Snow fell in quick succession around me as I ventured forth into the heart of the forest. I tugged on the hood of my cloak, attempting to keep my hair protected from the snow as well as to obscure my face from any strange passersby.
Dusk was falling and I needed to get home before it got dark. If anybody saw me milling around in the darkness, Heavens know what would happen to me. A scandal was not something I could bear on my family’s name, considering I was the only one left to carry it.
However, the snow fell harder and it became fairly difficult for me to see where I was going. A thick layer of fog begun clouding my vision and I knew I better hurry because I did not have much time. Getting lost in the snow would surely result in trouble.
But no matter how hard or fast I tried to walk, my feet kept on getting stuck in the snow, making me lose hope and calm with every passing minute. How was I supposed to get home like this? What if someone saw me? Oh Lord, please do not let anyone see me. The rumors would spread like wildfire and my family name would be torn to shreds.
I no longer had any inkling of where I was and where I was supposed to go; the snow around me kept me trapped while the thick fog made it impossible to see. What was I supposed to do now? How would I get home? My cloak would not be able to protect me from the penetrating cold. What if I ended up losing my life? No one would be able to find me and if by some miracle somebody did managed to find me, my soul would not be able to handle the onslaught of accusations and rumors that would be spread. My father only had one wish as he lay upon his death bed and that was to protect the family name from any rumor or scandal. I could not let his wish die with him.
“You can do this, Lorelle. Have courage. It is just a little snow. You have dealt far worse than this. This is nature’s way of testing you, do not fail,” I said to myself, trying to gather my strength but it seemed that nature was adamant on making this as difficult for me as possible.
Pulling my cloak tighter around me, I continued walking; my breath coming out in thick, smoky puffs as I blinked rapidly, trying to see past the thick layer of fog. But every step became difficult as the snow continued to fall in layers, leaving me no choice but to take shelter under a tree.
I thought about building a fire until the snow stopped falling and the fog cleared away but I knew by this time the wood would be soaking wet, making it useless.
Finding a tree with a bark thick enough to rest my back against, I sat down after clearing the snow from that area. My cloak was getting wet in the snow, but there was nothing I could do about it until I went home.
Resting my head against the trunk of the tree, I closed my eyes and prayed that no one would be venturing into the woods at this hour. If anyone saw me, it would not bode well in my favor.
Not knowing how much time had passed, my eyes begun to get heavy and I knew I would fall in a deep, cold slumber. But before that could happen, sound of horses’ hooves echoed through the surroundings, alerting me awake.
Who was it? Who could it be? I thought as I tugged on my hood so it would cover my face. Getting up from where I was sitting, I wondered if I should go deeper into the woods and hide. But it was already so dark and foggy, would they be able to see me lurking in the forest?
I turned around and saw a soft glow emanating from the corner and it appeared to be coming closer and closer. How far away were they? Was it possible for me to run? But where would I go? I did not even know where I was.
“Halt. Did you hear that?” I froze when I heard the sound of a man, and it seemed whoever it was, was a lot closer than I had expected.
“No, my Lord? Shall we go and look around? Mayhap there are intruders lurking in the corner.” Came another voice. Oh no, how many men were there? No, I had to get home or hide somewhere before they saw me. Good Lord, what would happen if they saw me? No, no, it was best if I hid somewhere until I could find my way to the village.
“Yes. Mayhap it is best if you look around. And bring me anyone you find. I am sure whoever it is will not get away from us,” the first voice stated.
Fear tickled the back of my neck before crawling over and settling on top of my heart. What should I do? There was a nobleman here and if his servants found me, then I would be at their mercy. If I ran now, the snow under my feet would betray my location.
My thoughts kept me busy and lost, leaving me vulnerable to the oncoming servants. It was only when I looked up, did I realize how close they were to me. I gasped at the realization, which turned out to be my biggest mistake, as the men ended up spotting me.
There were four of them, dressed head to toe in winter garb, looking warmer than I could ever feel in my cloak. From where I was standing, I could see the danger swimming in their eyes and I knew I was in trouble. My worst nightmare had come to life.
“Halt! Do not move,” commanded one of the men standing on the right. I could make out the beard covering his chin and his attire made him appear strong and deadly.
I couldn’t have moved even if I wanted to as terror kept me rooted to my spot. The men stepped forward but stopped when a horse appeared carrying the nobleman sitting on top of it.
“Well, well, who dares to venture into my forest on this eve?” The nobleman’s voice had my already cold body turning even colder as I knew my fate was in his hands now. This man, whoever he was could do whatever he wished and he no one would dare raise a finger at him. I, on the other hand would be ruined.
“M—My L—Lo—Lord,” I gave a deep bow, surprised at my body doing my bidding. Mayhap he would be a gentleman and let a damsel like me be on her way. He would not be taking advantage of a helpless maiden at this time.
“A maiden?” The nobleman sounded surprised. Mayhap he would take pity on me and let me go. I prayed to the God above to help me.
“Do not fret, my Lord. We shall take care of her. You do not need to fret over this lowly being,” said one of the servants.
Lowly being? Of course, what else would I be to a nobleman.
“No.” The leader said and paused. “Pray, step forward and raise your hood so I can see you.”
The command was not one to be ignored, but I could not do as he told me. My hood covered my face and I could not let these men see my face.
“Forgive me, my Lord, but I must refuse your command,” I paused, so that he would understand. “I come from a respectable family, my Lord. I may not come from a noble house like you do, but my family is no less respectable.” I was lying through my teeth but I had no choice. I could not let these men know that I had no family or they surely would take advantage of me.
“Noble house?” The nobleman chuckled.
“My Lord, she is not aware of your Kingly status. Command us to behead her for her ignorance and it shall be done,” the servant stated, his voice hard, full of purpose.
My heart shuddered with dread upon his words. Behead me? No. They could not do that. But wait, Kingly status? This man mounted on a horse was the King? No, that could not be possible. The King was the most dangerous man; he was feared by everyone. If he were the King, then he would’ve ordered his men to kill me even before wasting his words on me.
The nobleman chuckled once more. “No, no, we need not go to such extreme lengths. I am sure she will do as I command.”
Run now before he uses force.
I did not even stop to think what kind of consequences my actions would result in. Paying heed to the advice given by my inner voice, I turned around and begun running.
“Halt! Do not run! How dare you?!” Shouted the men but I kept running.
“King Eldon, command us to follow her and bring her to you, and it shall be done.”
I did not hear the rest of the words, only one name kept echoing in my mind as I waded my way through the forest amidst the thick fog.
Eldon. Eldon. Eldon.
“Milady, you must wake up from your slumber.”
My eyes opened but I felt faint. Where was I? Why did I feel so unwell? Who was this speaking to me? What was happening around me? What day was it? Which hour has struck?
“Oh thank Heavens, you are awake. Milady, we must get you ready. Lord Eldon is on his way back to the Kingdom and you know he would wish to see you welcome him,” the maid said, worry clouding her blue eyes.
Eldon is returning? Where had he gone?
My mind had no time to think because fear was quick to take its place over my body, leaving my heart beating fast and my body turning cold.
Eldon was coming back. What would he do to me this time? And why was I not aware of his departure? How could I be this ignorant?
You are never aware of his departure, just his arrival. It has always been this way.
How did he do this? How did he always leave when I was sleeping and how come I was not aware of the time in between his departure and his arrival?
“Milady? Are you unwell? Say something? Should I call for a physician? Lord Eldon will not be happy if he finds out you have been unwell,” the maid continued. I did not know her name, but for some reason, she was the only one who was with me whenever I woke up when Eldon was about to arrive.
I shook my head. “No, no, please. I am fine, please do not fret. Can you please bring me some water?” I hoped the request would have her leave my chambers but the pitcher of water was near, so she quickly had a goblet of water in front of me.
“Thank you,” I said before taking the goblet from her and drinking the water. Whenever I woke up feeling ill, water was the only thing that made me feel better. How did Eldon do this? Was he even responsible for all this? Yes, of course he was. He was the only one who would do this to me.
“Milady, your bath is ready. You must bathe and get ready before the King arrives. He will be pleased to see you looking beautiful for his welcome,” the maid said.
I nodded and allowed her to lead me to the bath. She helped me remove my clothes as I tried to fight my way back to reality. I still felt dizzy, but holding on the woman who was currently removing my clothes provided me with a much needed support.
She helped me into the water before leaving me on my own. The floral scents helped me recover from the haze of whatever tonic Eldon had ordered the servants to give me before his departure.
Why did Eldon keep doing this to me? I could not even dare to demand an explanation for his behavior because I knew what he would do to me. And I wished nobody had dared to wake me up because I did not wish to face the man who left his mark on my body.
I gazed at the markings on my body. My arms, my legs, and the entirety of my back, only God knew where Eldon would choose to mark me next. How could he do this to me? Why did he do this to me?
After forcing my limbs to obey me, I washed my body and got out of the bath just as the maid entered my bathing chamber. She helped me into a pale gold gown before proceeding to do my hair while I put on my jewels. I watched through the looking-glass as she placed the final piece of jewelry on top of my head—my crown.
The crown of the Queen.
“Lord Eldon arrived while you were bathing, Milady. I have informed him and he said he shall come up and see you himself and does not wish for you to leave your chambers,” she informed me.
My heart trembled with fear, knowing that Eldon had arrived. What would he do to me now? How long until he departed for another trip and I could sleep in peace?
“I understand. Thank you for informing me,” I said as the maid smiled and left the chambers. How I wished to command her to stay and shield me from the King of Erizia but I could not do that as I knew the consequences of such actions. I had been foolish enough to do this just as I stepped into my second year of being the Queen of Erizia. I still trembled at the memory, glancing at the markings on my left hand which were the consequence of going against Eldon’s wishes. No, never again would I make the same mistake.
However, my mind feared what was to come. What would Eldon do to me? Was he angry or overjoyed? Was his trip fruitful? I prayed to the Heavens above to have mercy on me, even though I knew praying was futile. Here, King Eldon held all the power, if anyone wished for mercy, he should be begging him.
The door of the chambers opening was all it took for my body to freeze as fear surrounded me. And when I heard footsteps approaching me, it took everything in me not to scream with terror.
“Lorelle, my love, turn around. Show yourself to me.” The command was simple enough but one I did not dare ignore.
I turned around without wasting a heartbeat and saw the man who owned me in every way.
Lord Eldon has finally arrived.