8 months pass

Alex slumped in the slightly-overstuffed easy chair and stared at the empty fireplace. She had lit none of the lamps in the room, but lit candles were stuck into every corner and onto almost every horizontal surface possible. They warmed the room to an almost uncomfortable temperature--she needed no fire tonight--and illuminated everything in soft, yellow light. This year, she would not huddle in the darkness trying to forget. She would not let the shadows of her soul overcome her. It had been five years, to the day, since she had walked away from Jonathan forever. She had begun to refer to it as "the anniversary" in the privacy of her own thoughts. Previous anniversaries had found her in the depths of depression; the very first one had found her drunk. The very date was a reminder of what she had lost. Perhaps, this year, if she just concentrated on something else...

The knock at her door startled her to some degree. She ignored it, hoping that her visitor would leave her to her misery.

Another knock.

"Your Highness?" a thin voice called. "It's me, Emily." Alexander's nursemaid. Worry shot through Alex for a moment. Had something happened? "Prince Alexander is here. He'd like to see you before he goes to sleep, if he may."

Alex breathed a tired sigh of relief. "Yes, Emily, please come in."

The young prince ran in first, the older nurse pausing in the doorway behind him. "Emily, I'm sure you need some sleep. I'll put him to bed when we're done." Emily still hesitated. "Go on. You look tired."

The nurse curtsied. "Yes, Your Highness." And then she was gone, the door closing softly behind her.

"Mama?" The child had climbed up into her lap and was looking up expectantly.

"Yes, Alexander?" An awful name to burden a four-year-old with, really, but she could hardly start calling him "Alex". Her choice of names had been rather forced; she had wanted neither to indicate who his father was or might be. Now, she realised how paranoid she had been at the time--there were many Jonathans in both worlds, after all--but at the time it had seemed sensible, so "Alexander James" it had been.

"Can you tell me a story?"

A flash of annoyance. The child had come to her tonight, of all nights, for a story? "Didn't Emily tell you one?" she asked, trying not to snap. She succeeded--mostly. Alexander's smile faded and he looked down at his small feet.

"She told me one. But I wanted to hear one from you, Mama." He looked back up at her. His eyes were the same as hers had been at his age, big and black. So innocent. "Please?" He could be very cute when he wanted to be.

She smiled tiredly. "All right. Just one story. Did Emily give you a bedtime snack?"


"Ah. Well, should we see if there are any leftover treats downstairs? I'm sure a story would be much better if you had a sweet-cake and some water to go with it." Normally, she would not have allowed it; too many sweets would make him sick quite easily, and she didn't want him to expect a snack every night. Tonight, though, she felt bad about having been annoyed with him. And, after all, a treat once in a while wouldn't spoil him.

"Can I really have a sweet-cake?"

"Yes, you really can." She lifted him down off of her lap so that she could get up. Poking her head out the door, she snagged a young page who happened to be passing by. "Robert?" she guessed.

"Yes, Your Highness?"

Good. She hadn't had a chance to learn the name of every page in the palace, but she tried to remember those she had met. Incredible luck, too, that she hadn't had to go looking for someone. "Are you running an errand for anyone, Robert?"

"No, Your Highness. I was just on my way back from delivering a message. Do you need something?"

"My son is in dire need of a bedtime snack." She smiled, trying to be pleasant; she still wanted to be left alone. "Would you please see if they have any sweet-cakes left in the kitchen? And some water, too, please."

"Yes, Your Highness."

"Oh, and Robert?"

"Yes, Your Highness?"

"Take a cake for yourself, too."

"Thank you, Your Highness." He bowed, smiling, and scurried off. She closed the door again and went back to sit on the couch with Alexander.

"What kind of story do you want to hear? I could tell it to you while we're waiting for your snack."

He considered for a moment, one small finger in his mouth. "A love story, Mama."

A love story. Great. Just what she needed.

"Well, let me see. I think I know one." She pretended to think for a moment. Well, why not. I can indulge in some fantasy. "Once upon a time, there was a princess. She was very beautiful--" (or so she had been told) "--and many princes wanted to marry her. But she didn't want to marry any of them, because they were all greedy and she didn't love them at all."

Alexander gasped obligingly. "Did her daddy try to make her marry them?"

"He did. But she was a very clever princess--" (well, some said so) "--and she convinced all the princes that they didn't want to marry her after all."

"How did she do that?"

"Well, she was a beautiful and clever princess, but she was also a naughty girl. She played tricks on them to make them go away. And then do you know what happened?"

"What, Mama?"

She lowered her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "She fell in love!" Again, the young prince gasped. He always knew the appropriate reaction for the story's events. In a more normal voice, she continued, "But she fell in love with a common man who had no rank and no land. He was very deeply in love with her, too, but the law said she had to marry a prince." Well, not exactly, but close enough.

"What did they do?"

"The princess knew that she had too many duties to get involved with the young man, but she tried anyway. They saw each other every day for almost a year. They were very happy. But then the princess decided that it would be better if she didn't see the young man anymore."


"Because, you see, they loved each other so very much that it hurt for them to go back home without each other. Every time, the pain got worse, so the princess decided that she should stop it before one of them went insane."

"What's insane, Mama?"

"Do you remember the maid who ran through the halls in her shift, screaming that the world was ending?"

"Yeah. She scared me."

"She was insane. The princess was very afraid of becoming just like that maid." Actually, she'd been afraid both for Jonathan and for herself. "So she told the man she wouldn't see him anymore. And she didn't, for years and years. But then something wonderful happened."

"What was it?"

"The man saved the life of a prince. The prince was very old, about to die anyway, and he had no children to give his lands and title to. He liked the man who had saved his life, and adopted him as a son." If only.

Alexander clapped his hands together twice, beaming. "Now they can get married!" He was a smart boy.

"And that's exactly what they did. They got married, and they lived happily ever after." As she finished, she realised that she was smiling. Not just to oblige Alexander; she was genuinely smiling. Suddenly, she saw her situation in a different light. She had lost, yes--but she would not have traded that year of her life for anything. For one year, she had been one of the happiest women alive. And she might have lost Jonathan, but she still had Alexander. She wasn't ready to move on, though she knew as well as anyone else that she would have to marry eventually, and the pain wasn't gone. But she had made a start. She could live through many more anniversaries. She would. It felt good.

A tap on the door startled her out of her reverie. "Your Highness? I've brought the sweet-cakes you asked for."

An undetermined amount of time passes

Alex frowned. "I don't know, love. I just... I just feel uneasy, knowing Andrew's still alive, out there somewhere, waiting to mess things up again. I don't think we've seen the last of him."

Jonathan nodded. "But what could we do? There was no proof, other than your father's word, on which to base a trial for execution. Without proof, it would just have brought him down to Andrew's level, ordering executions on his say-so alone."

"I know. I know. But I don't have to like it." Suddenly, the room seemed to spin around her. Pain stabbed though her midsection, like a knife being driven into her heart or lungs. Confused, she looked down. There was nothing there, no evidence of violence at all. Another jolt, the knife being twisted, and her consciousness was jerked away from her body to another's.

For a moment she was her brother, staring down at the knife protruding from his chest. Aware of herself again, she tried to heal it--but the knife had some sort of shielding on it. She was still weak from the coup; she could not break through that barrier. There was nothing she could do about it. She urged her brother to look up, then. He did, and anger filled her even as the pain threatened to kill her.

Andrew. I might have known. I will make him pay, James. There was a sort of weary agreement from her twin; he was slipping away. And then he was gone.

Alex snapped back to her body to find herself lying on the floor with Jonathan kneeling next to her and an empty hole in her mind where James had always been. Rage and pain consumed her, and she blacked out momentarily. When her vision cleared, she could see that her husband already knew what had happened. He'd probably felt it through the tie.

She collapsed into his embrace, sobbing. "He's dead, Jonathan," she said, voice muffled because she was speaking into his shirt. "James is dead."

An undetermined amount of time passes

Alex poured the wine silently. There had barely been a sound made in the castle that day, as if everyone knew that it was time. She had held on long enough to hunt down her brother's killer and take her revenge and everything was going well. Alexander was old enough to take over her duties as Heir and eventually reigning monarch; she could now lay down the heavy burden of life.

Jonathan laid a hand on her shoulder. He could feel her pain, resonating down through the tie they shared. It would drive her to insanity, and eventually a much messier suicide, if it went on. And then he would meet with the same fate. Neither of them wanted to subject the other to that sort of torture.

She glanced up for a moment. She looked better than she had just after James' death, but now she looked as though she'd had no sleep for years, as if at any time she might curl up and die of exhaustion. He handed her the small packet he'd taken from her stock of potions and powders. She looked at it for a long moment before dividing it into the two goblets that sat on the table.

"Second thoughts?" he asked.

"No. You?"

"Not a one. I'm ready."

She nodded and took a seat on the edge of her bed. Jonathan did likewise. Alex picked up her goblet from the tiny bedside table and held it, looking deep into the red liquid it held. Then she raised the glass in a toast. "To the ties that bind," she said wearily. "To death."

He touched his glass to hers. "The ties that bind. And death." They both drank deeply, and he had just enough time to set the glass down and wrap his arms around Alex before drifting off into sleep one last time.

The End

Remember: Please do not link to any part of this story or give out the address to any part of it. Thank you.

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