Nikolai looked around at the scene. So many dead from his family’s mistake. They were so content to force their enemies to fight their battles, long after they were dead. Had they learned to take care of themselves, this never would have happened. His army and allies would still be alive. His daughter would still be alive.
Lilita returned to her father’s side. She held his hand and, with it, the stone. She forgave him for everything. As she did, his hand tightened a bit. She needed him to keep it safe, so Brad would have no choice but to stay out of Lelonia forever. With a silent goodbye, Lilita left her father’s side, knowing that one day they would be reunited, somewhere they could have true peace.
As he mourned with his mother, Wilhelm could feel the presence behind him. Assuming it to be Lilita, the only person who could be watching him, he was surprised when he turned around.
“Father,” Wilhelm had not considered that he would see Penrod’s spirit. He was glad to have one last chance to speak with his father before they moved on, though he wished for a better reason such an encounter may occur.
“Wilhelm,” Penrod’s look saddened. “We did not find you in time”
“No amount of time would have made any difference.”
“Your poor mother.”
“Do you think she will be alright?”
“She is the strongest, most capable person I know. She will run the kingdom alone and no one will notice any difference. She will likely take Yaeland with ease as well.”
“The alliance… “
“May be lost. May remain in some other way. Either way, it will not stop your mother.”
“But with no heir, her rule is not secure.”
“She will have her heir. All In good time. And Ehren is next in line, then your cousin in the Fae Isles. Our family will maintain rule.”
Wilhelm saw Lilita watching him. She was being patient, but he knew she was waiting for him. “We must get to town, before we go.”
Penrod nodded, unquestioning why Wilhelm would need to go to town in his death. “I must stay here. I will stay by Frieda’s side a bit longer.”
Wilhelm knew his father would need to face his own trials, get his own closure, whatever that may mean.
As Wilhelm turned to leave with Lilita, Penrod said, “I’m proud of you. I should have told you that more.
“Thank you,” Wilhelm said, turning back to him. “For telling me now.”
Lilita walked with Wilhelm. They said nothing, but they both knew what needed to be done before they moved on. As much as it grieved them both to leave, they needed to free the souls or this would all be in vain. All these losses.
Lilita lead them straight through the cemetery. They saw the scene they passed through, but they did not make any effort to look. Frieda holding Penrod’s body, Penrod’s spirit watching over her. The Gavelon guards kept a respectful distance as they stood by their king and queen. Nikolai watched over the bodies still laid out in the fallen building. A Lelonian guard stood beside him, awaiting his orders to move them. A weight hung on everyone who stood around the cemetery. The unoccupied guards, the townsfolk who had come to assist in whatever way they could or gather gossip for their neighbors. Everyone kept quiet, everyone gave the royal mourners their privacy. Only one guard left the area, instructed to tell Valya the news. It would not be long before the news spread and the remnants of the festival would transform into a funeral.
Lilita and Wilhelm returned to the village and entered an alley, stopping at a familiar door. Lilita was about to knock, then thought better of it. They were spirits, no one could see them. Surely they had no use of knocking under such circumstances. She slipped through the door, Wilhelm looking down the alley for any signs that Brad had gotten past the guards and followed them this far, then slipped in behind Lilita.
Zofia sat awake in her small room. When they entered, she turned toward them as if she saw them come in. Maybe she heard them. Maybe it was just a feeling. She looked away, into her mug, back to her own thoughts.
“Zofia?” Lilita said, not sure she would hear, but careful not to startle her if she could.
“I do not think she will hear us. No one else has,” Wilhelm said.
“Zofia is not like most people. The veil is still thin. We can try to communicate to people. And they will hear us, if they are listening.”
“Will Zofia be listening?”
“Zofia is always listening.”
Zofia lifted her mug from the table, swirling the contents around. Then she stopped, holding the mug in place, watching the contents settle. Her expression got sadder. She saw something in it that she was not pleased with.
“What is she doing?” Wilhelm asked.
“Reading her tea leaves,” Lilita said.
“Reading her tea leaves?”
“Yes. She does this every morning. For a sign of what the day will bring.”
“It does not look like this day will bring something good.”
“We already know the bad news that will plague this town, this whole kingdom and yours as well.”
Wilhelm watched Zofia, tilting her mug. She did not break her concentration, a range of emotions flashing through her stony expression. Wilhelm was not sure how specific tea leaves could be, but he hoped Zofia would know the bad news was related to Lilita. He hoped she would be listening to the spirits for more information. He hoped she would hear them when they asked for her help.
“Zofia,” Wilhelm said. He had moved closer as he watched her. Only the small wooden table separated them. “We need your help. Please.”
Zofia looked up from her mug.
“Can she hear me?” Wilhelm asked Lilita.
“I do not know,” Lilita said. “It is difficult to tell.”
“Zofia,” Wilhelm said, “if you can hear me, put down your mug.”
Zofia looked to her mug again, checking the contents once more, then put her mug down on the table.
Wilhelm was growing eager. She could hear him.
“Zofia we need you to do something for us.”
Zofia got up from her chair. She paused, her hands on the edge of the table, then she looked up. Straight at Wilhelm. He could not believe it.
“Zofia we need you to-”
Zofia turned away from him and went to her small window. She leaned against the wall, looking outside. “Oh, spirits, what tragedy must we face today?”
She had not heard him. The mug was merely a coincidence.
“How were you able to steal the stone?” Wilhelm asked Lilita.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, you could open doors, your mother’s jewelry box, and take that brooch from her bedside table. We can interact with things, yet no one can see or hear us.”
“I suppose it is because we wanted it enough.”
“We wanted Zofia to see us.”
“The veil is thin, yes, but it does not grant us full access to the world of the living. We must have a desire strong enough to make ourselves seen to people. But they must also have a strong desire to see us. Objects are easier. They do not have to be listening.”
“Zofia looked as if she was listening.”
“And perhaps she was. She may have heard us in her own way.”
Wilhelm took the book from Lilita. He set it down on the table, stepped away, and waited. Lilita did not question him, did not stop him from taking the book. She stood beside him, and together they watched Zofia until she turned around. She went to pick up her mug again. That is when she saw she the book.
Zofia left her mug and picked up the book, knowing she was not the one who set it there. She opened it, skimmed a few pages, then set it back down and went to a shelf, looking for something specific.
“What is she doing?” Wilhelm asked.
“I’m not sure,” Lilita said.
Zofia gathered a three small glass jars, one with a yellowed liquid, two with different powders of greenish brown. She poured and pinched the ingredients carefully, yet quickly, into a small wooden bowl. She mixed them together, then spread the mixture onto the cover of the book. When she finished, she pressed her hand onto the cover and closed her eyes, muttering something they could not hear. They likely would not have understood it even if they could make out the words. When she finished, Zofia walked with the book to the fireplace and set the book down onto the flame.
The book sat on the flame for a second, then became engulfed in an unnaturally blue fire. The book popped and hissed as it burned. Images of faces poured out where the smoke should have been, hundreds of them overlapping one another. The spirits that were trapped inside. They dispersed into the air, fading as they approached the window, losing clarity as they gained their freedom.
Wilhelm and Lilita left Zofia alone to finish watching the book burning. They walked through town, back to the field where the festival was beginning for the day. People were starting to fill the streets.
“What will happen to Lelonia,” Wilhelm asked, “without a spirit army to protect it?”
“My people will have to learn to protect themselves. Ilona will be named heir. My parents may pursue an alliance elsewhere. I do not know that your mother will forgive us for any of this. Perhaps we will be taken over by Gavelon instead of joining forces with it.”
“Perhaps Aldrik will talk her out of starting a war with a grieving nation.”
With the souls freed and the book burned, there was nothing else keeping them there. They could both feel it, the freedom to leave. They had passed their trials, fulfilled their duties, and it was time to move on.
Wilhelm and Lilita took each other’s’ hand and walked off, ready to move on together, into the spirit realm.