Chapter 15

It was madness.

It was dangerous.

It was wrong.

Jowy didn’t care.

It had been more than a week since he’d first seen Jillia and Pilika outside the Academy’s main library. The first two days, he had done nothing. But his resolve was not strong enough.

By the third day, he had begun following them. By night, he studied the placement of the Runes, and considered how best to take them. But by day, he watched them - Jillia in particular.

He couldn’t help it.

To speak to her would be unthinkable, wrong beyond words. He would not allow himself to harm Jillia by reminding her of his presence. Not when he had to leave soon, perhaps never to return.

But to know she was there, in the city, and not to look upon her, was impossible. He had lived on memories for five years. Those memories could sustain him no longer.

So he stood outside the great library and watched her.

Jillia arrived nearly an hour early each day, to unlock and prepare the library. The woolen shawl she wore against the cold brought back memories of the first time they’d met. She’d worn one much like it that day, though it had been dyed a royal purple. He had been on his way to execution. She had pleaded for his life.

Even though his captors had not freed him, he’d never forgotten the sadness in her eyes as he was led away.

He’d fallen in love with her then and there.

Madness, for a boy about to die a traitor’s death to love the Princess of the country which was to execute him.

But madness or no, it was the truth. And not so mad, perhaps, since within the year he was her husband, and King of that same country.

It was memories of that time that had kept him alive for five years.

Now, it was the sight of her long black hair blowing in the wind as she entered the library, or the occasional glimpse of her face when she looked past him.

In a sense, he had come full circle. A boy about to die a traitor’s death could do no more than look upon the object of his love. The Bearer could not do otherwise.

Jillia paused at the door. She stood there for a moment, looking down at something.

And then she turned to him.

Jowy froze.

She must not see him.

He was standing in the deep shadows of one of Greenhill’s great trees, whose leaves had given the city half its name. In the dawn light, he could be little more than a silhouette.

“Pardon me, sir,” she said.

He tensed further at the sound of her voice. Memory could not do justice to it.

“I’ve seen you there for almost a week. Every day, without fail, you watch me open the library.” She took a step closer. “Yet you have never come inside. Why?”

He didn’t answer. If he spoke to her, he wasn’t sure he could pull himself away.

Just then, the light of the morning sun crested the main Academy building and shone in Jowy’s eyes. He blinked and looked away.

But it was too late.

Jillia had seen his eyes.

He had to flee. She could only suspect. If he left now...

His feet were rooted to the spot as firmly as the tree against which he leaned.

She ran across the empty cobblestone street and threw herself into his arms. “Jowy,” she whispered.

He held her tightly and kissed the top of her head. All his worries seemed minuscule in comparison to that simple act.

They stood there in silence. For how long, Jowy could not say. He would have rather had that moment go on forever.

But it could not.

He gently lifted her chin. Her big green eyes were shining with tears. “I have waited for you,” she said.

Jowy knew he had to go. He had to tell her to forget, that she would never see him again. That they had no future together. He said, “I’m sorry it’s been so long.”

“I knew it might be.” Jillia smiled. “But I knew also that this day would come.”

She slid from his arms with effortless grace. “Let us speak further in the library, my husband,” she said. He’d forgotten how much he missed her courtly formality. When others spoke thus, it was a false thing, used to hide sarcasm and distaste. When she did, it was the purest expression of who she was.

But speaking further was the last thing he could do. He had to leave. “Yes,” he said.

In the early morning, there was no one on the streets of Greenhill’s Old Town. They quickly crossed the street, and Jillia unlocked the door of the library.

As he stepped inside, Jowy was assailed by the warm, dusty, inviting smell of too many books. L’Renouille’s library had always been Jillia’s favorite place. She’d told him once that books were the only escape she’d had from her role as Princess.

She led him deep into the forest of bookshelves. There was a clearing by a window, in which were a pair of soft old chairs and a battered table that looked to have had too many heavy tomes on it.

Jowy pulled back his hood. He turned to Jillia. Light streamed in from the stain-glass windows in the ceiling, illuminating her face. How had he stayed away so long?

“How is Pilika?” he asked quietly.

“She is doing wonderfully. She attends the Academy now, which is why I first came her.” Jillia looked at him. “Until now, we have lacked only for you.”

“I must leave again,” Jowy said, as much to himself as to her. He looked down at the Runic tattoos on his palms. “I have agreed to a task which must be completed.”

“I... thought as much.” She looked down. She took a deep breath and forced a faint smile onto her face. “Even if you must leave again, I treasure your return.”

“Don’t,” he said. He closed his eyes, afraid that he could not force himself to say what had to be said if he looked upon her. “You should just forget about me, Jillia. It may be another five years.”

“I have waited this long,” she said.

“It may be longer.”

“I understand.”

“It may be forever.”

She held her head high. She could still look very much the Queen when she so wished. “Then I will live well and wait patiently for death, that we might be reunited in the hereafter.”

He shook his head. “No. I never want to hear you speak of your death.”

“I do not wish it, my husband,” she said. “I... wish you would return sooner. If you would but promise your return, I would ask for no more.”

Everything in him screamed to tell her that he would return. But he could not say that. He would not make a promise he could not keep. “I cannot.”

“I understand that, as well.” She reached out to take his hand. But when she did so, her eyes widened and she pulled back. “You bear the...”

Jowy held up his hand. “Yes,” he said, “I bear the Beast Rune. It is part of my quest.”

“No!” Jillia shrank back. She had never looked at him as she did now. Her eyes shone with fear.

“I have no choice,” he said. “But I will not allow its power to overcome me.”

“You do not understand it! That Rune is evil, Jowy. It destroys all who touch it.” She took a deep breath and leaned forward. “Do you forget what it did to Luca? It destroyed my brother. It destroyed my family. I do not wish to see it destroy all I have left.”

Jowy looked at the wolf’s-head crest seared into his palm. Was Jillia right? Would that demon-Rune destroy his mind as it had so many?

No.

He met her eyes. “Eight years ago, the Soul Eater Rune was used to overthrow evil. Though its power is dark, it was used for good, and foiled the plans of one who would have used it for evil. Though the Beast Rune is a Rune of destruction, it, too, can be used for good.”

Jillia looked away. “I trust your judgment, my husband,” she said. But she did not turn back to him.

Jowy closed his eyes. Truly, he should not have come.

Breaking the silence, she asked, “Will I see you again before you go?”

“I should not have seen you even this once, Jillia,” he said. He took her hand. She did not flinch when the Beast Rune’s mark touched her flesh.

The fear had left her face, but it was replaced with incomprehension. “I do not see why.”

“It is as I said. Because I must leave you again.” Jowy started to turn, but she clasped his hand in hers.

“That is all the more reason, my husband,” she said. She closed her eyes, but Jowy could see tears running down her face. “I have so few memories of you. Though I know I should treasure those I have all the more, it is... difficult.”

He knelt beside her. “Jillia...”

“Please,” she said, meeting his gaze. “For so long as you are able, give me more memories.”

He pulled her into his arms and kissed her.