Drianna barely looked up from the card game she had been playing with her attendant as Nicholas’s tall, lanky form stormed into the room. Her opponent startled as the door abruptly slammed against the wall. “It’s fine Raquel, he only wishes to speak,” Drianna said, nodding her dismissal to the woman.
Raquel rose from her seat and cast a seething look toward Nicholas, her eyes accusing, as if he’d taken down one of their own and not some Big Bad Wolf.
In response, the teenager grinned, nearly tripping over a stool as he made his way to his mother. “I’ll never understand how you can be such a clutz and yet command a spar practice like you did today,” she said with admiration, settling back into her chair and crossing her legs. “Should I call for tea?”
“Don’t try to win me over with niceties, Mother,” Nicholas said, glancing at the chair and turning to pace the room, stalking like a Wolf himself. Drianna prickled, thinking about the nickname the villagers had begun to call him. When she had first heard him referred to as the Wolfman, it had practically destroyed her—as if he was one of the beasts himself when the exact opposite was true.
“Perhaps you could use the —“ She barely had her words out before Nicholas exploded, turning toward her, his eyes usually so black were now steel gray, reflecting the depth of his anger.
“I’m done! I just wanted to say goodbye,” he finished more quietly as if those first words uttered had released all his anger.
Drianna’s dark eyes widened, and she nodded slowly. “If you must, but just know you’re turning you back on prophecy…”
“I’m not really in the prophecy!” he yelled, alarming Drianna who was instantly afraid the guards in the hall would hear her son’s frustrated exclamations.
“Be quiet!” she commanded, drawing up her regal self. Despite years of feeling powerless married to a tyrant, after years of secretly trying to take that power back by meddling in politics, destiny, and lives, she would not have it ruined now, she would not let Nicholas put himself in true danger. “I cannot help you if anyone to hear you say that!”
Hurt washed over Nicholas’s handsome young face as he threw up his arms and instantly winced from his shoulder wound, which had blackened his shirt. “As if you would even try! You sure didn’t when I could have died out there today! I was impaled to the ground and I kept thinking, my mother won’t let this happen.”
“And nothing did happen,” Drianna said calmly, a panic bubbling in her chest as she stared at his injured shoulder. She didn’t want the beasts to taint him with their filth.
“No thanks to you!” He turned and headed toward the door, his angry steps carrying him quickly away from her.
“Nicholas,” she lurched from her chair and grabbed his arm. But he jerked his arm away, turning to face her with tears in his eyes.
“I thought I was going to die,” he said softly, the anger washing away to leave behind only hurt.
Shaking her head, Drianna deftly took his hand in hers and stared up at her son who had only just grown taller than her in the last year. “I had no intentions of letting you die Nicholas, especially not after everything we’ve been through,” she said, leading him to the chair she had previously perched on and gently pushed him down.
“That’s all you care about—the stupid prophecy and how we have to make it happen.” He glanced at her at an attempt at being sullen, but he winced, distracted by his shoulder.
Noticing this, Drianna turned to gather herbs from a large armoire that held nothing that resembled anything like dresses. She’d always preferred her riding clothes for every day wear. Although fashion was free in Tressla, most Daughters of The Will chose to wear loose flowing shifts as befits priestesses, but Drianna had turned her back on that tradition when she had been sent like property to marry Brink. And to be honest, she was much more suited to pants as she often chose to go riding at any point throughout the day.
Glancing over her shoulder she frowned at him, feeling frustration overwhelm her. “Might I remind you that a part of the prophecy only exists because I am trying to protect you from the cruelty of your father?” she asked lightly, carrying a small bowl in one hand and clutching several jars to her chest with the other. Crouching down and gracefully setting down the ingredients, she started to add several powders and plants to the small bowl and, picking up a pestle, began to grind them up, smiling gently at her son as she did so.
“Nicholas, Hilda was right by my side disguised as one of my ladies. I instructed her to cast a confusion spell on the beast the moment it looked as if you weren’t going to win. But I know you, and I knew you would win.” Grinding the herbs fiercely, she didn’t add that there had been a split second when she hadn’t been sure, when her heart and the world had stopped and she wondered if they’d be too late to throw the spell. If she had lost Nicholas in that moment she knew she would have given up on any sort of hope for Tressla. The prophecy mattered to her so much because she wanted a life without Brink, a life where she and Nicholas could live in a peaceful world that wasn’t being torn apart by her husband or the mistakes of a young dreamer from thousands of years before. Nicholas deserved that. She deserved that.
Her son was silent for a few moments taking in what she had said, finally nodding, defeated by her again. She hated that. For so many years she had forced him to act older than he really was, making him become a man before his time. But even if he wasn’t truly in the prophecy, she knew that he had a role to play and a part of that was keeping that girl safe from Brink’s clutches. At least until she was old enough to fend for herself. It’s not the life she would have wished for him, but at least it was life.
Sighing, she added Thumbelina Dew to her mixture, creating a paste. Morning precipitation gathered from the petals of a sleeping Thumbelina had many healing properties. “It’s ready.” Nodding, Nicholas peeled away his shirt, cringing and biting down hard on his lip as the fabric ripped away from the dried blood and his skin, causing the wound to sluggishly begin to bleed again. Smiling in satisfaction, Drianna brought over a bowl of soap and water and began to clean the wound with a cloth, dabbing at the hole, which cut cleanly through his sinew and muscle.
“You should have let the healer tend to this, this is a serious wound, Nicholas.”
“I have more faith in you,” he grunted, making her nod and smile at him, her breath catching in her throat. That he could still love her after all she had made him do through the years all in the name of Tressla, was a small miracle.
When she had finished cleansing the wound she handed him a glass of Troll’s Mead and watched him take a swig before she began to pack the hole in his sinewy shoulder with the pasty mixture.
“Well it was a clean stab through and it will take some time, but hopefully it should heal up just fine. I’ll have Hilda fix you a draught. But you’re going to have to stay away from the training ring for a while, which I would advise regardless of your injury given that that beast will most likely have it out for you.” Drianna mouth puckered her mouth, wrinkling her nose in distaste. It was an involuntary reaction every time she mentioned the Wolves, which she refused to refer to as Wolves. Real wolves were pure, majestic creatures, and the Big Bads, or “beasts” as she usually referred to them, were filthy and evil, and she hated when her son came back from working with them and smelled of them. At the current moment she could barely breathe through her nose the stench overwhelmed her so. Even so, she continued to administer to him as he swigged the mead in an alcohol and pain-induced haze.
“It was the most interesting thing; I overheard Nigel tell Brink that he couldn’t smell any fear on you … your Fae training has served you well.”
Nicholas blinked and glanced at her, wiping his mouth with the back of his free hand and shook his head. “Oh, I thought I was going to die, but there were a few minutes where I just didn’t care,” he said.
“You didn’t care if you died?” Drianna’s voice shook, going up an octave as she tried her best to keep her calm exterior in place. Heedless of her mood change, Nicholas just shook his head and swallowed more mead.
“In those moments, no. I thought it would be a relief—that I wouldn’t have to live among Wolves anymore becoming more like them every day without the benefit of being able to shapeshift. I didn’t want to be like them.”
Carefully controlling her voice and hand that wanted to shake him until he promised her never to give up not even for a moment ever again, she started to dress his wound with a bandage. “What changed? Why did you win?” She asked softly, yet tightly controlled.
Turning his gaze to her he smiled wryly. “I knew you’d find a way to find me even in death and nag me to death about leaving you … And I thought about her. I know she needs me.”
Choking down the sob in her throat, Drianna was unable to stop the tears that dropped from her eyes unbidden. Taking a moment to regain her composure, she finally smiled through her tears and dropped her lips against his sweaty brow. “And now?” she asked as she leaned back, wiping her face with her hand quickly and tilting his chin so that his dark gaze met hers, noting that his eyes still held the gentle spirit she had given birth to, although now it was also clouded with a touch of darkness.
“I don’t want to die,” he said, breaking their gaze and slowly pressing his good hand against the armrest and pushing himself from the chair. “I realized that it’s too late, I’m already like them. But instead of using my darkness for evil, I want … I want to use it for good, if that’s even possible.”
Drianna looked up at her tall, beautiful, gangly son and knew that it was true—a darkness existed in him that hadn’t before. She would never forgive herself for what she had done to him, but more than anything, she would never forgive Brink. Her spirit felt heavy as she nodded. “It makes sense, dearest.” She softly touched a hand to his cheek. “And I believe that within you, the light will always overcome the dark.”
A sad smile etched his lips and he nodded, “I hope so. And I hope she’s worth all this trouble.” Nicholas leaned in and kissed his mother’s cheek. “I’d better start packing. Nigel says they think they know where she is,” he said.
“Where?” Alarm raced through her. Already? She thought she’d have more time. At least she should be able to get a message to Ninian before they could get to her.
“He wasn’t specific, but he mentioned that one of their informants overheard villagers talking at one of the markets about a Green Thumb from Locksley and his foster child with golden eyes that ended up on his doorstep mysteriously thirteen years ago.”
Her dark gaze darted toward her owl, perched asleep on his platform. “It’s her,” she hissed, starting to pace, a habit she had when she was anxious or upset.
“I know she’s special and all, but if she’s not really here then how can they hurt her? Can’t she just wake up?”
Stopping, Drianna stared at him, chaos raging through her. “Just because she exists somewhere else at the same time doesn’t mean she’s not really here. Her soul is here! And in this place, for her, her soul takes on a physical form. If she gets hurt here, it is reflected back on her body within her own world. That soul sucker could eat her soul, leaving her body a husk in the other realm. But most likely, Brink has found a way to bind her here so that her sleeping form would remain asleep always.”
“But doesn’t the prophecy say something about her having to be here whole?” Nicholas’s asked, eyes widening at the details he’d never been privy to before.
Drianna stopped her pacing long enough to contemplate this. “Yes, it does. I would imagine she’s not at full power unless she’s connected with her physical form. But maybe all he needs is her soul. She can open doors, Ninian has told us that. Maybe that’s all he needs. Regardless, we can’t let him get his hands on her! Promise me, you’ll do what you can to keep her safe without endangering yourself.”
Nicholas nodded, pulling himself up straight and raising his chin resolutely, like a young warrior going off to war, she thought painfully. “And Nicholas,” she said turning away from him and toward the tall windows that took up an entire wall looking out into the courtyard and beyond the mountains. “If you meet the Green Thumb, please tell him that I do believe in happy endings.” It was in response to a letter he’d sent her. She’d been so sad, the light seemed endlessly far, and he’d written to her, urging her to believe there’d be a future for all of them, urging her to continue her work. He’d pleaded with her to have faith in happy endings. But she hadn’t written back, internally terrified that her ending with him, with Nicholas, would never come.
He was silent, and she glanced back, seeing confusion muddled on his features, but he slowly nodded. “I will, Mother,” he said softly.
“Oh and Nicholas?”
“Yes, Mother?” Having turned away to make his way out of the room, he stopped and turned to glance at her once more, impatience coating his tone.
“Take a bath please. You stink like those beasts.”
Grinning widely, he nodded. “I will, Mother,” he said and ducked out of the room before she could call him back again.
She waited until she heard the door click shut before hurrying toward her parchment and pen and, not even bothering to sit down, she wrote a terse warning to Ninian. Cooing to the owl, who, feigning sleep, only popped his eyes open when she gently took a leg between her hands and attached the small scroll. “Go see Ninian my sweet, and don’t tarry because this is the most important message you’ll ever deliver.”
Offering her arm, the owl stepped down to it reluctantly, and allowed himself to be carried to the window, which she pushed open, popping her head out only to give a cursory glance before she flung her arm out and watched as the bird spread its wings into the twilight air. “Fly true, pet,” she whispered and followed the bird’s flight as he headed north toward Locksley, standing at the window until he was just a speck in the sky that melted from purple to black as night while she stood and watched. “Fly true,” she whispered again, failing to see narrowed yellow eyes diamond in on her in the falling night from the courtyard below.