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The kiss of a bright, warm sun awoke me that morning. Beside the basket I set at the bed’s foot was a bouquet of beautiful flowers and a note.

Orynicus was nowhere to be found. It was as if he hadn’t returned the night before.

A tugging in my chest left me feeling an incredible guilt. I scorched to the edge of the bed and lifted the bouquet—with red roses, and our lady’s tears—to my face. They smelled sweet, like sugar and rum.

Yet, the sudden input was too much for my body, a single inhale began to make me feel that unforgettable illness.

Hastily, I placed them back as they were, instead deciding to read the note. It was as good a distraction as any.

Dear Cadia,

I know you do not wish to see me. Your anger, your pain and sadness is real and true, that I cannot deny. So I have decided to leave you within Duke Berrón’s care. So long as you are safe and well, I guess it does not matter if I am with you.

With this, I give you the Garden, my heart, but be cautious, or it may consume you.

Forever yours, Orynicus.

I mulled over his words in the uncomfortable, lonely silence. A moment of victory would have tasted much sweeter. My tongue was only bitter. It didn’t feel much like the win I had been chasing.

I sighed, and tore up the infernal note, scattering the pieces about the floor carelessly. A simple arching of my back to reach the woven basket left me with another bout of intense nausea. This time, though, it would not subside.

Bile arose in my throat, and I rushed to the door, calling for help.

Berrón—or rather the Duke—burst through the door with a face drained of color. He led me from the room and into the one neighboring it. The quarters were that of a servant. It was much like my old quarters at the Abbey. In other words, it was closer to home than any of the places I had been entrapped within for the past few days.

“Helene, Mistress Cadia needs assistance,” he called, addressing a person hidden somewhere in the cramped mess of a room. Berrón shut the door behind us, making the place feel that much smaller.

A girl peeked her head out from behind the opened door of a withered wardrobe. She eyed me contemplatively, then nodded her angular face, shutting the door and facing us fully.

The lady named Helene had chestnut-brown hair that almost touched the floor. It was braided loosely behind her back. She was frighteningly thin. A mere snap of the fingers could shake her bones bare. Her face was thin as well, with large, near-black eyes, a small nose, and shapely lips.

Helene glared at Berrón with the hatred of a scorned woman. He backed away, clearly understanding the power of such unfiltered rage.

Crossing the room towards me in a flash, I knew she was not like me, she was something evil. Helena clasped a hand over mine. She did not look at me with anger. It was more like hope.

Closing her eyes, she began to whisper inaudible things, and as she did so, the air surrounding her warmed. Her hair rose from her back and the braid unraveled, creating a curtain around us. Helene’s skin glowed with beautiful markings the color of the sun. Washing over me was a sense of comfort. It calmed the tides that were my gut, and I did not feel ill any longer.

Her eyes fluttered open like the flapping of wings. Helene eyed Berrón, releasing me and advancing on him. “You have no business asking favors of me after what you’ve done,” she spat, accusatory.

Berrón held his hands up in defense. “I am sorry Helene. I did not know what he would do,” said he, practically plastered to the shabby door.

Helene turned away.

“I should not be concerned with this matter,” I argued, pushing to leave. Helene stopped me, her eyes pleading. She had faith in me. I had no idea why, because I hardly knew her or her circumstances.

As the opportunity struck, Berrón began to pull me away from her. “I agree with Mistress Cadia.”

Helene’s eyes were burning with the fires of a thousand men. “She deserves to know what the King has done to my people,” the woman protested, reaching out for me again. Berrón tried to pull me away, but I would not allow it.

I left his grip and crossed over to Helene. I had to know what happened.

“Mistress Cadia, this woman is severely ill, she is crazed, do not believe a thing she tells you,” Berrón pleaded. His eyes bulged, intense with panic.

Without another word, he fled the room, presumably to tip off this King. Helene immediately led me to a wall within her small space. Effortlessly, she pulled a stone from the wall and cradled it under her arm, waiting.

I jumped as the wall began to fall away, leaving an empty passage before us. Helene guided me into the opening, promptly turning around and sliding the stone into the air, where it stayed suspended before the wall materialized once again. “Hold onto me, and I will ensure you safe passage to a place where we can talk safely,” Helene whispered.

Keeping a strong, but painless hold on me, she ushered us forward. In the dark she whispered those incomprehensible words to provide a soft light. I knew it was not for her sake, and for that I was grateful.

When we arrived I would ask her about all the secrecy. I felt that I could tell her how I was wronged, as she herself knew such pain, and her strength was exactly what I needed to get through it. I hoped Helene gave me the answers to my Nightmares. I prayed that the lies I had been fed were clarified.

Something told me my prayers were true, that the nobility of this place were hiding a dangerous, malignant secret from me. I knew in my soul that I had to find out what it was, or it would spell my demise.

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