November 5, 2010

Artwork by Lauren T. Hart

Several hours later found all the main characters and a host of extras gathered in a large banquet room. Meline had secured a glass of wine, a bottle of red and a seat near the window where she could survey the scene.

Until she'd kissed him to heal his wounds, Vaughn had lingered nearby prattling on about a lack of intel and how Eden - the girl whose hand appeared to be super glued to Ashe's - was tougher than she looked. Vaughn was still lingering nearby, playing his part as bodyguard, just as Galen expected him to do but his whining had subsided.

Galen had left her alone to chum with Jonas, Dain and several other Elite. Dain had greeted her, and had been very cordial, but father or no, he was a stranger to her. And after her earlier brush off, Jonas was keeping his distance, which she appreciated, but the three of them were still glancing in her direction every now and again.

Anna and Argus were conversing with a now ancient David, while Ashe and his arm extension reminisced with Lewis, David's son who had been an infant last time she saw him, about their youth together.

She'd considered talking to Ashe, introducing him to his father, but he was quite clearly avoiding them both. Not that she could blame him, after all, parents or no, they were still strangers.

"This is a great party," Vaughn's sarcasm broke the silence. "You want me to find you another bottle of wine?" He motioned to the near empty one at her side.

"That would be lovely, thank you Vaughn," she sighed.

She was standing in a room full of what was technically family and she had never felt more uncomfortable, more out of place in her entire life.

She watched Anna whisper something into Argus's ear then kiss his lobe. She'd never seen her sister be that affectionate with someone she didn't knock unconscious and rob blind mere moments later. It was nice to know she had it in her, though her choice in a mate was more than a little unnerving.

"It's not like you to play the part of the wallflower," Anna said in her usual no nonsense, matter-of-fact tone.

"It's not like you to canoodle with vamp- immortals," she corrected. "The king of immortals no less."

"Out with it Meli," Anna said, sliding up next to her.

"It's weird how you are with him, it's weird that you're with him. He's very discomfiting. I think I might hate him just a little bit."

"He can be an easy man to hate," Anna offered.

"Then why are you with him?" Meline hissed.

"None of us are without flaws, Meli."

Meline scoffed. "Genocide isn't exactly a flaw Ann."

"You weren't there Meline. You don't know what it was like. Diplomacy had failed. To do nothing would have meant the end of humanity."

"You sound like you've been brainwashed," Meline spat. "Need I remind you that you weren't there either?"

Anna shook her head. "I know how it looks but the truth is, my eyes have been opened, I've seen things."

Meline scowled at her.

Anna held her tongue, and took a breath as they eyed the room. Odd flashes of color glinted through Meline's vision. It alarmed her for a moment, and then again as she realized she had been seeing through Anna's eyes.

"I am not content to let my sister stay a willing slave to her circumstances," Anna said softly. "Will you help me?"

This was the Anna she knew. "Yes," she answered, holding back her emotions.

"Good," Anna said. "This starts by clearing the air."

Meline nodded. "You have a plan?"

"Not a good one." Anna scoffed.

"I've missed you Anna."

"I've missed you too, Meli. I miss the way we used to be when we were little. I know we can never go back, but we have now and later to make things even better."

Vaughn returned then, with two more glasses and another bottle of wine. "Vaughn Moreland," he said as he offered Anna a glass. 

"It's a pleasure to meet you as an ally," Anna said as he filled her glass.

"What does that mean?" Vaughn asked, amused.

Anna cleared her throat. "I'm happy things turned out the way they did," she motioned to Meline. "It would have been such a shame had I killed you."

Vaughn chuckled.

"That's not funny Anna," Meline said very seriously.

Anna shrugged. "I wasn't trying to be funny."

Vaughn stopped chuckling. "I get the distinct impression that you are nothing like your sister," he said nervously.

Anna smiled then winked at Meline. "To your health," she said as she leaned forward and kissed Vaughn.

Meline couldn't help but laugh. Anna took hold of her hand and pulled her into the room, and through the crowd.

"That really wasn't very funny, Anna," Meline mocked scolding.

"No, it wasn't." Anna said, completely serious. "Which explains why you laughed."

Meline gasped at her sister's insult then shook her head and laughed. Then she caught sight of Ashe and consequently, Eden. "Does he hate me?" she asked.

"He doesn't hate you. He doesn't know you Meli," Anna reassured. "Let's mingle shall we?" Anna turned abruptly and pulled Meline into the center of a small group of people. "We haven't met," Anna said coming to an abrupt stop, with Meline directly between two men who were conversing.

"So sorry," Meline looked to apologize to the two men, realizing then that she was standing directly between Jonas and Dain, her two fathers.

"Galen Voll," Galen's dulcet voice sounded behind her.

"Anna Victoria, as our king would have it," Anna replied, putting extra emphasis on the V in Victoria.

"Hello Meline," Jonas said, dejected. "I am so sorry I abandoned you. I have missed you... profoundly."

As she looked into his eyes she saw the man who had been her father and she threw her arms around him.

"I was wondering," she heard Anna speaking softly behind her after a minute, "If you might regale us with the story of how you met our mother?"

Meline let go of Jonas and turned to see Dain and Anna, her arm linked around his.


Chapter 45 - As The King Would Have It

Argus watched Anna from across the room. Her thoughts were still too scattered to read her clearly, much the way it had been when they'd first met, but he appreciated the mystery. It was one of the things her loved about her. She met his eyes then looked past him and nodded ever so slightly. He turned to see Ashe and Eden, sitting on a sofa at the edge of the room.

Argus pulled a chair up next to them. "Would you be this nervous if you didn't see us as blood sucking vampires?" he asked Eden, motioning to her hand wrapped firmly around Ashe's.

"You left out armed and prone to erratic, insane behavior," Eden offered along with a smirk.

Argus smiled.

"You shouldn't miss this story, Eden." David offered his hand to her.

With a nod from Ashe she let go of his hand and took hold of David's. Argus nodded appreciatively at David who offered a knowing nod in return.

"I know your mind," Argus said to Ashe. "I have been a father and am honored that you would think of me as yours. I would be happy to have you as my son. Although, in fairness to my friend, a photograph does not make a father."

He called to Galen in his thoughts and confirmed his approach by Ashe's reaction. He stood as Galen approached, Ashe followed suit.

"Galen Voll," he offered his hand to Ashe, anxious.

"Ashe Parker," Ashe stammered as he shook Galen's hand. "Actually, it's Ashe David Galen Parker Voll, actually," he cleared his throat. "There was a bit of a naming war when I was born," he explained.

"I love your mother," Galen said. "She... could not have known how much," he glanced at Argus with both defiance and remorse.

"I know your heart," he assured Galen with a hand on his shoulder then left father and son to talk.

He strolled casually around the perimeter of the room observing contentment and joy in his subjects, in those he thought of as his friends, in his love. For countless years he had heeded the advise of his oracles. Trusting their prophecy, their authority to guide him in his reign. But he had defied their judgment when he revealed his identity to Anna and reunited with her. The oracles had warned him that she would betray him, and she had, first as she had shot him and then again as she exposed him to commoners. His kingdom would be forever altered, they warned, and her rise would mark the beginning of the end to his rule.

Love snuck up behind him and wound her fingers around his. She smiled at him with her eyes and he kissed the corner of her mouth, catching the faintest hint of red wine on her lips.

The seers were wrong.

He had love.

His kingdom was content.

All was well.


(c) copyright 2010-2016 Lauren T. Hart