White Funeral, the end
**It took me ages. I know. Hopefully you'll like it enough to forgive me for making you wait so long...**
They don't say anything about losing someone, and then being afraid of losing someone else, too, someone who over the course of just a few days has become a part of you.
We hesitate at the front door of the doctor's house. Everything is quiet, and twilight is turning the sky a streaky purple, silhouetting the buildings black and grey. But when I take the knob in my hand and lean toward the door, I hear voices coming from inside that are anything but calm.
"They've noticed our abscence," Calixto says, and offers a weak smile. "I'll go in first, if you want."
I shake my head. Suddenly I'm tired, tired, tired. But I say, "Together," and push open the door.
The voices stop. Calixto and I are standing in the front room, surrounded by people. My parents, the doctor and his wife, and-- I drop into a curtsey. Calixto's father, Lysander Vaelstan himself, is here, standing right in front of us, looking highly displeased.
He unclenches his jaw and speaks. "Calixto Celsus Vaelstan," he says, his voice flat, deviod of the emotion that plays out freely across his face.
Calixto answers in the same tone. "Yes."
"Pray explain to me where you've been all day, with her"--I drop my eyes to the floor, but I can still feel everyone staring-- "while I've been sending out search parties and thinking you've been killed or carried off."
"I apologize for frightening you," Calixto replies coldly.
"I will speak to you about this again later," Lysander says after a long pause. He presses his lips into a thin line and turns to the doctor. "My son and I will be on our way now. Thank you very much for your services."
The doctor nods mutely.
Lysander turns back to Calixto. "Come. Show everyone that you are alive and well." There is a blank space at the end of his words that says, You and I have much to discuss. He moves past us to open the front door.
Now I dare raise my eyes to meet Calixto's. He squeezes my hand, and I realize that I hadn't even noticed that our fingers were laced together.
"Good day, Miss Elsa," he whispers, and follows his father out into the street.
I am left staring after him, words spinning through my mind, things I wish I could shout after him.
"Elsa." My mother's voice. I turn, and her arms are around me. "We were worried about you. We didn't know where you'd gone."
Gone. Gone. Gone.
The word echoes in my head until it becomes nothing but an empty sound.
"Elsa, are you all right?" Mother asks.
I swallow and decide not to answer. I wonder to myself if the way I feel right now is the way my parents have been feeling all day: afraid that you might have lost someone you love.
Someone you love.
"Come on, let's get you home where you can rest." My father speaks up, covering my silence with comforting words. I nod and my parents walk on either side of me, the three of us arriving back home just as the last light fades.
They don't say anything about the reasons you would risk your life for someone you don't know.
I wake as the first rays of dawn fall in through the window. I'm still tired, but I get up anyway and soon I'm out in the Capitol streets, walking here and there and to the palace steps, all in search of Calixto. A horrible feeling is gripping me from the inside, clawing from within my ribcage, telling me that I won't find him, that things are wrong and I'm already too late to right them.
It's late afternoon by the time I give up my search, cold and weary.
I wander for a while, until I find myself at the edge of the Capitol, staring out at the hills. They're so barren, yet so wide and expansive, calling... And before I realize what I'm doing, I'm walking through them, step after step, passing gnarled trees with their creaking branches, feeling the wind push across the open space. I keep walking, the strange song of the hills filling my ears, until I come to the edge of the cliffs, the edge of the world. I listen to the pusling of waves against stone, the roar of the wind and the sea, and I think of Bronach.
Gone. Gone. Gone.
"Why?" I whisper, as though she can hear me. "Why would you do that? Why would you jump in front of the gun to save us?"
"For the same reason you took the horse's reins and brought Calixto to me."
I whirl around at the sound of the voice. And there she is, like it's nothing out of the ordinary. Her grey dress, her veil around her shoulders. I notice that she's wearing the pearl necklace I slipped over her head at her funeral. Bronach... except, not Bronach... My mind is a muddle, trying to understand what I'm seeing.
"You risked your life, then, you know," she continues.
"You're not here," I say, my heart crumpling.
She gives me a saddened look. "I see. You're going to be cynical now. Never trusting anyone, not even when they're standing right in front of you."
"Dead. Is that what you mean?" She seems to shift, waver. In one way I'll think she is Bronach, in another, the Queen. My vision blurs and refocuses, trying to understand what I'm seeing. "Dead," she repeats, but almost to herself, like she is trying to remember the meaning of the word.
"It's a dream again," I say defeatedly. "A wild dream, just like at the docks."
"Does the fact that something is a dream make it not real?" she asks.
I don't have an answer.
"I came to your aid because you needed me, the same way you saved Calixto's life because he needed you."
"Out of necessity? All this out of necessity?"
"No. Out of love, my dear."
I'm reaching out to her, grasping her outstretched hand. Solid, warm, real, alive. She smiles, vanishes. I am left grasping at the wind, the sea throbbing far below me.
They don't say anything about how quickly a stranger can become someone you can't imagine your life without.
I look up, trapped in that moment of just-awakening, one where I am not sure if I am still asleep, still dreaming.
He dismounts from the roan and comes over to me. "You're here. I was just looking for you earlier."
"I was looking for you," I say.
"I have some things to tell you," he says.
He takes off his velvet cap and looks out at the sea for a moment, and then he speaks. "My father wanted to send me away."
"Oh." I feel a now-familiar twist in my gut.
"But I told him I wouldn't go. He wanted to get me away from the Capitol, to be lord over some distant, overlooked province, where I'd be safe from 'dissidents', as he calls them." He lets out a breath. "I think he is afraid to use the word assassins."
"I think I am, too," I say.
"Elsa, he told me to find you. He told me to thank you and then say goodbye and go on my merry way and never think of you again."
"Is that what you're here to do, then?" Fear is creeping up my spine.
He shakes his head. "No. I'm not leaving."
Quite suddenly I find myself caught up in a strong embrace, and his voice in my ear says, "Not ever."
I open my eyes, feeling a rush of joy, gratefulness, relief... Over his shoulder, I think I glimpse a blurred figure in grey, holding a lily in her hand. Her lips move, echoing the same words Calixto has just spoken.
I'm not leaving. Not ever.
They don't say anything about how something can be unknowable and inexplicable yet still powerful and true. Nor do they say anything about love and loss and death and life all converging to make something beautiful. But they don't have to say it. I will.