The King in the Stone
In the following excerpt from The King in the Stone, Julián makes a fateful decision.
I don’t know how long I remained by the cliff staring down at Andrea’s broken body, so unnaturally still in her white shroud of snow. I don’t know how long I remained by the cliff lost in a world of my own. A world beyond feelings, beyond reason. A world in which, I came to believe, time could flow backwards, and as long as I didn’t move, didn’t breathe, it was still possible to reverse its course. Andrea would rise from the ledge and climb to my side, and her blood would be warm again inside her body and not a red stain over the snow.
I don’t know how long I remained by the cliff dreaming impossible dreams. Then somewhere down in the valley, a horse neighed and broke the spell.
I didn’t remember going back into the cave and retrieving the sword and the knife from the bear’s body. I didn’t remember grabbing the cloak or picking up Andrea’s arrow from the ground or walking down the mountain. The next thing I remember is someone calling my name.
I shook my head to clear my mind and looked around. I was back in the oak grove where we had tethered the horses, and Irene stood in front of me.
I let go of the hilt of the sword I’d instinctively grabbed, and nodded to the girl whose waif-like face was tense with fear.
I tried to talk. But no words came.
Irene moved closer and reached for my face. “You’re hurt, Julián. Let me help you.”
“There is no time. We must go. Now. Get the horses ready. I’ll get Theodorica.”
Turning my back on her, I entered the copse.
Her feet and hands bound, a dirty rag over her mouth, Theodorica was sitting on a stump. Her eyes full of contempt didn’t leave mine as I approached her, and when I removed her gag, she spat at me.
In anger, I lifted her and held her against the closest tree. Theodorica struggled like a wild animal trying to break free, and as I fought her back, something snapped inside my mind, turning the throbbing ache at Andrea’s loss into a feral urge to make Theodorica mine. Forcing her face still with one hand, I kissed her. I kissed her long and hard. Not because I cared for her, but because Andrea was dead and she alive, and in the aftermath of death we crave life.
I kissed her out of pain, out of anger and despair. Out of hate. I kissed her until her body grew willing under mine. Only then, I pulled back.
Theodorica stared at me.
“You got your wish, my lady,” I said in answer to the question she had not asked. “I’m coming with you to the Arab’s camp.”
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