“I’m tethered—same as you. This silence is my punishment, my prison.”
Overwhelmed, I fall quiet, staring at the floor between us.
“I must ask you something,” Drake says heavily. “But I’m afraid of the answer.”
Gently, I say, “But perhaps it would be worse to pass up the opportunity?”
He looks at me again, his heart bared and bleeding. “Did Eleanor find her way home?”
After all this time, after everything he’s been through, Drake wants a confirmation that my little sister made it back—that he was successful. That everything he lived through was for something.
How can I tell him?
“I’m sorry,” I say softly, shaking my head.
A deep, guttural sound escapes him—like a sob wrenched with a moan. He slowly slides down the door and sits on the floor, one knee drawn to his forehead, looking like a man destroyed.
Unsure what else to do, I sit on the floor across from him, fighting with my many layers of skirts.
“Why roses?” I ask softly.
Drake meets my gaze. “Alice—” He shakes his head. “Eleanor loved them. Everyone says she knew what they were when she arrived—she pointed to them and called them by name.”
“How old are you?”
“So, you must have been about four when Eleanor came to your family.” I swallow, feeling lightheaded. After all these years, I have answers, but they only add a layer of heartbreak.
Drake stares at his hands. “Probably.”
“We’re the same age.”
“Do you remember her?” he asks quietly.
“A little,” I say with a sigh. “Just fleeting memories—nothing substantial. But…I think I know why she liked roses.”
He looks up, desperate to know more about the friend he lost so long ago. And maybe talking about her—or talking to anyone about anything—is cathartic.
“My grandmother grew roses,” I say. “The horticultural society in Davon even gave her an award for a hybrid tea rose she created. Some of my earliest memories are of walking with her through her gardens. Maybe when Eleanor was little, roses subconsciously reminded her of home.”
“She liked visiting Father’s rose woods the best,” Drake says with an absent nod, looking as if he’s lost in memories. “But when we were here, as we were most of the time, her favorite place was the garden Brahm planted for her. It was a secret spot, hidden in the hedges, the entrance concealed behind a massive weeping spruce.”
“I didn’t see any roses on the castle grounds.”
“The queen had them removed.”
That’s twice he’s referred to his mother that way. Does he no longer claim her? Not that anyone could blame him.
“Thank you,” I say softly. “Thank you for loving Eleanor, for risking all you did for her.”
Drake watches me, and his eyes grow glossy.
“I think…” I blink several times, overwhelmed by his reaction to my words. “My parents would have been so relieved to know she had you caring for her.”
Drake studies me for several long seconds, and then his eyes move behind me. “Brahm.”
I turn, relieved to see him this soon but anxious about what his early arrival could mean. “You’re back already?”