She never knew her promise was one-sided.
He knocked on her chamber’s door three nights after her coronation. She was confused, then fearful when she find his facade plagued by indecisions and turbulent sorrows. He stepped into the faint radius of her reading light, she closed the door behind them as he paced to the ink black windows. She read the words on his lips before he let them fall and clatter against the floors.
“They need me,” He said quietly, avoided her shimmering gaze that may very well crumble the powder of resolve he collected. “There’s no one to lead them,” He stared into the white marble beneath his feet.
She didn’t say a word but watched her room with newfound alienation: this same room where they met.
It was so different then, they were so full of vengeance and anger, her more so then him even though he was the rebel’s assassin, while she the misguided girl who stabbed one that later saved her from herself so many times without a second thought. They fought their demons, and they won. She thought the scratches and scars would be all, yet she was not done being hurt, it seemed.
She forget that he was speaking, and seeing that he seemed more perturbed than before slowly guessed at what else he was hiding, so she merely closed the few steps between them, embraced him tightly, “That’s not it, isn’t it?” She mumbled into his tunic, hoping she was wrong.
She wasn’t. When she looked up, she wondered how he mustered a smile, and of course how could she forget that he was one who smile through pain, “Now that we have a clearer understandings of the darkness of this world is, the Elders is currently in favor of sealing off our realm…indefinitely.”
She felt his touch on her cheeks before she realized tears had escaped her eyes, and she merely rested a hand on that touch to preserve it, lean into it, squeezed the floodgates of her eyes shut, nodded, “I understand.”
She asked for three more days, and when he acquiesced she immediately regretted it.
The first day, they did fairly well in hiding the fact that they were counting every second. After she spent the first half of the day passing out verdicts that she tried to remember could be life-changing for her citizens, they merely strolled in the palace backwoods. They might have wandered off to a ravine she didn’t know existed, showed her how to talk to woodland and water sprites without offending them before he kissed her on the brows as though to smooth out the deep frowns.
The second day, Horatio noticed the clouds in her eyes and inquired with perfect politeness. And for the first time in her life, he nearly shoved her off the throne and shooed her away from responsibilities. “There are no pressing matters that I can’t deal with,” He assured her as she knew that there weren’t. “It’s unlike I didn’t handle most of it during your father’s time, anyway. Go, find your dumb crow.” Horatio was concerned that no one corrected him on the nickname that stuck, not even the brown fluffball owl.
So they went to town, him in his silly disguise that somehow still did its job in fooling the townspeople, or perhaps they did not care. Or she didn’t care; it was just a surreal torture, the calming notion of her hand linked in his, a simple courtship she knew she would never have. They weren’t hunted by evil spirits summoned by deranged priests or angry rebels or tortured sprites or ghosts of their pasts, but just the notion of time and the helplessness of love. As she wiped away a smudge of honey from the corner of his lips, she only wanted to bawl like a child, but instead she smiled, forcibly smiled against the gravity that seemed to grow stronger with each inch of the sun sinking into earth. They stayed up late naming stars and their origins, competed in whose story is sillier as though to make up for a lifetime of sappiness.
The last day, she woke up exhausted in absolute darkness.
How could she pretend she would be fine? How could he? He who despised his power for the very notion of love, she who sought power to preserve it. So, she was not fine with it, and as they flew to a remote mountain range beyond the clouds to watch the sunrise she felt stupid clenching and unclenching the basket of fruits, breads and cheese she haphazardly stuffed until the handle crackled in her fist. They sat down under the outreaching arms of an ancient tree and its flowering branches, the infinite sounds of nature so crisp against the waking air. They let that meandering murmur dominate their conversation before she nudged herself into his arms, sighed as the first ray of sunshine fell.
“I will miss you,” If she wasn’t listening to his every heartbeat, she might have mistaken his whisper to be the wind. “I love you,” His breath was warm against the shell of her ear, and she realized that she will never be warm again.
She trembled, “I wish I am selfish enough to tell you to stay.” More rays of sunlight crept past the horizons, and they caught dew and tears and refracted all the same.
“I know you are not, but you have every right to.”
She shriveled into herself, not having control over her wayward tongue, “Stay, then,” She begged. “Please, stay.” She saw that he was moved, that his hand left her frame briefly to wipe at his eyes and that a word that would have granted her so much happiness quivered on his lips but he bit them back.
“I will return,” She closed her eyes and tasted his promise. “No matter what it takes, I will return.”
And she believed. She was ready to believe until the end.