I will fight until the end.
A search party had been dispatched later that night led by the king himself. He had found Calysta propped up against a tree, shaking, with clothing torn to shreds. As dawn began to set the sky alight with its flame, Gillireth carried his wife’s small figure back to the castle in his arms. She could barely speak for the terror of that night, but she did her best to explain that Hemming had tried to attack her and had perished.
After seeing to it that Calysta was given a warm bed to rest in and some fresh clothes, Gillireth found his brother waiting patiently for a report.
“Is she alright?” Zolan asked.
“She has not come to physical harm, though her party dress is absolutely destroyed. It’s very strange. She says Hemming tried to stab her, refusing to accept peace between our kingdoms, and then the rest simply doesn’t make sense. She spoke in all sorts of strange, disjointed phrases. Something about a wolf and then Hemming getting eaten by the roots of the bloody forest! It’s madness!”
“Terrible. A wolf, she says? Was it a greywolf? In these parts?”
“I didn’t ask. She’s quite shaken. Didn’t want to make it worse. The apothecary tells me there is still risk to the child if her condition does not improve soon.” Gillireth’s voice cracked and his gaze shifted away from his brother. Zolan could not remember the last time he had seen his brother so distressed.
“I’m sure she and the baby will be fine, your majesty,” he consoled.
Gillireth hesitated to speak, and when he finally managed, the words came out like the tears of a brave man. “You know, brother, I don’t often let on to the way I feel about Calysta or you… or anybody. But I will tell you now that if I lost either of you, I simply don’t know what madness I would come to. I know you are somewhat aware of this. After all, you’ve known me for years, but--but I’m not sure if Calysta knows--that I care for her. That I’ve come to love her.”
The idea of having to comfort his brother was foreign to Zolan, but he managed. “Why don’t you tell her how you feel when she has rested a bit? It would probably do her some good just to hear those words.”
The king’s countenance freshened. “You’re right. She never did like my jokes, anyway. If I try to comfort her with serious words, it might be just the thing. Thank you, brother.”
It was not until several hours later that the king was informed by one of Calysta’s ladies-in-waiting that she had awoken and requested her husband. He opened the door to the chamber gently to reveal his wife propped up with many pillows on the bed. Her face still matched the color of the sheets beneath her. Calysta managed a feeble smile.
Gillireth’s eyes locked onto her own as he edged toward the bed slowly. Words did not seem adequate to him in this moment. He leaned over her and pecked her tenderly on the forehead. Her smile blossomed.
“I am feeling much better,” she said. “And at last I am free from that snake of a man.”
“I should never have let him take you outside unaccompanied,” Gillireth frowned. “I’m sorry.”
“But how could you have known, dear? It’s alright. Everything’s going to be alright now. Our son is safe,” she smiled at her stomach.
Dear, Gillireth thought. She’s never once called me that before.
“I don’t know what I would have done had you not been alright. I was so worried for you and our son. I still am,” he admitted.
“I didn’t know it was like you to be concerned,” Calysta smirked.
“But it is!” Gillireth insisted. “I may be no good at expressing it, but you are at the heart of my thoughts each day, whether I am by your side or in the distant Alfarian wilds.” The words flowed easily now, like a spring from the ground. He caressed her delicate hands in his own. “I know that we have not had the best start to our marriage. I know that I have not been there for you in the past as I would have. And I know that you may not be overly fond of me yet, but this I also know: I love you.”
A flood of emotion came as tears in both of their eyes. No one had ever told Calysta these words, and she had never expected to hear them come so genuinely from a man she had not long ago considered the embodiment of lust. She told herself that the fighting was over, that she could let go of the past and embrace a future and a family. She allowed herself once again to surrender to hope’s gleeful embrace.