I wouldn't be at the castle for another four days so I spent the first one in bed as did Mother. For some reason, we felt exhausted. I don't know why. We had gone to bed pretty early the previous night. I also had a terrible headache that originated from the front. I sat up and rubbed it curiously. I thought, trying to remember when it happened.
Perhaps I fell out of bed and climbed back in? Or maybe it was that really weird dream....
I stood in the throne room of the palace. I smiled out the window. The door opened and I turned to see Cian walk in. He smiled at me and leaned against the wall beside me. We just stared at each other for a while. His eyes were red, something that always made me wonder but I had grown accustomed to.
"Mutation when I was born," he explained when he saw me staring. "That's all it is. Nothing more."
"This palace is beautiful."
"You must forgive me," he said suddenly and I stared at him.
He walked closer and put a cold hand on my cheek.
"You must forgive me, Viveka. I had no choice."
"I'm confused, Lord Cian."
He leaned in closer. "Call me Cian."
The dream had ended with us kissing. I rubbed my eyes. Why had I dreamt of kissing him? Just the thought made me shudder. Although... his lips were light pink and looked like they would be pleasant to kiss....
"Oh, shut up, brain," I muttered and got out of bed.
I changed into a casual gown and went downstairs. My mother was standing in front of our mirror, frowning at her forehead. When she saw me, she shook her head.
"You have one, too," she sighed. "But yours is worse."
"One what?" I asked and she pulled me over to the mirror. The pain was actually a large bruise. My eyes widened. "What in the world!?"
"Perhaps we both rolled out of bed in the night?"
"That can be the only reason I can think of...."
My mother looked confused but shrugged. "Eggs for breakfast?"
The bruise didn't go away. My mother's had but mine remained stubborn. When I went out in public, I hid it with my headband that I wore when I was being obstinate. Everyone kept waiting for me to do something but I was as normal as I could be. At least, I tried. I was still disturbed by that stupid dream.
When the day came for me to go back to the palace, I put the headband back on. The guards automatically opened the door for me, used to me coming. The family was waiting for me. Was it just my eyes or did they look scared and nervous?
"Good morning," I said with a curtsy.
"Good morning," they returned.
I looked at Cian and frowned.
He rolled his eyes. "Good morning, ma'am."
I ignored him and approached him slowly. He leaned back when I brushed his bangs away from his forehead.
"What?" he snapped and I took my headband off.
His eyes flickered with something.
"It looks identical to mine," I mumbled. "Did you fall off your bed, too?"
"Not exactly," he said, rubbing the bruise. "Coincidence, that's all."
"Don't you have lessons with my mother?"
"Oh. Right." I turned to the queen. "I guess we go to the library?"
"Yes, follow me," she said cheerfully.
I did so but stared at Cian one more time. His face was blank but I knew this wasn't a coincidence. I hurried to catch up with the queen, touching my bruise gently. She opened the door and got all of the papers out.
"Why won't this bruise go away?" I asked, pointing to it. "I've had it for four days! It hasn't changed at all."
"Let me look at it." I pushed my hair out of the way. "Hmm. I think you may have done something more than fall out of your bed."
"Like what?" I asked but she shook her head. "And why does Lord Cian have one just like mine?"
"Coincidence, my dear. Now, to your lesson."
"You guys are lying to me," I pouted, "but okay."
"We were on the letter 'G' before you had to leave."
I nodded and she passed me the quill.
"It starts off like the 'C' right?" I asked and she nodded encouragingly. "Okay... then it.... Let's see." I put my tongue between my teeth as I struggled to make it look perfect. "Like that?"
She smiled. "It's a little shaky but that's a capital 'G'. Now we'll make a lower case one."
"Oh goodness," I breathed when I saw it.
"Try putting this on your bruise," she said at lunch and handed me a jar of cream with a lid that spun closed. "You too, Cian."
I obeyed. It smelled pleasant but I still winced when I had to touch my bruise.
After lunch, we went back to tracing letters. It was hard and tedious but the queen wouldn't let me give up. Several times I caught her shooting me guilty looks.
"You just remind me of your father," she said when I pointed it out.
"Did you know him well?" I asked.
"Not as well as my husband did, but yes I knew him. He was very funny and had quite the loose tongue, too."
I laughed and looked at my parchment. I had just mastered the letter 'g'.
"He and I would have fun quipping with one another," I said and sighed sadly. "When he died, I lost my best friend. I mean, I love my mother but... it's different."
She nodded. "I was very close to my daughter, too."
"What happened?" I whispered.
She sighed. "Aura was a sweet child," she said. "She loved everyone but it was Cian she loved the most. It would've been she who took the throne after us. She was so excited. Then she got sick. Very sick."
"Was it the plague?"
The queen hesitated. "Of sorts. Something that is common withing our... family. No amount of medicine or nourishment could have cured it." She wiped a tear away. "It was slow and painful. It broke my heart."
"I'm very sorry," I said. "That's why Cian is so bitter, isn't it?"
"Yes. It's partly my husband and I's fault. About a month after her death, we approached him to remind him that he would now be the one ascending to the throne. We hadn't given him time to mourn his sister's death. Now he's doing whatever he can do to fight it." She shook her head. "He's even going to that stupid burned down village."
"The one to the south?" I asked and she nodded.
"That's the one. Something strange is happening and he's leading a group of people down there."
"Can I go?" I asked excitedly.
She looked hesitant. "It will be incredibly dangerous, Viveka."
"Anything to break the monotony of walking around my house, trying to think of something to do until I can come here."
"I'll speak to my husband about it," she said. "I highly doubt he will agree, though, so don't get your hopes up."
I smiled sadly at her. "I never do, Queen Darcey."