Chapter 22

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I go to the barracks but sitting here by myself, thinking about Willow is pure agony. But I can't go back to the recruits and run through the same drills over and over again, pretending that everything is okay. 

I leave the barracks and wander around, eventually finding myself at Hale's clearing. I go and sit down on the boulder, pull knees to my chest and look out over the forest. I don't even know I'm crying until a hot tear drips onto my hand.

"Please Melora," I whisper, feeling desperate. "If you're listening, please help Willow. This supposed blessing you gave her is ruining her life and she needs you." 

I rest my head on my knees, tears falling faster. "I truly believe Willow is capable of greatness, I believe it with all of my heart. But I can't sit here and watch her suffer because of it. I can't. Please, help her. However you can, help her."

I sit here, crying for my sister, for the weight resting on her shoulders, for all of the fear and anxiety she must be feeling. Crying for myself and this new helplessness, for wanting to protect her and unable to. The sun slowly sinks towards the treeline as I struggle to find a way out of this dark hole I've found myself in.

A hand gently touches my shoulder but I don't jump; I'd heard Hale approaching. I feel strange with him here, embarrassed but relieved at the same time. 

I've been wanting to tell Hale all this time, hating keeping secrets from him when I know it hurts and confuses him. It feels almost like he's meant to find me up here right now, like the gods know that I need a friend, a shoulder to cry on. 

He doesn't say anything, just nudges me to the side and joins me on the boulder, wrapping an arm around my shoulders and pulling me close. I reveled in his warmth for a second before deciding that I need to talk about all of this or I'm going to explode. I can trust Hale more than anyone here.  

I need to proceed cautiously though, explaining without fully revealing all of Willow's secrets. It takes all of my strength to not blurt everything out.

"My younger sister, Willow, is really sick right now," I start, voice hoarse from crying. "Like, really sick and no one knows what's wrong with her or if she'll even get better."

"I'm so sorry." Hale leans his head down so it rests against mine. His breath gently stirs my hair.

"There's more." I take a deep breath. "My sister actually lives in the castle. She's sort of long lost royalty. Which I guess, makes me sort of royalty too." 

I've actually never stopped to consider that before. I'll be sister to the queen. Potentially next in line for the throne if anything ever happened to her. At least, until they found the next girl blessed by Melora. I quickly shove that thought aside for another time.

"That's how Sebastian and I know each other. And we've had to be so sneaky about it because Willow is still kind of a secret. No one else really knows that she's there. The royal council wants there to be this big reveal and it could be dangerous to tell anyone about her until they're ready."  

"I know," I add in a rush, seeing his confused expression. "I know it doesn't make any sense but I promise that once I can tell you everything, I will."

"No, I understand. It means a lot to me that you're telling me this." I can hear the sincerity in his voice and know that I've made the right decision by telling him. A weight already feels lifted from my shoulders, the air a little easier to breathe.

"What is being done to help Willow?" he asks, worry in his eyes.

I have the urge to break down again so I pinch my side hard enough that the pain cuts through everything else, pushing back against the wave of tears welling in my eyes. 

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