“That’s not possible,” Morteus blinked and relinquished his grip on her. Majesty neighed.
“Oh, Mor- But it is!” The white-haired elderly gazed at him with shining eyes. “After many years of waiting, hoping- You’ve escaped from the castle!” She grasped him, pulling back when Morteus flinched.
“Do you know how long I’ve waited for you, dear?” The old woman cried, her voice low but desperate. “How long I watched you grow up in the hands of that tyrant hoping that you would escape, and yet at the same time hoping that you would stay and have a happy lifestyle?” She paused, tears leaking down her face. “Oh, my son!”
Morteus stood there, shock emanating from him. “What did you say?”
“My son!” The woman wiped away her tears with a long, wrinkled finger.
“No…” Morteus pried her hand off his arm, thoroughly confused. He took a few steps backwards. “My mother’s dead… King Periphral killed her.”
“I wouldn’t be here if I were dead,” she said, her voice suddenly soft. Morteus suddenly became aware that there were a few people ambling around the main path, pausing to stare at them.
“You were dead,” Morteus stated, repressing the hope that was slowly growing in his heart. He could not bear to have his hope vanquished again.
“Well, Morteus,” A look of melancholy and despair clouded her eyes. “Antoinette the Queen has died. Antoinette, the lost soul- the widowed…” Morteus felt a pang. His father was dead. “The widowed mother, has lived on,” Another tear dripped down her long eyelashes, then she looked up abruptly. Her eyes flashed, and her grip on Morteus tightened as she pulled him behind her, away from the alley.
“Soldiers,” she whispered in an undertone, frowning in a deathly, protective, maternal manner. “Even though Periphral has nearly forgotten me ever since he took over the kingdom, I don’t think memory will fail him if he captures me with you.”
Morteus nodded. “Antoinette, is it?” He asked, tentatively. His mind was in a world of it’s own.
His mother looked back at him understandingly. “Not ready to accept a mother yet, are you?” She nodded, more for self-assurance than for Morteus’ sake. “I don’t know what’s going to happen, Morteus. You’re nearly a grown man- and I’m your mother- a mother who barely even know you.”
“Um, Antoinette,” Morteus shook his head. “I’ve got to get back to Marlin. And I’m quite sure an old lady standing with a young boy in the middle of an alley… Well, it may arouse suspicion.”
“Marlin,” Antoinette stood with her mouth slightly agape, her hands clasped. “Now it’s been a long time since I’ve heard from him. That means you’re in good hands. Morteus, I know you just met me… But since you’ve escaped, you’ve got nowhere to stay. I think, as your… mother… You should come with me to hide from Periphral.”
“No!” Morteus regretted his outburst even before it left his mouth. He felt shocked at her request.
“I mean, I’m sorry, but I’ve got to return to Marlin, there’s something I’m going to do…” Morteus averted his gaze. “I’m not going to hide from Periphral for the rest of my life.”
Antoinette looked at him, questioningly, then her eyes widened. “You’re thinking of revenge,” She stated.
Morteus nodded. “I don’t know what to do.”
Antoinette swallowed. “Now, when I say this, I choose my words carefully. Revenge… Is like a poison,” She murmured. “Everyone has that feeling to some degree, when there is a loss…” She mumbled as tears came into her eyes. “The bigger the stake, the bigger the force of the emotion… Your father wouldn’t be dead if Periphral didn’t want to take revenge for his daughter. It’s a part of everyday life, but who knows whether life would be better with or without revenge?” Antoinette had tears in her eyes.
There was a little movement to the side, but Morteus took no notice of it. Antoinette flinched and look at him uneasily.
“That’s neither here or there,” Morteus said, tilting his head to a side.
“Exactly,” With a sad smile, she turned and walked down the alley. She stopped and turned around, beckoning him.
Morteus followed her. He scanned the surroundings for soldiers.
“We have to split up,” Antoinette rubbed her arms together, clearly disturbed by the idea of leaving her newfound son.
“I’ll be fine, I’m returning to Marlin…” Morteus realized with heart-stopping terror that he didn’t know where Marlin was. “Wherever the plaza is…”
Antoinette looked like a mother hen who just realized her chicks couldn’t fly. “Just follow the main road there…” She pointed in the right direction. “You sure you’ll be alright?”
“Yes, I will,” Morteus inclined his head, eyeing a few soldiers coming from that direction. He quickly threw his hood back on. “I think it’d be best if we go now.”
There was no time for emotional farewells. Antoinette replied with a tearful blink, and was gone in a wink of an eye.
Morteus pulled his cloak tighter over himself as he traipsed towards the plaza, Majesty following behind. Pushing past the shuffling figures around him, he saw the entrance to the plaza, where Marlin had said to wait for him.
He scanned the crowd for Marlin. People were filing out of the plaza, and Morteus drew back into the shadows to avoid them. He caught sight of a few guards, standing solemnly and watching the procession.
“Shh…” He told Majesty, as he neighed and stomped his hooves. “Let’s wait for Marlin.”
The crowd scattered and the last of the soldiers left, leaving Morteus to wait in solitude.
Where is he? Morteus stared at the desolate path, his mouth going dry. Majesty whinnied and pulled on the reins.
“What is it, Majesty?” Morteus let Majesty lead him to an alcove, a recess in the wall of the sandy building. He examined the wall, then turned back and looked questioningly at Majesty.
Just at that moment, a flash of lightning lit up the sky, followed by a deafening thunderclap. Large drops of rain began to fall and Morteus sighed, retreating into the alcove with Majesty. As the pitter-patter or rain splashed around him, he slid onto the floor of the small alcove and curled himself up.
“Down, Majesty,” he ordered, shuffling aside to make space for Majesty. They were both drenched in the downpour, and Morteus huddled around Majesty’s warm body, tangling his hands in his mane for warmth.
A cold tremor went down his spine. What happened to Marlin? He felt Majesty shiver as well, and then pulled off his cloak. He spread it over Majesty and smiled wanly at the grateful look Majesty gave him.
Everyone had retreated into their homes to take shelter from the rain. The only ones left on the street were a man- no, a boy, and his horse.
Morteus hugged Majesty around his neck dug his wet face into Majesty’s mane. “What are we going to do, Majesty?”
Majesty snorted, and Morteus hugged him even tighter, closing his eyes.
A chilling, cold, damp, numbing sensation gradually soaked through Morteus’ skin and overcame him with fatigue.
Marlin, where are you?