* * *
“How?” I cried. “How can this be?” I offered up my hands to Elias, trembling, awed and terrified. “Have you been reborn?” I breathed. “My brother, you–”
“Shhh,” he whispered, shaking his head. He offered out his hand, and I took it without hesitation. He drew me close, and walked me to the center of the dais, then bid me look up. “There,” he said quietly. “There is the sky, Elodie.”
I could not feel a thing but gratitude as I lifted my eyes. I smiled up at the moon’s home, and felt tears running down my cheeks. “Thank you,” I whispered, turning to look at him. “Thank y–”
The mark at the back of his neck, the tattoo that he bore from the moments after his birth… The tattoo that should have matched mine…
I was so confused, so caught in the sudden realization of the betrayal I nearly didn’t see the knife. When I turned away, shifted to put my hands to my face, to shove my fist in my mouth to drown the cry that wanted to bubble up from somewhere in the ragged middle of me, I saw the blade.
I met the eyes of the madman who had been my brother’s undoing.
My dance with Kellis was short, swift, and without hesitation.
I loved him, but not as much as I had loved my brother, and when he fell, and the guards and Her Majesty rose as one, I leapt from his body to that of the Prince, and wrapped myself around him, putting the knife to his slim throat. “AWAY!” My voice rose in fury and desperation. “I will not falter!”
The Prince in my arms did not fight or tremble; he stayed quite still.
“You would not dare,” Her Majesty hissed. “He is all you have left of your brother.”
“He is all you have left of my brother,” I snapped back. “But he is also half made of you, and our land does not need one fibre more of you. Not one more breath. You let me pass. You will let me pass, with money, with food, with clothes, with a horse, and when I am well and away and clear of the borders, I will release him.”
“You have broken promises before, Elodie,” she said unhappily.
“I will swear it on Elias’s name,” I said easily enough, shaking as I held to the young man tightly. “I do not wish ill of his son, but I will win this fight.”
She saw what was either determination or desperation in my expression, and bid the guards bring me what I’d asked for. While half of them did that, the other half picked up and carried away Kellis’s body. I saw, with a pang of regret, the way his boyish face finally looked peaceful — he seemed more himself in death than he did when I saw him for such brief moments in the last twenty years.
The Autumn Queen watched him go, and turned to look at me, venom in her green eyes. “I do not know what you think has happened here, but you haven’t won anything,” she said icily. “Not from me.”
I did not answer her; my brother’s son and I mounted the swift horse I had been given and rode away.
I did not look back.
* * *