The Fallen: Loved - Part Four
Mezzanotte was troubled. Deeply troubled.
Why else would she be standing outside in such horrible conditions, freezing her ankles to the bone? And why else would she have called Cervello, her loyal Zombie Usul, to meet her in her garden at this time of night when everyone else slumbered peacefully inside?
Mezzanotte was envying them their warm, comfortable beds while she conversed in low tones with Cervello.
The wind was howling as it danced with snowflakes around them, so Mezzanotte was forced to lean close to Cervello as she spoke, which, sickeningly enough, made her all but swallow his decaying scent. If there had been any other way around it, she would have taken it, but she knew of none, so here she was.
She’d had to be hasty about her plan as well, considering time was running short, and her latest report from Wehn was particularly disturbing. There were only a couple of days left to get this one mission carried out, and Mezzanotte did not like to waste time.
“Do you think you can handle it?” she questioned him after she was done giving him clear and precise directions.
Cervello nodded, his head bobbing strangely on his uneven shoulders.
“Of course, Countess. Your word is my command.”
“And you can have them here before that date?” she pressed.
“Yes, of course.”
Good. With that taken care of, Mezzanotte straightened and was able to clear her burning nostrils by inhaling the bitter, yet clean gust of wind that blew into her face. That was a Christmas miracle all on its own.
“Then begin right away. I will not tolerate any malfunction in my plan.”
Cervello nodded vigorously again, and Mezzanotte feared that his head might topple to the ground. However, the Usul lifted a paw and placed it to the side of his head for support as a energetic burst of wind whipped around them and whistled through the holes in Cervello’s shirt.
“I’ll take my leave of you then, Mistress. Goodnight.”
Mezzanotte nodded once to him, and then, bundling her cloak closer around her delicate frame, she turned and ducked back into her castle, her one good deed for the next century completed.
“Come on, Javiod! It’s time for presents!”
That was what Javiod woke to on Christmas morning: the sound of Wehn’s voice followed by the energetic slamming of his bedroom door. The Werelupe shifted underneath his covers and kept his eyes firmly closed.
No Christmas for him. He was going to skip the holiday. He felt no desire to be cheerful or merry, or to eat a lavish Christmas dinner, and he knew that there would be no gifts under the tree for him. He had no one to celebrate with. He was simply an intruder in the other castle residents’s happiness. He didn’t belong here.
He didn’t belong anywhere. There was no place for him.
Aching again, Javiod rolled, but nothing could seem to keep the pristine brightness of the light washing through his bedroom out of his eyes. Reluctantly, he opened them.
The smell of food cooking could already be detected as it wafted through the halls of the castle. He could hear excited voices and laughter as well, and he knew that, upon leaving his room, he would be bombarded with decorations as the Gelerts had truly outdone themselves in the last month with their Christmas preparations.
There would be the opening of presents, the revealing of stocking goodies, the eating of a wonderous meal, and the bonding of family and friends that Javiod would not be able to participate in. He didn’t want to be a witness to something he needed so greatly.
Still, he knew how persistent Wehn was, and he knew the Gelert would be back if he didn’t emerge from his room. Wouldn’t it be better to pretend to enjoy himself so that no one would bother him? So that no one would look too deeply and find that he was nothing but a hollow shell of a Lupe?
Reluctantly, Javiod tossed his covers aside, slung his legs over the side of the bed, and pushed to his feet. He moved with an elderly pace then, leaving his room and venturing down the stairs.
The tree had been set up in the living room, and Javiod knew that that location would be where everyone was currently situated. He thought of escaping to a different room, but he forced himself to continue on his allotted path.
Wehn would come looking for him otherwise.
Javiod tried to work a smile onto his face as he neared the living room. By the sound of it, everyone was already participating in their fair share of conversation and would be otherwise preoccupied, but he wanted to mask his face just incase someone peeked in his direction.
Drawing in a deep breath, Javiod braced himself and rounded the corner into the living room.
Immediately, Javiod’s smile fell away, and the whole room went quiet.
Totally and absolutely quiet. Not a single one of the other Gelerts in Mezzanotte’s clan spoke, nor did any of the handful of other important guests Mezzanotte had invited. Even Wehn, standing by his aunt and uncle, didn’t have a word to say.
Funny, because Javiod didn’t notice the silence. All he could hear was a loud roar in his head as his heart suddenly thumped violently in his chest.
He stared, wide-eyed, in disbelief at the Christmas tree and the gifts standing beside it, unable to believe his sight or senses. He wondered wildly if he was still asleep and dreaming.
“Aunt Mezza invited them!” Wehn chimed in helpfully after it seemed that Javiod had been shocked into endless silence.
This earned Wehn a thump on the head from Noctivas, but the youth didn’t seem to mind as he continued to beam in Javiod’s direction.
Javiod hardly saw him. All he could see was his gifts. The best gifts he’d ever gotten. The best, and it had come from Mezzanotte? How unexpected. A Christmas miracle!
“Rhoswen,” Javiod breathed out, a goofy, wide grin suddenly splitting his face.
The Werelupe standing before the group of the rest of his pack stared feebly back at him, looking both guilty and uncertain.
“I’m sorry. I wasn’t sure you’d want to see us again. We shouldn’t have left like that. We didn’t think, and we’ve really been a mess since then. We should have come back sooner. Sire, I can--.”
Javiod waved away whatever he was going to say.
“No titles, Rhoswen. No titles from any of you. We’re family.”
Rhoswen appeared even more confused. “But aren’t you angry?”
Javiod shook his head. Had he been angry? He didn’t remember. It didn’t seem to matter. Such trivial things weren’t important. All that mattered was that his family had been returned to him. Somehow, they’d come back, and he wasn’t going to waste it this time.
“No,” Javiod replied firmly, and stuck out his paw. “We’re family. All of us. I was being irrational, and a poor king. I’m sorry, but let’s put it behind us. Please.”
Rhoswen glanced down at his king’s paw for several uncertain seconds before a smile finally washed over his own face. He lifted his paw and clasped it around Javiod’s larger one, shaking it happily.
“Deal,” Rhoswen agreed readily. “It’ll be good to have our king back.” This was seconded by the pack behind him. “But what now?”
Finally released from his self-inflicted cocoon, Javiod saw only one perfect answer for that question. It had been staring him in the face all along. His destiny, his purpose, had always been right before him. He’d simply never accepted or acknowledged it before. Now he had to wonder how he’d ever seen any other way.
“We go back,” he told them. “We go back to our home. It’s time the Haunted Woods got its Werelupes back.”
The pack erupted into howls of delight, and Javiod knew he’d finally found home.
They waited until Spring, and then they went back. Back to the home that was always rightfully theirs. They went back to their caves, back to their land, but they were not greeted with the destruction that they expected.
The Werelupes had left their homes a charred and blackened mess after the villagers had set it on fire. Now, however, the burnt remains of their trees were long gone, and, in their places was something much, much better.
All that they’d constructed, of course, would have to be rebuilt. There would be time and supplies for that, but none of them minded waiting.
Leading his pack back into their territory, Javiod sought out the clearing that had once been his designated throne room. It had once been circled with trees. But now...
Javiod knelt on the ground, and carefully reached out. His massive brown paws dwarfed what looked to be only a twig protruding from the ground, and he handled it very gently. The twig was just a newborn of the gigantic tree it would one day be, but its branches already boasted at least a dozen buds. It stood just on the line where the ring of his trees had once been, and Javiod knew that this young plant would one day grow into the natural guard that the previous trees had once been.
That knowledge was enough for him.
Everything would grow back. Their territory would be the lush forest cropping it had once been, and they would have their homes again. They could rebuild.
The trees and plants were starting over, just as the Werelupes were going to have to do. They could both survive this and flourish.
“It’s a new chance,” Javiod said quietly to the Werelupe at his side.
Rhoswen nodded, studying their surroundings, noting all the signs that told him that the foliage was slowly returning, that everything would grow again.
“Yes, it is,” he agreed.
Javiod released the baby tree in his paws and stood.
“Let’s not waste it this time.”
He was ready now to appreciate what he’d been given. Certainly many things had been taken from him, but those things had been replaced. Perhaps with something even better.
Alston had been dethroned sometime between late winter and early spring, and the last Javiod had heard, his brother had escaped into Meridell where he was now nothing more than a civilian. He’d gotten his justice, but Javiod had been surprised to find that he was indifferent. Regardless of whether or not his brother was a king or peasant, Javiod found that he himself had always been the most fortunate.
He had always had it all.
He wasn’t the one that was fallen. He wasn’t the one that was cursed.
He was the one that was fortunate, because, unlike his brother, he was loved.
Countess Mezzanotte stood in her room, peering out her window toward the woods. She was well aware of the exact location where Javiod currently roamed. She could see it from her window. He would always be under her watchful gaze.
Certainly, she hoped to keep their alliance, as it had been nothing but beneficial to her, but she did know now, however, that her previous plans would simply not work. Javiod would no longer be an intricate pawn, as he had his own agenda now, but she was not alarmed by this small detail that had gone awry. She could easily fix it.
She had Wehn now, and her clan was stronger than ever with the three of them united: herself, Wehn, and Noctivas. She would be able to easily keep her rule over the Haunted Woods, and, though it might take time, she would be able to, just as easily, carry out her previous plans.
Mezzanotte touched the amulet around her neck thoughtfully.
Her day would come.