Page 171 of Court of Nightmares

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This is a man who will do anything for his duty, his people, and his daughter.

“As the kings and council of our people, we welcome Druig, son of Wraith, ruler of Specter Court into our midst. Long may he reign!” Balthazar calls out, and the words are echoed by everyone in attendance.

“Long may he reign,” I respond, bowing my head in respect to my father. My father turns to me like he hears my voice, even in the throng, and lays his hand over his heart. It’s a proclamation, a promise.

Music starts, and the crowd rejoices, celebrating the new king. The party spreads throughout the court, but I drift to the stairs.

I’ll be back,I tell my men, and they don’t argue, clearly feeling where I am going.

To her.

To my mother.

I walk up the stairs and to the room opposite where I spent my whole life. The door unlocks as I approach, and I slip inside, shutting it carefully behind me and looking around. Nothing has changed. It’s still a mausoleum to a beloved dead woman. Sighing, I wander around, looking at the memories my mom loved so much she decorated her space with them before I sit on the bed, picking up a framed photo from the side table. It's covered in dust now, but I wipe it clean, seeing her smiling face reflected back at me. She’s surrounded by friends, but I focus on her, tracing my fingers over her features.

It doesn’t bring pain this time—well, not complete pain—but a softness for a woman I wish I had known better. Now, though, there is a man downstairs, a father, who is trying to get to know me, and I owe it to him to try.

It is time for me to let go and move on, like I have with every other aspect of my life.

Despite the party being in full swing, I sense him lingering at the door. “You can come in, but you really should be celebrating and playing the game of courts and kings,” I murmur, looking up to see my father.

He winces and comes in, sitting next to me. “A game I never wanted to play, but one I will now to keep you safe.”

“You need to stop doing everything for me,” I tell him, but I know it’s useless. I would do anything for Simon or my men, so I understand. “You need to live for yourself.”

“Maybe I am,” he admits, nudging my shoulder. “Why are you hiding up here?”

“I needed to see this place again and say goodbye. I think it might be time to let go, don’t you?” I murmur, looking around at the dust-covered room trapped in time, forgotten like she is. “She would hate everything being kept like this, as a memorial, dusty and forgotten, unused and unloved. This space should be filled with hope.” I peer up at him then to see him watching me carefully. Reaching out to take his hand, I smile as I look around the room.

“Maybe it’s time to breathe life back into it by opening the doors and filling it with love.” I look up at him, meaning more than the room. “Don’t you?”

“Yes.” He nods, looking around and squeezing my hand. “I think she would like that.”

“I do too.” I hand him the picture I hold. “Moving on doesn’t mean we forget or that we even let go. It simply means we learn to live with it and find happiness despite it. She is still with us, within our hearts and souls, but it’s okay to be happy without her,” I say, knowing he needs to hear it. “It’s okay to live without her. She would want it, and I want it too. I want you to be happy, and I want you to be you, not a shell of yourself, as if you are somehow grieving her more by depriving yourself of happiness and the beauty life has to offer. She doesn’t need that. She doesn’t need our tears. She needs a beautiful life to watch. Give her that, and when the time comes, she will be waiting for you.”

His jaw ticks as he looks down at the picture and then at my hand. “What if I don’t know how to live without her?”

“Then we’ll figure it out together. You’re not alone now, and you never will be again.”

Our smiles, although slightly sad, are filled with hope as we look around the room and say our final goodbyes. The next time I come here, I know it will be filled with someone else’s life, someone else’s happiness and family, and I like that.

It’s good.

It’s healing.

* * *

Giggling, I let Simon spin me around the dance floor, uncaring who is watching. I don’t even focus on protecting us, knowing my father and mates are here and doing just that. There’s a gasp and some laughter, and when I glance over, I see Lycus spinning Zale around the room. I fall into Simon as I laugh. Winking at me, Nathair takes to the floor, bowing to Reve, and then they start to spin around. Conall grabs Osis and spins him, and then Azul steps up to me. Simon winks and steps away, and I’m spun around between my mates, my laughter filling the room.

When I was here, I was always so lonely, even surrounded by people, but now I’ve never been happier.

All thanks to them.

After a few dances, my father steps up and takes Azul’s place, and we slow down, just soaking in each other’s warmth. I find myself snaking my arms tighter around him, and he wraps his around me until we are just standing still, embracing. I rest my head on his chest. There are no more lies or secrets between us, just a father and a daughter as they should be.

We stay like that for so long, the crowd parts around us, and eventually, we have to break apart, smiling at each other. Someone clears their throat, and I turn to see Balthasar. “Before you leave, the council would like to speak to you.” He bows. “If that’s acceptable, my queen?”

I nod and search for my mates, but I should have known better. They arrive at my side and as one, we follow him to a private library off the ballroom. The door closes, and I move to a large chair and sit, crossing one leg over the other. My men spread out around me, a clear reminder and a threat. My father sits near me, showing his loyalty.

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