AUTHOR'S NOTE: Hello Readers! So, I've been gone far too long but I'm happy to be back. The story to follow is one I have been working on for close to 6 years. The first edition appeared on this site as "Breaking Point". I still have it posted under my profile. That story does NOT have to be read to understand this one. In fact, it is best not to be read first, least alone you learn all the secrets of this story. This is the revision, re-write, re-imagined, what have you of that original story. For the most part, the characters and purpose of the story are the same, but the plot is extremely different. I think this is the way the story should have been told. In the years working on this novel, I have learned a lot about the characters - their personalities, their motivations, their desires, their dreams. They have become like real people to me and I hope in re-writing, I am better able to capture the true spirit of these characters and to do justice to their story.
Here is "The King's Guard". I hope you enjoy reading it as much I have and continue to enjoy writing it.
Gasping wheezing breath roused me from my light sleep. I shot up from my little nest of blankets on the floor and knelt beside the bed beside me. Rafael grasped at his chest, desperately trying to regain his breath. I steadied him as he threatened to fall off the bed.
My heart raced as my eyes searched the darkness for the calming tea Eliza had left behind in case he were to have another episode. I spotted it on the table a little way away. Lifting my hand, I turned my palm in the direction of the mug. In my haste, the cup came hurtling toward me and I caught it quickly, some of the still warm content sloshing over onto my fingers.
"Drink this," I whispered, pressing the earthenware to his trembling lips.
Rafael took two long swallows, almost coughing it up once before his breathing subsided again. He weakly pushed my hand away when he was done and I set it aside.
"Thank you," he rasped as he settled back onto the pillow I had propped up against the wall.
I started to slide off the bed, but Rafael stopped me. He gripped my hand with a tightness that betrayed his weakened state.
I curled up against his side, my head resting upon his shoulder and his arm holding me close. It had been a great number of years since we had last sat this way together. He still managed to smell of the forest – of green grass and pine trees – even though he hadn't been out of our home for weeks. There was something comforting about that smell.
"I'm sorry." His voice was so low and raspy that I almost missed it.
I tilted my head up to look at him, catching his pale green eyes in the moonlight that streamed in through the small hole in our roof.
"For what?" I asked, my brow furrowing.
"When I found you, I never wanted this life for you."
"But I just showed up at your doorstep."
"No. I lied to protect you."
"Protect me from what?"
Rafael was quiet for a long moment, his eyes staring upwards, though his arm stayed firmly around me. My stomach twisted into knots. I had no idea what he was talking about.
I could remember nothing of my life before I was five years old. No mother, no father. All I have ever had was Rafael. He took me in and raised me when there was no one else. I never understood why. He hadn't married, didn't have any children of his own and from what I could tell was very happy living on his own.
"Marcy, as the end of my days draws near, I need to finally tell you the truth."
"About what?" I asked, giving his hand a squeeze.
"About where you really came from."
"I thought you found me."
Rafael let out another series of harsh gaging coughs. I steadied him as he hunched over from the pain. Once he regained his breath, he settled back down.
"I did in the forest, not my doorstep. You were laying on the bank of the river – you know the one – soaking wet and freezing cold. At first, I thought you were dead, but you were still breathing. When you finally came around, you just stared at me. You weren't afraid, simply curious."
"I don't remember. Though it does explain why I am so afraid of water," I murmured, falling back against the pillows and closing my eyes.
"You didn't then either. You could tell me nothing: not your name, your age, your family. Nothing."
"Then where did my name come from?"
Rafael let out a heavy sigh. "From my mother, who had only passed a few days before I found you. I thought it was a sign from the Gods that you had suddenly popped into my life."
"Do you know where I came from then?" I asked slowly. I wasn't sure I wanted the answer even if he did have one.
"No." He paused. "I brought you home with me. The next day, I went out again to see if I could figure it out. All I found was death. What appeared to me as a traveling party must have been attacked further upstream from you were. Either you slipped on nearby rocks trying to get away or someone pushed you in, I'm not sure. However, you were the only one who survived."
"Attacked by what?" I persisted.
I shot up and stared down at him.
"Why in the world would the Faeries do that? And why would a group of elves be traveling anywhere, unless whoever I was with were being transferred?"
Rafael slipped his hand in mine, giving it a reassuring squeeze.
"They weren't being transferred."
He pressed a finger to my lips to get me to be quiet. I bit my lower lip hard to keep from perpetually asking questions.
"If you would let me finish," Rafael chuckled with a wheeze. "Whoever they were, they were not Marked. They were not subjected to the whims of the Faeries."
"They actually exist?"
"Yes and you were one of them."
It felt like I had just been punched in the chest. I could barely breathe. It was so hard to comprehend or to even get my mind to accept it.
"I'm so sorry," Rafael repeated again. "The Faeries will come for you soon and you will be Marked. I prayed this day wouldn't come, but now it can't be avoided. But understand that I never meant to hurt you by bringing you here. After I'm gone, I want you to go."
"Go where?" I gasped.
"Get my box."
He gave my hand another squeeze before I slipped off the bed. I got his small wooden box which rested on the bottom of our small trunk of belongings. I never knew what it was or what it contained. Rafael had always kept it hidden and out of sight.
Climbing back on the bed, I handed him the box. He turned the small metal lock on the front and it creaked open. He reached inside and pulled something out. In the darkness, I could not make out what he was, until he pressed it firmly into the palm of my hand. He curled my fingers around it firmly and then pushed my hand to my chest.
"I found this tangled on a chain that must have broken off your neck and got tangled in your dress when you fell in the river. My only guess is that it belonged to your mother," Rafael explained.
I slowly pulled my hand away, not sure of what I was going to find. Nestled in my hand was a small silver ring. I brought it closer to scrutinize the fine engraves along the band and the tiny red crystals embedded in it.
"It's a wedding ring," I remarked.
"Yes. Only your father would have the exact match. For now, keep it hidden and keep it safe. If the Faeries were catch notice of it, they would surely take it away from you. The workmanship and the gems make it extremely valuable. Therefore, my only assumption is that your parents were people of importance. Otherwise they would not have had the money for such a ring as this and it would explain why they were attacked."
"But what does this have to do with you somehow wanting me to run away? Especially running the risk of getting caught and severely punished. I don't know about you but I am kind of attached to my hands."
Rafael closed his box and set it aside.
"Get out of the village and make it appear you are going for a hunt. Leave at dawn and only take what you normally would. Tell no one where you are going, not even Eliza. Then run as fast as you can for as long as you can south east. You will reach a road, follow it but do not travel it directly. They will not even notice you are gone until you do not come back that evening, by then you will be too far away for them to catch up with you. Do not let anyone knew where you came from, otherwise they may feel obligated to bring you back. Go to the House, the seat of the Elf King. With any luck, someone there might remember the attack all those years ago and may be able to help you." He paused, fighting to catch his breathe again. "This is all the help and advice I can give you and yet I feel like I should have been able to do more for you."
I felt hot tears pricking at the corner of my eyes as I gripped his hand and pressed a hard kiss to his knuckles.
"You have been a father to me for twelve years. You could have left me to die but you didn't. If anything, I owe you my life. I am forever grateful for everything you have taught me and given to me."
Rafael leaned up and kissed my forehead.
I persuaded him to take some more of his tea before he fell back asleep a short time later.
I wished I could have fallen back to sleep as quickly as he did but everything was running through my head at a dizzying pace. I turned the ring over and over in my fingers, not believing it was real and it was mine. The last thought I had before sleep claimed me again was this:
Could I really run away?