“Ellie?” He begins to question me again, luckily, Mercer reenters the room.
“Sorry to interrupt but I need to talk to you about some...things” he pauses, waiting to gage Phoenix ′ reaction.
“You can say anything in front of her, I trust her completely.”
“May I sit?”
“Please, of course” Phoenix gestures to an open chair.
“Umm.. I guess this will require a bit of background information for context” he says looking at me. He seems nervous.
“I am a scientist, Your Highness. I have been training under a doctor to learn minor surgical techniques. We...umm...” he hesitates, visibly afraid to continue.
“They are looking for a way to remove the collars from werewolves,” Phoenix finishes for him.
I jump to my feet. Frantically looking between the two men. My mouth opens but no words come out. They are trying to find a way to safely take the collars out?! An actual scientist researching medical procedures, not a desperate wolf in a dinghy backroom.
“I-I...Oh my goodness. I can’t...I don’t... You’re going to take the collars out? Forever?”
Phoenix covers his mouth with his hand but I can hear the smile in his voice, “yes, Ellie.”
For the millionth time in the last few days tears fall down my cheeks. I fall back into my seat, bewildered.
“I understand why you’re uncomfortable telling me about this” I turn to Mercer. “I swear to you, your secret is safe with me. I won’t jeopardize you in any way. I understand the consequences you face if someone were to find out.”
He gives me a small, relieved smile, “we have been working on this for nearly twenty years. The doctor and scientists who created the collars destroyed the information about the device so no one could attempt research like ours.”
“Yes, Your Majesty, we’ve had to get our hands on the devices by stealing them from the testing center but they are heavily guarded and inventoried, so it has not been easy. The Queen and my father started this together.”
“Please, call me Noelle.”
He nods “I believe we’ve had a breakthrough. I have a willing subject who has volunteered to have the removal procedure done. I truly believe it will be a success.”
“When?” Phoenix asks
“A few weeks, there are several moving pieces that have to fall into place perfectly. I may need your help with something when the time comes.”
“Of course, anything,” Phoenix says sincerely.
They continue to talk and as much as I want to listen, I can’t focus. This has to be a dream. Phoenix is too good to be true. He is the Prince of vampires, soon to be the ruler over all and he sympathizes with the plight of the wolves? He cares enough about the injustices of a system that services him, to actively participate in dismantling it?
It feels irrational at this point to be afraid to tell him the truth. He has shown me time and again that he will be an upright and fair King. He will still love me when he knows the truth. ”He will not forsake you.” The Queens letter drifts through my mind. My entire life has been built on the foundation of hiding who, and what, I am. As much as I want to tell him the truth, and as illogical as the fear is, I’m still afraid to tell him.
“Ellie?” Phoenix takes my hand in his, “you weren’t answering for a minute there. Are you ok?”
I flush, embarrassed, “Yeah, sorry. There’s been a lot to digest recently. It’s a bit overwhelming.”
“Don’t apologize, Ellie. It’s a lot. It feels like more weight is added everyday,” he rubs his hands up and down my back softly.
When Mercer leaves Phoenix asks me to join him on the balcony. We stand in silence for several minutes, watching a pillar of smoke rise into the air, in the distance.
“Did you know the only way to kill us is fire?” He asked suddenly, surprising me.
“That smoke is from my mother, they built a pyre for her to be ceremonially burned. I can’t believe we didn’t see this coming. When the charges were brought against her Arius was so smug. His ego created the perfect blind spot. He didn’t realize that she was actually playing him like a fiddle. He had her arrested, then everything was made public, so he had to continue with it. I’m sure he realized his mistake as soon as he remembered that her conviction meant the end of my father’s rule,” his voice is tired, weary.
I wordlessly pull him inside and up the stairs. We need sleep. I, for one, would like to sleep the rest of this day away. When we wake up, there will be the world to deal with, but for now, we will lay in each other’s arms.
As we curl into each other on the bed he whispers, “I can’t wait to introduce you to the world. To show them their Queen, my most beloved.”
“I’m afraid to be Queen,” my voice trembles, “what if I let you down? What if I let them down?”
“I’m afraid too,” he says quietly “we will lean on each other. You are going to be amazing. You are compassionate, fair, empathetic, forgiving. You won’t fail.”
“You will be the King in a new era. You will be adored and remembered as the King who granted freedom and justice. You won’t fail.”
We drift to sleep, heavy thoughts swirling around us, the sun rising in the distance.