The Emerald-Opal Heir - 38

The Emerald-Opal Heir - 38

A Chapter by A.L.



They called him the Awaited King. 

At least, that was the nickname Beckett preferred and allowed to be plastered on every banner in the entire kingdom. The singular kingdom. 

Savior King. Killer King. Patient King. Boy King. 

They ranged from appraising to derogatory, from uplifting to pure insult. Beckett liked the Awaited King best, as it’d been a century and two decades since his birth. 

Now, as he stood outside the Hall of the Goddesses, he was finally going to be king. 

Promised King. Reader King. 

He ran a hand through his hair, trying to ease the nerves that had wormed their way into his writhing stomach. 

“Stop doing that,” Alys chastised from behind him. “You’re going to mess up your hair. 

Beckett shot her a nervous smile. “We both know that I look nothing like myself in these…” He gestured to the long robes that Alys had forced him to wear. “I’m just trying to add my own personal flair.”

Alys crossed her arms. “This is the first time you’re making a major public appearance and you want to go out there looking like a little boy.” 

“First of all, I’m one hundred and eighteen,” Beckett pointed out, reluctantly allowing Alys to fix his ruffled hair. “And secondly, I could care less what I looked like because no matter what, I’m king and they aren’t.” 

“Sure,” Alys said. “Clara’s out there, y’know.” 

Beckett froze. “She is?” 

“Unless there’s some other red haired girl important enough to sit in the front row, then yes,” Alys replied with a smirk. 

His cheeks flamed with blush. “Will you… Will you fix my hair?” 

Alys laughed and obliged while Beckett tried to sit as still as possible. He wished that Alys hadn’t told him that Clara was waiting, because now his mind couldn’t stop wondering who else was out there. 

“Relax, Beck,” Alys sighed. “You’re going to be fine. If you can survive Baelle, you can survive this.” 

“Survive is a strong word,” Beckett grumbled. “And Baelle was one person - this is hundreds.” 

Alys shook her head. “You’re impossible, you know that, right?” 

“You should know that by now,” Beckett said, finally having enough of her fussing over his appearance. “Are you done yet?” 

“You’re welcome,” Alys retorted, hands on her hips. 

Easy for her to say. She wouldn’t be standing in front of the entire kingdom, though she would escort Beckett down the aisle. As my advisor, he had claimed. Not anything more than that for the time being. 

Still, Alys was absolutely breathtaking in her glittering emerald gown. In the past few years, she’d continued wearing her gloves unless she was alone with Beckett, but that didn’t happen very often. He was sure there were rumors about the gorgeous girl that was his advisor only, but Beckett didn’t care. His friendship with Alys flourished and he became increasingly glad she hadn’t returned to Waelia with the rest of her family. 

He took a deep breath, clenching his fists so tightly that his nails dug into his skin. Butterflies fluttered in his stomach. 

Alys looped her arm through his. “Your Highness.” 

“That’s Your Majesty to you,” Beckett corrected with a nervous smile. 

“You’re not the king quite yet,” Alys revised. “And since I’m your friend, I get to call you whatever I want.” 

“I’m sure your names are very creative and colorful, but I’m afraid we have a coronation to attend…”

“Now who’s eager to go,” Alys laughed. 

Beckett allowed her to drag him towards the double doors that led to the Hall of Goddesses, trying not to throw up on his robes. 

Alys threw open the doors and immediately the entire audience rose to their feet, bowing their heads reverently towards the aisle. Beckett followed Alys’s measured steps as they strode down the aisle, commanding an air of importance that Alys seemed to excel at creating. 

He kept his eyes forward, focusing on the stained glass mural that depicted the twelve goddesses in all of their celestial power. 

They don’t deserve to be up there, he told himself. He’d been the one to design the Hall itself, but his ideas for the window in the back had all been vetoed by the builders. With the goddesses gone, it was important for the transition to a new life to happen slowly. 

Which meant worshipping dead women. 

Alys’s grip on Beckett’s arm tightened as they neared the front of the audience. 

Familiar faces packed the front row, all grinning at him and offering small waves of encouragement. Glass and Steel - or as Beckett knew them now, Noam and Isaak - beamed at him, followed by Forrest, Bethany, Margo, and Calli. 

Beckett’s heart skipped a beat. 

Clara’s eyes locked with his, burning with an emotion he couldn’t recognize. Pride? Envy? Anger? He quickly averted his gaze, trying not to notice the young man at Clara’s side. 

Or the fact that Newt was noticeably absent. 

Alys dropped his arm and Beckett’s pulse stuttered until he remembered that he was supposed to go stand near the window. 

Normally, the goddesses would ordain someone to name the new king, but with the goddesses dead and no former royals, Beckett had struggled to find someone willing to coronate him. Did it have to be a priest? A noble? 

Start a new tradition, Alys had suggested. 

So Beckett was starting a new tradition. He took his place at a small podium that overlooked the hall, fear seizing him by the throat and stealing the breath from his lungs. 

Too many eyes watching him. Breathe in, breathe out. 

He caught Alys’s gaze. Saw her nod. Knew he was doing fine. 

“As all of you well know, this isn’t a traditional coronation,” he began, hating how his voice shook. This was when he longed for his magic to hide behind. “Not only are the goddesses missing, but I don’t have parents who can give me their blessings or a priest to declare me fit to rule.” 

There were a few mumbles in the crowd and he paused until they died down. 

“I’m not going to stand up here and make empty oaths,” Beckett continued, willing his eyes to stay locked with Alys. Just pretend this is a conversation with her. The two of you only. “Nor will I perform a fancy ritual with blood sacrifices and prayers.”

More whispers. He couldn’t tell if they were good or bad.
“What I will tell you is that I’m going to try to be a good king. I won’t promise to devote our kingdom to the worship of the goddesses, but I can assure you that we will recognize those who have performed incredible feats. I won’t promise to uphold prior traditions when they are outdated and harmful, but I can assure you that we will respect our past while always making a way for the future. I don’t care if you hate me for this or if you hate me for what I’ve done in the past, but I’m going to right my wrongs.” 

He was rambling, but the script that Alys had so delicately printed in neat letters was gone from his mind. What was he supposed to say next? A prayer? Another promise? 

“And I also can’t crown myself,” Beckett added, recalling the compromise they’d created. “But today, I bring you the parents of the heir to the throne that should be in my place.”

He gestured to the back of the room, where a couple entered nervously, taking hesitant steps forward. The woman’s dark hair was braided intricately with strands of pale blue and the man wore a jacket of the same shade. 

“Brooke wasn’t exactly one of my best friends,” Beckett said, his throat feeling parched. How long had he been standing up there? “But she was one of my greatest allies. She didn’t deserve the death that Baelle gave her, and if I could trade my own life for her’s, I would in a heartbeat. Brooke was a true heir to the throne. These are her parents.” 

Bad wording, his mind hissed. He told his inner voice to shut up. 

Brooke’s mother lifted her head at the sound of her daughter’s name. The couple carried a velvet pillow with a newly forged crown placed precariously on top. 

Beckett’s heart stalled as they approached. Two bands of silver twined around each other to form the base while large emeralds adorned the edges. And if one looked close enough, they would find a handful of names inscribed in the bottom of the crown. 

Bones. Titus. Brooke. Coral. Morgan. Rae. Emmeline. 

Beckett didn’t want to have to add more names to the list. 

Before he knew it, Brooke’s parents were standing in front of him, eyes wide with the same anxiety that now plagued Beckett. 

They’d rehearsed this part, at least. 

“In the name of our daughter’s legacy,” Brooke’s father said, his voice regal and demanding attention, “we name this boy - Prince Beckett - King of the Emerald-Opal Kingdom.” 

Brooke’s mother lifted the crown and Beckett bowed his head so she could place it among his curls. The metal warmed at his touch, a comforting hug. 

He dropped to his knees, keeping his head inclined. “I bow to the needs of my kingdom.” 

His kingdom, at last. 

Beckett caught Alys’s eye again and saw her clapping and bouncing up and down. The entire room had erupted into applause - whether fake or real, Beckett didn’t know - but the only person he heard was her. 

“The festivities will now commence!” someone announced towards the back of the room, attracting the attention of the already bored audience. 

Alys was at his side a moment later, wrapping him in a tight hug. “See, you lived.” 

“Barely,” he sighed. “I completely blanked on the words and then I forgot what came next and-” 

Alys cut him off with a kiss so fast he thought he imagined it. The blush rising on her cheeks said otherwise and Beckett’s skin felt like it was on fire. “I’m pretty sure you owe me your first dance, old man.” 

Beckett was about to agree, and maybe, just maybe, kiss her again, but a streak of flaming red hair caught his eye. 

“I … I’ll catch up in a minute, alright?” he promised. 

Alys nodded, understanding, despite the mischievous glint in her eyes. “For every dance you miss, I’ll spread another rumor about you.” 

“Believe me, there’s already enough rumors to go around,” Beckett laughed. “And I’ll add one more.” 

He gave Alys an equally quick kiss before darting away before she could register what happened. 

Clara should have laid off the baked goods. 

The banquet hall was extremely warm with all of the extra bodies, and she found herself glad that spring had yet to give way to summer. The five year anniversary of the attack, she reminded herself. Five years without a word from Newt. Five years with only letters to Beckett. Five years without Emmeline. 

Her dress was bulging at the waist and Clara was pretty sure the chocolates had been laced with something. Dizziness overwhelmed her every time she stood, so Clara spent most of her time seated with Finn at their reserved table. 

“I can’t believe this feast is supposed to last a whole week,” Finn mumbled to himself, staring at the plate of food before him like he was debating if he could down another stomach full of food. 

“It’ll probably die out after tonight,” Clara guessed. “The band leaves tomorrow, as do all of the lords and ladies.” 

“Ah, well, that means more food for us,” Finn decided, snatching a cookie off of Clara’s plate. 

Clara stole it back. “You’ve had enough food for the whole week.” 

Finn glared at her. “Says the girl who’s eaten so much that she can’t even dance,” he said, gesturing towards the middle of the hall filled with people. 

“I don’t dance,” she countered. 

“Neither does Forrest,” Finn pointed out. 

Clara had to choke back a snicker as she caught sight of Forrest, who was locked into a lively dance with Calli while Margo and Bethany collapsed into a fit of laughter beside them. Forrest looked like he’d rather be dead than dance, but he didn’t run away, surprisingly. 

“I don’t dance,” Clara repeated, crossing her arms. “Besides, this dress isn’t designed for-”

“Would you dance if it was Beckett?” Finn asked with a raised eyebrow. 

Clara shoved him, trying to ignore the pink flushing to her cheeks. “He has Alys, Finn, just like I have you.”

“As touching as that is-” Finn began, but then a wicked grin split his face. “Well, well, well. Speak of the devil.” 

Clara spun to see Beckett wringing his hands awkwardly behind her. He still looked like the little boy he’d been when they’d first met, even if he’d grown taller and lankier. The silver crown that Finn had forged for him was still nestled in his curls. 

“I don’t know if devil is the proper term,” Beckett chuckled. 

“We can get much more colorful,” Clara offered, already coming up with new ways to insult him.

“I’ll pass on that. Actually, Clara, I was wondering if you wanted to catch up.” 

When did he grow so … so unsure of himself? Clara barely recognized him through the awkwardness. 

“Sure,” she said, because how else could she respond? 

Beckett held out his arm and Clara gracefully took it, sending Finn a look she hoped conveyed don’t worry, I’ll be fine. 

“Would you be okay if we stepped outside?” Beckett asked, biting his lip. 

“If that’s what you want,” Clara answered. Was she allowed to deny a king? Was even a king to her? 

Beckett hesitated, like he wanted to say something, but thought better of it.

The pair stepped outside, the cold air assaulting Clara’s skin. Hopefully it would shock some sense into her numb brain and she wouldn’t say anything stupid. 

“Where are we going?” she asked softly. 

Beckett thought for a moment. “There’s a spot on the roof that no one will be able to find us. I’ve used it with Alys a couple of times.”

Clara felt more heat rising to her cheeks. 

Beckett stumbled. “Not, uh, not that way. It just always seems that people are looking for me, so I needed a private place to talk.” 

“Does it involve scaling the castle walls?” 


Clara turned to him, searching in his eyes for the boy she used to know. The prince couldn’t be dead, because if he was, then Clara didn’t know the young man in front of her at all. 

“Then I’ll race you to the top,” Clara murmured, praying that he was still in there. 

Beckett shoved her backwards, a grin splitting his face. “You don’t even know where we’re going-”

But she was already darting ahead of him, bolting for the wall of the castle. Her fingers dug into the grooves between the stones, screaming from strain and unuse. Beckett grumbled something as he scurried up the wall beside her, probably worried about his robes or something. 

She barely managed to slide onto the roof before he did, her feet slipping on the slick tiles. Her stupid dress was getting in the way and her dizziness certainly wasn’t helping matters. 

Beckett turned to the left and began running with his arms extended to the bell tower that overlooked the courtyard. 

Clara hurried after him, though admittedly slower than she would’ve liked. Her chest heaved with every step and she wondered when she’d lost her childlike fitness. Apparently she hadn’t climbed enough castles lately. 

“What took you so long?” Beckett asked when she finally caught up to him. 

“Not all of us spend our free time scaling walls,” Clara said through labored breaths, noting that Beckett looked exhausted too and taking satisfaction in it. 

“Free time? Never heard of it,” Beckett mumbled. He waved her forward. “C’mon, there’s a little nook over here.”

He led her around to the other side of the bell tower. A tiny stone arch formed an indent in the cement under the bell, a space probably meant for some kind of mural or maybe an emergency ladder. It was rather shallow, but large enough that both Clara and Beckett could fit comfortably. 

True to his word, the nook blocked the wind and Clara found herself shivering much less than before. 

The silence was deafening. Had there really been a time when they’d been able to converse as naturally as siblings? Clara wanted to start a conversation, but nothing she wanted to say seemed right. 

It was Beckett who finally broke the silence. “So … How have you been?” 

A dark laugh burst from her lips and Clara tucked her knees to her chest. “That’s it? That’s all you have to say?”

Beckett frowned. “What do you mean?” 

“I don’t know,” Clara said with a shrug. “We haven’t seen each other in years. Actually, one of the last times we had a real conversation was when you told me that … that Emmeline was gone. It just doesn’t feel right.” 

You’ve ruined it, Clara’s mind grumbled. Her first time talking to him in years and she’d already blown it. 

“I suppose you’re right,” Beckett sighed, mimicking Clara’s position. “I … I just don’t remember how it used to be between us. That time at the ball, I think we both just threatened each other. And the time that you came to rescue Emmeline and Newt, I think you said you wanted to kill me. The time before that was a goodbye.” 

Clara smiled to herself. “Good times, good times.” 

“I don’t know, I think I liked it a lot better when we could actually talk to each other without fighting,” Beckett said, his lips twisting into a sorrowful grin. “And look at us now - we have nothing to talk about except memories.” 

She didn’t know what to tell him. Make small talk? She could say that Delilah was doing well, but Beckett wouldn’t even know who that was. She could tell him that Niko was now her second in command of the Sprite Hunters and that his pickpocketing skills had found better use in using a crossbow. She could offer up the juicy details of Gwen’s life with Karli at the inn. But nothing seemed adequate. 

“Tell me about you,” Beckett offered, a futile attempt at conversation. “How are the hunters?” 

Clara shrugged, finding no interesting response. “Same as always, I suppose. Without the goddesses, we’ve had less children joining. Apparently, parents like it when their kids aren’t Cursed.” 

Beckett didn’t have a response to that, so Clara continued, “What about you?”

“Same as always,” he repeated with another sigh. “Mostly paperwork and occasionally a public appearance. Every time I think I’m getting somewhere, something else comes up and all my progress ceases.” 

She wished she could relate, but changing the Sprite Hunters to better reflect the new kingdom had been relatively easy. With the help of Gwen, she and the hunters had successfully rebuilt Emmeline’s old village. The hunters now called the beautiful place home. 

“And Newt?” Beckett asked. “Have you heard from him at all?” 

Clara shook her head. “Not even a letter. Ever since he ran away…” 

She didn’t need to finish her statement. After murdering the goddesses, Newt had vanished. He hadn’t returned for the burials or their final farewell, and apparently not even for the coronation. 

Beckett bit his lip. “I hope he’s okay.”

“He’s resourceful,” Clara managed to choke out. “I’m sure he’s fine.” She knew she was lying, but Beckett didn’t need to be reminded of his guilt in the matter. 

“I suppose,” Beckett agreed but he didn’t sound so sure. 

More silence. The tension between them was practically tangible, and whatever chocolate Clara had consumed wasn’t doing her stomach any favors. Don’t puke on the king. 

“I’ve been thinking about … about this, lately,” Beckett finally said. “About us.

“Oh?” She couldn’t keep the curiosity from her voice, but dread was already twisting her gut into knots. 

Beckett nodded once. “I … I miss what we were, Clara, but the problem is I don’t know what that is.” 

“We were friends,” Clara replied, a little more forcefully than she’d meant to. “Really, really close friends.” 

Beckett dropped his head so it rested on his knees. “I know that, but I don't remember it. Baelle twisted my mind with her magic to make me think you all were against me. She poisoned me, Clara, and I don’t know what’s real.”

A lump of cold, hard rock sank to the bottom of her stomach and she realized it was her heart. “I’m … I’m sorry, Beck. I didn’t realize that this was bringing up bad memories-”

“They’re not bad,” Beckett assured her, wincing at his own words. “I mean, they are, but Alys has helped me figure out that they weren’t real. My memories are still there, but it’s like looking through tinted glass. I see us fighting, but my heart tells me that’s not true.” 

“We did fight,” Clara said, the words bitter on her tongue. “But it was mostly joking. I don’t know what I can tell you to make any of this better.” 

“Tell me we were friends,” he whispered. “Tell me what we meant to each other, so I can know if my longing is real.” 

His longing? Bile rose in her throat. Clara hadn’t realized that his heart begged for her just as her’s did for him. “It’s been so long, Beck, and we’re not the same people. Both of us have changed.” 

He closed his eyes, his face an emotionless mask. Clara’s heart throbbed. 

“I want to believe that we can become who we once were,” she continued, tears burning at the corners of her eyes. “But I don’t think we can, Beck. Maybe we can be friends, maybe it’ll turn into something more. I just don’t want to spend the rest of my life trying to rekindle a flame that burned out a long time ago.”

The words hurt her as much as she knew they were tearing into him. She could feel their claws sinking into her skin. 

“You’re right,” Beckett said, his eyes still closed despite the tears leaking down his cheeks. “Goddesses, Clara, I know that you’re right. So why does it hurt so much?”

She huddled closer to him, feeling his pulse humming at her touch. Her arms wrapped around him, an embrace that was foreign and familiar, the unknown and the home, all in one. “I don’t know, Beck, I only wish that it didn’t.” 

They sat like that as the minutes ticked by, and Clara wondered if the world was broken, or if it was just her. 

She had Finn and he had Alys and maybe that was the way the world worked. Maybe it offered you something incredible, something so beautiful that you eventually couldn’t live without it, and then it stole it back. A cruel cycle of breaking and building and then collapsing all over again. 

“I wish I wasn’t the king,” Beckett murmured. “I wish that you and I were born into good families and then we grew up as friends and that it didn’t have to be this way.” 

She knew he was asking why they had to part ways when it was clear that there was something still festering between them. Clara didn’t know how to tell him that she would never be able to forgive for what he’d done. That this would be a permanent wedge between them. A wall that could never be torn down. 

“I was never destined to live in a castle,” she whispered. “But you were, Beck, and you’ll make a great king with Alys at your side.”

“I wish it was you,” he said. 

She almost said that she wished it was too, but apparently her mind was four steps ahead of her. Her fingers strayed to his head, turning him until he faced her. She pressed her lips to his, felt him kiss her back. 

And when she finally pulled back, Beckett was blushing furiously. 

There had been nothing. No spark, no love. Clara felt her own cheeks flaming through her tears. 

“Is this the end?” he whispered, pressing his fingers to his lips in disbelief. “Are you going to leave me with this, Clara? Will you spare us both the pain?” His voice cracked as he buried his face in his knees. 

“I’m leaving, Beck, but it’s not the end. Just because we can’t be a … a thing doesn’t mean we can’t be friends. I’ll send you letters and I’ll come and visit you from time to time, but …” She couldn’t bring herself to finish. If she still had her Blessing, maybe she could’ve mended their broken hearts, but her magic was gone. “One day, it won’t hurt so much.” 

“Do you really think so?”

“I do,” Clara nodded. Her mind drifted to Finn. She wasn’t sure what her feelings were for him yet, nor did she need to figure it out right away. “We don’t have to be broken, Beck, we can start over.” The pain was still fresh, a dull, mild throb. She knew it wouldn’t fade, not yet. But one day, maybe, she would heal. 

He lifted his head and offered a tiny smile. “Hi, I’m Beckett.” 

“Clara.” She held out her hand, but instead of shaking it, Beckett wrapped his pinky around her’s and squeezed. “So, do you know any good jokes?”

Forrest tried to set sail on six different occasions, but every time something found a way to halt his progress. 

The first time, his sail was torn into two pieces, delaying his journey by a week. 

Then his crew caught a bad case of the rain season flu, and once again, his departure was set back. 

And then was Rae and Morgan’s funerals, which Forrest couldn’t bear to miss, despite the fact that they were to be held in the Crossover Forrest, which meant several long days of travel. 

Once he’d returned, Beckett had offered him a position as a knight, and Forrest was unwilling to disappoint so he joined the royal guard for a few years. 

When he’d finally convinced Beckett to let him leave, he was forced to undergo a search for Newt after a mysterious murder of the lord and lady of Dinrali. Three long months later with no lead, Forrest reluctantly passed the search on to his successor. 

The sixth time, Forrest was sure he’d be able to leave, but then came Calli and Margo’s wedding, which he also refused to miss. 

Maybe the goddesses were dead, but Forrest was beginning to wonder if this was a sign. 

The past month had been spent asking himself if he really wanted to risk this and if he really wanted to leave. Was it the destination he sought, or the adventure? It was during that time that he realized that he belonged here, not whatever places lay beyond the water. 

And now, sitting on the docks with Bethany with their legs dangling over the edge and the cool water kissing their toes, Forrest was at war with himself once again. 

This time over entirely different matters. 

With Forrest scheduled for yet another departure the next morning, the sun was sinking far too quickly. His original eagerness for exploration dissipated, leaving him with an empty numbness. The intrigue of foreign lands seemed inconsequential compared to the memories he had of this kingdom. 

“What’s wrong?” Bethany asked, startling him out of his thoughts. 

Forrest blinked. “What do you mean? I’m perfectly fine, Beth.” 

She scoffed. “You’re not only terrible at hiding when you’re troubled, but you’re an awful liar too.” When he failed to respond, something softened in her expression. “C’mon, Forrest, something is bothering you. Is it about tomorrow?”

“Obviously,” Forrest sighed, the word bitter on his tongue. He glanced at Bethany, her bronze hair shining in the dying sunlight. “I … I don’t know if I want to leave anymore.” 

“Okay, then don’t,” Bethany offered simply. 

Forrest laughed, but there was no humor in it. “It’s not that easy, and besides, I thought you really wanted to go.” 

“Maybe I did, at one point,” Bethany admitted. Her lips pulled into a frown. “And maybe a small part of me still wants to, but … I don’t know, I guess I just think that sailing the seas isn’t my call to adventure anymore.” 

“So then what calls you?”

Bethany gave a nonchalant shrug, her pale gaze fixed on the horizon. “I haven’t figured it out yet, but is there really any rush?” 

“You’re fine with not leaving, then,” Forrest clarified, feeling as though a weight had been lifted off of his chest. If Bethany was willing to abandon adventure, maybe he could sell his ship and crew to some more decisive explorer and be done with the whole thing. 

“It was never about leaving, Forrest,” Bethany murmured. “I wasn’t going to run off for the thrill of it, I was going for you.” 

The flames of blush licked at his cheeks and Forrest averted his gaze. 

Five years of this … this tangible thing between the two of them. It was something he couldn’t give a name to, because it wasn’t what he’d had with Coral. This was different. Closer, in a way, than he and Coral had ever been. He kept telling himself they were just friends. Good friends. Really, really good friends who could almost never be seen without each other. Who ate dinner together at fancy taverns and shared a house and… 

Five years, a tiny voice in his head whispered. Five years you’ve done nothing.

Five years of Bethany flirting with him. Five years of him pretending to be oblivious because it felt like betraying Coral’s memory. Five years of a different beast in his chest. 

She was more beautiful than any goddess, fiercer than any warrior. And the fact that they’d been friends for five years seemed like a sign of good luck because everyone else he’d cared for was dead. Maybe that thing in his chest was some sort of love.

“Nothing to say to that?” Bethany grumbled under her breath. “Of course not. Why should I expect anything different?” She was on her feet a moment later, arms crossed as she stormed away. 

“Wait,” Forrest cried out, scrambling after her. 

Bethany spun to face him, her hair a liquid bronze and her freckles like the constellations that dotted the night sky. His heart squeezed. 

“I’m tired of waiting,” Bethany said. “It’s obvious we don’t-”

Forrest sank to one knee, his hand dropping to the small string that had been tucked against his chest, burning against his skin. He withdrew the makeshift necklace, a tiny ring fastened on the end of the string. 

He’d asked Finn to color the gem the same shade as Bethany’s eyes, an icy blue that he knew by heart. 

“Bethany.” His voice was barely a whisper, choked with emotion. “Will you be my call to adventure?” 

He nearly lost his grip on the ring as Bethany flung herself at him, her former anger forgotten. Forrest pressed his lips to hers, passion igniting through his limbs and setting him on fire. She curled into him and Forrest relished in the heat that blossomed where they touched. She was ice and fire rolled into one, a warrior and a lover. 

“Yes,” Bethany answered, pulling away for just a moment. “A thousand times, yes.” 

And when they pulled into an embrace again, all Forrest could picture was the family he’d imagined he’d never have. First his Curse, and then Coral’s loss - he’d never imagined he would be able to have people to call his own. 

He slipped the ring onto Bethany’s finger, the thing in his chest purring with delight. 

With her at his side, he knew he would be whole again. 

There were rumors of a creature in Dinrali that sailed the River of Death. 

No one could agree on what it looked like. Some said it was paler than the moon while others claimed it never removed its hooded cloak. All they knew was that it rode a small, wooden rowboat illuminated with a single, silver lantern. 

Some said it called out at night, a single forlorn note that haunted the mountains. Others said it shouted an unintelligible name, over and over again, as though it was searching for someone it couldn’t find. 

The only thing the rumors could agree on was that it escorted the dead. 

With the goddesses gone, someone has to do it, they argued. 

Legends claimed that it helped lost souls cross to whatever laid on the other side of life. They called it the Reaper. 

Maybe it was searching for someone, hoping to escort them to the afterlife. Maybe it was simply whatever remained of the goddesses’ power. Maybe, just maybe, it had been a person once. 

Whatever the creature was, it didn’t seem to age. Its back never bent and the pale skin of its humanlike hands never shrivelled. 

Mysterious sources declared that they’d seen the king with the creature, conversing with it in low tones. They said that the king had recently lost his beautiful wife and was negotiating the terms of her departure. 

A lonely job, they said. Surely the job of escorting souls would grow weary eventually, right? But as decades passed, the creature did not disappear. 

The king returned to the river every time it was said that one of his friends passed away. 

The death of his loyal knight, of his alleged mistress - they beckoned the king to the land of the dead. And with every visit of the king, the creature’s song grew more desperate. 

And as the king grew older, more frail, he begged to be taken to the river one last time. 

The people said that the creature helped the king into his boat, offering that pale hand. They said that the king embraced the creature like they were old friends, finally reunited. 

Rumor had it that when the boat finally disappear into the mist, the creature personally led the king to the land beyond, and with its duty fulfilled, the silver light winked out on the boat.

© 2022 A.L.

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Added on February 19, 2022
Last Updated on February 19, 2022
Tags: blessed, cursed, adventure, goddesses, sword, love, death, betrayal, kingdom, kingdoms, war, castle, magic, reading, writing, prince, king, queen, royalty



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