I am the queen of sometimes. Sometimes I am a wife. Sometimes I am a spy. It just depends on what time of day you catch me.
There is a story that sits in the back of my head, and I remind myself of it every time I lie down to sleep. It is the story that recounts everything I had, and everything I lost. It is not the story you know, about war and love. You believe in the tale of Catherine of the Willows, a part fae who fell in love with Edward de Vere, Captain of the King’s Guards. You al-ready are nodding, you know the story like you know your own face in the mirror. It’s been told to you thousands of times. Catherine and Edward fell in love. They married despite their love being forbidden. And then, when the story should have ended with everyone having their happily ever after, the unthinkable happened. Catherine was chosen to take the fae throne. And with that, came a terrible decision. She could keep her mundane life, her marriage, or she could sacrifice her identity and become the Sapphire Queen of the Fae.
She sacrificed. And as she rose, Edward fell. Tossed aside, he became the tragic hero.
Here is the truth, if you would have it. There were three men who were like brothers: an inventor, a pirate, a romantic; warriors all. And there was a woman, Avriel, neither all fae nor all human, and she lived between the worlds of the human and fae courts. Avriel was the one who enchanted Edward, Avriel was the one he wed, and everything should have been the happily ever after of the stories: flowers and sunshine and perfection.
So why don’t you remember it this way? I don’t know. No one remembers. They know of these three men – Edward de Vere, and Merrick d’Marison, and Stephan d’Valerian, and all the things they did. They sometimes remember the woman – me, Avriel, now a background character in a much grander story. But no one remembers the truth. In one brief moment everything’s changed, and I do not know how, or why.
All I know is that Edward, my husband and the love of my life, does not remember who I am. But that is not as bad as it would seem. For, you see, except for three blessed hours each day, from nine until midnight, I don’t remember him, either. Or, to be more precise, I don’t remember that he was once mine. He’s just an attractive soldier who once was the Captain of the King’s Guard but now fell from grace, and all I can do is hide in the shadows and long for him.
Each time the clock chimes nine, I remember what it was like to taste his kisses, to have him lean close and whisper in my ear, to fight by his side. I remember what it was like to be powerful and in control of my destiny, to have friends who respected me.
It used to hurt, the remembering. At first it would paralyze me. I used to think I was mad. I would sit in my room and stare at the wall, wondering what to do. There was no one to talk to, to turn to. Everyone had been taken from me.
Oh, I cannot lie. It still does hurt. But I force it away, and instead I consider the day behind me, and the day ahead of me, and I take out some paper and write down some notes. They are different, depending on what needs to be accomplished. I place each note where I will see it in the morning, out of sight of the mirror, because there is a fae courtier who controls me, who can see through mirrors, and who would not allow me to proceed.
One step at a time. We will solve this. I will have my life back.
The Dragon Room was near the old gates. Many years ago this was the main palace entrance, away from the open front of the river. Envoys and courtiers alike once had to travel around a grand sweep of the road that was now the gardens. The architecture here looked older, marble giving way to wood paneling, wood giving way to stone. Some attempts, here and there, had been made to bring the interior up to modern tastes. But by the time Avriel got to the former front gates – tall, elaborately carved dark oak and iron panels opening into a hall with a sweeping double staircase – it was evident that the palace decorators had given up on the idea of change.
She looked down into that grand hall as she passed, running her hand along the ornate stone railing. The doors to the outside had not been opened in so long that the hinges and bolts looked rusted. They were closed and locked tight the day the dragon egg was carted into the main hall and up these stairs, to be stored securely behind another set of massive wood and iron bound doors, which she approached now.
A pair of King’s Guards kept stations on either side of the door. The one on the left gave her a smile of recognition and bowed his head. His partner regarded her more suspiciously, probably checking for weapons. The heat that came out of the room was intense. It hit Avriel full in the face as she stepped in. She took a deep breath, the hot, damp air settling into her lungs.
The egg was centered in a pool of light, and it shimmered oddly, changing colors – more like a large opal than a carrier of life. Like all things made by the fae, the eternal light pouring over the egg seemed purposely designed to make everything it touched more beautiful.
Avriel walked around the egg. Its slightly translucent sheen made her fancy that she could see the dragon inside, curled up around itself, waiting to rise. But she knew that was only a trick of light.
As she circled, she noticed a man seated on one of the two benches in the depths of the room. Her breath caught as she came to a stop near him. Edward de Vere, former Comte, former husband of the Queen of the Fae. The one Catherine betrayed for the sake of her power, thus ending the greatest love story of all times.
He rose as she approached. Of course, a proper gentleman would never sit in the presence of a lady. She searched her suddenly empty head for something to say.
He was tall, her head just reaching the top of his shoulder. Not perfect, by any means. His hair was a little too long to be in fashion and his beard was in need of trimming along the edges. But his eyes – oh. Green, expressive, they held a melancholy even when he smiled, a melancholy that made the ladies swoon even as they vied to elicit a real smile from him. Avriel felt regret when they shifted away from her face to regard the egg, his expression unreadable in the red-gold light. She shifted her gaze too, to his black gloved hands folded over where his sword belt should be. Of course he would have left his sword with the guards outside. No weapons were allowed in here.
“It is beautiful, isn’t it?” His voice was like the semi-darkness they stood in: deep, unfathomable, warm.
Now is the time I prove that I am not a brainless idiot fawning over a handsome man. “It is.” She took a breath. “The colors are magnificent... unearthly.”
“Indeed,” was all he said, leaving her casting around in her head again for something that might pass for an intelligent reply.
“They say you are the one who found it.” It felt as if she was dancing delicately around the edges of something. Trying to remind him of one of his greatest triumphs, hoping she did not remind him of the failure that followed.
She was rewarded with a quick flash of a grin. “That I did, I and my friends. But you know that tale, I am sure.” He stepped toward her, and now, in the golden light, she could finally see his face clearly. Tired, but his expression was kindly.
This was Edward de Vere, she reminded herself again. The star of the greatest of all love stories. He could not regard her, a plain little bird, with anything more than kindness.
But why ever not? She smiled up at him, confident and sweet. “I would not mind hearing the story from the person who was actually there. The bards embellish so much, one does not know what is truth and what is embroidery.”
He smiled at that. “Perhaps. I...” He paused, looked at the egg again, then stepped back into the inky red darkness at the edge of the room and bowed.
“Perhaps it is best to leave such things for the bards. Forgive me, Mi’lady. I am late for an appointment.”
He walked to the stone bench he’d been sitting at, and she realized that he had not left his sword outside after all. Perhaps they allowed him to keep it if he promised to put it aside?
As he buckled his belt and swept his cloak around his shoulders, he said, “I shall tell you, though, to take care. They say staring at the egg for too long makes a person mad.” And with that, he put his hat back on his head, and left the room.
Avriel looked at the egg, then back at the now empty doorway. “Well, I feel like an idiot,” she told the egg. The egg, of course, didn’t answer. But then, she always felt like an idiot when it concerned Edward de Vere.