I rewound that memory over and over. It was the main reason I was still alive. Dirg must have thought I was unconscious. He wouldn’t have said that if he thought I could hear. He wouldn’t have broken into a sob if he knew I would notice.
“What have I done?”
And then he broke into heart wrenching sobs that tore at my sanity.
I stared at the white ceiling as I replayed it again. He said he wanted me to live. That made no sense. He said before he should kill me. He said I would be his undoing. I thought... I thought I would see him smile when he turned to see what I had done. He didn’t. He looked horrified, and he had tear streaks down his face.
I heard the door open but didn’t want to look. A soft hand grabbed mine and King Amora’s face came into my field of vision. It had been two days since I... Since I... That.
Hey,” he said softly. “Are you okay?”
I sighed ever so slightly. “Never better,” I mumbled
His grin was huge. “You are deciding to talk?”
I looked directly at him and chewed on my lip.
“It’s okay if you don’t want to. Dirg told me what you said, and I made him write it down.”
I closed my eyes and felt my arms throb. My wrists were in padded restraints so I couldn’t pick at the scars. I had done that the first day. Healers were amazing at closing wounds, but they couldn’t get rid of scars. I would have those for the rest of my life.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered.
He squeezed my hand. “I cannot say I understand or that it is no problem, but I can forgive you. Forgiving you was easy. Forgiving Dirg... Let’s just say it’s a miracle that he is not dead.”
I meant to kill me, not him. “None of this makes sense.”
“Maybe that is because you are looking at it from the wrong perspective. Maybe you don’t know everything about what is going on around you.”
I snorted. “I know what is wrong with me. I thought I understood Dirg.”
“But you don’t.”
“He explained himself to me. If he hadn’t, he would be dead right now.”
I looked at him with confusion. “How do you know he was telling the truth?”
“I can usually tell when people are lying to my face. It helps tremendously in court.”
“I lied to you about Dirg.”
He nodded. “All you did was nod and shake your head. Thank you for talking.”
“It might not last very long.”
“Why? Why do you erect those walls so thick and not let me in? I offered you help when we met, but you never let me in. I can’t help if you don’t let me in, that’s obvious to me now.”
I looked away from him and shook my head. He squeezed my hand all the tighter.
“No. You will answer this. I need to know how to get you out.”
“Maybe I don’t want out,” I whispered.
“No, you want to die. That is a way out. I would rather help you out here. Which sounds better, die to get out and go somewhere worse or let me help you out to somewhere better?”
I tried to sit up, but he gently applied pressure to my shoulder, keeping me down. It was true, I wanted to die to escape. I wanted out of this pitiful existence.
“Let me up,” I asked softly, looking at him again.
“Dirg has my sketchbook.”
“You two are not to come in contact with one another. If you want it, then I will get it.”
I banged my head on the table. I wanted to see him. I needed to know what he thought of all this. I needed to know if he hated me for trying to kill his Sunshine.
“I want it,” I said.
He nodded. “Are you going to answer my question?”
I nodded. “I need it.”
I scowled ever so slightly. “Because.”
He looked annoyed. I cringed and shied away from his touch, afraid he would act on the annoyance.
“No, no. Don’t retreat. I’m sorry. I will get the sketchpad. This is enough for today, yes?”
I nodded. He nodded back. “Pat will come by later and take you home. You are to be with me, her, the boys, or Lilly at all times. If you come in contact with Dirg or leave my family I will have you put in a cell and put under a 24-hour watch. Do you understand?”
I cringed again. He would leave me too. He would leave me alone in a dungeon. No one loved me.
“No, no, no,” he exclaimed, responding to the look on my face. “I love you, Lucille. I would cage you like that for your own benefit. I would cage you because I love you and I don’t want to see you dying again.”
I nodded half-heartedly and looked away.
He sounded pained. “Lucy, I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
I nodded. He sighed and stood.
“We’ll talk tomorrow?” he asked.
I shrugged slightly.
“I’m praying for you. Goodbye, Lucille.”
He walked out, his boots clicking against the floor. Silence reigned once again. I was alone with my thoughts. My thoughts were evil. I was afraid of thinking, but that was all I could do. I never considered myself suicidal, not until Dirg turned around and I saw tears dripping down his cheeks. I had hoped he would break out and finish killing me.
Instead, he said he wanted me to live. He picked me up, getting my blood all over him and flew with me in his arms, revealing his black wings. He threw away his cover and put his life on the line to save me.
I tried to fight back, but he held my hands and absorbed the dark explosions. He didn’t let me choose to die. He didn’t really care about my opinion. I chose to stay with him, but he dumped me here. I chose to die, but he saved my life. Yeah, he hated me.
I guessed that I couldn’t die. I could try again, maybe we would go swimming some time soon and I could drown, I had tried that once before. King Amora’s offer was there, though. I could let him help me. That meant letting him into my castle. The walls were thick, but the inside was barren. The last person that had come in had torn the inside apart, leaving nothing but a shell. If I let my father in I would have to show him how empty it was. Maybe he already knew.
I was scared. Dirg had fought his way into my castle. I had never let anyone in. I grew up with Miss Sparnage. I didn’t dare let any of the girls in, for few stayed very long. Letting King Amora in was almost unthinkable. What if he finished what Dirg started? What if he totally ruined every aspect of my being? I realized I was broken, but I knew it could get worse.
Eventually, Queen Pat came in and smiled at me. I looked at her and tilted my head.
“Amora said you talked to him,” she said.
I nodded. Her grin went ever brighter. She was so nice. I couldn’t believe her. I was her husband’s product of adultery, yet she treated me like one of her own.
“Well, he also said you could come home today. Your body accepted the donated blood and you are fine to leave.”
She unlocked my hands and I immediately rubbed my wrists. I sat up and ran a hand through my hair. She tilted her head at me.
“Are you okay?”
“Are you not going to talk?”
I nodded and looked at my arms. I thought of the long, pink scars grinning at me, mocking me from under the bandages. You tried, and you failed they said. All you ever do is fail.
Queen Pat took one of my hands and pulled me off the hospital bead. She gently and quietly helped me change into my clothes, newly laundered. I could see her smile, trying to be reassuring, out of the corner of my eye, but I was too ashamed to look at her.
I pressed my forearms to my stomach and kept my eyes on the ground, trusting Queen Pat to take me wherever. She could take me to Death Row and I wouldn’t care. I might actually like that idea. Or not. Dirg didn’t want me to die. Maybe I should stay alive.
Ugh... living was so complicated.
We entered a suite of rooms I had only been in a few times. It was the royal suite. The queen led me to a small door to the right.
“Amora had your things moved from your previous room to this one so we can keep an eye on you.” She stated as she opened the door.
I stepped in hesitantly and looked around. The room was so big, Miss Sparnage could have fit the whole orphanage in it. I backed up a step, but the queen gently pushed my back.
“I know, it’s big and intimidating, especially when you’re used to a little bed stuffed in a corner.”
It wasn’t in a corner, but she had it about right. I had been sleeping on the floor since Dirg took me. I had a bed for two months, but I slept on the floor. This carpet was lush, too lush. It was comfortable.
She smiled at me and showed me where everything was. She was gentle and kind and lovely. I didn’t deserve the love she gave me. Heck, I didn’t deserve to be breathing. I remembered the day I met King Amora. He was so ashamed that we didn’t know each other. He just wanted to help me. I said I would let him help me but I hadn’t opened up. I thought he would force his way in like Dirg had, but he was too much of a gentleman for that. He just sat on the sideline, ready to help.
I never called him in. What if I had? What if instead of focusing on Dirg’s words, I had focused on Amora’s? Maybe I wouldn’t be so depressed. Maybe he could have fixed me, something I thought only Dirg could do.
Queen Pat showed me around and then sat on the bed near the window. She patted the spot next to her and smiled at me, inviting me to sit with her. There was one problem; she was sitting on a bed. I gulped down my fear and took a step towards her. I slowly touched the bed, ready to react if anyone yelled at me. Queen Pat watched me with hopeful eyes. She knew I slept on the floor, and I think she realized this was a breakthrough moment for me.
“This is your bed, Lucy,” She said softly. “If he ever touches it, he’s a dead man.”
I nodded and gently slid my fingers in that one little area. It took a laughable amount of effort to turn around and sit beside the queen. I closed my eyes as I did and pretended it was just a chair. She put her arm around my shoulders, gently squeezing me in reassurance. I breathed in deeply to steady myself. This was okay. This was acceptable. I was sitting on my bed. Nothing wrong here.
“Since you have to be with one of us royals until Am says otherwise, you will no longer be working with Jill. Tomorrow, you will follow one of the boys, or both, I don’t really know how often they stick together when they are not at lessons. The next day you shall stay with Lilly, and the day after that you are to stay with your father. Then we start the cycle back over with me. Is this okay?”
I nodded and put my head in my hands, staring down at my forearms. She gently pat my back. “Everything is going to be okay, Lucy. You are surrounded by people who love you and want the best for you. Please, don’t try to take your life again.”
I nodded and traced a bandage on my arm. She grabbed my hands and held them together with hers. I half smiled at her.
“Do you want to go to dinner with me?” she asked.
I nodded. Anything but sit here and think. One thing I learned from my self-imposed silence, I liked listening to others talk. I liked conversations that I wasn’t a part of yet was within. We stood and walked out, and she kept an arm around me.
Wings made things more difficult than their use was worth, so I had pulled them in while still in the hospital, and I didn’t plan on summoning them any time soon. I couldn’t fly, the twins had tried to teach me to launch but something kept me on the ground. They had debated whether it was my mind holding me down or the strength of my wings. I had remained silent and thought about flying on Dirg’s back. I couldn’t imagine doing it myself.
Nothing really changed for me that day. I didn’t see King Amora until near the end of the day, when I was getting ready for bed. He knocked on the door, and I quickly finished changing into my more comfortable nightclothes and went to open the door. He smiled at me and gently kissed my brow. I stepped back, startled and looking at him.
“I love you, Lucy. Here, I got the notebook.”
He held it out to me, so I took it and brushed the cover reverently.
“Did Dirg say if he looked in it?” I asked softly.
King Amora laughed at that as if I had made a joke. “Let’s just say that he doesn’t know he doesn’t have it.”
He stole it? I stared at him in confusion. He smiled. “I searched through his stuff while he was knocked out because he had to go out to get it. I took it because I figure it is yours, not his, and giving it to you is returning it not stealing it.”
I blinked and nodded.
I spoke softly, not trusting my voice. “Did you look at it?”
“No,” he spoke equally as softly. “You wanted it in conjunction with letting me in your walls, so I figured the contents are private. I will only look at what you show me.”
I winced slightly and pressed it to my chest, backing away from him. I knew he didn’t mean that the way I heard it, but I was better safe than sorry. Confusion flashed across his face before he understood.
“No, no! That’s not what I was saying, I promise.”
If he had taken a step forward, I would have exploded something, but he had the wisdom to back up. I nodded hesitantly.
He opened the door and backed out. “Will you be okay tonight?”
“Okay. If you need anything, we are on the other side of this door.”
I nodded. He still stayed there on the threshold.
“Lucy?” he asked.
“Yes?” I asked meekly.
“Do you trust me?”
I thought of all those days he had made time for me in his busy schedule. He had taken me all over Europe. He had smiled and simply talked, asking me endless yes or no questions. He had never once raised his voice or his hand against me. He had watched me sadly as I hid behind my walls and my silence, but still he tried. No one had ever treated me as he did. He maybe tried to wring information out of me, but he never forced me to do something I didn’t want to do. He respected me, and the answer to that question was easier to find than I thought it would be.
I walked over to him and held out the sketchpad, biting my lip as I offered him a ticket into my mind. He looked me in the eye as he graciously accepted it. He bowed, his giant golden wings sweeping elegantly in a move peculiar to light skyrunners.
I backed up and he blew me a soft kiss before closing the door between himself and me. For the first time in what felt like years, I dared to hope. I dared to hope that there was someone who could actually love me. I dared to hope that my situation in life could and would improve. I dared to hope that maybe I was worth something to someone, and that maybe there was someone I could let into my heart.
Then, I realized that I trusted him. That thought scared me, and I had to take a deep breath and let it sink in, let it seep into my consciousness. I had a father. I trusted him. I let him into my broken castle.
King Amora sat in the corner of the couch in a place where he was sure no one could look over his shoulder and gently opened to the first page. A lady smiled up at him. He knew there was more to the drawings than just the picture, so he brought it close and examined it. The lines of the drawing were loving and smooth and carefully placed. He assumed this was the woman that raised his daughter, so he studied her face carefully.
The next page had “Lucille” written in flowing script. It was obvious much time and effort had been put into the making of this name. The font was unique and each line blended together seamlessly.
He flipped the page and immediately recognized Dirg. The scene was in what appeared to be a bedroom full of girls. She was an indistinct white blob on a bed in front of him, and the few wispy pencil strokes that were her facial features made her seem scared, possibly irrelevant to the picture. The lines depicting Dirg were hard and defined and sharp. His wings were unrealistically large and black and menacing. The depicted smirk was so realistic that he wanted to slap it off of Dirg’s face.
He flipped the page and stared for a long time before he understood. It was nearly entirely black, and the darker lines within the already darkly colored page barely showed a chain and a whip. The lines were hectic, crossed, scattered. The chain and whip were so dark they were almost carved into the page.
He flipped it again and the image made him tense. It was Dirg, holding her chin tenderly, leaning in to kiss her. His one visible eye had a cunning gleam in it, and she looked terrified with a shackle around her neck, the chain leash in his hand. She was drawn with frantic lines, smudged in places, and he was drawn with smooth, short lines.
The next picture made him cry. It was a picture of a heart so broken that the largest piece was no bigger than his thumbnail. All the pieces were held together with rough twine, and the holes for the twine were large and rugged. He had to keep himself from brushing at the delicate artwork with his fingers. Some of the pieces seemed close to falling off, and the entire structure was so frail he could imagine a slight breeze tearing it asunder.
He slammed the sketchpad shut; his kind heart unable to take any more of this. He took out his phone and quickly wrote the questions he wanted to ask of her on the notes app. He stared at the maroon cover intently, realizing what a treasure he held in his hands. She loved and missed the woman that raised her. Her name meant a lot to her. She was afraid of Dirg. She felt fragile and lost. She had endured more pain than even Dirg understood.
Queen Pat sat next to her husband and looked at the book in his lap. “What’s that?”
“Lucille’s sketch pad.”
He spoke softly, for he knew Lucy was in the other room. He didn’t want to alarm her or give her any reason to distrust him.
“Prince Dirg’s possessions. I asked her why she always retreats, and she asked for this and then gave it to me.”
The queen reached for it but he gently grabbed her wrist. She looked into his eyes and understood. Lucy was fragile. This was hers, only those she allowed could see it. King Amora was being his usual protective self.
Queen Pat smiled. “That poor boy.”
Amora snorted. “That poor boy deserves to be beaten to death.”
“Have you used your gift on him?”
The king deflated. “No.”
“That might help you understand him,” she ventured.
“It didn’t work with Lucille.”
“What were the words?”
“Broken, confused, and lonely.”
She nestled her head into his arm. “And what are mine right now?”
He grinned and switched on his gift. He laughed and kissed her when he heard the words. “I love you. You know you’re the only one that can manipulate my gift, right?”
She grinned smugly and nodded. “So is that a yes?”
He leaned over and kissed her. Neither noticed Lucy’s door slightly cracked open or her eye focused on them. She watched them kiss for a minute before they returned to what they were doing, Pat reading a book and Amora holding her and studying the pictures he had already looked at.
King Amora felt like he was being watched, so he looked up and finally noticed the crack. “You can join us in here, if you wish Lucille.”
The door slowly shut and there was shuffling from the other side. He hung his head and rubbed his brow. Would they ever make any progress, or was she so stuck in that place that she didn’t want to come out?
King Amora made me go to church with him and his family every weekend. Church was basically a glorified classroom with a small concert beforehand. The first time I went, I had thought we were actually at a concert. I soaked in the music, not really caring about the words and enjoying the beat. After a few weeks I would hum along quietly. I eventually knew the words to most of the songs, though I didn’t understand at the time what most of them meant. I just knew they meant a lot to King Amora and his family.
The weekend after I tried to kill myself, King Amora insisted that I sit next to him. Usually, he sat with his wife on one side and one of the twins on the other, but he gestured for me to take the seat to his left instead of a twin.
He held my hand as we waited for service to begin and talked with some random guy behind us. I watched lightsies and humans pile in the large auditorium. This gathering every Sunday was extremely large, at least a thousand smiling people, and this wasn’t the only “service.” There were small gatherings, according to a twin, but the royal family preferred to remain anonymous in the large crowds.
Most of the people were dressed nicer than a regular day. The king and queen usually looked elegant, but the twins and Lilly were actually dressed up. Those three went and sat with friends that day. As always, I felt plain and under-dressed next to the king.
Even after a few months of his insistence on being my father, this relationship thing was difficult for me. He was the king of the light skyrunners; that wasn’t something I could forget. He usually wore a trim white suit, he walked with his head held high, he had the royal crest hanging from a gold chain around his neck, and people always jumped to do as he said. I felt tiny next to him. Insignificant. I didn’t understand how he expected me not to be intimidated by him. I was getting used to it, but there was still that nagging thought at the back of my mind that said I shouldn’t be here. I wasn’t worth the attention the king gave me.
I noticed a bit of black in the sea of white and gold, so I focused on it and found Dirg, sitting across the auditorium from us among several tougher looking lightsies that I took as soldiers. His wings were in, but he was the one of the very few people in the crowd wearing all black. He was too far away for me to tell if he saw me or not, but even from there I could read his body language. He was slightly tensed and his jerky movements betrayed the fact that he didn’t really want to be here either.
The announcements came on the big screens and many hushed, but I watched Dirg. King Amora squeezed my hand.
“What are you looking at?” He asked.
He followed my line of sight and scowled slightly before I even answered.
“I guess I should be glad he’s here,” he grumbled.
“Why?” I asked quietly.
The king’ light brown eyes, the same color and shape as mine, focused on me, gauging something. “For a similar reason why I’m glad you are here. There is hope here. There is hope in the message. Do you ever listen?”
I looked down into my lap. “I did at first.”
“Why don’t you now?”
I slipped my hand from his and clasped them both in my lap. “I’ve tried hoping. It doesn’t work.”
He put his arm around my shoulders and kissed my brow, but the loud music was starting, so he said nothing. He stood, so I followed suit. We were on risers near the back, so I could see nearly everyone in the auditorium. I swayed slightly to the music and watched my (former) master stand with his arms crossed as those around him engaged in the upbeat song.
“Praise The Lord, I saw the light!” they sang and danced together.
Of course the lightsies like light and make their God a god of light. I could see how this made Dirg uncomfortable, though. I was fine either way. This song in particular, I wanted to dance to. The rhythm was upbeat and the tune was catchy, but I remained mostly still and just watched. Soon the songs were over and we sat as the usual asking for donations commenced.
King Amora leaned over and whispered to me, “Are you just going to stare at him all service?”
I nodded. He sighed and took my hand. “Will you at least try to listen?”
I looked to him and saw the sincerity in his eyes. He really thought this could help me.
“I don’t trust hope.”
He squeezed my hand. “But you trust me.”
“And I have many doubts about that.”
He quickly hid the hurt that flashed behind his eyes and nodded. He returned his attention to the stage, so I looked back to Dirg. The teacher taught on something about being enough for God. How we aren’t enough but God makes us enough. I half listened so that I knew why Dirg reacted as he did.
He leaned forward with his elbows on his knees, intent on the message. He flinched every now and then, and I saw him look up in my direction once. He was extremely interested in the message, as if it meant something to him. I listened more intently just to see what so captivated him.
“None of us really feel as if we measure up. Maybe it was your father with high expectations, maybe it is a spouse’s ideal you can never live up to, or maybe it’s your own goals that you just can’t seem to reach. Whatever the case, we all feel as if we have fallen short, as if we don’t measure up, and we take those circumstances and apply them to God. We think He only sees our failures or our shortcomings, but in reality, he only sees Jesus’ righteousness in those of us who have accepted his gift.”
Jesus, the magic cure-all. I’d heard of Him plenty of times here among the lightsies. He was to whom the royal family prayed, and He was the magical answer that the king thought would help me. I’d heard all this talk of Him, but never had I actually seen Him. Really, it confused me. I understood why Dirg was interested, though.
He was the lightheart darky crown prince, one of the largest oxymorons I had ever heard of. I had seen how he was made fun of and misunderstood by other darkies. He wasn’t close to really anyone in his family, especially not his dad. Maybe this message made sense to him. But then, why did he look so aggravated? He was twitching, and I could tell by his body language that he was frustrated.
Finally, the call to accept Jesus’ offer came, but instead of the usual call to pray in the seat, the teacher asked those who wished to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior to stand and join him in another room.
Dirg was glaring at the stage and gripping the empty seat in front of him with a death grip. He stood slowly. I squeezed King Amora’s hand, and he looked up at me. He followed my gaze and watched Dirg move slowly down the aisle. My (former) master was shaking as he walked to the front along with a few others. His head was held high, but I recognized the nervousness behind his steps. He stopped just before leaving the room, his shaking increasing. He seemed to be fighting himself. I watched in fascination as he stood there for a long minute before he stiffly walked out of my sight. It wasn’t until then that I realized the crowd was going nuts. They were clapping and yelling and celebrating.
The king squeezed my hand tightly, a gigantic smile on his face. I asked why everyone was celebrating, but no one heard me. I asked what Dirg had done, but my voice was too quiet. Eventually, the teacher brought the clamor down, and I could see tears in his eyes as he dismissed us. The twins flew up to their parents quickly, their words nearly tripping over each other.
“Did you see that!?”
“He walked in there!”
“Is he the first dark?”
“Is he really going to?”
“This is so amazing!”
King Amora interrupted. “Boys! That’s enough!”
They clamped their mouths shut, still smiling. The king launched, letting go of my hand, and landed on the stage, whistling loudly to get everyone’s attention.
“If you don’t know him, don’t bother him. If you don’t know whom I am talking about, then I would prefer there be no gossip. Thank you.”
He came back to where we were and the crowd hushed considerably. From there we went to the royal suite and Queen Pat started making a big lunch, as she did every Sunday. No one worked on Sundays except healers, the food people took the day off as well, so the general population had to make their own food.
Lilly helped with the lunch, and King Amora and the boys got into a deep conversation about some trade agreement, so I found my sketch pad and started to draw my father. My mind wasn’t in it, though. I was wondering what in the world Dirg did and why everyone was so excited. My pencil slipped, making a long line across King Amora’s wings. I grunted and tenderly erased it. I wanted to depict him as he was to me accurately. I just didn’t know what he was to me.
I knew he was my father, but I didn’t let him fill that role. I was eighteen for goodness’ sake! I shouldn’t need a father... But I did. Maybe instead of needing Dirg, I needed a dad. I closed my sketchbook and stood. He was sitting on a couch, relaxed with one arm resting on the back. I silently inserted myself there, next to him. He smiled at me as the twins swapped sentences, examining some treaty thing I did not understand. His arm came around my shoulders and pulled me into his side, his wing spreading protectively behind me. I sighed and relaxed into him.
I breathed it in, something I hadn’t let myself do for months. I relaxed and closed my eyes, trusting my father. I let their words slip over me and just marveled in this family. I had utterly rejected them. I had taken their love for granted and tried to kill myself, not thinking about their feelings in the matter. They had a right to cast me aside and ignore me, but they didn’t. They loved me.
That realization made me smile.