Imperial Affliction

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Chapter 12

Neculaias P.O.V.

It was her.

The moment I had laid my eyes on her I knew without a shadow of a doubt. It rang through me like a chord, so strong and sure. I had never felt anything like it. Her beauty was undeniable though she shied away from prying eyes. There was a gentleness that surrounded her. An innocence.

But also great sorrow.

The way she carried herself with a stiffness throughout her entire body, as if she was constantly on edge. And her forehead seemed to always have a little crease in it, making me wonder what could keep it there. I wanted so desperately to will it away.

She absolutely captivated me, like the way the first rays of sunlight spills over the horizon, illuminating the once darkened world around it. Bathing in its bright light.

She had set my world on fire.

Zenobia.

Her name was as extraordinary as she was. As I had caught a glimpse of her eyes, I was winded. One was silvery gray and the other an icy blue. Her eyes had stopped me dead in my tracks.

Eyes I had seen before. One of them, at least.

Her vibrant red hair was like fire that danced around her face, and as soon as I laid eyes on her I could tell something was not quite right like a puzzle thay had all the pieces but they didn’t quite fit together.

She hadn’t sensed me.

It burned through me, piercing my core as I realized she had no idea who I was. I cursed to myself over and over again. She smelled of Pricolici but she felt like me. Curiousity had me reveal myself to her in the little garden. I had decided to stay in the shadows and watch her, learn more about her. But as she had picked up one of the delicate little coneflowers, inhaling its sweet scent, I knew I had to speak to her. Hear her voice. The voice that even know, when she was nowhere near me, lulled me like a sweet song.

Then she threw the damned watering can at me...

I chuckled to myself as I thought back to how her face had looked, pink little plump lips open in a wide O and her cheeks flushed. Her eyes had been wide from... Suprise? Fear? I wasn’t sure but I was almost positive fear was like a haze that always surrounded her. Looking down at myself, I remembered the way her slender neck had felt in my hand. So smooth and warm, the fire that had danced on my skin from where I touched her was absolutely delicious.

She had spark in her. The way she had fired back at me made me wonder if her innocent sadness was a facade. But there was an uncertainty that shook her voice that made me believe it was only I who drew that rebellious reaction from her. My lips tugged up as I thought of the way she had

The thought heated my body up.

Remembering the way the silk gown had hugged her body in all the right places nearly made me choke. It was incessant though, the image of her in the emerald gown, chest nearly bulging out of the seams, the cold air teasing her nerve endings. Just the thought made an ache start in my groin.

I ached to take her in my arms. To get to know ever piece of her. I wanted to figure out everything that made her who she is. From the fire that she has spewed at me to the stress that seemed to constantly cloud her. Needing to know what made her smile and what made her heart ache. I needed to know her.

Sighing, with a heavy heart I pushed it back. I couldn’t go to her. Not yet at least.

Knowing that she didn’t recognize me, I realized I would have to keep tabs on her in secret.

Mentally cringing, my back still stung where I had torn the feather from the skin. It was not one of the longer ones thankfully, as that surely would have been more painful. Just a small one would do. I would always know where she was as long as she had the feather. I would be able to sense her emotions and know whether she were in trouble.

I felt my chest tighten as I looked up from my hand and saw Soren, I believe his name was, staring at me. I cocked him a smug grin and his eyes narrowed. He had no clue. I could tell from his presence that he had a connection with Zenobia. I felt it hum to me as clearly as she did. I just couldn’t place my finger on what it was.

No matter, I would stay and figure her out for myself. Now that I knew who she was, I needed to find out what she was. My chest swelled with excitement.

Because there was one thing I was absolutely certain that she was.

Promisiunea mea.

My promised one.

*******************

A little while later as my counsel had pulled me aside to discuss the matter of the witch, I found myself constantly distracted by a little redhead who had a habit of trying to abuse me. It was a constant battle between wanting to give in and let her infect my mind completely, to trying to block her from it to focus on the tasks at hand.

The Wolf King was so distraught from the death of one of his daughters and the kidnapping of his wife and son, that he was not thinking as logically as he should. While understanding the immense sense of urgency, there was no room for error, especially if we were to cross The Blood River. Too much magic and mystery surrounded it’s waters that one mistake could cost many lives.

Looking back to my counsel, my confidante, Luca could sense my distraction.

“Laias, what is the matter? What has you distracted?” Knowing better than to speak my name in the open, he addressed me in shortened little nickname, drawing my attention back to him and off of her.

Figuring it was better to have two sets of eyes on the lookout for her, I decided now was the best time to confide in Luca about Zenobia. In a hushed tone I looked at him with hardened eyes.

“The redhead. The one with the eyes.” Recognition flashed across his face as he looked me over. “Yes, what about her?” He asked me.

“She is it.”

Speaking no other words I conveyed my message with my eyes and soon understanding settled into his face.

“What will you have me do, sir?”

Thinking for a moment, I looked around me at the servants that were busying themselves with the repairs of the castle and the damages of the attack. It was clear their numbers had diminished from the rogue attack, so many of their people lost. The heartache and fear still clouded the air, almost tangible to the tongue. I looked back at Luca and answered him with absolution in my voice.

“Keep with the facade of being me. There is something between her and the King’s second. Of what I am unsure but I will not allow her to be the object of another man’s desire, much less a wolf. When I sensed her for the first time, it was clear that she did not sense me. Something is not right here. She feels like me, but she smells of wolf. We need to trace her lineage. Her eyes alone is indication that something is not right with her. And for now, keeping up with appearances will allow me to stay hidden and track her. To keep her safe and find out why she can’t sense me.”

His eyes widened but his face remained stoic. He was my decoy and a very talented one at that. We played our little trickery very well. No one would ever suspect we were not who we claimed to be. The only worry now was that Zenobia, she really did know who I was. After sensing her and the way she captured me, there was no way to keep myself, my true self, hidden from her.

Casting another glance through the little hall, I caught a glimpse of her firery hair. She was in a beautiful, simple floor length gown that was made of a heavy material. Her hair was swept up and piled onto the crown of her head. She looked absolutely stunning and nearly took my breath away. My eyes narrowed as I spotted who she had stop to speak with. Soren.

It seemed as though whatever conversation they were having had quickly turned heated as the look on the wolfs face hardened, he turned away from her and stormed off. A flood of emotions, anger and then despair, barreled through me but I welcomed them with relief. Feeling them meant she had my feather somewhere on her. Curious as to what of the wolf could have invoked them from her, I watched her walk forward to Princess Odette’s chambers.

Envy viced me as I looked back to Luca.

“We need to gather information of her. And when the witch arrives, after her meeting with King Avrim, we must speak with her in private. She will have the answers we seek.”

Nodding his head he turned and made his way towards the training field to go over fighting tactics with the wolf. I glanced behind me just in time to see her scarlet head disappear into the princess’ room. Following Luca, I smiled widely.

And for the very first time in all of my seven hundred years, I felt a sense of belonging and joy. The mystery that was Zenobia would be one I am more than willing to uncover. I was certain her lineage will provide the answers I seek as to why she can’t sense me. Why her eyes were so strikingly different. In my gut, I felt as though I already knew the answer by that beautiful icy blue eye she has. The one so familiar to me. But to make assumptions would only endanger her life.

Pain is something she will never feel at the hands of me. Just from what I have observed from her in such a short amount of time is that she is almost constantly in pain.

Whether physical or emotional.

Anger rocked my body and I was determined to protect her.

But I had to figure out what she was first.

***************

Circling the wolf, he faked a left lunge and barreled off to his right towards me as I swiftly dodged his attack. Right as he stumbled past me, I landed a blow to his ribs and he coughed as he righted himself.

Chuckling I ran a hand through my rusty hair, and began circling him once more when Soren caught my attention. Throwing a smirk at him, he tensed further. I could tell his wolf knew there was something off with me. My instincts told me it was because of Zenobia and I instantly felt territorial. She was my promised one.

But yet, she wasn’t. She was not truly mine. Not yet, at lease.

As if sensing what I was feeling he made his way towards me and pulled the young soldier aside, telling him that he would take a round with me. Inwardly I was ecstatic. I needed a good fight. I kept my demeanor still, bored even. Pushing his buttons was quickly becoming my second favorite pasttime.

His dark hair was pulled and tied to the nape of his neck. He slinked into a crouch and started to circle me. His eyes were calculating, assesing my every move. With strategic force he moved and landed a blow to my left rib. Feeling a bit winded I quickly spun and jabbed him in the kidney with a forceful kick. Taking a step back we slinked back into our stances, circling each other like vultures once more, waiting for the opening. He sliced his leg through the air to connect with my shoulder but I effectively blocked him.

We went back and forth for what seemed like hours until finally Luca came to my side with slight worry in his eyes and a warning on his face. Drawing in a deep breath, I looked at my surroundings for the first time.

Most of the other soldiers had made their way back inside the castle for the rest of their evenings and the sun was starting to set. Of course with winter right around the corner the sun was setting earlier with each passing day. The cold bit at my fingers as I looked back to Soren who seemed to have been as equally distracted as I.

Cocking my head towards the setting sun, I gave him a sly smile.

“I suppose we should pick up where we left off at a later time then.”

He looked at me with a slight narrowing of his eyes as his tone remained friendly. “Yes of course. I am looking forward to it. Good evening.” I caught the double meaning in his words as he turned, making his way back to the castle. The stiffness in his shoulders never did relax.

Smiling widely I looked back to Luca who was giving me a disparaging look. “You can not let the wolf get to you. No matter the reason.” There was warning in his voice. Knowing he was right I still couldn’t help but feel a deep satisfaction that the wolf had a taste of his own medicine.

There was slight commotion coming from the north gate of the castle grounds, and we set forth, both Luca and I making our way towards the noise. Catching sight of the reason was enough to make me still in my tracks. On one of the horses that was being led by one of my men, the witch was shrouded in a black cover that hid her features. The only indication of her looks was her long flowing, equally as inky hair that hung straight around her hips.

We made our way to Mihal and Baelik, as Iovonna was almost as still as a statue riding upon the horse.

“Commander,” Mihal nodded to Luca, keeping up with the facade.

“I assume everything went smoothly in escorting her here?” Luca gestured to Iovonna as Mihal nodded his head. “Very good, let us take her to the Wolf King then.” He then took the leash of Iovonna’s horse and started to lead her towards the castle entrance. I stayed back and kept pace with Mihal and his steed, as he gave me a silent nod of respect and acknowledgment.

After the witch had lowered herself down from the horse, she followed Baelik to the throne room, where she never once removed her hood that cloaked her being.

Announcing his presence and waiting for the command, Baelik then entered the throne room, Iovonna walking quietly behind him. King Avrims eyes shot right to the witch and he straightened in his seat. A new hope dawned on his face as he eyed the her. Casting his gaze across the room he bellowed out lowly.

“Everyone out, now.”

And with that, every last person left the room. It seemed like hours before the witch finally emerged from the room. He cloak was still covering her as she made her way towards the guests quarters. Deciding now was as good a time as any, I made my way after her. I came within a few feet of her as she lowly spoke to me in a hushed tone.

“Sir. Neculaias. What a delight to have your company. To what do I owe the pleasure?” Her voice was almost sultry as it snaked from her lips that were a ruby red, peeking out from under the dark cloak.

“You know already of the answers I seek.” I spoke without hesitation.

She grasped at a gem that hung around her neck and she hummed an unfamiliar little tune.

“Ah yes,” she began with a bored tone. “You have come seeking information of your promised one, have you not?”

“Yes.”

“Well step right into my office and let us have a little chat.” She guestured to the room I assumed had been given to her for the remainder of her stay. I quickly walked inside and turned to face her. Right as I went to open my mouth she dropped the dark cloak that shrouded her face.

Her skin was a delicate cream color with the color of roses painting her cheeks. Her dark ruby lips were set into a half smile as she stared at me.

With eyes as white as snow.

Realizing she was completely blinded of her sight, I looked around, slightly unsure of how to proceed.

“Come now,” she said. “This is not like you to be speechless. Let us get down to business. I had a long travel here and the King has nearly worn me out thus far. So please, just get on with your questions.”

She untied the cloak around her neck and laid it on the bed, never once faltering in her steps or missing the destination, despite her lack of sight.

“Zenobia, is she my promised one?” Just saying the words aloud felt all wrong. I knew in my soul that she was. But the fact remained the same. She hadn’t recognized me.

“Such an interesting young woman, this Zenobia.”

“Is she or is she not?”

“Yes, she is.”

Relief flooded my entire being with a strength that almost made me fall to my knees. I knew she was, but the confirmation erased my doubts.

“Why can’t she sense me? Why hasn’t she recognized me as her promised one?”

“My dear, dear faerie. Because you are not her promised one.”

Confusion hammered into my head as I looked at the witch who was now making her way towards the window. My tongue felt thick as I probed for more answers, ones that made sense.

“What do you mean, witch? She is my promised one so therefore I am hers. Why can’t she sense me?”

With a tilt of her head, Iovonna “looked” out the window at the world below. “Strange and unique, that girl. The blood of royalty runs strongly in her veins. Magic unlike any other hums from her. Even now, never having met her I feel her presence. You’ve seeked to uncover her lineage, yes?

Drinking in the information I merely nodded my head until I remembered that she couldn’t see the small action.

“Yes.”

“She is the product of an impossible union. One that should have never taken place. She comes from two lines of royalty. Not one, but two,” she paused and looked in my direction. “Are you listening closely dear?”

I managed a quiet yes and she continued.

“From two lines of royalty of two different species. Never having happened before, she is quite the rare gem. She has attributes of both running through her, but they seemingly cancel the other out. She cannot be both. But she can not be one without the other. You are not her promised one dear, because she is not fully one being. She is in fact, two. She is Pricolici, of that I am sure you have already smelled of her.”

Feeling the weight of the truth in her words crash iver me, I made a small grunt and looked back over to her.

“But she is also fae.”

My blood stopped cold in my body.

She is Ilele? But how? She lived among these wolves... Smelled like one even.

The witches words came back to me, as did Zenobia’s beautiful eyes. I gritted my teeth as the next words left my mouth.

“You said two lines of royalty.” I stated slowly. ”Which two?” Even though I already knew, how could I possibly not know? It was blaringly obvious as I recounted all the evidence thus far.

“Why my dear boy, she is of royal bloodline of King Avrim,” she took a breath.

“And of your Queen.”

My mind went numb as I thought to Zenobia’s eyes. How the stricking icy blue had seemed so familiar and now I knew it.

Her eye, she had her mother’s eye.

And the silver one. It was of her Pricolici blood line. She was the product of a union that was forbidden. And her eyes were the proof.

Focusing back to the witch I asked the other question that burned like a raging fire in the back of my mind.

“How is she both? How is she cancelling.... Herself out?”

“Her wolf does not exist in this realm as her faery magic has created a sort of barrier, so to speak, that keeps her in constant seperation of her wolf.”

“Then how does she not sense me?”

“Because dear boy, her wolf’s magic still lingers in her blood. Allows her few of the physical abilites they have, but never is her wolf fully.... present.”

Confused. I felt so confused.

“What does that have to do with not sensing me?” I asked as I rubbed my temple with my thumb.

“You see, she is neither wolf nor fae, but both at the same time. Fae have promised ones and wolves have mates.”

A few heavy moments passed and it dawned on me with dread filling my entire body. I spoke the words out loud with a terrible and sickening realization.

“She has two soul mates.”

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