Imperial Affliction

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Chapter 3

The King never summoned for me during the day. If he had an issue with me, or just wanted to literally beat me around, it was always done in the evening. When all the others were busying themselves with social gatherings. When no one would notice my absence.

I shuffled quickly after the guard, trying not to lose my footing as he nearly ran down the stairs towards the dungeons.

Oh no, I thought, my blood freezing. He is taking me to the dungeon! I must have forgotten something somewhere... My mind was racing and my heart was pumping frantically in my chest.

We came upon the dungeons main quarter and there stood King Avrim, with a calm look on his face. His six foot six figure stood high across the room, and even from the distance he seemed to loom over me. My stomach did a flip at the tension that seemed to envelope the air, so thick I could almost feel it suffocating me.

"Regele meu,” the guard addressed my Father. “I have brought the servant you asked for.” He shoved me forward making me stumble a few steps until I righted myself and kept my gaze on my father’s feet.

“Zenobia, do you know why you’re here today? Down in this dungeon?”

I swallowed hard and shook my head.

“Words, girl, use your words,” he barked out at me.

“No, my lord. I do not.”

He caressed his chin peering at me with his silvery gaze. He was quite a handsome king with an angular chin, straight nose and jet black hair. I’m sure he had had many, many young maidens at his feet as he aged. My mother being one of them that had fallen under his charms. If only the darkness he held inside would have shone through, maybe I wouldn’t be here. A blessing, I thought. To have never been born rather than to wish to die.

“We are to have a meeting in a week’s time with the commander of the Ielele army. I want it to be made clear that I do not want any trouble from you. You are not to have any contact with anyone that could cause any trouble for the treaty I am trying to procure. If there is so much as one hair out of line,” his silver eyes flashed to my red locks and a disgusted grimace lined his mouth. “I will have you thrown into this dungeon and punished every day. More than anything you have ever received before.”

The hairs on the back of my neck stood up and the scarred skin on my body slightly burned at his words. What more could he do to me that he hasn’t done already? I quickly pushed the thought from my head as his guards were eying me up and down. I suddenly felt exposed as if they were looking through the thick clothes that draped my frame. Looking at me as if I were naked. And I realized then that there was still some things that were far worse that they could do to me. Shivering, I hastily responded to my Father.

“Regele meu, I shall not be of any trouble to you, and I shall not speak to anyone.” I bowed my head and kept my eyes glued to the floor, hoping that my voice didn’t convey my fear.

He huffed in reply and walked past me to leave, but not before stopping to say something in my ear, the smell of tobacco wafting into my face as he leveled down to my height.

“You are already trouble to me.”

“Then why do you keep me here?” The words came tumbling out of my mouth before I could stop them and I braced myself for his response.

His eyes scanned mine. The hard look on his face softened around the edges and for a moment I wondered if he would show me an ounce of kindness. A shadow of uncertainty clouded his silvery eyes, and then disappeared as quickly as it came on.

“Because I own you.” He didn’t say anything more.

He sauntered out of the dungeons main room and I didn’t dare look up until I heard his footsteps fade into the distance. I let out a sigh of relief when I saw that I had been left alone in the dungeon. Trying to slow my racing heart I took a deep breath. A meeting with the commander of the fae? Why? The fae rarely came out of their secluded and heavily guarded villages. I knew the problem with the rogues had become more troublesome than my Father had anticipated, but was it really enough to involve the Ielele? I quietly made my way out of the dungeons, knowing this pathway by heart, and headed towards the kitchen quarters.

I cleaned the concrete counter tops and scrubbed all the pots and pans, readying them for the beginning of another day. After putting out the fire, I went to the back of the kitchen to the small framed door that led outside. As I gathered the firewood for the morning my mind raced once more with unanswered questions.

Sighing, I looked up to the darkened sky that was now littered with millions of shining stars. I wasn’t sure if I would ever get my answers. I was sure that these uncertainties would always plague my mind.

Looking at the tiny garden that surrounded me I felt drawn to the beautiful herbs that grew from the earth. I grabbed a small twig of lavender from the lavender bush and brought it towards my face, gently sniffing the deep violet buds. The lavender always soothed me, making it easier to think clearly. I knew my Father would never let me go willingly, and thus far all my escape attempts have been thoroughly thwarted by his highly trained Pricolici guards. Each time I tried to escape this prison of mine, the beating that followed after my capture was always worse than the one before it. Many times I have considered ceasing all of my attempts but then stopped.

I realized that I would rather die trying to escape this hell than to die imprisoned in it.

I gathered a bunch of the beautiful lavender sprigs and headed back to my “room.” Laying them angled into my water basin, I cleansed off the dirt and sweat of the day. For once my water was just murky, tinged from just dirt and not dried blood. I braided my hair into a loose braid and brought it around the side of my neck. I was about to retire to my lumpy mattress when a banging sounded at my door.

I swallowed hard and stood up, my bones aching from exhaustion. “Can I help you?” I called out.

“The King demands your presence,” a guard called through the door.

What? But I had just seen him the hour before. If he were to punish me, he would have done it then, wouldn’t he​? Unless...

Unless he was making me think that I had been safe for the night.

Absolutely cruel, I thought to myself. To make me feel like I would be okay for one nighy! One night only to take me back to those dungeons and beat away at my body and break my soul some more. It was certainly something Father would do to me.

I walked to the door and opened it, the guard quickly grasping my wrist tightly, half dragging me towards the dungeon quarters. It was eerily silent. Something didn’t feel right. Father would never give me a punishment this late, when it was so silent. No, he would do it while there was still people bustling in the castle to ensure that any noise that accidentally escaped me would be drowned out.

We reached the dungeon and the heavy wooden door slammed shut behind the guard. I searched for Father, but he was nowhere in sight. My stomach twisted when I saw two other guards with empty goblets around their feet. Then it hit me, the strong and burning scent of alcohol filled my nostrils and dread pooled in my chest.

Father always delivered the beatings himself. To take satisfaction in his handiwork.

He wasn’t here.

The guard behind me shoved me hard to the ground causing my knee to scrape against the concrete. I heard the rough chuckling from the other guards sound in my ears but it sounded muddled, far away. Panic was starting to seize me, but I wouldn’t give in without a fight. I waited until the first guard reached for my hair, my head level with his waist.

“Such beautiful hair, like fire that scorches the sky. Such a nice little body, and those eyes... Oh those eyes.” His hot, rancid breath blew down to my face and I jerked my head back, connecting harshly with his manhood. He let out a curse, grabbing himself and turning away.

"Cățea prost!” He spat out.

The other two guards lurched to their feet and came at me.

The second guard tackled me to the ground, knocking the wind clear out of my lungs. I choked for a moment, gasping for air. He pushed my arms into the concrete making me yelp in pain. Frantically searching for anything to grab onto, I didn’t notice his form change until he slashed me across my stomach with huge claws that sprouted from his fingertips. I felt the searing pain rip through my skin and I gritted my teeth. I brought my legs up and kicked him hard in the stomach. Even though he was at least twice my size, a well trained guard, and obviously an experienced shifter; he wasn’t prepared for the strength behind my legs and went flying across the dungeon floor. I scrambled to my feet trying to orient myself and find the dungeon door. I made a dash for it.

The third guard then darted in front of the door, blocking my exit. I grabbed onto the gashes in my stomach and tried to hold in the blood that was quickly oozing from them. He looked into my eyes with a sick look on his face. It was then that I spotted a decent sized brick across the room near the entrance of the hallway leading to the dungeon cells. My eyes darted back and forth between the guard and the brick. I lunged for the brick but he was too quick, as he sported no injuries whatsoever.

Once again, I found myself pinned to the floor.

I struggled against his hold, desperately trying to find any weakness in him. The stench of alcohol that rolled off of him made bile rise in my throat. I kicked at him but he seemed to be expecting it from me and was holding his weight against me. His Pricolici strength was making it easy for him to keep me trapped beneath him. I heard him grunt when my elbow connected with his chin, but he still held his weight. He slapped me so hard against my cheek that the vision dimmed in my eyes. I heard a sickening pop from my jaw once more.

No, no, no... I thought to myself. I can’t give up now. If I black out, I know for sure what they will do to me.

Another blow to my head and stars danced in my eyes. I quickly elongated my canines and bit his arm that was pinning me down.

He visibly winced in pain but I could tell it wasn’t enough to stop him. He reached up to my tattered servants dress and ripped my under garment clean off of me.

“NO! PLEASE DON’T!” I screamed out, thrashing as hard as I could now.

He pulled his manhood out from his pants, stroking himself a few times before lining himself up with me.

Dread pooled in my belly.

Feeling an overwhelming pressure in my chest and I looked him dead in the eyes and screamed.

Pushing with every ounce of strength I had, I felt a sudden explosion.

I looked up to see a burst of golden light flash from my hands, straight into his chest, instantly knocking him to the floor. The power that shot through him seemed to emanate out of him and into the other two guards, stunning them to the floor as well. My eyes went wide with shock and I tried to process whatever the hell it was that just happened. I paused for a moment until I realized that I had to move. Now.

I quickly ran to the door throwing it open and swiftly ran into a solid wall.

Not a wall. A guard.

This can’t be happening, please don’t let this be happening, I begged to no one in particular.

I looked up and relief flooded my entire body.

Soren stood there with his gray eyes searching my body and then my eyes, trying to figure out why I was standing before him about to collapse from fear. His gaze moved beyond my head and I followed it, seeing the three guards all on the floor. He looked back at me.

“Zenobia, what happened? Are you alright?” His deep voice sent a feeling of safety throughout my body and I shook my head, tears falling down my face.

“Come on, let’s get you away from here.”

He quickly led me out of the dungeon and then stopped as if he was only really looking at me for the first time. His eyes dropped to my stomach, where the blood was seeping through my tattered dress. I suddenly realized he stopped because I was half limping, half running trying to keep up with him. He looked me over once more and then searched my eyes.

“Zenobia, I won’t hurt you, but I need to carry you. Your wound is still bleeding and we need to move quickly so I can fix it.” His eyes were searching mine, hesitant and asking for permission.

I nodded my head.

He swiftly scooped me up with an arm under my knees as the other cradled my back. He ran with me as if I were as light as a feather. His chest showed no sign of extra exertion. The dark curls that surrounded his face were the only indication of how fast we were truly going. My vision started to dim in and out from the blood loss and the adrenaline that was starting to fade from my body.

“No, no Zenobia. You have to stay awake, do you hear me? I need you to remain conscious.” I tried my best to focus on his face. His eyes flashed to mine and worry was written all over him.

I felt myself being lowered onto a flat surface and I hissed in pain. Soren grabbed a pair of his undergarments, skillfully placing them on me without his eyes leaving my face. I would have blushed furiously had it been under any other circumstances. I tried not to slap him away when he slowly pulled my dress up, uncovering the horrid gashes that lay across my stomach in thick stripes. Turning away from me, he grabbed his water basin and some clean cloth that was across the room. Sitting close to my side, he looked at me with sorry in his eyes.

“I am so sorry, but this is going to hurt. A lot.”

I nodded and bit down on my lip.

He dipped the clean cloth into the water basin and then gently started cleaning the gnarly gashes. I bit down so hard on my lip that I started to taste blood. The painful grunts that escaped my mouth made him almost visibly wince each time. Finally I felt him wrap a dry set of cloth around my midsection and then felt him wipe away the sweat at my brow. I opened my eyes and saw him offering a small glass of water. “Drink.” He ordered.

I slowly drank in the cool liquid, not realizing how incredibly thirsty I was. I tried not to gulp it down. As I finished I looked Soren in the eyes.

“Thank you Soren,” I croaked out.

He gave me the smallest of smiles, looking so sad.

His face then grew hard as he looked at me.

“Zenobia, what the hell happened back there?”

Panic seized my chest and breathing became hard as the events unfolded before my eyes once more.

I couldn’t look at him.

“The one guard, he said that the King requested me, so I followed him. I didn’t realize I wasn’t going to see the King until they had me trapped. That is when they tried to... tried to...” I trailed off and shivered, not able to get the words out.

He looked at me with an unreadable expression. Soren ran a hand through his hair and let out a sigh of frustration. He pressed the cloth gently into my wounds trying to stop the bleeding. Looking away from me he said “No more explanation needed.”

I laid my head down and closed my eyes listening to the rhythm of his breathing. For once, I felt no fear. Next to Soren I felt nothing but safety. It was such an odd feeling.

I must have fallen asleep for when I opened my eyes it was daylight. Trying to sit up, the stinging pain from the still healing gashes in my stomach made me flinch. I looked around and realized I had no idea where I was. The room was much bigger than mine with no visible cracks in the walls, and significantly warmer as well. I couldn’t even see my breath. Looking around, I saw a mans clothing, boots, and trinkets littered everywhere about the room.

“What a mess...” I muttered out.

“I can’t say I don’t disagree but you did have quite a night.”

My eyes shot to the doorway and saw Soren leaning against the frame, his eyebrows raised as if he found something funny. In his arms there was a heaping pile of clothing of different shades and swatches of fabric, as well as a small bag.

He walked over to me and sat down next to the bed. “How are you feeling this morning? You haven’t developed a fever through the night so no infection has developed, I have also changed the dressing a few times and the bleeding has halted.”

I looked at him in shock.

“You stayed next to me all night?”

“Yes, I did. Is that a problem?”

“Yes. I mean, no. I mean I...” I stammered. Taking a deep breathI steadied myself as I tried to continue, “No. It is not a problem, I am just not used to anyone showing me any kindness let alone all through the night while being injured. I am very thankful to you, Soren.”

“It really was no problem, I was happy to help.” He flashed me a brilliant white smile and then laid the clothing and small bag next to my side. “I brought you some clean, warm clothes as well as some food for breakfast. You are going to need to eat all of it if you wish to keep up your strength and heal.”

Breakfast.

“Oh no... no, no, no... Breakfast.” I groaned and slapped my forehead. “I completely forgot about breakfast, what am I going to do? King Avrim will be quite angry that I didn’t serve his meal. I need to get up. I need to get to the kit-”

Soren threw a hand up to stop my frantic babbling.

“There is no need to move from this very spot, Zen. The King had to leave early this morning to travel to a neighboring kingdom to form an alliance against the rogues. He left before breakfast had even been started and the meals have been taken care of by some other servants for the day. You need to lay here and let yourself heal.”

I looked at his face and concluded that he was being honest. “Soren, I can’t stay here in your room.”

His eyes grew dark.

“You’re certainly not going back to yours, not after what happened last night.”

Last night...

The golden light, what the hell was that that? I looked down at my hands.

As if he could read my mind, his next words made my heart freeze.

“Zenobia, how did you manage to knock out two Pricolici guards and kill the other?”

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