Brynhild mixed a sleeping potion into a warm cup of cider for Aurelia when they got back into the castle. The wind was wild and the skeleton of the tomb that had grown to be her home wailed in its old age. Her own bones shuddered on nights like this as well.
"Drink all," her mother coaxed, and Aurelia drank greedily, no doubt exhausted already. "Now lay back," Brynhild soothed. She stayed by her daughter's side until she was sure Aurelia was sound asleep. The firelight slapped heat from the hearth against her back. She touched Aurelia's stomach, but Aurelia didn't stir from her mother's touch, and Brynhild traced her palm along the curve. Her daughter's fleshy abdomen had grown hard, and just from touch Brynhild knew it wouldn't be long before the baby came.
She rose to her feet, wrapping her arms around herself.
"Frederick?" she whispered, the firelight dancing across her face. She waited for a response, she was hopeful and expectant for one, but nothing came.
Brynhild placed a dagger into the folds of her skirt before leaving the castle.
She clutched a long shawl around her shoulders, and as she walked through the dark grounds she kept her arms wrapped around herself. She didn't need a flame to find her way. This was the same courtyard she had run through as a girl, hot on the heel of Prince Frederick. While the townspeople whispered and gossiped behind their hands about how unbecoming it was for a girl to run through the town center with mud on her knees. As a child the old nags had never bothered her. She brushed their callus remarks about how her father was raising her wrong off her shoulders with a defiant shrug. It was only now that she was alone that their voices came back to taunt her. Sometimes it seemed to Brynhild that time stood still, and in the span of a single second she could be at once both old and young. Hopeful as well as hopeless. Destined for something great and ill-fated.
Stepping into the darkened tree line she told herself that these were the same woods where she had gathered herbs with her father when she grew older. She had learned to identify each plant, not only by sight, but also by touch, and sometimes even taste.
Brynhild felt her bones poke through her skin as she walked. The dagger that had once belonged to King Frederick slapped against her leg each time she took a step.
She knew Oren could not have gotten far. His wounds would slow him down, and he would exhaust himself quickly, finding shelter close by. Brynhild knew Oren better than he knew himself. She knew he would stay very near until he had Aurelia with him. Brynhild knew he was just waiting until she was out of the way for good so he could have Aurelia all too himself.
When Oren had been a child he was uncontrollable. He had been a wild, untamed brat. There was nothing of Frederick in him, either then or now. He had always belonged to Aurorette.
Every time Brynhild thought of Aurelia it made her shudder. She had crept toward the barn when she woke to find Aurelia gone, and seeing the candlelight flicker from movement she approached the barn. When she got close enough Brynhild could see Oren touching her daughter. Bryhild could hear the jingle of Aurelia's giggle, and the suddenly apparent swollen rind of her stomach. In all this time Brynhild had never suspected anything was going on beyond the initial childhood friendship between them. She had never seen any outward signs of Aurelia's pregnancy, though when she thought back on it she remembered that Aurorette had been small when she carried Oren, even toward the end she had maintained a slight frame. Never full to bursting like some of the other women she had helped through delivery.
"Brynhild," the boy's voice stilled her, but seeing his shadow slice through the trees she noticed that he had somehow become a man. She still saw nothing of Frederick in him.
"You know why I'm here." She wanted to dispel with formalities.
The wind howled around them, and the clouds shifted, revealing a moon that was full and bursting. It shaded them in glassy white light.
"I love her," he said simply.
He stood several feet away from her, and meeting his eyes she said, "you don't know what you're talking about. The child in her is a bastard, do you understand that? She is a Princess. Her father was a King. Who are you?"
"I love her," the tenderness in his voice reminded her of Frederick for the first time in his life.
"What can I give you to leave this place?"
Oren didn't hesitate, "Aurelia."
"Anything but that."
"There is nothing but that."
Brynhild sighed, taking a slow step toward him, her dress ruffled wildly from the wind. "When you were born," she tilted her head, taking another step toward him. "You're mother almost died. They brought me to her because the midwives thought there was nothing else to be done. The King—" her eyes narrowed, as though a ghost had suddenly frightened her. "—The King begged me to intercede. I went to her," Brynhild took several more steps toward him, bridging the gap, and pressing down on her skirts with her hands. "She was near death, but I saved her. I brought you screaming and howling into this world and I saved her as well."
When Brynhild was close enough to touch him she stopped, and he eyed her wearily. "I should have let you die."
"Then why didn't you?" Oren's voice was bitter.
She tilted her head, "I don't know."
Her confession chilled him to the bone. "What really happened her? Why were we the only ones left?" The image of Aurelia finding the King's bones made him brave; he took a step toward her, confrontational. "Why was the King never buried? Who is buried in the unmarked tomb in the Mausoleum? "
"How do you…?"
"What happened here?" he shouted, for the first time in his life he wasn't afraid of her.
"Your mother never should have come here," she said cryptically, "she is why the war started. She is why it happened."
Oren didn't understand. "You are truly insane," he spat. "What did my mother ever do to you?" He waited for a response, but none came. "Can't you see I love Aurelia? Don't you want your daughter to be happy?"
"She may not know it yet," Brynhild turned her wrist, exposing the dagger from inside her skirt. She held it low at her side so Oren could not see it. "But I am making her happy." Brynhild slid the knife into his gut slowly. Their eyes had been locked and Brynhild watched his pupil's contract. Oren looked down at his stomach. Brynhild watched as his neck twitched, she saw his hands start to shake.
She moved away when Oren's knees gave out, making way for him to fall listlessly at her feet. He was gasping, his hand pushing against the wound while spurts of blood leaked upward through his closed fingers.
"This is what you deserve," she said kneeling over him. "I should have done this long, long ago."
"Please," he pleaded. There was a pool of blood forming around him. His head fell to the ground, and Brynhild watched as his body began to twitch.
Brynhild brought the knife up to his heart and rested the point above the skin.
Oren couldn't feel it touch his breastbone but he could see Brynhild was positioning it for a final thrust.
"Please," he said again, his last words before closing his eyes, "don't hurt Aurelia."