DHMB: I swore I wouldn't write a sequel, but it suddenly came to me in a flash while I was reading a book and I just had to get it out.
The earliest memory I can recall is of standing in my crib, reaching for my mother. She was beautiful. Her long bronze hair spilled over her milk white shoulder, exposed by the boat neck of her royal blue dress, her glittering forest colored eyes gazing into my darker emerald ones, her sweet voice telling me it was all right. I noticed from an early age that my Mama always seemed sad. Even when she was smiling and laughing, her eyes swimming with delight, there was a twinge of sadness in them. At times, I would catch her gazing at nothing, that sadness overwhelming her expression so that my heart ached.
I at times saw this same sadness reflected in the fathomless black gaze of my father as he watched Mama, his expression one of failure. I wondered about this sadness in my parents and was once so bold to ask my father about it. He had been surprised at first, his arching brows shooting up towards his hairline. He had then regarded me with curiosity, before kneeling before me and taking my hand.
"What do you know of love, my dear?" he had asked in his deep, honey voice.
"I know that I love you, and Mama and Dimi," I said. "I know you love me." He smiled at this, a small quirk of his lips that meant he was happy and amused about something.
"This is true," he said. "But there is another kind of love, the one your mother has for me and I should have for her."
"Should?" I asked, quickly picking up on his choice of words. His lips quirked again.
"Yes, should," he said. "Your mother and I have a strange relationship, and it hurts her that we are like this."
"So change," I said simply, not understanding the problem.
"If only it were that simple, my dear," he said.
"But you kiss and hold each other and…"
"We care for each other, very deeply," he admitted. "But that is not the same as love."
"Oh," I replied, not knowing what else to say.
"The truth is," he began, his dark eyes staring into my green ones. "I am a coward." I gasped at this. My Daddy could not be a coward. He was strong and brave, he ferried the souls of the dead.
"Your mother loves me, and I am afraid of that love because I have seen what people can do to themselves for it," he said. "It is my fear that keeps me from loving your mother as I should, and because of this, I am a coward."
"Daddy…" I began.
"One day, you will find someone who loves you like that," he said. "Someone who does not care if you are faulted, someone who loves you for who you are. Do not shy away from this, Illirra. Do not make the same mistake I have."
"Yes, Daddy," I whispered, not fully understanding what he was saying. I looked over his shoulder and saw Mama, standing in the doorway. Her eyes shone with unshed tears. Daddy followed my gaze and quickly drew in a breath.
"Astoria," he breathed. But Mama shook her head and turned from him. I didn't understand my parents turmoilous relationship, but I vowed that I wouldn't shy away from love.
For years my parents remained like this, gazing at one another sadly from across the room, and then one day, the sadness was gone. I didn't understand what had happened but I knew it had something to do with Mama almost dying after she gave birth to Rose. The day had been strange and chaotic and I remembered only snippets of it.
Daddy rushing in with Mama in his arms, her skirts soaked. Mama had cried out in pain and the servants had held me back.
Accius lifting Mama in his arms and carrying her to the back yard where the Gazebo had been padded with cushions and blankets.
The wail of an alarm.
Daddy's face crumbling in despair as he proclaimed to the waiting crowd; "She's dying."
Daddy kneeling at her side, weeping as I had never seen him.
A second cry joining Daddy's, high pitched and lustful as Accius lifted a squirming baby from between Mama's legs.
Aesar sweeping me into his powerful arms when I tried to run to Mama, holding me to his broad chest and whispering in my hair; "No, Lirra."
The heart wrenching wail that Daddy let out when Mama's hand fell from his, lifeless.
Then the minutes that became hours that became days that we waited while Accius and Eroan healed Mama.
I remember clapping my hands over my ears as tortured screams came from her rooms. Dimi stood by the bottom of the steps, looking towards her room where the cries echoed from, stoic. I sobbed openly and Daddy lifted me into his arms and cradled me.
"I know it is hard," he murmured, "But Mama will be fine."
When we were finally allowed to see her, we all dashed up to her bedroom. The lights had been dimmed so as not to disturb her and the windows cracked so the air was fresh and smelled of grass. Mama lay on her bed in a red dressing gown, her hair splayed out on the pillows and her hand resting on her still swollen stomach.
I choked back a sob. She looked dead.
"When will she wake up?" Dimi asked in a quiet voice.
"It will take a while," Accius said in a weary voice. He reached out and brushed a strand of hair from her brow. Daddy reached out and did the same, tracing his fingers down her cheek. Mama jerked in her sleep and muttered. Daddy scowled and touched her again, firmer this time. She screamed and struggled, flailing her limbs wildly. Dimi and I jumped back as Daddy and Accius tried to hold her down. She trashed and screamed, begging them to stop.
"What is she doing?" Daddy asked.
"I don't know," Accius said.
"Astoria, stop!" Daddy cried, panicked. At once, she froze, then fell back on the bed. Her eyes cracked open, sweeping across the occupants of the room before settling on Accius who had leaned over her.
"You gave us quite the scare," he said, his voice almost scolding. Mama opened her mouth but no sound came from it, only a hoarse rattle.
"I know," Accius said, soothing her. "When you are rested, we will answer all your questions." She hummed and closed her eyes, immediately falling asleep.
When Mama awoke, her and Daddy's relationship was so different from what it had been. Gone was the sadness, replaced by happiness and love that make me feel so warm inside. Mama was more beautiful than before, radiant even. I wanted what they had. I wanted to be loved and love in return.
I asked Mama if I ever would and she had laughed, a sweet musical sound and swept me up in her arms, cradling me against her breast.
"My darling child, one day you will find someone who will love you more than anything. Someone who would travel the ends of the earth for you and you for them. One day, my love, you will know my joy," she said. "And this will make me even happier." I gazed up at her with wide green eyes, her words enfolding me like a blanket. I would have what she did, I knew it.