ashes and snow

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thirty-four


There was a choked scream, a bang that echoed around the room. Eira rang for her breaths, her hand flying to her throat. She was gasping for air, her hands shaking as they moved over her skin.

Her heartbeat was drumming in her ears, almost drowning out other sounds in the room. She swallowed. Breathing heavily, she grasped onto the armrest of the armchair and forced herself to sit up. There were two men in front of her, the hair colors complete opposite.

One was holding the other onto the ground by the neck, beating the other with his fists. There were groans of pain, screams that sounded tormenting to the ears.

Eira could only watch.

Hedwig was grasping onto Arkyn’s hand that held him down by his collar. He was trying to get away by moving his face from side to side. But nothing helped against Arkyn’s rage.

His fists came crashing down relentlessly like he had lost all control he had ever possessed.

She heard something that sounded like a growl. Swallowing, she stood up slowly, her hand on the back of the chair to support herself. Every other woman would have looked away or run for the hills. But she didn’t.

She stumbled a step forward, her right hand still on the skin of her throat. She had to cough. Her throat felt raw. When she neared, she could seewhat all this torture was doing.

There were red bruises on his dark skin, streaks from Arkyn’s nails. Hedwig wouldn’t stop crying out. He tried to kick Arkyn, but the man had already moved his body to the side.

Eira licked over her lips. She could taste the potion and grimaced.

She spat onto the ground. The world started to turn, but she caught herself before she could fall. She hugged her arms over her stomach, trying not to gag.

She could hear the fight. It was one-sided. She knew that Hedwig stood no chance against her husband. If he wanted to, he would end his life. He had been as heartless from the beginning.

Her breath hitched, and she raised one hand up. She wiped her mouth with the back of it. It took her a second, but then she managed to move her gaze again, to focus on something else than herself.

She heard Hedwig whimper. She watched as his movements got slower and slower.

It would be his end.

Today would be his last, and the last he would see was the cold eyes of her husband, his own king. What he tried to protect had turned against him.

Arkyn kept raging against him even as Hedwig’s head drifted to the side, and his breath came in rattles. Eira blinked as her heartbeat sped up. She took another step forward. She wanted to see the last inhale of his breath, the last time his chest lifted to bring back the life in him.

She wouldn’t be able to hear his end, but she would be able to see it.

Arkyn shifted, his hands moving up to clasp his fingers around Hedwig’s throat. The old man flinched upward, his hands twitching. She could see that there was still something left of him, but he was too weak to do anything.

He hadn’t accepted his fate yet.

“You made her weak,” Arkyn grunted out, breathing heavily. His dark hair was wild around his face. Harshness spoke from his lips, taking everything away from the sane man she knew.

He sounded like he had lost his mind.

“You wanted to take her from me,” he spoke from gritted teeth. He leaned forward until they were eye to eye. There was blood running out of several wounds on Hedwig’s face. There were so many bruises and scratches that it was hard to even recognize him.

But it was Hedwig who whimpered despite the hands around his throat. He was still trying to breathe by will even though his body had been broken.

She noticed that Arkyn’s grip became harder. He must have been squeezing shut Hedwig’s air pipes for once and for all because blood bubbled out of the man’s lips. His body shook as it tried to get in the air.

But it would never get to reach his lungs again.

Arkyn planted one of his knees onto Hedwig’s chest, staring down at him. “And now you will die for your mistake,” he whispered tauntingly. A dark chuckle from him rumbled through Eira, drawing goosebumps onto her skin.

Her hands clenched at her sides, but she smiled. It was time.

They both watched as the light slowly drifted from the man’s eyes, how every will disappeared into nothingness. His chest stopped moving, fighting for him, and Eira’s lips left a sigh. Her heart felt lighter.

Arkyn didn’t move. He stayed still, his body weight pressing down onto Hedwig. There was nothing left to take, but it didn’t seem like he was finished.

“Arkyn?”

His shoulders went stiff. A growl rumbled through him. Eira walked forward until she stood next to him. She stared down at his dark hair, feeling the stiffness of his body, the heat that came from his skin.

Something seemed wrong.

Arkyn’s body jerked. He stood then, not giving her a glance as he started to pace around. Sounds came from him, sounding more animal than human, strange to her ears. She didn’t know what it was, but it didn’t seem right.

He seemed gone.

His hands moved up into his hair, stroking through the silk strands and then moving down. His fingers racked over the skin of his neck, his throat, leaving red streaks. Eira didn’t know what was happening.

“I need Aisha,” he murmured, his fingers digging into the blue fabric above his shoulders. He was smutched with crimson, the color on his hands, and spreckled onto his face. He was smudging it around.

She watched as he pinched his eyes close and let out a snarl. His head snapped from side to side.

Eira’s brows furrowed as she stared at her husband. Or either what was left off him. “Arkyn?” she whispered again.

But he didn’t react. “The oracle. I need to know if we’re preparing for war!” He turned again, shaking his head as he racked his bloodied hands through his dark hair.

He was breathing heavily.

“Arkyn!” she exclaimed, not even twitching against the pain it caused her. “What is going on?”

The man turned to her, his eyes feral. For a second, it didn’t even seem like he recognized her. They were staring at each other.

And then he moved.

He stopped in front of her, both of his hands gripping onto her shoulders. “What did he say to you?” He sounded different as if he still hadn’t realized who was in front of him.

Every syllable was vicious, bit out from gritted teeth.

His face was red with rage.

It didn’t seem like she was fast enough for him because he repeated again, “What did he say to you?” He shook her.

Eira swallowed and pressed her hands against his chest in an attempt to get him off of her. It was useless. She was too weak. And now she had to think fast.

“He said he came from the red kingdom,” she whispered. The lies needed to be spun carefully. “He wanted to take me down first and then take the kingdom. They’re coming for us.”

Arkyn let out a heavy breath. The grip around her shoulders tightened until he was squeezing her flesh. She was sure that it would leave dark bruises, but she didn’t flinch.

“Arkyn,” she whispered, raising her hand to his face. She didn’t touch his skin, though. Her hand hovered next to it, moving down as if she was stroking over his cheek. He seemed feral, like a predator that stared at its prey. “What is happening to you?”


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