The Guardian (Reign: Part 14)
Well, this post is late. Sorry. I, uh, y'all, I have a sad announcement to make. This is the last installment you'll be seeing of Reign...at least for quite some time. I might be bringing it back, but for now I think it's time I take a break. Anyway, y'all enjoy this last installment and all the suspense I'm going to leave you with!
Part 14: The Guardian
There he was. I could feel his eyes on me, tracing my outline. The sound of his breathing permeated the air, mingling with the notes of my song. I should’ve stopped—I knew that—but one part of me wanted to prove that he wasn’t strong enough to resist, as he’d said earlier…and another part reveled in his presence, in the staccato beats of his breath, in the way the moon cast the most alluring glow over his face.
I wished he could stay. I wished I could stay.
But things didn’t work like that—not for Sirens. For humans, yes. Men and women could fall in love and spend the rest of their lives together. They could have children. They could be happy. They could have all the beauty of a fairytale.
But not Sirens. We were the villains in fairytales. We destroyed happily ever afters. We robbed from others what we could never have—life, joy, peace, love.
Which was why he couldn’t come any closer, why I needed to be quiet and slither back into the water. He embodied everything I couldn’t possess but wanted anyway, and the longer he stood there, the longer I looked at him, the harder it became to swim away.
I can’t do this. I just...being with them, both of them...I can’t. I have to leave, as soon as possible. There’s nothing for me outside of the City—there never was.
My mind made up, I clamped my mouth shut, my fangs nearly piercing my own lip. My body trembled, cool night air chilling my skin and itchy sand getting in between my scales. I slipped just a little ways off the shore, into the ocean, where the water purified me and gave me peace.
This is home, Seira. Where the waves break, where the sun sings, where no man trod. This is what you must return to. This is what truly frees you—not humanity nor anything it can give you.
“Why did you stop?”
Oh, my, that voice! My eyes disobeyed me and fastened themselves on the exact object they were forbidden to—the Guardian. He was slowly moving toward me—did he dare?—with curiosity in the lines of his face and the lift of his brows. His hair was mussed and his heavy cloak, shirt, and boots had been removed, so instead of looking like the fierce protector that he was, he appeared to be at ease, loose, alive.
Was there anything more tempting? Probably not.
I cleared my throat, ushered back his question. As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t lie—we Sirens were fairly transparent creatures. Certainly not as deceptive and shadowy as Naiads.
So when I opened my mouth again, truth spilled out. Condemning truth. “Because I don’t want you to fall prey. You don’t deserve to die.”
Instead of making some sarcastic quip or remarking on my weakness, he laughed. A dry, mirthless laugh. “You think because I am human that I am without fault? We all deserve to die, Seira, and me more so than most.”
I found that very hard to believe. Guardians were trained to be perfect, blameless. That was why they had been established as Magni’s first form of government, after all. They took vows of celibacy and never married; they never engaged in warfare or underhanded schemes; they didn’t lie or cheat or steal or wrong their people. They were protectors, without ties that dragged them down or ulterior motives that made them weak. They were raised up for the good of the people, to do what was required of them for the prosperity and peace of the country.
Aye, the Guardians’ positions had changed after one wayward Guardian granted Anactoria rule over his hometown. Once she took over part of Magni, she schemed to have the rest of it—and she did. Now nothing was as it ought to be—but after one Guardian had broken oath, no Guardian dared to do the same.
Brehn, no matter who his family was or what he was born to be, was trained to do no wrong, so why he thought himself as low as a filthy Siren, I couldn’t imagine.
“What could you have possibly done that was so wrong? You guard the queen with your life and seem to be so...so full of integrity,” I said, unabashedly curious. He couldn’t invite me to his pity party without explaining what was so pitiful about him—if that made sense.
He kept walking forward until he was a mere arm’s length away, his eyes trouble and voice pitched low as he spoke. “I broke oath. And no one ever knew...so I got away with it. Walked away unscathed while others had to pay for my transgressions. Now…” He sighed, bending to sit cross-legged, and drew designs in the sand between us. “Now I feel that it is because of me—nay, I know it’s because of me that Ambrosia is in such grave danger. My foolishness from years ago has come back to haunt the only person in the situation who was ever innocent.”
That was a fabulous explanation, wouldn’t you agree? I couldn’t keep my mouth from screwing up in a frown. How in the world had he gone unpunished for breaking oath? Better question, how did that affect the queen?
“But it’s obvious you’re guilty, and here you are protecting the queen, making up for however you wronged her. I don’t get that kind of opportunity, Brehn. I’m not able to feel guilty. I’m not able to go to all the families who have lost loved ones and apologize.” I gestured to him, then to the sleeping child huddled under a grove of trees. “You...Ambrosia...bringing you here is the best and only retribution I can manage. You, on the other hand, have the chance to make it all right.”
There was that laugh again, grating on my scales with its harshness. “You just don’t get it, do you? There’s no way I can make this right, no way I can undo what I’ve done. If Ambrosia knew…” He groaned, rubbing a hand over his face.
“If Ambrosia knew what?” I murmured gently, not wanting to press, but also wanting to press. I reached out, searching for some way to soften all my questions, and laid my hand over his. No doubt he needed someone to vent to, if no one knew of his past.
He almost didn’t seem to notice me or my hand, just raised his head and stared out over the horizon. “If Ambrosia knew, I don’t know what would become of either of us. Already, Renout is on to me—I know it. This nonsense about her ‘foreign blood’ is all a farce—I know what he’s after is justice for Galen. And if Ambrosia knew that...well, she’s much better off thinking he’s out to get the crown for himself. I can’t hurt her anymore than she’s already been.”
As dark and awkward as this conversation was getting, that was really sweet. Just the way he cared for Ambrosia...that was more than a subject and his queen. More than a protector and his ward.
I squeezed his hand, drawing his attention back to me. “You truly care about her, don’t you? You’re more to her than an appointed Guardian.”
* * *
I’m her uncle. I had practice the words for seven years and nine months. I knew them so well that they would pop out unbidden. They fit on my tongue, in my mind. Everywhere but my heart.
They should’ve been on the tip of my tongue now.
Instead, what came out...was the truth.
“She’s my daughter.”
The words hung in the atmosphere for several long, aching seconds. What I had said, all the implications, all her plausible replies, all the accusations, rang in my mind like the shuddering clang of a bell. I had never actually spoken the words aloud before, let alone to another person. The admission held an almost fantastical quality, as if it were only a dream, a wish that would never come true.
Yet it had. And it was Ambrosia who would pay the price.
Seira’s eyes rolled around, her mouth twisting and loosening as if mulling over her next words. “But how? You’re not—”
Ah, the innocent and all too obvious question. “Galen. I’m not Galen.” Sighing, I removed my hand from beneath hers and raked my fingers through my hair. Might as well tell her the whole sordid thing. Wasn’t as if she’d tattle on me...or if it’d even matter if she did.
“He was in the midlands, sent for by the Guardians there who were handling some unrest or something. I, the flighty younger brother, was tasked with watching over his wife—my sister-in-law—whilst he was away. Corinna was...everything. Everything beautiful, kind, tenderhearted, everything vibrant and full of life. How could I not have wanted her? With Galen gone…”
“Did she come to you willingly?”
I peered up at Seira, her face gentled and softened until she almost resembled a little girl instead of a mystical sea serpent. Had she? Had Corinna sinned as greatly as I? Or had I seduced her, coerced her into betraying her husband and my brother?
“I...I thought she had, at the time. But, in truth, I don’t know. All I can remember of that time was when she came to me, the very day Galen was set to return. At first, I was, I was happy. Why wouldn’t I be? I was to be a father, something I was forbidden to become after taking the Guardian oath. You wouldn’t understand, but having a child is...it’s miraculous.”
She nodded solemnly. “I have no doubt, Brehn. Did Galen ever find out?”
I scoffed. “Of course not! We never told. Corinna was able to pass the child off as his, just born a wee bit too early. Ambrosia’s so small and dainty that she looks premature anyway. He never knew. He died not knowing. And his wife died bearing my child.”
And now the villain was revealed, in all his darkness and selfish motives. I had caused my sister-in-law’s death, and inadvertently driven my grieving brother to his grave.
The entire reason Ambrosia was in danger was because Renout wanted to rid the throne of my offspring.
Missed Part 13? Read it here!