The Shimmer

The Deathworm


I could feel my restrictor getting tighter on my wrist as I took a second blow to the face from the Craic. He was taller than me, though perhaps not any stronger. But he was fast, much faster than someone who spent all of their time in graveyards and dungeons. I dodged a reactionary attack from him but he caught the back of my knee and pulled my legs out from under me. I hit the ground with a thud and a chime sounded that indicated to us that the match had been won. The Craic put out his hand and grinned, pushing a wad of silver hair from his face and winking in a way that made my blood boil.

“Good try little worm, but perhaps you’re better at catching a cold.” I winced at my title, and forced an appreciative smile to my face. What I really wanted to do was break something over his head. Or maybe even–

No, that wasn’t an option. Certainly not with this glowing leather cuff on my arm.

I looked into the stands where the king’s box was and looked for the only encouraging face I would probably get, but apparently he wasn’t there today. No, just the puppeteer, Oona, sat there. Watching us and stifling our magic in her weird black gown and mask.  It was so eerie to have someone staring you down when you couldn’t see their eyes.

I felt a fine sprinkling of dirt cascade across my face and realized the Fortuna’s were making their way into the area. The dirt had been kicked at me by the Craic, Felix, to tell me to get to my feet and show some respect. The Fortuna’s were nobility compared to us, especially compared to me, a worm, and I couldn’t help but balk at their well made garments and boots without holes in them. I glanced down at my own boots where I could clearly see the tip of my big toe and felt the urge to run away lest I offend their senses. Unlike the Deathworms, whose magic revolved around things that were already dead, and the Craics, whose magic was diverse and useful in most situations, the Fortuna were the royalty among us. Fortune tellers, seers that lived in luxury in their own private quarters inside the palace and were waited on hand and foot until a prediction came to them. 

I scrambled to my feet and hung my head to show respect as they walked past. The girl, Nerawinn, smelled like sunshine and cherries and I couldn’t help but breathe deeply as she brushed against me.

“Did you just smell me?” Nerawinn asked, whipping her long, black ponytail as she turned her head and stopped a few feet past me. I raised my head a little, looking into her shoulder, not her eye of course.

“No, uh, no. I was just breathing.” I sounded like an idiot, bumbling over the way clean smelled and trying to convince everyone around me I wasn’t hungry for the privilege they possessed. Nerawinn snorted and turned away, followed by the two male Fortunas, Cressian and Denude. Nerawinn was their Prime, the way Maladre was mine. Maladre certainly didn’t smell like sunshine though.

“Weirdling,” Felix said, kicking the back of my knee once more, sending me into the dirt again. The caress of darkness shot through my veins as he turned his back to me, and I took a step forward reaching out to him, feeling the waves of necrosis pulsing forth.

Then like a shock to my system a combating pulse of magic sucked every ounce of my power dry and it felt like I had never had any magic at all.

“Retreat Lylina. One more pulse and I’ll have to down you.”

I felt like a thousand ropes were restraining me, like everything from my eyelids to my blood vessels had simultaneously been forced open and made to empty. This was Oona, these were her chains. This was the reason that I, and all of the Magicks would be forced to be dogs of the king until the day we died.

The invisible restraints released and I stumbled forward, Felix nearly to the barracks at this point. I shot a look up at the King’s box and Oona, in her weird black clothes, nodded. I gave her a gesture that required absolutely none of my magic and therefore was impervious to her moderation. Then I turned and walked towards the barracks myself, having been humiliated enough for the day.

From behind me I could hear Cressian and Denude cheering on Nerawinn as she fought some other magick. I wanted to turn around and watch, but thought better of it and headed straight for the dark, damp, tunnel.

***

Meals were really the only time that the Magick sects were allowed to mix and for the Fateborn, only dinner. It was the time of day I most looked forward to because it meant that the Fateborn, Leif, and I could gossip about the other Magicks. Or rather, I could whine about them and he would listen patiently. Leif was my best friend in the whole world and never had an unkind word to say about anyone.

I could see his mop of white hair heading towards me from the moment he stepped into the dining hall, flanked by two sets of guards. It was an annoyance I had had no choice but to get used to if I wanted to see Leif at all. 

When we first arrived at the palace, Leif and I went a whole year not seeing each other as we were both going through our depersoning, a process in which they broke you emotionally so that the only thing you could be loyal to was the king and your place in the King’s Magicks. Most Magicks only took a few weeks, but for Leif and I, a year had passed before our prime’s were satisfied that we were fully complacent.

We gave up thoughts of home and family and personal goals and desires, but we never gave up each other. Leif and I had been raised in the same village in big, loving families. Our father’s ran a fur trading business together, and as children Leif and I had spent hours playing make believe around the shop. But that was before he was revealed to be Fateborn, and I, a Deathworm.

Magicks were so rare that it was a shock when two of the same age were discovered to be living in the same town, especially two Magicks of such unprecedented dichotomy. The Fateborn was nearly the highest level of Magick status one could have, and I was its direct counter. Life bearer, and death walker.

“You’ve barely eaten a thing,” Leif said as he sat down, “If you don’t put that stew in your mouth I’m going to force feed you wormy.” Leif was the only person who could call me by my title and still elicit a smile. I stirred my beef stew, though I still didn’t take a bite.

“Maybe you should worry about eating something yourself,” I said pushing the bowl towards him. Leif smiled at me in that way he did and pushed it back to me.

“I already ate, you know that.”

Of course he did. He had probably dined on a feast fit for royalty. It was commonly known that the fateborn enjoyed privileges the rest of us would never know, and even though Leif was my friend, I couldn’t help resent him for the food he got to eat. I lifted my head to look him in the eyes,

“You know you needn’t come down here and mix with the rabble.” Leif reached across the table and grabbed my bowl, making sure to brush his pinky against my hand. My eyes darted to the guards and I slowly shook my head as a wave of comfort washed over me, pushing away every bad thing that happened for the day. “Stop using your magic on me.”

He smiled gently.

“You don’t give me orders wormy.”

I scrunched up my face and glared at him. He laughed at my anger, as he always did, and grabbed my hand full on.

His skin was cool and soft and the way he ran his thumb over the back of my hand made my heart skip a beat. His blue eyes wandered across my face, searching for the tiniest sign that I was still his. It had been five months since the night in the stables. Five months of looking up at that stupid box and hoping he was there. Five months of trying to figure out how I was going to save his life.

Fateborn weren’t just respected because of the kind of magic they did. Fateborn were respected and pampered because they gave their lives using it. One bad fall or one prolonged illness and Leif would be gone for good. It was his job to act as the king’s life source, and that would be his only purpose until he died a presumably early death. And the thought of losing him made every bone in my body ache.

I felt the tiniest pulse of his magic again and I threw him a dirty look.

“Stop it. I don’t want even one ounce of that magic.”

My eyes never left his guards, though they certainly pretended not to notice. It would have been foolish of me to not assume that everything they saw got back to the ears of the king. I was already in enough trouble for my rash actions earlier, I didn’t need to add a second week of barracks cleaning to my rota.

The magic stopped pulsing through me but his hand still clasped mine tightly and his eyes softened.

“I just like it when you have a bit of color on your cheeks. It makes you look like someone has just kissed you.” And of course by someone he meant him. The impropriety of this conversation was going to get someone in trouble for sure, and I felt certain it wouldn’t be the magick responsible for keeping the king alive.

He wasn’t entirely wrong though, my tan skin had certainly lost its glow over the last ten years, now I just looked a grayish color all the time. I wasn’t sure if it was the magic, or the misery, but either way the array of freckles across the bridge of my nose had all but faded into obscurity beneath the dinge of living underground and the poor nutrition.

My father had been a pale northerner, like Leif and his father, but my mother, she was from the deserts and had the most lovely copper colored skin. Green eyes from my father, golden ringlets of hair from my mother. All which was completely covered up by dirt and the other garments they put us in, to prevent us from ever being attracted to one another. 

All women had their hair tightly braided at the nape of their neck, men had their hair shorn. The plain, baggy leathers we were dressed in when we were not performing our duties in an official capacity were like potato sacks that made us all shapeless beneath. And as if those precautions were not enough, we were each given a clove of anselweed every morning at breakfast, for the intended purpose of driving away any desires that a group of young people all crammed into one tiny barracks might have. Though I can personally testify that it had no effect whatsoever, as I listened to two of my nearest bunkmates, Glimmer and Astro, a Craic and an Ulv, go at it nearly every night.

I slowly drew my hand away from his, despite the fact that I would have liked nothing more than to sit there, together like a normal couple and eat my inedible meal. But it wasn’t worth the risk.

“I requested to have a meeting with a worm in the library tonight. I’m interested in communing with my dead mother. The king approved the time, with the worm of my choosing–”

“No,” I said sharply. “It’s too risky Leif.” I gave him a look that clearly expressed I thought he was being insane.

“I’m afraid I must insist,” he replied, putting on an air of authority and speaking ever so slightly louder. I knew this was for the benefit of the guards, and he stood to make his point, winking ever so slightly. “I will expect you to be in the library near my quarters in an hour’s time.”

As if he had preplanned all of it, at that exact moment I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned to see Maladre indicating for me to rise and follow her. My head whipped back to Leif and I gave him a questioning look. But his expression was blank, if not slightly bored looking. His ice blue eyes never left mine as he snapped his fingers twice and the guards about faced and followed him from the dining hall. 

Maladre gave my arm another tug and I rose, but I couldn’t stop myself from watching after him, my heart pounding.

“Young lady, must I use the switch to get you moving?”

Maladre’s voice snapped me out of my Leif induced stupor and I breathed deeply, realizing I  had been holding it. I turned to face the older woman and shook my head.

“No, sorry. I’m coming.”

I turned to follow Maladre dragging my eyes away from Leif, fear and excitement coursing through my veins like fire and ice.

“You’ll need to be properly bathed and dressed to enter the castle. You can’t possibly spend time in close quarters with the fateborn like that.” She emphasized the last word as if trying to remind me how miserable and degrading my existence was. As If I could never forget. 

I ran my hand against the stony walls of the dining hall within the barracks as I walked a few steps behind Maladre. Twenty two years old and being treated like a naughty child being dragged away for a bath so that she could be clean for company. This life was nothing if not degrading.

When I reached the stony archway that led out of the dining hall and back to the sleeping quarters, I turned for just a moment, gazing across the noisy crowd of thirty or so magicks enjoying the slightest bit of freedom while they ate, and ultimately drawing my eyes up to the opposing archway across the room, diagonal from where I stood.

Leif was still there, his guards trying to usher him through, but determined to get a last look at me before we were ripped apart once more. No matter how short the time, every parting was still painful.

His lips parted and he mouthed something to me as Maladre grabbed me by the wrist and finally yanked me away.

“I love you”

***

The warm water cascaded across my skin and I closed my eyes, soaking in the comfort. It was such a rare occurrence for us to have a warm bath that I knew I had to take in every second of this, despite the fact that I could hear Maladre tapping her toe outside of the stone bathhouse. The steamy air was doing terrible things to the orderliness of my hair and I tried– in vain– to brush back the mane of curls that were framing my face.

I lifted my foot from the water and stared at my toes, bruised and calloused. It was a wonder that I was allowed in the palace at all considering what a wreck I was appearance wise. But digging in graveyards and fighting in pits for several hours a day will do that to you. Indeed it had taken me about fifteen minutes just to clean the dirt out from under my nails. 

I thought back to a time when this wasn’t the way I lived. When warm baths were a given, not a privilege. When my mother would make delicious roasts for guests and I would stand in front of my child sized armoire for an hour trying to decide which of my pretty little dresses to wear. I didn’t have to decide a damn thing about my clothing now. Every outfit I owned was the same. On special occurrences like this one, we were given an outfit to wear, no choice involved.

A knock came on the wooden door of the stone room and I breathed deeply, taking in the calming scent of the lavender hung on the walls before I replied. I liked to think the lavender was placed there for our enjoyment, but I knew it was really to try and get the stink out of our hair,

“Yes?” I asked, knowing full well I was about to get an earful of Maladre’s scolding.

“Honestly, someone would think you were a duchess the way you lounge in there. Hurry it up. You don’t keep the Fateborn waiting.” I could have drowned from having to sink below the water to stifle my giggling. There were plenty of times I’d kept the Fateborn waiting.

Flashes of his hands on my skin, his teeth grazing across my hip bones, the smell of the horses and the hay all around us, the rash I had on my back the next day.

“Don’t keep me waiting, Lylina,” he had begged, panting my name from his knees on the ground as I nervously debated amidst the mud and straw, if I was willing to risk being caught for this. “I love you, we don’t know how much time we have left.”

It was the final part that made me throw caution to the wind and succumb to him. It had been the culmination of weeks of planning and negotiating with stable hands, all so we could consummate the love we had held for each other for the last fifteen years.

But it had been a foolish decision. Not only would I have been punished had we been caught, but the longing for each other had only become greater now that we knew the physical satisfaction of being together. In all my twenty two years I had never known anything which made me feel the way I did when our bodies were pressed together, utterly naked.

Another loud bang on my door came and I dipped totally beneath water to rinse my hair, then stood, internally crying for having to leave this glorious place. I stepped out of the tub and reached for a towel, then wrapped it around me and flung open the door.

“I’m done,” I said with slightly more aggression than I meant to. Maladre raised her eyebrows at me and I took a breath. “Sorry,” I added. It wasn’t Maladre’s fault that she did these things, as my prime it was her job to ensure that I was where I was supposed to be at all times. Maladre nodded at me and placed a hand on my back, pushing me forward. I begrudgingly began to walk, my bare feet smacking across the polished stone floors of the bathhouse. A chill ran through my body as a breeze of cool wind blew in from the open window and I looked out to see that this spot had a perfect view of The Fateborn’s tower. I squinted my eyes to see if I could possibly see Leif from where I was. It was all lit up with its sky blue curtains and massive dark oak bookshelves. 

That was another thing I envied of Leif, his access to books. As a deathworm, it wasn’t deemed necessary that I could read at all, let alone have access to books to read for pleasure. As far as I knew, only the Fortuna and the Fateborn were allowed leisure reading.

Maladre urged me on and I drew my gaze away, turning into a guest’s chambers within the lower parts of the castle. These quarters were reserved for the higher ranking servants of visiting nobles and dignitaries, but also served as transition rooms whenever a magick should be called to enter the castle.

To transition from the magick barracks into the castle required quite the process. A walk from the barracks to the cellar, from the cellar to the castle servants bathhouse. You would then bathe so as not to bring the damp stink of the underground living quarters so close to the sensitive noses of your betters. Then from the bathhouse was the long walk down a cobbled stone corridor and up a spiral staircase made of wood. I hadn’t gotten any splinters in my feet this time, but that was a miracle considering how poorly sanded they were. At the top of the stairs was a hallway of the lesser guest quarters where you were dressed and styled, then you would be sent on your way to serve whichever noble or royal requested you.

Maladre shoved me into the tiny pea green themed bedroom and shut the door behind us.

“Dress,” she barked. I hesitated for a moment, I hated being naked in front of my prime or anyone else for that matter. It always felt like an affirmation that I was less than a person when someone could command you to strip down, and you had no choice but to obey. I dropped my towel and stepped forth, Maladre’s eyes looked me up and down as I noticed a rack of dresses in the corner.

“You’re getting too thin. How do you expect to fight when you look like you could be snapped over someone’s knee?” Maladre turned her back and walked over to the rack in the corner to shuffle through the dresses. 

She wasn’t wrong. Ever since that night in the stables five months ago my appetite had been waning. There was something about having had sex with Leif that made the feelings I already had for him clap down on me like an iron shackle. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t even concentrate on my work knowing that Leif could be taken away from me at any moment, and I would be totally helpless to stop it.

Maladre pulled a silver dress from the rack and held it up to me. It was beautiful, and far too fine for her to really believe I was going to help the Fateborn commune with his dead mother– who I knew was very, very alive. The torso was beaded with shining silver and the silken arm wraps flowed around the dress like a shimmering liquid.

“This will have to do. Let’s hope it… pleases the Fateborn.” I raised an eyebrow at my Prime and knitted my brow.

“Maladre, what exactly do you think is going to happen in there?” Maladre scowled and indicated for me to put my arms up. I did as I was told, then helped her pull the dress over my body. There were so many complicated ties and buttons it was a miracle the two of us could get it done.

“Don’t play coy with me. It’s clear that you’ve won the Fateborn’s favor Lylina. He watches you day in and day out while your train in the pits, and frequently asks about you during the Prime meetings. I can only assume you are to be his concubine. It is the right of the Fateborn to keep one, or several.”

The thought of Leif having “several” lovers gave me chills, and not in a pleasant way. It was true what she said though. As Fateborn he had the right to nearly anything he asked for, wine, jewels, fine clothes, women… All because of the proverbial axe that hung over his neck. Indeed former Fateborn’s were known to keep literal harems of women, and the Fateborn three generations ago would pick a different Magick boy to bed at his whim each night. It wasn’t about love, it was about allowing the Fateborn to experience and enjoy everything he or she could in their short life.

“Maladre, that’s not at all the situation. Lei–the Fateborn, he’s an old friend of mine from…before. I’m simply helping him commune.” Maladre scoffed as if she didn’t believe me as she tied my corset tighter. It felt like my ribs might crack in this thing and I looked down at my breasts and wondered how in the hell they weren’t going to plop right out of this gown as the corset had pushed them up to my clavicle.

“I can hardly breathe in this thing,” I gasped as she knotted the ties.

“Good,” she replied, “If you can’t breathe, then you can’t talk. I’m sure the Fateborn will appreciate that.” As if to make her point, Maladre gave one final tug. “It’s impossible to make curves of a wooden plank. You will eat with me tomorrow. That way I can ensure you do it.” 

I was glad Maladre was behind me because I could have put her out cold with the daggers I was shooting from my eyes. How dare she take away the only time I got to spend with Leif. Maladre walked around to the front of me to examine my appearance before kneeling down to put a pair of ridiculous heeled shoes on me. I stepped into them painfully as the sides of the satin blue shoes brushed roughly against my calloused skin.

“Well… It will have to do. Now to do something about that hair.”

Being prepared to enter the castle was always uncomfortable, but Maladre had a way of making her criticisms hurt far more than the device which was currently cracking my ribs.

“What’s wrong with my hair?” I said definitely. “It will be just fine when it dries.”

“We can’t afford to wait that long. You were meant to be in the library ten minutes ago,” She snapped at me in irritation. I breathed deeply and held it in the center of my chest, focusing on not getting angry. Trying to fight her would only end up getting me into more trouble. “We will just have to put it up.”

With that she began tugging at my curls painfully, twisting them into a popular style with the ladies of the court. A style which my hair would certainly rebel against no matter how many twists and hair pins were involved. But after fifteen excruciating minutes, my prime seemed to be satisfied.

“Be ready for the talk. No one will let you forget that you were once summoned personally by the Fateborn. You will be labelled a whore.”

I was well aware, and it was almost worth it to spend time with Leif. Almost.

Maladre marched me down to the end of the corridor, my shoes clanking awkwardly against the stone floors and at the end of the hall was a wooden door. Maladre gave three knocks on the door and it opened, a guard standing immediately within.

“A death summoner, as requested by the Fateborn.” Maladre clearly hated our title as much as I did. The soldier nodded, his metal helm clanking as he did, and he stepped back out of the way of a spiral staircase.

My heart began to pound and I turned to look back at Maladre.

“Perhaps you can persuade the Fateborn to put in a good word for us with the king? We need more supplies in the morgue.” I nodded once, then turned away and walked towards the graceful spiral stairs. 

The railings were ornate swirls of gilded iron fleur de lises, and the steps themselves a sky blue carpeted stone. I ascended them one by one, not totally sure that I wouldn’t tumble out of these ridiculous shoes and fall to my death. I could hear a violin being played above me and I wondered when Leif had found the time to learn the violin. I sometimes forget that, like the Fortuna, he simply waits around until his services are needed.

When I reached the top of the stairs, I hovered on the landing, watching his ice blonde hair toss about as his long, smooth hands made real magic with the instrument. The song was elegant and charming, the sound of a summer day in the meadows or what I assumed a night in the city would be like. Full of lights and possibility. On and on he played, not even noticing my presence and I became mesmerized by the precision and the intensity which he bowed. It somehow made him even more beautiful to me.

When the song finally ended and the spell he had cast over me subsided, I watched as he reached for another piece of music from his collection so I softly cleared my throat. He turned to me absentmindedly, still looking at the sheet music and only glanced up briefly before looking back.

Then he slowly looked back at me, the bow falling to the ground from his hands. I realized for the first time he had never seen me so dressed up before, and he was looking at me the way people often stared at art. His lips slightly parted, his eyes unblinking. I looked around at the tables and the rows and rows of bookshelves across the vast library, and smiled a little. I was trying to avoid looking back at his shocked stare.

“Lylina, you look…” He took a few tentative steps forward, not even bothering to pick up his discarded bow. “Gods Lina.”

“I know, ridiculous. Maladre is so frustratingly rule bound when it comes to entering the palace and she wanted me to–”

But I didn’t get to finish my complaint as Leif suddenly had me in his arms, his hand on the back of my neck and his arm around my waist. His lips tasted of some dark liquor and he gently bit my lip as he kissed me.

For a moment, just a moment, I hesitated out of fear that someone, the guards or Maladre or someone, would see us and attempt to interfere. But then I remembered what Maladre had said. People will assume I’ve been brought here to be his play thing, might as well act on what I will be condemned for.

I began to return his kisses and he reached down to grab me around the waist, hoisting me into his arms. I wrapped my legs around him tightly as he carried me to the nearest table and began kissing down my neck and across my collar bone. My head began to spin and I realized that this was the life we would have had if neither of us had been summoned to the Magicks. Being able to freely have each other without fear or prying eyes.

I felt his hand slip beneath my skirt and run up my thigh, then his fingers brush against my apex, easing off the beautiful– but uncomfortable undergarments. I breathed in sharply as his fingers moved deftly inside me.

“Leif,” I panted, totally surrendering myself to him, ready to give him all of me, the way I always had.

“Hope I’m not interrupting something,” a loud, amused voice said from behind us. My eyes flew open and my hands went to my skirt, immediately pushing it back down and sitting up as straight as I could. Leif shuffled with his own arousal before turning around and bowing deeply.

“Your highness, my apologies, I wasn’t expecting your presence tonight.”

I felt my body begin to shake with nerves as I realized the interruption had been by someone much worse than the guard or my prime. No, the man who had just witnessed Leif pleasuring me was King Kristian. I pulled my knees in tight to my body and dipped my head in the best bow I could manage.

“So I suppose this is what you meant by ‘communing with your dead mother’?” He said with a smirk. I was surprised to see that his eyes danced with amused glee, rather than harsh judgement. Leif breathed deeply and got to his knees, keeping his head to the floor.

“My deepest apologies to your majesty. I am but a man with carnal desires–”

“Get off the floor,” the king demanded, “Honestly Fateborn, I’d think you’d know me better than that by now. You’re welcome to spend your time as you like. I suppose I am simply amused by your choice. I figured you to be more inclined towards women of… substantial beauty.”

My hands balled into fists at my side and I kept my eyes focused on the ground as the king came closer again. He reached out for my chin and I finally looked him in the eyes.

“Tell me darling, where does that lovely skin come from?”

He grinned at me and I wanted to knock all of his perfectly white teeth from his face. The only thing that kept me from doing it was knowing the consequences it would have for Leif.

“Carraway,” I answered, “But my mother is from the Red Deserts.” I tried to keep the venom from my voice but knew I was failing. Not only had he ruined a perfectly beautiful moment for me, but he had the nerve to speak to me with my underthings lying just a few inches away from him. I looked him over, never having had the chance to see our commander of state so closely before, and was irritated to find him ridiculously handsome. I had hoped the king was some disgusting, warty, man with a beer gut and nose hairs.

On the contrary, Kristian was tall, and lean like a soldier, with eyes of turquoise and a nose that looked as though it had been carved of marble by a master sculptor. His neck was long and graceful, accented by a jawline that was a masterpiece of its own. Curse this bastard and his ridiculous beauty. He already had that face, did he really deserve to have the ability to take someone’s life as well.

His royal highness studied me from his place next to Leif, who was still bowing in deference.

“Well I am terribly sorry to break up this little soiree, but I have need of you Fateborn. I’m choosing a new grand piano for the dining hall and I want your opinion on whether the black oak or the mahogany looks better.”

How dare he. How dare he interrupt the one chance Leif and I would have to be with each other the way two people in love should be for the next five months. Certainly Leif wouldn’t be granted time with me again much sooner than that.

Leif got up from his knees and nodded to the king.

“May I say goodbye?” he asked in a tone that made me even more furious. He was begging to be able to have just one more moment with me.

“Oh certainly,” the king said, taking a few steps back and leaning against the wall.

The nerve! He wasn’t even going to give us the consideration of privacy.

Leif turned to me and reached out to brush my hair and kiss my cheek. As he leaned in he whispered to me, 

“I’m sorry.”

But as I watched him walk away with the king, sorry simply wasn’t good enough. I knew then that from this point forward, everything I did would be to get Leif and I the hell away from this place. At all costs.

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