A waste of time, I thought, smiling slightly. A mermaid.
Then my wrist was in her cool, long-fingered hand. My eyelids flickered as I wondered if she’d tear my limb from my body or perhaps take a bite of my flesh, but the green-haired creature only covered my wound with her hand.
I would’ve flinched had I the energy as I felt another hand wrap around my foot and watched the merwoman exchange a look with something I could not see.
My eyelids continued to flutter, and my chest ached with the urge to breathe when I couldn’t. I tried, but it burned, and I coughed.
My sight began to thin even more, everything turning a muted shade of gray. I coughed again and began to heave, and that angry part of me tried to contain what little life remained inside me.
And then I was pulled away from the water, from the mermaids, the scent of mint and sun soaked winter mornings registering inside my fractured mind.
“She needs tending to,” I heard Truin say. “She won’t make it.”
“We need to leave, now,” someone said. It sounded like Kash, and then everything was black once more.
I woke alone, feeling as though I’d taken an axe to the back of my head, and immediately shut my eyes.
Dreams of a land far off the coastline held me captive. Its giant trees and soft as butter sand and its rainbow scent carrying me on a phantom breeze, high above in the cloudless sky. Of mermaids with evil eyes but kind mouths and hands that saved.
I woke five more times before I was finally able to keep my eyes open, and when I could, I found the lord seated beside my bed, reading.
For a time, I just listened, relieved to hear his velvet smooth voice. “…And her grandmother said, ‘those who wake wanting will forever roam unsatisfied.’ The child peered up at her, unsure what the old crone meant, and not so sure she cared…” He paused, his eyes lifting from the page.
“Did it work?”
Zadicus closed the book, the leg that had been resting over his knee dropping to the floor. Somber eyes, riddled with concern, fell on me. “Yes.”
I nodded, knowing the implications of that could be vast, but also knowing I was in no state to worry right now. “Do I resemble a corpse?”
He laughed, a dry, tired sound, and rubbed his hand over his whiskered chin. “You’ve never looked more beautiful.”
“Liar,” I croaked.
“I would never lie to you.” Rising, he dropped the book to the chair, then came to the bed. “You’re alive, and that makes you the most wondrous, stunning thing I’ve ever seen.”
My throat felt tight, words unable to form. His smile was soft as he reached for the pitcher and poured me some water.
He helped me sit up, and my hand shook when I tried to grab the goblet, so he held it to my lips and carefully tipped until I’d drunk it all.
Falling back to my pillows, I felt my eyes flutter. “Don’t leave.”
He didn’t respond, but he stayed.
When I woke again, I watched him for a time. His eyes were shut, his hands clasped over his stomach, but I knew he was not sleeping. “You knew of Beldine, and of what happened to my mother?”
His eyes opened, and he stared at me for a long minute before finally saying, “I knew of Beldine’s fate, but I was not aware of how it had happened. Not until the night of the ball when Kash finally decoded your father’s journal.”
Traces of memory raced in. “The one you had at your estate?”
He nodded once. “After seeing him with it, just the once, and how confused he’d looked as he’d stared at it in his study, I’d never forgotten. So I took it after he died. It wasn’t full of admissions so much as nonsensical ramblings. As though he’d tried to take up the pastime of journaling to aid in keeping his mind longer.” He brushed his thumb over his bottom lip. “As his thoughts grew more erratic, so did the entries. Some were nothing more than scribbled, unrecognizable drawings.”
“What,” I started, gathering scrambled thoughts. “What was it that made you realize?”
“A picture of a heart, large in size, and a smaller one beneath it. It was his last entry.”
I wasn’t sure what to make of that. Why he’d left behind evidence, however poor, of what he’d done.
As if knowing so, Zad murmured, “Perhaps some tiny entity inside him, a fragment of who he once was and could have been, resurfaced. It would make sense,” he said. “For there were not many entries after you were born.”
Numb, I absorbed that for some moments, staring down at my bedsheets. “So you finally figured it out.” Remembering how he’d left the ball around the same time Amelda had, I shot accusing eyes at him. “You also knew what Amelda was planning, and you did not deign to warn me.”