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Evergreens, like memories, never die out or falter—not even for a moment.
Catham walked the length of the river, limping and sometimes stumbling from time to time. When he fell into the marsh, he had started to climb out when he stopped moving, contemplating. He closed his eyes. He could stop moving, he could just stay there in the water—forever; eventually moving downstream and eventually dying. He was so tired. The water felt so amazing on his skin, like a blanket that was warm somehow, not as cold as it should be. He could lie there, and everything would be as it should. It all would be over. He opened his eyes as he slowly ducked down into the water, staring endlessly into the black murky water.
Suddenly he saw her, her blond hair, her green eyes. He opened his mouth to scream and run away from the woman who haunted his nightmares. He could see her, pale arms reaching out to pull him to her, pull him into her. He could feel her hands in his hair tugging. His open mouth had filled with water and he began to choke, the water seeping into his lungs. He closed his eyes and pushed away from her, swimming back up to the surface with all of his will. He could almost feel her tugging at him, trying to stop him, to bring him back down with her. He kicked away.
His head surfaced from the murky water and he basked in the relief that flooded to him by the feel of the sunlight. Quickly he swam out and away from the water. As sat on the edge of the marsh, coughing, he heard a small voice; it was her voice and it was as if it had been stolen by the wind. He looked at the water, he saw nothing. Shaking his head, he suddenly realized how painful it was for him to move his neck at all. He laid his head down in nearby grass, moving away from the marsh and the wind. She couldn’t have been there down there with him. He must have imagined things again, right? After all, she was dead.
“Why?” that was her words to him, her last words ever to be spoken while she was on the earth. It was also the word Catham had heard spoken in the wind: why. At some point of his life, months ago, he would wake up, screaming from hearing that word in his dreams.
He’d always see her, eyes green and big and dilated and dead. She’d be on the ground, lying there, and in his dreams he’d be standing in front of her. Suddenly then, she’d be standing upright, and then she would thrust her arms out in front of her as if to pull him to her, but instead of embracing her, he’d look down at her hands. He never knew why. Then he’d see it, her heart, big and weirdly shaped and red. The red was dark but not quite crimson and even though apart of him inside screamed to turn away, he never did; he’d only keep staring at her hand, as if he couldn’t do anything else. And then she’d tilt her hand to the side and her heart would fall and thump to the ground, but it was a squishy thump sound, a repulsing thump sound, and then all of a sudden in his dream, he could see flames in the background, feel fire all around him. “Catham,” she’d say, and he’d look up to stare into her eyes, only to see that there were none, and that he was staring back into empty black holes known as sockets. Then she’d give a shuddering breath as a sword would pierce her chest, and then he’d look to the ground and watch as her heart would slit and seep out bright red blood. Then he’d look at her again, and see that her sockets were dripping blood. As if she was crying blood. Then she’d open her mouth and mouth a word. That word was why, and although he never heard her say it aloud, the word still managed to voice in his ears. And that was when he’d wake up screaming.
But now, after many months past, the dreams had faded away into a faraway, dark part of his mind, and although they stirred they never surfaced, and he was allowed to sleep without dreams, as he was, in the grass by the marsh. Her name was Katherine. When she was alive, he had loved her, and in death, he loved her still; more than anything, more than life—he’d always hate himself for not realizing it sooner. He made so many wrong choices with her that he could never fix. Because she was dead—and it was his all his fault. Suddenly a new dream sucks him into it and out of his darkness.
“Catham, let’s go! Let’s run, while they aren’t looking,” Katherine had whispered to him, urgently tugging his hand in an attempt to drag him to the kingdom gate that separated them from the outside world. It was the beginning of spring, at last. They had been planning since the winter. To leave in the beginning of spring, when the guards don’t always have to guard the gate, it was their dream, their goal, to spend the rest of their life with each other, and to escape from their kingdom and to see the villages beyond their own.
“Catham,” Katherine hissed. “What are you doing, standing there like a stone? They aren’t guarding the gate right now—this is our chance!”
“Uh, sorry, Kath,” Catham had replied slowly at first. “I was thinking.”
“About what?” she pressed, “How can you think about anything besides getting out of here?” when he didn’t reply at first, she sighed. “Oh, come on!” With urgency and impatience Katherine grabbed his arm and tugged him down the hill with her, towards the village gate. Or wall, depending on how you had wanted to look at it. It was tall, at least as tall as old, two story Victorian houses. It was pearly white and down towards the bottom, there was a lock for a skeleton key. When they approached the wall, Katherine turned to Catham. “Now what?” she had asked. “You can pick it—right?”
Catham sighed. “I don’t need to,” he had said, pushing her gently aside and kneeling at the lock. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out the black skeleton key and slipped it in the lock turning carefully. The key snapped into place and the gate opened with a creak. Quickly he placed the key back into his pocket.
“Where did you get that?” Katherine asked in a whisper. “Father would have never given your key back; not after hearing you confess your affection for me.”
“Yeah, I know,” Catham had replied. “Let’s go, Kath,” he said as he took her hand and they ran past the gate.
“No, hold on—” Katherine tugged her hand free and crossed her arms against her chest. “Who gave you that key, Catham?”
“Don’t worry about it,” he said, choosing his words carefully, “the important thing is getting out of here.” He reached to grab her hand again.
She wouldn’t let him take it. “It was Ralph, wasn’t it?”
“You accepted something from him for this; that means he knows!” she exclaimed. “I told you not to tell anyone—that meant my brother, too!”
“Kath, you don’t get it…”
“What isn’t there to get? Do you know what will happen when he tells—”
“Raphael wouldn’t tell,” Catham said in his best friend’s defense. Raphael might’ve been a prince, but Catham knew Raphael wouldn’t sell him out.
Apparently, Katherine felt otherwise. “How do you know? My brother is a tyrant, Catham! Don’t you see that? You might’ve trained with him as knights for my father’s kingdom, but you don’t know him as well as I—were you the one who has been with him since the day you were born?”
Catham shook his head. “No,” he said slowly, “I wasn’t. But were you your brother’s confident, did he share everything with you, Katherine, the princess who didn’t care about her brother? Or did he share it all with me, Catham, his very only best friend?”
Just then, they were interrupted by screaming. Turning around to look into the kingdom, they saw the castle; it was beginning to blaze. Katherine screamed. “Oh, no!” she whispered. “It’s on fire. Catham,” she took hold of his hand, “let’s get out of here quickly.”
“No,” he had said. He turned to look at her. “We’ve got to go back.”
“We need to go back? Why?!” she screamed.
“He’s still in there,” Catham stated. Katherine stopped tugging his arm and stared at him. “No, he’s not,” she said. “Ralph’s probably out there first. He’s fine.”
But Catham shook his head, “I know he’s there. I can feel it. Please, let’s go back!” he exclaimed and for a brief moment, Katherine stepped away from him.
Then she took his hand gently. “Okay,” she had said, after some time.
Raphael sat on the foyer’s bottom step, sipping whine. The fire crackled around him, but what did it matter? He had caused it anyway. He began to ruminate, wondering when Catham would return. Would he come back at all?
Catham stood there, watching Raphael, as if he believed the prince had lost his mind; Behind Catham stood Katherine.
“What are you doing?” Catham asked panting. “Why sip yourself to death, you’re already burning yourself alive.”
“Ha! Good to see you too, my friend,” Raphael replied happily. His eyes narrowed slightly as he eyed his sister. “You as well, little sister,” he said, voice low. Katherine gasped at the viciousness behind her brother’s voice and grabbed hold to Catham, who also could tell that Raphael wasn’t happy to see his sister.
“If you wanted me to come alone, you should not have given me the gate key,” Catham said to him.
“Yes, yes,” Raphael agreed. “You are right about that. I do doubt that you expected me to do this, though.”
“So it was you who set our home on fire, brother?” Katherine asked from behind Catham.
Raphael laughed. “Don’t you mean mine and father’s home? You do not live here anymore, sister.”
Katherine’s voice quivered as she spoke. “But…”
“For stepping into the outside world, you are no longer a princess of this kingdom,” Catham said in agreement, “just like I am no longer a knight of the King.”
Raphael laughed again. “What are you going on about, dear friend, you are always welcome here.” He stood and began to walk towards them. Katherine cowered, but Catham never moved.
“Why am I allowed here when she is not?”Catham asked, eying his friend who had walked behind him, near Katherine. He watched as Raphael tucked some hair behind Katherine’s ear and kissed her on the cheek. Raphael made a grimacing face afterwards, though, whereas Katherine shuddered. Despite the dangerous situation they were in, Catham wanted to laugh at the two of them. Siblings to the end, he couldn’t help but think.
But then Raphael began to speak again. “Why do you have humor in your eyes, Catham?” he asked. “This is not what you think. I was merely saying good-bye.”
“Good-bye?” Catham echoed. Raphael nodded.
“To answer your question of before, Catham, the reason Katherine will not be welcome here is because she would have already been dead.” Suddenly Katherine gasped as Raphael’s sword pierced her chest. She shuddered as her body slackened, all her weight shifting to Catham’s back. Catham whirled around and grasped her as he fell to his knees cradling her to him. Catham murmured her name over and over, whispering sweet nothings into her ear, but not denying that she was about to die. When he finally looked up at Raphael, Catham’s eyes were wet.
“Raphael,” he whispered. Raphael smiled. “Good-bye, my friend,” Raphael had said as he sheaved his sword and walked out of the castle. Catham gritted his teeth. He wanted to go after him. To stick the sword in Raphael’s chest—but he wouldn’t leave Katherine there, alive and alone. Her shuddering brought his gaze back to her face. Her tear wet face.
“I told you…” she said softly.
“I know, I know, I know. I should’ve listened; we should’ve left when you wanted, Kath. I…I am so sorry,” he whispered, barely trusting his own voice.
“Why…” Katherine asked suddenly and Catham looked at her quizzically.
“What?” he asked.
Then her eyes shifted away from him and towards the door. She raised an arm and stretched it towards the direction her gaze held. On her wrist was a pink bracelet. Catham knew of it—it was the one Raphael got her on her birthday. “Katherine,” he sighed softly.
But she seemed to not hear him. Instead she only focused on the door where her brother had just abandoned them. “Why? Why?” she called of weakly after him, her breath rattling. Then her gaze shifted once more to look at Catham as she whispered, “why?”And Catham buried his face in her hair as her hand dropped.
Catham opened his eyes. What a dream, though of course it was very common of him to dream about things he wanted to forget. He stood up and dusted the grass of his pants. He took his sword out its sheave and felt it. It was sharp. Good. He replaced it in its sheave and began to walk away from the marsh.
In no time he saw the gate, the white pearly gate that he had abandoned twelve years ago. It was open now, seeing as the kingdom had been abandoned shortly after King Isaac found his daughter had been killed there.
Catham stared at the castle, the ruined, deserted castle. Although the outside looked intact, he knew exactly what lay inside it. Without hesitation he marched up to the castle door. He pulled it open and he slipped inside. Raphael was sitting on the same step he had sat on twelve years ago. The only difference is there’s no white this time, Catham thought grimly. Raphael didn’t bother to glance at him. “I knew you were coming,” he said. Raphael stood up. He pulled out his sword. “I missed you dear friend,” he said softly.
Catham, who had also pulled out his sword, grimaced. Then without words he charged at Raphael running at him with all his might. Catham swung his sword, and Raphael blocked it with his own. They pitted force against each other, pushing against each other’s blades, trying to force the other a step back. Raphael purposely jumped back, and the tip of Catham’s sword clanked on the ground at the sudden decrease in force. Quickly he raised it backed up as Raphael charged at him, aiming for his shoulder. Both hands on his blade, and his blade being held sideways, Catham fell to one knee as he tried to ward off Raphael’s assault. With strength he forgot he sometimes had, Catham pushed up on his blade, forcing Raphael to ease up on his attack so that Catham could stand up and wield his sword rightly. Their as locked briefly. Then they were charging again.
Metal pitted against metal resounding like the sound of thunder as Catham’s and Raphael’s swords clashed. Neither knew how long they had been fighting against each other, Neither knew how much blood they had lost or how many wounds they had sustained, the only thing they knew was that one of them was not going to survive.
As there swords clashed again, Raphael suddenly pushed with much more force than he had exerted earlier. Catham stepped back and tripped. He fell and his sword fell out of his hands. As he began to scramble for it, Raphael halted him with his sword an inch form Catham’s chest. “So...this is it then?” he asked Catham, and Catham stared into Raphael’s eyes; they were green, as were Katherine’s.
“After you had left, she called out to you over and over,” Catham said, voice quivering as tears slipped from the corners of his eyes.
Raphael façade faulted, surprised by the statement. “What had she said?” he asked Catham carefully.
“She asked you why,” he replied.
Raphael was silent for a moment, pondering. When he opened his mouth to speak, Catham closed his eyes and waited. Raphael never said anything; instead he ran his blade through Catham’s chest. Before Catham died, he thought he heard a small sob, but of course, he could’ve just imagined it.