Several people barged into the room as I sobbed, feeling as though my heart had been ripped from my chest.
“What?” The strangled noise came from the Lord of Herington. He stepped forward, then back, as if he could walk away and things would be as they had been just as he had left it.
“Selenah, what is the meaning of this?” the King’s voice roared.
I could barely see the others through my tear-filled eyes.
“He is dead,” she whispered. The King turned on her, and I heard a whimper escape the Lord of Herington’s lips as he steadied himself.
“This cannot be!” the King cried. “The physician told us he was well! He spoke to us moments before!”
Selenah looked down at her feet, guilt evident on her face.
“I foresaw his death...only I thought it would be much later...” her voice was barely above a whisper.
The King’s eyes bulged, shaking his head in disbelief.
“I was too late.” She met my gaze and held it. “I am truly sorry, Mel.”
The King turned to face me, a questionable look in his eye.
“Someone tell me what that girl is doing by my nephew?” The King’s voice was cold.
If I could feel any more pain than I did now, I would have killed myself had I the means to do it. I wished Selenah to clarify, to make the King realize who I was, but it was Prince Gareth who did.
“Father,” he said gently. “This is Duchess Melanie of the Solstice Palace. She is Selenah’s sister.”
The King’s face reddened the slightest bit, and I took joy in watching it. He had finally realized I was far more than he thought me to be.
“And...she must have been Owen’s reason not to wed the other nobles.” He said it so casually, I myself would have believed it, but the King scoffed.
“Was she, now?” he said. “The lass does not look like any of the others.” He grimaced. “Not his type.”
I was sure he meant for the words to hurt, but I did not feel it. Does it matter now? I wanted to yell at him. Does it matter now that he is dead?
In the corner, the Lord of Herington watched and waited and whimpered some more. Grief was written all over his face, and the words being spoken now, I did not think it crossed his mind.
“Selenah, please, bring him back,” I said softly.
The two words were a heavy blow. It felt as if I had been winded, unable to breath.
“My poor boy,” the Lord’s voice broke the silence. “To have spent his last with a mere Duchess, when he could be alive and well in Porticor with one of its beautiful princesses as his wife.”
I flinched at his words because he spoke the truth. If Owen had never gone after me, and left for Porticor as his father had wished him to, he would be on its sunny shores, alive and most likely happy.
The Lord of Herington’s words crushed the last of my hope to dust. His eyes were full of anger and regret for not forcing his son to wed sooner, leave Tenebris sooner.
The rain continued, though not as much as before. My cries, too, were thinning from sobs to trickling tears. In all this confusion and chaos, I forgot to mention his last words to me. Everyone was lost in thought, when I mustered the strength to speak.
“Owen—” I started.
“How dare you familiarize with my son?” the Lord instantly shot at me. I swallowed. “You leave me and my son, now.”
Selenah walked towards me, and gently pulled me to my feet. I hid my face in her shoulder, unable to look at the Lord of Herington, his face and body contorted with anger.
“Send word for the Lady of Herington,” he barked at us before we left.
“Why did you not tell me...that you and Owen were...?” Selenah asked as she sat me down in another chamber.
“Why should I? Must I tell you my entire life?” I could not help feel angry at her words. She had no right to know.
“You knew he would die,” I continued, the words feeling strange in my mouth. “Yet you told no one. Why is that?”
“I...” she paused. “In my dream I saw him in bed,” her cheeks flamed. “With someone, but I could not tell who,” she said. “Of course, I thought he would not...sleep with another woman until news of his chosen bride arose. I thought it for the best that I should give him the time to live without worry until it was absolutely necessary. Then...” she stopped, eyes cast to the ground. “I saw that hooded man, Death maybe, slitting Owen’s throat.” I shuddered.
“Is that how you saw Mother and Father die? By Death killing them?” She gave a small nod. My mouth went dry at the memories of their bodies—what was left of them. But I could not bring myself to tell her. “Selenah...”
“What is it?”
“Can you and Prince Gareth still wed? Now that Owen is...” I took a deep breath. “Now that he is gone?”
Selenah looked taken aback, but recovered. She looked away, past me, past this world.
“Maybe,” she said. “I do not know for sure how strong Gareth’s love is for me,” she choked out the words, tears glistening in her eyes. “He will give in to his father, I know he will. And I will only be a past love.”
It hurt to see her like this. I swallowed hard.
“At least the Shadow Reaper is dead.”
“In exchange for my heart,” she whispered, turning to look at me. “No longer will I be at Gareth’s side, nor will I be able to bear children. What prince would want a broken girl as his wife? What kingdom would want a scarred queen?”
My eyes watered hearing her speak, her voice filled with pain.
“Melanie, you lost Owen to something natural, while I will lose Gareth to something simply as the inability to have children.”
I pondered at what she meant. Is she saying I that I am fortunate to have lost Owen to death than having lost him alive? The memories of his last moments flooded in, his words echoing in my head. I felt lightheaded, sick even.
“Melanie?” I heard Selenah say before I lost consciousness.
“Owen! You are alive!”
He smiled at me and outstretched his arms. I ran to his embrace.
“Mel,” he said, lifting me up into the air. When had he ever called me ‘Mel’? I shook the thought away. “I missed you.”
I smiled. He set me back down and hugged me fiercely.
“Come with me.” He lead me to a doorway that shone brightly.
“Where?” I asked.
“A place where we can be together, Mel,” he said, smiling. “A place where I can rule.”
“Rule?” I stopped walking.
“Yes, rule Tenebris, of course. Do you not know? Her Ladyship Sellena is dead and my cousin is wed to the princess of Porticor. He shall rule there. Now, come, Mel.” The way he said Selenah’s name was odd...as if he were speaking of Sellena the First. And I knew Selenah was alive.
“Owen, you never said you wished to rule Tenebris,” I stated. “And my sister is not dead.”
His smile began to fade.
“Did I say that?”
I stepped away from Owen. This is not Owen.
“You are cunning, just as she was.”
“What?” What is he saying?
He smiled and his face began to change. His sandy colored hair turned black, his blue eyes turned green, and a white scar appeared on his cheek.
I gasped and took another step back. “Why are you here? I thought you long dead by Selenah’s own hand!”
“Am I?” he asked with a smile. “Come now, Mel. You cannot escape your destiny.” He held out a hand.
Bile rose in my throat at the gesture.
“No!” I screamed, stumbling backwards. “You killed Owen with your Dragon. I will never help you.”
“Perhaps if you cooperated, you would not have suffered so,” he said. Was he sorry for what he did?
It did not matter, I told myself. His remorse would not bring back Owen.
“Obey me now.”
“No! I shall never!”
The Shadow Reaper smiled; there was no amusement in it, nothing but pure evil.
“Mark my words, Melanie. The fate I showed you so long ago will come to pass.”
I awoke, feeling a pulse throb on my neck. My hand instantly felt the warm charm Selenah had given me. It cooled at my touch.
Tiran sat at the edge of the bed I was in, his face blank as he stared at the walls across from him, his crutch laying on a nearby chair. He noticed me staring and helped me to sit upright.
“How are you feeling, Mel?” he asked.
I remained silent. Tiran pulled me into an embrace, holding me as best he could with his brace still on. I felt weightless in his arms, expecting —hoping— Owen to stumble upon us as he had before, but I knew he would not.
The sobs started again as Tiran rocked me. “Do not do this to yourself, Mel,” he whispered.
I succumbed to his kindness, laying my head on his shoulder, trying to suppress the cries. When I looked up at him, I saw his cheeks streaked with tears.
“Tiran...” I began.
“Shhh,” he whispered. “It will get better.”
“Will it?” Should it?
“Oh, Mel,” he gave me a gentle squeeze. “Do not worry.”
The day went by quickly. I did not get out of bed, except when I wanted to stretch my stiff legs. I constantly fingered the necklace I wore, for some odd reason I felt that it was alive, keeping me alive.
I continued to have visions of the Shadow Reaper throughout the week. Each time he offered the same thing: a chance to join him because I could not escape my destiny. Because it was who I was meant to be. But I refused; I would never forgive him for killing Owen.
After gaining consciousness from these visions, I would feel the pulse from my necklace cool. Perhaps Selenah’s necklace was able to wake me from the Shadow Reaper’s nightmares.
But there was no one to confide this to, for I feared I would be dragging them into the Shadow Reaper’s perilous game of lies. Even though he was dead.
I had finally come to a conclusion that only Selenah could help me, but I had been told that she had not left Owen’s chamber after the Lord of Herrington’s departure. A maid had claimed hearing her speak, uttering some incantation, but as much as I wanted Owen back, it could not be done. Not even Selenah can bring back the dead.
No sooner had I finally adjusted —and acknowledged— myself to Owen’s death, my maids arrived. They were extremely worried for me, but I had nothing to say to them. We all shared a single chamber as most of the castle was wither destroyed or ransacked.
“Oh, Mistress!” Yana exclaimed, coming back from the kitchens with a platter of food for me. “I have bad news for you.”
“What is it?” I managed to ask.
“The Lady of Herington requests an audience with you tonight.”
I gaped at her. I was not ready for this.
“I hear she was terribly upset by the Archduke’s...passing.”
I held onto the wall for support. My maids rushed to my side. She is going to kill me. She will be far more reproachful than her husband.
“Are you ill, Mistress? Shall I turn her away?” Yana asked as Blaire and Ayah helped me to sit down.
“No,” I said. I will face what she has to say to me. I deserve it. Yana gave me a doubtful look, but left anyway to inform the Lady.
She was smothered in silks and lace —all of which were black— when she entered the chamber. I curtsied to her. Her eyes were red from crying, that much I could tell, but the rest of her face was impassive. Her eyes darted to my three maids, huddled in a corner.
“You may leave,” I said, grateful that I did not crack under the pressure of the Lady’s stern eyes.
They obeyed without question. I wondered what she would say to me. What words of hate does she want to express to only me?
“Duchess Melanie,” she said, her voice strong in a way I could not comprehend. “I take that is your name.”
“Yes, my Lady.”
She watched me with a hawk’s gaze. Her eyes fell to my necklace, then to my face.
“I was told you were the last to see my son alive.” Her voice remained calm, as if she were controlling her feelings. I tried to take on the ability to do so as well.
“Yes, my Lady.”
“Tell me, then, what did he say? What were his last words?”
I was caught by surprise at what she asked. I had expected a barrage of insults, from my looks to my commonality, but she did not. Not yet.
Then again, the mere thought of what Owen had last spoke of to me seemed impossible to say aloud. Let alone to be said to his mother. She detested me, of course she would. Will she even believe what I have to say?
“Melanie.” Her voice was sharp with impatience. “Tell me. What did my son last say with his final breath?”
I warred with myself. I had to tell her, but how? I knew that with every passing moment I remained silent would increase her hate for me.
“Was it that much private, that you cannot tell me?” Her question startled me.
She stared at me with glazed eyes, tears threatening to spill over, but her capability to hold her emotions made it not. I took a deep breath.
“I am sure you were aware of what His Majesty the King expected of...your son,” I began.
“How could I not?” she whispered. “It was an honor to have my grandson to be the next King, and my son a father.”
“He had told me...” I stopped, feeling the pain in my chest ready to come out in sobs. I took a few shaky breaths, clenching my fists to keep me from losing myself. “That he would have wanted our son to be that next King.” The words rushed out. There. I said it.
I kept my eyes on the floor, expecting to hear harsh laughter or words of disgust from the Lady of Herington. She was silent.
“Nothing of his mother?”
I looked up at her. The tears in her eyes fell. I shook my head, ashamed. She stiffened.
“Good night then.”
She turned and left, the sound of rustling silk echoing in the still chamber.