By Autumn Faery
Synopsis: Since Flauvic's defeat, Mel has suffered a near-death experience and tragic memory loss. Now it's up to her and her loved ones to re-shape her shattered life. Amidst it all, a certain Marquis of Shevraeth seems to baffle her more than anything.
Yet those are not Mel's only troubles. Late at night, when she's alone and strangely drained, Flauvic seems more alive than ever.
Is he really gone?
And why is Mel's newly recovered health declining?
Disclaimer: Of course, only a genius like Sherwood Smith can create Crown Duel. Obviously, I'm no genius. Thus, nothing in this fanfiction belongs to me except for the plot and a few insignificant original characters.
And my thanks to: Wake-Robin, who's going to beta-read this story!
The cool blade felt sharp and foreboding against my neck. Do not burden Vidanric, I repeated to myself, trying hard to maintain my calm despite the shivers of alarm racing through me.
Flauvic's breath against my ear was moist as he whispered almost inaudibly, "Dear foolish, foolish Meliara. You've never quite learned the art of evading maladroit choices, have you? For your transgressions you shall pay."
My breaths became raspy struggles, my heart pounding, as Flauvic pressed his mouth against my ear. I could feel his lips curve in a smirk as he increased the pressure of his knife against my skin.
Drops of warm blood rolled down my neck.
A choked gasp suddenly escaped my throat, and I miserably berated myself for my lack of control. Biting my lips hard, I sought to compose myself as my neck stung as if thousand needles were prickling me, my body aflame with bouts of agony.
Flauvic laughed—a pleasant, musical laugh so malicious in its deceit.
The smooth sound of a blade ripped from its sheath brought my attention from the villainous man beside me. Sword steady in hand and forehead frowned in concentration, Vidanric advanced towards us. In response, Flauvic tightened his hold and pulled me back from Vidanric's proceeding steps.
"How does it feel, Meliara? How does it feel to die?" Flauvic quickly questioned, his voice purposely loud and cutting. Vidanric's eyes darkened to a storm.
Oh no. Flauvic, you toad, I though with menace as I raked my head for a good retort, you are not going to use me against Vidanric!
"Actually, it feels quite wonderful, for I am utterly enveloped with satisfaction to see you defeated," I finally managed, sending a grim smile of assurance in Vidanric's direction. The intoxicating auras of magic in the throne room were unmistakable; the Hill Folk were in Athanarel—to our rescue. Just a little longer. Brace up.
True to my words, the ground soon shook thunderously. Flauvic suddenly screamed and I was released from his grip, tumbling unceremoniously to the ground with the knife next to me in a clatter. I could do nothing for a moment but lie sprawled on the ground and recollect myself.
Then, amidst the chaos, strong but gentle arms encircled me and carefully lifted me from the ground. I looked up and saw Vidanric's concerned face and tried to give him a reassuring smile. By now the world was whirling around me; I felt dull and lightheaded. Flashes of blurry light glared in every direction of my vision, and I flung my head to Vidanric's chest just in time to see Flauvic fling a handful of green light toward us.
I clung to Vidanric and closed my eyes, bracing myself.
I slowly reopened my eyes and realized the Hill Folk had formed a circle around Flauvic, chanting in unison. A spell? A song? It sounded like both. My vision was getting steadily worse, but I think Flauvic's body began to deform; he seemed to stretch considerably, his golden hair streaming, as the building shook with deafening booms and cracks.
What happened next I could not clearly see; nothing except for a mixture of bright lights flashed through the throne room, and there it was: a magnificent goldwood tree where Flauvic had once stood.
I inhaled sharply, blinking. Can it be true? Is it truly over? Either I had just witnessed a great miracle—or I had gone mad. Sane or insane, I hoped with all my heart that the Merindar threat was over.
Behind me, Vidanric uttered a shuddering a sigh of relief and I turned around to face him. Gazing dazedly at him, I saw that his court mask was not present. There instead were ardent eyes and a gently smiling countenance as he bent down to gently caress my face with his lips. I sighed in content and rested my head against his chest.
The patterns of his tunic swarmed and my head throbbed viciously. I grimaced, and then shut my eyes.
"Meliara," I heard faintly.
Humm? I doggedly forced open my heavy eyelids. Vidanric's eyebrows were tense and grim as he gazed searchingly at me.
"Wha—don—worr—" I mumbled incoherently. What's wrong with me?
"Mel! Life!" This time I caught the sharp worry of his voice. "You're as pallor as snowstone! Mel—burn it!—can you hear me at all? Mel?" My head warbled—he was shaking me frantically.
Then it hit me, and the black realization suddenly made my stomach reel and my eyes sting with tears.
I am to die after all, then.
Vidanric. I desperately wanted to say something—anything. I wanted to tell him how much he sounded like Bran just that moment, and how it was the first time I heard such sharp alarm in his voice instead of his usual emotionless drawl. I wanted to tell him how much I had always secretly cared for him, though he knew not, and how much I would always continue to love him. Yet my lips did not heed my wish; I could not utter a sound as my vision faded … and finally blackened.
The last of Vidanric's anxious voice drifted away.
"The knife. It was poisoned—and perhaps the animosity does not even end there."
What was that? My mind was hazy. There had been nothingness … until the flat, tightly controlled voice brought me to some consciousness—from what?
"THAT SON OF A CONVENANT BREAKER!" I felt my head pound from the sheer volume of the raw outburst. Most probably a different speaker, I reasoned as I contrasted the two voices, the former controlled and stiff while the latter passionately angry.
The second speaker continued fervently, "Burn it! I say this world's about to end—all the reason's gone from it! If anyone deserves to die, it'd be that skunk out there happily being a tree! Meliara"—the voice cracked and broke—"Mel is too young, too honest, too good, too"—a ruthful noise that sounded like a broken chuckle—"foolishly noble and heroic and selfless to suffer such a nasty fate—oh life, I'll never have peace of mind after this. She … she's best sister anyone would want; I won't bear the thought of losing her."
Though what I heard next sounded curiously like discrete sniffles, the atmosphere turned to a grim and solemn silence.
And then, so gently tentative: "Bran, look at me. Compose yourself. Mel is not going to leave us. You know her—probably will wake this instant and retort, "since when am I going to die without a fight?" Let us have faith." I instant liked this speaker—whose mild and sweet tones betrayed her as a female—and her sensible words. "Come, let us get you something hot to eat; what use will you be to her if you wear yourself out? Danric? Something to drink?"
"Coffee. Thank you, Nee," the very voice that initially jerked me to awareness replied in a strained, tired tone.
After that brief exchange, silence dominated once more. My senses began to feel murky, but I thought I felt a hand stroking my forehead as I slowly slipped away into nothingness again.
Rays of warmth—it was my first clear registration when I somehow commanded my heavy eyelids to open. I was immersed in tender saffron streaming from two wide windows, which revealed the serene dawn-lit sky outside. Birds chirped, and my cheeks felt the gentle brush of the breeze. Enthralling scents around me brought my attention to the numerous flower arrangements placed around my bed.
Surges of joy of bubbled inside me. No more darkness! I thought with ecstasy, taking in all the beauty and light and—
There was a man fast asleep in a cushion by my bedside—an unknown man. Dressed in a plain tunic and breeches, it was impossible to guess his rank or identity.
I tried to squash my initial desire to just jolt out of bed and run out croaking, and examined his appearance. His face was slender and elegant, with a wide and expressive mouth and a straight, noble nose. His hair was silvery blond, and was held back simply in the plainest of styles. Yet what struck out the most to me was his troubled countenance: his forehead was faintly wrinkled in a somber frown, and the corners of his mouth were tense and grim.
My confusion furthered when I became vaguely aware of intense pressure around my hand. My glance diverted from the man, and I realized his was holding my hand in a death-grip, his knuckles pale.
And … there was something … hazily familiar about him. But when I tried to reason why, my head ached splendidly. I winced.
My gaze trailed back to the man's face—and suddenly found provocative gray eyes looking intently at me.
Strange as it was, we seemed to stare at each other for eternity. I couldn't pull my gaze from his silvery ones—and he just plainly seemed to have frozen.
Then, as sudden as his awakening, his face broke into a heart-warming smile, his stormy eyes suddenly so emotional it nearly overwhelmed me.
"Mel!" he sighed in a raw voice, and before I knew it, I was crushed in his embrace, with his hands stroking my back.
Those same hands trailed to my face and tentatively traced my features, as if he was not sure of my existence. He leaned in close, so close I was smote by the intensity of those light eyes. My eyelids fluttered shut …
"Life! Mel—Mel!" With a startled jerk, I turned towards the direction of the sudden voice and saw a man clad in noble attire sprinting in, followed by a woman of similar finesse. "Oh, you're really going to be all right! Thank the stars! You've been unconscious for so long, I thought I had gone quite mad when— "
He paused, gawking at me.
Blissful ignorance only last a moment before I realized I was still very much locked intimately with the unknown pale-haired man. Heat rushed to my face, and I found myself coughing and coughing until I was positive I'd die from the lack of air.
Both the lord and the lady were immediately by my bedside, making noises of comfort and patting me on the back. "There, there. No need to look as if you've been caught in an act of debauchery. Proud to announce that I've saw that one coming, Sister!"
My head was now a frenzy of splitting pain, my mind in uproar, as the lord and lady took their turns to embrace me. A grunt of misery escaped my throat, and I cradled my poor head.
"Have I hurt you Mel?" the man who called me Sister immediately exclaimed. "Should I call a healer?"
"That won't be necessary, my lord," I managed to croak back.
The man had the audacity to laugh with surprise. "My lord? Mel, perhaps you need more rest? Or maybe it'll be good go get that heal—"
"Why? I said I'm fine!" I found myself interrupting sharply, all my frustration seeping into my voice. "Why a healer? And why all this treatment, as if I was … dead?"
I ignored the soft, horrified inquiry from the woman, and continued on, "What am I doing here? What are you doing here?"
I glanced slowly at them, one by one. Faces full of confusion, concern, and fear. Faces I did not know.
"Who are you?"
I heard a choked gasp, and everything became silent.
And finally: "Stars … I don't even know who I am." My chest dulled and sickened as I choked out a broken cough. Something wet plopped on my clenched fists.
Glancing down, I realized I was crying.
AN: Yay! Congrats! You've just gotten through the first chapter, which hopefully you've enjoyed. And you now have a chance to make my day if you simply press the review button below--come on, be nice, you know we authors need reviews as much as we need food and sleep--and submit your feedback! I don't even care what you write; you can threaten to put arsenic in my tea for all I care. So yeah. Review. And of course, read on.