Looking back to her godfather, she asked, “what now, Lord Risekian?” Risekian replied, “We sing a Serckrean victory song, and take the dead tyrant’s head back to prove to his people that he is dead.” Alexander, stepping towards Catharine, slipped a hand around her waist and looking to her, he said, “That sounds a hell of a lot better than having me die.” Catharine smiled broadly, and Risekian said, “Catharine, your sword please.” Catharine pulled her sword out of its sheath on her right hip quickly with her left hand, and twirling it once, she held it out to Risekian, the blade pointing to the left. Risekian stepped towards Desnekos’s corpse, and raising the sword, he brought it down, severing Desnekos's neck neatly. Picking up the head by the hair, he looked at it, and handed it to Catharine, saying, “The one who killed the tyrant, should be the one to reveal it to the peoples he belonged to.” Catharine took both her sword and her father’s head, nodding once. Alexander helped her onto Alexis, and mounted up behind her. Three horses faded into existence, and as one, Alendra, Yiseka and Risekian mounted their mounts. Together, they cantered smoothly to the edge of the forest, where the battle was still raging with the ringing sounds of sword colliding together, shouts and the screams of the dying and injured. “SILENCE” Catharine shouted, her voice magically amplified as she dismounted with Alexander's help.
Slowly, the fighting stopped as all soldiers, whether Eleayan, Doleayan, Serckrean, or from the Serckrean woodlands, turned to face them. “Hear this, men of Doleatraya! Your leader has passed on from this life. I took his life myself,” Catharine shouted. She held up his head, and shouted out again, “If you do not believe me, then send your most trusted man from amongst you and let him see for himself.” There was no movement for a moment, and then there was brief movement between the Doleayan soldiers, as they all looked round as though in discussion. A man stepped forwards from amongst them, and slowly approached Catharine. She held the head up so the face of a once living tyrant stared lifelessly at one of his own men. The soldier turned back to his comrades and shouted, “Desnekos is dead!” The soldier turned back to face Catharine as she moved, walking slowly down the hill. She did not stop until she had almost walked backwards into Edward. Luckily, she turned in time, and dropped the head of her biological father at his feet. Edward nodded once, and said, “You have my thanks, Catharine. You have done well, both in bringing reinforcements, and in winning this war for us. It was a great sacrifice on your part, killing your father.” Catharine, blushing slightly at the praise Edward was giving her, replied, “Not as great a sacrifice as I feared, though, sire. Besides, I did not win this war alone.”
Edward smiled, and they turned as there was a sudden movement from several Doleayan men in front of them. As Catharine had spoken of the death of their leader, most of the Doleayan army had bunched together, making a clear no man’s land between the armies. Now, several of them had stepped forwards, and they threw their weapons down in front of Catharine. “Why me?” she wondered quietly. “You are the one who officially won this war for us, Catharine, whether you were helped or no,” Astreus said, coming up beside her, “you are the one who killed the man whom to us was a tyrant, but to them was their King. You are the one who cut the head of the snake, and now the rest is dying.” Sure enough, more Doleayan soldiers were coming forwards, and dropping their weapons in piles along no man’s land. Catharine suddenly turned away and said to Edward, “Get your injured to the camp. Astreus, get your injured and those of the vampires, werewolves, pixies and woodland elves to outside the Eleayan camp. Tell them that I give them permission to begin healing their injured.” Risekian’s voice said, “And where do we come in, Cathy? You don’t mind if I call you Cathy, do you?” Catharine turned quickly; Risekian, Alendra, Yiseka, Xikluen and Peksander stood in a row behind her, identical to the way they had stood in the forest. Edward and Astreus instantly knelt. Catharine made to do the same, but Risekian quickly took her hand and firmly said, “No. A goddaughter has no need to kneel in front of her godfather.” Catharine made to protest after a moment’s hesitation, but Risekian raised a finger, and Catharine fell silent.
“Cathy,” Alexander said, pushing gently through the crowd behind him, “there’s injured people who need you.” Catharine, smiling broadly at Alexander, stepped towards him and replied, “Right, I’m there. ALEXIS!” Alexis cantered up smoothly beside her, as did Risekian's mount, and Catharine asked, “You’re not trying to charm her, are you Alexis?” Alexis, turning his head towards Catharine as she stepped towards his side, replied, “oh no, Cathy”; as Catharine mounted, Alexis continued, “but in truth, I think she’s charmed me.” Catharine frowned at Alexis briefly, and then laughed. Looking at Alexander, the laughter died slowly, and she patted the saddle behind her. Alexander mounted behind her, with her help, and as the Eleayan soldiers made way for them, the three of them cantered towards the camp, followed by Alendra, Yiseka, Xikluen and Peksander. Catharine could never recall how many she healed before she found Thomas. He was unnaturally pale, and the shape of only one whole leg under the blanket covering his legs immediately explained it. “Thomas, are you ever going to stop being reckless?” Catharine asked, kneeling next to him. “After this, yeah – well, I won’t be able to be reckless after this, will I?” Thomas replied weakly. Risekian knelt next to them, and Thomas jumped in shock as he recognised the god.
“Thomas, I’m sure you’ll feel honoured to meet my godfather,” Catharine said, smiling at his reaction, “and then sit back and relax – you’ll be up and about in no time.” Thomas, leaning back, replied in a voice weak with shock, “yeah... I bet.” Risekian pulled his sleeves up, producing an unnaturally sharp, whip like snapping noise. He then clapped his hands together, which again sounded unnaturally loud, and removing the blanket from Thomas’s amputated leg, he rested his hands gently on it. Thomas winced slightly, but did not move. Slowly, Thomas's leg healed over, and then a new shin, and then a new foot complete with toes and shoe grew. “There you go,” Risekian said, removing his bloodstained hands from Thomas’s leg, “but don’t try that again. Despite your bravery, I don’t think Edrea would appreciate a one legged man as a friend.” Catharine added, “I know her well enough and I can safely say she wouldn’t fancy having one as a hus –” Catharine suddenly realised what they were talking about, and stared at Thomas. Thomas said, “it’s not what you think, a’right, Cathy – we’re just good friends, OK.” Edrea’s voice cut into the conversation, “and you'da been a one legged good friend if Lord Risekian hadn’t been around to help you.” Edrea was approaching them, and Thomas stood slowly, leaning on a barrel for support. Catharine and Risekian stood, and smiled at each other broadly. Only when Thomas had taken a few steps and cartwheeled was he satisfied he could trust his new leg. “Many thanks, Lord Risekian,” he said, and Risekian replied, “It was my pleasure to help a friend of my goddaughter’s.”
Throughout the rest of the day and through the night, Catharine worked tirelessly to help the injured heal quickly, and those who wouldn’t survive pass on swiftly and with dignity to the Eternal Lands. When she eventually moved towards the fire in the centre of the camp, where Risekian sat waiting, at dawn, she moved with the gait of someone who is secretly exhausted, but tries not to show it. Risekian instantly took her wrist as she sat down, and though Catharine protested, she did so half heartedly. A faint blue glow appeared around the tips of Risekian's fingers, and the effect was instantaneous. Catharine’s shoulders lifted slightly, and the shadows under her eyes faded slightly. Risekian soon removed his hand, and Catharine passed a hand across her face. “Matthias was among the ones who made it through. Thomas is with him now. We lost Astridia, though,” she said. Risekian said, “I know she was a good friend of yours. She trusted you, despite the argument you both had.” Catharine replied, “That argument was the last time she ever properly spoke to me. I never even had a chance to say sorry properly. That’s what I regret the most.” Risekian said, “I made sure she knew you didn’t mean any of it. I also passed on your apologies, so she knows you never meant it anyway.”
Catharine nodded, and replied, “That’s good to know. Thank you.” Risekian said, “Go and get some rest. Edward has agreed not to break camp until midday. The caravans to carry the wounded who haven’t been fully healed will come over an hour before that, and it will take the best part of an hour to get the injured into them.” Catharine, hesitating a moment, then nodded, and standing, she left Risekian to go to the seclusion of her tent. She simply pulled off her shoes, lay back on the simple camp bed, and closing her eyes, she drifted into a dreamless sleep. Close to midmorning, Alexander slipped quietly into Catharine’s tent. She still slept, facing the left side of her tent, with her left arm cushioning her head. Alexander stood by the tent flap entrance, looking out slightly. Catharine stirred, and Alexander, looking back at her, moved to a seat set close to her bed, and sat down. Having looked at the tent flap briefly, Catharine’s head rested on her arm once more, and then her eyes flicked up to Alexander's face. “Didn’t you get any rest last night?” he asked, and shaking her head, Catharine sat up and replied, “I ended up working until dawn. Those men need help, Alex. And my best friend passed away close to dawn. I couldn’t miss it, especially after the last normal conversation we had was an argument. I never had a chance to apologise before she died.” Alexander surprised slightly, replied, “I’m sorry... I didn’t know.” Catharine, smiling broadly, replied, “of course you didn’t, silly. You were sleeping so deeply even a foghorn wouldn’t wake you. I was tempted to try it, though.” Alexander gasped mockingly, and then they both laughed.
Catharine pulled her shoes on, and standing, she pulled Alexander to his feet. “Help me and some of the others take the tent down?” she asked as they left the tent. “No need – I’ll sort it out,” Risekian replied, stepping past them. “You are really lucky to have a God as a godfather. You do know that, right?” Thomas said as he stood next to her, watching the tent quickly dismantle itself. Catharine replied, “I’ve known it for a while now, Thomas. Don’t worry” and left to get Alexis’s reins on him. The next time Alexander saw Catharine, they stood facing each other in what would have been the centre of the camp the day before. Now, it was just an empty patch of land. Leaving Alexis’s reins in Leucia’s firm grip, Catharine stepped forwards to Alexander. “This is it. I must return to Serckrea with my people,” she said. “Can’t I convince you to return to Eladreaya with me?” Alexander asked. “No. I must return with my people. There is too much for me to do in Serckrea to take a holiday,” Catharine replied. Alexander nodded once, and as Catharine turned to go, he caught her around her waist, pulled her closer to him and kissed her gently. Then they parted. Catharine was unusually quiet for the beginning of the return trip to Serckrea, but soon she got drawn in to a joking argument over what would happen when they returned to Serckrea between herself, Leucia and Edrea.
“I bet you we’ll return to find that Seleucia isn’t there, and the people have moved on,” Leucia said, and they all laughed. “Or that it’s sunk beneath the nearby lake,” Catharine spluttered. “I still think we’ll find it blown up by a dragon,” Edrea replied, tears running down her cheeks. Eventually, they calmed down and began discussing the clothes they would wear to the victory ball that would be hosted when they got back. “I bet you that our mother will lend you one of her old dresses, Cathy. You always manage to make old fashions look like they never died,” Edrea said. Catharine replied, “But she’ll give you the better jewellery, Edrea. She always does, so neither sister out does the other.” Leucia said, “Well, whatever she does, I’m sure you’ll both look amazing.” Suddenly, there was the faint neigh of a horse from ahead of them, and they all looked up to see a man on horseback that was all too familiar to Catharine. “Lord Selstiern! What are you doing so far from Eleaya?” Catharine asked, Alexis trotting forwards slightly. “I was invited to Serckrea by your mother, Lady Catharine,” Selstiern replied. He was obviously in his forties, with thinning sandy hair, and pale green eyes. “You can ride with us, if you wish. We’re not far from a shortcut into Serckrea,” Edrea said. Catharine avoided his gaze pointedly, though his rested almost earnestly on her. He fell into place beside her, and tried almost unsuccessfully to engage her in conversation as they continued on their way to Serckrea. However, when they reached a large cave set in the woods, he eventually fell silent.
They went through a large tunnel, and came out on the sloping path leading down to Seleucia. Crowds lined the path, cheering. Catharine instinctively assumed her position as leader of the Keleysanel. The Keleysanel instantly fell into formation, as did the various woodland armies. They reached the courtyard, and Astreus, stepping towards Catharine, said, “My armies and those others of the woodland realms need to return to our peoples.” Catharine nodded, and said, “I will try and visit again some time, I promise.” Astreus nodded, and the woodland armies left Seleucia again, heading for their homes. Keleya waited at the top of the stairs; Catharine and Edrea went up the stairs together, and the crowds slowly fell silent as the two sisters stopped in front of their mother. Keleya pulled them into a hug together, and they simultaneously hugged her back. Cheers and thunderous applause came from the crowds, and Selstiern quickly went up the steps. Keleya, looking to him, released her daughters, and said, “Ah, Lord Selstiern, you made it. The journey wasn’t too arduous, I trust?”Selstiern replied, “No; I was lucky enough to find some very amiable company on the last part of my journey.” He smiled at Catharine, and Keleya said, “Both of you go inside and get yourselves out of your war gear. I need to talk to Lord Selstiern alone.”
Catharine and Edrea left, chatting happily, and Keleya, motioning to Selstiern to follow her, led the way into an empty study chamber. “I received your letter,” she said, and Selstiern replied, “My motives for coming have not changed.” Keleya, standing at the window, said, “my youngest daughter is strong willed and romantic. Being so, she will not agree to marriage unless her heart is 100% into the marriage. I cannot promise my daughter’s heart will be in this venture, especially as this is your second time.” Selstiern replied, “I am still equally determined to make your youngest daughter my wife, Lady Keleya. Until she has married another, I will never be satisfied that there is no hope for her feelings to be mutual with mine.” Keleya, turning to Selstiern, sighed and after a moment, she replied, “Then I can only wish you the best of luck in this venture of yours, my Lord, but I cannot promise my daughter’s heart. You have my permission to take whatever action you see fit to try and mould my daughter’s feelings to fit with yours. However, these actions must be WITHIN REASON. Are we clear?” Selstiern replied, “Clearer than crystal, Lady. And many thanks on my part.” Catharine and Edrea were helping out with the crèche the next day, when Selstiern appeared by the gate. Catharine and Edrea were handing out cupcakes as break time snacks to the children, and Catharine was saying, “calm down, one at a time. Tobias, you haven’t had one yet – Astiern, wait your turn, Jessa, you’ve had one already -” and so on. Selstiern said, “You have a natural talent with children, Lady Catharine.”
Catharine jumped, and Jessa, taking advantage of Catharine’s distraction, snatched the cupcake from her hand. “Jessa, you don’t snatch, how many times have I told you?” Catharine said, and then returned her attention to Selstiern. “Forgive me, my Lord, I wasn’t anticipating your company today,” Catharine said. “That’s fine, Lady Catharine. I was just wondering if I could request the pleasure of your company to guide me around the city. I hear that there are a good number of excellent clothes stores,” Selstiern replied. Catharine looked around at Edrea, who nodded once and said, “I can manage here, Catharine. Go – give Selstiern some company.” Catharine nodded, and setting the tray down, she went to join Selstiern. He proffered his arm, which she took after a long moment’s hesitation. Three months later, Catharine was standing on the balcony terrace off her room when there was a tentative knock. Catharine turned as a servant entered the room, carrying a letter. “A letter from Eleaya, my Lady,” he said, and Catharine, taking the letter, replied, “Thank you, Edresun, you may go.” Edresun bowed slightly and left the room. Catharine looked down at the letter for a long moment, looking at her name written on it in confident writing. Then she slowly turned it over, and breaking the seal, she opened it:
My dear Cathy,
My deepest apology for not writing sooner than now, it’s been that busy around here. You have always been on my thoughts, despite all that has been going on here in Eladreaya. A week’s festivities have been ordered by father to celebrate our joint victory against Desnekos and Doleatraya. And yet I don’t care, because I cannot celebrate these festivities with you. I cannot spend time with you, alone, away from the noise and business of other people. I cannot tell you in person how much I love you. This is what hurts the most, not being with you, not being able to see you smile at me, to hear your laughter. If I had a choice between being the most powerful person in the world, yet being alone, and being with you from now until the end of the world, I would always choose you. You are worth more than gold, silver, jewels to me. I cannot describe this feeling. Yet, for your sake, I will try all I can to describe it. Without you, I may as well be back in the forest by The Plains, having been killed by Desnekos. My life is like a dream, all things without meaning, when you are not by my side. Everything seems too serious; nobody seems to have your angelic sense of humour. Even the air I breathe seems stale, as though I’m locked in a small space. Song writers and poets have always spoken about lovers being struck with the blues when their women are not in their arms.
I can see why their accounts are so vivid and detailed. Yet I have hope. I have hope that one day, I will see you again. I have hope that I will see you smile at me, that I will hear you laughing. I hope that, one day in the not so distant future, I will be able to hold you close to me once again, that I will be able to offer you the security that I once did. However, it appears that I will not be able to leave for Serckrea any time within the next year or so. Until then, I will cherish my memories of you with deep fondness. I can only hope you think of me with such fondness.
I love you, from now until eternity,
Catharine smiled, folding the letter up once more, having wandered back out onto the balcony. She returned to her room, and slipping the letter under her pillow, she made a mental note to herself to write a response in the morning. Changing into a simple nightgown, she spent a few more moments looking out at the stars in the sky above, before retreating for an early night’s sleep. A few days later, in Eleaya, Alexander entered his room to find a courier waiting.
“A letter from Serckrea, sire,” said the courier, holding out a piece of parchment to him. Alexander took the letter, and as soon as the courier left, he opened it eagerly, and read it:
My dearest Alex,
My greatest thanks for your letter – I know how you feel exactly. There have been almost too many things happening here in Serckrea to find time to write this letter, but I made time specially. I could not leave your letter unanswered. Not when our feelings for each other are completely mirrored in each other. I almost could not believe my eyes when I read your letter. Mild shock was replaced with an immense relief when I knew definitely that you love me. Like you, I cannot seem to find words to describe this, but with a determination equal to your own, I am determined to try. I feel as though I am in a dream now, in a surreal dimension where nothing is real, nothing is true. All colours have faded to a dull grey, and there seems to be no sun in the sky. More than anything, I yearn for you to be here with me, to hold me as you have done before. Before, when you kissed me in the months of the war between Eladreaya, Serckrea and Doleatraya, I felt... weak. As though I had lost all control of me. Whenever your hand brushed mine, I felt as though I had received a shock of some sort. When I saw you watching me, I felt more alive than I ever had done before.
I feel cut adrift without you holding me in the comfort of your arms. I feel utterly lost in an unchartered world where I have no directions, no map. This is a world where things are not done by the sword, or with the sword, but with the heart, with passion and love. No matter where I turn, the hope that one day you will return to me and set me free from this nightmare that keeps me trapped keeps me alive, keeps me going. I long for you to be here with me. I long for you to make me whole again.
Please come back to me,
Alex looked up from the letter, to the base of the door, and turning away from the door, he slipped the letter into a drawer in his desk before Edward entered, knocking as he entered. “Come on, Alexander – Edrelaos is waiting for us”. “Who keeps writing to you so much from Eladreaya?” Anna asked as the courier handed Catharine a letter. “I’m guessing it’s Alexander writing an entire series of love letters to Cathy,” Sophia said, laughing. Catharine set the letter on her desk and replied, “My correspondences are private.” Lucy added, “Or maybe it’s Edrelaos trying to woo her again.” They all laughed, while Catharine simply smiled. “You’ve been putting on quite a bit of weight lately, Cathy,” Laura commented. Catharine replied, “I’m not feeling so good – maybe it’ll come back up again later.” Anna and Lucy pulled grimace faces while Sophia and Laura both squealed, “eeewww, Cathy!” Catharine simply laughed. Soon afterwards, Anna, Lucy, Sophia and Laura left to go to the city, and Catharine, turning to the desk, took the letter off the top and opened it eagerly:
This time since I last saw you has been torment of the worst kind. I feel slow, incredibly stupid. How can they understand how we feel? But I know what you mean when you talk of a world where swords are no use. Even now, I believe this world can only exist when I am in your arms. Until then, I am only half complete, because you have my heart. Like you, I am lost in a world where swords and words cannot hurt or sever the bond this love has made between us. I always thought that I would be prepared for this. But you caught me off guard, and I am grateful for it. You are still worth more than anything in this entire world, in this life to me. Without you, life can have no sensible meaning whatsoever. I feel as though my world is moving in slow motion, waiting for the mistress of my heart to return. I am waiting for you to bring some sense back to my life, waiting for joy to return. No other woman can have quite the same effect as you have had on me, Cathy. I cannot wait until I can hold you close again. Until I can see you smiling at me, until I can hear your laughter, feel your heart beating. I want to be able to watch you sleeping in my arms, to see you wake up beside me. I want to be able to comfort you when you are sad, or crying; I want to be able to make you smile and laugh again. I want to spend the remaining decades of my life with you, Cathy, and only you.
When we first met, I know I came across as distant, even pompous, but I suppose this was down to a deeply hidden fear of losing my heart in love. To this day, I cannot see why I had this fear, especially as I know my heart is in safe hands. I would tell you this all in person, but circumstances forbid it. However, on a better note, father and I should be able to come and visit in 9 months. I look forward to seeing you with all my heart and with growing impatience. 9 months seems like such an eternity, but I would wait for eternity and beyond to see your smile, to see your beauty one more time.
I love you. I will always love you, from now until eternity and beyond,
Catharine folded the letter shut again, and smiled. Anna returned suddenly, having forgotten her scarf, and said, “What’re you smiling about?” Catharine replied, “Just news... very good news.” Anna replied, “I, ah... got a letter from father today. Apparently he and Alexander are going to be coming in eight or nine months.” Catharine replied, “Oh... that’ll be good. I mean, you’ll see your father and brother again.” Anna said, “I’m still counting on you figuring out my brother, Cathy.” Catharine laughed and replied, “I will certainly keep trying, Anna.”
The next six months passed rapidly. Catharine quickly became worried about how she would tell Anna the reason why she had been gaining the weight Laura had noticed. The four of them spent a lot of time with Catharine, yet somehow none of them guessed the reason behind her weight gain. Eventually, one summer day at about eight o’clock in the morning, Anna entered Catharine’s room alone. Catharine looked round from where she stood beside the opening to the balcony as Anna entered. One glance at the serious look on Anna’s face told Catharine that Anna knew. “How are you feeling?” Anna asked after a long, awkward silence. “Terrible. I’ve been sick all morning every morning, and the little one won’t give me any peace,” Catharine replied. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” Anna asked, stepping up beside her. “I wanted to, but... gods, I couldn’t think of the right words to say without making it a shock,” Catharine replied, “and I couldn’t very well go and say ‘oh, by the way, I’m with child and it’s your brother’s’, could I? That just wouldn’t have helped things.” Anna replied, “That’s true. So... I guess your mission to figure him out for me won’t help things.” Catharine, looking back out at the horizon, replied, “No. He figured himself out, by loving me. He was... he just had a fear of falling in love.” Anna, looking at Catharine, smiled and asked, “And yet, what about your feelings for him, Cathy.... do you love him in return?” Catharine smiled, and replied softly, “what’s not to love?” Looking down at her hands, which rested gently on her stomach, she went on, “I used to think he was stubborn, but... gods, I was so wrong.
“He’s all I can think about. It’s like he’s given me an electric shock when his hand brushes mine; I can’t breathe when he’s standing in front of me. I feel like I’m really... alive when he’s looking at me. I feel like I’m out of my element when he’s not around. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s how I feel about him.” Anna smiled, and taking Catharine’s hand, she said, “then I hope you’re both happy together.” Catharine smiled, and then frowned as pain shot through her. Her hand slid from Anna’s and she slid down the wall slowly, and Anna said, “Cathy? Cathy! Somebody help!” Keleya entered swiftly, and said, “It has begun already. Anna, help me get her to the bed.” Together, they helped Catharine to the bed. Sophia, Laura and Lucy entered, just ahead of a group of women all wearing identical, beige coloured robes. Keleya said, “Anna, I need you to take your friends outside.” Anna, recovering slightly, nodded once and turning to Sophia, Laura, and Lucy, she said, “I’ll explain outside. Come on, she’ll be fine, come on.” The four of them left, and the door shut behind them with a firm click.