They talk in whispers around me as we do around the dead, out of respect, I guess, or out of fear that our words would bring them back. But I’m not dead. I hear them and could, if I so choose, answer the ladies’ questions and join them among the living. Instead, I block their voices and retreat inside my mind, to Father’s room, to the moment I first saw Mother’s broken body lying still against the wall, and the King’s guards, dragging Nowan away.
“He killed the queen,” Father says.
His laborious breathing is in my ear, his hands heavy on my arms, restraining me as if he fears that, left unchecked, I would run to him, to the boy who just killed Mother. But his fears are unfounded. I will not protect Nowan. Not after what happened this morning, not after I learned his love for me was but a lie.
I follow Nowan with my eyes. There’s blood on his white shirt, blood on his hands, and a stream of blood runs from his nose, but there is no hate in his eyes now, no will to kill, only despair.
I tear my eyes from him and run towards the hearth, towards the place where Mother lies, calling her name.
“I should have killed him,” Father says, his voice hoarse with hate. “I should have killed him long ago, the day he first defied me.”
I hold Mother’s body in my arms, so foreign already in the stillness of death, and wish he had.