By Lauren Rabalais
Web Content Contributor
“How good and thoughtful he is; the world seems full of good men— even if there are monsters in it.”― Bram Stoker
King Harold sighed as he dragged himself into his bed chambers and toppled onto the bed, not even bothering to remove his shoes. His forearms ached and his beard was damp with sweat.
Acacia was always there to help him on days like this.
Days when he could joust his foil and smile through the throbbing in his hamstrings until his right elbow shuddered and his legs threatened to cave in from under him—days when he could simply forget—were once his favorites.
On those evenings, she would massage his back and rub at his aching muscles until he collapsed into the plush bedding, then comb her fingers through his matted, moist hair, untangling the knots with a familiar gentleness as he lulled off to sleep. He would wake up the following morning to the warmth of sunlight tickling his eyelashes— the warmth of her feet tangled up in his own. She would look up at him with that dopey smile he loved, and it was in those moments that he was the Icarus to her Sun.
She was radiant and charismatic and everything he wasn’t. She was just so bright,and even after almost two decades of marriage, he’d still worry that he would melt if he got too close.
He could still smell sunlight-soaked flowers whenever he walked by her vanity, as her favorite necklace dangled on its stand. The ethereal amethyst stone danced in the waking light’s breeze whenever he opened the balcony door to greet the sunrise. It was mesmerizing—celestial, even. Just like her.
That was precisely why he hated those days now.
Today, once again, he told his adviser that he no longer wanted to fence— that it was just too painful to deal with on his own— but the viscount insisted that it was too crucial to skip out on. But the pain from strained muscles and a heavy heart was excruciating.
That day still gave him nightmares. Alphonse and Violet were only four and three years of age when Acacia had stepped on the edge of her layered petticoats and fell down a flight of stairs while they were on holiday. She had hit her head during the fall and she passed away the following morning.
He remembered how dumbfounded the castle physicians were by her death. They were confident that they stopped the bleeding fast enough. She was supposed to be alright— that’s what they all told him, anyway. He remembered the carnage that had spilled across the tile and her pretty dress— the crimson that seeped through her eyelashes and trailed down her cheeks as she screamed.
He cursed to himself as saliva pooled in his mouth in an all-too-familiar rush of nausea. He heaved himself off the bed and stumbled to the washroom adjacent to his bed chambers with a hand over his lips. He braced his hands on either side of the cabinet lavatory, lurching forward as he choked on his own choppy, pleading breaths. His stomach wouldn’t stop contracting as he heaved into the porcelain.
Once his stomach ceased its assault on the lavatory, Harold looked up at his bloodshot eyes and vomit-soaked beard with a knowing frown. This happened every time he remembered that fall. After all these years, he was unable to forget—not when his precious son was plagued with the same curse that killed the only woman he ever loved.
He had discovered the sickness when, three years after Acacia’s death, Alphonse tripped over a stone in the garden and injured his knee. Though the gash was fairly shallow, he bled for an unusually long time. All he remembered hearing was the wind whistling through the newly-flowering trees and the muddled sound of his child’s crying. The cut ended up being benign, but the tiny remaining piece of his heart that had survived through Acacia’s death dried up that day.
From then on, all he could do was keep Alphonse in the castle—away from the Grim Reaper who just kept on knocking. He knew his son resented him for it—he was no fool. But that was fine. Harold resented himself, too. He didn’t have the strength to lose anyone else he loved.
The king dreaded the nightmare that was sure to ruin his sleep, yet he dressed in his nightly attire, nonetheless. He blew out the candles that kept his bed chambers lit, and, after nearly an hour of tossing and turning, he succumbed to his exhaustion and dozed off.
A dark, wiry figure emerged from the shadows, slinking up towards the elegant mahogany bed. The figure quietly drew back the black curtains and sighed when he saw the king slumbering away.
His human teeth morphed into needle-sharp fangs as his skin erupted into a crusted canvas of crimson scales. A pair of ivory horns pierced out of his skull, sending his top hat tumbling to the ground. He removed his coat, and black, leathery wings jutted out from his back. He stalked forward, his snake tongue flicking about as he loomed over the sleeping monarch.
“Your reign ends here,” he said with a hiss, positioning himself over the king’s jugular. “Godspeed, Your Highness.”
He swiftly crushed Harold’s neck with his lethal jaws. The king’s eyes shot open and his mouth twisted into a soundless scream.
I hope I made you proud, Acacia,the king thought as his vision grew hazy. But now I must return to you. Please know that I did whatever I could to protect our children.
Harold, the King of Apatéa, stopped breathing.
With his job now complete, Ashtad snuck one last look at the now deceased king, his expression heavy, before returning back to the shadows.