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The clatter of falling vessels was loud as the maids crashed into the walls, making way for the queen to run past them. The din had finally stopped when the library doors swung open and the panting queen’s shadow fell upon the man sitting at the desk in the centre, surrounded by shelves of books.
She watched him stand up and bow slightly, awaiting her words.
“Why did you allow him to leave?”
The accusation was flung across to the tall man at the desk who didn’t even flinch, but slowly held out his hand to offer the queen a seat.
Striding through shelves of books, manuscripts and legendary articles, Arderine took the proffered seat with poise, her expression still furious.
“He just lost his daughter. Twice. Did you not think of that? Did you not question his psychological state? That man is the best scientist this world has seen. Did you not see fit to console him, as a friend?”
Nick, who had shut his mouth as soon as he had been interrupted, raised his head at the last question.
“What consolation would you offer to such a man?
Would you tell him you were sorry? When you were the one that suggested her life be used to save Aurora’s? Would he want to hear comforting words?
There is a pain when someone close to you is taken away, that is when a person seeks consolation. Maya wasn’t taken away, she was murdered, brutally, by the darkness. No amount of consolation would do any good.
I have no doubt that Quesios is the foremost scientist of your time, that, he proved to me when he came here last night.
As for his psychological state, my queen, I dare say he was doing better than you are now.”
The words were said in a deceptively calm voice, but they were meant to strike like arrows and they hurt Arderine more than she had imagined.
Quesios had been one of the constants in her life, after her mother had martyred, he had taught her to keep the city alive and well, doing whatever he could to aid her.
In a softer voice, he continued, “Quesios was here all through yesterday evening. There were things he needed to do, events that he had to set in motion before it was too late. His task is difficult, but it must be done.”
“Why didn’t he come to me then, why did he have to go to you? Am I not dependable enough, did he not trust me?”
She had no idea why she was saying this to him. He was just someone who appeared in their garden a few days ago. But he had answers to questions she didn’t even understand. Maya was gone, Quesios was missing and Aurora was in the Saludom, lying on a bed, wounded. Her world had turned upside down in the span of a few weeks.
A slight noise brought her out of her thoughts and she realised that Nick was holding out a piece of cloth. She took it and he turned his head respectfully as she dried the tears that had made their way down her face.
“There are two types of trust, my lady.”
His face still turned, he continued, the attention of the queen solely on him
“One, which is explicit. It must be conveyed through words. The one that is just taking roots. The other, is implicit, never conveyed, just felt and understood. It’s roots run deep and strong and it cannot easily be broken”
He turned to face her,
“That, my lady, is the trust Quesios has in you. He believes from the depths of his soul, that you will hold the reins of the city even in his absence. He trusts you enough to know he need not worry about Celaver for as long as you sit upon it’s throne. He knows you well enough to hope you will understand his actions someday. He doesn’t even worry about you being lonely. Not as long as Amy follows you, going as far as to conceal herself behind the manuscripts”
The slight smile on Nick’s face had Arderine turn around, in time to see an embarrassed Amy reveal herself.
“I was worried, my lady”
Arderine’s smile set it all straight.
“Thank You”, was all she said as she led Amy outside, inquiring about the state of the harvests.
His task was far from over, though, as his eyes skimmed over the notes he and Quesios had worked on. He had a visit to make.
The Saludom was quiet when he made his way in, towards the silent girl in the bed, staring at the ceiling with her eyes open.
“How are you feeling now?”
“How is a cannibal supposed to feel after it’s meal?”
Nick closed his eyes and let out a breath, taking her hand in his, he tugged lightly, urging her to look at him, in vain.
“You are not a cannibal, Aurora. She would have died even if I hadn’t used her light. Why can’t you accept that fact.”
He placed his head on their clasped hands, guilt eating him up from the inside.
Would it have been better to just let her die, at the very least she wouldn’t have turned into this shell. He’d seen this before, in Quesios’ eyes, right after he’d lost Maya.
“Quesios doesn’t blame you, he gave his consent”, Nick mumbled, head still on their hands.
“That’s why he left?”
Nick jerked up at her words. She wasn’t supposed to know.
“Arderine has practically no sheilds right now, she’s been broadcasting it”
Now, Nick was alarmed. Arderine had her shields up when he’d seen her, she couldn’t have visited Aurora after that, meaning it had to be before, had her sheilds been down.
“Oh, I didn’t know you were here”, Arderine’s voice made him jump, “I hadn’t had the chance to visit her today so…”
“Aurora, look at me! AURORA, LOOK AT ME”
Nick’s voice had reached terrifying loudness and everyone but Aurora flinched.
The corners of her mouth pulled down, she turned her head to face him, one eye black, the other- Electric blue.
“I can feel her coursing through my veins, lending me her strength. I know what you want to do, Nick, but the part of me that’s Maya, will disappear if it succeeds. How many times would you have me see her die?”
Everyone in the room looked to Nick, who was still standing, fists clenched as realisation struck Arderine.
Would you tell him you were sorry? When you were the one that suggested her life be used to save Aurora’s?
His words in the morning came crashing into her. They were all idiots. Nick was the one who needed to be reassured. The one who had actually done the deed had been him. He had extracted Maya’s light and poured it into Aurora. He had decided that Maya couldn’t be saved, and he had been beating himself up all this while, and nobody had noticed.
The voice was Aurora’s, but it sounded strained, like someone else was channeling it through her.
The hand clasped in Nick’s bigger ones squeezed back slightly.
Aurora’s eyes closed and opened again instantly, but the fear in her eyes was obvious.
The sound of a thud had everyone refocus onto Nick, who had let himself sit on the bed.
“She will fade, Aurora. It was her fate. I can’t change what I have already done.
Time claims us all, some earlier than others. If you stayed here all your life, on this bed, mourning the death of your friend, what have you accomplished in her name? What have you done with the lease of life she gave you?
Time claims us all, but at some point, it is possible to wrestle with it, to weasel out just a little longer to live.”
One dark and one light coloured eye focused on him as he shared the last thought only with her in her mind.
The image of a spring of flowing water