Life After Life

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Chapter 11 - Everose

The next few days I developed a rhythm. I resumed my search for the book that Siel had given me, I tore apart every library in the castle and I even made Sara search her room to no avail. Siel departed for a trip right after I saw him in the library a few days ago, so there was no help there. I took my normal lessons in the morning, rested in the afternoons and before dusk the four of us went out to see Hayther for our training. I was getting stronger every day. Once about a week after we had started learning I actually disarmed and surprised Hayther. This was the only time I really saw him anymore. Even when he was my guard he stood quietly outside. He didn’t chuckle at jokes anymore or make fun of Veryan. I missed the way his brown eyes used to warm me up even on the coldest winter days.

Some days were left for my own private studying time and I took a few of my history books that I had a lesson on later and retreated into one of the small libraries. From the last time Veryan looked my book from Siel was still gone, no new books and no new ways to help me understand anything. Axel was with me again today, and I felt myself longing for Hayther. I swung the heavy door open using my back since my arms were heavy with the two thick books. Axel, who seemed to be loosening up since he was with me more often than not, chuckled at me having no patience. He stations himself against the wall nearest the door as stared at me amused.

I stuck my tongue out at him and looked around the room, as his quiet laughter faded away. Thick green curtains hung from the large windows that overlooked one of the many gardens on the palace grounds. A small piano sit to the left in the room near three of the windows and near it a small table. I made my way towards it and tried to gently set my books down, but they land in a loud THUMP. I sighed and walked over to the piano to touch one of the smooth white keys, it’s notes rung out eagerly in the quiet room.

“Do you play?” Axel’s gruff voice sounded closer than I remembered, I glanced back at him and saw he was already halfway towards me. I shook my head no and looked back to the keys.

“My mother could play beautifully, and she tried to teach me, but I was never very good at it. My fingers were too clumsy.” I sadly remembered the memory of my mother’s green eyes wrinkling with laughter, as her daughter tried to follow along and failed miserably but still tried to make her own music.

Axel suddenly sat down on the piano bench and scooted over so there was space for another. He looked expectantly at the emptiness next to him, I hesitated only for a moment and then I sat down. My curiosity was peaked, and I looked eagerly at his hands as he positioned them over the keys getting ready to play. His fingers came crashing down and I cringed expecting to hear nothing but noise but instead music lifted from this piano that probably hadn’t been played in years. I closed my eyes and let the music wrap around me and squeeze my heart. His song was hauntingly beautiful. I looked again to his hands, in awe that those same hands who held a sword so surely could become so gentle and peaceful.

His brow was slightly knitted in concentration, and he bit the edge of his lips ever so slightly. The song reached its peak and I was enthralled, it didn’t just feel like music, I felt as though it was telling a story. When he played the finally note and his hands came to rest softly in his lap. I did the only thing I could and applauded, but it sounded so loud and ugly in comparison to his beautiful music.

I breathed out “Where did you learn that?” Axel just shook his head and said, “Just something I picked up.” He got up to stand against the wall again, an obvious blush spread across his cheeks.

I followed him with my eyes saying “A royal guard does not learn things like that, does someone in your family play? Perhaps a sister or your mother?” Axel’s jaw tensed.

“My mother died when I was young.” I shifted uncomfortably unsure of what to say.

Every time I asked about his history it seemed I brought him into a bad mood. I stared straight at his face, but he looked past me to a random area on the wall. I sighed and retreated back to my stack of books and picked one that read The Great History of Ardelia. I made it all the way to chapter 5 when the words finally started to blend together into just a jumbled mess. I tried to reread the same paragraph 5 times until I sighed in frustration. My stomach grumbled letting me know it was hungry, I looked out the window a blue sky looked back at me. Suddenly the room felt stifling, I was going to ask Axel to find me a servant and have them bring up lunch.

Instead I looked to him and said, “Let’s have a picnic?” Axel just rolled his eyes. I left my history books there and started my way down to the kitchen. I arrived at the kitchen and instead of making the servants do all the work, I quietly looked around for a basket to put the food in. Axel saw my plan and developed a smirk on his face. Soon enough a passing by servant stopped and dropped her basket of laundry.

“Your highness, I’m so sorry, we didn’t know you were hungry! You should have sent down someone!”

Suddenly we were surrounded by about 4 servants all looked very nervous that they didn’t see the princess in their kitchen. I laughed awkwardly and said as sweetly as I can “Please don’t stop what you are doing for me, I am just looking for a simple basket and maybe some sandwiches and cake for a picnic for a friend and I.” Axel’s smirk grew even more at being referred to as my friend, even if it was not openly him. All the kitchen servants jumped into action and I ended up being loaded down with two baskets and a blanket thick enough to where we wouldn’t feel the grass poking through it.

Axel volunteered to carry the two baskets out and I carried the blanket, I made sure to thank each servant personally. Their smiles lit up their faces showing that they appreciated it. We walked down the long halls and I decided to take us to one of my favorite gardens, I used to take long walks with my mother through it. We reached my favorite spot near a fountain with a mermaid laying on her side water spouting from behind her while koi fish swam under her fin. I laid down the blanket on the grass and Axel began to set out the food. I laid down on my back and stared up at the sky. It was the same color of Veryan’s eyes, no clouds insight.

I quietly murmured “This used to be my mother’s favorite place to walk with me. We would always sit by the fountain and watch the fish play, while we ate our picnic.” I could hear Axel breathing next to me though he didn’t say anything at first.

He finally spoke “I’m sure you miss her very much.” I sat up on my elbows and stared at the mermaid, her eyes looking right back into mine.

“I do” I whispered.

I felt my heart constrict like someone was squeezing it too hard and then as suddenly as it arrived the squeeze was gone, like the fist had let go. As if admitting that I missed her had brought me some relief. I heard Axel shift and feel his hand gently cover mine, his calluses rubbed on my soft knuckles.

I looked up into his eyes and saw a pain matching mine. A moment passed between us and its Axel who looked away first.

“Let’s eat?” He picked up a sandwich and started to raise it to his mouth.

I let out a giggle and he looked at me exasperated “Yes Princess?”

I sighed and gave him a pointed look “I thought it wasn’t proper for a guard to share a meal with a princess?”

He just shrugged and took a bite. His eyes lit up at the flavor and he devoured it, reaching for a second one almost immediately. I ate my sandwich though at a slower pace. A gentle breeze brushed my hair. We sat in silence and ate the rest of our lunch. Axel started to clean up as I walked around the fountain, some leaves had begun to fall already from the trees around us. Their colors bright orange and yellow. I heard boots crunching the gravel and looked down the path that we came and saw Hayther walking towards us. My heart began to beat a little faster. I tried to smooth down any hairs that may have flown out of place while we were eating. Axel noticed me staring down the path and dropped the blanket to come stand near me. His friendliness forgotten. Axel saw Hayther and turned stoic, standing at attention he salutes Hayther. Hayther barely noticed him, his eyes on me. I ran my hands down my black gown.

“May I have a word with the Princess?” Hayther asked, I looked to Axel but then realize Hayther was talking to me.

I stuttered “Yes of course, let’s take a walk.”

I turned to Axel again and said “Sir Axel can you get this cleaned up? Hayther will escort me back to my room when we are finished.” As I turned away I thought I saw Axel’s jaw tighten. Hayther and I walked down the path deeper into the garden.

As we traveled deeper into the garden the hedges grew taller blocking the view, it was a little chillier here with not as much sun. I scooched a tad bit closer to Hayther and glanced up at him, he was staring at me intently.

I stopped and braced myself “Is something the matter?”

He looked down at his sword “They’ve set an execution date for Eric.”

My breath got caught in my chest, my mind spun “When?” He shrugged not wanting to say but I pressed closer my eyes pleading.

He sighed, his shoulders dropping “Tonight.”

I drew in a sharp breath “I need to be there.”

He looked away from me “Your father has told me to keep you away by using any means necessary. Ever, it’s for your own good.” He placed a hand gently on shoulder and suddenly I was furious.

I began to yell, my hysteria building “When can I finally decide what is good for me?!” I took a deep breath my hands shaking “I am finished being told what to do! I will see the man who planned my mother’s death killed.” I stormed off, tears gathered in my eyes making it harder to see, I just kept taking turns until finally I realized I was lost in the garden.

The bushes here looked wild growing up towards the sky in jagged, unkept shoots. My rage was building again, and I let out the most primal scream I had ever heard. My chest moved rapidly as I gasped for breath. The wind picked up and swirls all around me, pushing my skirt around my legs. It almost felt like someone was grabbing me and pushing me all around. I started to swing my fists blindly desperate to get rid of whatever it was. My fist connected with something solid.

“Ouch! Everose it’s me!” I opened my eyes; the wind had stopped and Hayther was rubbing his cheek. I covered my mouth with my hands, visibly shaking.

“I’m fine, you didn’t hit me that hard.” he says sarcastically, “Next time then.” Hayther looked like he wanted to say more but he kept his mouth shut. I felt calmer now after having let go of some of my anger, I raced through ideas in my head of how to get Hayther to let see the execution. Hayther took my hand in his and I looked at him surprised.

“Everose” he started “I’m here for you, no matter what. I know I’ve been distant lately and Axel has been with you a lot, but that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped caring.” he took a deep breath “I’m in love with you Everose but I can’t be with you and that’s hard to deal with. I just need time.” My heart broke into a thousand pieces, finally hearing those words that I had longed to hear. I stepped towards him and stood up on my toes and pressed my mouth to his. He hesitated for a moment and then let go of my hand so that one was wrapped around my waist and the other cradled my cheek and crushed his mouth to mine. His lips tasted sour and I stepped back, my vision started to blur. I felt myself losing control of my limbs and I started to fall forward. Hayther caught me easily.

He quietly said, “I’m sorry Everose.”

I opened my eyes to find myself in my room. I sighed and stretched my arms out, not remembering where I had been. I sat up and looked around, then I remembered what Hayther told me, my head snapped to the window. It was dark outside though a pale sliver of the moon was visible. I jumped out of bed and rushed towards my door, it was locked from the outside. I jiggled the door handle as hard as I could, but it wouldn’t budge. I slapped my open palm against the wooden panels with defeat.

Then I heard his voice on the other side, “I’m sorry Ever.”

Anger ignited inside my heart. Hayther! If I could convince him to open the door then I could get there!

“Hayther? Hayther please come in so I can talk to you.” It’s quite outside my door so I try again.

“Hayther please, I feel ill, I think I may have another fit.” Sometimes when I get lost in a memory my body will fall to the floor and shake uncontrollably and my eyes are open but unseeing.

“Everose, I know you are fine.”

“Can you at least tell me if it’s happened yet?”

“Soon.”

“Hayther how could you?” I scream my hysteria was building, I start to slam my hand off the door again.

“Hayther you don’t love me!” tears escaped down my cheeks, I hated that I was crying but maybe it would help so I let myself wail and beg. I started to feel that he may have left until I heard his body knock on the door as he slid down it to sit, probably covering his ears trying to drown out my sorrow. A few times he yelled I’m sorry Everose but none of that was getting through my now panicked state.

Still sniffling I turned to look around my room, my eyes darted from window to window, but I was on the fourth floor of the castle, I was lucky to not break my leg last time I jumped from the library, I wouldn’t be so lucky again. That’s when I got an idea, the secret tunnel.

I banged on the door one last time and yelled “I hate you Hayther!” my rage was blinding but for a split moment I think I may regret that later but there was no time. As I turned away from the door I heard him say,

“I love you,” that pushed my rage away a little, but the fire was still burning in my soul. I wiped my face and smoothed my hair in the darkness seeing nothing but Eric’s face.

I cursed myself and wished I would have brought a candle to see, but I’ve wasted too much time and Hayther was probably battling with himself whether or not to come in and check on me or leave me be. This hurried my step and made me look behind me to see if I could see any signs of being followed. I smacked into a hard surface I felt around for the latch that opened the door. The candles in the throne room were close to being burnt out so they only gave off a little light. I marched through the doors at the end of the room and walked as if I was meant to be there. I could feel my hair flowing all around me and some of the servants actually stepped back as if they were frightened of me. I kept turning corners trying to get to the front of the castle where the executions were always held. I tried to smooth the black dress down, so I didn’t look so wild. I came around a corner and my head snapped up as I ran straight into Axel. I gave out a surprised yelp and he quickly grabbed the wall to steady himself. His face looked very surprised to see me.

“I thought you were locked in your room?”

“I thought you would be at the execution?”

My heart hammered in my chest, I am so close if I can just get around Axel without him taking me to Hayther.

He looked around frantically and muttered to himself “Oh goddess.” Someone approached from the other hallway, Axel grabbed my waist and shoved me into a corner of the hallways and kissed me. I tried to push him away, but his body pinned me to the wall. My heart was slamming in my chest almost like it was trying to break free.

I heard the footsteps pass us and someone mutter “Get back to your post and stop messing around with the help.”

Axel never broke our kiss; the man continued on and finally my body was mine again as Axel stepped away. He wiped his lips as he looked at me, his eyes were dark and hooded.

I took a deep breath, my heart still pounding, and said “What in the Goddess was that?” Axel just shrugged his eyes still dark.

“I could tell someone was coming and anyone who knows that you should be away from here would march you straight back to your room. But I figured you’d like to get there so I improvised.” I watched his face as he said this.

“Princess, we need to move if you plan on seeing the execution.” he turned and started walking down the hallway the opposite way that he was coming when I bumped into him. I wondered where he was going before.

We arrived at the heavy oak doors that would lead me outside, right to where the execution was to happen. Axel looked at me and then unfastened his cloak, securing it around my shoulders and tucking my hair in the hood. The cool night air hit me, and I shivered. Axel put his arm around me and we descended the stairs.

He whispered in my ear “Try not to do anything to stand out.” We were deep inside the crowd now I could see my father on the platform along with his advisor and someone else I did not recognize.

Suddenly the crowd went quiet as a man took the stage, a bag over his head, his hands tied in front of him. He shuffled forward with a limp, even from this distance you could see that his arms were littered with scars and wounds that had begun to heal. A guard pushed him forward so that the noose was hanging right above his head. The guard stepped forward and ripped the bag from Eric’s head. I gasped they had shaved his head, where his blonde curls had been, nothing remained, his stormy gray eyes took in the crowd. Seeing his hair gone it reminded me of someone else’s blonde curly hair and I looked up at Axel his face was hard and unreadable. Murmurs and whispers arose until someone shouted, “On with it!” I looked back to the stage and my father had risen.

A deadly silence fell over us my father’s strong voice boomed across the square. “This is the leader of the rebel Carastil group that has attacked my castle, cut off trade lines and” he paused to take a deep breath, “planned and killed my beloved wife.”

The crowd rang out “Long Live Queen Melena.”

My father raised his hand so that he could speak “Tonight Eric, shall be hung for his part in all of this, any other rebels who are caught will face the same fate’s.” The crowd cheered and started to get more energy as they knew he’d be dead soon. Eric seemed to read the crowd’s mood and smiled, his teeth still covered in blood.

He let his head fall back and he looked up into the sky, I followed his eyes and saw that he was staring at the moon. It almost looked like a sideways smile. When I looked back to the stage Eric was staring at me, even though I knew there was no way that he could recognize me I still shuddered. I glanced at Axel and saw him nod once, Eric’s smile got even bigger. My heart started to thunder in my chest, as I pretended I didn’t just see whatever I wasn’t supposed to see. Eric stepped up onto the platform and the guard put the noose around his neck. Eric closed his eyes.

My first instinct was to look away, but I needed to see this. I needed to see that this monster be killed. My father’s hand wrapped around the lever, he pulled it towards the ground and you heard the click of the wood unhinging. But instead of Eric’s body hanging there he was gone. The crowd pressed forward trying to see what was going on. I looked at the wall behind the stage and saw the glint of metal, a throwing knife. I deflated disappointment coursing through me, he was still alive.

I turned to turn Axel to say let’s go before anyone noticed me, but when I turned it wasn’t Axel next to me, it was Eric in a black cloak exactly like mine. I saw Axel behind him, his eyes casted down. I turned to get away, my eyes on the oak doors that could save me, just as I took a step towards them Hayther came bursting out. He looked panicked as he searched the crowd a smile came over my face and then I was being pulled back by my cloak.

I felt rough hands on my arms and then hot breath on my cheek “I told you, we would get you princess.” He started to pull me towards the gate as people started to scream. I looked away from Hayther for a second and saw a dead body lying in the middle of the crowd and I could hear my father’s deep voice in the background, but I couldn’t make out what he was saying.

I struggled trying to get away, trying to yell out for help but no one looked or even heard me. I turned my head one last time towards Hayther and we locked eyes I saw his lips forming words, but I couldn’t put together what he was saying. Eric and Axel both kept their hands on my arms as we walked towards the gates. The crowd was becoming more and more frenzied around us and we keep getting jostled around and almost separated. I felt Axel let go of my arm and let out a sort of yell. I glanced over my shoulder and saw Hayther had Axel’s hair in his fist.

I swung around and threw a punch at Eric’s face with all my might, my freedom was a few feet from me, if I could get free and get to Hayther then I would be safe. But Eric deflected my blow easily as if I was nothing more than a stray leaf blown his way by a summer breeze. He locked my left arm behind my back pinning it there until the strain started a sharp pain in my arm. The way his arm was positioned it let’s all the cold air come rushing in since my cloak was pushed away from my body, I immediately start to shiver.

I stopped resisting immediately and glanced back at Hayther as we moved farther away, I was just in time to see Axel punch him straight across the face. Hayther’s eyes rolled into the back of his head and he fell away from my view. Axel shoved through the bodies and was back at my side holding my other arm, his touch made my skin crawl even through my cloak. I saw that guards were checking everyone who left to see if it were Eric. My heart leapt with joy I would be saved after all! I started to jostle around again trying to get another guards attention, but Eric pushed my arm up higher and I let out a little whimper from the pain.

His breath was hot near my ear as he leaned down and whispered “Good. I like when you’re in pain.”

Unexpectedly we veered to the left down a little hill into the ditch and under the bridge we were about to cross. Eric let go of one of my arms and before I could raise it to try and break free Axel’s other hand quickly clamped down. I was immobilized again and although I tried to kick and squirm away nothing I did seemed to be helping. Axel had been quiet. “Traitor” I whispered.

Eric whistled from the tunnel that ran from under our gates out to the fields where our cows slept.

“No princess you were just foolish.” Eric said as we stepped into the tunnel and I saw four eyes staring at me, “Now learn to shut your trap.” Eric slapped me so hard across my face I was jolted out of Axel’s hands and my head slammed against the stones in the tunnel. My body crumpled to the ground and my vision went black. I laid in the ebony ocean forever, never wanting to come out of this inky darkness again.

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