Adakias had never truly adjusted to the light. If he were being honest, the sky’s light seared into his skin, stung his eyes, and blurred his vision. But there was something about Anhura, the way she took the light from around her and weaved it into words, telling stories of destiny and sacrifice, of love and adventure. When she looked at him, his vision tunneled and eyes focused. Her laugh was like music, her voice was strong and gentle, considerate.
He wished for nothing more than to see her eyes alight once more. As it was, she clung to the blanket which shielded her from the winds and spray of a fitful sea, her body shaking from the cold. Adakias willed himself to concentrate on guiding their feeble raft’s sails, to pull the weight in keeping them afloat that Anhura no longer could. His only directions were the songs in his head, long ago memorized. He was confident that they would guide him to their destination, yet he couldn’t let go of a twisting guilt in his stomach. Each cough and shudder from Anhura reminded him. She would not be suffering if it weren’t for him.
At first he wasn’t sure. His home in the world of shadow was all he’d ever known, and the dark markings on his skin were simply part of his DNA. That the very air he breathed should be toxic might have been clearer, obvious even, had he then known the world of the bright. While his steps became light and free, his love’s became burdened, her almond skin now tinged with black ringlets, the same he’d been accustomed to his whole life. His very presence poisoned her, his heritage seeped into her skin. He knew of only one place where he could amend his mistakes.
Adakias realized with a start that the waters had began to calm, and the clouds drew back like curtains. He relaxed for a moment and sat.
“Adakias,” Anhura whispered after a moment. Her eyes were closed, her words hesitant. “How long…?”
“I’m not sure,” he said, honest. “But it should be soon.” He watched the clouds warily, unfamiliar with how they drifted and clumped. Anhura drew her blanket closer and opened her eyes.
“All those years gazing at the sea,” she laughed. “I always thought it gentle and quiet… But it’s appetite is worse than a nightmare.” Adakias was quiet, and he watched her eyes scan the horizon, then flicker to the jagged barricade. “What do you think is back there?”
Adakias sat still a moment, the markings under his jacket all the more apparent to him. Then after a moment, “Did you ever hear the story of Ahrima and the lanterns?” Anhura nodded. “My brother and I used to read hour after hour and we could never understand. He created out of the darkness something beautiful, something brilliant. But he gave it up for his pride and ambition. How could he not see what he already had?” His hand clenched and unclenched his coat, and he watched their makeshift sail carry them slowly through the undulating waves.
Anhura looked at him with a puzzled expression and pushed back her clinging hair to collect her thoughts. “If I’m being honest, I’ve always found some of myself in him. All this time I’ve selfishly wished for excitement and clung to destiny. I turned against my father instead of reasoning with him. Now I don’t know if I’ll ever-” Her words cut off as she gripped her side in pain. Her breaths were labored and the markings on her arms started creeping further, tracing her veins. Adakias abandoned his place and embraced her, the two of them riding out the pain.
“I’m so sorry,” he said as her breaths calmed. Her eyes stayed shut as her breaths rose and fell. Adakias cradled her head in his arms and studied her face. “I should have told you before this ever happened.” Anhura didn’t respond but with the weak shivers of her body. She was asleep, her mind hopefully dreaming of better things. Adakias smoothed a hair behind her ear.
“There was once a young prince,” he said. “Who woke every day to the dark. His studies and his books did nothing to quiet his dreaming heart, and day after day he gazed out at the mountains on the horizon. He imagined the day when he would climb up and past them, to discover what the legends told him lay on the other side, to abandon the world that had called him a reckless and hopeless romantic and to adopt a new identity in the fabled world of light. But the more he grew, the more his brother turned away from him and toward his responsibility to rule, the more he realized this day was never to come.”
The sails caught a strong wind and their raft drifted further, but Adakias took no notice. “The boy knew he was no hero of legend, that his place was in the dark beside his brother. But no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t let go of the legends or the songs, the ancient texts which had consumed his youth and dreams. Still, his brother was overjoyed to see his head at last turn from the mountains. For a time, the heir filled his head with facts and history, he spoke of duty and devotion to their kingdom of the lost and forgot, promising there would be a day when the two would rule side by side. For a moment, the younger prince thought perhaps this was what life had in store for him. He could use his dreams for a brighter future to repair his own kingdom and restore hope to its citizens. Perhaps his dreams of the other side were only that, dreams.”
Anhura’s breaths had calmed down, her face no longer twisted in pain. He held her hand, his thumb smoothly rubbing her palm. “But there came a night where the boy’s dreams returned. He could not deny his nature, and before he knew it he was running for the mountain that served as his barrier. The townspeople saw him and jeered at him, called him an immature dreamer, a deserter. They screamed and cried at their prince for valuing his own desires over them and theirs. The screams awoke his brother, and after a final warning the two brothers turned away from each other for the final time, their disappointment in each other barely hidden. The boy knew from his brother’s malice that he had nowhere to turn back to. Whether he had planned it or not, there was nothing for him to do but go.”
Adakias’ gaze turned from Anhura and toward the very barricade. He removed the jacket which concealed his identity and draped it over her. “What he found was a shimmering city, a world so harshly beautiful he had half a mind to turn away from it and yet he could not. The people he met seemed full of hope and life. Yet they all paled in comparison to their princess, whose mere gaze seemed to light the world in flame. Each day as he spoke with her and heard her story he began to rethink what he had known his whole life. He’d always envisioned himself fulfilling the prophecy’s role of hero and uniter but he now realized that this role could only be for her. It was she that would shatter the mountainous barricade and repair the rift between two worlds separated by pride and anger. And the prince? He was nothing if not her helper and admirer…” He planted a kiss on her forehead, a sad smile stretching across his face.
“For her, he would part the seas and make way for her to shine her light on this barren wasteland. For her, he would push himself to his limits and do anything she required. For her, he would step aside… If only it meant she could shine again.”
Adakias looked up to see the outline of land before them. At the edge of the shore stood a queer ramshackle hut. This was it, the only doctor he knew of that could help her. The last stop before she would learn the truth. Before the last person he cared about would turn away from him. And all the better for it, he decided. She wasn’t looking so well.