She woke up in a soft bed, luxuriant silk caressing her skin. She kept her eyes closed enjoying the feeling of the soft and fluid cloth over her arms and legs. Had it all been a dream? It seemed so real. The pain, the losses… They still hurt; even if they weren’t real.
She opened her eyes: she was in her room. Tears gathered in her eyes. Shock. Fear. Excitement. It had been a dream. She was home. She looked down: the ring was here. Her hands trembled. It meant Remi wasn’t gone. This… this was too much.
She got up in her blue nightgown. She stumbled slightly, holding onto the bed for balance. It felt different. Or was it because she still… She still was caught in her nightmare. It was her room but it felt alien. She’d dreamed four years and she felt as if she’d lived them. It was weird to be back where she belonged. Or did she? She was confused.
Like a blind woman, she made a tour of the room, to reacquaint herself with her bedroom with her circumstances: no longer poor, no longer cast away. She was home. She’d never been gone.
She entered the adjoining room; a bath had already been pulled for her. The room was hot and humid. She peeled off her gown and stepped into the tub with a happy sigh. Hot water. She placed some soap on the sponge and started scrubbing.
That’s when she started noticing… the darker spots, the salient bones. And there were scars on her wrists. Wait… that scar she’d got in Gerome when Remi was… No. No… She cried again. It hadn’t been a dream after all. Why was she here? Why had he brought her here? Why hadn’t he taken the ring?
She let herself sink into the bathtub. There was something soothing about the waters: they were embracing hers. She could drown there and be done with everything. He’d changed things here: for the better. The talisman never protected her: she’d always believed it belonged to the Kingdom’s heir. But it never fulfilled its duties: her parents were dead, Remi was gone. And she was back at the King’s Palace – now the Presidential Manor.
She could die and let him have the ring; maybe it was never meant to be hers. It was alright. She’d understood; its magic was meant to protect the kingdom. For all that he betrayed his king, Jerome served the country. He may have served himself but the Ring would have reacted if his intentions had been exclusively selfish. It didn’t. It recognized he’d rebelled for good reasons. Who was she to question the power of the talisman? The last of an extinct line; and not even a glorious descendent at that. She could fall asleep and join the ones she loved. She’d missed them. Surviving wasn’t that necessary after all.
A blue haze surrounded her. She was feeling so peaceful when someone pulled her out of the waters. The mist disappeared as the shock of breathing made her cough. Something soft was wrapped around her and someone carried her back to the bed. She dozed on and off until someone called.
“Eliana? Eliana wake up.”
She opened her eyes. The traitor was sitting right next to her. She gathered the sheets about her and sat straight.
“You want the Ring?”
He shook his head.
“I want you to eat. You barely have any skin left on your bones.”
He held out an apple. Her stomach growled loudly but… she couldn’t.
“I would give you more but the healers say it might cause more damage. So for now that’s it. Then more.”
She extended her hand. Stopped. And grabbed it pulling before he could stop her from taking it. His eyes widened. She bit into the fruit with sigh of pleasure. The taste was heavenly. She ate it all, core and skin. Linked her fingers.
“What happened to you Eliana?”
She looked at him.
“You happened to me Jerome. To us.”
“I never meant to hurt you.”
“Really? You killed my parents. You killed Remi.”
“I never meant for your parents to die. Nor Remi. He was my friend.”
How dare he? She jumped at him, attempting to rip his eyes out. She fell with him on the floor. They stood facing each other. She was too weak, too frail. This burst of energy left her spent. She was panting and couldn’t escape his hands when he took her arms. He didn’t even hold her strongly. It was useless. She collapsed. Against him. She started sobbing. Shame of shames. But she couldn’t help herself.
“The ring didn’t protect us. Not when we escaped here. Not in Gerome. Remi did. I was so angry, so scared. I tried to pull on its power to defend ourselves. But the talisman did nothing. It let you take over, it let these men kill Remi, take… everything.”
He caressed her hair, as she cried; he held her close, he soothed her. And she let him. She needed it. Whore… she’d become that. Here she was crying in the arms of the man who destroyed everything she knew. And she couldn’t even hate him, because if he’d truly destroyed everything, the ring would have released its powers.
“The Ring isn’t a weapon Eliana. That’s where your father was wrong. It wasn’t meant to attack or even defend. It’s meant to heal.” She didn’t understand. Sniffling, she pushed him away. “It won’t ever react to anger or fear or greed. It will only react to sorrow, love…”
She’d felt enough sorrow in the past years; that meant nothing. It was just a ploy to get it.
“I don’t want it Eliana. It doesn’t belong to us. If it belonged to anyone it would be to the priestesses of Meia, whose protection we’re under. But your family has always been the keeper of the power of the ring. So it should be on your finger not mine. But…”
“But you wish I would put it to the use you see fit.”
“Is everything I’ve done so bad? You’ve seen the showers…”
She stood and turned from him.
“If I gave it back to Meia’s priestesses, would you let me go or would you kill me to ensure no child would be born to my family?”
He stood behind her; tall and strong, much like Remi. She couldn’t… She loved…
“I wouldn’t…” He placed his hands over her shoulders. But he didn’t make her turn. “I wouldn’t kill you. But I wouldn’t let you go either. I need your help healing this country.”
She looked down at her hand; at Meia’s talisman on her finger. She’d never used its power, never felt it respond to her need. But maybe it wasn’t her need that mattered. She didn’t matter much. She never had. She sighed; the peaceful feeling of before suffused her. And the stone started to glow, softly. Selfless gift of herself. She finally realized: she was servant of the ring, not the other way around. Her father didn’t understand; neither did Jerome in a way. But it didn’t matter.