Imperial Affliction

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Chapter 5

I furiously wiped my brow with the back of my hand, the sweltering heat from the sun blazing on me. Unusual for this late into fall, but a crisp breeze quickly picked up, cooling the sweat on my skin. It was the day before the Full Moon was to occur and many of the wolves were becoming increasingly agitated.

It’s not that Pricolici could only shift on a Full Moon. They could Shift at will whenever they pleased, but it was always a Full Moon when a werewolf’s First Shift took place. There were the symptoms that unfolded several days leading up to the First Shift that we were preparing the castle for. Several young men and women were to partake in their First Shift at tomorrow nights’ Full Moon.

It was impossible not to shift during the Full Moon. It was as if the moon herself would call our beast forward, bringing them out to ruffle our fur under the sweet glow of her light. We almost give ourselves entirely into our beasts. Almost.

To give up our human self would make the madness set in. Our humanity was the only thing that kept us apart from the rogues. When we gave up our humanity, we gave in entirely to our beast instincts, losing all of what made us compassionate and loyal, without condition.

I supposed it had something to do with the DNA of the Pricolici binding completely with that of the human form, the beings finally being connected by every fiber. It was why the onslaught of the fever, aching gums and fingernail beds were the telltale sign that the Shift was coming. The Moon Goddess herself would shine brilliantly on the matured wolf within, completing the final transformation.

A painful ache shot through my chest as I thought of when the fever had come over me. I had laid in agony for five days and nights before the Full Moin. The moon that I was to have my First Shift on was fast approaching. I remember clearly the aching gums and fingernail beds. The tingling sensation that spread all through my skin as the Full Moon had reached its height in the midnight sky. But as the night wore on, no shift came to pass.

I had thought that maybe my father had been wrong, that I really did have a wolf, she was just harder to reach for some reason. But as the moon faded and the sun light began to spill onto the horizon a part of me broke. All the things he had said about me rang with truth in that moment. Useless. Unnatural. An abomination.

Shaking off the despair that hung in the air around me, I got back to work bringing the cattle and horses more feed as well as cleaning their stalls. Most of the time the lovely creatures roamed the fields around the castle, but with the Full Moon fast approaching it was time to ready them for their stay in.

Better safe than sorry.

After dusting the dirt off my hands on to the apron that wrapped around my dress, I heard the approaching of heavy paws thudding against the ground. The horses and cattle scattered away from the sound quickly, sensing a predator’s presence. I quickly turned towards the sound.

A ginormous black wolf with scant amount of silver lacing its fur stalked towards me. Being nearly twice the size of the horses, it towered tall and mighty. I could not deny that the creature was absolutely beautiful, all wolves were. The look in its silvery eyes were menacing and cold, and I knew that my Father had arrived home. His presence made me cower and I bowed my head in a reluctant sign of respect and submission.

He snarled in my direction.

My heart raced and fear laced my voice. “My Lord, welcome back. I am of service should you require anything.” Keeping my head down, I thrust my neck towards him.

I hoped it would be enough.

I heard the sudden cracking and shifting of bones realigning and I knew to keep my gaze downward as he took the satchel from his ankle, putting his shirt and trousers on. When Pricolici shifted the clothing they wore would always shred, being completely destroyed. Finally someone had gotten smart enough to tie the clothing to their ankles so it would be protected as they shift back and forth between forms.

“Zenobia.”

My eyes snapped up to his face, looking into his cold eyes.

“Yes, my lord?”

“Go straight to the dungeons. Now.”

*****

My hands and feet were chained to the walls of the all too familiar cell of the dungeon. It reeked of stale sweat, old blood and fear.

The side of my head now sported a gash running down the right side of my hairline, blood dripping down my face and into my eyes, stinging. I breathed shallow hard breaths that didn’t quite fill my lungs. The dress that Soren had given me to wear was now decorated with splotches of my blood. Tears in the cloth were scattered about from the whips having gone in numerous directions against my skin.

“I’ll ask again. What happened to my guards?”

My vision swimming with black and white spots, I rasped out my response as best I could with the rising pain in my chest.

“I told you. I don’t know... what you are... talking about.” The words came out broken as I desperately tried to keep my face neutral.

“Lies.”

Crack!

He struck me again.

Blood splattered from my face and my mouth. Tasting the metallic taste, I knew my injuries were becoming dire the longer it continued.

“They spoke to me through the link after they regained consciousness. I know they had you and you had done something to them. They were knocked unconscious... therefore losing their memory of the incident in the process.”

His eyes flashed with anger and he continued, “You are weak, wolfless, and a pathetic excuse for a female. So how did you do it? Did you have help?”

My thoughts instantly went to Soren and I realized his promise was not broken, but merely spoken in vain. He couldn’t have stopped the King from finding out because he had already known.

Dammit, I thought to myself.

Relief flooded through me as I picked up on the fact that Father knew nothing of the golden light that had appeared when I defended myself against them.

Lying about not knowing anything about the guards was one thing. Trying to lie about how I got the guards off of me on my own were two separate ordeals.

I felt a new sense of courage wash over me when I thought of the golden light. Still not understanding what it was or how it happened, I knew that it had protected me that night. That was all that I needed to know for now.

My neck ached from the impact of his fists but I lifted my head high and looked straight into his eyes. This newfound courage bubbling inside my chest having risen to the surface, I felt no fear when I stared at him.

“They got far less than what they deserved.”

His brow raised for a moment in shock that something other than pleas came from my lips. But it quickly faded into pure fury.

“What did you say?”

The courage that I felt coursing through me only strengthened my resolve to further tell him that he could essentially go screw himself.

“You heard my words. They got far less than what they deserved for what they tried to do to me. They were scum who preyed on an innocent woman who deserved nothing they had done. And you, you are far worse than they. I have never done anything to warrant such treatment in my life. You won’t let me go, yet you use and hurt me, breaking my body bone by bone. And tearing apart my soul. You are not a king, but a coward!”

My chest heaved from the pain and rage that had pent up from so many years of abuse and torture. I kept my eyes locked with his, not daring to look away after the bold speech I delivered him.

His words were composed when he spoke, but his eyes conveyed a deeper emotion.

“You are just like her.”

My whole frame stiffened at his words.

Her?

His whole stature was still hardened in anger and shock at my outburst, but his eyes were almost... nostalgic? Sad? Confused?

I was confused.

Never before had I seen these emotions in his eyes, at least not when it pertained to me. Curiosity seeped into my bones and I needed to know more.

“Her? Who is her?”

His eyes broke out of their trance like stare and focused on me, the emotions they once held long gone and anger resided in their place. He stood up from his stool in the center of the cell and took a final look at me. Regret apparent in his eyes.

“You are your mother’s daughter.”

He turned on his heel and made his exit with out another word.

My mother. He had been talking of my mother.

When I had just barely been born into the world, my mother could not stand the sight of my unique differences, thinking that I was a curse placed on her and my father for not being true mates. So she left him, leaving me to his abuse and anger. I had no memory of her. Nor did I know her name or what she even looked like. All I know, is of what my Father had told me about her.

All these years I had thought my father to be cruel for the way he treated me. But she is the one who didn’t even give me a chance.

The crushing grief washed over me, hot salty tears mixing into the blood already covering my face. I wasn’t sure which was worse. Being with my Father but not being his daughter. Or being abandoned by my mother, the one who gave me life.

********

Soren’s P.O.V.

My bed still held her lingering scent, and I was sure that the room was somehow less inviting since she had gone. Not that I was too interested in it before she was here. The overwhelming scent of lavender and honey that was Zenobia washed over me every time I walked through the doorway. It was saddening that the wonderful smell was starting to fade and grow stale.

Thinking of her now made sorrow settle deep in my chest. Everyone could see the purple and blue bruises that shadowed her skin. The cuts and scrapes that seemed to keep reappearing every few days. They would heal only for more to take their place. No one said anything because of the King. We all knew but we didn’t stop it.

I didn’t stop it.

Regret formed a thick vice around my heart as I stood up and looked outside of the window that faced the east side of the castle grounds. I sensed him before I saw him approaching. The King had returned to the castle. He sauntered forward in his massive wolf form, and I saw that he was making his way towards Zenobia. Anger filled me as I sensed the tension and hatred that seethed from him so obviously when he stopped right before her.

But he was the king. And I his soldier. There was nothing I could do for her that wouldn’t get us both punished or worse, disposed of.

So I watched from as she was tortured, and hated myself more because of it.

Her beautiful face popped into my mind. Heart shaped, decorated with freckles and a small rounded nose. High cheek bones that made her look regal despite her usually haggard appearance. I could tell she hated her lips, as the bottom was noticeably more full than her upper lip. Her long crimson hair was always braided into a thick rope or placed high on her head in a bun. She had the makings of a true queen.

And those eyes. They knock the wind out of me every time they look my way. The beautiful silver one contrasting the icy blue one in the most striking way. But so magnificent nonetheless.

I’d never seen anything like her.

I ran my hand through my hair and suited up to go welcome my King home.

As I neared the King’s quarters, the smell of fresh blood invaded my nostrils. Instantly my claws extended and my canines pierced my gums. I was on high alert as I knocked on Avrim’s door after securing the entrance.

“Enter.”

I quickly made my way through the huge ornate doors only to be stopped in my tracks. The thick stench of blood was more apparent in the King’s quarters. His back was turned to me, his large frame slightly hunched over a wash basin, cleansing the blood from his knuckles. His long thick black hair was tied in a knot at the base of his neck, the rest braided into a rope hanging freely. His booming voice greeted me.

“Yes, Soren, what do you need?”

It wasn’t until he turned around to look at me that I was assaulted by the overwhelming lavender and honey scent that was Zenobia. Anger quickly filled me as I realized the blood that was splattered across his face was hers. Of course it was hers. My canines ached.

He hurt her, again... my wolf snarled.

I know but what can I do? I can’t challenge him, I am no alpha. Physically I cannot over power him.

He’s just going to keep hurting her. We have to do something. There was a note of desperation in his voice.

Like what?!

Distract him from her. Try to keep his attention away from her.

“My Lord, how was your trip to the Welamerne Kingdom? Do we have an alliance?”

His silver eyes scanned mine for a moment and then proceeded. “Yes, but it wasn’t without a little persuasion. Those damned elves are annoying creatures. If it wasn’t for the magic they wield with nature, and their incredible strength and numbers, I wouldn’t even bother wasting my energy on them.”

He grabbed a clean wrag from the shelf next to the wash basin and wiped the drying blood from his face. My stomach twisted and I could feel the raging heat in my chest once more.

Calm yourself, we cant draw attention to any knowledge that we know of him torturing her. It would only make it worse for her, my wolf reminded me.

With great effort I took a breath, trying to calm the waves of anger that coursed through me, trying to not let my hatred for him show on my face.

“How many soldiers are they lending for the battle?”

“Three hundred. It will be plenty on their end, alongside our own soldiers. Not to mention the alliance we are going to procure in a few days time. With the Elves, the Ilele, and our own wolves; we will have enough power to bring down the reign of the Strigoi King.”

The Elves were magical creatures that lived for centuries, not immortal but never aging. They can influence and draw magic from nature. The strength of nature fuels the strength within them. Usually a secluded species, they only communicate with neighboring kingdoms if a need arises... like war.

The Ilele were also magical beings, ethereal in their presence, or so I’ve heard. The fae almost never communicated outside of their species. When King Avrim had informed me of the upcoming meeting to strike an alliance with their commander, shock wasn’t the word that quite described the bewilderment that they had agreed to meet with us. Rarely has anyone ever met face to face with the fae.

Tricksters by nature, the Ilele were usually the kind to take on another form, an illusion, and wreck havoc with their victims. They were rarely violent creatures but if you broke a deal with them, hell hath no fury. The death they served for broken deals is one I’ve only ever heard tales about. You don’t dare break a deal with the fae.

“When will the Ilele be arriving to the castle, my Lord?”

“Two days after the Full Moon. So after we have our new wolves adjusted from their First Shift, things will likely be more settled and tip in our favor. Wouldn’t want those bastards running away because of some new wolve’s agitation saturating the atmosphere.”

“Of course, I will make sure everything is prepared ahead of time for the meeting. What is the commanders name that will be arriving on behalf of their kingdom?”

“Sir. Neculai and from what I have gathered he is their strongest commanding soldier in their army. And also the one who has served them the longest, so he will know if we try to trick them in any way. We need to prepare ourselves and be diplomatic. We can’t ever know for sure what those beings are up to.”

I nodded my head in agreement. “How is Garridan? Has the fever set in yet?”

“Yes, my wife informed me through our link that his fever set in two nights ago. He will be ready for his First Shift tomorrow night. As the heir to the kingdom and the Alpha throne, I expect him to be guarded and made a priority during the shift tomorrow. I don’t care if others are on the cusp of death, he is to be guarded at all costs. You know as well as I that the First Shift is the most vulnerable time and he could be targeted for attack to weaken the kingdom.”

“Of course, your majesty. I already have three guards assigned to him for the shift tomorrow, I will reiterate that he is the number one priority.”

“Very good. You are dismissed Soren.” He turned away and continued changing out of his bloodied clothing, probably to be presentable for his wife and children. Although, they were no stranger to him being covered in someone else’s blood.

I backed out of his quarters, closing the door behind me and quickly making my way towards the dungeons. The pent up anger I had tried to suppress in front of the King blew out of my lungs in a long, hot breath.

I will tear him to shreds one day for all the pain he’s caused her, I told my wolf.

It took him a moment to answer but when he did I knew he was right.

We will do what we can for her. But to challenge the King outright would be suicide for us and a death sentence for Zenobia. We will find another way to protect her.

I thought back to the moment when I really started to notice Zenobia. It wasn’t that I hadn’t noticed her before, who wouldn’t with her strange and unique beauty? But it was shortly after the Full Moon two summers ago that I really started paying attention to her. Noticing her smile when she worked the fields and tended the kitchen prep, just content in her own mind. Her apprehension when anyone would come near her confused me at first. The bruises and injuries slowly started making sense with her behavior. She was being beaten. Often.

There was something about her that ignited a need to protect her regardless of my place in the pack. Thinking of her beautiful face, broken and bloodied made anger rage inside me once more.

We will find a way to save her. My wolf and I said in unison.

And being the King’s personal advisor, it wouldn’t take too long to uncover a way to do it...

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