Fairest, p.5
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       Fairest, p.5

         Part #3.50 of The Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer
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But then Channary started to laugh. “What a shame. Sir Hayle has only just begun his shift. His wife will have to wait until he is relieved. Come along, Levana.” Gathering her skirt, she began marching up the steps.

  Evret looked from the girl—a nurse, perhaps, or an assistant—to the queen’s retreating back. He seemed cemented to the spot in the middle of the corridor. To leave would be to disobey a direct order from his sovereign. Such an act would mark him as a traitor, and result in what punishment Levana could only guess.

  But his indecision did not wane. How desperate he must be to defy the queen.

  On top of that, Levana’s own curiosity was piqued. Babies were born all the time and complications were so rare, and yet, Solstice had seemed so weak …

  Levana stepped forward. “Sister?”

  Channary paused, nearly to the top of the stairs.

  “I am going into town, and require an escort. I am taking Sir Hayle with me.”

  Her sister’s face was murderous when she turned, but Levana lifted her head and fixed her own glare upon her. She would suffer the consequences later, and she knew very well there would be consequences. But she doubted that Channary would risk being defied in public a second time, and this way she alone would take the blame. Evret would only be following orders. Her orders.

  The electrified moment stretched on for ages. Levana waited, and imagined that she could feel Evret’s terrified heartbeat pounding into her, even from six paces away.

  “Fine,” Channary finally conceded, her voice nonchalant, and all the tension seemed to melt away from them. It was a false release, Levana knew. “If you happen to pass down Lake Boulevard, do bring me back some sour apple petites, won’t you?”

  With a flip of her hair, the queen turned away and continued up the stairs.

  Peculiarly dizzy, Levana realized that she’d been holding her breath.

  Only when Channary was no longer visible did Evret break from his watchful position. “My wife?” he said, emotion filling up his voice, his shoulders, his eyes. He walked right past Levana and grasped the nurse’s elbows, lifting her to her feet. He seemed wary and anxious, almost as if he’d been expecting this. “Is she…?”

  Still pale from her encounter with the queen, the nurse took a moment to comprehend his question, before sympathy creased her brows. “We should hurry.”

  * * *

  Levana was left in a waiting room while the nurse escorted Evret down the sterile white hall of the med-center. She saw them pause at a doorway, and Evret’s face was so contorted with worry that Levana wished she could wrap her arms around him and let all of his concerns soak into her. The nurse opened the door and even from this distance Levana caught a shrill scream before Evret disappeared inside and the door shut behind him.

  His wife was dying.

  The nurse hadn’t said as much, but Levana knew it was true. It was clear that Evret had been hurried here because it would be his only chance to say good-bye, just as it was clear that it wasn’t a complete surprise to him. Perhaps she’d been ill. Perhaps the pregnancy had already suffered complications.

  Levana remembered seeing Solstice at the funeral. How she’d looked as breakable as a porcelain vase. The concern on Evret’s face as they’d moved through the receiving line.

  Levana took to pacing back and forth. A holograph node attached to the wall was broadcasting a silent drama in which all of the actors wore elaborate masks and costumes and twirled together in a graceful dance, oblivious to the empty chairs of the waiting room.

  She did not leave the palace often, but now she found it refreshing to be where no one would recognize the glamour she’d been wearing since the coronation. The invisible girl, the unknown princess. She could have been anyone, for all the doctors and nurses knew. The medical center wasn’t very big—sickness was rare in Artemisia, so mostly the clinic served for setting broken bones or easing some elderly patient into death or, of course, childbirth.

  Despite being small, the clinic was busy, the staff constantly darting through the halls, emerging from and disappearing into countless doorways. But Levana could think only of Evret and what was happening behind that closed door.

  His wife was dying.

  He would be alone.

  Levana knew it was so very wrong to think, but she couldn’t fully deny the spark that flared behind her sternum.

  This was fate.

  This was meant to be.

  His kind words at the funeral. His bashful glance during her birthday celebration. The little Earth charm. Your friend, and most loyal servant.

  Was there meaning behind the words, something he couldn’t say before now? Could he possibly want her as much as she wanted him?

  Evret seemed like the type that would never disregard his vows of matrimony, no matter how much he yearned for another. And now he wouldn’t have to. He could be hers.

  Thinking of it made her whole body shiver with anticipation.

  How long would he wait to make his intentions known? How long would he mourn the loss of his wife before he gave himself permission to declare himself to Levana, his princess?

  Waiting would be agony. She would have to let him know that it was all right for him to mourn and love at the same time. She would not judge him, not when they were so clearly destined for each other.

  Fate was taking his wife away. It was as if the stars themselves were blessing their union.

  The door opened down the hallway.

  Without waiting for an invitation, Levana hurried forward, concern and curiosity pulsing through her veins. Just before she came to stand in the doorway, a cart was wheeled through it and she jumped back to keep the corner from jabbing her in the stomach.

  Plastering her back to the wall, Levana saw that it was not just any medical cart, but one that held a tiny suspended-animation tank. The baby lying on the blue, squishy surface was screeching and fussing, small hands and wrinkled fingers flailing beside its head. Its eyes were not yet open.

  Levana had the sudden, encompassing instinct to touch the child. To run her finger along those tiny knuckles. To stroke the short tufts of black hair sprouting from that tender scalp.

  But then it was gone, wheeled fervently down the corridor.

  Levana turned back toward the doorway. As the door slipped shut, she saw Evret in his guard uniform, hunched over his wife. A white blanket. Blood on the sheets. A sob.

  The door closed.

  The sound of Evret’s sob continued on in Levana’s ears, bouncing around inside her skull. Again and again and again.

  * * *

  An hour passed. She spent more time in the waiting room. Grew bored. Passed by the closed door separating her from Evret a dozen times, but he never emerged. She began to grow hungry, and realized that all she would have to do is tell one person her identity and demand they bring her something to eat, and any person in this building would fall over themselves to fulfill her wishes. The knowing of it made her want it less, and she forced herself to ignore the gnawing at her stomach.

  Finally, she took to wandering the hallways, pressing herself to the sides when people marched past, focused and determined. She found the infant viewing room easy enough and slipped inside to stare at the new arrivals through a pane of glass. A nurse was on the other side, administering drugs and checking vital signs.

  She found Evret’s child. A label was now printed on the side of the tank.


  3 January 109 T.E., 12:27 U.T.C.

  Gender: F

  Weight: 3.1 kg

  Length: 48.7 cm

  So he had a little girl. Her skin was dark like her father’s, her cheeks as round and touchable as a cherub, and tufts of hair were just long enough to frizz out like a halo around her head, especially now that she had been cleaned. She was no longer fussing, just lay there in perfect peace, her little chest rising with each breath. She was impossibly small. Frighteningly delicate.

  Levana had not seen many babies, but she could imagine that this was t
he most perfect child that had ever been born.

  The little girl was the only one in the infant viewing room with a blanket wrapped around her that wasn’t in plain hospital blue. Instead, the soft cotton material had been hand embroidered—a dozen different shades of white and gold creating a shimmering landscape around the child’s tiny form. At first Levana thought it was meant to be the wild, desolate surface of Luna outside of the biodomes, but then she noticed the black trunks of leafless trees and, somewhere near the baby’s ankles, stark red mittens lying abandoned in the snow, the likes of which Levana had only seen in children’s stories. This was a scene from Earth, from a dark and cold season that Luna never experienced. She wondered what had even made Solstice think of it.

  For this was so clearly the work of Solstice Hayle.

  Listing her head, Levana let herself imagine that this baby was hers. That she had been the one to spend countless loving hours creating that illusion on the fabric. She wondered what it would be like to be a proud and exhausted mother, loving and adoring, looking down on the healthy little girl she’d given birth to.

  Her glamour changed almost without her realizing it. Solstice Hayle. Beloved wife. Delighted mother. This time Levana kept her stomach flat and her figure lithe. She pressed a finger against the glass, tracing the outline of the child’s face on the other side.

  Then she spotted a shadow. Her own shadow on the glass. Her own reflection.

  Levana flinched and the glamour disintegrated. She spun away, covering her face with both hands.

  It took her a long while to shove the image from her thoughts. To call up the glamour of pale skin, waxen hair, frosty blue eyes.

  “You can view her from here,” said a voice from the hallway.

  Levana’s head snapped up as Evret was led into the viewing room. He looked as though he had just woken from a haunting dream. His eyes were rimmed in red when they fell on her and he spent a moment blinking. As if he couldn’t see her, or couldn’t place where he knew her from.

  Levana gulped.

  Recognition crept into his eyes and he bowed his head. “Your Highness. I didn’t realize you would still be here…” His jaw worked for a moment. “But of course, you must require an escort. I am … I am so sorry to have kept you waiting.”

  “Not at all,” she said. “I could have called for…”

  But he was not looking at her anymore. His attention had drifted to the window and latched on to his baby girl. Fathomless emotion misted over his gaze as he placed his fingers against the sill.

  Then, between the heartbreak and the loneliness, there was love. So open and intense it stole Levana’s breath away.

  What she wouldn’t give to be looked at like that.

  “They tell me she’s going to be all right,” he said.

  Levana kept her back against the window, afraid to catch her reflection and lose control of her glamour again. Afraid that if Evret saw her as she truly was, he wouldn’t want her anymore.

  “She’s beautiful,” she said.

  “She’s perfect,” he murmured.

  Levana dared to fixate on his profile. The fullness of his lips, the slope of his brow. “She looks like you.”

  He didn’t respond for a long time. Just stared at his little girl while Levana stared at him. Finally, he said, “I think she’ll have her mother in her, when she gets older.” He paused, and Levana saw the strain of his Adam’s apple in his throat. “Her mother—” He couldn’t finish. He brought his hands up to his mouth, fingers laced together. “I would give anything…” He pressed his forehead against the glass. “She’ll grow up without a mother. It isn’t right.”

  Levana felt her heart stretching, like it was reaching out for him, trying desperately to connect. “Don’t say that,” she whispered, placing a hesitant hand on Evret’s arm, and glad when he didn’t pull away. “These things happen for a reason, don’t they? Look at the child she gave you. She served her purpose.”

  Levana recognized the callousness of the statement at the same moment Evret jerked away from her. He turned to face her, shocked, and instant shame crawled down Levana’s skin.

  “That isn’t … I didn’t mean it like that. Only that … that you and this child still have your whole lives ahead of you. I know you must be hurting now, but don’t give up hope on future happiness, and all the good things that are still to come for you.”

  He scrunched up his face, as if in physical pain, and it occurred to Levana that she was probably saying all the wrong things. She wanted to comfort him, but she couldn’t imagine being devastated at the loss of someone. She had never felt that before.

  Besides, the future was clear to her now, even if he couldn’t see it through his sorrow. He would come to love her, Levana, once she was given the chance to make him happy.

  “I commed a friend of mine, another guard—Garrison Clay. He and his wife are on their way here, to help”—he inhaled shakily—“to help with preparations, and … the baby…” He cleared his throat. “He can escort you back to the palace. I’m afraid I’ll be no good to you in my current state, Your Highness.”

  Levana’s shoulders fell. She had been filled up with fantasies of what could happen when Evret escorted her back, led her to her bedroom chambers, realized he was no longer required to be true to just one woman.

  None of those fantasies had involved her leaving him here to weep.

  “I can stay with you,” she said. “I can comfort you. I can—”

  “That is not your role, Your Highness, but thank you for your kindness. I would rather you had not seen me like this at all.”

  “Oh.” She rolled the confession over in her thoughts, wondering if it was meant to be flattery.

  “I haven’t thanked you, for what you did today. With the queen. But you have my gratitude. I know it couldn’t have been easy for you.”

  “Of course. I would do anything for you.”

  He looked at her, surprised, and bordering on alarmed. He hesitated, before turning away again. “You are gracious, Princess. But I’m only a guard. My place is to serve you.”

  “You are not only a guard. You are … you are perhaps my only friend.”

  He grimaced, which she couldn’t understand.

  Her voice dropped. “At least, you’re the only person who gave me a birthday gift.”

  The look of pain turned to one of sympathy, and while his sorrowful gaze fixed on her again, she pulled the pendant from where it had been tucked beneath her dress’s bodice. His sadness seemed to only increase when he saw it. “I have worn it every day since you gave it to me,” she said, daring to speak over the yearning in her throat. “I value it above all the crown jewels, above … above anything on this moon.”

  With a heavy sigh, Evret took the charm and wrapped it up in Levana’s fingers, then enclosed her hand in both of his. She felt dwarfed and delicate, like her heart was in her palm, not some vintage charm.

  “You are a lovely girl,” said Evret, “and you deserve the most priceless jewels that have ever adorned a princess. I’m honored that you consider me a friend.”

  She thought he would kiss her, but instead he pulled his hands away and turned back to the window.

  Her heart was pattering now, and she knew her skin was flushed. She allowed some of the color to show through in her glamour. “I’m not like Channary. I don’t want jewels. What I crave is much more precious than that.” Levana inched toward him until her shoulder brushed against his arm. He shifted away, just barely.

  He’s in mourning, she reminded herself. He’s doing what he thinks is proper.

  But being proper seemed so very unimportant when her blood was simmering beneath her skin. When she felt like her heart would pound right through her rib cage if he didn’t take her into his arms.

  She ran her tongue along her lower lip, every sense heightened, and inched toward him again. “Sir Hayle … Evret…” The feel of his name on her lips, never whispered so intimately but in her fantasies, sent a chill down
her spine.

  But he backed away from her again, and his voice changed. More stern now. “I think it would be best for you to wait in the lobby, Your Highness.”

  His sudden coldness made her pause, and Levana slowly shrank back a step.

  Mourning. He’s in mourning.

  She gulped, her dreams doused. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t … I didn’t mean … I can only imagine what you’re going through…”

  His expression softened, but he still didn’t look at her. “I know. It’s all right. I know you’re only trying to help. But, please, Your Highness. I’d like to be alone right now.”

  “Of course. I understand.” Although she didn’t, not really.

  She left him anyway, because he’d asked her to, and she would do anything for him. She may not understand his sorrow, but she did understand that Evret Hayle was a good man, and Solstice had been very, very lucky.

  Soon, Levana told herself. Her life was changing, and soon perhaps she could be very, very lucky too.

  * * *

  She dreamed of him constantly. Holding her hand in the dining hall while her sister prattled endlessly about the newest gowns she’d commissioned. Gazing at her lovingly across the throne room while the thaumaturges droned on about outdated policies that Channary would never bother to understand or improve. And every night he crawled into bed with her, wrapped her up in his muscular arms, breathed warm kisses against her neck.

  A figment of him was with her when she woke up each morning.

  A shadow of him followed her down every corridor.

  Every time she caught sight of a guard’s uniform from the corner of her eye, her heart ricocheted and her head twisted to see if it was him—though more often than not it was only her own stupid guards following respectfully in the distance.

  Three days passed and his official time of mourning ended, but she did not see him.

  Then a week.

  It occurred to her that he may have taken leave from the palace to deal with his wife’s death and spend time with his infant daughter, and she tried to be patient. To give him space and time. To wait until he came to her—because surely he would. Surely he missed her as much as she missed him.

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