She woke from a dreamless slumber, refreshed, younger, and as she took in the familiar carved wooden bedsteads, dressing table and patterned arches framing murals she painted over, she could almost pretend that none of her tiresome adventures occurred, that she just woke after a day composed of nothing but music, art, occasionally charged by the excitement of magic or sword training from Horatio. But, she knew it wasn’t all but a long, eventful dream, as she pulled her blanket off the silken fabric brushed against the scars on her gut from a sword wound too many sunsets ago. And as she brushed at her eyes, something on her bedstead moved: a brown feather ball hooting with delight. It all came rushing back to her, the confrontation with darkness, the explosion of light.
“Al…” She got up a little too suddenly, and she attempted to steady herself; once the earth ceased swaying she shot out of bed and dressed in a flurry — her closet had been left untouched during all this time to her pleasant surprise — but before she could run to the door with Jiube perched upon her shoulder Athlem entered with a flask of medicine.
“Oh,” As though seeing a ghost, the Doctor froze, cracked into a smile that shrugged off the anxiety settling gradually deepened over the past days when her beloved niece was unconscious. “My God.” She squeezed her into a tight embrace, and Lyra burst into giggles as the bump of the physician’s motherhood pressed against her.
Once she was released from her aunt’s grasp, she asked, “How long have I been…asleep?”
“A good two weeks, it felt much longer,” Athlem bestowed a kiss upon her brow, cupping the little face to remind her that she was the most precious thing to her.
“So…it’s over,” Lyra muttered, clasping her hands upon the small, delicate ones of the doctor. “The priest…that monster…”
“They are all gone, thanks to you,” The odd-eyes beheld the little Empress, softened. “Your uncle and I are so proud of you.”
“…” She wet her lips, sought for words to capture her jubilee and triumph, but memory caught up to her. “Where’s he? And where’s Alde? Is he –”
“– The latter probably wandered off to the back forests to collect whatever. I suppose you cannot wait to see him, but if you would you should go find the former: I am not sure how much longer I can deal with him moping amongst books like that.”
Lyra thanked her with a peck on her cheek, fighting her every instinct to bolt to her Nokshan as she passed by a few bowing servants and the crumbled remnants of the throne room. She won, and turned to the library instead. And of course she was right in finding her uncle paging through another volume he probably already memorized with nervous disinterest.
So, being the angel that she was, she decided to sneak up upon him and startle him with a roar. The book slid off his lap, his shoulders tensed; he clicked his tongue and turned around with an expression she know to be his indecisions between adoration, consternation and sheer happiness seeing that she is well before the last sentiment was all he knew and he lulled her into a tight embrace.
“You scared me,” she knew he was not referring to her childish entrance, and his admittance of his vulnerability only made her smile.
“Don’t be so eager to get rid of me, now,” He chuckled, and she noted without so much joy the lines by the corner of his eyes deeper than she remembered.
He fussed over her and hinted at the mountain of responsibilities that they now have to sort through in the near future before releasing her to her heart’s desired destination. She trusted her senses, finding herself in the direction of the lesser courts. But she wasn’t resentful of the cooing doves amongst the messy overgrowth anymore. She didn’t even hear them, deafened by the shuffle of her own steps in the fresh grass and her pounding heart.
But, she never remembered the lesser court’s gardens being so lively, each branch seemed to have to have their own song, humming in tune to a greater symphony. The little owl flew off to explore some dry branch of interest, and she followed the little one’s flight that led to him. He was amongst the spiraling, waltzing spirits, bent over a delicate flower that he plucked after a whispered apology and placed into a satchel.
He didn’t seem startled; he merely turned to her and his face bloomed into a brilliant smile.
She threw herself into his outstretched arms, and he spun her, laughed, set her down and rested his forehead against hers and they just shared a breath, her presence, his intoxicating being, “I’ve been waiting.”
“Sorry to worry you,” She wounded her arms tightly around him, remembrances of an unspoken tragedy struggled to leave her tongue. “I am sorry.”
First his father, then his sister, and now…she could not help but find herself to be the string connecting each agony in his life.
His whole family, he was alone, “Her…time came, and her death was not in vain.”
She heard the crack of his whispered pretense, and she could only cradle his tender soul with sympathy, gentle kisses and promises as he sighed, crumbled.
He retained his composure for the past two weeks as he occupied his mind with concerns for his future, her, and now as she stood before him with that sunshine of a smile he lost his reason to maintain his mask, but he wanted to just smile for her and not tax her already exhausted frame. He couldn’t, he loved her too much to lie and act, and he just lost himself in her protective arms.
She was content, then, with his chin resting upon her shoulders.
She whispered, “I will always be here,” and his wings tugged her closer.