Because my sister has been begging for more, I thought I’d post this, what could possibly be the prologue to the sequel to The Darkest Hour. Also I finished another edit to The Darkest Hour (more are still necessary) despite being on “maternity leave” so it’s sort of a celebration of getting that story a little more cleaned up. Let me know what you think.
I looked at myself in the mirror as I threaded my arm in to the formal military jacket. It was my second nicest uniform. I’d thought, of course, about wearing the nicest one but I decided that I’d save it for tomorrow. My hair was not quite dry from showering, and I resisted the urge to run my hands through it. I was back in the palace now. Those pesky military habits I’d picked up had no place here.
Behind me I had one suitcase open at the foot of the bed. It was half full. Lynn would not be pleased. I’m sure she’d spent the afternoon quickly but precisely organizing her things into bags and boxes. I’d been away for a while now. I didn’t need anything here, but more than that, I couldn’t imagine my home being anywhere but here. It hadn’t sunk in that I’d be living in Arrowhead in three days. Maybe after I saw the princess. Aurora. Rory.
These damn military jackets have so many buttons! I’d made the mistake of trying to button one up without looking once. I had been thirteen years old. I’ll never try that again. This time, eyes on the mirror, I started at the bottom and began working my way up. It didn’t help that the button holes are too small, and why did they have to make these uniforms so uncomfortable. Would it be so wrong to have comfortable formal wear? I sighed. The princess would probably look amazing. I’d better look good too.
With about two thirds of the buttons done, I heard a knock at the door.
“Come in,” I yelled, concentrating on the latest button’s reflection in the mirror. I swear it’s some royal test to see if you can get these jackets on. Only a real prince would be able to or something like that.
“Philip?” I heard Lynn say.
“Lynn, hey. Is it time already? I’m almost done.”
“Philip,” she said, sounding…hesitant? That’s unusual for Lynn. “I need to…”
“I know what you’re going to say,” I interrupted. “I know I haven’t packed much, but I won’t need much you know.”
She came around the corner as she spoke, “That’s not what I was going to—“
“Wow,” I said seeing her reflection behind me in the mirror as I buttoned the second to last button from the top. “Where did you get that dress? I’ve never seen it.” I turned to her.
Lynn looked…gorgeous. She had on a black dress that went to the floor, and was sleeveless, and…I don’t know much about how to describe women’s clothing, but it was amazing.
She was surprised, maybe even annoyed by my comment, and stopped for a moment, glancing in the mirror behind me then away. “What? Oh, I got this before the war started, I just haven’t had a chance to wear it, but—“
“It looks great Lynn,” I said. It really did. “How do I look?” I smiled my most dashing smile, and tried to look Princely, which always made her roll her eyes, but this time she didn’t.
“You look fine,” she snapped, then continued on more softly, “You look perfect. But I have to talk to you about something, Philip.” She walked up to me.
“I know,” I said. “I know you think I need to have my things packed. But I’m going to be coming back you know. Sure we’ll be living in Arrowhead, but I’ll be back here regularly. I don’t want to take everything.” I glared at the suitcase and once again resisted the urge to run my hands through my hair.
“I don’t need a lecture on how you already have your bags waiting by the car, Lynn,” I continued. “I’ll get it done.” I started to turn back to the mirror to finish the last button.
“Would you stop interrupting me!?” she yelled. I spun back around and noticed for the first time that she looked nervous, maybe even scared.
I stepped closer to her. Something must have happened. My thoughts began constructing every worst case scenario imaginable. I tried to push them away. “Lynn, what’s wrong?”
“I need to talk to you and stop interrupting me and thinking you know what I’m about to say,” she pleaded.
She was not acting like herself. But she wasn’t acting like there was a disaster either. Actually in a disaster, Lynn always acts like herself. It’s very comforting. I did not feel comforted now. “Alright,” I said carefully. “Whatever it is, we’ll fix it, but it might have to wait until we get to Arrow—“
“SHUT UP!” She stormed, gritting her teeth, and clenching her fists. I flinched. “That’s just it. I am NOT going to Arrowhead. I’m not moving there with you. I’m staying here.”
Her eyes flashed anger and defiance, and I felt as if someone had just shot me with a rubber bullet straight in the chest. “What?” That was not what I had expected.
The anger faded, and behind it was sadness. Pain even. She stepped closer to me. “I’m not going to Arrowhead, Philip. I’m staying here.”
“But,” I stuttered. “Lynn, you can’t. I need you there. You are my advisor. You are my best friend. Why—“
“You’ll need someone here,” she interrupted. She rushed on, “You are the crown prince, Philip, you need someone you trust here to make sure you don’t…you know…lose touch.” Her words sounded scripted. She didn’t even believe them. I knew her better than that.
“I have other friends, Lynn,” I countered. “If you are trying to do me a favor, thanks, but I have to have you in Arrowhead with me.” The thought of being away from her was unfathomable. It could not happen. I was the prince, and she’d do what I said. “Besides you are my friend, I’d miss you too much.” There was that too.
“Oh,” she sobbed turning from me. I’d only seen her cry on a couple of occasions before. Something else was going on here. There was another reason.
I stood up tall and confidently. “You have to come,” I said in my most commanding voice. “I am the prince and I get final say.”
I knew this would make her mad, but her rage still surprised me, “NO I AM NOT!” She said viciously, spinning towards me, as if ready to fight. “I don’t care what you do, you CANNOT make me Philip.” Quieter now, ”You would not make me if you knew how important this was.”
“Then tell me,” I said, grabbing her by the shoulders. “Tell me why this is so important.”
“I already did,” she said weakly, halfheartedly trying to pull away. I held her tight.
“Come on Lynn,” I begged. “That was just an excuse. If you don’t want to come, tell me the real reason. I bet I can fix it.”
“No you can’t!” Tears began falling down her face.
“Tell me. Please,” I begged, the sadness in her face was chilling my blood.
“I can’t,” she said. “I can’t.”
“You have to!”
She tried to jerk away from me but I held her arms tight. I had to know.
“Fine!” she said at last, her voice cracking. “I can’t go with you because, because I love you Philip. I love you! Jeez, if you only knew. I’ve loved you forever, and I watched you smile at other girls and flirt with them, even kiss them and I haven’t done anything. Because I was your best friend. When they were gone, I was there, and I always would be, and that is what mattered. But tomorrow you’re getting married—to a real princess. And I can’t even hate her because she’s so good. So beautiful. So perfect for you, and I will stand by your side and smile for you tomorrow, but that is it. I cannot go with you and watch you love Rory. I cannot see you hold her in your arms, and I will not be left alone while the two of you disappear together each night and reappear with smiles in the morning. I WILL NOT. It will make me crazy. I love you, and I cannot watch you everyday with a different woman.”
She pulled away now. I had no power to stop her. I felt numb. Scared. A slew of other things I couldn’t name, nor did I want to. “Lynn,” I tried to say but I wasn’t even sure if any sound came out.
Lynn looked at me like her heart was breaking right there in front of me—I suppose it was—then she ran from the room a sob escaping on the way out. I couldn’t move.
“My Lord, it is time.”
I looked up at Winston, who bowed, before straightening up. He was quite tall, and I was slumped in an easy chair. I don’t remember sitting down. I shook my head. “Right. Of course.” I stood up.
“If I may, Sir,” Winston said as I took a step toward the door, “you have one last button…” The top button, the noose, as I called it. “Oh, yeah.” I turned toward the mirror to do it up. My hair was…well I must have been running my hands through it. I don’t remember that either. I only remember Lynn…
“Have you seen Lynn?” I blurted out as her face appeared in my mind. Her face covered in tears. Proclaiming her love for me. The night before my wedding. To someone else. I shivered.
“No, My Lord,” Winston said. I was struggling with the last button. “She had told me she was going to accompany you to the great hall, but it had been some time, and I thought I better come check to make sure you were on your way. I can try to locate her if you are worried.”
“No!” I said quickly. If I looked at her now, I don’t know what would happen. I couldn’t think about that now. “Damn!” The button was too big for the hole!
“If I may,” Winston said, coming up next to me. He quickly and agilely tightened the noose. “My Lord, if I may say, you seem a little out of sorts.”
“Yes, well, I’ve got a lot on my mind, and I must have lost track of time,” I said drily.
“Very understandable,” Winston replied, conciliatory as usual. He stepped back allowing me to lead the way. Once we had exited the room he came up to walk beside me, his hands as always discreetly behind his back. “One would expect even a prince like you to have a lot on his mind as he goes to see his bride.”
“Bride.” I said, almost as a question.
“The Princess?” Winston replied.
“The Princess?” Now it was definitely a question. “Oh yeah, Rory. Right. Of course. It’s been a long time.” I was supposed to be nervous about seeing Rory again? I guess I was before Lynn came. I tried to put her from my mind.
Winston nodded assent. “The Princess has been anticipating this evening when you are re-united, My Lord. She has gone to great lengths to make it perfect.”
Lynn, I thought again, then shook my head. It wasn’t fair to Rory. I had to be there for her tonight. I had to make it a perfect night. “Everything Rory does seems to be perfect,” I commented, but it came out a little bitterly. Why did I feel annoyance that my fiancé had done so much good? I hadn’t felt that earlier. What had changed? Lynn. I shook my head again.
“Yes, my Lord,” Winston said. “And she is deserving of the results, as she has put everything into them.”
Winston had a way of speaking so calmly and humbly, while still putting you in your place. Rory did deserve the best. She was incredible. I tried to focus. “Right as usual Winston,” I said and tried that dashing smile on again. It helped cheer me up. We were at the doors to the great hall.
Winston smiled. “We shouldn’t keep the Princess waiting any longer,” he said opening the door for me. He held a microphone, and began my announcement as I stepped over the threshold, “I am pleased to announce, back from a victorious war with honor and valor, and a few knocks too, his royal majesty, crown Prince Philip…” Winston timed it just right of course. The moment I came into view of the crowds he was saying my name. I wasn’t expecting the overwhelming cheers. Anything else Winston said was drowned out. I couldn’t help but smile. I hadn’t realized I’d been missed that much.
I smiled and waved to the crowd, lost in the moment. But only briefly. Then I scanned to the thrones. My father and mother stood smiling and clapping. My mother? Even she looked genuinely excited to be here. No Rory. I continued to wave as I walked over to my parents and bowed before them. The cheering had lessened, but only slightly.
As I stood back up from bowing, my mother embraced me tightly. My mother hugging! In public! “Philip, you look amazing,” she said in my ear as she hugged me, squeezing even tighter as she spoke. “They’ll expect a speech from you of course,” she continued, “but make it quick. I can’t wait to see what Aurora’s dress looks like.” Finally she let me go, smiling like a giddy girl . I had been told things were different. I had known Rory was behind it. They even said my mother was changed, but this was not the same mother I’d known all my life. This was a whole new person.
Still recovering from the shock of my mother’s transformation, I was pulled close by my father. He grabbed my shoulders and slapped me on the back. “Mom is…” I started, not sure how to finish.
He laughed unabashedly, “I know. Aurora’s fault. Blame her. It’s great isn’t it?” His smile held no secrets or reservations. My father was just genuinely happy. Then he hugged me too. “You better watch out or you might get a little brother or sister to give you a run for the throne,” he said and winked.
“Yikes,” I said pulling away quickly. “That is more than I need to know.” My dad laughed. Apparently he had changed too. I could feel heat in my face, but the crowd was so loud no one but me heard what he said. He and my mother stepped back, still smiling, and Winston was there by my side holding a microphone. I had not prepared a speech. The crowd quieted more.
“Well, it’s been quite the homecoming,” I said. Mom had told me to keep it short. That should be easy. “I have to admit, there is still one person I haven’t been reunited with, and I getting a little bit anxious to see her, but my father did always tell me never to expect a woman to be on time.”
Everyone laughed, and I saw many heads turn towards the back of the hall where the curtains were closed over the alcove. Even as I spoke of Rory, the crowd began to part down the center forming a path that ended at these curtains. I knew Rory was there. She would hear everything I said. She was waiting. Suddenly, I felt like I’d burst into pieces if I didn’t see her soon. I had to see her. “In all seriousness,” I continued, trying to say something appropriate as fast as possible. “Everything was for her. For Ror—Princess Aurora. And I think many of you have come to realize what that she is worth all of it and more.”
More cheers. So many smiles. So many people loved her. I handed the mike back to Winston. He smiled at me the way he had as long as I could remember.
“And now without further ado,” Winston said. “And because the Prince has been waiting a long time…” A rumble of laughs from the crowd. The path through the crowd to the Princess widened. “Her Royal Highness, the woman who brought us together and won our hearts…” I felt my heart beating rapidly. I almost ran off the stage and opened the curtains myself. “Queen Aurora of Arrowhead.”
And the curtains opened.
Silence crashed through the room and my breath was pulled from my body in a horrifying gust. The joyous warmth that had filled the room was silenced with the sharpness of a razor edged icicle. I couldn’t move.
Aurora was just as beautiful in her vivid blue dress as everyone had led me to believe she would be. More even. Much more. Her white gloves up passed the elbow, yellow hair sitting in loose, large curls down her back. She was unreal. But then there was also the knife dripping blood in her hand, the man on the floor clutching his stomach, a dark pool of liquid spreading away from him, the woman—the Queen smiling at her side. Most of all it was the look on Rory’s face. The look that said, “something happened. Something bad.” It was her eyes. Something was going from them. And she knew it.
I don’t know how long we all stood there feeling as if the world had stopped spinning and the sun had gone out. I couldn’t move. Hundreds of people couldn’t move. Perhaps we stood there for hours. I don’t know. Even the Queen with her hideous smile didn’t move.
Until Rory dropped the knife. Then I was running. I was running to her as fast as I could. The Queen moved when I did, shooting a gun I hadn’t seen before, and one, then two guards that were just feet away from her fell to the ground. Rory looked straight at me. I didn’t take my eyes off of her. She was fading. She was going to fall if I didn’t get there soon.
There was movement all around me. Noise. Chaos. Shouting. Screaming. Crying. The Queen was gone.
I was ten feet away and Rory started to sway. I reached out and saw her eyes roll back. She collapsed just as I reached her, and I caught her up in my arms and we fell to the ground together.
I looked at her face, desperately hoping, but Rory was already gone.