Chapter 26

 

Her breath caught, her heart stopped as she realized who the man before her was. Dressed as a gardener, he was not. He seemed a phantom of her past, her dreams, her youth.

At first, she could hardly recognize him, his hat cast over his face as it was and robed in torn, dirtied working clothes of a servant of the gardens. Too she had not seen him in the longest while, his expression slightly smudged in her memory. Though upon realization of who he was, it was clear. He was the one in which haunted her.

He reached for her, yet she shied away like some frightened animal, still disbelieving of his presence. Was this one of her dreams, again? It appeared so, felt so, real. “Elitha,” he murmured to her, his voice so soft it was barely heard.

“Not here,” she slid away as he came for here again. Her voice had lost its confidence, control, weak and feeble. She brushed by him, nearly running down the garden path walled by its emerald bush and twisting down a series of its maze-like roads.

The Queen stopped, and turned around.

He unmasked himself, tossing aside his floppy, useless hat and revealing his face to the sun. How handsome he was, just like that time long ago that just seemed like a hazy dream that never happened. He was barely touched by age, the only mark of passing time was the sprinkle of grey to his faded, strawberry hair. His eyes too looked slightly worn by the years, not as brilliant as she remembered, though the Queen herself could admit the same two symptoms of time upon her as well.

“You are as beautiful as you once were,” he whispered, stepping forward. This time she allowed him to take her cheek in his palm, his hands rough like leather. She melted at his familiar touch which she had loved once, and still. He smiled slightly, his eyes shimmering with tears. “Yet…” The smile faded, his eyes looking all around her face as if searching. “You appear like you have not eaten in the last year. You look far too fragile. You look ill. Are you alright?”

The worry in his voice made her sadly smile, putting her hand over his and cherishing it. “We are aging, Tobin. We are not what we used to be."

He moved even closer. “I have missed you so, Elitha,” he whispered. “What has it been, fifteen years?”

“Oh, more then that, I believe,” she muttered, lowering her eyes from his. “But it has felt like a forever.”

For a brief moment, they lingered in silence, just to be with one another. Elitha looked up once more, her voice in an undertone, “What has been about with you all this time, Tobin?”

Tobin’s expression darkened, his eyebrows meeting in a mashed up storm-cloud. “Danger. I have been running across the world.”

“You have always wanted to go across the world,” she cocked her head, curious.

“I have,” he replied, suddenly affectionate as he moved his fingers through her hair. “And I wanted to steal you along with me.”

She mildly grinned, but then continued, “You say you have been running? Who has been chasing you?”

He sighed, “It is a long story. It seems I have placed myself in a terrible tangle of mess which will I will only escape with death. Still, I am running.”

“But cannot I protect you? Employ you somehow within the safety of the castle--?”

“No, I do not believe you could,” Tobin interrupted her, grey with melancholy. He suddenly grinned, “You are just what you used to be, the same girl I met in the gardens.”

A stray tear trickled down her cheek. He caught it with his finger, pushing it aside just before he leaned forwards to brush his lips over hers and hold them there.

When she finally pulled away, tears were coming in a great flood and she could feel them. “No, I am not the same girl you met in the gardens, Tobin. I am a Queen, I am a wife, and I am a mother.” Despite her love and longing for him, her sensibility ruled over her heart, her duty over her feelings. “This is now. It shall never be how it was. You were in my life, but the circumstances do not allow you to be in it at present.” She moved out of his grasp, her voice but a whisper.

“Elitha,” a tear too escaped his eye, trying to reach for her.

“No!” she resisted, pushing him away. Her voice was cracking, breaking. She could feel herself ready to implode. She was shattered on the inside, so much pain. It felt as if she was tearing a piece from her--all over again. “Go away and never return! I cannot--I will not--see your face any longer! Go!”

His face was contorted in agony, and she could not look at it any longer. “Do not follow me! Do not chase me. Never return!”

The Queen pulled up her skirts and ran. And he did not follow her.

{~}

As she came about the corner, she had almost gathered herself when she met her daughter, standing before her with the most curious look upon her face. She could not help but think that her poor daughter had the same fate to suffer, if her husband was the man she did not love. Yet the girl was too young to understand, and perhaps young enough that her heart may not belong to anyone. There was still hope for her--if she did not love any man by, she may be moderately pleased and happy with her husband and come to love him if he is decent. That excuse seemed stale to her, and tasted horribly in her mouth as much as she tried to convince herself of it.

The Queen pulled Cassandra away to the kitchen before she could ask anything about the curious expression on her own face, even though she was the least bit hungry.

The End

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