My hand went to that place on my upper arm. It had healed long ago. There was no scar, yet the slice of sharpened metal tearing at the skin could still be felt even now.
I’d been hurt many times before, and every injury had healed and never haunted.
I suppose it was different when you were hurt in a way that reached your very core, wrapped poisonous talons around it, and refused to let go.
Raiden was silent, sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of me with the bars between us. His bloodshot eyes were fixed on my arm, and his pupils larger than usual.
“Do you remember?”
He didn’t answer, only stared.
I eased forward and grabbed the bars. “Do you remember?”
“Audra.” He said my name as though it was the first breath he’d taken since this came to pass over a year ago. “What’s happening?” He met my eyes, then rolled over, heaving, his back spasming as he began to vomit on the floor.
With what he’d done fresher than the next pounding beat of my heart, I simply watched as he expelled what looked to be porridge onto the stones and started coughing. Coughing as if it had been his lungs drowning in smoke instead of mine.
After a minute, he swiped the back of his hand over his mouth, then rolled to sit against the wall. “I don’t…” He shook his head, his cheeks billowing as he exhaled. “I didn’t mean to.”
I gripped the metal so hard my skin threatened to tear. “Didn’t mean to what? Kill me and my father?” I laughed, low and without humor, slowly loosening my grip as I went to stand. “Oh, but you did. All along, that was your plan. Trick the heartless princess into believing you could love her. All the better to ruin her, right? You should consider yourself—”
I stopped breathing, stopped thinking, stopped moving as he reached inside his pocket and pulled out tiny purple crumbs.
He gazed up at me, confusion a heavy cloud between us.
My mouth opened and closed, and so did his. His eyes swung from the crushed remains of the purple flower to mine and back again.
Bile thundered up my throat, and I raced out of there to the sound of my name being hollered.
Azela was reaching for her sword, eyes wide and darting from me to the shouting king.
“Lock the gate, lock the door,” I rushed out before hurtling up the stairs and throwing myself through the first exit of the castle I found.
Upon the small balcony, I gulped in breath after breath, sliding down the rough exterior of my home as the kitchen staff smoking pipes on their breaks glanced over at me curiously.
Whatever they saw on my face had them emptying their pipes and hurrying back inside.
“He’s having moments of clarity,” Gretelle, the head of Truin’s coven, said. “And then he’s confused.”
I eyed the aging crone, my fingers tapping at the arm of my throne as I surveyed the listening guards. “Has he been ill again?” Since seeing the lavender pieces in his palm, I couldn’t bring myself to return to the dungeon.
I had no idea what to do with that. Had he carried it with him even during his life as one of the exiled? Or was it some type of parlor trick? Perhaps he’d asked one of the guards to fetch him some to help with any nausea.
I’d asked Truin to come yesterday, and she had, but after watching him for a full five hours and only gleaning splotches of rational mind, she’d said she needed help and left.
“He’s angry, then he’s remorseful, then he’s confused, then he’s asking for you, then he’s asking for Casilla.” The crone narrowed an eye at me. “Who is this Casilla?”
I waved the question away, wanting to snuff the kernel of hope that kept on rising within. “His betrothed from The Edges.”
Gretelle’s creased face scrunched further, and I withheld a laugh. Never had I seen the woman look so perplexed. She shook her head. “Well, then. I suppose I’ll return in the morning with some of my sisters and tools.”
Truin cleared her throat. “I’d like to stay, Audra. To keep an eye on him.”
The crone pursed her lips. “He should have someone with him, yes.” She stole a quick side glance at me. “He’s in a right state and could do with some familiar faces.”
I ignored the jab and bid her farewell, watching her hobble to the door where Ainx waited to escort her out.
Truin glanced at the remaining guards, then took a seat below my throne on the marble step, her patterned yellow skirts flaring around her as she set her basket down. “Are you okay?”
I sighed, slouching a little in the uncomfortable chair. “Define okay.”
She smiled, reaching inside her basket to resituate some herbs and a bottle of dark green liquid. “You should go see him. It’s true, you know.” She peered up at me. “That he was asking for you.”