The Midnight Star

Page 74

Magiano laughs a little and shakes his head. The gold bands in his braids clink musically. “Lucent has already returned to Beldain with her queen. Perhaps it is my turn now.”

Lucent. Across the oceans, Queen Maeve had decreed her eventual successor to be her niece, the newborn daughter of her brother Augustine. Thus, finally, she was free to wed Lucent, returning the Windwalker to the birth nation that had exiled her for so long.

“I’ve always been a wanderer,” Magiano adds in the silence. “I grow restless here in the palace, even among such fine company.” He pauses, and his smile softens. “It is time for me to go. There are adventures waiting for me.”

I will miss the sound of his lute, the ease of his laughter. But I don’t try to persuade him to stay. I know whom he misses, whom we both miss; I’ve seen him walking alone in the gardens at sunset, perched on the roofs at midnight, standing at the piers at dawn. “The others—Raffaele, Sergio—they will want to see you before you leave,” I say instead.

Magiano nods. “Don’t worry. I’ll say my proper farewells.” He reaches out and lays his hand on my shoulder. “You are kind, Your Majesty. I imagine Adelina could have ruled like you, in a different life.” He studies my face, as he often does now, searching for a glimpse of my sister. “Adelina would want to see you carry this torch. You will be a good queen.”

I lower my head. “I’m afraid,” I admit. “There is still so much broken, and so much to fix. I don’t know if I can do this.”

“You have Sergio at your side. You have Raffaele as your adviser. That’s quite a formidable team.”

“Where will you go?” I ask.

At that, Magiano puts his hand down and turns his eyes up to the sky. It is a habit now that my eyes instinctively turn skyward, too, to where the first stars have begun to appear. “I’m going to follow her, of course,” Magiano says. “As the night sky turns. When she appears on the other side of the world, I will be there, and when she returns here, so will I.” Magiano smiles at me. “This farewell is not forever. I will see you again, Violetta.”

I smile back at him, then step forward and wrap my arms around his neck. We embrace each other tightly. “Until you return, then,” I whisper.

“Until I return.”

Then we move apart. I leave Magiano alone to prepare for his journey, his boots already turned in the direction where Adelina’s constellation will appear in the sky. I hope, when he comes back, she will return with him, and we might see each other once again.

The tale is told by royalty and vagabonds alike, nobles and peasants, hunters and farmers, the old and the young. The tale comes from every corner of the world, but no matter where it is told, it is always the same story.

A boy on horseback, wandering at night, in the woods or on the plains or along the shores. The sound of a lute drifts in the evening air. Overhead are the stars of a clear sky, a sheet of light so bright that he reaches up, trying to touch them. He stops and descends from his horse. Then he waits. He waits until exactly midnight, when the newest constellation in the sky blinks into existence.

If you are very quiet and do not look away, you may see the brightest star in the constellation glow steadily brighter. It brightens until it overwhelms every other star in the sky, brightens until it seems to touch the ground, and then the glow is gone, and in its place is a girl.

Her hair and lashes are painted a shifting silver, and a scar crosses one side of her face. She is dressed in Sealand silks and a necklace of sapphire. Some say that, once upon a time, she had a prince, a father, a society of friends. Others say that she was once a wicked queen, a worker of illusions, a girl who brought darkness across the lands. Still others say that she once had a sister, and that she loved her dearly. Perhaps all of these are true.

She walks to the boy, tilts her head up at him, and smiles. He bends down to kiss her. Then he helps her onto the horse, and she rides away with him to a faraway place, until they can no longer be seen.

These are only rumors, of course, and make little more than a story to tell around the fire. But it is told. And thus they live on.

—“The Midnight Star,” a folktale

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