"Watch your step, Amara. Here, take my hand." Konrad held his hand out for me to grasp, as I almost slipped down the wooden ramp in my bare feet. The ocean spray had dampened the wood, making it difficult to walk down.
"Merci," (Thank you) I replied, taking his hand gratefully.
As I stepped onto the sand, my eyes scanned my surroundings, admiring how beautiful the beach looked. The torches illuminated the shore in a soft amber glow. I wished I could have lingered for a while longer if only to bask in the sudden rush of heat that emanated from them. I felt a nudge in the small of my back before a gruff voice told me to move.
I glanced back towards the ship, in order to fully appreciate it, in all its magnificent glory. I could hear the dark folded sails flapping in the wind. The mast creaked as the thundering sound of feet walked across the top deck. I halted in place as I witnessed the Lycan warriors carrying the other eleven women off the ship. Curious as to where they were being taken, I turned to Konrad to ask.
"Are they being taken to the castle?" My eyes widened with curiosity. I had no idea whether or not they would be taken there, or placed straight inside the labyrinth.
He spoke in a hushed whisper, leaning close to my ear. "Yes, you will all be prepared before you enter the labyrinth. Please do not think of me as rude, Amara, but we mustn't be overheard communicating."
"Why not?" I asked, suddenly feeling uneasy. There was no way of fully knowing what to expect once I reached the castle. I was hoping to question Konrad further.
"It's against the rules. I've already broken two already. I shouldn't have engaged in conversation with you, nor should I have allowed you to roam the ship, freely. I will, no doubt, have to answer to my grandfather, once we reach the castle," he explained, letting out a soft breath as he smiled to himself.
"I'm sorry. I don't want you to get into any trouble on my account," I replied, with sympathy.
I had no idea how severe his punishment may be. I'd grown fond of the young Lycan in the short time I'd known him. The last thing I wanted, was to see him come to any harm through any fault of mine.
"Do not concern yourself with my well being, Amara. I will live to see another day," Konrad responded, with certainty.
"So will I.....I hope," I forced a smile, although it was quite clear that my confidence wavered slightly.
"You will. You are Amarante, the flower that never fades. You're stronger than you realize. You just have to believe in yourself," he told me, stopping as soon as the path towards the castle split into two separate pathways. "This is where I must bid you farewell. Be safe, Amara. I shall see you at sunrise," he murmured carefully, as not to be overheard.
I initially felt a sudden rush of panic at being left to walk amongst the other Lycan warriors. I swallowed tearfully as our eyes met.
"You shall, Konrad, I give you my word. I ask only one favour from you," I asked, knowing that it was a fools hope, but one that would bring me comfort, none the less.
"And what would that be?" He asked, as he slowly began to walk backwards.
"Have the ship ready for me to set sail back to the mainland," I asked, my eyes searching his, silently pleading.
He responded with a single nod in acknowledgement, before bidding me a final farewell. "Goodbye, Amara."
"Au Revoir, Konrad," I whispered.
I would have no idea if he even heard me, although he raised his hand as he walked away.
I was left wondering whether or not he agreed to help me. Either way, I would be sailing home, with or without his help. Although with his help, would be so much easier.
I felt a nudge in the small of my back from one of the Lycan warriors, as a sign for me to keep moving.
I was led through the main gates of the castle, marvelling in all its grand beauty. The entire structure was made from light grey stone, each block was roughly thirteen feet long and six feet high. It was beyond incredible. I wondered how on earth it was put together, and if any methods other than brute strength were used in order to construct it.
As we passed through the main courtyard, dozens of Lycan soldiers stopped what they were doing, in order to watch us all walk towards the main part of the castle. Me in particular. Each Lycan seemed surprised to see me walking of my own accord, alongside the ones who brought me here. My immediate thoughts were that this must be the first time in history that this has ever occurred.
I was led inside the main entrance, which was dimly lit with torches. I hadn't been given the opportunity to fully appreciate it, but what I did see was a sight to behold. There were enormous stone statues of Lycanthropes, some appeared to be of them during mid-transformation, from man to beast. The craftsmanship that went into sculpting these masterpieces, left me with a feeling of awe. I couldn't wait to tell Petr all that I'd seen so far.
We descended down a spiral staircase, that led deep beneath the castle. I immediately snapped out of my revere the moment I was escorted into, what could only be described, as a dungeon.
The eleven other females were placed along the floor in rows. A sense of panic had taken over me as soon as I understood what was happening.
"Where are you going? Wait! Don't leave me down here!" I cried as the door closed firmly, leaving me in the dark.
I pounded my fist on the solid iron door, turning around, and sliding down it. I held my face in my hands as I began to sob with hopelessness.
Moments later, each of the women had started to regain consciousness. I hurried over to help untie the ropes that bound their hands and feet together.
"Parelz-Vous Français?" (Do you speak French?) I asked one of the women.
"Dónde estoy?" (Where am I? In Spanish.)
I tried again, although I wasn't sure I could be understood with having a strong French accent.
"Do any of you speak English?" I asked, looking around.
Only three women raised their hands, and I swear, my heart sank to my feet.
"We've been taken to an island, somewhere in the middle of the Mediterranean ocean. We're in the Lycan castle. The dungeons... I think. Please, those of you who are able to relay the information, please share it with others who do not understand," I requested.
The women in the room began to panic once they became aware of the situation they were in. Any attempt I made to offer words of comfort were drowned out by the plaintive sounds of wailing.
I couldn't make these women any promises that I myself couldn't keep. There was no way to determine, the perils we were likely to face. I began to join in prayer with another, but my words felt hollow and meaningless, as they rolled off my tongue.
I was losing faith in the Lord. I began to realize that slowly, these past few months. He had well and truly abandoned me in my hour of need, leaving me with one choice and one choice alone. The only person who I could truly rely on, in this current moment in time, was none other than myself.
I stared up through the barred window, deep in thought, feeling melancholy, and full of self-doubt. I had no idea how much time had passed, the sound of the heavy door being opened, brought me to my feet. I spun around quickly, and my pulse pounded as I waited to see who was to come through the door.
I gulped, as I witnessed a lady with dark brown hair and caramel skin, enter the room. My initial thoughts were that she was regal. She had an air of royalty about her, in the way she was dressed and by the way she conducted herself. Her voice alone was as smooth as silk, and her words seemed calm and collected, yet she was careful not to display any sign of emotion.
"Welcome, my name is Carina. I mean you no harm. Come, follow me." She beckoned.
I felt compelled to obey, as each of us followed her out of the room and along the torch-lit corridor. She turned her head slightly as she addressed us as a whole.
"Do not be afraid. I was once like you. I too entered the labyrinth, many years ago. Embrace your destiny. It will make your experiences more pleasurable," she explained.
We were then ushered through another doorway. I recognised it as some sort of bathing chamber. There were many copper basins filled with steamy water.
Much to our surprise, there were extravagantly dressed women, who we were told would help us bathe. Some of the captive females became distressed at the thought of being bathed and cried out words of protest. I was used to bathing communally at the orphanage and co-operated without a fuss.
None of the women spoke to any of us, despite some of the captives pleading with them to help them escape. It was as if they were not permitted to interact with us, other than to prepare us for the night ahead.
We had all been dressed identically. Each of us were wearing white silk gowns that stopped at the knee, and white satin shoes. Each one of us had a claw-like brooch, pinned to the left-hand side of our gowns, and our hair was styled into a neat braid.
A flash of metal caught my eye along the edge of the copper basin. I seized the opportunity whilst nobody was looking, and tucked the small shaving knife into the band of my underwear, at the side of my leg. I prayed that it would go undetected, as I smoothed out my gown.
My heart hammered violently in my chest as we were led from the room and guided out into the grounds, beyond the castle.
We walked a short distance, along the sand dunes, before coming face to face with the formidable entrance of the labyrinth.