They didn’t think she left her room, but she had. She made trips to the storage room, to the armory, to the stables. She slept during the day and was up all night, preparing.
If Fee had left, then there was only one place she could imagine he might’ve gone.
How a frog could make such a journey, she had no idea, but if that was where he was had gone, then that was where she was going, too.
In truth, trailing Fee was not the only reason she was leaving. Wedding preparations had reached a fevered pace. Food and wine enough for hundreds of guests for weeks. Every room aired out and scrubbed down. The only aspect Caoinlin enjoyed in the horrid affair was how preoccupied her grandmother had become. She involved Caoinlin only when absolutely necessary and spent all her waking hours poring over fabrics, flowers, dinner menus. But after what had happened with Begley, she knew for certain that she couldn’t marry Brogan. Not because of Begley, but because she didn’t have it in her to be false, to marry someone she hated, to pretend that it was tolerable, even pleasurable. Not even to save her family’s honor.
The night before she planned to leave, she went to visit her mother.
Saorla had been bedridden for the last five months. Per the physician’s instructions, Caoinlin had visited her only once a week—he said that she need to be undisturbed as much as possible. Caoinlin had followed his directives in the hopes that it might make some difference, but in her heart, she knew her mother was fading. She’d already been to seen her mother when Fee had gone missing and the guards would not let her enter again unless it was an emergency.
Slipping through the cool darkness of the passages, Caoinlin opened the panel into her mother’s chamber.
Air, thickened by pungent herbs that burned constantly in the fireplace, stuck in her throat. Caoinlin gagged. She hurried to the balcony and opened the doors. Fresh air swept in. The entire room seemed to inhale deeply.
“Caoinlin?” Saorla’s voice was dim.
Caoinlin went to her mother’s bedside. The firelight ebbed faintly green, rendering left mother’s skin a soured-yellow hue. She was so thin it was hard to tell where her body was beneath the bedclothes. Grasping her mother’s hand, she began to weep when her mother’s hand folded like paper in her grip. She dropped her forehead to the bed and cried for a long time. Finally, she lifted her head and Saorla, her eyes sunken, her cheeks hollowed, her lips thin and pale, said,
“Is it time?”
“Time?” Caoinlin repeated.
“To say goodbye?” Saorla gazed into Caoinlin’s eyes steadily. “You are my joy and my pride, Caoinlin, my love. Do not ever forget or doubt it.”
“Did you find Fee?”
She choked up again, shaking her head. “He’s gone.”
“No,” Saorla said.
“I looked everywhere—"
“Hush,” Saorla said. “He would not leave you.”
“He has, or something has happened to him,” Caoinlin said, “He’s not a frog, Mother. His name’s not Fee, it’s Fiachrin. He’s the prince they said was killed by Arthor, but he wasn’t killed. His father is Tireachan of Blackstone. And that’s where I’ll go. I’m sure that’s where he’s gone. I promised I would help him. That I would break his curse.”
Saorla ran her hand over Caoinlin’s cheek. It felt brittle as the dead leaves dropping from the trees.
“Then you will,” Saorla said, her words wheezy and thin
Caoinlin didn’t know what this meant and didn’t want to press her mother for explanations. The Queen’s eyes had slid shut and her breath rattled in the silence. After a time, Saorla’s eyes cracked open again.
“You are my daughter,” she said, “when you cannot remember who you are, remember that.”
“I will,” Caoinlin said. “I love you, Mother.”
“And I love you, my beautiful child.” Her mother closed her eyes again and slept.
Caoinlin remained at her mother’s bedside late into the night.