Beneath the creaseless, cloaked life the king had shaped for his daughter was the grim reality, lingering just beneath the surface, waiting patiently to make its dreaded entry. Now it seemed as though the cloak was nearly stripped off, struggling to barely hold on and it was only a matter of time before everything would turn upside down. He had known it was impossible for him to protect her forever. The fact that one day his daughter would stand alone, defenceless and vulnerable to the dark nightmares of the world frightened him. But knowing that that day was right around the corner left him even more petrified with terror.
“When are you going to tell her?” Tudor asked.
Carlyle looked at him for a long moment before he quietly turned away. A lock of his graying hair fell onto his face, hiding his shameful grimace.
“You weren’t going to tell her, were you?” the alchemist frowned with dissatisfaction.
“How can I, Tudor? I have kept her locked up inside the walls of this castle. I hid the world from her for her entire life so I could raise her in solitude. I created a lie for her to live in, all because of Agatha’s heinous curse. The only people she’s ever seen are those who live inside the castle gates. How do you expect me to tell her I’m ill and dying when I am all she has?” Carlyle looked out into the horizon from his balcony and watched as it bled a vivid shade of scarlet.
“She has me.”
A reassuring warmth spread through the king’s frail body, but he could still feel the thorns pricking at his heart. “Of course. I wouldn’t for a second think otherwise. You are the only person I’d ever entrust to look after her, Tudor.” A sudden fit of coughing overwhelmed him. With a deep breath, he sighed and continued. “But she cannot live like this forever. She will have to take over the throne and rule Aedis. And it’s eventually bound to happen. The queen will need a worthy king. What will happen when she falls in love one day? Agatha may be locked in the dungeons, but you know it yourself. That won’t stop her from getting what she wants.”
Tudor bowed his head. “You offered me a home in your castle when I had no place to live. You kindly gave me a position among your workers. You gave me more than I needed - more than I deserved and you treated me with such compassion for so many years. I will forever be indebted to you, Your Majesty. The least I can do is to watch over Laura. I will do anything to protect her,” he said.
The alchemist had come to the king many years ago with nothing but a small glass flask in his hands. Containing the Immortality Elixir, he had offered it to Carlyle, desperately hoping for a few gold coins in return. He’d given up everything he owned to create the elixir and stood before the king in his tattered tunic with a woeful face. “There cannot exist a kingdom without you, Sire. I cannot think of a more deserving person to drink the elixir than you. Drink it and Aedis will be in your hands for all of eternity,” he had explained. Carlyle accepted the gift, although being his noble self, he refused to drink it. Overcome with a wave of sympathy for the poor man, he offered him a job and a place to stay in the castle. Through the years he had spent there, the king had grown close to Tudor. So close, in fact, that the king trusted him with his life.
“But that won’t prevent the curse. Nothing will.” Carlyle said warily.
“There is one thing.” Tudor stepped forward, standing just beside Carlyle as he spoke. “The Immortality Elixir.”
Carlyle’s pale, brown eyes clouded with wonder. He had been against drinking it for all the right reasons, and it seemed cruel to force it down his daughter’s throat. But it didn’t seem like he was left with much of a choice. The Elixir would prevent curse. It would keep the drinker from death of any sort. All he had to do was feed it to Laura. Perhaps if he mixed it with her morning tea, she would never have to know.
“You are a genius, Tudor.” Carlyle’s weak hand closed around the silver key hanging from his neck.
“You are running out of time, My King.”
“Then I will feed her the Elixir first thing tomorrow morning.”
The moon hung low in the midnight sky among its many twinkling peers as the King of Aedis lay awake in his bed. His head throbbed, the pounding of the blood behind his temples echoing in his ears, and his forehead was beaded with sweat. He squeezed his eyes shut in a vain attempt to block out the searing pain of the needles being pierced into them. His throat was like sandpaper, dry and coarse as he struggled to suck in sufficient air. He felt a cold numbness crawling up his limbs.
He had less time than he had thought. Carlyle winced, a sharp pain flooding through him as he slowly staggered to his feet. He trudged over to his bookshelf and pulled out several books from the middle row. Plucking the key from his neck, he inserted it into the small, concealed door in the wall behind the bookshelf and wrenched it open. He stuck his hand into the dark compartment he had opened and pulled out the alchemist’s glass vial from within. He locked the compartment door, put the books back into place and made his way to his daughter’s chamber with the Elixir emanating a soft glow from its container in his hand.
Laura was fast asleep, her chest rising and falling with the rhythmic breathing under the covers. Her eyes were gently closed and her lips slightly parted, making her seem peaceful in her deep slumber. Holding his breath, every step Carlyle took inching toward her was with a pained effort. It felt almost sinful to intrude, let alone disturb her sleep. He reluctantly brought the vial to her lips, contemplating whether or not to go forth with it. There was no other way to keep her safe. With a deep breath, he carefully tipped the clear liquid into her mouth.
Carlyle smoothed his daughter’s hair. He absorbed every detail of her face as though it would be the last time he would ever see her. It might as well be the last time if he wasn’t to wake up in the morning. He bent down and planted a kiss on her forehead.
The back of his throat itched, sensing a cough scrape its way past the sandpaper. He rushed out of the room, afraid he’d wake her, before bursting into another one of his coughing fits. A layer of blood lined his lips as he spat out a glob of phlegm.
Exhausted, he walked ahead, determined to make it to his bed before he collapsed. He had just turned the corner of the hallway when he saw a bright yellow light disappear through a door further ahead of him. ‘Who else would be awake this late in the night?’ he wondered, dragging himself forward. Realisation sank into him as he passed by the wide open door. Whoever it was had just walked into the dungeons. Unable to find the strength to investigate, Carlyle kept going. But at the sight of yet another light shining from the inside of a bedchamber door left ajar, he froze.
“Tudor?” he called, nearing the chamber. The only sound that filled his ears was of the still pounding blood in the veins of his forehead. The pain had only increased with all the energy he had expended on his little endeavour. He pushed open the door and peered inside. Tudor’s few belongings occupied various places in the room. His spare tunic hung on his bed frame. A pair of moccasins perched against the wall. A blanket draped off the bed in a heap on the hardwood floor. The lantern flickered in its place, hanging from the ceiling. A book lay open on his bedside table.
Carlyle stepped inside. He picked up the book and leafed through it. The pages were inked with Tudor’s small, elegant writing. Frowning, he flipped to the front page. It read:
This Journal is the sole property of the Artist, Tudor.