Darkness and Beauty

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Chapter 45 - Fauna

We sat under the stars for another hour before walking back. Aside from Will and his beautifully punchable face, tonight was fun. I played tag to my heart’s content, pissed off a few girls, got another inside look on the nosy and politely rude court, and to finish the night off, watched the stars in the reflection of a golden lit moat.

Kat and Lance were a joy to watch. He stayed near the Queen despite her shooing and insisting, but Kat didn’t leave his side. In fact, after a few minutes of standing awkwardly, they – or rather she – held hands. Darius and I had the time of our lives making bets on who would make a move first, or tell everyone to mind their own Gods damned business. Turns out both of us were wrong and laughed when Queen Claritia smacked the King’s arm, and he stiffly told his friends – the court – to go to bed. Who says women don’t rule the kingdom?

We left before Kat, Lance, and the Queen, but I saw the way he looked at her beneath his hood and balaclava as she smiled at the lit moat, and my heart has been beating with pure joy ever since. After Will broke us by killing Rose, I have been scared to the bone that Lance would dig himself a hole and never crawl out to find another woman. Turns out he just needed a little push in her direction, and he was climbing into the sunlight. Out of all the girls I’ve met, I couldn’t think of anyone better than Kat to be at his side right now. She’s kind and caring and ferocious. She could never replace the missing piece inside me and Lance from Rose’s death, but she’s the best thing to try and balance its emptiness. I will admit, I do like the idea of calling Kat a sister and it actually is the truth.

“What do you think about a wedding?” I ask Darius as we walk up the stairs. His eyebrows shoot up, Ozzie tripping in front of me, and I swear I’m about to smack them both in the back of the head. “I’m not proposing, you dimwits. I meant for Kat.”

“They’ve only just met,” Darius says.

“So? If I were any other girl, you’d be getting married by the end of the week.” He glares, but he knows I’m right. I look like a fucking Goddess for Saint’s sake.

“Why don’t you give it another month or so before you get on one knee and propose to Kat for Arthur.”

“Fine,” I say, liking his idea. “But you’re coming to the celebration.”

“Why I’d never miss a wedding in which you will undoubtedly ruin.”

“Prick.”

“Brat.”

We reach the top of the steps, and I get a sudden realization.

If Will was still at the party and didn’t leave like I thought he did, then I basically just told him how to get to both me and Lance again. All he’d have to do is put a knife to Kat’s throat, and we’d do anything he wants so long as she lives. She’s not Rose, but she could end up like her, and I don’t like that. I don’t like a lot about my realizations tonight after seeing Will.

“Why don’t you wash up first, it’s going to take me a while to change and all without Kat,” I say to Darius, and stop in the bedroom doorway.

“Alright.” He walks off to the bathroom, and my chest tightens. Thomas’s footsteps sound and I lightly grab his arm, stopping him. “I need you to keep him distracted for the next hour.”

He looks to Garrison behind me, before nodding and walking into the bathroom.

I turn around about to tell the rest of them to come up, but they’re already filing in. So I close the bedroom doors silently and then face them.

“We need to talk.”

*****

An hour later, I’m changed and lying in bed across from Darius. He fell asleep a little while ago, knocking out seconds after his head hit the pillow. I, however, can’t seem to stop my thumb from rubbing against my pointer finger. It’s not because I expect him to wake and try to strangle me, but because I need to stay awake for another thirty minutes to make sure he’s dead asleep. I still have one more place to visit tonight.

Once I’m certain that he won’t wake up, I slowly slip out of the bed. My suit pants are already on, and I put the rest of it in the tunnel before he came out of the bathroom. I change quickly, leaving my other shirt in the tunnel before peeking inside once to make sure he’s asleep. Then I slip the balaclava over my nose and take off down the tunnels.

I warned Darius that this was going to be harder as our time grew shorter, and I made promises that I intend to keep. The last one we spoke earlier tonight gave me a spark of hope I hadn’t known I needed. With everything happening and Will showing up, I felt myself slowly slipping away. My hands shook out of fear, not anger. My breath was staggered because I felt the world start closing in on me, not because I so badly wanted to pound him. I knew that Darius thought he had fixed the problem by making me laugh, but it only made it worse. It made my heart clench and chest ache, and I just wanted it all to go away, so I hugged him. I hugged him because I needed one, and I couldn’t necessarily hug Lance without being questioned.

I want to go to his rooms now and tell him everything, but he’s happy, and I’m not going to be the one to turn his amazing night with Kat into a snob fest. The light in his eyes has finally returned, and Kat’s been rushing to get me ready the past few days. They’re happy, and they deserve to be. So I decide to leave them out of it, to let the Dozen - who has now become more than men to me – be the only ones to know what I’ve asked.

Getting across the King’s Garden was easy. I didn’t bother trying to sneak past, people know who I am. Still, when I reached the stables, I did stick to the shadows to keep out of sight of possible wandering stable boys. Horses look at me left and right when they sense me there, but there’s only one I’m interested in. I find Melody laying down against the wall, and when I open the door and walk in, she only lifts her head. I slip the balaclava and hood down before she stands up and decides she wants to break my back.

“It’s just me,” I whisper. She doesn’t move to stand, so I walk over and take a seat by her head. “Ne me déteste pas.”

Don’t hate me.

Gallian is the common tongue they speak to horses in the eastern continent. Some say that the animals are born with the language embedded in their mind. I didn’t believe it until I tried it that day I and Melody first met. I asked her if I could ride her in Gallian, and she gave a slight nod. Then I asked her to kneel down so that I could get on her back, and she listened. I would talk to her in Vandarian, but I know how shadows tend to seep information to unwanted listeners, so I continue talking to her in Gallian.

“You know, when I trained with the Blafron in Kaweth, I learned that every child has a horse by the age of eight. They raise and grow up with their mares or stallions, creating a bond so deep that they didn’t need to say or do anything for them to work as a flawless unit. The riders didn’t need to tell the horses when to speed up or slow down when to turn right or left. The horses just knew what to do and when to do it, and it was the most amazing thing I’ve seen. They bond that they share with one another, is one I’ve been searching for forever. Seeing the look in your eyes when you ran to Darius, and the raw love in his, I saw that bond again, and it stopped my heart. He loves you so much that he’d choose you over the throne, and the strength in that reminds me of the saying the Blafron have for their own steeds.”

" ‘It’s the sound of the pounding hooves that makes the unbreakable bond, and the unforgettable memories in the pursuit of perfection, one stride at a time.’ They say it before they mount their mares, every time. I didn’t entirely understand the full force of its meaning until I saw the bond between you two, and now that I do, I can’t let the possibility of it breaking be an option. I made a promise to protect Darius, and I’ll have to be dead to break it. I intend on keeping it, and with his love for you, there’s no way in hell I’m saving him without making sure that you’re still alive. You mean a lot to him, and you’ve come to mean a lot to me, so I need to ask you a favor. I need you to make a promise.”

She doesn’t do anything at first, doesn’t nod or give any inclination that she’s heard a word I’ve said. I begin to think that maybe I’ve just been sitting here, talking to a horse who doesn’t understand a single word that’s coming from my mouth. Then she looks directly into my eyes and bows her head.

I tell her my conditions, every detail about what she needs to know. It takes a few minutes to make sure I covered everything, and when I finish, she stands up and bows, sealing her promise. The sight has my eyes burning. I sniffle my goodbye, and give her one last hug and look over before heading back out. I meant it when I said that she’s become another soul that I’ve come to care for. We may have only known each other for a little over a week or so, but she’s got my mother’s fierceness, and I feel like I’m losing her all over again as I slip into the shadows of the castle halls.

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