I’d been in love with Arabella since before I knew what love was.
We grew up in court together, chasing each other down ornate hallways, daring each other to investigate dark, forbidden rooms. Our childhoods were full of joy. And stories, so many stories. Told to us by our tutors, maids, friends.
There was magic in the castle. And danger. And they wanted us to be prepared for it.
My favorites were the romances. Arabella never much liked them- she thought them to be archaic, boring. But I was entranced. I ate up tales of men professing hidden passion, whisking young girls away into the night. Stories of dancing and thunderous drums.
I sat with the girls, growing up in the place Arabella left empty. She preferred to listen to more adventurous tales of knights and dragons, monsters and duels. She wanted to be a knight. And I believed she would be someday.
The stories grew with us.
By adolescence, laughter became sweat. Professing passion became acting upon passion, and stories told during lessons became stories whispered in candlelight. Giggles became parted mouths.
And, suddenly, as if it had been there all along, Arabella and I had a shared interest in romance.
A shared interest in re-exploring those dark, forbidden rooms we once dared each other to explore.
The stories didn’t seem so thrilling anymore. Not when I looked into her hazel eyes, touched her soft skin.
Stories are nothing when you have the real thing.
And it was, real. We had something everyone around us could only dream of. Something as easy as breathing. As if it’d always been destined. All the time in the world laid before us.
Until Arabella’s seventeenth birthday, the first day of the new year, when our time ran out.
We’d always thought the looks given to us by our tutors were sadness at their own lack of the love we had. But we were wrong.
After Arabella’s celebration ended, we were approached by Lady Isobel, our tutor since childhood. The sorrow on her face was enough to get us quickly following her to an empty room.
“We wanted to wait until you were old enough to understand,” she began, refusing to look either of us in the eye.
“Understand what?” Arabella questioned impatiently. I could see her struggling with Lady Isobel’s long pause in the tapping of her foot, the chewing of her lips. She had so much energy vibrating throughout her. So much life.
“When the time came to tell you, we already knew,” Lady Isobel’s eyes were glistening. “We saw the way you looked at each other, and we couldn’t… take that away from you. We decided to give you more time. But,” a tear slid down her cheek, “time has run out. And it’s time for you to know.”
“Tell us,” I whispered.
“There was a prophecy.” Arabella gasped. She’d always wanted to be part of something special, magic. “It told of two children, born as the year ended, and as the year began.”
It wasn’t hard to figure out what she was saying. My birthday had been the day before.
Arabella looked at me, a conflict of emotions on her face. I could see that she still believed something good was coming. I had no such faith.
“What’s the prophecy?” I asked.
“Before dawn arrives, as the child who ends the year turns 18, one child must kill the other. Or both will die with the rising of the sun.”
My heart immediately felt as though it was being crushed inside of me. Tears welled in my eyes as I turned to Arabella. She had a look of shock on her face. No fear, no pain. Just shock.
“I’m so sorry,” Lady Isobel wept. “I’m so sorry.”
“We’re going to make it count,” Arabella promised.
And we did.
The next year passed slowly, sweetly. And yet, it was gone in the blink of an eye.
We had decided that night, the night we found out about the prophecy. We would not hurt the one we love.
And that had been the end of it.
We would die. Like in the stories of our childhood, we would die. A true tragedy.
But our last year together was the opposite of tragic. It was, perhaps, the most beautiful time we’d ever known together. We were never apart, never angry with the other.
Each day was a tribute to our love. Our grand, doomed loved.
Our last night, the night before I turned 18, we didn’t leave the bed.
We knew nothing but the feeling of the other’s skin, the taste of the other’s lips, the sound of the other’s voice. It was heaven on earth, passing like a dream, for we could not imagine it was truly our last night together.
We only parted once, when Arabella claimed she was craving tea, promising to bring me a cup. It pained me to let her go, even for a moment, but she insisted I wait for her in bed.
“That way,” she said, “you’ll be excited to see me when I return.”
I couldn’t argue with her.
When she got back, she climbed carefully into bed, handing me my tea as she set hers down on the table beside the bed.
Then, she kissed me. Long and deep, with a desperation I’d never felt before. She kissed me like it would be our last.
We had matching expressions of melancholy as we pulled apart. I raised my tea to my lips.
As soon as I took a sip, I realized it was poison.
It tasted as I’d always heard- bitter, salty. My eyes shot to Arabella’s and found fear. She knew that I knew.
I couldn’t find it in me to feel hate for her. And I couldn’t find it in me to imagine a world in which she didn’t exist, in which she wasn’t a knight, off saving the world.
I raised the cup to my lips, gulping down my death.