I stood in a wasteland, dead trees surrounding me in a ring of blackness. The skies were a dark pink, the clouds an even darker grey. Gusts of wind blew, making the trees creak and the brown grass shiver.
Standing before me was a man, cloaked in a gaseous darkness that billowed with the passing winds. His green eyes were bright with life, a contrast to the environment around us.
“There is something about you...” His voice was faint, but it floated to my ears as Selenah’s would. “Yes, this magic...it runs through your veins, and yet...” I hung on his every word, curious at his mention of magic, as his voice trailed off. I have magic?
“Melanie.” I blinked in surprise at his knowledge of my name. The shadowy figure looked as if he grinned, his bright green eyes piercing through me. I recognized them. Where have I seen those eyes before?
“Who are you?” I asked, taking a step towards him. But the man had faded from my vision, slowly dissolving away.
“Some call me...the Shadow Reaper.”
I awoke, gasping aloud. Tiran looked up at me from where he lay, several feet apart from where I was.
“Something wrong, Mel?” he whispered, propping himself up on his elbows. “Was it a nightmare?”
I shook my head and shut my eyes. He said I have magic. I heard Tiran lowered himself back down, and I opened my eyes, turning my head to face him.
“Tiran,” I whispered, afraid that his closed eyes meant he had fallen asleep.
“Do you believe the Reaper is still alive?” He did not respond. Perhaps he thought I was not serious. “Do you?” I repeated.
“No,” he said slowly. “Why ask such a thing?”
I hesitated, thinking of what to say.
“I...I think I saw him in my dream.” I looked up at Tiran, hoping he would have reassuring words to tell me that it was all my imagination.
Instead, he said, “Do not think about it. Go back to sleep.”
“I cannot,” I objected. “Tell me another story first.” Anything to rid my mind of what I had seen.
“Will you go to sleep then?” he asked, eyebrows raised. I nodded and he let out a sigh, but smiled faintly. “A kingdom far away once had a brave knight...”
I yawned and drifted off into a dreamless sleep, soothed by Tiran’s calming voice.
My shoulder was the first to fully heal within the week. I could flex it with little effort and pain, although my strength had not returned as quickly.
As for my back, there was nothing but a white scar that ran along from my shoulder blade to my spine.
The wound on my stomach was the same, except it ran along from one side of my abdomen to the other. Tiran assured me there was no internal injury, but warned me that there would be side effects to the herbs he had used on me, such as my weakness.
That morning, he had helped me to sit upright, with solid support on my back before leaving the tent that I had grown accustomed to. Outside, Tiran was met with Selenah’s fiery words, something I assumed he had gotten used to as well.
“Let me just use my magic on her, and she will be as good as new!” I heard her cry at Tiran. Through the tent, I saw Tiran shake his head. I sighed. It was this argument again.
“She refuses to have any magic used on her.”
“A Royal Guard’s magic is nowhere near as powerful as mine,” she snapped. There was a pause. “Let me pass through, or I will have you punished.”
The tent flap drew and Tiran walked in, followed by Selenah. I frowned. She had threatened her way to get past Tiran. And she had also changed dresses, I noted, secretly envying the silken gown of powder blue she wore. It seemed that she had no trouble fitting in with royalty.
“Mel,” Tiran began. Selenah glared at him, hearing the use of my nickname. Tiran stopped speaking.
“Mel, you listen to me. I am going to heal you,” she said, sitting in front of me. Her blue eyes were trained on my brown ones. “There is nothing to be afraid of. You will feel just a scant drowsy, and when you wake up, you will have all your strength back.”
Her offer was tempting. A sleep was all it took to have me back in full health? But I shook my head. No.
I wanted to be healed by myself, without magic. I did not need her, and when I did heal, it would be on my own.
“No, Selenah,” I said. Tiran shrugged, and looked in Selenah’s direction with a frown.
Selenah ignored him. “Mel, listen,” she started again.
“No, you listen!” I nearly yelled, startling her —and myself— with my outburst. “I said no. What do you not understand? I do not need you to heal me.
I can heal on my own without magic, so please leave me alone!”
Selenah looked at me, jaws moving back and forth, as if chewing on what I said, trying to find a way to make me pay for my disobedience.
“Mel,” she said softly, surprising me by her tone of voice. “I know we have had our differences, but please, I beg you to look past them. Mother and Father are dead. Can you not forgive me for whatever you seem to have a grudge against? I am only trying to help.” Her words ticked me off.
“Look past our differences? Is that how you see it, Selenah?” I asked, incredulous. “All these years, my life was a complete and utter disaster!” I shouted. “And you wonder: why I have a grudge against you?” Selenah held her breath. I was not stopping now. “You stole our mother and father away from me the very day I was born, that is why!” I screamed. “You stole my very life away! All my hopes and dreams dashed because ‘our darling Selenah’ came first! ‘Our ever so beautiful and powerful Selenah’ mattered more than ‘our normal child Melanie’!” In all this anger, I was nearly on my feet, ready to slap Selenah.
The tent flap was once more drawn back.
A questioning look was on Prince Gareth’s handsome face while Selenah and Tiran sat, petrified by my sudden show of enmity.
Prince Gareth immediately had me seated back down, but away from Selenah. He then went to speak with Tiran and Selenah, eyeing me as he spoke softly to them. Tiran glanced back at me, a look of sympathy on his face, like that of a father whose daughter’s doll had been ruined.
I grimaced at the show of care for her. But the anger I had felt drowned out, and I was ashamed of the way Tiran and Prince Gareth had to see and hear my words against Selenah that I had kept hidden all this time. But I also felt relieved, knowing Selenah now knew how I felt about being her shadow.
With as much dignity that I could muster, I walked out of the tent, trying to ignore the three’s stares as I did so.
The cool evening air was the first thing that brought me back. It was so calm and quiet that I almost forgot that there were Royal Guards outside.
“Is the Sleeping Beauty finally awake?” I heard one of them say. Their sarcasm made my cheeks burn.
“So how is Miss Mel?” one of them asked, jauntily. “Finished being the victim of the Dark Mages, are ye?”
“Nay, she is still sick. Did you hear the way she screamed in there?” said another in disgust. “And they hail her a hero for endangering her own life.”
“’You stole my life away!’ ‘All my hopes and dreams dashed’!” the fourth mocked in an unusually high-pitched voice.
They laughed at their own words, making me feel sick. I had not expected anyone to taunt me for what I did. Tiran had called me a hero. I swallowed hard and stood there, trying not to show that their words hurt me. Unfortunately, it did show.
“Oh? Look at that, lads,” the first one said, making the others look in my direction. “Is little Miss Mel upset? Does she need a handsome prince to kiss her well?” he asked before the four were laughing again.
I wanted to run away and leave this all behind. What had I done to deserve this? My jaw tensed, aching for something in reply, instead, angry tears rolled down my cheeks. I turned away, unable to hide them. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw one of them open their mouths to speak.
“Stand down,” a familiar voice commanded.
I turned back to see Connor, dismounting from his white mare that was tethered with two other black and white shires. He was dressed in full battle attire.
The four men were flustered, apologizing to their Captain as he walked over to me.
“Forgive me for their disrespect,” he said in a low voice. I could only nod. “May I ask where His Highness and Her Ladyship Selenah are?”
I was glad for his kindness towards me, but it was gone at the mention of Selenah. I sighed, looking toward the tent. Connor followed my gaze. He nodded, and headed towards it when Tiran, Prince Gareth, and Selenah walked out.
“Captain Connor!” Selenah said, pleased. Connor bowed to the two of them as Tiran shifted over to stand with the other four Royal Guards. “We appreciate your arrival.”
“My duty here is but a short command by His Majesty. I am to escort you two back to the King’s Castle,” Connor said. I could not help feel agitated that the King had excluded me again and had only thought of Selenah’s wellbeing. “We must hurry before the barrier fades.”
I looked around me, seeing nothing out of the ordinary, and then realizing the barrier he mentioned must have been a magical one.
Prince Gareth and Selenah mounted the larger of the two horses, and Tiran mounted the other. The four Royal Guards took their positions around them, leaving me in an awkward place. Connor sighed lightly before he helped me onto his steed.
I was aware of the whispers behind me as we raced to the King’s Castle. I bit back the tears, closing my eyes. I had to expect the worst from now on. No one cares for a simpleton. You are on your own, Mel.
Throughout the ride, Connor’s gaze would shift to the right, where Selenah sat behind Prince Gareth.
I had a feeling it was more than just etiquette that he repeatedly checked on her. It made my stomach flip at the thought.
When we arrived, Selenah, Prince Gareth, and Connor were whisked away to see the King. Tiran and the other Royal Guards were told to return to their duties, now that I was out of harm’s way. Tiran had tried to stay with me, arguing that I had no place to go for the time being, but Connor shook his head and urged him to go back to his regular tasks and everything would be seen to.
I was left at the castle gates with just a change of clothes and a meal. I would have felt sorry for myself had I not realized this was my escape from Selenah and her life.
I could no longer abide by Connor’s advice to make the best of my situation here with Selenah; I would never be happy living near her.
And though I did not know where I would go, or how I intended to make a living on my own, but getting away from Selenah would be my first step.