Shadowed

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Chapter Twenty-Three

When I awoke, my mind was sharp from a well night of rest. Owen’s arm was draped over my waist and I could feel the heat emanating from his body. For some moments, I lied there, unable to bring myself to move when the reality of what I had actually done struck me. Would anyone speak out about Owen and I spending the night together? And what would happen should the King find out?

I took a deep breath and pushed myself up, careful not to wake him. He seemed at ease, his breathing steady. I leaned down and felt his brow for a fever, but thankfully, there was not. Owen shifted in his sleep, but did not rouse.

Stepping out of bed, I began pacing, unsure of whether to leave him to go fetch the nurses or wait. After a minute or two of pacing, a nurse slowly opened the door, peering inside. When she saw me up and walking, she smiled shyly and entered. She dressed me into something finer—a silken dress the color of smoke, lightly decorated with assorted jewels.

Every few seconds she looked back, perhaps fearing Owen’s wake, but he did not stir. She came back with breakfast, and brushed my hair thoroughly before she arranged it in a formal manner after I had eaten. I wondered aloud why she did this.

“His Majesty and his brother, Lord of Herington, are coming by to visit,” she told me. I inquired for more, glad that they had been safe from harm. “I am not sure why they are here, Mistress, but it must have something to do with the Archduke’s condition.” She was hesitant. “The physician will be present with them, but no one else.”

“When are they to come?” I asked.

“They are on their way as we speak, Mistress.”

I nodded at her in understanding, but I feared that Owen would wake up to see his father and uncle, and I would be nowhere to be found. He would think I left him, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I looked fearfully over my shoulder as the nurse motioned for me to leave.

Sometime after we had settled down, sitting with other men, women and children seeking refuge in the castle walls, the King’s Guard entered, His Majesty and his brother following after.

King Liason honored his wounded men, shaking their hands and thanking them for their bravery. He even went so far to promise royal burials for the few casualties. His words instantly brightened the dark atmosphere and many of the Royal Guards who struggled to cope with their comrades’ passing were finally able to smile. I watched the King, feeling indebted to him for simply making these men happy again.

Beside him, his brother surveyed the men with an anxious look on his face, looking for his son. Like Owen, he was blue-eyed, tall, broad-shouldered, and possessed the same air of nobility; all except that his blond hair had turned fully gray and he kept a well-trimmed mustache and beard that matched his aged hair.

The physician bowed to the two and motioned them towards the chamber where Owen slept. We watched from afar as they entered the chamber, somber and quiet.

To pass the time, the nurse told me of the current status of the kingdom that she had overheard from the King’s Guard.

“Many villages were pillaged by the Dark Mages,” she said, “just as mine was, outside the King’s City. They destroyed crops, killed cattle, and murdered farmers.” Her voice turned hard as she went on. “His Majesty hardly acknowledges it. The kingdom reaches far into the North, towards the cold mountains, and is much too remote for any help to get through.”

“Had the Royal Guards not seen to their attacks?” I asked. Of all, only the Royal Guards could perform quick and effective long-distance aid.

“No,” she said it almost bitterly. “Those dragons had them occupied. They only lit afire a few homes and scared the townsfolk, they did, but only a decoy to the real damage.”

“I am so sorry,” I whispered.

I felt for her, remembering the town the Shadow Reaper had destroyed. But I could not agree to her harsh words towards the King or how he was going about trying to salvage his kingdom. Many of the Royal Guards were wounded or were doing their best to reach out to their own families as Tiran was.

The nurse lifted her chin a little higher and scorned. “All the nobles think they have it tough, losing their precious King’s Castle and unable to see the next heir born, but it will be those farmers and laborers who have truly suffered.”

“Unable to see the next heir?” I echoed.

“Oh yes.” Her eyes filled with a sudden malice. “Her Ladyship’s wounds took her capability to have a child.”

I frowned. Surely she was jesting out of ill humor. But the more I saw the look on her face, the more I believed her words.

“Of course,” she continued. “Tis why the King must have come visit his precious nephew...” Seeing the clear displeasure in my face, she quickly went on to say, “I mean you no disrespect, Mistress, when I mentioned—”

“It is all right,” I assured her, but I was unnerved by what she had said. “I understand your reasons.”

“The boy was daft to think he could go to battle,” a voice said, cutting through our conversation. We both turned to look at who had spoken. It was the King. “I had ordered him well enough not to.”

“I do not know what drove my boy to do such a rash thing,” the Lord of Herington said. “Surely, I thought he had chosen a bride and run off with her when he fled.”

The two chuckled, walking out of earshot.

The physician strode among them, but appeared invisible to the two. He frowned at their words, his brow furrowing in deep thought. I wondered why.

The nurse then motioned me forward, interrupting my thoughts, to hurry into Owen’s chamber.

When I opened the door, Owen’s eyes immediately went to me, and he gave a small grin. I saw the doubt in his smile; perhaps he thought I had left willingly, as if I had forgotten my promise to him. He sat upright, pillows fluffed together to support his back. I felt guilty, although I knew I had no reason to be.

“Are you hungry?” I asked. He shook his head. Curiosity overcame my initial guilt, and I sat down beside him. “Did the physician say how long it would take for your leg to heal?”

“No,” he said.

Silence followed.

“Owen, are you upset with me?” I whispered, feeling hurt by his silence. He must have seen my forlorn expression, for he quickly shook his head.

“No, I could never be upset with you,” he said, absently fingering my hand. “I was...afraid when I awoke and did not see you at my side. I thought you had...” He stopped, a hand gripping his bandaged leg. Fear welled up inside me.

“Owen, are you all right? Shall I call the physician?” I asked quickly, getting up, but he pulled me back down.

“It was nothing. Just a slight ache.”

“Oh.” I looked over at him, remembering the nurse’s words. “What did the King speak to you about?”

“Nothing important,” he said before looking away. “He inquired about my health, nothing more.” I felt that he was hiding something, but I did not want to press him.

The room felt warm and stuffy, and was quite uncomfortable. I stood up and opened the window slightly, letting a breeze of cool, moist air waft in. The smell in the air was familiar, almost nostalgic.

“It is going to rain soon,” I murmured.

The sky was clouded, gray masses that enveloped the morning’s light. I heard Owen gasp, and quickly turned to look at him. He gripped his leg, pain written across his features.

I rushed to his side. “Owen? Shall I get the physician now?”

He made a strangled noise, perhaps in effort to stop himself from screaming in pain. I turned away, ready to dash out and get the physician.

“No,” he said hoarsely, grabbing my hand. “Do not...”

“Why?” I whispered. “He can help,” I pleaded, my heart aching at the sight of him in pain.

“Listen to me first.” He took my hands in his, holding onto them with an iron grip. “Melanie, I know you are afraid to admit it, as I have, but ever since the King told me to wed, all I could do was think about you.” I furrowed my brows, unable to believe his words. Why is he saying this now? “I imagined us...us as a family.” He gave me a half smile, making my heart race. “And I thought—” He flinched at the pain in his leg. “I thought we could be together, with our son as the next king...” His words stirred something in me, something far beyond my reach. His chest barely rose with every labored breath. I felt my own breath leave me at his confession.

His chest suddenly stopped moving and I could no longer hear his laborious breathing. His eyes were shut closed.

“Owen?” There was no response. I looked down at his lifeless face and cried out in sobs. “Owen!” I screamed, gripping onto his shirt. “Owen!”

The patter of droplets from the window turned quickly into a thunderous waterfall, almost drowning out my own cries.

I heard the sound of someone approaching, but did not take notice. I rested my cheek against his chest, willing to hear his heart beat just one more time.

But I did not.

“Mel!”

I looked up and saw Selenah, her hair wet and clinging to her face just as it was when we had first run away from home to escape the Dark Mages. She walked forward, her eyes taking in the sight in front of her. “Oh, Mel,” she breathed.

It finally occurred to me that Selenah was here, maybe to give the vial that had saved Owen before, but it was too late. He is dead.

“Why did you not save him?” I shouted at her, tears streaming down my face. “Why could you not save him just as you did before?”

This is her fault. This is all her fault. He is dead because of her.

Selenah took a step back in shock, a hand over her mouth, eyes wide in shock. But there I felt no remorse, no sorrow; all the pain I felt now had burned into anger towards her.

“Mel...I...” She flustered, unable to find the words to tell me what I accused her of was not true.

“Leave me!” I screamed. “This is your fault!”

She stood her ground, but swayed, as if she would fall over from fatigue any second. I did not move to help her.

I turned back to Owen, forgetting my anger for a moment to stare into his lifeless face that had once lived, once breathed.

“Owen, why did you leave me?” I whispered, curling up against him, the tears falling steadily as the rain outside did. I promised I would not leave you. I buried my face into his neck, wishing he were alive to tell me to smile, to be happy.

But I knew he could not, and would never again say those words.

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