Ashfall: City of Shade

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CEPHINE

An angel. That is what she looks like. What refined delicate features. My husband never told me he had a very ill daughter.

For weeks she has been trapped in a restless sleep.

This city of the sun is supposed to be the most advanced on Ashta. Why has she not been healed yet?

“Meh...!” she cries out. Her little body tosses back and forth in her sleep. Strands of her pale hair get tangled in my husband’s fingers as he holds the back of her head, pressing her face to his chest. “Cah...eh..gack,” she coughs violently into my dear’s chest.

“You shouldn’t hold her so close. Greta may be feeling too warm,” I tell him.

His steely gaze remains on me. “You were to have Enoch bring her herbal treatment yester-evening. Did you forget?”

I don’t like his tone. I will not be talked down to for something out of my control.

“Your son had a meeting. A meeting that you were to appear in. I told you I can stay with Greta. I’ve spent half my life raising most of my siblings. It will not be an issue for me.”

Her sobs grow louder when he starts rubbing her back. He lays her down between us where she becomes a little more silent until she starts grating her teeth in her sleep.

My love scoops her back into his arms. Her little frail arms somehow find the strength to wrap around his chest. Her shivering body comes to a still as he rocks her.

A tiny smile breaks her seemingly permanent frown. She coughs one more time before her breathing settles, giving us both a chance to return to sleep.

“She is so cute,” I gush while watching him hold her. “How kind of you to take her in as your own. How many moon’s old is she?”

“Just thirteen. Many mistake her for much younger. I can’t wait for her to wake up so you two can meet.”

A shame she had to grow up homeless. I’m going to spoil her to her heart’s content.

I’m just not really okay with sleeping in this bed with her. I know she is to marry his real child when she comes of age. She should be over at the palace with Enoch.

“Adler, can we sleep...alone together from now on? Enoch throws a fit when he finds you have taken her up here for the night.”

The man I met on the sea made it seem like he had great plans for this city. No plans has he given his son since we stepped under this dome and found this child hacking in the stuffy hospice.

“He told me she’s been like this after about the first week she was bedridden. She wakes up from her sleep and blinks a few times. See her now? She’ll cry a little then fall back asleep...there she goes,” he coos. I gulp hard, uncomfortable seeing him move his own tunic around the small child’s body. I suppose it’s okay since he’s like her father, but she should really be in her own bed. Once she’s engulfed completely inside he kisses the top of her head. “She needs my touch. My hold. My kisses. It’s how I nurture her in this state.”

“Like a loving mother,” I smile tightly thinking of my own.

The poor thing starts crying again in her sleep. Looking drained, Adler continues rubbing her back with glazed eyes.

He picks up on my unease at the sight of his intimate hold of her, “Tunics are used as bedding, Cephine. This is your home now too. Shed it and blanket yourself as all Shelliv do.”

“Yes, but she is a little old to be held by you inside of your own. Don’t you think?”

“I am her bed.”

During our wedding ceremony on the ocean, I was quite looking forward to meeting some of his family there, but none of them came.

I wondered what could have made such a man leave his role so early on as emperor. Now I know.

This little girl has him wrapped around her finger.

I try to be gentle, “Greta needs her own bed. Enoch even has said so. I am your wife, won’t you take my words into consideration? She’s probably very warm right now when you hold her like this.”

“Of course, but she is not just my child now but yours as well. She remains here,” he finishes while turning away from me with the coughing girl. “Can you please get her some more water?”

This is the third time tonight. I should not be getting upset or jealous over the attention he spares such a young heart. Still, he always makes me fetch her water or get more cooling rags. I’m starting to think he doesn’t trust me to be around Greta on my own.

Am I not his wife?

No wonder he has gone through so many. When we first met on the ocean, he seemed like a different person. Now that I’m here and things have somewhat become official, well, I suppose I’m still adjusting to this city. We came back two months early though. Another two months has he spent fussing over this child and his true one who has no idea how to run an empire.

I hope when this little girl wakes things will return to what normal should be.

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