Chapter 19 ♕
I held my fork in my hand and played absently with the leftovers on my plate. A piece of vegetable rolled through the sauce, straight into a small pile of potatoes that no longer fit in my stomach. I had probably eaten as much tonight alone as I would in three evenings at home.
I couldn’t help but think about a thought I had had last week, when I was still about to go home, that of all that this place has to offer, I might miss the food the most. In the meantime, a number of other items had been added to that list, such as the bed I sleep in, the gardens I walked through every day, the endless fanciful books I can choose from.
It was dangerous how often I caught myself getting used to this life. It all seemed to go without saying and I didn’t like that at all. I was no longer productive at all and contributed nothing.
I put my hand under my chin and sighed. I tore my gaze from my supper and looked across the table. There, Cayden and Bethany sat together, immersed in their own world. If I wasn’t so happy for her I would be sick. Although a small smile appeared on my mouth.
She’d been so nervous about her birthday, especially when those terrible witches had invaded. She had already given up all hope of finding her mate, and then he had suddenly appeared out of nowhere to save her from an attack that would otherwise surely have ended her life. Yet it was strange to see them like this. Bethany hopelessly in love wasn’t hard to imagine, but Cayden was a whole different story.
I made myself believe that he eventually warmed up to me, although he never showed it. I had never seen him smile before this. His attitude had always been alert and vigilant, as if there was danger at all times. Now he seemed to lose himself completely in the moment. The way he looked at Bethany, with a look full of love and affection. It was heartwarming.
I dabbed my mouth with my napkin and glanced sideways at the empty chair at the head of the table. I sighed deeply, put my napkin on my plate and pushed my chair back. The scraping sound raised Cayden and Bethany from their love bubble.
“I’m going to bed. Good night” I said and walked away. I heard two voices murmuring softly before they turned back to each other. I laughed and shook my head and closed the door behind me.
During my walk to my chambers I looked out through the high windows. It was already dark outside. At one point I passed the infirmary. The door was open, so I glanced inside. Most of the beds were occupied. I could not contain my curiosity and walked in. Immediately everyone seemed to stop what they were doing to look at me. Apparently, news that the king had found his mate had spread quickly. No one seemed to know how to respond. I didn’t like all those wait-and-see looks, so I smiled gently and walked to the only familiar face I recognized.
Rowan looked a lot better. He was lying in the bed furthest from the entrance, which forced me to endure all the stares. I put my hands over the metal railing at the foot of the bed and looked at him. His face had already regained some color and he sat up. Judging from the amused look in his eyes, he knew exactly how embarrassed I was feeling right now.
“Don’t blame them. The story was going round that the king had finally found his mate, but no one dared to believe it. Especially when it came to light that his mate was the human girl who had been wandering here all week. It’s quite a lot for everyone to take in,” he said.
I immediately looked at him scornfully. “No of course. I can imagine how difficult all this is for you” I said sarcastic, “it’s not like I have to get used to the fact that there is another world right under my nose or that I am apparently destined to spent my life with a wolf who prefers growling over talking”.
This time Rowan had to laugh. “Nobody blames you. It is completely understandable. But here everyone knows the king as someone with little patience. He does not tolerate contradiction and punishes those who find themselves guilty of it. In short, it makes sense to think that everyone is acting cautiously in front of whoever is in full control of the king”.
“I don’t want to control anyone,” I said guiltily, but then I thought again of everything he had said before, “I really need to talk to Alaric about that. It is really unacceptable that he behaves that way”. My voice was an absent murmur.
Rowan stared at me almost fascinated. “You know what I think,” he began, “I think you belong here, Magnolia. I think you are exactly what this kingdom, including it's king, has been waiting for. It may take you some time to see that for yourself, but it will come. I know that for sure”.
I turned red and wanted to change the subject. My gaze shifted past the overcrowded beds. While some were only slightly injured, most of them saw serious injuries. “What happened?” I asked hesitantly.
“The witches have received the news that the king killed all the witches who had invaded the castle. So now our borders are being besieged with witches seeking revenge. We’ve managed to stop them so far, but I don’t know how long it will take,” Rowan said laboriously.
“I’m going,” I said and turned to his bed, “get well soon, Rowan”. Then I turned and walked to the exit. I went through all the stares again as best I could.
A few hours later, I was staring at the ceiling with my eyes wide open. I couldn’t sleep. It didn’t matter how desperately hard I tried. I groaned as I switched sides again, but none of the positions seemed comfortable. I pulled the covers up to my chin and settled deeper into the mattress. But nothing seemed to work.
I sat up in exasperation and reached for the cup of tea that was on my bedside table. I brought it to my lips and took a little sip. At home this had always been the best solution to a sleepless night. Unfortunately, I was almost certain it wouldn’t help me this time. I stared over the edge of my cup at the chair Alaric had been in for the past few nights. He wasn’t there now.
He hadn’t been there for hours and that felt uncomfortable. In the past few days I could have felt that things were getting better between us. We became more and more open with each other and I slowly got used to always having someone around me.
Four days had passed since I challenged him to convince me that I couldn’t live without him. And it was terrifying how quickly he would seem to be proved right. Because this was the first time in days that he had left me alone and I didn’t like it.
As a child I had been used to being alone. I didn’t have many friends and as soon as I got home it often happened that my parents were away on business. I had never been with the same babysitter twice while they were away. And by the time I was able to bond with the sitter, my parents were already returning home. So except for Mom and Dad, I never really had anyone.
He had forced his way in and apparently intended to stay there, if I at least believed every time he assured me of that. I had always been okay on my own. I had enough imagination and I managed to get through the time with that. I had never tried to actually bond with anyone, but that was what I seemed to be doing with him now.
We took our time, because somewhere it was clear that this was new territory for both of us. But I’d gotten used to it being there all the time, although it had only been a few days.
I had not seen him since that afternoon, when he had told me there was something he had to deal with. And ever since then I kept looking over my shoulder, hoping to catch a glimpse of him somewhere. Also, several times I had caught myself paying attention to certain smells, as if I could base that on whether he was around or not. It was madness, but I just wanted him around.
My head was spinning.
I wasn’t sure how I had done it, but earlier that week I had managed to pull Bethany away from her mate long enough to explain a few things to me. Apparently this reaction I had to Alaric’s absence was more than normal. Both the physical and mental burden would increase as long as Alaric did not return to my side.
Our souls had recognized each other as its other half and had begun to merge. That was the beginning of the ritual. Apparently there were other stadiums, but she wouldn’t tell me. She said I had to be with Alaric for that.
Bethany had assured me he was still in the castle. Alaric knew what I was going through if he wasn’t there and therefore would never move further away from me than absolutely necessary.
I put my cup back on the table and lay down again. I felt a rush of nausea, but managed to suppress it. This way, this would be a long night. I could only hope that whatever Alaric was doing it would be done quickly so he could come back here and I could finally sleep.
I wasn’t ready to sleep in the same bed with him, but he didn’t mind. He made himself comfortable on the couch in the corner of my bedroom. When I had tried to persuade him to spend the night separately a few nights before, it had been close to having a desk flown out through the window. I had taken that as a hint that he preferred being in the same room.
I don’t know why, but somehow I found it endearing that Alaric seemed unable to hide his emotions from me. But on the other hand, I don’t think he knew how to communicate with me using words. Many of the things I had learned about him had been through asking him questions and simply studying his facial expression.
I closed my eyes again and just decided to wait. The minutes passed slowly. Maybe an hour had passed by when I felt something change.
It felt as if someone had opened a window, blowing a cold wind in. My instinct told me I was no longer alone in the bedroom. I turned slowly under the covers. Excruciatingly slowly I sat up in my bed and looked straight ahead.
In the corner of my bedroom, hidden in the shadows, a pair of white eyes had appeared, looking straight back at me.
Something inside of me wanted to scream, run out to sound the alarm, but another part of me was just telling me nothing was going on. Because what was there really to be afraid of. She had saved my life just earlier that week.
I tilted my head slightly and let a small smile appear on my lips. “Raisa,” I said softly.
Her form emerged from the shadows again, just like the first time. She wore the same robe, black and so long that it hid her whole body. Only the hood had been left back, allowing me to make out her face.
I studied every detail of her face. There were only two black holes where her eyes were supposed to be. They fell deep into her face and black circles surrounded them. Strange symbols were inscribed on her forehead, which she wore almost like a crown. I don’t think there was a word to describe her. She was beautiful as well as disfigured.
She got closer. As she walked it was almost as if she was floating the way she didn’t make any noise. She didn’t stop until she reached the edge of my bed.
Meanwhile I was still sitting in my bed like a statue. I didn’t want to move, mainly to show her I wouldn’t hurt her. Although I probably couldn’t if I had wanted to. I saw what she had done to those witches with just a simple gesture of her hand. I was the one who should be afraid of her, but I wasn’t.
She was so close that she had to look down on me. Looking at it that way, I don’t think there were two creatures on this earth more different from each other than the two girls currently in this room. I had an abundance of color, she lacked it.
Raisa raised her hand with slow, almost thoughtful tremors. Her fingers were long, pale and unbearably cold. But I didn’t discover that until she put her hand to my cheek. I shivered for a moment, but still sat motionless.
It was bizarre, but immediately it seemed as if my head was filled with images. It took me a while to realize I was seeing things through her eyes. She showed me what she had seen. The endless nights alone, wandering through the dark forest. How everyone fled again and again just feeling her presence. What her own people had done to her.
It was as if she opened herself up to me completely and although I couldn’t see the reason behind it, I knew why she had come to see me.
The moment she first appeared before my eyes, she had felt the same as I did. Something between us. She knew that I was the only one who wouldn't run from her. I wouldn’t be afraid of her and for that specific reason, she could tell me what she had been looking for all these years.
“You’re looking for a home,” I said, whispering.
She let her hand slide off my face. I looked up at her, but her face didn’t give anything away, but it didn’t have to. She had come to me and I would help her. Immediately a solution came to mind.
“I think I have the perfect place for you,” I said with a grin, throwing my legs over the side of my bed. If Alaric didn’t plan to show up tonight, I had better use my time to do something useful.
I quickly pulled something on my feet and tied a robe around my waist. Then I walked to the door and gestured with my head for Raisa to follow me.
Raisa disappeared where she stood and seemed to have turned into a mass of darkness. She hung there until I finally reached out to her. She slowly approached and then merged with my shadow. That way no one could see that she was here and it didn’t cost her any energy. I could feel she didn’t mind being in my presence.
For a moment I suppressed a shiver of the cold sensation that entered my mind as Raisa settled in my shadow and opened the door. It was my intention not to be seen by anyone. That would only raise unwanted questions. I closed my bedroom door softly behind me and started walking.
During my first days in the palace, Bethany had shown me every little bit of the palace. Halfway through the tour, we had arrived at a massive metal door located in the basement of the palace. Bethany had just opened it for us to look inside. According to her, that door led to a system of underground passages that ran underneath the castle. Nobody took advantage of them and they had been abandoned for years. It was as if I could sense that that was exactly what Raisa was looking for.
She didn’t want light, she couldn’t bear that.
Once there I had to admit that all that darkness terrified me. I descended the stairs and found myself at the beginning of what appeared to be an endless corridor. As if she could sense we had arrived, Raisa reappeared.
“I hope this is roughly what you had in mind,” I said, “no one comes here, so you won’t be disturbed. But if you want I can visit you now and then”.
The only response I received was that a tilted head, but I counted that as an agreement. So I gave her a friendly smile. In compensation, Raisa reached out to me. Her palm was facing forward, and if I wasn’t mistaken, she wanted me to put my hand against hers.
It was absurd how well I seemed to be able to sense her. As if there was something between us. I never asked Alaric about her. I didn’t know about her at all. But I trusted her.
So I slowly raised my hand. I didn’t even think about it. It all just happened by itself. Our hands were about to touch, but then out of nowhere the halls filled with heart-pounding and deafening screams.
I didn’t have to think. My intuition immediately told me what I needed to know. This was the subtle sign that someone had told Alaric something that he apparently did not like.
Immediately I started running. I trusted Raisa would be fine from here, because I didn’t look back. I ran up the stairs I had descended earlier. My heart was racing in my chest and my ears were ringing.
I had not heard where his voice had come from, nor was I still able to find my way around the castle. Yet I seemed to know exactly where to go, because I never stopped to think which way to go next.
I just wanted to go to him.
I just had to go to him.