Apen’s small hand quivered over the paper as he stared at the date marked at the top of the page. There was something odd about it, and his blood began to tingle at the memory. Apen took a deep breath. He couldn’t remember that now. He had to focus on his studies, or he wouldn’t get any chocolate. At the thought of chocolate, Apen smiled to himself, and he turned his attention once more to his books.
A bell tolled, clear and deep, and Apen raised his eyes from his architecture textbook to the smug face of the clock against the wall. Was it the afternoon already? He was a little hungry. The day was quite warm, and only the faintest of breezes disturbed the purple and blue flag in the courtyard outside his window.
This peaceful moment ceased with a sudden tickling against his cheek. He breathed in sharply, and turned in his seat to see April grinning.
“You should see your face.” She said, bursting into laughter.
“A-April!” Apen said. “That wasn’t fair!”
“Maybe not.” She said, placing the feather she always wore back into her headband “But it was worth it.”
Apen looked at her carefully, suspicion creeping into his mind.“Shouldn’t you be practicing singing?”
“Singing can be practiced anywhere” April said, drawing up a chair beside him.
Apen stared at her. “You’re skipping.”
“Oh, Apen!” April said,“Missing a few lessons never harmed anyone. And Father won’t mind. He has…other things to think about.”
“You think?” It was true that Joshua Shephard had more relaxed standards when it came to the scholarly success of April Shephard, her being the youngest daughter and not likely to ascend the throne. But even so, Apen was incensed that she would even dare to think of deliberately cutting a lesson.
“Maybe.” April said, her voice suddenly dropping. “It’s been…weird, Apen. Father hasn’t been like this in a long time. Not since Mother died, and even then, it wasn’t the same. He tried to keep it together, for our sake. Now he just…spends all his time out, or in the library.”
“But no one…no one in our family has died.” Apen couldn’t stop his voice from quavering a little.
“And what are we supposed to do, wait until someone does?” April said, leaning forward, almost whispering. “You…you’ve probably noticed that it’s been a month. Since the amphitheatre. We haven’t gone out and done anything together. We’ve just each kept to our usual things. Aphera and Kirk are going to get married soon, we should enjoy things now before they change again!”
Apen couldn’t say anything. All he could hear was the ticking of the clock and the sound of his heartbeat. April drew back a little, and rested her head on the table, and smiled. All at once, the tension drifted away.
“Do you remember when Mother was alive?” She asked.
“A little.” Apen said, leaning back in his chair. “The memories are kind of distant, though. I have a feeling we were happy, and I remember things I learned, but apart from that, it’s all kind of faded.”
“Like fabric left in the sun too long.”
Apen nodded. “Or a dream.”
“But it was no dream.” April said, sitting up again. “It was real, and Mother used to sing songs to us, and we always ate all our meals together, and we once went over a really long trip over the mountains…oh, but that was before you were born.”
“Was Mother’s voice as pretty as yours?” Apen asked.
“Prettier. I thought it sounded like silk and gold and the wind.” April glanced out the window, rubbing her arms as if she was cold. “But I can’t remember it exactly anymore. That’s why I want to do things with everyone now, while we’re all around. Which is why I was wondering if you could talk to Father. He’d probably lecture me about focusing more on my lessons, but he’ll listen if it’s you. I don’t think any of us are doing anything tonight, maybe we could go somewhere?”
Apen felt a chill up his back. “Not to a theatre.”
“Of course not!” April said, waving her hands “Somewhere else. Maybe–”
Distantly, a shrill soprano voice sounded. “Princess April!”
April jumped up from her seat. “Oh dear. It looks like I’ve been found out. You’ll talk to Father for me, won’t you?”
Apen laughed. “I will, but you know, if you studied more, maybe you wouldn’t have to ask me.”
April stuck her tongue out at him, got up from her chair, and ran from the room, singing, “I’m coming!”
Apen looked up at the clock. I study for hours every day and think nothing of it, he thought. He wouldn’t mind if I took a short break…would he?
He got up, and left the little room with the clock and the view from the window behind him. Sunlight tumbled through the tall windows and lit up the halls of the palace. The only sound was the pattering of his small feet over the maroon carpets. He tried not to be too loud as he scampered by the elegant chandeliers and balconies and down the many flights of stairs. He kept expecting someone to notice him, but he didn’t see another soul–not even a guard. At last, he made it to the library. Cheering himself at his success, he entered.
The library was dimmer at this time of day, when the tallest windows faced away from the sun. There weren’t many lamps lit, either. The arches cast deep shadows that casually stretched up against the alabaster walls. There was a stillness in the library that no other place could rival, especially now that many people had gone off to eat their lunches in the sun. Apen slipped by the glassy ponds, remembering a story his father had told him about how he had tossed a book at King Bhatair and it had sunk beneath those same placid waters. He climbed the final staircase, and began to pass row upon row of bookcases, which proudly displayed their colourfully bound treasures. He checked every row, but he knew which one his father most frequently visited–The one where the Nedarian books were kept.
He began to run as he approached it. If his father was there even now, maybe he was hungry. They could eat lunch together!
“Father!” he called out, trying not to be too loud, despite the fact that there wasn’t anyone around to scold him for making noise anyway. “Father, are you there? I talked with April, and we were wondering if we could–”
He turned the corner.
There were books everywhere, all down the sickeningly unending aisle, in stacks and strewn over the carpet, perhaps in more disarray than they had ever been allowed to be. And in the midst of the chaos, there was a body. Above him, blood stained sword in shaking hand, stood a boy with hair like sand.
As he rushed forward, the person staggered back a few steps, but didn’t run. Apen didn’t care. Joshua Shephard lay face down on a spread of open books. Blood was seeping from a wound in his back, and was splattered over the pages and the carpet. Apen could have screamed, but he couldn’t find the air in his lungs. Hardly daring to hope, he put his hand on his father’s wrist, feeling for a pulse.
There was none.
He checked again. It couldn’t be real. Panic surging through his body, he looked up, helpless. The blond boy wore a blue shirt and holly-red cloak. His eyes were cold, with only a whisper of fear. Apen could have recognised him anywhere. He would recognise him anywhere for the rest of his life. He wanted to run, but his legs were stiff. The boy opened his mouth and spoke.
“Apen? Apen! Wake up!”
Apen opened his eyes. Towering over him was the ghost of the face from his memory, but with violently red hair and a concerned expression.
“Apen, are you ok?” Enel’s ocean blue eyes were wide in puzzlement.
They were on the deck of the Novalog, under the glow of the unconcerned sun. He had dozed off while sitting against the deadlight. Waves lapped against the boat as they made their way closer and closer to the East–To the day when Apen would have to see him again. Apen put his hand on his head, as if to contain the memories.
“I’m fine.” He said. His voice sounded strange, even to him. “How long have I been out? Have we made much headway?”
“Yeah, Noah says we’re doing good.” Enel said. “Are you sure you’re alright? You looked like you were having a bad dream.”
“It was no dream.” Apen said.
It was a nightmare, certainly. But it had been real.