I was barely awake myself, teetering from consciousness and sleep, when Owen stirred. It brought me to full alertness when I saw that he was waking up.
“Right here,” I said, blinking furiously to beat the tiredness out of my eyes. I absently brushed a stand of hair away from his face.
“Mistress, I shall take it from here,” I heard someone say.
I looked up and saw a physician flanked by two nurses.
“Please rest. I am sure it is the best you can do for him now.”
Carefully, they placed him onto a futon bedding to move him onto a real bed. The other two nurses sent me to a chamber where they helped me undress and let me sleep. The comfort of the bed felt unrealistic as my once constricted muscles now relaxed after a night’s vigilance.
I awoke some hours later. The sun had not fully reached its zenith when I dressed and was sent to Owen’s chamber. By the encouraging look of the nurse, I hoped that he was doing all right.
He slept when I entered. His breathing seemed normal, with occasional quick gasps for air, but his skin was pale. I sat down beside him and leaned over to wipe his brow. He stirred, but did not wake.
“Please, Owen,” I whispered. “Recover quickly.”
The two nurses constantly checked up on me, brought me food, and said they would send for my maids once things calmed down a bit. I was very grateful for them.
By evening, Owen began to stir. My heart raced in anticipation as he finally opened his eyes. He blinked several times before seeing me. When he smiled up at me, it warmed my heart.
“How do you feel?” I asked, leaning forward a bit.
“All right,” he mumbled.
“Here, drink some water,” I said, grabbing the cup from the bed stand and putting the glass of water to his lips. I carefully let it fall into his mouth. “Are you hungry?”
He shook his head and stared up at the ceiling. “How is everyone else?” he asked. “How is...Tiran? His family? And what of mine?”
“They are all well,” I said, unable to withhold a smile at his selfless care. “But we still have not gotten word from Selenah or the Prince, or of the King’s situation.”
Owen nodded, turning his head to face me. He took my hand and held onto it tightly.
“I love you,” he whispered, just as he did the night before.
I felt my breath leave me. What?
“Owen...” How can you say this to me when you have to marry on the King’s orders? I stopped and stared at him, biting my lip, knowing he was wondering one thing: Why had not said those three in return? Because I was not ready to say it. Looking away, I stood up to leave when Owen pulled at my hand.
“Melanie, promise you will not leave my side,” he finally said. His voice sounded strained, as if he were under some heavy weight. Hearing him, I sat back down. He must think I will go back to Tiran’s family again.
I gave him a firm nod. “I promise.”
Someone knocked on the door. “You may come in.”
The door opened and I watched Tiran enter, and surprisingly, Dillon followed after him. Tiran leaned into a wooden crutch that helped him as he walked in slowly —with a metal brace around his abdomen— but Dillon raced over once the door had opened.
“Duchess Mel!” he exclaimed, hopping into my lap. He must not have known Owen was injured, because he gaped at the sight of Owen lying in the bed.
“This is the Archduke,” I told Dillon. “And this is Dillon, Tiran’s son,” I said to Owen.
“It is nice to meet you, Sir Archduke,” Dillon said, outstretching a hand like a gentlemen.
Owen smiled, and released my hand to shake Dillon’s. “Likewise, Sir Dillon,” he replied with a smile. Dillon giggled at the formal name. Tiran stood off, watching.
“You should be sitting down,” I addressed him. “And not be walking on your leg so soon.”
“Papa is strong. He can stand and walk just fine,” Dillon said defensively.
“I am sure he is, Dillon,” I agreed, looking at Tiran sternly. Sighing, he turned a desk chair around and gently lowered himself onto it.
“Dillon, give her what Lady Selenah gave us,” Tiran said. I looked at him. Selenah had come? Did she bring the liquid to heal Owen?
Dillon took out a black chain from the pocket of his breeches. My heart plummeted. It was a necklace. It had a diamond bird on it, its wings splayed out, ready to take flight. I took the chain from Dillon and clasped it on.
It felt cold against my bare skin.
“Why did she give this?” I asked, looking up at Tiran.
“She simply said she wanted you to have it.” Dillon began playing with the necklace, moving the bird to and fro on the chain.
“When did she come? Was she hurt?”
“She came to us just now, but she did not come in person,” Tiran began, implying that Selenah had used her magic to project her presence. But he frowned at his own words. “I could not tell whether or not she was hurt. She gave the pendant to Dillon and left.”
I wanted to scream in frustration. She gives me a trinket, yet Owen is here dying!
Taking this time to learn more of what was going on, I exhaled slowly before speaking. “What happened...when Selenah kill— defeated the Shadow Reaper?”
Tiran hesitated before answering.
“The King’s Guard took her away, but we did not know what to do with the Shadow Reaper. His chest was severely...wounded,” he said, remembering Dillon was still in the room. “He was saying something, but none of us dared to listen should it be a death curse or some other spell. We left him where he fell.”
“So you assumed he was dead?” I asked, wide-eyed.
“It was all your sister kept saying. ‘I killed him’.”
Dillon yawned loudly. Tiran shook his head and slowly rose to his feet. “It is getting late. We must be off,” Tiran said.
“I do not want to go,” Dillon complained, although it was clear he was tired. “I want to stay with Duchess Mel!” He hugged me tight, as if trying to show he meant it. I chuckled, putting my arms around him and pressing him close.
“Listen to your father, Dillon,” I said, softly. “I am sure your mother is home waiting for you.” Dillon pulled back, looking conflicted. “Go,” I told him, nodding.
“All right,” he said before he trudged alongside his father, who smiled as he walked out.
“Come visit sometime, will you Mel? Dillon would appreciate it, I am sure,” Tiran said as he limped towards the door. I smiled.
Tiran nodded and left. I turned back to face Owen, who I realized was watching me the entire time. A blush crept up my cheeks as he smiled at me.
“I can see how much Dillon adores you.”
“I suppose he does,” I said, looking away.
A nurse came in, holding a tray of food in her hands. She left it on the desk by the bed before leaving.
Owen began to sit upright, cringing as he moved his left leg.
We ate our supper silently. It was nothing fancy; just bread and some warm soup. But the food brought color to his cheeks, which I took as a good sign.
The physician stopped by a bit later to check on him and re-bandaged his leg, placing wooden splints to secure in place. I nearly lost my supper at the sight of the dark, open wounds that carved into his leg, looking none better than before.
As I stood off to a side, listening, I hoped the physician would say Owen would be fine in a month’s time, given the right treatment. But he did not. Instead, he called nurses for his medical supplies and questioned Owen about his leg.
“Does it hurt at all?” the physician asked.
“Not all the time.”
“Does it bleed when it is moved?”
The physician frowned. “All right then,” he said, tying the end of the bandage. “I would be of more use had not all the others been poisoned, too,” the physician shook his head as he went on. “I have done what I could for your leg with what little I have left of an antidote. The best you can do now is rest and wait. Do not put any type of strain upon it.” From there, he picked up his supplies and left, the nurses following.
I yawned, looking out the curtained window to see the violet colored sky blinking with hundreds of stars. I turned away, thankful for the empty, bird-less sky.
“Good night, Owen,” I said, kissing his forehead and turning to leave. He caught my arm.
“Do not leave me.”
“I am just going to be in the chamber next to yours,” I said, trying to calm the wild, almost frightened, look in his eyes. He refused to let go of my arm. “Then where would I sleep?” I asked, giving in. “I cannot sleep on a chair, nor is there another bed for me to sleep in.”
“We can sleep like we did the night the bandits kidnapped us,” he ventured. I felt my jaw drop. But he was tied up against a tree then, and now...I could not finish the thought.
“Owen,” I started.
“Please,” he whispered. “I cannot bare to part from you.”
Assuming that it was the poison messing with his mind, I watched him shift over to let me slip in next to him. I was glad to note the bed was large enough for the both of us to sleep without me hitting into his injured leg.
I was not used to sleeping in anything but a nightgown, but the dress I wore was not elaborate like my other dresses, so it would not be nearly as uncomfortable to sleep in. I turned to face Owen so I could speak to him.
“Rest,” I told him, putting a hand on his cheek. “You will need it.” He pulled me into a sudden embrace.
“Not as much as I need you,” he whispered into my ear.
I pressed my face to his neck, breathing in his scent, and closed my eyes. I let myself drift to sleep.
Just maybe, everything would be all right.