Reader warning: Contains death, in a kind of violent fashion. 

 

Maggie bursts through the closed doors in tears, though her actions only distract the guards for a short time. The men outside enter cautiously and look around, seeing Throne unharmed with Alex beside him and the Keeper King dead in a crimson pool. Throne waits for the lynch mob to take them both but the gathering is stunned, the council members push to the front and see the outcome, some curse and rage while a few smile and step up, shaking Throne’s hand. The news is spread through out the kingdom and a ball is hastily planned to celebrate Throne’s Heir, though he insists no such thing be done.

Throne is whisked away to attend to the state and Alex walks the halls slowly and methodically, taking in everything he can, unsure if he will stay with in the castle walls or head to the south to see if his father still runs the old farm. Thinking more then paying attention he nearly trips over Maggie sobbing outside the chapel. “Watch where you’re going.” She manages to say, wiping away tears.

“I’m sorry Miss Magnolia.”

“Alex, please. Stop calling me that. Call me Maggie.” The knight shakes his head.

“I prefer Miss Magnolia.” Maggie sighs and gives him a weak smile “I’m sorry you can’t go home, but this isn’t such a bad place, is it?”

“I supposed not but its not my world. Its not my home… No one can replace my mom, my friends… my life.” Alex offers her his hand and helps her stand. He offers her his arm and while she does not like it, she accepts it and allows him to lead her all around the palace.

“These people have you and Throne to thank for what is to come.” He starts “They are celebrating you, and he tonight. I would like you to come with me, to the party, I mean.” Maggie looks up at him.

“I didn’t do anything…”

“You got the Keeper to release Margery and the kids unharmed, you rescued Throne, and you came here with him after me.”

“Yes but you did the hard work. Alex this world didn’t need me, it needed you to do what’s right.” Alex shakes his head but does not argue any further as they again start their walk. “You will join me, won’t you?”

“I have no choice really.” Alex chuckles.

“No, you really don’t.” The finish a large loop of the palace and part ways. Maggie chooses to spend her time resting with the monks that still send her untrusting sideways glances, she sits and listens to them chanting, eats with them, and watches how they goes about their day. On the other side of the castle, Alex meets with Throne and they lounge about in a large cool bath while servants come in and out, serving their every whim.

“Stay here, with me Alex.” Throne finally says, looking up at the tiled ceiling.

“Is that a question or an order, my king.” Alex responds without hesitation.

“Its a question. Will you stay here and be my keeper king?”

“No.” Throne looks at his friend, deeply hurt. “I will not be your keeper king, but I will stay.” Throne smiles.

“What title should I give you then?”

“Just call me friend. I’m tired of titles.” The former bandit nods and turns his face back to the ceiling for a moment. “Miss Magnolia is attending your ball tonight.”

“Good, it will be a place to honor her.”

“I’m worried about her Throne.”

“You’ve been worried about her, my friend. She will adjust to life here. She’s done fine so far.” Alex nods and silence falls again. Finally the knight rises, sloshing the water, and leaves to get ready while Throne sighs and does the same.

That night Alex appears at the chapel dressed in black and escorts Maggie in her blue tunic with brown leggings to the ball room full of people, food, and drinks. They talk and Maggie draws a crowd to her every time she stops walking, when Throne enters it all changes. The crowd gathers around him and he seems to love it; dinner is a delight for everyone though some seem horrified by Alex’s willingness to feast on almost everything on the table aside from the white fish and mushed grain.

Drink flows freely, and Maggie takes advantage of that; she enjoys dinner but loves it even more when everyone is too busy to notice her downing glass after glass of strong red wine. She slips away, only noticed by Alex who moves to follow but is stopped by a horde of women all wishing to dance, looking over them he no longer sees Maggie and so caves to their requests. Maggie drunkenly wanders the halls, peering out windows, trying doors, and entering unlocked rooms as she pleased till she came to a large balcony. She steps out into the cool night air and stares at the stars, still so unfamiliar to her, she carefully peers over the edge of the balcony, noting that the ball is taking place nearly right below her.

Unsteadily she climbs up and sits on the rail, feet dangling off the edge, she giggles as one of her loose boots plummets to the ground, startling a man and woman below. With a sigh she looks out from her perch and sniffles, the pain of missing her mom made worse by the endless amount of wine in her system. She sways with the wind and hums to herself, slowly drifting between sleep and wakefulness. Below her the man and woman grab her shoe and storm into the ball, bringing it to a servant and hurling questions at her for which the woman has no answers; Alex intervenes and takes the shoe, confused as to who the owner might be.

He steps out and can just barely make out the figure on a railing high above, swaying dangerously; with sudden understanding he races inside and up flights of stairs, attempting to reach Maggie before she falls. He bursts into the room leading to the balcony and rushes to her but it is too late. The world seems to slow for him as he runs to her, arms outstretched trying to grab her. Maggie screams as the ground rushes up to meet her and Alex looks away from the bloody scene below and steps from the balcony, fighting back tears and guilt as he plods down the stairs to return to the ballroom.

~*~

The last thing Maggie remembers is the stars, the strange stars as her eyes flutter open. Her mother stands from a near by chair and smiles at her “Mom?” She croaks, throat dry.

“I’m here baby, I’m here.” The woman soothes, taking Maggie’s hand and squeezing it softly.

“I’m back mama…” Maggie smiles and her head falls back against a pillow “I’m back.”

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