✧Side Story 18 (END)✧
*Click For Audio Drama*
With the arrival of spring, a new Herhardt emerged into the world. The sun shone brightly on that afternoon, casting a warm glow on the blooming buds of the flower tree.
In a hushed tone and with swift steps, the hospital staff approached and shared the news, “A baby has been born to the Duchess and they are preparing to introduce the newborn to you shortly.”
Matthias gently placed his cup down on the table and turned his head towards the door. As the formal message of congratulations from the staff came to a close, a team of medical professionals led by none other than Dr. Feller, Matthias’ personal physician, entered the room. They provided updates on the health and wellbeing of both mother and child, and bid their congratulations before departing with beaming smiles.
The VIP room, reserved exclusively for the Duke’s family, was enveloped in a serene stillness. Matthias sat in contemplative silence, his gaze fixed upon the blossoming branches of the flower tree swaying outside the window. The two mistresses of Arvis sat across from him, observing his wordless demeanor with a quiet understanding. Meanwhile, Felix, who had eagerly awaited the arrival of his new sibling, had succumbed to slumber after an arduous wait.
As the golden light of spring flooded into the VIP room, a gentle voice pierced the serene stillness. “Congratulations, Matthias, for now you have been blessed with the gift of two children,” Norma whispered. Her voice carrying a sense of warm familiarity that only a grandmother could impart.
Arriving at the hospital straight from the company, Matthias cut an impeccable figure – the very epitome of a Duke Herhardt. His expression and demeanor were equally unblemished, leaving little indication that he was a man consumed with worry upon hearing the news of his beloved wife’s childbirth. The two Duchesses, apprehensive that Matthias might display any unbecoming behavior that would betray his royal station, exchanged embarrassed glances that could not have been more divergent in nature.
“Thank you, Grandma. And Mother.” Matthias turned his gaze to his grandmother and mother with a serene countenance and spoke in a measured tone, his lips curled up into a gentle smile, one that was no different from his usual expression of composed elegance.
As they engaged in some ceremonial small talk, the attendant made a reappearance, interrupting their conversation with news that the hospital room had been thoroughly cleaned and was now ready for their use.
“We shall venture forth as a family once Felix awakens, so you go to Leyla first.” Elysee spoke to Matthias, as she lovingly patted her slumbering grandson’s head, cradled securely in her arms. While she was uncertain of Matthias’ thoughts on the matter, she felt that it was only fitting for Leyla to be greeted first by her husband.
Matthias rose from his seat, offering a curt nod of acknowledgement before departing the VIP room. As he smoothed out the fabric of his clothes, the manner in which he exited seemed almost callous and detached.
Elysee von Herhardt, watching her son’s departure with a furrowed brow, could not help but feel a pang of disappointment. “I carried him in my heart all these years, yet I hardly recognize the man before me,” she lamented, her gaze turning to Norma with a questioning glint in her eye. “How can he be so indifferent on a day like this, after what he had done for his wife.”
In the waning days of the previous month, Matthias revealed his bold plan to relocate the final resting place of Bill Remmer, situated in Lovita, to the town of Berg. However, in order to expeditehis plan, he required the full cooperation of Lovita’s royal family.
Although Elysee von Herhardt raised objections, Norma, being the wise matriarch that she is, ultimately acquiesced to her grandson’s wishes. She understood all too well the profound sorrow of a child separated from their parents’ graves in a distant land beyond the border.
“What do you mean by parents?” Elysee von Herhardth inquired, pondering the true origins of the Duchess of Herhardt. Does Matthias wanted to brazenly proclaim the empire that his wife is a gardener’s daughter?
Elysee von Herhardt recoiled at the thought, yet found herself unable to resist until the bitter end. Tormented by the idea for days on end, she eventually relented, albeit with a caveat. She would never permit a gardener to be laid to rest in the family’s hallowed cemetery.
Luckily, her son possessed enough sanity to eschew such a brazen act. Instead, the gardener was interred in a new plot not too far from Arvis. And come springtime’s end, Bill Remmer would slumber peacefully, gazing out upon the verdant forest he had so cherished in life.
“The magnitude of love that we once shared cannot have dissipated overnight, but alas,” sighed Elysee, her voice tinged with melancholy. “Today. . . . .”
“Have a look at this Elysee!” Norma chuckeled, gesturing towards the table’s forefront where Matthias had been seated not long ago. Something glittering had caught her eye, resting beside the untouched teacup. It was none other than Matthias’ cuff button.
Elysee von Herhardt’s pupils dilated in recognition as she pieced together the implications of this trinket’s presence.
“Sweet heavens above,” gasped Elysee, unable to fathom that her usually composed son could have been responsible for such a fidgety blunder. What’s more, she couldn’t shake the memory of how he had carelessly left his belongings behind, neglecting to acknowledge the mess he had made of her outfit in the process.
Matthias, typically the epitome of cool and collected, was now evidently riddled with anxiety.
“By the heavens, Matthias!” Those were the only words that escaped her lips.
The VIP room was partitioned into two distinct areas: a reception room reserved for visitors and a separate hospital room designated for patients. Matthias traversed the corridor connecting these spaces with a measured gait, every footfall conjuring up memories of the child’s conception, growth, and eventual emergence into the world.
With newfound understanding, Matthias now comprehended the fullness of Leyla’s pregnancy. Now he knew what was going through her mind during those trying months, and how much laughter had filled their lives.
Leyla had expressed concerns over her appearance while pregnant, fretting needlessly over her beauty. But in reality, every passing moment only served to enhance her radiance in his eyes.
Approaching the threshold of the hospital room, Matthias took a moment to collect himself before quietly crossing the threshold, his attendant trailing close behind. He had received word that both mother and child were in good health, but a tinge of trepidation gnawed at him nonetheless.
It was a feeling that often arose whenever he found himself basking in seemingly unattainable happiness. Mathhias thought to himself, What if everything is really an illusion? What if, upon awakening, he turned out to be only a man, abandoned and infatuated with a love you are unable to share?
A frail voice, barely above a whisper, drifted through the door of the hospital room, jolting his out of his reverie. As his gaze flicked towards the sound, he beheld Leyla lying prone on the bed, a mere shadow of her former self, her delicate frame dwarfed by the size of the mattress.
Once again, her lips curved upwards in a quiet smile, her voice barely a whisper as she called out to him. But even in her faintness, her smile shone like a beacon, illuminating Matthias’ reality.
For so long, he had yearned for her, drawing her smile in his mind’s eye, but it was nothing compared to the beauty of this moment, this reality.
As if drawn by an invisible force, Matthias stepped forward and enfolded Leyla in a fierce embrace. She reciprocated, her frail arms trembling as she wrapped them around him.
Their embrace seemed to stretch on for an eternity, until finally, the nurse approached them, cradling the small bundle in her arms. Reluctantly, they pulled away, but their eyes remained locked, conveying a silent understanding and a love that transcended words.
Leyla cradled the little bundle in her arms, her voice quivering as she whispered, “Isn’t she beautiful?” Her face radiated with joy, and tears threatened to spill from her eyes. With a smile that could light up the darkest of nights, “Meet our daughter, Leah.”
The baby was wriggling contentedly in her sleep, almost as if she approved her mother’s chosen name.
Matthias gazed in awe at his daughter’s locks, which were like a sun-kissed field of wheat. “Leah…” He ran his fingers through them, marveling at their silkiness and the way they seemed to glow in the dim light of the room.
The little princess Leah von Herhardt had hair precisely like her mother. They were both golden and soft, seemingly endless in their abundance.
The grave of the gardener was marked by a rose tree. Leyla personally planted the tree on his grave in the summer of the year the tomb was relocated. The tree improved in stature and beauty over the course of a year or so, reaching towards the sun and unfurling delicate shade of pink petals that shone like a beacon of hope, her most prized and beloved rose.
“Mom! It’s grandpa!” Felix exclaimed as he hovered over the grave. His voice brimming with confidence and excitement.
Leyla’s heart warmed at the sight of her son’s enthusiasm. She beamed with pride and nodded, affirming his answer.
“Felix, my little genius, you’ve done it again. You remembered grandpa’s resting place, didn’t you?”
When his mother lavished him with praise, the child confidently shouted the flower’s proper name. “This is a rose!” With a big smile on his face, Felix hold the rose with both hands.
Felix lovingly whispered the names of all the wonders that surrounded him – the endless expanse of sky, the towering trees, the fluttering birds, and the fluffy clouds. He eagerly shared their names with his toddling sister, while Leah babbled and cooed in response. Despite her incoherent noises, Felix persisted in teaching his little sister the magic of language.
As Felix and Leah chattered like friendly birds, Leyla turned to Uncle Bill’s grave and began speaking to him. She updated him on their lives, telling him about the peculiar and endearing things the children did at school, passing along greetings from the people of Arvis, and sharing news about Matthias. Leyla spoke of her relief in knowing that her husband was finally able to speak with a more comfortable mind.
It wasn’t until after Uncle Bill’s funeral that Matthias shared this news with Leyla. Initially left speechless, she eventually burst into tears, finally able to release some of the deep guilt and longing she felt for leaving Uncle Bill alone in the distance.
As the sound of their names echoed through the air, Felix and Leah, inseparable siblings, turned towards their mother’s voice. Holding each other’s tiny hands tightly, they scurried towards her. With sparkling blue eyes, they gazed up at Leyla, who couldn’t help but erupt in uncontrollable laughter at the sight of their innocent faces.
Leyla had always heard people refer to her daughter as “Blonde Matthias,” a nickname that she didn’t mind because it was an undeniable truth. But despite inheriting her mother’s golden locks, little Leah was the spitting image of her father in every other way.
“Just give up, Leyla,” Elysee von Herhardt’s eyes twinkled as she spoke, her voice carrying a gentle and knowing tone. “Have you ever been overwhelmed by the abundance of portraits of the Herhardt family?”
Leyla pondered for a while and eventually unraveled the enigmatic query – the Herhardt family portraits bore a striking resemblance to Matthias and their children.
Elysee paused and gazed at her daughter-in-law with admiration. “It’s a gene that’s hard to beat,” she said with a serious tone. “Having the same hair color as you is like a victory.” As she spoke, she realized that the only thing Leyla had passed down to Leah was the color of her hair.
“Felix, Leah, let’s pay our respects to your grandfather,” Leyla said, her voice now somber as she led them towards Uncle Bill’s tombstone. As they approached, Leyla’s eyes grew heavy with emotion as she gazed upon Leah’s little white shoes.
“Grandpa, I’ll be right back.” Felix mustered up his courage and greeted his grandfather in the most respectful manner he could. The way Felix pronounced “Grandpa” with such childlike innocence was like a sweet melody that filled the air and warmed Leyla’s heart.
In time for lunch, Leyla and her children returned to the mansion. Matthias went out to attend a luncheon meeting, so there were just three duchess servings on the table.
As the last course was served, Leyla took a deep breath and summoned the courage to share her plan. “I have been contemplating the idea for a while now, and I wanted to ask if it would be possible to use the forest cabin as my laboratory?” she asked, her eyes sparkling with anticipation.
“A lab?” Casting a curious gaze towards Leyla, Norma said, “Now this could be just the place for you. With your focus on studying plants and birds, having them in such close proximity could be quite advantageous. What say you, Elysse? Do you think it’s worth considering?”
Leyla fixed her gaze on Elysee von Herhardt’s face. “What does our consent mean when it’s yours anyway? ” Elysee gave Leyla a slightly frowning glance. A scowl marred her face as she flashed a bitter smile.
“But, this Arvis is within your remit; therefore, I must ask for your approval.” Leyla’s grin was forced and her face was clearly tense. The unpleasant expression on Elysee von Herhardt’s face was matched by a smile around her lips.
“It seems that furthering your education is still part of your plan.” Norma’s keen observation led her to remark.
Caught off guard, Leyla responded hesitantly, “What? Oh… yes.”
Elysee contemplated for a moment before expressing her opinion, “Allowing your exceptional intellect to go to waste would be a travesty. Have you considered the possibility of becoming a professor at Ratz University, perhaps under the title of Duchess of Herhardt?” She continued, “In my humble opinion that would be an excellent use of your talents.”
“Professor?” The word reverberated in Leyla’s mind, leaving her taken aback. While she had always planned to pursue further education after completing her undergraduate studies, she had not yet considered any concrete objectives beyond that.
“Well, well, well, what do we have here?” she mused. “Isn’t it possible that being a professor might be a better fit for you than being a social queen?” Elysee’s playful banter stirred something within Leyla, causing her to realize that Elysee’s influence on Matthias ran deeper than just her physical appearance.
“Give it your all, my dear.” Elysee’s gaze fixed upon Leyla as she spoke in a soft tone that echoed that of her son. “The cabin is yours to do with as you please.”
“Daddy!” Felix’s exuberant voice pierced through the air as he spotted the sleek black car pulling up to the annex.
Leyla and Leah, who had been admiring the colorful blooms that lined the road, were startled by the sudden outburst and turned their heads in surprise. As the driver opened the back door, Matthias emerged, fulfilling his promise to take the children out on a boat.
Leyla quickly wiped the blades of grass from her fingers with a hastily retrieved handkerchief, while Felix bolted towards his father with unbridled enthusiasm. Not to be outdone, Leah followed closely behind, her own excitement palpable in the air.
Leyla trailed behind the group, her steps measured and deliberate as she scanned the surrounding area for any sign of danger. Her dress, a delicate confection of colored fabric, fluttered in the gentle breeze, while the lace ribbon of her straw hat danced beneath her chin. Her hair cascaded down her neck in loose waves, lending her an air of ethereal grace.
Matthias looked at them with wonder. The image of his family frolic enjoying the river in the summer was seared into his mind.
He didn’t care which of the children looked like whom; what mattered was that they were safe and happy. Looking at Leah one day, for a moment, Leyla’s words from a long-ago conversation flitted through his mind, but instead of admitting that he had shared her wish, he simply smiled to himself.
In truth, he had always harbored a secret desire for a daughter who resembled Leyla. Leyla wished for it, and it was a greed that all men feel who love their wife.
But, as he held her in his arms, watching her slip into a peaceful slumber, his heart overflowed with a fierce, possessive love, he felt an entirely different kind of longing.
Yes, he was still crazy about her. – and he knew that no matter what the future held, she would always be the one and only woman for him.
Let there be just one Leyla, for she was irreplaceable. And, let him be the only man in the world to have a woman like her. Always, in the present, future, and for all time.
When the moment came as she had given herself over to slumber, he leaned in and placed a soft kiss on her forehead, then on her cheek, and her parted lips, savoring the sweetness of her skin. When he ran his fingers through her hair and caressed the bridge of her nose, a sweet smile bloom on her lips.
No matter how hard he tried, he was a less-than-perfect husband and his twisted love for her may have lasted till he reaches the bottom of his grave.
Certainly, the way he loved was twisted.
Imperfect, but it was still so, so good –
If only Leyla could be his Leyla forever.
Matthias took a step forward, his eyes fixed on the two children running towards him. Felix was in his arms again today, delivering his innocent love with a kiss on his cheek. Matthias returned his son’s kiss and gave the same love to Leah, who became his new joy.
“Matthy! You’re back sooner than I expected,”
Leyla approached, taking a few steps closer to him.
His Leyla….whose smile was the brightest and most beautiful thing in the world.
Matthias carefully handed over his wriggling son to her and cradled his daughter in his arms, stepping closer to his wife. Warm and tender kisses were shared amid their hearty mirth.
In that moment, he wished for nothing more than for her love to remain unchanged. May she always be bathed in the same warm, comforting glow of love, enough to ease the painful memories of her difficult childhood and the hurts he had inflicted upon her. Now that he realized they shared the same love, albeit in a different way.
In fact, it didn’t matter for if he loved her more.
If love had a spectrum of light and shadow, Matthias was willing to stand by her side even if it meant facing the darkest shadows. Because his own happiness was in the radiance of Leyla’s light.
As he extended his hand, Leyla clasped it without hesitation, and together they strolled along the shimmering riverbank. With their daughter cradled in his arms and their son holding his mother’s hand, they were now a family of four.
As they passed beneath Leyla’s cherished tree, Matthias turned his head and gazed back at the path they had just taken. His eyes traveled through the heavenly Arvis laid before him.
The verdant forest…
the glittering river…
and the azure sky filled with soaring birds…
until they finally….came to rest upon her face…..
Following a velvety voice that called her name, Leyla turned her head. When her eyes caught his, her smile became even more radiant.
The afternoon was awash with the beauty of an endless summer forest, shimmering and alive.