This is #23 of The Autumn Queen. To start at the beginning, go here.
* * *
I realized, at one point, the time that had passed, and wondered if I had been forgotten by all but the guards.
Twenty years gone, and I had not seen the stars.
When the guards came, when Kellis came, I no longer waited at my cell door, hoping for anything more than terse words and the day’s rations. Instead, I sat on the floor and leaned against the back wall, and with all my candles gone, I was little more than red dust, as everything else was. That time, however, the door was unlocked, and opened, and rather than coming in, Kellis motioned me out. I walked on trembling legs, followed him without words, shoulders bent, head bowed. We passed a long hall of empty cells; I had been the last in the dungeon, left to rot. All others accused of treason had either died, or been released.
I was walked up impossibly long staircases, and as we reached the topmost landing, coming to the surface, I felt the outside air on my face, and for one moment, I nearly threw all caution to the wind and ran for the doors. When I paused, looking with longing toward the way out, Kellis did not turn around, but said softly, “It would be a pity even I would cry for, if you would die before seeing the sky again, and an even worse pity if you would die before seeing the reason for your release.”
I turned and followed at Kellis’s heels; if I had not been broken after all those years, the ice of his voice would have felled me then and there.
He brought me into the throne room itself, and led me toward the dais — when we came to the steps, I lifted my bowed head so that I could see the sky, but before my eyes could find the heavens, Kellis’s boots found the backs of my knees. I dropped to the marble without looking up, and put my hands to the tile. “I beg your mercy,” I said. “I–“
“Silence.” The command from Herself was quiet, but impossible to ignore. I shut my mouth and closed my eyes, hanging my head.
Footsteps, down the dais, then, light boots, stepping right up to my hands.
My heart stopped, if only for a moment. That voice–
I stood up, then, and he steadied me — not Kellis, but the one who had walked down the dais, the one who told me to rise. When my eyes found him, I nearly fell again. The world spun, and I could not find my voice. How? There he stood in all his glory, pale skinned and silver-haired, looking at me with eyes that had never been ruined.
The ghost of my brother stood before me.
* * *