Authors: Meaghan Rauscher
“Why?” I demanded, “Because I can see more than the black and white of good versus bad?” She scoffed again and folded her arms across her chest. “You know what? I don’t need to take this from you. You already have this nice little prison set up for me, so why don’t you just leave me alone in my cell.”
“And here I thought you would prefer a bedroom to an actual cell,” she said and I tried to hide the surprise at her casual mentioning of me being placed in the dungeon. “Guess I was wrong on that part.” Her face had hardened. “So here’s the deal, you start telling me what in the world is going on and then I’ll let you stay in this room.”
“No,” I said, half-laughing at her supposed negotiation and trying to dispel the anger bubbling up inside me. Earlier I had pitied her, now I was just furious.
“Fine,” she said, and began to walk out of the room. “You might reconsider it when you see the dungeon.”
“Nothing I haven’t seen before,” I retorted, and her hand froze reaching out for the door.
“Oh, that’s right,” she said, eyes narrowed, “you were a prisoner in Hyvar too. So much for black and white, you’re just doing whatever suits you best.”
“What is wrong with you?!” I yelled all of the sudden and she flinched in response. “After what I did to save all of you when the Hyven attacked? You would be dead now, if it wasn’t for me!”
“Or would we?” she questioned and let the words hang in the air.
My hopes fell quickly and I realized I had lost the last person who still believed I was on the Lathmorians’ side. Though she tried to hide it, I could see the doubt behind her eyes even though she wanted to believe me. I shook my head, trying to dispel the crippling feeling inside. My earlier joy of being in the merfolk world again, subsided and dissolved the hopes I had had of being protected and useful to the Lathmorians. I was infuriated, defeated and wanted so desperately for everyone to understand my plight.
If only there was some way to make her see.
No sooner had the thought passed through my mind, when a surge of strength and overpowering desire flowed through every part of my body. It was an instinct, I could barely resist. The beginnings of a tune formed in the back of my throat, ready to be brought into existence.
You shouldn’t force her
, the thought ran through my mind but was overcome by the song.
A darkness spread into my soul. The overpowering need to make Kryssa understand took hold. The thought of the soft song swirling around her, as if in a cloud, and forcing her to see things my way was intoxicating.
I lifted my eyes to her green ones and smiled subtly.
The wariness in her gaze lightened, but only slightly.
Reaching deep within, I grasped at the voice I knew I would have to use to make her understand, and as though a guiding hand were taking over, the power in the voice began to grow inside me. It was all I could think about, and all I could feel. In that fraction of a second, nothing existed but her eyes and my will.
Just as my lips opened and the song made its way to my mouth, I snapped my jaw shut and closed my eyes.
It had all taken less than a second, but seemed like hours. The heaving of my chest suggested extreme exertion. Never before had I felt such a rush of anticipation and desire to bend someone to my will.
It seemed an eternity before I was able to control my breath once more. When I looked back up at Kryssa, I did so carefully; afraid of the overpowering urge which could take hold again. One of her eyebrows was lifted on her pale face, and though she could have no idea of what just happened, she was most assuredly aware something had passed between us.
Her eyes narrowed slightly and then she turned to leave the room once more, the creak of the door filled the now silent room.
“You know,” I said, having finally caught my breath, “your father believed in me.” The following silence was heavy and weighted.
“That’s the only reason I’ve believed in you for so long,” she said, “But now he’s dead.” The door slammed with finality behind her, leaving me alone in the sunlit chamber.
For a long time, I paced the room, crossing back and forth between the two stubborn walls until my anger began to subside. When it did, I was surprised to find tears around the edges of my eyes.
Tears that would get me nowhere and nothing.
With a cry of frustration, I whipped my dagger out of its sheath and threw it at the door, only to hear the satisfying thump of the blade hitting the solid wood. Bracing my hands on my hips, I tried to breathe in and out slowly to calm myself.
Underneath everything I had found out in the past two days, was a fear I didn’t wish to explore. What had happened mere moments before Kryssa left the room was something I couldn’t ignore. It was enough to make me shiver in fear.
Having no better reaction or understanding of what to do, I threw my dagger at the wooden door over and over again.
It was going to be a long night.
The night and following day passed with deliberate steadiness making me more agitated by the second. Throughout the achingly slow minutes I had carved a path along the room walking in a cross shape from the far wall to beside the bed, to the door, then to the window and back again. Over and over I paced, too anxious to sit down and far beyond being able to sleep. At times my eyes grew weary and I tried to sleep, all to no avail. The pounding thoughts in my head kept me from being able to relax in my quiet confinement.
In some ways this was much worse than being at home in Coveside. While I was in Lathmor—and the center of the merfolk world I had so longed for—I still knew nothing more about what was going on than when I had been home. All details were kept from me and I lost myself in thought, as I paced back and forth.
It was apparent Tunder was going to stay true to his word and keep me concealed. I wasn’t going anywhere unless accompanied by Kryssa or Elik. However, I hadn’t seen the middle princess after our argument the day before and I had the feeling she was going to keep it as such. She was disgusted with me and rightly so.
It was a young mermaid, one I had never seen before, who brought my plate of food to me in the morning, afternoon and again in the evening. If it wasn’t for all the walking, I surely wouldn’t have been hungry. I ate the proffered food, hoping it would be a sign I was inclined to obey their requests. Every time the girl came in, her red hair shining, I tried to speak with her but she said nothing and wouldn’t look at me. By the time she delivered my third meal, I remained by the back wall to give her some space to put the food-laden plate on the small table near the door. Outside in the hall, I could hear the shuffling feet of an escort.
Just how dangerous do they think I am?
It wasn’t the first time the thought had taken hold of me.
More than anything, my mind often returned to thoughts of Zale, wondering where he was and what he was doing. I fancied imagining him in a place far away from here and out of Morven’s reach on the other side of the world. But I knew he was somewhere nearby. His warning in Coveside had been all too clear.
I had a confidence in him that was maybe foolhardy, but founded on the grounds of his continued protection. In the past I had disbelieved his motives, even doubted his actions. He had fought bodily and strategically to keep me from harm, and for it, I felt connected to him in a way I never thought possible.
As Patrick, he had been my friend and I had fallen in love with him, only to have it ripped away quite suddenly. Then I met Zale, and the warrior which had always been in him had come to life before my very eyes, until I was once again tried and tested to trust him. Somehow, we had come to an understanding, and because of his desperate effort to keep me safe, I found myself falling for him again.
The sudden conclusion swept over me once more. I hadn’t moved on. My affections were simply combined, joining what I had felt for Patrick with what I now had with Zale. I knew, even though Patrick was never coming back, I loved what had become of him for who he was. Each time I thought of him, his past or present self, my heart lurched with something akin to pain and reminiscent of pleasure.
Setting aside the half-eaten meal, I began to pace once more. The mere threat of waiting another night in this room made me groan internally. No matter how hard I tried to ignore it, the feelings of helplessness and unknowing were creeping back into me. They had been my companions in Hyvar and were beckoning to me once more with open arms.
A soft knock patted on the door. “May we come in?” Nixie’s musical lilt reached me.
“Yes,” I said, the desperation in my voice was quite obvious.
The lock clicked and as the wood door opened a crack, the youngest princess slipped into the room, her husband right behind her. I tried not to notice how she fumbled with the key between her fingers, before pocketing it.
Her red hair shimmered in the dim light of the room and when she gave me a quick hug, I remained stunned for the moment, uncertain of how to move. Her one small gesture had me reeling.
“Thanks,” I whispered as she stepped away, her piercing green eyes taking in my appearance. I could only imagine how I looked. After hours of pacing and worrying my way around the room, I was far from presentable.
“You look so tired,” she cocked her head to the side. “You should try and rest.”
“If only I could,” I said, giving a small attempt at humor.
“Oh,” her mouth made a perfect little circle of pity, “would you like me to send Daggin down to the kitchen? He can get you a glass of warm milk or something to make you sleepy.”
“No, no, I’m fine,” I shook my head quickly.
“If you say so,” she shrugged and nudged Daggin’s side. They shared a look and I had a sudden feeling they were trying to communicate something without my knowledge.
“Would you care to sit?” I asked, feeling much too proper and gesturing toward the rumpled bed. Its haggard appearance was a sight to behold.
“Sure,” she swooped forward, her ringlets bouncing. She was fire and light in a room covered with midnight curtains and weeping veils. Even in her black pants and simple dark blouse, she was brighter than anything in the room. With a little hop, she crawled onto the bed and sat in the middle of the mattress with her feet tucked in delicately. I shifted, uncertain of where I should sit when Daggin crossed the room and shoved some of Kryssa’s things aside on a table. He made himself comfortable on the flat wood-top, his legs swinging beneath him. He was so tall, he had to sit all the way back until his knees hit the edge of the table to keep his feet from grazing the floor. Even so, there was hardly any space for him to swing his feet.
“Come sit,” Nixie patted the bed and I moved her way.
“Does Tunder know you’re here?” I asked.
“Does it matter?” She laughed at my shocked expression. “Yes, he knows we’re here. He didn’t really seem to care.”
“That’s surprising,” I mumbled and she giggled.
“So,” she said, growing serious all of the sudden, “How have you been?” I glanced between her and her husband, he shrugged as though he was just as uncertain as to why they were here as I was.
“All right, I guess.”
“That’s good,” she nodded, her ringlets bouncing. “How was your journey here?”
“A little tiring,” I met her eyes and then turned to her husband. “Thank you for doing that by the way.”
“It was nothing.” Daggin’s deep baritone reverberated around the room, once again making his young face seem older somehow.
“It was dangerous,” I pointed out and he shrugged.
“Living here is dangerous,” Nixie patted my hand. “It wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. Although I did worry much more than usual. You should have seen me. I was a wreck! I couldn’t eat anything and I think I spent a full day staring at the ocean, hoping we would see your arrival on the horizon.” She laughed when she finished, and I had to smile at the sound.
“It’s not fun having to wait,” I agreed.
“No it isn’t, but when you arrived it made all the waiting worthwhile.” She smiled again and glanced around the room as though searching for something. “I must say, this room is pretty dreary.”
I nearly scoffed at her. The whole point of the mournful décor was in reverence to her father. “But it’s appropriate, don’t you think?”
“Not at all,” she shook her head and looked back at me. “I was just telling Shaylee this the other day. I don’t like black, or at least the idea of it. You see, I want to remember my father as he was, not for what happened to him. He was loving and joyful, even though he kept that side of himself hidden from most. He told me he loved me every day, and black really doesn’t represent that, you know?”
I didn’t know what to say as I listened to what she was really telling me. For the longest time, I had seen the three princesses in a particular light. The eldest was the supporter of her husband and the strategist for battle. Kryssa was a warrior, fighting her battles and remaining loyal to those she loved. It had always been Nixie who I had seen as simple and at times foolish. She lived in a bubble of happiness, which touched those around her. But her words opened my eyes to something I had never really seen before. She had a strength in her I had never understood. I had tasted grief and by hanging onto the tragedy, I had refused to give up the mourning and release the pain.
Nixie was a different immovable force. She would remain in the memory of what was good and pure, of what made her feel blessed and loved. Her strength was her ability to move onto remembrance with a blessed peace.
“I don’t know what to say,” I said softly.
“Oh, you can try and convince me otherwise, that’s all Kryssa and Shaylee have done.” She waved a hand as though it didn’t matter. “So what have you been up to in here?” she asked and her husband gave out a choked laugh, his eyes glinting as he looked at her.
“Nothing really, just pacing.”
“And destroying the door,” she nodded toward the hacked wood.
“That too,” I smiled, and for the first time since I had been in Lathmor, I felt a little at peace.
“As fun as that looks,” her eyes widened as though she thought otherwise, “how about we play a game?”
Daggin sighed, “Not that again.”
“Yes,” she whipped her head in his direction. “Oh, come on, you know you like it.” He merely shrugged in response and without any further encouragement, she began to explain the game. I didn’t understand it from the beginning, but caught on soon enough as she pulled out the dice and Daggin produced a deck of cards as if from nowhere. Somehow, we all ended up in a circle on the floor, our heads bowed over the dice as each roll determined our winnings or losses.
We were laughing, our minds at ease as the time passed quickly. It was long past dark when they silently exited the room with promises to visit in the future. I thanked them both as the door closed, and long after they left, I was smiling to myself.
For the first time in what seemed like ages, I finally laid down upon the mattress. My thoughts drifting back and forth until I was nearly asleep. It was at that precise moment when a solid click resounded, once more within the silent chamber.
Scrambling out of the bed, I turned on my foot and braced myself as the gashed, wooden door slowly swung toward me. My fingers tingled in anticipation, reminding me how soon I would have to fight to keep my blades retracted, and I waited for whoever was outside to step in the room.
The round obtuse shape of a head popped around the side of the door, through the shadows a large hand was holding onto the white wood, “Lissie?” A hushed whisper called out, though I knew he could see me standing there.
“I’m right here, Elik,” I said, matching his tone of whisper.
“Come with me,” he said and swung the door a little wider, giving me my first glance into the hallway and beyond in over a day and a half. His statement was not a request, but a command. I followed without delay, hoping again my obedience wouldn’t go unnoticed. After the casual conversation with Nixie and Daggin, his formalness was a blow to my gut.
There was complete silence between us as I followed him down the halls of the palace and through empty rooms. It seemed as though the entire place was asleep, and our movements were loud against the shrouded walls and draped windows. A small tremor ran down my spine as I watched the dark ghost of a curtained veil drift in the wind; the movement akin to the way Morven’s hair floated. Seeing the dark ripple, made the hairs on the back of my neck stand erect; I tried not to step closer to Elik.
It’s just your imagination
, I chided myself. Logic won over as we reached the door which led to the king’s office.
Without a knock, Elik shoved the door open and silently ushered me into the room. The marble pressed against my feet as though calling me to look at its patterned expanse, stark white patches dashing in bright streaks over the diamond-design.
In here, as well, were dark veils and hooded windows. Bright orange torches created two pools of light over the black wooden desk and the still figure standing behind it. His back was turned to me, his arms crossed over his chest as he stared through a small crack between the curtains, slightly parted before the window. As I suspected, the night was too cloudy for the moon to shine over the island.
Behind me, the door clicked shut. A soft grinding turned into a clang of finality as the lock was shoved into place. A warm hand pressed against my back and I startled, only to allow Elik to lead me farther into the room.
When we were in the center of the large black diamond, he came to a stop with me beside him and I tried not to recall the first time I had stood in this very room facing the now deceased king. The memory came back without regard for my feelings; it was when Patrick had still been with me, his trustworthy presence had been enough to give me the courage to get through the questions posed in my direction. Tonight, I didn’t have such a luxury.
I was alone and once again a pang of longing mixed with frustration tremored through my body, whether I was irritated at Zale for not being here or at the circumstances, I wasn’t sure.