had to admit that it wouldn't have been impossible to switch out the real Lief with an impostor, especially in the last few months. If someone had been following him, watching him to learn about his mannerisms and routine, it would have been simple for them to replace him. Ever since Barda had been made head of the guards, he and Lief had been spending a lot of time together, even if it had only been for work, so it would have been easy for the Ol to have picked up on the two's relationship. If her idea turned out to be true, then it could also explain why Lief had turned so cold to her all of a sudden. Before he had started acting so strangely, even though their conversations had been short, there had been a sense of warmth and comfort between them, a kind of companionship that could have only come from the shared dangers they had faced. Now, he always seemed distracted and rushed, his hand pressed close to the Belt, which, for all she knew, could also be a fake, as he went through the motions of seeking information from her day.
Determined that the truth should be revealed, whether it be that Lief was not the man she knew or something much less sinister, Jasmine set out to find the three people she was sure could help her uncover the mystery that had been bothering her.
Unfortunately, it seemed as if she was alone in her suspicions.
Barda was the first of the three that Jasmine was able to find, her large, burly friend watching a group of new recruits with a close eye to ensure that they didn't accidentally kill themselves or each other with their new swords, the two dozen young men and women only just having advanced from wooden weapons to metal ones. At first, when she had first expressed her concern over Lief, he had sent the trainees away with a single word, his eyes worried as he motioned for her to continue. However, soon after she had begun, the worry had turned to amusement, the older man quickly cutting her off with a chuckle and assurance that there was nothing more wrong with their friend and king then a busy mind. Sharn, after Jasmine had hunted her down in the palace gardens, was just as unhelpful, her fond smile and appraising glance disarming her more so then the woman's words of reassurance has. Neither of the ones that knew Lief best were concerned, and so, according to them, neither should she.
It was only after she cornered Doom in one of the halls that Jasmine began to finally get some answers.
"It's nothing Jasmine," Doom had tried to say at first, his face blank as he attempted to edge around her blockade. "Lief is king now, and while you have remained free of responsibilities, he has not. Even with the kingdom prospering so much, Deltora will always need him, and that fact has been draining on him, especially since he still refuses to announce an official advisor that could help him. Leave him be for the time being, and things shall calm down soon enough in their own time."
Although his words had been clear and made sense, Jasmine had refused to be put off once again, having decided that her father would be the best source of the information the others were keeping from her. Finally, after hours of harrying him, leaving him to no rest of his own, Jasmine was finally able to gain a hint at the problems that had invaded her friends' mind.
"He's fallen in love, and he had no idea of how to deal with it. Now leave me alone!"
Respecting her father's wishes, Jasmine had fled to the wilds of the gardens, a small corner that even the royal groundskeepers refused to attempt to tame. While the rest of the palace had been cleansed of the vines and weeds that had grown wild during the Shadow Lord's reign, trees had actually managed to take root in the sunny spot that had become hers, hardy creatures that refused through their personal magic to be taken by the hands of men. Many Torans had offered to clear the patch for them over the last few years, but each time Lief had respectfully declined, claiming that it helped to remind him of the forest where his journey first began, and so thus gave him a place to think. For her, it had also become a sanctuary, a home in this prison of a palace, and so it was to there she went to ponder the knowledge Doom had let slip in his frustration.
Love? Could Lief's problem really be something as simple as love? Of all things, it was love that had troubled him so much into changing his behavior so that she thought he was an impostor? Could Lief have really turned out to be that sentimental?
Leaning in the crook of one of her favorite branches, Jasmine sighed a soft, sad sign, her chin resting against her chest as she allowed her mind to wander down the road it had chosen to take. Of course, with Lief being Lief, it was more then possible that he had finally succumbed to the stranglehold that was love, a power she had seen come into play many times before, both between the animals in the forest and the people of Del. It was a fact she had come to accept over her time at the palace, that one day Lief would meet and come to love one of the many women that surrounded him each day, ones he had fairly regular contact with that was neither strained nor disapproved of by the Deltoran nobles. If this was the case, the moment Lief finally found the words to tell her, she would just smile, pretend to be happy until after the wedding was over, and return to the Forests of Silence as quickly as she could, finally free to go home. There would be no need of her with Lief's newest wife around, and it would be better for all of them anyway.
"Jasmine? Jasmine, are you here?"
Gritting her teeth to stifle a snarl, Jasmine slid from her branch to stand before him, her crossed arms and angry glare causing him to take a step back out of fear. She promised to pretend to be happy after he told her he was in love. Until then, anger was still a very appropriate response.
"So, you've finally found time to come mingle with the commoners, have you Your Majesty?" Feeling slightly guilty as Lief flinched at her words, his own guilt mixing with wariness within his eyes as he self consciously rubbed the back of his head, Jasmine quickly forced the said feeling from her, determined to not let him get to her. This was his fault after all. "What do you want anyway?"
"Will you come for a walk with me? I would like to talk to you." Both his quiet voice and the half open hand that he offered her made it clear that she could refuse if she wished, that he was truly expecting no less, so, deciding that she both wanted to be contrary and hear what he had to say, Jasmine, much to Lief's surprise and apparent joy, took his hand and allowed him to lead her away from the small grove. For a time they just continued like this, hand in hand making their way through the gardens, he comfortable in their silence as she futilely tried to keep her anger at him strong. Despite her own growing agitation as time passed and the few who had shared the gardens with them returned to the castle to escape the growing darkness, Lief seemed, for the first time in a long while, at peace with the world, no longer worrying about whatever this or that that had needed his attention as king. With a sinking feeling in her stomach, Jasmine could only think that he had finally come to a decision about what to do about the woman he had fallen in love with, and so had come to tell her himself about his soon to be bride.
Biting the inside of her cheek, Jasmine swore that, no matter who this woman was, she would be kind, for if she could make Lief happy, then she was good enough for her.
As twilight fell around them, Lief pulled to a stop at the end of the pond, a simple man-made structure that held a few fish, settled into one of the more private corners of the grounds. Standing there, watching as fireflies carelessly drifted over the water, in no fear of their well fed opponents, Jasmine could feel her anger finally dying, leaving her with a deep sense of sadness that radiated from her heart. She had been aware of her own feelings for the young king for quite some time now, though she had been careful to keep them from him, and the idea that her vague hope for a 'them' was soon to be crushed pained her. Even if she could properly play the good friend that many would expect her to be in this situation, nothing between them would ever be the same.
"It's beautiful out here," Lief said calmly, his eyes following the path of one of the glowing bugs as it weaved a design in the air. "Things have been so busy lately, I'd almost forgotten what it was like to just relax. I'm sorry for that, you know. I'm sorry I've been avoiding you." Although his confession caught her off guard, Jasmine was quick to pull herself together, putting a little fire back into her words.
"So you have been, huh? I knew it. Would you like to tell me why this time, or is it another secret?" Although she had meant for her words to be harsh and scathing, hoping to force Lief to get to his point, by the end of her sentence her voice was soft, a mere whisper of what she had hoped it would be, and one that held a tiniest trace of her sorrows. "Well, spit it out."
"I've had a lot on my mind lately," Lief said with a shrug, refusing to allow his emotions to rise at her tone. "Mainly, why it was that the diamond always seemed to shine a little bit brighter whenever I was around a certain girl. It took me a while, but I finally figured out that it was because it's the gem of true love. Which, if the gem is right, means that I've found the woman I want to become my queen, if she'll have me, this is."
"Really? That's great Lief. I'm happy for you. And of course she'll have you, Lief. You're the king of Deltora; any girl would love to marry you." Jasmine could feel the words burning her tongue, the lies they told a poison she was being forced to swallow, but even as her heart became heavy and sank, she forced herself to continue drinking. "You'll have to introduce me to her one day soon."
"You know," Lief said cheerfully, a smile on his face and joy in his eyes as he thought of his beloved, "I think you might actually like her. The two of you are a lot alike."
"Maybe," Jasmine said quietly, using her utmost control to suppress a dismissive snort at the idea that the two of them could be anything alike. She might have vowed to herself to be nice, but she would never find it in herself to actually like this woman who had stolen Lief's heart. "How so?"
"Well, first off, she loves animals. Even Kree and Filli seem to enjoy her company. At least, they seemed to all the times I saw her with them." Frowning, Jasmine made a mental note to remind herself to interrogate the missing animals later, after they had returned from another day of exploring the palace later that night, to see if they could give her any hints as to who this woman was. Today was the first in quite a while that they had been separated from her, and so she couldn't bring to mind anyone that they had met that she had not been present for.
"Secondly, she loved plants and the forest. She even goes to the little grove that is on the grounds sometimes to think or sleep. She told me once that it reminds her of the trees that grew near her home." Her free hand clenching into a fist, Jasmine's anger reignited as she imagined a stranger walking through what she had believed to be her and Lief's place, somewhere where the two of them could go to be together even when they were alone. To think that someone other then them had entered it, especially since it was seen so undesirably by the others in the castle, infuriated her for some reason.
"Thirdly, you see, over the past few years, she's become one of my best-"
"Lief, please. Stop." Jasmine was amazed that her voice was steady, for her body was shaking with the effort it was taking to with hold her emotions and true feelings. Biting her lip, she was silent for a long moment as she drew in a shaky breath, trying to calm herself and forget the feeling of the stare she could feel drilling into her. When her throat was no longer blocked and her eyes were free from that accursed wetness, she allowed herself to continue, hating herself in every way she could. But she could no longer stand to listen to Lief talk about this mystery woman with such love and adoration, the same feelings that she wished could have been directed at her. "Please, stop. I'm sorry Lief, but I can't do this anymore. Please, Your Highness, grant me permission to go back to my forest unaccompanied, and swear that I shall be left there alone. Please, that is the only thing I can ask of you now." She hated herself for begging, for the tears that had welled back up in her eyes without her permission, and for the painful pounding of her heart in her chest as it cried out against leaving him. It wanted to tell her that just being near him, being his friend and in his presence, was enough, but this was a fight her mind would have to win.
"I'm sorry too Jasmine, but that is the one favor I cannot grant you."
"Why Lief," Jasmine demanded angrily as she tore her hand from his, jumping back to put space between them as she swiped at her face to dispel the tears that had managed to leak out. "Why are you so insistent on keeping me around when you've found someone else? Why won't you just let me go home, let me be free of this place, of these feelings, and let me get back to living the life you so rudely interrupted with your stupid quest? Why won't you-"
"Because, Jasmine," Lief cut in loudly, closing the distance between them so he grab her arms, keeping her still and forcing her to face him as he talked. "If I ever, ever let you go, let you leave, if I ever lost you, I would not only be losing my better half, I would be losing my heart as well."
"What," was the only half-strangled Jasmine was able to summon to her tongue as she stared at Lief, her eyes wide as she examined the man that stood before her's face, looking for something, anything, that would explain his words and give her a hint to his thoughts. Bowing his head, his hands still tight around her upper arms, Lief began to speak once more, though his words were almost too quiet to hear.
"The diamond has been shinning around you, Jasmine, everytime you're near or I'm thinking about you, it grows warm and shines brighter than I've ever seen any gem before. For months I've been thinking that you were sick, or it was reacting to your strength, or that you were even an Ol, but none of them were right. The only quality of the gem that fit was its ability to sense true love, and it has, Jasmine, can't you see? It has." Raising his head so he could look her in the eyes, Lief released one of her arms only to cup her cheek, his eyes and words like tender as he spoke.
"Don't you see Jasmine," Lief asked quietly, his voice filled with that same love she had heard before, "can't you see? The girl I was talking about earlier, she was you. Kree and Filli love you more then anything in this world, you're the only one other then myself and perhaps Barda on a good day that will even go near that grove of trees, and over the years, you have become my best and most cherished friend. I said that you and the girl I loved were alike because she is you Jasmine. And it's taken me this long to finally say it, even though I've know all this time, even before I noticed the diamond glowing, but Jasmine, I..." Falling silent, Lief slowly took a step forward, as if he were confronting a scared or wounded animal, until the space between them had almost disappeared. The warmed that rolled off of him radiated against her skin, tempting her to draw closer, especially since the air had grown cooler in the time they had been out there, but just like the animal he was treating her as, she was frozen, her entire body ready to flee should the need became apparent, but until then unable to even blink the wide eyes that were locked onto his face.
"Jasmine," Lief whispered, his voice almost drowned out by the joyous pounding of her heart. "Jasmine, I love you." It was then that he kissed her.
As if lightning had raced through her veins, Jasmine once more found herself in control of her body, her every nerve tingling and screaming at her to do something, anything, that the man she was in love with had just admitted to returning her feelings and she needed to react. So, despite what everything was telling her, she did just that.
She pulled away.
"Jasmine, what-" Lief fell silent as he found her fingers pressed against his lips, preventing his words from becoming anything more then muffled sounds. Waiting until his eyes had cleared and she had his full attention, Jasmine removed her hand only to wrap it around his neck, the tips of her fingers playing with the strands of hair at the nape of his neck, sending shivers down his spine.
"So. You love me?" Holding up a finger on her free hand, the other still occupied with his hair, Jasmine shook her head as he tried to respond. "Just shake your head Lief. Do you love me: yes or no?" When the dark-haired man before her began to furiously nod his head, Jasmine's slight frown widened into a small grin. "You mentioned the girl you loved becoming Queen. Do you really want me to be there, by your side, forever?" Although a deep blush painted itself across his cheeks, Lief, continuing to meet her gaze, nodded again. "Do you know what Lief?" Finally getting to shake his head 'no,' Lief watched as Jasmine's grin widened into a full smile, her body going up on tip-toes so that their foreheads were pressed together. Looking into eyes that were so full of love that the world could have seen it, but that was only directed at her, Jasmine allowed her own emerald eyes to flutter shut as she said the three words that would heal them both.
"I do too."
With that, she kissed him back.