The sobbing quieted as Nya walked into the room. Gavin had his arms around his mother, her head on his shoulder. His father was standing with his hand on his wife’s back, patting her, tears streaking his face. Gavin was the only one whose face was free of tears.

Nya wasn’t sure what to do or what to say. She took a few steps into the room but then stopped. She knew his parents had to be mad at her because she was part of the royal family that had just sentenced their only child to death, but she prayed they’d understand that it wasn’t her fault.

“Nya,” Gavin said with a smile, raising a hand to beckon her over. His mother raised her head and glared in Nya’s direction, her eyes swollen and red already but so small in the shadow of Gavin’s embrace.

“I don’t want to intrude,” Nya said. It was true--she didn’t want to take any of the time his family had left with him away, but she also needed to see him, to say that she’d do whatever she could to save him. She knew what he would say, that he would try to talk her out of doing anything dangerous. That this was all fate, and there was nothing Nya or anyone else could do to prevent it from happening.

Gavin’s mother stepped back into her husband’s arms. He held her head against his chest, wrapping her up tightly, and then took a step back, giving Nya a bit of room. It wasn’t clear to her whether or not Gavin’s father understood that this was not her fault, but he seemed to see that his son wanted a moment with his lifelong friend.

Nya did her best not to cry as she approached him, trying to believe that this wouldn’t be the last conversation they had together. She’d find a way to keep him from the dragon, find a way to get him safely away. After that, she wasn’t sure what would happen. He wouldn’t be able to come back to the kingdom. For that matter, the dragon was likely to attack the villages until he got his sacrifice. 

But then, if she took Gavin’s place, if she could hunt the dragon down and let him know that she was the sacrifice, maybe he’d let the others live.

She wasn’t about to try and explain all of that to him at the moment when there was a possibility that others could be listening in to their conversation. Instead, she took both of his hands and said, “Gavin… I am so sorry.”

“No, Nya. It’s okay.” He gave a little chuckle, like it wasn’t the end of the world. “It’s not your fault. It is what it is meant to be.”

“No!” she said, forcefully. “It’s not! I’ve got to find a way to… undo this.”

He was shaking his head as she spoke. “Nya, I don’t fear death. It is an honor to be chosen, to make the sacrifice so that others may live.”

“It is a travesty!” his mother said through her sobs. “After all that your father has done for this kingdom!”

Xaver Cross pulled her closer, quieting her as she began to weep again. Nya pulled her eyes from Gavin to take in his mother. Her shoulders shook beneath the thin burgundy shawl she wore over her long, brown dress. His father wore his uniform, but it was in disarray, as if he’d attempted to pull the symbols off of his sleeves in disgust at the idea that the kingdom he’d loved and defended for so many years was now sentencing his son to death. 

Taking a step closer to him, Nya lowered her voice. “There has to be a way to get you out of this.”

Gavin placed both of his hands on her upper arms and looked into her eyes. “Nya--I want you to promise you will not try anything. Promise me! The last thing I need is to know that you’re putting yourself in harm’s way. That dragon is menacing. He will not care that you are the princess. He will kill you.”

“He will kill you!” Nya reminded him. “And you want me to just stand by and let that happen?”

He smoothed back her hair, his smile peaceful and calm. It was just like him not to be agitated and frightened even in the face of death.

It was then that Nya realized, no matter what she did, she wouldn’t be able to save him. Rok Phin was standing out in the hallway, waiting for her. She’d do her best to escape him, to run away, to somehow manage to get to The Point before they got Gavin there, to either secure herself to the altar and intercede the dragon or hide in the shadows and cut Gavin free before the creature could swoop out of the sky and devour him.

But it wouldn’t be enough. It couldn’t be because her father had orchestrated this, and he would’ve already thought of all the alternatives.

So her only choice would be to behave herself and watch.

Watch Gavin be led away.

Watch him be tied to the altar at The Point.

Watch him stand there, patiently awaiting his certain death.

Watch the beast swoop down in the light of the full moon.

Watch his claws grip Gavin and pull him free from his restraints.

Watch him fly away, back to his lair where he would devour the only friend she’d ever had.

The tears were streaming down her face as Nya wrapped her arms around Gavin. “I’ll end him,” she whispered. “I’ll make sure he can never do this to anyone else.”

“Please, Nya. Don’t try,” he whispered back. Then, Gavin pushed her away to arm’s length and looked her in the eyes, wiping at her tears. “I love you too much to think that you might put yourself in such danger. You will be a mighty queen one day, Nya. Live to fulfill your destiny--and let me fulfill mine.”

She was shaking her head, trying to make him see that she couldn’t agree to any of that, that she needed him to know that she would avenge him. But he didn’t want to hear that, so instead, she kissed his cheek, held him tight, and said, “I love you. You are the best friend anyone could ever have.” All the hopes and dreams she had for the future, the idea that they would grow old together, at least as friends if nothing more, all faded away, and all she could see was a bleak life laid out before her where nothing was right, and everything seemed wrong and out of place.

Nya stepped away and let Gavin’s parents return to their son. She swiped at tears as she made her way to the door, and she knocked on the door, her heart heavier than the wooden blockade  that prevented her from leaving the room.

The guards pulled it open, and she stepped out into the hallway, not at all surprised to see Rok Phin still standing there, his arms folded. “Are you ready to rejoin the royal family as they prepare to oversee the rest of the ceremony, or shall I have you detained?”

The idea of being locked in the tower while Gavin’s fate was meted out wasn’t a bad one. She wouldn’t be forced to look as the menacing dragon’s talons sank into her best friend’s flesh and tore him from the altar. At least the dragon always had the decency to fly away before he devoured his prey. The only time he’d ever killed anyone at the ceremony was when some soldiers got too close, and he’d sprayed them with fire. She knew Gavin was right to think she’d put herself in harm’s way if she tried to stop the dragon from taking him. She’d be as toasted as those soldiers had been.

“I’ll go with my family,” Nya said, reluctantly. She didn’t want to, but she wasn’t a coward. Hiding her eyes from the scene wouldn’t make it any less real.

“Good,” Rok said, gesturing for her to head down the hallway toward the area where her family was waiting to be escorted out to The Point. He let her walk a few paces ahead of him, but she knew, if she attempted to dart off, those strong, scarred hands of his would have her back under control in a matter of seconds.

How she was supposed to face her father again, knowing that he was the one who had caused this to happen, she couldn’t say, but Nya would have to find a way. Thoughts of who she’d always thought he was, a powerful, fair, and just ruler, melted away as her hatred at what he’d done became the only thought her mind would focus on.

Rok arrived at the door ahead of her and pushed it open, giving her a hard stare as she walked in. Nya’s mother smiled at her but didn’t move to her daughter. Her father was sitting, sipping a goblet of wine. Her sister was standing by the window, staring out. A beam of moonlight lit her hair, and Nya was reminded of how the moon lit The Point. Gavin would be illuminated as the dragon swooped down and took him away. Her hands were fists again as she entered the room, glaring at her father who wouldn’t meet her eyes. One way or another, she’d find a way to avenge Gavin’s sacrifice.

Related chapters Protection Status