Dragon Day

A princess that's not a lady. A king that's not a gentleman. And a wedding that does not go according to plan.

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24. Homecoming

Homecoming

 

            Melaina looked at Darya in shock. Her father didn’t need saving. He was the one that did the saving. It had always been that way. He was strong, brave, everything that she aspired to be. She stepped back at Darya’s words and looked at the royal advisor, Phillip.

            “He’s taken ill, your highness,” the man said meekly.

            Her father didn’t take ill. He ate everything that he saw, ventured out in all weather, fought to the nail in every battle, and he had never been bedridden. It just didn’t occur. The sailors behind her started to unload the cargo and the horses. She saw Edel and took her reins. She hadn’t ridden Edel in a week, had thought that she had taken her on the voyage unnecessarily.

            Without waiting for anyone she climbed onto the saddle and urged Edel into a gallop. The port was a day’s journey in normal circumstances, with a party of people and carriages. She got there in time for lunch. The entire time she didn’t look anywhere but ahead, willing the castle to show up in front of her. She slipped off the horse easily and handed the reins off to the nearest stable boy.

            The soldiers at the door saluted her as she walked past them. She didn’t greet them back. The castle which usually sounded with laughter from somewhere, with hustle and bustle, was deathly still. People still worked and they moved like always, but it was empty.

            They smiled weak smiles as they saw her, and it only frightened her more. The doors to her father’s bedchamber were closed, but she could hear the hushed voices coming from inside. Her mother’s voice sounded desperate, and as always, angry at someone. Oliver spoke back to her, his tone was downcast. She pushed the double doors aside and stepped inside.

            Her father was a skeleton of who he really was. He was gaunt, his eyes rimmed in black. His hair, before peppered grey, was almost white. The blankets smothered him and engulfed him, making him seem even smaller and weaker. Oliver slipped a glass near him mouth, filled with a pungent red liquid.

            She squirmed on seeing her father so weak, so not himself. On one hand she wanted step closer, on the other she wanted to run and avoid the truth. Her mother made the decision for her, and announced her presence to her father.

            His hand, just a few days before muscular, was thin and spotted with discoloration. There was nothing that she could do.  He stretched it out to towards her. In a rasping voice he called out her name. His grey eyes were limp, watery and red.

            She placed her hand in his, but the strength of his hold didn’t last long. In a few seconds his head fell back onto the pillow and his eyes closed slowly. Melaina stumbled out of the room. The infirm in the bed could not be her father. Oliver followed her out.

            “Please tell me something good, Oliver,” she pleaded the old man.

            Oliver shook his head. “It’s not sickness, Melaina. If it was, I would have found him the medicine by now. It’s a curse.”

            Her father was cursed. It gave her hope, more than if he had been ill. She couldn’t do anything about illness, but she could break the curse or die trying. Her mother came out of the room, dabbing a handkerchief to the sides of her eyes, composed even in grief.

            Melaina wanted to rush into her arms and be assured that everything was going to be alright. But her mother wasn’t the kind for such things. Her arms were clasped in front of her, as if she was at a formal ball, not in front of family.

            She greeted her, “I hope your journey was pleasant, Melaina.”

            “Pleasant enough. I’ll be leaving for Felucca shortly, along with Dain and his group.”

            “Dain’s alive?” the queen gasped.

            Dain was alive. She could see the hope in her mother’s eyes. Her statement had been unintentionally misleading. Her mother thought that wedding was going to occur.

            “He’s not marrying me,” Melaina said. “I have to go to Felucca.”

            Her mother forgot her grief. She saw it as Melaina’s folly, letting go of Dain.

            “Why do you do these things, Melaina? After I worked so hard…”

            “To get rid of me? Trust me, it won’t be that easy.”

            “No, you don’t understand. I just don’t want you to live your life alone. You may not fall in love yet, but…”

            “I’ve fallen in love,” Melaina admitted. “He’s wonderful, and the kind of person that I could imagine spending the rest of my life with.”

            Eleanor paled. The kind of person that Melaina could imagine spending the rest of her life with. She could only see the kind of heathen that the man would be. Definitely not royal, her daughter didn’t bother to care for such things. She would be the laughingstock of her peers, her daughter married to a peasant.

            “I do not approve of this,” she said harshly.

            “I do not need your approval,” came the swift reply. “I was merely informing you. I don’t think you deserve more than that. After all, did I get the choice to approve of your choice for my wedding with Dain?”

            Eleanor went back into the room, and Melaina rubbed her forehead with a sigh. Oliver had been a silent spectator to their entire conversation. He wondered how long it would be before Eleanor stopped forcing her ideals onto her daughter, and how long it would be before Melaina started to forgive her mother.

            She rushed up the stairs to her room, packing a different set of clothes. She was going to Felucca, not just on a quest. The heavy trunk lie by her bed, and she called a maid in from the corridor. In half-an-hour her dresses were neatly folded and packed in the chest. On top she dropped a bunch of her weapons and finally her bow and quiver.

            Aravi’s sword still hung by her side. She fell back onto her bed. Nothing in the world was like her bed, not the comfortable bed of the Neema’s manor in Collyria, not the pellet of the dingy inn in Little Marsh. She loved seeing the stars as she fell asleep, but she had missed a soft bed.

            “Mel,” a voice called for her, touching her cheek softly. She opened her eyes slowly, rubbing the sleeping out of them. The sun streamed through the window, and she was ravenous. She realized that she had slept through dinner. Manny was wrapped loosely around Alex’s shoulders, looking at her curiously.

            “Good morning,” she whispered. She leaned up against the headboard of her bed. A maid entered the room, with mop and bucket in hand. Seeing Alex sitting next to her on the bed, she turned red and ran out. “Well, the staff will certainly have something to talk about today.”

            “Sorry, I didn’t realize,” he said, shuffling back off the bed. She grabbed his hand and pulled so he fell onto the bed.

            “I don’t care what people say. I’m not like those other girls, remember?”

            “No, you’re not.”

            “I told my mother that I was in love.”

            “With me?”

            “I didn’t get to that. She automatically disapproved.”

            “And she’ll disapprove more when you tell her it’s me,” he said gloomily. It was impossible to escape the reality of his birth.

            “Her approval doesn’t mean anything. Besides, my father will love you,” she said optimistically.

            “That’s something, I suppose,” he agreed. He noticed she was trying too hard to forget her father’s illness.

            Melaina got out of the bed and started towards the bathroom. “I’ll see you downstairs.”

            After she was ready she went downstairs. They were preparing another batch of soldiers to take with them, more Feluccans and less people from Lor. She didn’t mind too much, and spent the morning training with her fencing teacher. The Beast was being prepared for the voyage, so all that she could do was wait.

            “You’ve gotten better,” her fencing teacher commented, out of breath.

            She shrugged. It was the anger and the anxiety that was driving her forward, making her faster. Alex was practicing his archery. She noted to herself that he was a better swordsman. They were going to start for Murdock the next morning and she didn’t let herself rest. Most of the people in the castle gawked at her as she passed them by. News of her and Alex had spread fast.

            It surprised her that she didn’t really care. Her focus shifted to her father. It was the thing that was important. It was her driving force. She spent the day shifting from room to room, restless, eager to get back onto the ship. It was infuriating being able to do nothing but wait.

            Finally night fell, but she couldn’t sleep. A knock sounded at the door, and she got up to open it. Oliver stood at the door, out of breath and with his hair in all directions.

            “Your father’s calling for you,” he announced. She ran past him, sprinting down the stairs and through the open double doors. There was a chill in the room that she hadn’t sensed before. Even the fire blazing and the windows closed, the room was frigid. Her father lay underneath his woolen blankets, still shivering. She tried to convince herself that it was just a cold night.

            “Melaina,” he called. There was a desperation in his voice that she couldn’t ignore, and she ran to his hand, gripping his hand firmly.

            “Call Alex,” she whispered. In the deathly silence, she didn’t need to speak louder. Oliver disappeared, leaving her alone with her father.

            “I will save you,” she promised her father, placing her other hand onto his. “You can’t go this way.”

            Her father smiled weakly, dejectedly. “I can feel myself getting weaker, every day. I know what the chances are. Don’t blame yourself if I die.”

            “Sir,” a voice came from the door.

            Melaina stood frozen as Alex walked closer.

            “Well, I can’t say that I’m surprised,” the king exclaimed with a cough. “Everyone else most likely was, but I’m not. Alex, you have resigned yourself to a life without peace.”

             It was only her father that could maintain his sense of humor even while bedridden and weak. She couldn’t bring herself to smile. It wasn’t long before he lost his lucidity with the medicine that Oliver gave him. Melaina missed him, even sitting by his side. Her only condolence was that he could no longer feel his pain, or at least, he felt less of it.

            She didn’t see him again. He was fast asleep when they set off towards Murdock, and she held onto his hand in the silence of dawn, trying to remember as much as she could about his face, his voice, the memories she had of him.

            “We brought back a man that was carried off by a dragon,” Davie said as they gently urged their horses out of the castle. “Breaking a curse shouldn’t be that difficult.”

            It seemed that everyone was confident except for her. Her mind kept taking her to a future without her father. The castle would be empty, the kingdom would go to ruin in her mother’s hands. All of Alex’s time would be spent trying to drag out her out of misery, and his time would be spent in vain.

            “It’ll be fine in the end,” Darya said to her as they stepped into Murdock. The woman had not spoken to her while they were at the castle. It wasn’t avoidance, but giving her the peace of mind that she needed. Now she stood off to Melaina’s side, close enough to talk but far enough to not be intrusive.

            “Why did Aravi tell you and not me?”

            “Because I know what you’re going through,” Darya told her. “I lost my father ten years ago.”

            “I’m sorry.”

            The words seemed too little for such a large loss. She didn’t have the words to convey her sympathy, and even if she did, she doubted she could voice them out loud.

            “It’s something I wouldn’t wish upon anyone, Melaina,” Darya said. “But it’s not the end of the world. I pray that we break this curse, but I want you to know… you can survive, even if your father doesn’t.”

            She didn’t like the thought of simply surviving. She would do more than survive if her father was by her side. Her father had taught her that life wasn’t about surviving, about compromise. Life was about conquering. Life was about feeling everything to the absolute maximum.

            The Beast loomed in front of them as they got to the port. She no longer thought about sitting in the crow’s nest or joking with the sailors. The journey was a hindrance. It was Felucca that her mind was set upon, the key to her father’s cure. 

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