Bella sat back in her chair, her almost untouched plate of food sitting accusingly on the table before her. She was too nervous to eat, her stomach already filled with a knot of discomfort and guilt. Her family carried on eating around her, blissfully unaware of the plight she was internally battling. Clearing her throat quietly, Bella rose from her chair and turned to face her parents.
"Mother, Father- may I be excused? I fear I am not feeling my best, and I wish to retire to bed." Her voice faltered slightly as she spoke, and her mother's yes filled with loving concern.
"My dear child, I had thought thou didst not seem well. Your countenance reveals thee, thou lookst troubled. What ails thee, my love?" Bella felt an uncomfortable lump rise quickly in her throat, as she reveled in her beloved mother's concern for what may doubtlessly be the last time.
She forced a weak smile to pull up the corners of her lips as she placed a trembling hand on her mother's shoulder. "It is nothing of concern, dearest mother. I struggled to sleep this night past, and I am hence feeling the consequences. Do not trouble yourself, I shall be fine. I wish only to retire early tonight."
The Queen clasped her daughters cold hand in her own soft grasp, and pulled her down into a warm embrace. Bella felt her resolve begin to crumble as she breathed in the sweet, familiar scent of her mother. Squeezing her eyes shut, she commited the fragrance to her memory, so that she may call upon it when her upcoming journey inevitably became unbearable.
"You are excused, child!" The King's booming voice rang out across the dining hall, startling Bella from her silent reverie. "Retire to your chamber- Pacifus will accompany you. Request him to bring you some hot ale, it shall bring sleep to you immediately."
"Many thanks, Father," Bella inclined her head to him, her heart clenching at his fond gaze. "Goodnight Mother, Father. Goodnight Laetitia. Adere."
Pushing her heavy chair under the table, Bella descended the steps from the Royal Table and began the long trek back to the ornate doors of the dining hall entrance. The journey seemed longer, more difficult, than usual. After what felt like a lifetime she reached them, and placing her hand in the intricately carved golden handle, she turned and stole one last glance at her family. They had resumed eating and chatting among themselves, with Adere having taken Bella's seat in order to sit next to their mother.
They looked a picture of peaceful serenity, untroubled by a fabled war that would shatter their world. Bella smiled sadly as she drank the image in. If she and Pacifus were too late, if they failed in their quest- they would all die. She will have failed the people she loved most.
The thought was unthinkable. She could not let that happen. Stiffening her resolve once more, she turned the handle and stepped back out into the passage outside. Pacifus rose quickly to his feet as she entered.
"Ready?" He mumbled, brushing his hand across her cheek. Feeling her surpressed tears finally break to the surface and begin to cascade down her cheeks, Bella gripped his clammy hand in hers and started out towards her chamber.
"It is time. Let's go."