Over a month had passed since the messenger’s arrival, and Faelan had already grown quite noticeably. He was now able to waddle around for himself, and though a sad excuse for walking, the swift progress delighted his young mother. Gillireth and the troops were expected back any day, so Calysta had discreetly moved her son to a little-known compartment in a spare room of one of the high towers, a remote place where he was very unlikely to be discovered.
Calysta formed the habit of wearing a dagger beneath her dresses, in case she ever caught anyone near the baby. Her desperation had indeed reached such depths. She felt guilty for leaving Faelan alone in the dark space, but no matter how much he cried, she reminded herself that she was doing what was best for her son.
The cool spring day finally arrived in which the king and all of the remaining soldiers from Eirethstead’s capital city returned to their home. Cheers rang out in the streets and many a drink was consumed on the news that the Alfarian threat had at last been subdued. Zolan had suffered a fairly minor wound, a broad slice on his knee, but besides that, the brothers were unharmed. Many of the soldiers had not fared as well, and came home with permanent disfigurements from which they were fortunate to have survived.
The battles had been a gruesome, arduous affair, but the night of the soldiers’ return was a time of celebration and escape.
Except, of course, for Calysta. Hearing the throng outside, she left Faelan and descended the stairs to greet the king. She had known he would return without a scratch; he had always been so well protected, not to mention well-seasoned, in battle. Neither did he display any sort of emotional struggle, of course. His usual jovial self, he scooped his tiny wife into his arms and kissed her. She smiled nervously and her lips trembled.
Gillireth could sense that something was wrong. Concern grew on his face and he set his wife back down on the ground, gazing at her stomach. He knew she had had to have given birth by now, but he had expected his son to be cradled in Calysta’s arms. His eyes bid her an answer.
Calysta opened her mouth, but the words refused to come. Sorrow was written on her face, and Gillireth read it.
“No,” he said. “No! It cannot be.” He shook her gently in his arms, gazing intently at her reddened face. “Jarrah foretold his future. My son cannot be--”
Calysta burst into tears. The immense hurt that came from this deception of the man she loved was almost too much to bear.
From that day onward, Gillireth was a broken man. In the days following his return, he lurked through the castle like a ghost, sleepless, speaking to no one. Zolan allowed his brother a few days to properly grieve, but in the mean time he tried to devise a plan to return his brother to a semblance of his old self, feeling that the kingdom would ultimately depend on it. The brother had also warned Jarrah to avoid the castle for a few days for the sake of his own safety. On the rare occasion that Gillireth became overtly upset, there was no telling what he would do, and he had not been seen like this since the twins’ parents had died.
Within a week, Zolan caught Gillireth eating for the first time. He wore bags beneath his eyes, and his skin lacked the usual color, but Zolan knew that the bowl of broth at the table was a sign of improvement. The youngest took a seat beside the eldest, and for a while, they sat together in silence.
Gillireth’s tongue sliced through the quietude like a knife through butter. “Where is Jarrah?”
Zolan hesitated. “He’s away. On some family business, I think.”
Gillireth scoffed. “You always were a terrible liar, brother. That old codger has no family. You told him to keep away from me, didn’t you?”
“You have not been yourself. I didn’t want you to be tempted to do anything rash.”
“RASH?” Gillireth yelled. “That wrinkly old goat was rash when he told me that my son would bring peace! Now he’s DEAD! He’s gone! He’s taken every bit of peace I could ever hope to have along with him.”
It was not until the scent of alcohol wafted to his face that Zolan noticed several empty stines on the far side of his brother.
“Do you know what I’ve realized?” the drunken king asked. “Calysta and I have nothing in common. We were opposites before, and we’re opposites now. She never really loved me. She only loved this baby. And now she and I have nothing left.”
“That’s entirely untrue!” Zolan interjected. “In fact, that’s why I’ve come to speak to you. I think you and Calysta need to be there for each other now more than ever. And Gillireth,” Zolan looked his brother in the eye. “Just because you have lost this son does not mean that you may not have others in the future.”
“What exactly do you have in mind to win my lady back?” the slurred words came out. “I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.”