Suck It Up, Buttercup!
The flames warmed my face in the twilight. I watched as my father’s body burned. Now, he was reunited with my mother. My heart stirred with pain, regret, and sadness. He was my blood, but I didn’t know him well enough to mourn him as a son should mourn his father.
Astor had some of the centaurs deliver his body to me in an intricately carved box that featured roses and vines. It was a beautiful piece of craftsmanship. Grace said she hadn’t seen handcrafts like that out of the Otherworld in a very long time. Astor was doing good things in Summer. He would have to hold Summer while we took Winter. His strength would be missed.
Grace’s cool hand slipped into the crook of my elbow, and she leaned her head on my shoulder. We watched in silence until the pyre reduced itself to ash. To me, my mother had been a single parent. Neither of my fathers had done what they should have for her. Watching her suffer with cancer destroyed me on the inside. I knew it played a part in my stupid decisions to go to Lisette. Seeing her in the tree wasn’t a sad occasion for me. It was a moment to show her what I had become, and that a lot of it was because of the way she brought me up. Grace had shown me that the day she came after me, and I sang for her. She told me my mother was a special woman. She had no idea how special. I may have gotten my Love Talker tendencies from my father, but my mother taught me how to love.
Even with my guilt about going to Lisette, I reminded myself that there was a bigger plan in place which I had no clue about, but I chose poorly. We all make wrong choices from time to time. It’s how you recover from it that makes the difference. Thankfully, I got away from Lisette and Jeremiah brought me to Grace. He brought me home. The little piece of her heart inside of me woke up once it was near its owner. I wasn’t with Grace long when I knew I’d do anything for her.
Turning from the remaining embers, I wrapped my arms around her and buried my face on her shoulder. The first time I held her in my arms I was carrying her out of the woods where we had found two murdered children. She shook with grief and fear then. Now, I felt her strength. Strength for me, for her children, and a town full of cursed fairies.
“This wasn’t easy for you,” she said.
“Death is never easy,” I replied.
She huffed, then said, “No, I mean stepping into the role here as a leader. You worked hard despite all the things you’ve been through. You suffered the torture of the Otherworld with Brockton. You crossed the Summer realm to get me back but lost your father in the process.”
“I got answers,” I said. “Things that I needed to know. I got you back which was all that I needed.”
She placed her hand on my chest at my heart. My mother’s ring sparkled “I’m not sure I understand how that works, but there were little things that you did that reminded me of him.”
I slid my hand up to her neck and leaned back to look in her eyes. The dying embers reflected in the pools of turquoise looking back at me. “Like this?” I asked.
She shuttered. “Yes.”
“I do this because it reminds me of when you took Riley’s collar off of me. The power surging through your hands to remove it. The gentleness afterward. Dylan drove us home, and you held me. It was a weak moment for me, but you didn’t care. You did what had to be done.”
“I thought it was just some signature move,” she said with a smile.
“It’s become one, but only because you did it to me first, and I remembered how comforting and loving it felt,” I explained.
Her hand left my heart, then found my neck, sending chills down my body.
“I see,” she said quietly.
Something inside of me snapped. I was suddenly weak again. All the emotion I held back from losing her to seeing my mother to losing my father to getting Grace back flooded over me. I let out a reluctant sob. Fighting back tears, I shut my eyes.
“Sorry,” I mumbled.
“Levi, I want all of your moments. The strong ones. The weak ones. The gravy ones,” she said.
I huffed at the reference. “You just have to promise to do the same for me.”
“I think we will be making those promises at the wedding,” I said.
“The wedding is a formality. You are my King,” she said. Her confidence in me. In us.
“I’ve got to get this sword back to Merlin,” I said.
“No last words for your father?” she asked.
The fire had died out. Nothing was left but ash and smoke. “No, I said good-bye already.”
“Let’s get going,” she replied, taking my hand. I turned my back on the last of the pyre, leaving my regret, sadness, and pain behind.
We skipped to the little house where Caiaphas, also known as Merlin, lived. We had once thought his grave was in Shady Grove. That the hedge maze portal leading into the Winter Otherworld was his final resting place. He told me in the tree that he had died many times. I had to think that even with his deaths, he was still powerful. Most claimed that he held no more power. He certainly had knowledge. I’d read a few books in my day, and sometimes knowledge was the power that couldn’t be defeated. I had hoped he would endow some of that knowledge to me. Jeremiah had given me things to think about. I started remembering the things he’d taken from me. It wasn’t much other than Luther and Zahir’s visit and Oberon’s first visit to me. I remembered when I took the red vial.
The memories didn’t matter so much, because none of them changed the course of my life or my love for Grace.
It was a shame all the lies that had been told to us. I vowed that this would be the difference between Grace’s reign and her father’s. Of course, getting her to vow it would be a whole different story.
We knocked on the door and waited.
“He’s not here,” she said.
“You sure?” I asked.
“Yeah. I don’t feel him here. I don’t feel him in Shady Grove,” she said.
“Maybe he’s still in Summer,” I surmised.
“Well, we can make wedding plans,” I suggested.
“Are you still determined to make this a big deal?” she groaned.
“Oh, Grace. Don’t tell me you are one of those women who could care less about a big wedding,” I teased.
“You know I don’t care,” she said.
“I’m hurt. It’s our big day. You are a Queen. I am a King. We deserve a big fat fairy wedding,” I said. I saw that humor in her eyes fade, and I knew why. “Grace, it has nothing to do with Dylan’s dream. I just think that if we are going to do a rush job, it should be a blow-out!”
I swept her into my arms, and we danced around Caiaphas’ front yard.
“We can dance and drink moonshine, then leave everyone back at the party to slip away for gravy,” I suggested.
She laughed as I twisted us around in the grass. “Levi, stop. I just think it’s overkill.”
I stopped and pulled her tight to me. “Think of it as a big party before a giant battle. A battle in which some of us may not return. I learned that from the knights before we went to fight Rhiannon.”
“I can’t believe you killed her.”
“You doubt the power of the bard?” I unleashed a chord on my guitar.
“You keep that thing away from me!” she protested.
“One day you will beg me for it,” I said.
She threw her head back laughing. “If anything Levi, you make me laugh.”
“When you do, I’m gonna say that I told you so,” I said.
“Cocky bastard,” she muttered.
She knew it was true. She was the one that had given me the idea to use it on Riley, which seemed forever ago.
“So, what do I do with this sword?” I asked.
“Take it back to Summer. Give it back to him,” she suggested.
“Ugh. I’m sick of Summer,” I said. “I’ll call Tennyson and see if he can find him.”
“Let Tennyson rest,” she said.
“He looked better today,” I said. We were at his house when Jenny brought him home from the hospital. He was healing up, but it was taking a while. Something in the trees in Summer poisoned him, so it made his injuries worse. Tennyson was stubborn. I thought he was actually more stubborn than Grace. Then, I remembered her protest on the wedding and her refusal to let me use my guitar on her. She was far more stubborn.
“It was close for him,” she said. “We can’t let that happen again.”
“It’s not like we can tell him no,” I said.
“I can tell him no. I can order him,” she said. “I desperately want him to be free of his curse. I have to do it.”
Taking her hand, I skipped us to the town square where we took a seat on her throne.
“You won’t order him,” I said.
She rolled her eyes at me which confirmed that she wouldn’t no matter how much she wanted to do it. “Whatever.”
“We are getting married here in less than two days. Let’s make this a happy time. Push all of the past behind us. For just a couple of days. Then, we can go into this war full speed ahead,” I replied.
She moved over next to me on the bench, and I put my arm around her shoulders.
“Dublin, I’d love to put the past behind me, but it’s like it is a living thing that drives me forward. My people deserve better, and I plan on giving it to them,” she said. Grace had lost a little of her edge in Summer. I assumed it was the nightmare.
“We will give it to them,” I said as the moon rose, shining full above us. There would be no gravy swapping tonight. One thing was for sure. I had no desire to bring another Love Talker in this world. I needed time to decide what would be best for Grace and her children.
I couldn’t have been prouder of Callum. As the least connected of her children, I felt a connection to him. We were more like brothers. I wanted more than anything to guide him. I saw his strength and ability to love despite everything he had lost. He’d held Winnie back with a knife at Aydan’s throat. I wished we had more time. Aydan needed to learn to use his gifts more. To protect himself. One day to protect his family.
“Take me home, Levi. I’m tired,” Grace said, interrupting my thoughts. I kissed her on the forehead and did as she asked. We had a wedding to prepare for and a war on the horizon.