She's here... the finale! I really hope you guys enjoyed this book! Please leave a review! I love everything you have to say!
The sun slowly rises for a new day as we leave the palace, the fighting over. Silence and death are all that remain in the cool morning air.
Konrad carries Red out with us, her dead weight unbearable to see. Michel walks beside me to shield my view of her and I lean into his support, tears rolling freely down my face.
It is strange completing the task that has consumed my entire will thus far. More than unsatisfying, it is quite unsettling. I lift my eyes to Chris whom I find already watching me, deeply concerned.
I take a heavy breath to steady my words. "What now?" I promised Red I would run away with her at this very moment. The thought wrenches my heart and Michel readily supports my intensifying weight.
"We go home," Chris replies.
Our eyes set straight again on the rising sun. Its overwhelming beauty is unable to pull me away from my pain. I nod and watch the ground, unable to consider that there is any beauty left at all in my life.
Tilly waits impatiently for us outside. I had nearly forgotten about her. She leaps to her feet immediately when Konrad steps through the wall, Red's dead weight in his arms, teeth bared as she growls.
I leap in front of the creature and set my arms out, both of them shaking. "Tilly, no." She barely registers me. "It was not him," I try to explain, though I know the animal does not comprehend a single word I say. She barks, furious, like thunder that echoes against the palace wall. "It was not him," I say firmer as Konrad sets Red's body on the ground behind me.
Tilly pushes past me to see Red. She licks furiously at her face to clear the blood from it. Weakly, she paws at Red's chest. Her whines softly fill the air as energy drains from her. Her tail drops between her legs, ears down. She barks loudly at Red and the noise travels effortlessly through the silence that surround us.
"Tilly," I try again but the creature turns back to growl at me before continuing her useless attempt to put life back into the girl.
My tears grow heavier as I watch. My body convulses violently as I sob, unable to control the rage and grief that overwhelms every inch of my being. Michel slowly turns me away from the sight and I fall into his arms, no longer able to stand on my own.
The others near until I can feel their heat. They wait patiently for my sobs to weaken though I cannot imagine a reality where they ever will.
Something cold and wet brushes against my legs and I turn to see Tilly nuzzling her way between Michel and me. I bend down to stroke her thick silver coat and she leans into the gesture. Her warm tongue licks my arm and I barely muster a smile despite the absurdity of it. In all the time I knew Red, her wolf had never once asked for my affection.
Konrad walks back to retrieve Red's abandoned body as Albert helps me back to my feet. Shyly, Bruno watches me with sad eyes as Lorenz squeezes my shoulder. I look to Michel and he responds by urging me forward, the new support of Tilly on my other side.
Chris pauses to look over each of us before turning back toward the sunset. "Let's go home."
Dead bodies litter the battleground as I step onto it, eyes set on the band of seven that slowly walks away from it, my dead sister with them.
Without second thought, I load an arrow and shoot it at the tree just above Chris's head. Enraged, all of them turn sharply to face my direction. They all relax slightly as I drop my bow to the ground and wait while I close the gap between us.
None of them move as I near, Mildred the only one in my sight. Tears roll freely down my face and I do not attempt to conceal them. All at once, I managed to find and lose my sister all over again. The pain is even harder to bare than it was the first time I lost her. I close the gap between us completely and look up to Konrad. Tilly growls at me from Snow's side and she does not attempt to sooth the creature, filled with just as much rage.
I force my eyes back on Red despite the pain it delivers. "I am sorry."
"Sorry cannot bring her back," Snow growls, though her rage is far outweighed by her sorrow.
I ignore her and step up to Konrad, Mildred the only thing between us. She looks so different than the first day I left her, though it is not time that does so but rather death. I carefully tuck a loose strand of hair behind her eerily cold ear. It feels as though a rock grows within my chest, suffocating me. "I am so sorry." My tears splash off her face.
"We killed him," Albert says shyly beside me, eyes downcast. "If you care."
"I do," I say sternly, knowledgeable that it is the king who is responsible for any of this, from Peter's death to Mildred's. I wish I could live thinking she had died those many years ago, though the king even took that from me. "Thank you." I look up to each of them. "For all it is worth, I am sorry. For all of it."
Chris simply nods, none of them able to offer me any words in return.
They all watch me carefully and I slowly back away, no more words needed to be said. There is no goodbye to give Mildred, the girl already gone. As simply and painlessly as possible, we part ways.
Marian is waiting impatiently when I return. Her small arms wrap around me before I can see her completely and I weakly embrace her back, glad to have at least something worth living for.
"You scared me half to death," she barks in my ear.
I squeeze her harder. "Sorry."
She releases me and waits until my eyes meet hers. "So am I."
I smile weakly, sure I will never quite be able to forget like I have my whole life. I have the girl before me to blame for that. "You wanted to know about my past. She was it."
Her eyes droop, mouth barely open. "Robin—"
"I will tell you in time," I reassure her. "Not today."
She nods, unable to move.
I turn her back toward the others. "For now I want to meet this Jack I have heard so much about."
I sit with Aladdin to face the sunrise, the peacefulness of the moment almost too great to be true. He looks to the money bag between us. "What would you have done if I took this and left?"
I smile and look down to my poorly patched wound. "Bled out and died."
He laughs. "I am serious."
I shrug. "Simply put I would not miss it or you."
He rolls his eyes and I laugh, overfilled with the goodness of the moment. Aladdin pulls Genie away from the bag. "What are you going to do now?"
I shrug, quite unsure. "Try to restart my life again. I promised the baker I would come back and intend to do so."
"And you planned to do that without any money?"
"Who needs that anyway?"
"You truly are a marvel, Jack."
I laugh. "This coming from the Arabic man with a pet monkey."
Marian and Hood work their way back through the trees. I stand at the sight of them, as does Aladdin. With cautious eyes, I look up and down Hood. He glares at me in return. Marian scolds me. "Jack."
"Must he come with?"
Her eyes narrow. "And why not?"
"Because he is a wanted assassin!"
She waves off the comment. "If I can trust him so can you."
Aladdin pulls the bag of money off the ground. "We can argue on the way, now let's go before another war breaks out under our noses."
I raise my eyebrows. "We?"
He shrugs and starts away. "You can argue with me on the way."
I start after him, Marian and Hood close behind. "Argue?"
"Are you saying you would miss me?"
I roll my eyes and wait for Marian to be at my side before starting after him. Marian hugs me for good measure, as if to be sure I am real. I squeeze back, still unsure myself. My eyes land on on Hood behind her, immediate distaste coursing through me. "So I take it that Thomas kid is out of the picture then?" I never thought I would prefer that boy over somebody.
Hood raises his eyebrows, an amused grin forced onto his miserable face for our sake. "Who is Thomas?"
Marian backs away from my embrace to hit me.
"Are you coming?" Aladdin calls back to us.
I nod them forward with me. The four of us move with great purpose to get home though none of us truly know quite where that is. Nevertheless, I am more than excited to get there.
The sun hangs low in the sky for a new day to reveal the aftermath of the battle. Little of each force remains, the living Germans long retreated and the French left to clean up what remains of their palace.
I leave Henri to morn his dead father—the death by partial fault of his own, of course—to reunite with Eric. The man waits just where I left him, bent over Aurora. I call his name which he turns to slowly, face heavy with grief. When I get close enough it becomes painfully obvious why.
Under him, the queen lays still as death, eerily resonating the soldiers sprawled on the field.
I run to be by Eric's side and slow only when he is mere feet away. He stands and I carefully embrace him, his arms shaky against my back. I cannot form words, my own heart heavy with the loss. Our embrace is short-lived, the man too distant for it to last. "I assume you will stay in France," he concludes, voice hoarse.
I nod slowly, unable to lie. "It is my home, Eric."
"Is the home of my friends," I conclude, shaking my head. "But it is not mine."
Slowly, he nods. "I understand." He looks to the path the Germans retreated down long ago. "I must return there with or without you."
I embrace him once more, heartbroken by his loss. He seems completely unable to navigate himself. "I will see you again," I say confidently.
He nods, eyes downcast to Aurora whom I refuse to look at. I run to his horse and return with it. With my help he mounts it with Aurora's body in his lap. He looks down at me from the saddle, his gaze distant. "In time, Ella."
Slowly, he trots away. I watch for several moments after he leaves before heading back to the palace. Henri greets me before I am turned away by the few guards remaining. He too, is hardened by sadness.
"They killed my father."
"I could have stopped them."
"They would have killed both of us if you tried."
He looks down to his hands, as if they would suddenly hold the answers. "I am the king now."
I nod and grip his arms in my hands. "And you will be a great one."
He does not reply, only pulls me into a tight hug. I embrace him back.
"Have you heard from your siblings?"
"They are all fine."
"And your mother?"
"Just as well."
"Good." I step back from him and look over him once more. "You are king," I repeat, the news too grand to digest at once.
He nods. "I am king."
"That comes with many benefits, you know."
A smile creeps onto his somber face. "I know."
"Because I know one benefit in particular that is especially good—"
"Just shut up."
He pulls my face closer and I close my mouth just in time to receive a far overdue kiss.
The baker took us in immediately despite the criminal and thief we were harboring when we arrived. To my great relief, I find Thomas almost immediately after our return, pinned against an old house with an unfamiliar girl. The sight would offend me if I hadn't moved on as quickly after our separation. The necklace he gave me is long gone, likely stolen by Genie within our hours of traveling together.
Hood hides in the shadows with every hour of sunshine, only stepping out at night. He suffers from tremendous loss I am sure he will never truly recover from though I try to change that every moment I can. It is painfully clear that he is incapable of forgetting in the way he so easily did only days ago. The change is for the better, I know, though I am sure he does not feel the same. Still, I hope he will some day. For now, though, he remains insistent on hiding. I let him, confident he will face the world once again with a bit of time.
Aladdin, on the other hand, eagerly works his way around the small village from sunrise to sunset of every new day. It is only a matter of time before the limited inhabitants realize all their belongings are gone though that moment does not seem to concern the man.
Jack keeps me away from our old home and I am glad, sure no good will come from that. I shall never see my parents again in my entire lifetime if I have a say in it, and the baker as well as Jack seems very intent on keeping it so.
I wake up one morning beside Robin, the sun not yet up for another day. Carefully, I rise and inspect Jack's room to find both his and Aladdin's bed empty. My heart beats faster.
"Marian?" Robin calls for me.
"Right here," I reassure him, slowly working my way back. I sit on the bed. "The others are gone."
He rolls over and shoves his face into his pillow to avoid the light from the window. "Likely working like responsible people do these days."
I nod but stare at the door, a strange feeling swelling in my stomach. It is quite early for even Jack to begin his work day.
Robin pulls me back to the bed. "They are fine," he reassures me.
"I know." I stand and escape his grip.
Robin moans but does little to stop me otherwise. "Marian," he complains weakly.
The front door opens and closes softly. "Marian," Jack calls.
I run to greet him but stop before I can, paralyzed by what rests in Aladdin's hands behind him. Jack smiles and takes the instrument to hand it to me himself. "I promised you a new one."
I jump into his arms, somehow able to forget about my lute within the recent hysteria of my life. Jack squeezes me briefly before we both let go. I eagerly take the lute from him and turn it over in my hands, already comfortable with its weight against me. "Thank you." I squeeze Jack one last time. "Thank you."
He laughs and pushes me away to look at the broad smile on my face. "Anything for you."
For the first time in a long time, I feel completely and utterly reassured that everything will be just fine.
Shortly after I arrive home, news comes of both the king and queen's death.
It is delivered to me in my bed chambers while I ready for a new, terrible day to greet me. It takes several moments for Aurora's death to burden my heart and it does so mercilessly the second it does. I refuse to join Father at breakfast, sure his overjoyed spirit would suck all the life out of mine.
Of course, that would be if there were any life left in me at all.
I return to my room as soon as possible and stare into my mirror for what I can only hope is the last time. A guard interrupts me after God knows how long. "The king would like to celebrate with you, Your Majesty."
"What is there to celebrate?" My voice sounds like that of another man. I cannot bear it.
"Why your Majesty, Germany and France are defeated."
"In what way?"
"Both of their rulers have died."
"And yet there is no war," I say plainly, defeated by the truth. "In fact, they both died and England gained nothing from it."
I pull a dagger from a small drawer and place it inconspicuously against my gut, my back facing the watching guard.
"Germany and France are not defeated and therefore I have nothing to celebrate at all."
I tighten my grip on the knife and press its point farther against my clothes until I feel it against my skin.
"I have lost everything."
The guard hesitates, unsure how to respond.
I take a heavy breath. "Tell the king I will not be attending."
He does not leave. I plunge my knife through me despite the audience, sure my life cannot stand another moment within my grief.
Every conflict must resolve in a loser.
It is clear I have lost much more than the battle.
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