Shadowed

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Chapter Twenty-One

As time passed, I found myself rocking Dillon to sleep. Reya was busy drying the dishes and adjusting things here and there while the four boys were all in a heated discussion on who would inherit their father’s magical abilities. And guessing by how Reya rolled her eyes at the topic discussion, I could only assume it was not the first time they had argued over the idea.

“Being the eldest, sooner or later you will see me in the Royal Guard with Father,” Eryk said triumphantly. His three brothers began to object.

But I shook my head. “If anyone, Dillon would have magic,” I said to myself, watching his sleeping face. He turned in his sleep, his grip on my sleeve tightening.

“How so?”

I looked up shocked, eyes wide. I had not realized that I had spoken aloud. And the four were now waiting for me to answer.

“I can see it as if it were clear on his face. I can tell he is the one that has it. I am sure of it.” The four of them grumbled in disagreement. “He is more like his father than the four of you anyway,” I added making Reya chuckle at the four boys’ melancholy faces.

Melanie.

I turned around, facing the door. “Did someone call for me?”

The boys shook their heads, as did Reya.

Melanie.

Melanie.

I stood up, unable to control myself, still holding Dillon.

Reya watched me, worried. “What is it, Melanie?”

Melanie.

“Someone is calling my name,” I whispered. “Please, take Dillon. I am going back to the King’s Castle.”

As I tried to hand him over to his mother, he tightened his hold on me, as if refusing to leave. It was a wonder, for he was still asleep.

“At this time of night? You cannot go alone,” Reya said. “Eryk, take her and Dillon.” Eryk nodded.

“Mother, I would like to go see Father as well!” Silas, Tristan, and Radley chorused. Reya rolled her eyes.

“No, I cannot have you all there, besieging the King’s Castle. Eryk is to take her there, and Radley can lead the carriage. Come back safely.”

Silas and Tristan muttered to themselves, but remained seated as Eryk and Radley stood up.

Careful not to wake Dillon, I held on to him tightly, one arm around him and the other to pick up the excess cloth that pooled at my feet. Radley had rushed out of the house before Eryk and I made our way outside. There we waited as Radley, on the coachman’s seat, drove a carriage from a nearby inn towards us. Eryk opened the door for me, following in after I did. Reya waved goodbye and the horses took off.

Melanie!

I shut my eyes for a second, hoping that whoever was calling me could wait. The voice sounded distressed.

“Dillon is enamored by you,” Eryk said as he sat down beside me. “Only Mother can put him to bed.”

I opened my eyes and smiled down at Dillon. He looked so peaceful in his sleep, but there was something about the way he was gripping my sleeve, as if he were holding onto his life desperately.

Hurry, Mel!

I shut my eyes again. The voice had gotten much louder. And familiar.

“Is something wrong?” Eryk asked, studying my face. I shook my head. Whose voice was it? We sat in silence for a few minutes, until the carriage began to slow.

“We have arrived!” Radley announced, pulling open the door.

Eryk stepped off and held out a hand. I put my hand in his and held on tightly so I would not drop Dillon or trip over my own feet.

Come now, Mel, to the Throne Room.

The last command clear, as if the person were right in front of me. I did as Tiran told me, rushing into the castle grounds as fast as I could with Dillon in my arms. As I raced in, I was surprised to see that there were no King’s Guards to stop or question us.

Once we reached the Throne Room, many were still being treated for their wounds. Seeing a gathering of nurses by where Tiran was, I quickened my pace. He instantly caught sight of us.

“Mel...Dillon?” Tiran sat upright, his abdomen and leg wrapped with bandages.

I put Dillon down beside him and the boy complied. Tiran’s eyes watered at the sight of his sons and he kissed Dillon’s head. “Thank you, Mel...but I did not call you here for me,” I cocked my head to the side, confused. “The Archduke.”

I turned to Owen, and saw he was the reason why the nurses had gathered. They parted as I approached, slowly at first, denying the thought that I could lose Owen. Again.

But when it finally occurred to me that he lay dying, I rushed to his side, taking his hand in mine, my heart beginning to race. The feeling of losing him felt all too familiar.

“Owen?”

His eyelids fluttered open. “Melanie...” his voice was hoarse. Seeing me, he began to force himself in an upright position.

“Shhh.” I helped him up. “You are going to be—”

“No, Melanie, I do not think I will make it,” he whispered, sharply cutting me off. Shaking, I grabbed his hand and brought it to my cheek. It was ice cold.

“Do not say that,” I said, fear rising in my throat. “You are going to be fine.” He shook his head. I gripped his hand tighter, desperate to make him believe he had a chance. “Owen, do not give up.”

He took my hand to his lips and kissed it, then pulled me close and took a shuddering breath, turning his head to brush his lips against my ear. I held my breath, petrified by his next words.

“I love you, Melanie. I...I think I always have.”

My eyes widened and my heart—I could not tell what I felt. It was all so quick for me. It sounds so true, so sincere...

“But Owen—”

“Mistress, it is best if he lies down,” one of the nurses interrupted me.

Owen gazed at me with expectant eyes, knowing I had not repeated the words he had told me. But I did not —could not— speak. I settled him down with his head on my lap.

Just looking at him in pain broke my heart. Where is Selenah? I thought. Where is the vial of liquid that had saved him before? Surely Selenah would have recovered from her injuries and have it sent any moment now.

Owen looked up at me and gave me the faintest of smiles. I leaned down and kissed his fevered forehead. I felt his body relax and his breathing slow.

“Melanie, promise you will not...forget me...”

“Do not speak like this,” I whispered, brushing hair away from his face. “You are not going anywhere, Owen, and neither will I.”

He winced, grabbing a hold of his leg before he looked up at me, his eyes bright as he saw the tears stream down my face.

“I want to see you happy,” he whispered. “Please.”

I forced a smile through my tears for his sake.

The edge of his lips curled, just the slightest. “Stay with me,” he mumbled, closing his eyes. “Promise me you will be here if I wake up...”

“I promise, Owen.”

For a moment, I thought he left me. But I saw his chest rise and fall in a slow, rhythmic pattern and sighed in relief. I looked at his leg wound, and cursed the Dragon, although dead, for doing this to him.

One of the nurses came by and asked if he had passed away. I shook my head, and she smiled a bright, kind smile that made me do the same. The nurse inquired about his health and said a physician would be arriving from another town soon to check up on him.

Hearing that, I wanted to cry with happiness. Owen will be all right.

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