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       Moonbeam, p.12

           Adrienne Woods
 

  I took a long bath. Sophie came in to wash my back. “You are in a better mood this morning,” she said.

  “I’ve made up my mind to stop sulking and embrace today.”

  She gasped. Tears shone in her eyes. “There was hope after all,” she said.

  Those were Al’s words.

  I got dressed.

  “Can I call up some breakfast, my queen?” Sophie asked.

  I smiled. “No, I think it’s time that I face everyone I’ve pushed away from me.”

  Her reply came in the form of a big grin.

  I took the dagger from last night. The one I’d cut Elena with. Blood flaked off the blade. I felt so guilty staring at her blood. I could’ve killed my own daughter last night. I pushed my emotions away.

  There was no time to clean it properly. If I wanted to do this, it had to be now. With this dagger. I put it into my sleeve again and went downstairs.

  The dining hall was much fuller than I preferred.

  Albert was reading the morning paper. Helmut and Emanual joked at the coffee station, each busy getting a cup. Bob sat close to Albert. Caleb and Yvonne were missing, which was a good sign. One fewer dragon and rider pair to worry about.

  A few staff members would flee at my outburst, but the three guards near the entrance worried me.

  I made my appearance. Goran was the first to look up. My lips curved softly. So did his.

  “Katie!” Albert’s tone was shocked. He gave me that beautiful smile of his. The one that lit up his eyes, the one he used when he saw his favorite things in this world. Though it hurt, I ignored him. I had to in order to accomplish the mission for my daughter to come home. One thing my months of anguish had given me was the ability to focus on a single thing. I made my way to the coffee station past Goran.

  The dagger was like a hot rod in my palm as I neared. I could see everything clear in my mind’s eye. Time slowed.

  I pulled the knife out. The brilliant blade sliced his neck. He dropped like a bag of rocks. I just needed to cut one of his main arteries and keep everyone away from him until he was beyond saving.

  Everyone shouted at the same time. Thick crimson blood coated my hands.

  Goran lay on the floor, gurgling, watching me with big round eyes.

  I blasted Emanual and Helmut back with an incantation.

  I hit Albert and Robert with my gift. Bob fell into a trance immediately. Al tried valiantly to fight it.

  “What are you doing?” he grunted through gritted teeth. His fury at what I’d done made the words hard to spit out. But he couldn’t get closer.

  Goran clung to life, clutching his neck where my blade had made a gaping hole. His blood was splattered all over my cashmere sweater and had pooled on the floor.

  I bent down. Emanual and Helmut couldn’t get through my shield. All of them were trying to get to me.

  “You would have burned me on my bed,” I spat at him. “You never loved me. You don’t know the first thing about love. Possession is not love. You are a scumbag and I could never love a man like you!” I shouted. I could see out of the corner of my eyes that Albert realized that the two extraordinary visitors had gotten through to me last night.

  A pair of arms grabbed me from behind and pulled me up. Something other than blood oozed out of Goran. He started to turn to dust. Very slowly. He screamed. Pain—no, anguish—filled the horrible sound that reverberated in the dining room.

  Helmut finally reached him. Grabbing what remained of his body, he let out an unbearable scream.

  It turned into a sob. He knelt beside his brother, holding him tighter. Albert made his way over. I couldn’t take my eyes off Goran. Whatever my blade had done to him worked its magic.

  He was disintegrating. He had no more fingers. His legs were just two heaps of black dust.

  “What did you do?” Helmut roared at me. He looked back down, staring with huge eyes at his brother.

  I didn’t know how to feel, but knowing a small fact was enough to not cry over this scum that used to be one of my favorite persons. My daughter could come home.

  I was tossed unceremoniously and immediately into the dungeons. Sophie came to see me.

  “My queen!” Her tone was shocked. Grave danger lingered on her face when she took in my grim, barely lit cell.

  “Have you got any news for me?” I asked.

  Her eyes welled up. “They are forcing the king’s hand. Goran was second-in-command. Why did you do that? I don’t understand!”

  I touched her wrinkled face with my hand through the bars of my cell. “The less you know, the better.”

  “My queen,” she cried. “There is talk of executing you. King Helmut is demanding it.”

  I nodded. My heart beat like crazy. My daughter might not meet me, but at least I knew she would grow up inside Paegeia. She would have a home, have her father, know about dragons. It was enough to put a small smile on my face.

  “It’s fine. Please just tell Albert to come and see me. He must. Before nightfall.”

  She nodded and left.

  I needed to tell him about the Wyverns’ location. Goran’s betrayal still loomed despite his death—maybe even more so in retribution.

  I had asked Albert to come hours ago. Why didn’t he come?

  The sun still stood high in the sky. Slowly it sank and disappeared from the opening way above my head.

  My dank cell turned cold. Huddled on the bare stone floor, I missed Tanya. My amazing Green-Vapor dragon would’ve broken through these walls to rescue me.

  Finally, footsteps approached. It could be a dragon or Albert. I couldn’t tell. Then Albert’s face appeared.

  He’s eyes were rimmed red. His lips were thin. If he had been a dragon, he would’ve spit fire.

  He succumbed as he saw me sitting in the cell. He rested his head against the beams. His body shook.

  So many emotions rushed through me. I was heartbroken, enraged, and exultant all at once. “How is Helmut?”

  “How is Helmut?” he spoke softly. “Katie, you murdered his twin. How do you think he is? They want your head.”

  Tears welled up in my eyes. Anger took over. “Want my head. My head!” I got up and walk toward him. “If you’d had the balls to do this, like you promised me you would when you discovered who was going to betray us, I wouldn’t be in here.”

  He closed his eyes. “They got to you, didn’t they?”

  “Yes, because you refused to listen to them, Al.” I was shouting now. “You promised me. You lied and then betrayed me.”

  “He would’ve never…”

  I threw up my hands. “Stop saying that. A Wyvern militia waits on the north side of Etan. Waiting for who knows what. If I’m wrong, you can have my head. If not…kill every last one so that my daughter—our daughter—can come home.”

  Albert just looked at me. It was my turn to breathe imaginary fire. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been this angry at him.

  He didn’t say anything. He just grunted and stomped away with huge strides.

  Energy drained from my limbs. Fighting with him did that to me. It always had. It was one of the reasons we never fought. It was too hard. Loving him was easier.

  I sat down in the corner. I scraped my knee against the rough stone floor. Dark blood glinted on my filthy skin, but I failed to care. I could hear men being assembled. At least he still loved me enough to go and check it out. Or maybe he did this for his people.

  I had done a lot of damage, I realized, in my months of pulling away from him. He thought me mad.

  It didn’t matter. I did this for my daughter.

  The shadows deepened. Minutes felt like hours, hours like forever. What was taking so long?

  To keep the anxiety at bay, I tried reasoning with myself. Long wasn’t bad. It meant that there was an army waiting, just as adult Elena had predicted. But it was also not good; I might be husbandless and baby Elena might never know her father.

  I paced for hours. When I tired of that, I at
tempted to tune in my enhanced hearing for a clue as to what was happening out there. But it was too far. I could only hear faint murmurs of voices. Chaos reigned at the castle.

  Maggie’s voice filled my ears. She was doing her duty as queen. She was calming people down, but what was happening? Why were there so many people in the castle, and why were they in a state of panic? I listened harder for signs of war. But I couldn’t make heads or tails of what little I heard.

  I returned to my corner. I had no idea what time it was.

  My mind couldn’t stop focusing on the image of Goran’s body turning into dust.

  How could he have done this? What made him do it? Why did he hate Albert? Was it my fault? The depression I’d fallen into for such a long time, that… that what? Made him loathe Albert? It was hard to believe, but thinking about how close we used to be, it was the only explanation I could come up with.

  I knew he loved me. But did he love me so much that he would kill my husband to free me from my darkness? What? It was driving me insane thinking about questions with answers that I would never get.

  Tears, whether angry or sad, I didn’t know, streamed down my face.

  Why would he have done this? Why?

  There was no way to know how long I cried, but it felt good. I hadn’t cried like that for a long time.

  I must have dozed off through it all. Hollow footsteps against unforgiving stone woke me up. Startled, I sat up and hastily wiped my mouth and eyes.

  Light danced off the walls. I looked at the bars.

  Bob appeared. He looked tired or shocked—or both. I could never tell with him. He was so hard to read, and it was difficult to earn his trust.

  I got up as keys rattled in the keyhole of my cell. “Is Al okay?” It was all I needed to know.

  “Katie,” he said in a low voice. He struggled to speak for a moment and cleared his throat. “How did you know what was going to happen?”

  “Because the Rubicon and his rider told me.” I closed my eyes in delicious relief. My head was going to stay on my shoulders for a little while longer. “Where there many?”

  His stare remained unreadable. “I never knew there were so many Wyvern colonies…or that they could function together.”

  All of this just made it more real. “The Rogue, whoever he was, got the surprise of his life tonight.”

  “Is Albert okay? He needs to be okay.”

  “He has minor injuries, but he will live.”

  The tears just flowed again. I didn’t know why I wept. Bob really struggled to find the right fucking key. He eventually found it and unlocked my gate. He pulled me into his arms and hugged me tight.

  “You saved a lot of lives tonight, Katie, because you trusted a couple of strangers.”

  “They weren’t strangers,” I murmured.

  “What?”

  I shook my head. “Just take me to him. Please.”

  The lobby was full of people. Crammed in groups. Woman, children, the elderly, and the disabled.

  They’d all come to the castle when the fighting must have spread to the village. How many lives had been lost tonight? I grabbed blankets and started handing them out.

  “Thank you, my queen,” one old lady said as I handed her a blanket and a bottle of water.

  I touched her shoulder and smiled. “You are safe here,” I whispered.

  I comforted the children. Guided the bigger ones to play a game to keep them occupied. Laughter soon filled the lobby. Adults started watching the kids play, which made everyone else’s jobs easier.

  My eyes found Maggie’s red ones. She stood next to Isabel with blankets in her arms. She didn’t look angry. She didn’t even know about Elena. How was I going to tell her now that I had a one-year-old daughter? She was my best friend. We shared everything.

  I pulled my gaze away and returned to my duty as queen.

  I kept handing out supplies as needed. I gave out soothing words to expel fears. Many Swallow Annexes came, healing most of human injuries and then lifting spirits.

  The doors opened and Caleb returned with Yvonne, both worse for the wear but alive. I could just imagine what it would be like if either one had died tonight. They had been a pair almost as long as Bob and Al.

  Emanual came in next. Helmut was badly injured but breathing. Maggie and I rushed to his side. I backed away. He might not want my help or care to see my face.

  He cussed and cried. Fury punctuated every syllable. At whom, I didn’t know, but when he mentioned a “he” to Margerite, and how he’d always known, I realized he was speaking about his brother. Goran. He’d always been evil. We just hadn’t seen it. We’d never wanted to see it. Poor Helmut. Of course this was hard to take.

  The doctor rushed in. Maggie disappeared after him.

  Isabel’s arms hugged me from behind and rubbed fast on my back.

  “Where is Blake?” Mother to mother. I had to know.

  “He is safe with my mother. He and Samantha both.”

  Samantha was about Elena’s age—just over a year old. She was the cutest Fire-Tail dragon I had ever laid eyes on, but seeing her, knowing my own daughter her age was far away, always reminded me of what life could be like. Unfairly, I had pushed her away because of that.

  “I came the minute I heard. You are such a brave woman, Katie. Who knows how all of this could’ve turned out if they didn’t know about that army?”

  I didn’t want to think about it. Elena had told me how it would’ve turned out. But I wasn’t going to share that with Blake’s mother.

  “Constance said she is on her way.” Lee’s voice came from behind. “How are you holding up?”

  “As best as I can. Thanks, General.”

  He sighed and shook his head.

  “Don’t,” I said. “No need to say it.” I smiled and he nodded and walked toward the room they’d dragged Helmut into.

  “Katie.” I heard Albert’s voice coming from the stairs. I wasn’t angry at him anymore. He was not himself. He’d gone through almost another war—one created by our best friend. He didn’t need further punishment.

  I ran to him and flung my arms around him. He flinched; one arm was in a sling.

  I let go of him and he pulled me back in, wanting to be close to me…and then he just cried. The disappointment of who was behind this hit him harder than the harrowing deed I’d committed this morning.

  “I’m sorry I didn’t listen,” he said.

  “I did,” I replied. “It’s over.” My voice broke. “She can come home.”

  He sniffed. Tears rolled over his cheeks. I wiped them away, gazing at my husband.

  Everyone around us had been attended to. Things had calmed down.

  Their faces lit up as they realized Al was in the lobby. He spared a hug for Isabel and then was forced to make a speech. “This morning, our queen did something that I couldn’t do. I wasn’t brave enough, I didn’t want to see the truth, but she had.” He looked at me, took my hand gently in his, and for one moment, I felt like I used to feel before Elena left my arms. “She saved us from a great war, a destruction even. The past few hours, we fought many Wyverns, and we lost a good few dragons, brave Copper-Horns and Fin-Tails.” He wiped a tear off his cheek. “I promise I will never be blind again. I will look after my people, and will never be misguided to do what is right for Paegeia. Darkness will come in many forms, but I promise, as long as I am king and my queen is next to me, we will protect each and every one of you with our lives. You have my word.”

  He set their fears aside with his words. It made me cry just thinking it was our best friend, his best friend, the man he’d trusted the most, who had betrayed all of us.

  “You can stay as long as you need,” he concluded. He spread his free arm toward me and gave me a side hug as we walked toward the library where Bob had assembled all our closest friends.

  They were waiting for us. It was past time to tell them the reason for all the secrecy. The reason behind all the tears from the past year. They needed t
o know who was going to come home.

  We entered and found everyone that we cared for. Maggie was there.

  The vibe lingering around us was a sad one.

  “Al, what is this about?” Bob asked, standing up from the chair he shared with Isabel.

  Al jutted his chin toward a chair. “Catherine and I need to tell you something. Sit, please.”

  Bob took his seat again. I knew it was hard for him, too. Tanya hadn’t wanted Al to tell Bob about Elena. She’d suspected even Bob might betray us.

  Irene arrived, looking confused and on edge. I wondered what she’d seen of the future. Had she glimpsed the outcome Elena and Blake lived through—and had it just disappeared?

  Al cleared his throat. “A year ago, when Katie and Tanya left on a quest…” His voice broke. I touched his shoulder and nodded, looking exhausted.

  I mouthed sorry at Maggie. She just looked at me with equal parts compassion and fear.

  “I didn’t go on a quest,” I blurted. “I gave birth to our baby girl.” Gasps filled the air. Isabel cupped her mouth. Everyone stared at us with huge eyes.

  Everything we’d put them through the last year was explained with that single admission.

  Why I couldn’t cope. Why my tears eventually turned into anger. Why I resented my husband.

  “We couldn’t tell anyone. And as you know, it was foretold that someone close to us would betray us. We needed to keep her safe so that one day she could claim the Rubicon.”

  Isabel started to cry. Bob stared at the ground. Betrayal was written over his own face. Al said nothing. What could he say that would make this all right?

  “You want to tell me that Blake has a rider?” Isabel finally asked.

  I nodded. Tears flowed over my cheeks. A smile sprawled across my face.

  Isabel had always worried about Blake not having a true rider. We couldn’t lose this Rubicon like William had with Quitto. Albert wouldn’t have made it if he’d had to slay him one day.

  Irene’s prediction when his egg hatched was the only hope anyone had for him to be a good Rubicon, not evil like the previous one.

  I went to her and hugged her tightly. Relief seemed to wash over her body; her knees wobbled.

 
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