ashes and snow

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“You need to drink, Queen Eira,” Hedwig advised as he lifted the cup to her lips. The liquid smelled of lavender, and she knew that it would only worsen her condition. But, with him in the room, she had no better option than to drink.

She swallowed, stopping herself from grimacing as the liquid ran down her sore throat. A week or so had passed, and she had only grown weaker.

She could not only feel it in her bones but see it. She was paler than usual, and she was starting to only become skin and bones. It was clear to her that she had lost a lot of weight.

Her ability to speak was there again, even though her voice was thin. Every syllable hurt, but she still refused to stop talking. She wouldn’t let others be her voice. They had only misunderstood her in the last few days, and she was growing tired of it.

Hedwig placed the cup he had been holding to her lips on the small metal table he had brought to Arkyn’s and her bedroom. A few days ago, the walls in the medical room had become too bland for her, and so she asked them to bring her back into their bedroom.

They had been reluctant at first. Nobody knew the extent of her sickness and if it could take the king down with her. But after another day or two, where other doctors had watched how Hedwig was reacting to her, they had finally given in.

They were still blaming the executed woman for all of it.

Eira rolled her eyes. If only they knew that it was actually them that was worsening her condition...

The door to her left opened, letting in the dark-haired man she hadn’t seen in days. Arkyn looked stern, maybe a bit tired around the edges but still normal. Their eyes met as he walked towards her.

At least now she had a change of scenery. She couldn’t stand seeing only Hedwig anymore. She had seen Cailin from time to time because she was the one to clean her, but that was about it. It was like they made sure that she wouldn’t talk much...

Arkyn sat down next to her on the edge of their bed. He took her in, from her tired eyes to her weak form, and sighed. “I see, nothing much has changed?”

Hedwig, who stood to her right, shook his head. “She’s awake, but her body is weakening.”

Eira’s brows furrowed as she threw him a look. They were talking as if she wasn’t in the same room.

He ignored her and kept his focus on the king.

“We are trying to figure out how to help, but we can only do as much.”

Arkyn slowly nodded his head, a rumble going through his body. Eira swallowed down her anger and breathed in deeply. There was no reason to lash out yet.

If she wanted to get out, she couldn’t make it seem like she was delusional.

Her gaze flew to her left again.

Arkyn grabbed her hand, his thumb stroking over the back of her hand. She looked down, wondering if she was actually hallucinating. But his touch lingered the same even as she looked up to meet his eyes again.

Their eye contact was brief, and then Arkyn looked at Hedwig again. She watched from the reflection of his eyes, not caring to turn and acknowledge the man.

She was growing tired of the contrast between the silver of his hair and the dark of his skin. She would have had nothing against him if he had never opened his mouth around her. But he had made Cailin feel uncomfortable, and that was enough for Eira to despise him.

“I came to talk,” Arkyn threw in the room. His dark voice rumbled through her, sending a shiver down her spine. For the first time, she was appreciating his tone. At this moment, it meant change.

Hedwig nodded, and she felt him step forward. “Yes, my king-”

Arkyn shook his head. “To the queen,” he declared. “I came to talk to my wife. Alone.”

It felt like the world was shaking.

A small smile blossomed on her lips. She was finally getting free of Hedwig.

Hedwig paused, and she could almost feel the confusion that rippled through him. He staggered back and then recomposed himself. “Alright, my king. I’ll be back in a few hours.” He left the room without another word.

Finally, there was silence.

Eira sighed and closed her eyes for a brief second. Hopefully, the headache this man had given her would finally vanish. She sank back against the mountain of pillows that was staggered behind her. Now she had to see what Arkyn wanted from her.


She opened her eyes to look at him. “Yes?” she whispered. She had to swallow. It felt like her throat was closing up.

“How are you feeling?”

Her brows furrowed slightly.

She wasn’t sure how to answer him. “I’ve been better,” she croaked out quietly. For once, the truth. There was no reason to lie.

“Is there anything I can do?” he asked. He tilted his head down to her so that they were almost eye to eye. “Do you know anything that could help? Anything we could change?”

She tilted her head to the side. He sounded like he actually cared.

She wet her lips. She needed to go at this carefully.

One wrong word and he would leave her again.

“I’m not sure if it’s that,” she started quietly. She breathed in deeply. “But I think the potion Hedwig has given me has only worsened my condition... I feel weaker every time I take it.”

Arkyn was staring at her, his features seemingly stiff. His grip around her hand tightened. “Do you believe he has turned against you? Against us?”

She ground her teeth. Now, she needed to think quickly... If only she would have her magic. She could’ve made Hedwig hers and stopped the track everything was going to.

“I’m not sure.”

She could almost hear him ground his teeth too.

“I mean, I don’t wish anything bad to happen to him,” she continued. A well-spun lie, something she could imagine a queen saying. “But he must have noticed that what he has been doing has had no effect on me. Just take a look at me. I’m only left with skin and bones!”

He leaned back and let go of her hand. Almost lifelessly, it fell into the space between them on the bed. Eira felt troubled. She had grown so weak.

“I see,” was all that left Arkyn’s lips. He looked at the door behind him, where Hedwig had gone through only minutes ago. “I’ll make sure to ask him about that. This will change.”

She breathed out in relief. Her shoulders dropped, and she sighed. At least one thing would be sorted out now... Now she only needed to think about Zandro.

He was still the only bearer of her secret.

“Is there anything else?” he asked.

Their eyes met, and she could only see brutal honesty in his.

She shook her head. “No.” Not about anything they had talked about... but still... “But, is there anything about Zandro? I totally forgot about him in all this mess.”

Of course, she hadn’t.

The last few days, where she had been bedridden, had been filled with thoughts about him. She needed to be careful. One wrong word from him could lead to assumptions from others in this kingdom... She didn’t want to deal with that as long as she was ill.

Especially not if it was Arkyn who would get wrong ideas from him. She wouldn’t be able to do anything about that.

Arkyn leaned forward again, his rough hand stroking over her hair. He focused on it as his lips curved into a feral smile. “He is still in his cell,” he told her.

He lifted up a strand of hair. “My guards have reported that he has started talking to himself, occasionally screaming and calling you a witch.” A chuckle left his lips. He looked up into her eyes again. “Can you imagine?”

Her eyes widened the slightest, and she shook her head. Her lips stayed sealed.

Arkyn shook his head, breath leaving his lungs as he sighed. “They think he is descending into madness."

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