XLV.

Athlem won. She always wins, Horatio muttered in mild annoyance: it was just…the logical part of him is ripped off from its roots whenever his beloved is concerned, especially when she is humiliated by his own kin.

He turned a corner, traced with dismay the distant figures congregating by the illumination of torches and a clear moon upon the west side balcony: the King, his queen, General Astaroth and his sister, Rosamund. Horatio reminded himself to not snap; Please, the voice of his peony gently requested. I don’t want you to spite your family on my accord.

He sighed, begrudgingly he made his way to unpleasant company.

The Queen greeted him in her usual composure, “Glad for you to join us, Horatio. I am sure you are familiar with Rosamund,” Unfortunately yes, the fact that his betrothed is Rosamund this time only complicate the affair.

From the way Rosamund blushed at this introduction, he judged that his words from the dinner did not fall upon her ears.

After some pointless chatter Astaroth offered an opportunity, “Perhaps we should leave the two of you. It has been years since you’ve returned.”

Horatio was adamantly against it, but found himself alone with the woman by the King’s acquiescence regardless. Suddenly, the balcony felt too small as he paced to the other side, a hand gripped the marble rail.

“You never struck me as one for arranged marriages, Rosa,” The critters of the dark continued their haphazard harmony.

“Perhaps I’ve changed,” The clacks of her heels signaled her approach, and he tensed at the vinegar of her voice. “Perhaps…having my only friend abandon me changed me.”

“I merely chose to aid a sister who would be alone in an alien land,” It was still difficult to bring himself to be too harsh with Rosamund, whose eyes brightened with tears; his tone softened. “You will never find happiness with me, Rosa. I am sure you are aware — ”

“ — Of Athlem?” The disgust that overcame her tear-stained face surprised Horatio. “Is he the only obstacle? I am sure we can rid –”

“ — No,” Horatio surprised himself with the volume of his voice, and only then did he realize that he was utterly alone with this parody of his childhood friend as he scanned the environment for potential snitches at his less-than-proper behavior: where are the servants? He found this an opportunity for hearsay and subtly made for the doors. “No Rosa, you don’t understand. I simply cannot bring myself to love anyone else.” There is no Horatio without Athlem, and he knew the reverse is as sure as each sunrise.

The woman’s eyes widened at the rejection: she bowed her head as though the shame was too heavy before she looked up with renewed rage. The turn of her expressions could only be described as the tumultuous churn of the clouds when the sun sets, a violent violet and ringlets of scarlet and a gloomy bloom of orange, “You deemed me a creature beyond understanding,” She spat. “Do you still think I am still the little girl following you everywhere like a lost puppy?”

“ — Rosa, I never said –”

“ — I’ve waited, years after years, and not even a letter came,” She seized his tunic, wrenched him down to her height with the strength of wrath. “Then you came back with this ‘doctor’ of yours, and you didn’t even spare a glance for me!”

“Rosamund…but I never saw you in that light…”

“Do you know what I had to do for them to let me be your bride-to-be? I went against my family, my values, my everything,” Her hiss of a voice died to a begging gasp. “I love you, Horatio. I always did and always will. So don’t, don’t tell me that I don’t understand…”

It was difficult to pry her fingers from him with a single hand, and when he finally struggled free he fought the urge to walk away and turn his back to this mess forever, “I am sorry, but I simply cannot see you as anything but a sister.”

She was incredulous: should a man be able to refuse her anything when she so passionately begged? The light of her disposition drew closer beneath the horizon and the dark shadow casted by the taller trees of the palace gardens clouded her, “Do you despise me so much?”

Hearing no reply, she raised her chin, “Very well,” she turned and mounted the railing of the balcony.

“Rosa, stop!” He cursed his instincts as he grabbed her by her arm and dragged her off the ledge.

She knew he would save her, and the accuracy of her predication fed her twisted sense of importance and love; she knew, as the brief moment of intimacy allowed her to grab him by his hair and smash her lips to his.

The forceful contact shocked him, and he gagged, didn’t know that he struck her until he felt the sting in his hand, which then flew for his lips, “You,” He breathed, the woman sprawled on the floor gasped at her bleeding lip before looking up at Horatio. “How dare you,” defile a kiss so solely reserved for his beloved.

She spat, returning Horatio’s deathly glare, “You just don’t see it, the peasant doesn’t deserve you.”

His blood boiled, his hand itched to repeat its deed but his mind pulled at him to leave this psychotic thing, “No, the only one undeserving here is you.” He snapped around for his own chambers, for he had no intention of meeting Athlem in such a foul mood.

But, he only made a few steps before a loud hiss and a sudden grip seized him by the neck, and a pang erupted there.

Then it was a numbness, a faint tingling of agony that felled him to his knees, “You…what did you…” His body refused to move, he couldn’t even feel it.

“You left me with no options, Horatio.”

The sun was gone and all was in darkness.

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