“There you two are,” Lis walked right at us the moment we stepped foot into the palace halls. “I was wondering where you went.”
She stopped when she spotted my hand tugged under the king`s arm, and I didn`t mistake the small smile she shot at us, at the way we were so closely standing next to each other.
I immediately let go and stepped back a few inches, putting as much casual distance as possible.
King Gabriel didn`t seem to notice, and instead asked, “Is something wrong?”
“No,” Lis shrugged, that smile not dropping as she drifted her eyes from my red face towards her brother`s. “I wanted to call you for dinner, but didn`t find you at your study. And Lydia was nowhere to be seen. Where were you?”
He cleared his throat, as if what we were doing was some scandal. “We ran into each other when we were shopping.”
Lis lifted a surprised eyebrow at her brother. “You? Shopping willingly?”
He rolled his eyes, streaking pass her. “I just wanted a few things.”
“Clearly,” she did not seem convinced, but turned to me. “And you?”
I didn`t want her to see the obvious embarrassment, so I lowered my head and went after the king.
But she was as persistent as her damn brother.
“He didn`t give you any trouble, did he?” She linked her arm in mine, whispering so he wouldn`t hear her. Not that he could, because he made sure to leave as much distance from his sister. Probably so he wouldn`t get interrogated like I was being.
“Um, no,” I said, “it was fine.”
At least, he didn’t give me the kind of trouble she was picturing. Just made my head and heart more confused than ever.
“Did you get to see what he bought? I suspect it`s a gift for me.”
I smiled at her sly attempt. “You`re not supposed to know. And besides, I thought you hated celebrating your birthday.”
“True,” she tilted her head, “but I like gifts.”
I nudged her in the ribs. “Well, you`ll have to wait for that.”
She pretended to pout and said, “Knowing my brother, it`s probably something that I`ve dearly wanted. He may hate shopping, but he can sure bring wonderful gifts. It`s odd though…”
“Why is that?”
Her brown eyes focused on her brother`s back, his heavy black cloak sweeping behind him. The passing servants bowed, and some moved out of his way, but he only acknowledge them with a simple incline of his head. He was the spitting image of a great shadow strolling through the halls, some invisible force weighing on his shoulders whether he was aware of it or not.
Lis didn`t bother to hide the sorrow in her expression. “After my mother died, he never went himself to buy gifts, or any other things for that matter. He always ordered the servants to do it, so it`s odd to see him like this. Though I must say it`s relieving.”
I wasn`t sure if I should mention it, but I said, “Yeah, he told me about Queen Isobel and what happened to her. I`m sorry for your loss. It must have been horrible.”
“Yes, well –“ she stopped suddenly, wide eyes blinking at me. “Wait. He told you? About Mother, and Evine?”
She blew out a breath, tucking loose hairs behind her ear. “That`s strange. He never spoke about it to anyone. I mean, we all knew, and we`ve tried to urge him to speak about it. But he never did.”
“I`m not sure why though. I`m sorry.” I felt a little guilty that he decided to speak about it with me, mainly because I thought the princess might be happier if he talked to her or his friends instead.
But Lis looked appalled, and smacked my arm. “Don’t be silly. Why are you apologizing? I`m just glad he finally spoke to someone. Actually, I`m more than glad it was you.”
I didn`t ask her what she meant by that, and instead let her walk me silently to the dining room.
I wasn`t that hungry thanks to the honey wine and boar sandwich I had earlier, and seeing Elsie walk towards the dinner table like she owned the place made all possible traces of hunger fly out of the window.
Though I was satisfied to see that her nose was permanently damaged, appearing to be crooked at the bridge where a pink scar was fading.
Still, her broken nose did nothing to reduce her ethereal beauty. She even dressed in finery, wearing a dark grey dress with threaded silver that might have been diamonds.
And since Lis did nothing to protest her presence, only narrowing her eyes at her egoistic attitude, I knew there was some arrangement between her and king Calix to allow Elsie to dwell among us.
Though not without the obvious supervision of king Calix and his guards.
“I`m starving. What`s for dinner?” she chose the seat opposite mine, and winked at me when she made herself comfortable.
“The courses will be served shortly,” Lis said curtly, folding her napkin across her lap.
The Wind Slifer only grinned at that before she turned to me, that awful mouth of hers opening. “And how are you, Lydia? I haven`t seen you for quite a while.”
The only time I saw her after the incident was when the four rulers went to question the wizard hunters in the dungeons. She insisted on coming along, and I only came on the request of Ayana to make sure if the man with the scar on his left eye was with them.
He wasn’t. And none of the rulers were able to get anything out of them, despite king Gabriel toying with their shadows and King Calix lowering the temperature of their cells to a freezing point.
Nevertheless, the visit was cut short when Elsie snapped and emptied the breath out of one of them.
“I`m well. And I was planning on delaying our reunion a little more.” I threw that obnoxious grin back at her.
King Calix coughed. “Remember our deal, Elsie,” he warned.
She shot him an annoyed look, but held back her tongue.
A few minutes later, servants swarmed in presenting the first course. Since I wasn`t hungry, I allowed Luxus to feast on the duck and rabbit stew on his own. Besides, I didn`t like duck.
“Your Highness, how is the planning for your party coming along?” Aramis asked the princess, choosing to leave his plate aside as well.
Something I`ve come to notice is that he rarely ate any of the food here, and instead kept to his usual pumpkin tea –which he had offered to everyone here before, and all had agreed to silently bear it.
Though sweets were his favorites.
Lis dabbed the corner of her mouth gently before setting her spoon down. “It`s coming along. Thank you for asking. Although, Lysa is really the one to handle the arrangements.”
Lysa smiled proudly at that.
“That`s great. And if you need any help, I`ll be glad to offer it. You see, messengers have a knack for planning parties.”
I raised my eyebrow at that, and couldn`t help the snort. “The gods throw parties?”
“Of course,” he looked offended I even asked, “and they`re marvelous as well. Of course, that`s curtsey to us as messengers.”
“What kind of parties do the gods even have?” King Morrison asked, clearly curious.
It was somehow odd to see a powerful king who lived hundreds of years ask a question to someone who might be as ancient as the gods themselves.
I mean, Aramis never told me how old he is.
“The real question is what do the gods celebrate,” Malla folded her arms, finished with her plate. “Obviously, they don`t celebrate birthdays. Do they?”
Aramis looked beyond delighted he was being asked that. “Why, of course. You. They celebrate all of you.”
“Our birthdays?” Ayana meekly said, and Elsie snickered at her.
A humble laugh came out of Aramis, and he shook his head. “No. But they celebrate the achievements the world they created has made. The accomplished wizards, kings, and queens. The wars that are won, the unfolding of victories and joys.”
“That sounds lovely,” Lis remarked.
“Sounds to me that they only celebrate the achievements of others,” I commented, being the only one who wasn`t impressed. Well, along with the king who didn`t really give any facial expressions. “I mean, what did they do anyway? Besides knowing a war is coming and not telling us a thing about it.”
A silence fell over the room, like everyone was contemplating what I had said.
“Sometimes, knowing doesn`t necessarily mean that everything will be set right,” Aramis clarified, and something in his voice sounded calm, but powerful. Like he knew everything and nothing at once.
“It still wouldn`t hurt them to tell us, even of a one thing,” I countered.
But he smiled gently at me, which was unusual, and his small hand went to touch mine lightly. “I know you may think they are selfish, but the gods think of what is best for you, what is right. After all, they also gave you this,” he gestured at me, at the great power within, “and my master; your father, bestowed it upon you. Decimus was always different from his siblings, and I believe even if I hadn`t stayed here myself, he would order me to remain by your side.”
I always forget about that; that Decimus, The Burning God, was my actual father. Not in the usual sense, but I did come from him, and he was the one to give me life. And if I remember correctly, I was his first child. The first Fire Slifer to be made.
“Decimus was known to have more affiliation with the people of Ignolia, more so than the rest of his siblings,” king Gabriel spoke, “He was the one to gift the first Imarnian king with the silver phoenix.”
Aramis smiled in confirmation. “Yes, my master has always had a connection to the people of this world.”
“What does he look like?” I found myself asking, and everyone turned their heads to Aramis.
“What?” he blinked.
“Decimus. What does he look like? Surely you have seen him.”
“Oh,” he grinned, “absolutely magnificent. Like you. You have his eyes, and hair.”
I blushed, and tried to put a picture to the resemblance.
“Messenger,” Elsie called from where she was sitting, no longer interested in the food. “What does my father look like? Atticus.”
“He has a liking to you,” he answered. “Although a far more pleasant company.”
Her nose flared at the insult, and I laughed in her face, not concerned whether or not she threw me across the room. Some of the rest hid their smiles with their napkins, and I even caught a slight grin coming from the king.
Calix was not amused, but looked worried that she would throw a tantrum. Or a hurricane.
However, she did neither. She pulled her chair back then stormed out of the room angrily, but not before slamming the doors shut loudly with her magic, making the chandelier above our heads tremble with the force.
“Brother, may I speak with you?” Lis partially held the door of my study open, her head the only visible part of her body.
I signed the parchments before me, setting them aside. “You already are. Is something the matter?”
She went in and closed the door gently behind her, but did not sit and instead strolled about. “No, not really. What are you doing?”
She leaned her hands on the table, glancing at the papers neatly arranged with no real interest. It`s not usual for Lis to just come to my study and probe around. She wants something, or she had done something.
“Working, obviously. And what is it that you`re really here for?”
She smiled, almost shamefully. “Is it that obvious?”
“Well, you`re not exactly easy to talk to,” she sighed and threw herself on the throne-like chair. The way she did it was nonchalant, like she forgot for a moment she was a princess, like she was relaxed, open.
It`s good to see her let loose for a little.
“I would talk more if our conversations didn`t often feel like interrogations, which is what I assume you`re here for.”
She rolled her eyes, crossing one leg over the other. “I`m not here for that –in a sense.”
I gave her a knowing look, amused at her attempt.
She huffed. “Fine! I`m here because Lydia mentioned that you told her about our mother, about what really happened.”
“And I haven`t heard you talk about it. Ever. Whenever I try to bring it up, you always silenced me or changed the subject.”
“Honestly, Lis. It`s not like I poured my heart out, I only spoke of what happened,” I told her.
“Still,” she sighed, “it`s unlike you to even acknowledge it.”
“Are you upset that I spoke of it with her, and not you?”
I had thought of it before. Many times. To have a conversation with my sister about what we both witnessed on that horrid day. But something always stopped me, always held me back. And when I told Lydia, I didn`t feel that tightness in my chest whenever I tried to approach the subject to my sister.
Lis reached a hand across the table and I took it and squeezed it gently. “You know I`m not, Gabriel. As a matter of a fact, I`m happy for you. That you decided to share your burden, your pain. And I`m even happier that it was with her.”
“And why is that?”
Her pale cheeks reddened a little, and she leaned back into the chair. “I`m not blind, Brother. I see the way you look at her.”
That earned her a raised eyebrow. “The way I look at her?”
Apparently, she thought my reaction was amusing. “Yes, I see it whenever we gather for a meal, the way your gaze lingers longer at her. And I even see you looking at her through your window, you know. It`s clear it`s not only lust. You actually have an interest in her.”
My sister`s words sank deep, and stayed in a place I didn`t bother to consider. Nor did I have the energy for. Lis` eyes sparkled with something, like hope, or a hidden wish she wanted to make true.
Either way, what she was saying was utterly ridiculous.
“My interest in Lydia is purely physical. That`s all I have to say for it.”
Lis actually snorted, then laughed like what I said was the stupidest thing she ever heard. “Of course you wouldn`t notice. You`re dense like that.”
It was hard to be offended when she was probably right.
“Care to elaborate on why you`re so sure of my intentions?” I insisted.
She seemed more than happy to oblige. “Of course. As long as you tell me why you two were so cozy this evening? I mean, I don`t recall you ever allowing a girl to touch you like that. Not since Evine.”
I hated the blush that crept up my neck, but I argued, “That`s different. It was cold outside, and you know how much I hate the cold.”
“Mhmm, and she`s certainly very warm.”
The redness on my face deepened, and despite my sister`s teasing smile, I couldn`t help but admit she was right. Again.
Lydia was very warm indeed, and it wasn`t just her natural heat that I craved today.
“If you`re so stubborn that you wouldn`t admit it, then I guess it`s no use to tell you.”
I resisted the urge to bare my teeth at my own sister. This was getting annoying. “I don`t know what you have in mind, Lis. But I assure you that my intention towards Lydia reside in bed only. I don`t have to tell you this, but you`ll know that the moment our deal is over she will be gone.”
She didn`t seem affected by my attempt to sound as confident as I hoped to be. Instead she tilted her head, as if in thought. “Something tells me you don`t want her to leave. I know I don`t.”
My chest constricted for some reason, and I heaved a long breath, trying to stable the surge of thoughts and emotions that overcame me.
“Lis,” I said calmly, though felt a strange numbness in my body, “if there`s nothing else you want to talk about, please leave. I need to finish my work.”
For a moment, I thought she would say no, that she would insist on staying and discuss my conflicting emotions regarding Lydia. But she sighed, shaking her head at me before bidding me good night and walking out.
When my work was finished, and when the night was at its peak, I found myself at Lydia`s doors, my hand prepared to knock.
I knew I wanted her now for she refused to leave my thoughts ever since Lis brought her up.
That was the problem with her. I always seemed to want her.
And not just in my bed. But near me, with me.
It was confusing –alarming, really. And I hated it and loved it both.
Every time I looked at her, I wanted more of everything. It bothered me that I was thinking that way, and even more so when I confessed to myself easily.
Not a few seconds after I had knocked, she opened the door, and my breath almost threatened to vanish from my lungs. Her hair was wet, tumbling down to her waist. And she wore only a bathrobe. Her skin appeared glowing, whether from the light of the room or having just taken a bath, I didn`t know.
I only knew she was beautiful.
“Hello,” I told her, and immediately felt stupid afterwards.
She blinked, but did not say anything and turned to her cat. The feline was licking his paw, and when he saw that I was at the door, he said, “I`ll see myself out.”
He strutted towards the door, and before he was gone, I couldn`t resist crouching down and scratching his ears. It seemed to be something I always caught myself doing whenever I spotted him.
The cat didn’t mind so much, and let me pet him a little more before leaving.
“I think he`s starting to like you,” Lydia said, watching him disappear behind a corridor.
She stepped aside to let me in, and I went after her, closing the door.
“At least he didn`t try to bite me like the first time,” I said, remembering how Luxus almost snapped a finger off.
She smiled at that, as if the memory brought her some kind of secret joy.
But that smile quickly dropped, and her face remained impassive, almost submissive. She stood before me with heated cheeks, but her fingers trailed to the lash keeping her robe tightened. She began fidgeting with it, trying to take it off.
I stopped her before she could. “Wait!”
Her head snapped at me, then at the hand that held her wrist.
And the next words that came out of me was a surprise to both her and myself.
“I want you to touch me.”
I must have been way more exhausted than I thought.
Is he serious? Or perhaps I`ve heard wrong. No, I definitely heard him right. Well, then perhaps he`s drunk. Despite not looking or smelling like it.
He held himself carefully, watching every inch of my face. “I said I want you to touch me,” he repeated. “If…if it`s fine by you. I don`t want to force you into anything you`re not comfortable with.”
It`s always been him that touched me first, that initiated everything. And not once did he complain or suggest otherwise. In fact, he liked being the one in charge. And I liked giving him the power, if only because a part of me was afraid of what I wanted to do with him, to him.
But now he`s giving me that power.
He looked amused that I asked. “Why does any man wants to be touched?”
I should say no, reject him and his offer –demand.
But instead I whispered, “I don`t know how. I`m not…skilled.”
My face was likely to melt any second now, from sheer embarrassment or the fact I admitted I had no idea how to please him, I reckon it was both.
“I can teach you,” he offered, moving a step further. “I can tell you what feels good.”
He was so close I could smell him, feel the warmth his body emanated. But I kept my head down, and started thinking.
You can say no, Lydia. You know he won`t force you.
I didn`t trust him enough, but I knew he wouldn`t make me do it. He might be an ass, but he has been respectful towards me when it comes to that.
But I knew that wasn`t the problem.
I could say no and be done with it. Let him sleep with me then leave afterwards. He won`t protest or ask again.
No, that was not the issue.
The issue was that I actually wanted it.
Wanted to explore him, every inch of him.
I hate myself. And I certainly hate him.
Though that didn`t stop me from pressing my hands against his chest, feeling how solid it was under his thick tunic. It didn`t stop my fingers from slowly grazing the silver buttons, toying with them for a few long moments.
When I undid the first one, his throat was exposed, and I had stepped forward, and he moved back. And when the second one came undone, I was backing him towards the bed, slowly and patiently.
I continued with that pace. Each time I unbuttoned one, a little more of his skin would show; pale and chiseled. And in return, we would get closer to the bed.
Until I had him by the edge, his tunic completely open, revealing the strong muscles I had come to admire.
I sat him down, those heavy-lidded eyes never leaving mine. And when I brought one leg around his and straddled his lap, he inhaled sharply.
Lust clouded those silver-grey orbs as quickly as they clouded my flamed ones, and I shrugged his tunic off his shoulders and threw it to the ground.
I began touching him lightly, running my fingers across his chest, over his shoulders, and down his abs, reaching to the deep v-line that disappeared underneath his trousers. He breathed heavily, humming his approval at my soft traces.
And when my lips replaced my fingers, his hums turned to whimpers.
I was getting hot myself, and not quite believing what I was doing.
My lips brushed over his neck, inhaling the sweet scent of musk, kissing his skin ever so delicately. Something in me lurched in delight at his low moans, at the fact that I was pleasuring him.
I`ll hate myself for it later, but now I needed more of him.
My kisses turned a little aggressive as I licked and nibbled on the sensitive spots, grazing my teeth against his jaw, and realizing that I had left bright red marks.
For once, it wasn`t me who was covered with them. And I liked that.
As my mouth hovered over every inch of his chest, his hands were against my backside, squeezing it over the fabric of the robe. Then, they swept up my thighs, to my hips and waist.
He seemed to want to tug the clothing off me, but I didn`t allow him. Not yet.
“Looks to me like you don`t need my instructions.” His voice was huskier than usual, and I smiled against his throat despite my blush.
I could feel him hardening underneath me, his bulge rubbing against the wet heat between my legs even through the cotton material that separated them.
“Lydia,” I could never get tired from him moaning my name, “…please.”
The king of Imarnia was begging me for release.
Well, that`s a change.
But I wasn`t planning on giving it to him just yet.
I was aware that my fingers played with the straps of his belt, trying to unbuckle it. It came off easily, and my body acted on its own when I slid his trousers down.
His manhood was hard and ready, and I couldn`t help but lick my lips.
Before I could reach for it though, he grabbed my wrist again.
“You don`t have to go this far,” he grunted, face twisted in desire.
For a moment, I just looked at him. He was right. I didn`t have to, so I probably shouldn`t. I should just let it end now, and let him have the power again.
It`s not like I owed it to him.
But I decided to be honest with myself, even for only a minute.
“I know,” I said, and my hand enclosed around him, earning myself a hiss of pleasure.
He was as hard as a rock, but smooth as velvet, and the veins were pulsing, almost in demand.
I had no idea what I was doing exactly, but I swept my hair off my face then stroked him, up and down, gently but firmly. He groaned, cursing underneath his breath, and his hand trailed up my neck and grabbed the back of it.
As I worked him, I was beginning to get wetter and wetter by the second. It was difficult to ignore the carnal heat, no matter how tight I pushed my legs together.
And I swear, he was getting harder with each sweep, with each time my thumb massaged the hilt of his manhood.
“Lydia…” he was reciting my name like a prayer, like a silent wish.
“Is it…good?” I asked him, realizing my own voice sounded sensual.
He cracked a grin, as if it was completely obvious what I was making him feel.
But when I brought him close to my mouth, he stopped me. “No,” he held my hand, “I believe I won`t be able to control myself any longer if you did that.”
I nodded, and didn`t take it as a rejection.
When I got on my feet again, I finally disrobed, letting it tangle on the floor. He bit his lower lip at my nakedness, eyes so dark they almost appeared black. With a groan, he said, “Come.”
I didn`t waste any time, and was quickly astride him. But he didn`t take control, and allowed me to decide what to do next.
I put a hand between us, and adjusted my hips so he could fit. My sex was already aching from need, matching the rhythm of my heart. His cock throbbed under my skin with excitement, and I was more than eager to drench that thirst.
A low moan escaped out of me when I slid him in, and he groaned at my tightness. He quickly filled me up, feeling that fullness I desperately craved. And when I grinded on him, his cock scraping my insides, I threw my head back and allowed him to feast on my neck, breasts, stomach, and anything he could pleasure with teeth and tongue.
I didn`t go slow, despite the new position I was in, but rode him hard and fast.
He gripped and scratched at my hips and waist, and I did the same to his back. Our voices outmatched each other, just like they did every night he was here.
He kept whispering my name in my ear, moaning it to my hair, and I fought back the urge to damn the consequences and scream his.
I even fought every sane nerve in my body to not pull at his hair and slam my lips against his.
I kept reminding myself that kissing him was more intimate than this, more personal. And I was not prepared to give him that.
My insides started to convulse, and I knew my release was near. And so was his.
When it came, both of us heaving greatly, my body did not stop wanting more. The fire did not leave my skin, but only intensified. And when we did it again, and again, and again, I wasn`t sure where and who I was.
I only knew that we were two bodies, mangled in each other, refusing to let go.
After a while, when we both laid on the bed, I could feel exhaustion coursing through every vein. And sleep was quickly creeping up, weighing me down.
I must have gone to sleep quickly after, not bothering to even wash myself. But when I woke up, the morning light seeping through the window, I was not alone.
It wasn`t Luxus` weight that sank the mattress, but the king`.
He lay on his side, his face looking younger as he slept peacefully. I couldn`t help but notice how long his eyelashes were, resting on his high-boned cheeks. His chest, seeming to shine from the sun light, was marked with scratches, bites, and love marks.
I tried to blink the shock away, but the more I sobered up the more it registered.
He slept beside me, on this very bed.
I must be dreaming, or hallucinating. I seem to be doing that quite a lot these days.
When I reached to touch him, just so I could make sure he was real, his eyes fluttered open.
At first, he was confused, then those eyes focused on me, on how real my face looked sleeping beside his.
Something similar to my shock flashed through, but he did not attempt to get up. Instead he shivered, from the cold breeze that slithered by, and brought the covers closer to his body.
He slid towards me, then rested his hand over my waist to bring me to his chest. “It`s cold.”