Chapter 1: Prologue
Margo sat very, very still on the bed and marveled at just how oppressive silence can be. The room was full with it, this cloying, clinging silence that made you want to scream if only to break it for a moment.
Eliot lay in her arms like a warm, limp bundle. His sobs had long since silenced, and now he dozed in a haunted reverie that made her want to take him by his shoulders and give him a good shake.
“We are hurting too!” she wanted to scream. “You are not the only one who has lost someone!”
But she didn’t. For how could she possibly compare their loss to his?
He who had fought so hard, for so long, to come back only to find that the one he had been fighting to return to was lost to him. Lost forever.
She would never forget the look on his face.
And now he lay, still as a corpse, in her arms that were aching with how long they had held him. And still, she did not let go. Her dress was soaked with his tears, clinging to her skin, drying uncomfortably, and she did not move. It was only time, she knew, before he’d come back to himself. And then he would weep, and she would hold him, and know that there was nothing she could do to ease his pain.
And she would wait, and try not to scream into the silence.
Some parts of Canon I am firmly going to ignore. My story. I want some people there. Fen is one. I love her.
High King Margo the Destroyer had a nice ring to it if she said so herself. And it came with an exquisite wardrobe. She loved her wardrobe. This day she was wearing one of her favorite dresses, a green brocade with fine gold embroidery. But discreetly running her hands down the side and feeling the scratch of the gold thread did not give her the calm it normally did; her mind was still in chaos.
There was a minor noble in front of her, ranting about something. What he was saying, she had no idea, but he had been going strong for what felt like an eternity. She kept her face carefully neutral, giving off the impression that she was indeed listening, but in fact, her mind was where it had been earlier that morning. Where it was every morning. With Eliot.
Julia had managed to make him eat a little today, she remembered. Just a few bites, but it was a victory considering how he had been the last week.
Had it really only been one week?
So much can happen in seven days. Your world can shatter. You can lose everything that matters. You will wake up, and you will fall asleep, and the world will make no sense whatsoever. You can reel from the shock, and stare blankly at your dinner, and still, life goes on. Life, the cruelest lover of them all. In the end, she left everybody. And then death would come, as indifferent as eternity. In the end, they did not matter at all.
Except they did matter. They mattered to each other, to the broken hearts and desolate cries and the incomprehension of loss.
It had been a beautiful funeral and an anguishing wake, the latter which Eliot had not attended. She had made his excuses and let him confine himself in his rooms, grieving like the widower he had not had the chance to become. She couldn’t help but imagine the wedding; everyone dressed in their best clothes, the vows, the kiss, the dancing.
It would have been beautiful.
Then, into the darkness that was her mind, came a small, barely visible light. A thought, whispering of an impossible possibility.
And at that moment, she made a split second decision that, unbeknownst to her, was going to change everything.
There was going to be a wedding. And she was going to make it so.
Fen made a helpless little noise and tried pushing the plate at him for the third time. Eliot ignored her and instead turned his face away.
“I’m not hungry,” he said dully.
“I know,” Fen replied, on the verge of tears. She stared down at the plate. Nothing special about the fare, just bread and a few slices of the cheese she knew he liked. She had been trying to make him eat for days now, but was reasonably sure that she, along with everyone else, had failed. She had not been able to make him change his clothes, either; his white shirt was dirty, his breeches dull and worn. She had tried to brush his hair earlier but had given up at the first tangle.
It was as if he no longer cared for his appearance, and that terrified her more than anything else. He was always so carefully groomed, just a little rakish to give an air of passion and intensity that she loved in him.
That was gone, too. In its place was this bleakness that she did not recognize.
In her darker moments, Fen thought he was dead, too. His body just hadn’t caught up yet.
“At least drink something,” she said, holding out a goblet of wine. Eliot stared at it blankly, as if he had never seen a goblet in his life and did not know what wine was. Then he shook his head.
“Just leave me alone,” he begged as he slumped in the chair.
Fen stared down at the wine, the dark red of it making her think of blood drying on a stone floor. She shuddered and put the goblet back on the tray.
“Perhaps later?” She asked in a tone that was trying to be hopeful but only came across as pleading.
The moment the doors shut behind her, Margo started thinking about what to pack. She wasn’t sure about what this journey was going to entail but thought it best to be prepared for everything.
She had asked for a satchel of food to be brought, but she couldn’t get by with only food. First, she’d need gear. Wandering through the place she was going to in a dress was not only an impractical idea but downright ridiculous. Instead, she dug through her wardrobe for a pair of breeches she knew were in there somewhere.
She was so focused on finding them she did not really register the door opening, and therefore startled badly when a voice was heard just behind her.
“What are you doing?”
Margo jumped, banging her head against a shelf and yelling a curse. Then she turned around, glaring at Julia and rubbing her forehead where the crown had dug into her flesh and was most likely already starting to bruise.
“Knock, dammit!” she snarled and Julia looked contrite.
“I’m sorry,” she said miserably, “I just… I wanted to see if you were alright.” she made a helpless little gesture and Margo wanted very, very badly to roll her eyes at her.
The two women stood in silence for a few moments, neither sure of how to continue. Then Julia repeated her question, her voice softer this time.
“What are you doing?” Her eyes fell to the breeches in Margo’s hand. Margo also looked at them, for a moment confused as to where they’d come from and why they were there. Then she remembered.
“I’m packing,” she said unnecessarily.
Julia’s eyebrows pinched in a frown that made her look like a petulant child.
“Why?” She wanted to know.
Margo considered her answer carefully. Knowing Julia, she was most likely going to try to stop her.
“I am going on a quest,” she finally said as she disappeared back into the wardrobe. She knew she had a cloak in there, a special cloak that was going to be to great help.
There was an odd little noise that Margo after a moment recognized for worry and concern.
“Why?” Julia’s voice was full of the same hopelessness that filled Margo when she watched Alice cry, Julia stare emptily at nothing, or Fen’s lips tremble. The hopelessness of Eliot’s dry sobs when he lay in her arms and had no tears left.
“Because no one else will and I have to.” She pulled out the cloak.
It was thinner than she remembered, black wool with a lining made from the silk of a thousand spiderwebs. It glimmered like silver, sparkling with magic. She remembered the day she had gotten it, how she had been promised that it would protect her from horrors unnamed.
She put it on the bed next to the breeches, then started looking for a shirt that was not covered with enough embroidery to blind you when you looked at it from the wrong angle.
As she searched, she wondered if she ought to take a sword. Wasn’t that the rule for quests? That the hero wielded a sword?
Okay, so she had no experience with swords and would prefer a dagger, but nonetheless. There were places, she knew, where her magic would not be beneficial; in fact, it might be just the opposite. Yes, she’d need a sword. Maybe even a shield, if she could find one that did not weight enough for a grown man.
“Where are you going?” Julia asked, her voice even smaller now.
Margo hesitated. Julia was the type to try to talk her out of it, and she did not need the argument.
Then she turned around and looked at the other woman, for the first time since she had entered Margo’s bedchamber. She immediately wished she had not.
Julia’s face was streaked with makeup from hours of crying. Her eyes were swollen and her nose a most unbecoming shade of red. It gave Margo the unpleasant urge to hug her.
Instead, the busied her hands with folding the breeches, a useless gesture.
“It’s for Eliot” she said, not wanting to give the details. “I’m going to help him.”
“I don’t think he can be helped,” Julia said, and it was clear from her expression that she immediately regretted the words.
“I can help him” Margo said with a confidence she wasn’t sure she felt.
“But how?” Julia demanded and it was very annoying that she was still there.
“I am going to the underworld,” she said decisively.
“You can’t!” Julia cried, “it’s dangerous!”
“I know.” Margo agreed, remembering that she was to look for a shirt and returning once more to the wardrobe. “But someone has to do it.”
“What could you possibly hope to do there?” Julia’s voice rose, sounding slightly hysterical.
“I’m going to find Quentin,” Margo said as she finally found what she was looking for.
There was a very heavy silence behind her.
“Are you sure,” Julia finally whispered in a voice as quiet as the grave.
“Yes,” Margo said in a confident tone, wondering if she was making a colossal mistake. Then she remembered how Eliot had sobbed into her chest the previous night and decided that it was a mistake worth making.
Before Julia had time to say anything else, Margo leveled her with a stern look.
“I have to go,” she said, and Julia, who looked once more on the verge of tears, nodded.
Margo let herself soften, for just a moment.
“One month,” she said. “If I am not back by then… you know I have failed.”