When Pallis first crossed the Mountain into the Light, he'd been floored. The light--the brightness of it all and the brightness of the people--hurt him. His eyes, so accustomed to the Dark, ached as they took in the other half of the world. He couldn't say how long he stood there, blinking, mouth agape as he took it all in, and he wouldn't say even if he could remember.
That's what it was like when Pallis first saw Anhura. Beauty and light, hurting him at the same time it filled him with feeling. Upon seeing her, though, he'd managed to shake it off faster than when he'd crossed the Mountain.
Later, he wondered how long it had taken Adakias to adjust to the Light. Probably not long at all. He was the Chosen One after all. The calculated sacrifice.
Those words, even thinking them, still made his head ache.
He'd replayed what happened in that filthy shack in his mind far too often. He tells himself, even more often, that thinking about it over and over again won't erase what happened.
Amazingly, Anhura forgave him for--for everything. She told him it had to happen for their worlds to be united again. She repeated these words until he actually listened to them.
Anhura forgave him, but Pallis didn't forgive himself. He wasn't sure that he ever could. Anhura told him that that was expected, in a way, that it was fine for now. She also told him it would not always be that way.
When they'd gotten back from that madman of a doctor, when the news spread, when Razia receded, when people finally began to believe in the myths again instead of just relaying the stories for amusement's sake--when all that happened, Anhura and Pallis were to marry.
The kingdoms merged with no small amount of ire on both sides. The merging would be made official with the marriage of Pallis and Anhura, Prince of the Dark and Princess of the Light. There would be a ball of sorts in which attendance was mandatory. Absence from anyone would be punished. The ball would be held in Pallis' home. The wedding in Anhura's.
He sought her out after his father told him the news, crossing the unofficial line that most of either kingdom was still too wary to step over. The Light no longer hurt him, but it was still a wonder.
He found her in the garden on the grounds of her father's palace. She was sitting on a bench, twirling the stem of a flower and staring at nothing in particular. A dreamer, just like Adakias. He was surprised to find the realization did not irritate him in the least.
Pallis stood in front of her, waiting until she acknowledged him. Then there were so many things he wanted to say at that moment that they all got jumbled up in his mind, until he stood there for far too long, just staring at her. He finally spoke when Anhura raised one eyebrow at him, questioning.
He said, "I apologize for--"
"No," she said, putting a hand to his chest and smiling in apology for interrupting. The touch made his heart beat faster than he'd like. He stepped away from her, if only so she couldn't feel it. "I've already told you, this is meant to happen. We need this."
"We, us, our people." She tilted her head at him. "The myths, remember? This will bring everyone together."
And is that the only reason you're doing it? he thought. Then he brushed the question away, feeling stupid. Of course it was.
Pallis frowned. He said, "I think I would've remembered if the myths told me whom I'd be marrying."
Her laugh was as sweet as he'd imagined it would be. That is, if he'd spent time imagining those kind of things. Which he hadn't.
Anhura stood and walked toward the palace, looking over her shoulder until Pallis caught up and walked beside her. "We can save the discussion of what the myths and prophecies may have said about our wedding for another time," she said. "We can focus on the wedding and joining of our people for now."
The ball was stressful, to say the least. People hardly mixed until the music began, and even then there were only a brave few. Pallis found he could only tolerate so much of watching everyone sneer at each other from across the room before he had to leave.
He decided to take a walk around the grounds. He was not surprised when Anhura joined him, as the night must've been trying for her, too; he was, however, a little bit surprised when she wrapped her fingers around his.
They walked in quiet for so long that Pallis' mind wandered from the party to their wedding. He wondered how smoothly it might or might not happen. He wondered how Anhura felt about the wedding, besides the obvious sense of obligation. He wondered if she still wept for Adakias. Then he wondered what Adakias and Anhura's wedding would've been like if the accident hadn't happened.
The accident. That was how he'd taken to referring to it in his memory. Because he may have threatened Adakias, but he never would've--he'd never actually--
"Dwelling again?" Anhura asked, startling him out of his thoughts.
"No," Pallis lied.
They'd walked the perimeter of the grounds until they were back where they started, on the outskirts of the ball. Pallis stepped away to pick a flower from a table arrangement. He snapped the stem so that it was short enough to tuck behind Anhura's ear, then did so.
"Simply admiring," he said.
Anhura smiled at him, and Pallis felt that curious stutter of his heartbeat that he'd experienced in her presence far too often lately. "Thank you," she said.
When Pallis looked away, he was sure he wasn't imagining the feeling of everyone in attendance staring at them. They'd been doing so all night, no doubt hoping to witness the first sign of uneasiness, the first hint that the marriage would be called off.
Stupid, all of them. Ignorant and ungrateful, too.
But with her at his side, he could ignore them for now.
The people of the Dark who'd known him before the Mountain receded scoffed and laughed behind their hands when they thought he could not hear it. Or perhaps they wanted him to hear it. Brutal Pallis, gone soft for that weak girl? Surely, it wasn't true.
The people of the Light were wary of him. They, like the King, believed he was not good enough for their Princess. That he would taint her. That he was too Dark. Pallis agreed.
Eventually, this would not be so. Soon enough they would be united in more than appearance. But it would do for now.
The day before the wedding, Pallis awoke from a dream in which the Dark Kingdom's earth was no longer barren, scorched. The Light had spread. There was no demarcation between kingdoms, and everyone was happy.
The night before the wedding, Pallis got down on bended knee for her, held her hand in his as if they were not already betrothed. He stuttered and stammered for her as if he were a child juggling words too complex for their untrained mouth.
He said, "I need to tell you."
He said, "I care for you, greatly."
He said, "I love you, in fact."
He said, "I know our situation is strange, at best."
He asked, "But is it possible you could--that you do return my feelings?"
And Anhura, she cupped his cheek in her palm and said, "No."
Pallis bowed his head. "Of course," he said.
She tipped his face up to hers with a finger on his chin. She was smiling. "But," she said, "I am growing to, a little more each day. Just give me time."
Pallis' heart lifted, just as the corners of his mouth in a smile. "Of course," he said again.
That was all he needed for now.