For Cole, there was no time. There was no Avelen, no kingdom, and certainly no presence of West Sparrow. He was lost in a perpetual dream; one where it seemed that no matter how fast he ran, which was constantly at a snail’s pace, the figure he was chasing forever eluded him. At times it was far away, but still near, like the soft white clouds swimming in the sky above. Then it was closer, so close in fact he reached out to touch it, or rather her, but it was no use. Was this a dream? Was Cole dead?
These questions bombarded his mind; a sensation that, if he had any sense at all, would reveal he was still very much alive. His lingering vitality only occurred to him when a torrent of reality rushed through him. There was a quiver, a cough, then gradually his eyes split open and light poured in.
“Ru-“ he began, but his voice was cracked and his throat was parched, dry as a bone, “Ru-Ruby?” Cole was addressing the shadow that hovered over him. The girl was indeed the figure he had been pursing in his secluded fantasy. He strained his eyes, and the silhouette before him transformed; the shoulders became broad, the face was hard, yet the eyes were gentle but calculating, and there was an apparent fuzziness clinging to the chin and neck regions.
“Ah! You have finally awoken my liege.” The humble voice of Malachai told Cole that Avelen awaited him; a dream he still could not wake from. “That was quite a fall you took. Easy now,” he said as he helped the young king sit up in his bed, “the medicine is still taking its effect.”
“Fall? Medicine?” Cole inquired earnestly. A dull pain in his backside quickly aided his memory.
“Aye. If you recollect, you somehow got it in your head to escape the castle through the window in the guest chamber. Cold feet, I imagine. It is to be expected, I suppose, with the ceremony and the marriage, and what not. If you keep up these antics you will never be married, at least not long anyway.” He chuckled heartily, slapping one of Cole’s knees as the young man became flushed in his face with pallor when he felt a cold ring stuck onto one of his fingers.
“I didn’t…I mean we didn’t…did we?”
Malachai’s laugh bellowed louder. “I cannot foresee anyone in your condition satisfying every royal need, my king. Rest assured, the queen only merits the title because of the public ceremony. If you are wondering about the consummation, it has yet to be. But make no mistake; she has been very adamant about visiting you for such a thing. I doubt Lady Raylyn has been doing her part to quell the situation, in fact I am quite sure she is doing the opposite by facilitating Aira’s desire.”
“Wait. Wait just a second, Malachai. You said she carries the title of queen? Aira?”
“Aye, I did.”
“So that means we have the army we need, right? The fae are now under our command?”
“Your command, my liege. But I suppose-“
“Then what are we waiting for?” Composure was returning to Cole, or so he thought, and he moved to quit the bed but the sharp pains in his back left him stiff like a statue. After a moment he dropped back down onto his pillow, grasping himself in obvious agony.
“If anything, we are waiting for your health. But we cannot commence with any strategy until your counterpart is found.”
Malachai shook his head. “It would seem Jace has gone missing.”
This statement would not have been any concern to Cole, had the previous events not occurred. It is certain that he may have secretly celebrated the chance to have Jace out of his life, in spite of the companionship they had been forming for the last month. However, Cole knew better than to dismiss this information entirely.
His eyes narrowed at the thought, and he began to conceive an idea. “Very well, Malachai. Perhaps I should rest some more, at least until the medicine helps heal me.”
“A wise notion, my liege. Is there anything you require for this rest?”
“I s`pose if you could keep Aira away, that might help,” Cole said.
Malachai shrugged. “I would have an easier time cutting my way out of the belly of a dragon, but your command will be granted. Will there be anything else?”
“Just one thing,” Cole continued with his plot, “would you please send Penelope in here? I wish to speak to her.”
Malachai bowed his head then departed from the bed chamber. It was not a long wait before a gentle knock rapped upon the chamber’s door.
The sweetly feminine voice of Penelope answered in reply, and immediately she was let in. “You wanted to see me, king?”
“That’s Cole to you,” he said with a gentle jest, but seriousness followed as he added, “Pen, what happened to Jace?”
The fae’s demeanor shifted into uneasiness and she remained silent for a moment. A rosy blush filled her cheeks. “He is not in the castle.”
“I know that. I mean where did he go?”
Penelope turned away from Cole. “How am I supposed to know?”
“You’re his sister, aren’t you? Come on, you can tell me.”
There was a reticence that would remind one of an occupied grave. Cole began to plead. “If you know anything, please tell me. I know he is with Ruby. He has to be – tell me where they are.”
She was reluctant to reveal anything to him, but the way his eyes shined with sincerity pierced her heart. The overwhelming sensation to protect her brother was slowly being overcome by even stranger passions. Finally she sighed and said, “I can’t tell you.”
Cole’s head was stooped in sadness until he heard her add with great hesitance, “but I can show you.”
Once more the door to the royal bed chamber opened, and two figures could be seen silently absconding down the corridor, one weak in appearance with an injured shuffle while the other acted as a crutch. As they passed by the indoor garden, they stopped for a moment to hide at the same time Aira emerged from an adjacent room.
"Not allowed to see him? I am his wife, after all. If Malachai thinks he can order me around, he will know the meaning of disappointment. Hmph!" The queen looked from side to side in order to gage if any other eyes were upon her. After she was confident that there was not a single servant around, she continued toward the king's bed chamber. "Just try and stop me!"
When she disappeared from sight, Penelope and Cole quietly quit their hiding place and journeyed to an obscure postern that was seldom used and only built as a means to exit the fortification when all other options were compromised. Using this, they were able to escape the castle without anyone's knowledge, and a second later they were in the open air of Avelen, traveling toward the land of the fae.