The sun had barely risen by the time Merenia’s carriage pulled up to the castle gates and she stepped out cane-first. She took her time addressing the guards and informing them that she required an audience with the king as a matter of urgency.
Gillireth had not slept all night. Sleep had well evaded him after losing Calysta, and her memory would frequently haunt him in his bedchamber on his most restless nights. Dechar’s escape had made her vision all the more real of late. There she was, the long-burning candles lighting upon her red gown. He was lying in bed, his shoulders propped up against the elaborate headboard, and her legs were wrapped around his bare midsection. She was as young and as fresh as she had ever been. She gazed at him with eyes like gilded flames, lights which had long been extinguished in his world.
“You’re so beautiful,” Gillireth croaked out a whisper. “So lovely,” he caressed her hips. “Why did you leave me, my dear?”
“I did not leave you. I was taken. From you. By you. Stolen.”
The king was given to a sudden rage. “I would still have you if that creature had not come between us! We could have been happy! We could have LIVED! That beast stole everything from us, all our hopes, all our dreams!” the words foamed from his mangled jaw.
Calysta remained still as her gaze dashed back and forth across her husband’s face. “I recall a time at which all your hopes and dreams rode on the coming of your child.”
“That was before I knew he was a monster!”
Calysta hushed him and traced the line of his scar with her delicate fingers. “A monster like me? You know that I died willingly for my son. I would have given myself a thousand times over for him. Will you not stop until we are both ghosts tormenting you in the night?”
Gillireth felt what remained of his soul turn to glass. “You’re not a ghost,” he shook his head. “You’re a memory.”
“But my dear, when it comes to these grievous recollections of the departed, is there truly any difference?” She grasped his palm in her sprightly hands and kissed it before fading from his mind like smoke in the air.
A guard had appeared a minute prior to the conclusion of Gillireth’s apparition, but he had been intimidated by the king’s outbursts which could be heard all too clearly from outside the door. He took the opportunity afforded to him by the silence to inform the king of Merenia’s return.
Gillireth snapped back to his usual self. “She’s back? From where? I thought that that wrinkled bat had gone off in the woods to die of age like a proper old dame.”
“She says she brings urgent news for you, sire. All the way from Stromton. About the escaped wolf, she says.”
“What? Tell her I’ll be right there.” He dressed in haste and met her just inside the tall wooden doors. “What the hell were you doing in Stromton?”
“They had a festival… which is not expressly what brought me there. It so happens that Fate told me I would meet your niece Oliana there, which I did.” She opened her satchel and brought out a single auburn hair. Gillireth thought little of it, dismissing it as one of her peculiarities.
“And why did you not tell me what you were up to? I suppose I can’t expect an old bag like you to have killed her for me?”
“Killed her, no. But through her, I was able to gain information on Dechar.”
“Your son,” she looked at him sternly.
“Dechar. If he must have a name, at least he is named after his fellow beasts. It is for his sake I have broken them, after all. Fate is a poetic one.”
“That she is. Oliana has made company with Alfarian trespassers and thieves. I told her to stay with them, while Dechar will soon have moved on to his ancestral lands with the she-wolf. They are stronger than you think, and I have done you a great service in separating them for you.”
“Separating them? I would have it so that they were together, to slay the girl and capture the wolf at once by the hands of that giant!”
“You do not understand the forces that you are up against. A healing spring, a faerie, a flying horse! I have seen that the girl has a connection with creatures I did not know existed, magical ones which offer her protection. And as for Dechar, he does not yet believe in himself, but when he learns to embrace his destiny--”
“He will not live long enough for that. I’ll send the giant to get him right away.”
“I would have to advise against such.”
“Why?” Gillireth became increasingly agitated. “I swear woman, sometimes I’m not sure of whose side you’re on.”
“The reason is simple. I happen to know that Oliana is still not so far from Stromton. Dechar could be anywhere in the whole of Dechi country. If the giant slays Oliana, then you can send him on, but being slow to travel as he is, I cannot imagine his being very useful for that errand. You might even consider capturing your niece and using her as bait. But if you hope to retrieve your son without that leverage, you would do better to make a more… unusual alliance. And if all else fails, I have an even more interesting method--”
“I suppose you could be right. What sort of alliance do you have in mind?”
The wooden doors blew wide open without warning as a chilling, flurry-filled gust entered, nearly knocking the king and his mystic to the ground.
“He’s here,” Gillireth smirked hideously as he gazed up at the mighty frost giant wrestling his shackles.
END PART I
(Part II will still begin on the 44th page of this work, but in first person)