I sat on the window bench in the study. I had my legs curled up to my chest, a wool blanket wrapped around me while a warm cup of tea was cradled in my hands. I leaned my head against the glass while I looked out the window.
The trees were cast in an orange glow as the sun began to rise to the east. Most of the yard was still dark, but some sun rays had peaked their way through the gaps in the branches. The house was still and quiet. The only noise I heard was the crackling of the fire that slowly burned in the fireplace. I wasn’t sure if I was the only one awake or if I was alone in the house.
When we had gotten back from the ceremony I had gone to my room and fallen asleep. I slept the whole day and the following night. I awoke an hour or so before sunrise. I still felt tired, my brain was still struggling to make sense of everything, while my heart struggled to figure out if it was supposed to be broken.
I turned my head towards the closed door to listen for footsteps. I heard the soft patter against the floor before I heard the door slam shut. I looked back out the window and watched as Rupert made his way across the yard to head for the path that lead to his studio.
I pushed the blanket off of me and scrambled out to the hall and pulled open the door, my tea still in my other hand.
“Rupert!” I called after him. I watched him as he stopped mid-step. His shoulders tensed before he slowly turned to look at me.
He looked worse than I thought I did this morning. His blond hair was a mess across his head, his eyes looked tired. His shirt was wrinkled, like he had just pulled it off his bedroom floor. He wore a pair of grey sweatpants that were just as wrinkled as his shirt.
“Can we talk?” I asked wanting to explain what had happened the other day.
“Not right now.” He spoke, his voice was low. I almost didn’t hear him. He turned his back to me and continued to walk.
“Hey! We need to talk!” I called after him again, but he didn’t turn back. He continued to walk, ignoring my calls.
I wasn’t sure if I should just stand there and watch him walk away from me or if I should go after him. I stepped through the door, making a split second decision to go after him. My feet hit the wooden deck, and I instantly stepped back into the house. I cursed as I looked down at my bare feet. I turned to find my shoes, sparing a quick second to watch Rupert continue down the path.
I set my mug down on a shelf before I quickly moved to the closet where my shoes were. I pulled out the first pair of shoes I could find. I slipped my feet into a pair of purple rain boots. My plaid pyjama bottoms were caught in the tops of my boots making me look extra ridiculous, but that was the least of my worries. I stumbled out of the house and down the steps. I wrapped my arms around my body to keep the cool wind from breaking through my sweater.
The air was still fresh, the grass damp from the morning frost. I moved down the path, taking long quick steps to make it to his studio before I froze to death. As I walked I tried to find the words that I would say to him. I needed him to understand what had happened and I needed to understand why he made the choices he did.
As I came into view of the small cottage, I saw that all of the lights were on inside. I stormed my way up the steps and through the front door.
As I pushed open the door I said, “You know, you’re as stubborn as a mule.” My voice started out strong and faded into a quiet whisper as I took in the sight before me.
Bottles of paint were thrown across the floor, his easel was tipped over, the canvas that was on it broken down the middle. The walls that once held many pieces of his art were bare. The paintings knocked to the floor. My eyes moved to the back wall, the place that once held the painting he had done of me. It was gone. My eyes slowly moved to look at him. He stood beside the empty space. Broken wood and canvas in his hands. I looked at the material in his hands, the familiar shades of my hair painted across the broken canvas.
I felt my throat closing in as my eyes welled with tears. I knew he was hurt, but I didn’t think it was to this extent.
“Why?” I whispered. “Why did you do all of this?” I looked around me again before my eyes moved back to him.
He stood there, staring at me, silent.
“I mean, I get you are upset, confused. God, you have every right to be. But, this?” I shook my head. “Why would you destroy all of this? Why destroy that?” I gestured towards the broken canvas in his hands.
“Why would I keep something that reminds me of something I no longer have?” His voice was low.
I swallowed the lump in my throat, I stepped away from him. I could feel my heart ache, like it had just been stabbed by his words.
“No longer have?” I asked. “If you had just given me a moment to explain I-”
“What?” He cut me off. “Explain why you made me watch you kiss another man?” He raised his voice.
“Yes. No. God. Just listen!” I ran my hands through my hair, gripping it at the roots on the top of my head and pulled on it. “I was supposed to marry him.” I said.
“Oh, now that makes me feel even better!” He tossed the canvas in his hands to the side.
“He’s sick. I haven’t seen him in three years.” I tried to explain. “When we were together he struggled with a lot of mental health issues. Eventually it got so bad he needed to be hospitalized.” I crossed my arms over my chest as I thought about things I hadn’t in years. “At first, I wasn’t allowed to see him. Then he started taking his meds, he was getting better. I was able to see him, talk to him about the wedding we had been planning.” I squeezed my eyes shut, hoping the tears that were building would go away.
“He wouldn’t listen. He didn’t want me to be a part of his life. ‘I’m too fucked up for a good girl like you.’ He had said.” I shook my head. “He made me promise to go and live my life. Finish school, find someone else who would love me and take care of me in ways he would never be able to.” I looked back up at Rupert who was still looking at me. “So I did. A promise made is a promise kept with us. It was always like that. So I finished school, I travelled, met people but never anyone who would love me better than him.” I wiped away the stray tear that had fallen down my cheek.
“I would keep tabs on him. Last I heard he had finally gotten well enough to leave the hospital. I would write him sometimes. Then when I came here, he probably saw the missing posts that I’m sure have been made.” I sighed. “That probably set him off. I don’t know how long he had been running through that forest. He had lost himself, he clearly wasn’t on his meds. His clothes were stained, he had lost a lot of weight. T-That’s why I needed him to know I was okay.” I closed my eyes, trying to rid of the broken image of him in my brain. “He won’t think its real. He will think that I was just a part of an episode, but he’ll keep his promise. He’ll go, he will get better and he will know that I’m okay.” I sighed.
“I needed him to know I was okay, I needed to give him the goodbye I never got to say to him.”
“But you still love him. You said so yourself.”
“A part of me will always love him. He was there in a moment of my life where I had no one else. He will always have a small piece of me, but it will never be enough for me to stop loving someone else.”
“That’s a lie.” He moved towards me. “I saw the way you broke down when you saw him. I heard the way you screamed at me, begging me to let you go.” This time his voice cracked.
“What did you expect me to do? I didn’t make the choice to leave my life behind. I didn’t get to say goodbye to anyone. How else was I supposed to react seeing a person I loved for three years, and spent the same amount of time trying to forget, standing right in front of me?” I aggressively wiped the tears that kept falling from my eyes. “He would have wandered the trails looking for me until he died of starvation. I needed him to know I was okay. I couldn’t live with myself knowing someone that I loved died because I wasn’t given a choice, because I wasn’t asked what I wanted.”
He stood in front of me, within arms reach. He looked down at me, his jaw clenched shut.
“How do you know that you could love someone else when you still love him?” He glared down at me. “How do you know that it wouldn’t affect your relationship?”
“Because it hasn’t affected my relationship up until this point!” I threw my hands up in the air. “Because I already love you!” I stared at him wide-eyed. I snapped my mouth shut, biting down on my tongue as I realized what words just came out of my mouth. They were words that had never been spoken between us.
My eyes moved over his face, waiting for him to respond. Instead of saying anything, he moved by me. His shoulder brushed against mine as he reached for the door. I stood with my back to him, not wanting to watch him walk away from me yet again. I flinched as I heard the door slam shut behind me. I held my breath until my lungs burned for oxygen. I stood there, the silence beating against me as the tears poured from my eyes in a steady stream.
I sat silently in a plush leather chair while I waited for Nix to get back. I stared at the empty space on the coffee table in front of me. My heart was in my throat as I sat in her living room with Rupert standing in the far corner of the room. I would sneak glances of him out of the corner of my eye. He stood in the shadowed corner, his arms crossed over his chest as he looked down at his feet.
Nix had left us in our own awkward silence as she waited for someone to arrive. She hadn’t told us who we were waiting for, she hadn’t been clear in her idiotic banter. I looked up at the sound of the door slamming open and hitting the wall behind it. I watched as she rushed into the room. She flicked her long braid off her shoulder to fall down against her back. She held a smile on her face, as her eyes danced with mischief. She moved to sit down on the couch that was across from me as she watched the doorway that she had just rushed through.
I glanced at her confused before I watched two hooded people rush through the door. The taller one moved around the room and closed all of the blinds. The room was cast in a shadow, the only light was coming from the large lamp that was turned on in the corner of the room. The two hooded people moved further into the room and joined Nix on the couch before removing their hoods.
I looked at the two of them with wide eyes. I bit down on my tongue as I moved my gaze over to Nix before I looked at Rupert. He had slightly moved from his spot, moving out from the shadow of the bookshelves and more into the light.
“Wonderful to see you again.” Her voice was wistful, light and beautiful. The Queen still managed to look elegant in her black pants, boots and hooded cloak. Her hair was loose against her shoulders, in beautiful long red waves.
I watched as Kallum, the King, moved his hand to reach out and squeeze hers. I smiled politely at the two of them before I frowned at Nix. I didn’t understand why their presence was needed here tonight.
“Well, we obviously have a lot to discuss.” Grace had said, breaking the silence.
“Yes. Yes.” Nix clapped her hands together. “Where should we begin?” Her eyes were as wide as her smile as she spoke.
I sighed as I ran my hands through my hair. “I guess we could start with what exactly happened at the ceremony.” I sat back in the chair and leaned my head into my hand that was holding it up.
“You weren’t supposed to be there.” Nix said in a sing-song voice. “Nope, not supposed to be there.”
“Yeah well, you weren’t exactly clear as to why you didn’t want her there so I brought her anyway.” Rupert’s voice was low. I turned to look at him, surprised to hear him speak.
Nix nodded her head, her smile never slipping. “Yes, well look where that’s gotten you two now.”
“Besides the point,” I whispered. “What happened?”
“You finally turned into your true self. The magic moved through you as well as the child. The only difference between you and the child is that he was born human, you weren’t.” Kallum finally spoke.
“What? How could I not be human? I grew up in a very human town, with very human parents.” I looked at them confused.
“That’s what we made you think,” Grace said after a moment of hesitation.
“Excuse me?” I sat up in the chair.
“There’s no simple way to say this Ariella,” Kallum said. “You were born a Changeling, and that’s what you shifted into during the ceremony the other night.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t quite understand.” I shook my head. “Why exactly was I raised to be human when apparently I’m not?”
“We had to for your safety.” The Queen spoke again. “There was a threat to your life. For your safety, we had to send you away. Send you to a place where no one would think we would send you.”
As she spoke the story of the lost princess surfaced in my brain. The way she was explaining things to me had me thinking about something that wasn’t quite possible.
“I’m sorry when you say we you’re referring to yourselves?” I raised an eyebrow as I slowly began to connect the dots. “Is this your way of saying that I’m the lost fucking Princess?” I laughed.
The King and Queen frowned slightly at my harsh language. I looked at them like they were crazy, there was no way that any of this was true. I was sitting there, picking at my fingernails as I looked at them. I was waiting for them to double over in laughter telling me that I’m crazy and this is all a massive joke.
“Um, yes.” Kallum nodded his head. “That’s exactly what we’re saying.”
“Is this a fucking joke?” I looked over at everyone's face. I had to do a double take as Rupert held no reaction. As if this was information he already knew and wasn’t as much as a shock to him as it was to me.
“I’m definitely not the lost princess of Emerald City. There’s no way. If I was, why didn’t you come and get me when I first came?” I glared at them. “Wouldn’t you want your long lost daughter home as soon as you could?”
“We needed to give you time. You needed to learn about us, our people, the city. You needed to adjust and feel comfortable before you got tossed into a life you didn’t understand.”
“Tossed into a life?” I laughed. “I don’t plan on being any princess if that’s what you’re saying.”
“You are the princess and you will take the role that you were born into.” Kallums voice was harsh, his authority showing. Grace reached over and grabbed his hand.
“The life that you made sure I was supposed to forget and apparently never come back to. I’m not even supposed to be here!” I stood up from the chair.
Kallum stood up with me. “You are the rightful heir to the throne and you will take over. Tonight you’ll head back to the castle with us. There are things expected of you.”
“If you honestly think I’m going anywhere with you, you’re out of your Goddamn mind.” I seethed as I glared at him.
There was no way that any of this was true and there was no way I was supposed to live the life as a princess. My stomach was in knots as I took in their information. I was seething with anger, confusion and fear. I wanted nothing more than to turn and run into Rupert’s arms. I wanted to feel him hold me and tell me it would all be okay.
I looked over at him. He was staring at me, staring through me. He was looking at me as if I was just an illusion. I could feel the tears building up, threatening to spill over as I looked at him.
“I’m not going anywhere,” I whispered as my chin quivered. I gave them one last glare before I moved towards the door.
“You are. You’re coming home, Ella.” Graces voice was soft as she spoke to me.
I ignored her comments as I continued to walk out of the room. As I reached the doorway, I felt a rush of wind blow past me and watched as the wooden door slam shut in my face.
I quickly reached out and pulled on the handle. The door wouldn’t budge. It didn’t move an inch, it was sealed with magic. Magic I did not understand.
“I’m not going with you. I’m not the princess. I’m not a Changeling. My name is not Elle. It’s Ariella. I’m not who you say I am.” I choked out, tears now falling, feeling defeated.
I angerly wiped them away, feeling stupid for the amount of tears that had fallen today.
“I’m sorry, but you are.” Grace stepped towards me. I held up my hand to keep her away.
“Don’t.” I shook my head. “Please don’t. I don’t want this.”
“I’m sorry.” Grace continued to move towards me. “This isn’t a choice you get to make. It’s how it works.” Her hand reached out and grabbed mine. “It will be okay.” Her touch was warm, gentle.
“Sleep.” I heard her soft voice whisper. Before I could react my legs gave out and my vision turned black.