The Queen of All That Lives (The Fallen World Book 3)(16)By: Laura Thalassa
Montes has had a hundred years to perfect not only being the very thing I hate, but also the very thing I love.
I breathe in the briny air and take in the horizon. The sky is the very palest shades of orange and pink. Beneath it, the ocean looks almost metallic blue. It’s beautiful. Peaceful. Paradisiacal.
“Is this the same island where we married?” I don’t know why I ask. Why I feel nostalgic over a memory I never wanted.
When I face Montes again, I catch him studying me.
“It is,” he says.
All those people I met, they’re long dead by now. I should be too.
I take a long drink of wine. “Is this where you kept me when I slept?”
“Did you ever regret what you did?” I ask, setting my glass down.
He settles into his seat, his frame dwarfing the chair. Even his build hasn’t changed. I find myself looking at his deeply tanned forearms. It feels like only days ago I touched that skin like it was mine. I ache to do so again. Even though I can’t, the urge won’t disappear.
“Every day,” he says.
My eyes move from his arms to his face. It’s so unlike him to admit this—to feel this. I thought hearing that would make me feel better; it doesn’t.
I let out a breath. “And yet you never changed your mind.”
“I am over a hundred and fifty years old, Serenity. Much about me has changed, my mind most of all.” He says this all slowly, each word weighed down by his long, long existence.
I swallow. My anger still simmers, but it has nothing on the terrible loneliness that crushes me. I am the relic of the forgotten past.
And I’m beginning to understand that I’m not the only one carrying a heavy burden. If the king’s demons don’t eat him up at night the way mine do, then they at least fall on those great shoulders of his throughout the day.
The waiters come then, bearing plates. I study the men. Their shoulders are wide, their faces hard. Soldiers dressed as servants. Montes no longer employs civilians it seems.
The food they place on the table isn’t quite like what I’m used to with the king. It’s simple—a cut of meat that rests on the bed of greens with a side of rice. The portion sizes are much smaller than what the king used to dole out.
I stare at it, not making a move for the utensils.
“The food is not going to bite you, Serenity,” Montes says.
“How bad off is the world?” I ask.
If the king eats like this, if he’s given himself a demotion, what must the common people’s lives be like?
“What makes you think it’s the world that’s different, and not me?”
It’s an echo of his previous statement. That he’s a changed man.
My gaze flicks up to Montes. He takes a sip of wine, watching me over the rim. He lounges back in his seat, slowly setting his glass down on the table. Everything about him is casual. Everything but his eyes.
I don’t want to believe what he’s suggesting. Not my narcissistic king, not the bastard who ruined my life and the lives of those I loved. He can’t have changed his ways. Because if he truly has, all my righteousness will be for nothing.
I can’t do this. My hate is all I have left; I don’t want to know that the object of it is no longer worthy of my wrath. And, hypocrite that I am, I’m not ready to hear that leaving me inside the Sleeper was a personal sacrifice he made for the greater good.
The king is the selfish one. Not me.
Dear God, please not me.
“I think I’ll eat alone.” I grab a bread roll from the basket that rests between us and stand. “Enjoy dinner. I’ll see you in the morning.”
Montes catches my wrist as I pass him.
I look down my arm, at those long, tapered fingers that completely engulf my wrist. “Let go.”
The vein in his temple throbs. “Sit. That’s an order.”
The king and his orders. He always did like to lord them over everyone. That hasn’t changed.
I lean in, getting close to his face. “Fuck you and your orders.”
I twist my wrist out of his hold and stride away.
“Serenity!” he calls after me.
But I don’t stop walking, and I never look back.
Self-doubt has never been one of my character traits, but now as I pad through the empty halls of the king’s castle, I can’t help but feel it.
When it comes to the king, I have always assumed the worst. Perhaps my assumptions are no longer correct.
Perhaps he’s no longer the most abominable person on the planet.
Nodding to the guards posted on either side of my door, I slip inside my bedroom. As soon as the door closes behind me, I lean against it, my head tilted towards the ceiling.
I must be the worst sort of person to be angry at this possibility. If my father were here, he would be shamed by my selfishness.
But my anger always did a great job of masking every other emotion I felt, and right now the main emotion that lurks just beneath it is worry.
How long did I hold out against the king when he was wholly wicked? What will I do now when the king’s wicked side is tempered by something just, something good, something I might actually agree with? Believe in?