Imperial Affliction

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Chapter 4

My heart thudded in my chest as my eyes darted up to Soren’s face.

Kill? I had killed one of the guards? Instantly my stomach became uneasy when the vision of the golden light that bursted from my hands invaded my mind once more. It had been raw power that emanated from me. As if every fiber of my being had been turned into tiny shards of crystal, so beautiful and so strong. I could feel my energy move out of my body the moment it happened...

I heard him clear his throat, snapping me back to the question he asked me. His slate gray eyes were boring into mine, and my mind went blank.

“Zenobia, how did you do it? You were injured quite badly, and greatly outnumbered by far more experienced guards than that of the norm. Those men were personal guards to King Avrim.” He was probing me for answers that I didn’t even have myself.

“Soren, I am not sure of what happened. I fought them as hard as I could, and as soon as I saw an opening for escape, I took advantage of it.” I couldn’t tell him about the golden light, he would have thought me insane.

He rubbed his chin and sighed, aware that I was hiding something, but he chose not to push me further onnthe matter. “King Avrim won’t be returning until the day before the full moon, so you can rest here until you are fully healed. I understand that since you’ve no wolf, it will take much longer for you to heal properly.”

When he mentioned my nonexistent wolf, I internally flinched. It would always be a sore subject for me. Even though I was born with no wolf, I somehow still had faster than human healing as well as advanced eyesight, hearing, strength and speed. But not nearly as much as if I’d had a wolf, but significantly stronger than a human.

The humans were scarce in the kingdom, too afraid and too weak to raise against Father so most had fled in the early days of his reign. Many were servants or workers for the Pricolici now, but some had been sold into slavery. The men would become slaves instead of workers and the women would be sold into the sex rings. It was a horrid circle that everyone knew of but rarely spoke about.

As Soren got up to leave he paused and looked back at me. “It is a good thing I was the one to find you last night. There is no telling what would have become of you had a different guard found you. At least this way, the king won’t know that it was you who killed the guard.”

A thought crossed my mind and instantly made my throat go dry.

“But Soren, the other two guards, they were apart of it! What if they remember and tell the king what happened? He will punish me with no mercy.” The panic in my voice was evident but Soren made no change in his expression as he gauged mine.

“Just let me handle it. I will make sure there is no way to connect what happened back to you.”

The tightening in my chest let up slightly and then confusion settled in.

“Soren, why are you helping me? Why haven’t you been cruel and evasive like all the other guards and servants who’ve come face to face with me? Or... Or try to hurt me as the others have?”

“Because, Zenobia, you don’t deserve their cruelty or hatred. You’ve done nothing to anyone, well... aside from self defense. I do not fear you as they do. In fact, I am quite taken with your unique and strange beauty. It fascinates me that I’ve never known a creature quite like you. It is a sad thing when people fear what they do not understand.”

I felt a deep blush raise to my cheeks and was at a loss of words when he spoke of beauty. I did not consider myself beautiful by any standard, as every look I’ve received in my life has been looks of fear or detest. Looking down at my hands, I heard him say, “Please rest. I will be back after a while to check on you. Until then I must arrange some things before the King’s return.”

I raised my gaze to him just as he had turned in the door way to leave. The thought of the guard being dead came back to me and the familiar grip of fear and uncertainty warped its claws around my heart, making breathing slightly more difficult.

What would happen if my Father were to find out? I shuddered at the thought. He would not be merciful in the slightest.

Looking around the room once more, I slowly got up and walked to the wash room. Soren’s sleeping quarters were right above the barracks. I’m not sure of how his room was separated from the other soldiers. But for now I was thankful that I could be left in peace with no one around to question it.

The oval mirror was hung on the wall, with the wrought iron stand that held the wash basin directly beneath it. My hair was in knots, and my face was slightly swollen near my left cheek bone. The split in my lip had healed, leaving behind a tiny, faint pink scar in its place. My face had been washed clean of any dirt and blood, making me blush when I realized Soren must have cleansed my face while I slept.

My jaw was a problem once again. After several minutes of working up my courage and a slew of curses to rebreak my rebroken jawbone, I snapped it back into place. The searing pain made me grip the edge of the wash basin for balance.

See as the rest of me was still quite filthy. I filled the tub up with hot water from the spicket. I slowly undressed as I waited for it to fill and braced myself for what I might sed underneath.

My skin was pale, spotted in little freckles and tiny cuts; bruises also decorating my body in little patches here and there. Many scars lay white and faded across my skin. I trailed my fingers over the gashes in my stomach, relieved that the outer skin had sewn itself shut, leaving behind an angry red scar that would soon fade to pink and then to white over time. I looked into my eyes, never quite knowing which one to look into myself, as they were strikingly different. Looking away, I shut the spicket off and lowered myself into the hot scalding bath basin.

The deep tub surrounded me in a heat of comfort and relaxation as it soothed my aching muscles. The skin in my stomach seared and painfully protested the temperature, but it was a pain I could ignore.

My skin turning pink from the hot water, flushed deeper when I thought of Soren bathing in the same tub. He had told me to relax and let myself heal and I don’t remember the last time I had taken a hot bath.

After the water had started to cool to a lukewarm temperature, I started working the knots in my hair, relieved to have found a bar of soap that didn’t sting. It also left my hair quite moisturized. The sweet delicate smell of honey, sandalwood, and patchouli scented my skin and the smell of Soren filled the room. I quickly rinsed myself, feeling a bit too intimate all of a sudden.

Drying off with the clean towel left on the window sill to my right, I peeked my head out of the door to make sure no one was in the room.

Padding across the floor to where the clean dresses lay; I found a beautiful mauve dress in the mix, being the less outlandish one of the rest, and quickly threw it on. I was thankful that there were lady undergarments as well.

Walking back to the oval mirror in the wash room, my face was lightly glowing from the heat and freshly scrubbed skin.

I had just finished trying the knot into my long braid that hung past my chest when I heard a light knock. Panic squeezed my heart, and then quickly faded when I saw that it was only Soren who had returned from his errands.

“My my, don’t you clean up nice and spiffy.” His eyes flashed with a look that I didn’t understand until he quickly smiled at me, flashing a crooked smile with his white teeth. “You look like you are feeling better. Did you have a nice and relaxing morning?”

I smiled a small smile at him. “Thank you, I did. I hope it is alright that I used your wash room. This room is so spacious and well stocked. How have you managed that being a soldier of the King? How come you aren’t in the barracks with the other soldiers?” The questions came tumbling out before I could stop them, so I quickly covered mh mouth with a look of regret coloring my face. “I’m sorry it is none of my business.”

He ran a hand through his long dark curls and sat on the edge of his bed. “No, it’s alright. My mother used to be one of Queen Miriam’s ladies before she became ill. I was around 12 when she passed so the King allowed us to remain in these quarters, even when I became one of his soldiers.”

Hearing my father show anyone kindness is rare, but I was sure it had more to do with Queen Miriam herself than it did my father.

“That makes sense, I suppose. What happened to your father?”

He turned to the window sill and stared out into the castle grounds. Suddenly I felt as though I had asked a too sensitive question.

He visibly swallowed and then spoke, “My father was out on a mission for King Avrim, due to return any day. After a week had passed and no news from him, the King sent out a search party only to uncover his body had been torn to shreds by rogues. The King had his body returned here and given a proper burial. This was almost 3 years ago now, I still miss my father every day.” Sadness flooded his voice and I instantly regretted that I had pried.

“I am deeply sorry for the loss of your father and mother, Soren.” I told him earnestly, the shock still evident in my voice.

He looked back into my eyes and smiled, quickly recovering from the sudden onset of emotion his words had uncovered. “It’s alright, what is done is done. What about you, Zenobia? Where are your parents?”

Shifting on my feet uncomfortably, the lie quickly slipped through my lips. “I am an orphan. I was left at the castle gates when I was an infant, the servants taking me in. I was lucky a rogue had not found me first.”

“Yes, lucky indeed.”

My stomach started making a noise that sounded like a dying cow. I looked down in embarrassment but Soren just laughed and grabbed my hand, leading me to the door, “Come, let’s get you some more nutrition before your stomach jumps out and tries to maul me.”

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

Later that evening we had returned to Soren’s sleeping quarters. After having a hearty meal, more than I ever ate in a full day, we had made our way to the stables. I had insisted on grooming the beautiful horses as I was unable to do much else.

Soren wouldn’t let me.

I had also picked another lavender sprig from the lavendar bush in the garden, taking it back to Soren’s room.

With a little knot in my throat I look to Soren, “Are you sure it is alright that I sleep here again tonight? I wouldn’t want to impose on you.”

“Of course. King Avrim is due back tomorrow around noontime, so you’re more than welcome to stay here and then return to your room in the morning. I will sleep just outside the door in the common area so if you need anything please, don’t hesitate to come find me.”

I smiled a warm smile at him. He had been so kind to me all day, more so than I have ever experienced and I was beyond grateful towards him. He left the room after biding me a good night and I quickly readied myself for sleep, covering myself in the thick quilt that lay on his bed. Everything smelled of him, so masculine and earthy. It made my heart thud in my chest.

Sleep found me quickly.

I didn’t often dream but when I did it would always be of my father and his angry silver eyes as he inflicted more pain on me.

But tonight, I dreamt of something different.

The moon hung high in the midnight sky, millions of stars splattered across the dark sky decorating the darkness with beautiful light. I was standing at a small lake, surrounded by beautiful lavendar bushes, the scent completely overwhelming my senses. A contented sigh escaped my lips and I closed my eyes letting the warm breeze sweep my hair around my face.

I heard a sound off to my left and my gaze opened to see a large grey wolf crouched low to the sand, staring intently at me with its large gray eyes. I felt no fear as I walked softly towards to gray wolf, running my fingers through its coarse fur. A low rumble vibrated from the large creature as I combed my fingers down its neck. A sense of security blossomed in my chest.

Just then, a burst of golden light caught my eye from behind me in the distance. I whirled around to see the light coming from a shrouded figure standing in the middle of the lake. Remembering what the golden light had done from my own hands I shrunk back into the wolf, who was now growling menacingly at the golden figure.

I tried to focus my eyes through the blinding light to see the figure but I couldn’t make any features out. I waited for fear to encapsulate me, but none came. The same serene feeling I had had with the wolf remained. I felt no fear with golden figure as it was making it’s way towards me.

“Zenobia," a soft velvety whisper caught on the wind from the golden figure and my legs started moving on their own accord towards the lake. Growling behind me, the large gray wolf darted to my front, shielding me from the creature.

Putting my hand up to reach for the golden creature, the gray wolf howled in pain and I looked down to see that the golden crystals of energy had shot from my hands. While I had been reaching for the golden creature, I had forgotten about the wolf.

"Zenobia,” I heard the soft whisper again, bringing me back into the trance. The light from my hands melded into the creature, the shock jolting me straight out of sleep.

Breathing hard I looked around me and realized I was still in Soren’s room. The moonlight shone from the window casting a light glow on everything.

I got up slowly from the bed, sweat slick on my skin and made my way towards the wash room. For once, my bruises and cuts had had enough time to heal properly leaving my skin with just the white of faded scars. My hair was stuck on my skin where beads of sweat had formed. I cupped my hands into the cold water from the drinking basin and splashed it into my face, cooling down the flush that had covered my skin.

Slowing my heart rate I looked into the mirror. It was only a dream. I repeated it to myself over and over again.

I had never heard of a Pricolici being able to shoot a strange glowing light from their hands. In fact, I’ve never heard of seen of any creature who could do anything like that.

Unease settled in my chest as I made my way quietly back to the bed and laid down. I tried to find sleep once again but it evaded me. I thought over and over in my head what the light could possibly be. Was it because I had no wolf? Did I have powers that were different because she wasn’t present?

And the golden figure in my dreams, it knew my name. Why hadn’t I been afraid of it? It was as if it were a friend that I had known all my life, making a sense of security wash over me, whisking away any fear or doubts that had occupied my mind. Before the incident with the guard, I had never seen the glowing light in my life.

I had so many questions, but no idea who to turn to for answers.

I knew that there were witches in the kingdom, casters who could interpret dreams and held prophecies of things yet to come. Finding the witches would be difficult enough, let alone trying to get one to work with me and get the answers I needed. Not to mention how I would be able to escape the castle. Huffing a sigh of frustration, I sat up straight in bed, looking out to the moon once more.

It wasn’t until I had sat there for a few moments, letting my mind have peaceful thoughts, that I felt the burning sensation across my finger tips.

Bringing my fingers closer to my face, at first I saw nothing. The burning sensation continued and I stood up, moving closer to the moonlight by the window sill to get a better look.

There, on the tips of my fingers there appeared an intricate design of gold wrapping around my fingers slowly making their way up to the small of my palms. Gasping, I yanked my hand from the moonlight.

I quickly lit the candle that sat on the stand next to Soren’s bed and brought it closer to my hand to get a better look. But as I brought the flame up toward my fingers, there was nothing. Not even the burning sensation remained as I examined my hands.

How peculiar... I thought to myself. The dream must have messed with my thoughts more than I realized. Blowing out the candle and returning to the bed once more. My eyes readjusting to the moonlight, I laid back down and let my mind wander.

I needed to find answers to the questions my mind held and the only way I would be able to do it is when the full moon took place. All the wolves would be locked away for the safety of the women and children in the castle who had not shifted. It would be the perfect time to attempt another escape. As my mind reeled and formed a plan, my heart still felt heavy thinking to the golden light, the golden figure, and the golden spirals I had thought I seen.

What could it a possibly mean? And how did it connect to me?

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