A Black Beetle in a Field of Dandelions
Night encroaches upon the grounds as she navigates through the wisteria-covered pergola towards the rose garden. The buds have infested nearly every surface—blushing pinks and deep reds amorously intermingled with ice blue and summer yellow.
She hasn’t thought about Dominus Calantis in so many years. Not since his presumed death during the war when his father declared intent to annex their continent. In the end, he had been thwarted but the costs were numerous and relations between Mortos and the Five Realms are still taut. Should he be alive, chaos is sure to follow and the thought of it is enough to dizzy her mind in panic.
She spots the rigid outline of Darius’ silhouette beneath the pavilion of ornate iron. It is hemmed with bushes of gold roses, the rarest and most precious, and bordered by a pale green pond flocked with swans and opalescent fish. She had drunk up many summer afternoons here, pressing rose petals into books and swimming in the pond at night. Especially when it stormed.
Her footfalls are soft on the path but she knows he’ll be able to hear her coming all the same. He separates a rose from one of the bushes and twirls the golden petals around to glimpse the opulent lustre of them in the moonlight.
“I see the roses are in fine form this summer,” he says, but she knows better than to be netted into idle chatter.
“Ten years I don’t see you, and now this,” she hurls towards him. “Not a word, not a letter, then the moment you come back here it’s to discuss more politics? You have some nerve.”
He looks at the rose again, perhaps to avoid having to look at her, and she watches the nervous bobble of his throat as he swallows and parts his lips as though the air might have the words that eluded him. “I understand that the way in which we parted may have been upsetting to you-”
“Upsetting?” she seethes, her rage unfurling around her like the corolla of her namesake. “I’m infuriated, you left me writing to you for months and you just stopped answering. Foolishly I thought you’d put away some time to start responding again or at least find a way to visit me. I suppose it was too much to think that I’d meant something to you.”
“You meant something,” he says, and in his haste, he corrects himself. “You mean something.”
“Then why didn’t you write me?”
He winces, a dimple appearing in the space between his brows. “Circumstances in Mortos have become rather fraught over the years. I found myself more greatly preoccupied in settling the disruptions of the country, of which there were many. After the war with my father’s losses and me taking the throne, there have been a lot of adjustments to make.” He sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose and sliding his fingers down it. “I kept meaning to write but, things just kept getting in the way and eventually I had it in my mind that you might have moved on.”
She blinks and swallows, a rush of heat puddling behind her eyes that she immediately tries to obstruct. “Well, I didn’t. I didn’t-”
He abandons the flower by the bench, cupping her face to shush her. He slides his thumb down the incline of her high-boned cheek where her tears had shed and you wouldn’t think hands that had been built for brutality like his would still have need of softness, but she can only feel the tenderness.
“You know you could’ve come with me, I did offer.”
“I have a country,” she reminds him, for he had been no more willing to give up his. “And I have a crown.” She glances at him expectantly, for what better could he offer than she already has.
“I would have given you all that and more,” he tells her, and there is nothing sweeter than the infinite potential of more. “I would have taken you to all the secret corners of the world that have been lost through time. The ancient cities, the sunken ships, the cursed vaults full of treasure that are spoken of only in myth.” His voice is smooth and rich as worn chenille. “We’d go to the oldest library in existence and I’d read you poetry in extinct languages that only those with connection to the dead can master and then visit the tombs of all the great artists where I’d raise their spirits to paint portraits in your likeness.” He slips a gold curl behind her ear. “We’d explore, you don’t have any idea just how much I have to show you.”
More, he promises to the one who has always had all she could want and so much he offers from his void of darkness and death—lost culture, forbidden architecture, art from the distinguished minds of the departed. His is the kind of magic that she knows is wrong and ruinous and yet how she longs for these morbid offerings still.
“Would you still offer me them now?”
“Always,” he vows. “Say the word and we’ll leave.”
She knows better than to expect that to be true, not because he didn’t mean it but because he couldn’t mean it. It’s just another fleeting wish cast upon her person that can never be granted.
“And what of Mortos?” she asks, with a weary sort of futility. For there will always be politics between them, spanning as wide as the sea that separates their countries. “And Dominus? I can’t help but notice how you saw it fit to go to my mother first with that information. If you knew he was alive you ought to have come to me. He was my beloved, not hers.”
He takes it in a stride as always, his expression damningly impassive as he slides his arms around the notched curve of her waist.
“I had to go to her first and you know it. You think I didn’t want to come to you the minute I knew? But as of now, he is a national threat, I would’ve thought that you would be able to see this,” Darius reasons, tilting her chin to face him, “it is why I came to your mother with the news, as proof of my enduring loyalty to the alliance we struck, in exchange for reduced payments of reparations.”
His reasoning is crisp, calculating and impassive. There is no factoring for sentiment with him, one of the things she understands least about him.
“If my mother happens to find Dominus before I do you know what will become of him.”
“Oh yes,” Darius says, “I’m pretty much guaranteeing it.”
“He’s still your brother,” she exclaims in astonishment, her eyes wide and guileless. “Do you honestly feel nothing about condemning him to death?”
“If Dominus so much as steps foot on Mortesian soil I know I will be among the first of his targets,” Darius tells her with ease and a lethargic lift of one shoulder as though it troubles him not to admit it. “In spite of how the war ended up in our favour Dominus is still the trueborn heir and I’m still considered little more than a bastard, a usurper at that, him living is a threat to my rule. It’s hardly a difficult choice to make, him or me, and I fully intend to hold onto what’s mine.”
“So where is he exactly?”
“That’s the largest country on the continent,” she exclaims in frustration.
“I’m afraid I can’t give you anything more concrete than that as of yet,” he admits, one hand slidingly nonchalantly into his pocket, “let’s just say I have a little birdy at my disposal who is prone to giving me twitters of information.”
“Yes, well, be sure to send some of those twitterings in my direction next time, won’t you?”
Darius chuckles. “You know, I have missed this.” He traces his thumb once more down her blush. “I missed you.”
She slides her hand over his and interlocks their fingers until the deep olive of his skin is practically eclipsed by her brown appendage.
“I missed you too.” Her gaze drops to the sculpted shape of his mouth and she pushes herself up on her tiptoes to press her lips to his. For a moment she just rests there to feel him against her, to familiarise herself with the impression of his mouth which is just as soft as she remembers, the graze of his stubble adding a little texture.
She draws back only to find Darius chasing the trajectory of her lips before he leans down to kiss her more fervently and for a moment she renounces her better judgement, embracing the intensity with which he uses to coax open her mouth and follow it with the soft glide of his tongue.
He pulls her body flush against his, parting their lips to kiss her neck and she shivers for how attentive he is with his mouth even as she feels the scrape of his canines descending. It is when his lips reach a particularly delicate spot beneath her jaw that she finally puts a stop to it.
“Darius,” she breathes out, feeble yet forceful as she gathers enough strength to push him away from her. “You need to go before Leander comes to check on me, he’ll be able to sense me from a mile away.”
In the distance several stars launch themselves from the sky to the raucous cheer of partygoers, plunging towards the silhouette of the palace to be born anew.
“Are you still toying with that poor boy?” He sounds amused.
“Was I supposed to take an oath and live out my days as an Odakan priestess until your return?” Laila retorts, “I highly doubt your time in Mortos was lonely.”
His eyes pin her down like an anvil, pale in the glow of the moonlight. “There have been companions yes but none quite so close to home.”
“Perhaps I enjoy the closeness,” she tells him and traces the angular plane of his stubbled cheek. “Less easy for you to escape from me that way.”
He leans in to kiss her again, his mouth moving along hers in slow, sensuous glides before she shoves him away with a suppressed moan.
“Go,” she commands with all her princess petulance. She turns away from him so as not to see him when he does eventually leave. She doesn’t look back until the shadow of him has been entirely peeled from the area and not even his scent remains.
Her throat blooms with an indecipherable emotion at the confirmation of his departure and she finds herself alone beneath the shadow of the pavilion. It feels safe, the darkness, so intimate it is with its absence, the way it coddles her with distant hands. It is silent. It does not judge. It does not make demands of her as so many others do. Now safely shielded away from prying eyes she allows the floodgates to open and she weeps until she feels all the oceans in her are dried out. Then upon seeing the spidery fizzle of sparklers being paraded down the garden path, she neatens her features and accessorises her face with a smile, preparing herself to face the light of the celebration once more.
Author's Note: Thank you so much for reading, especially if you've read both parts! This is a multi-pov novel and I'm uncertain if I should keep posting instalments here since this was the only somewhat polished chapter draft I have. Either way, please let me know if you spotted any grammatical errors.