Imperial Affliction

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Chapter 9

Zenobia’s P.O.V.

After Soren had left me to the privacy of the large luxurious room, I wasn’t sure what to do now. I was still in shock that it belonged to me. For however brief a time it lasted, I would be sure to cherish every moment of it. With that thought in mind I decided to clean myself up. I slowly stood and steadied myself against one of the large wooden posts of the bed that had intricate designs carved meticulously throughout. After taking a few steadying moments, I slowly made my way over to the wash room that was just on the left wall.

Walking into the naturally lit room by the big open window, I took in my surroundings. The ornate mirror hung on the wall with a copper wash basin being held up by wrought iron legs. The little room was nearly identical in structure to Soren’s wash room, with the exception of feminine details such as the floral brandishing into the copper edges of the basin and cream colored drapes. Just minor details but enough the make a noticeable difference in the overall look.

The large tub was the same copper as the sink with the same floral designs just on a much larger scale. The soaking tub seemed to be beckonning me. I gently started filling the tub with the hottest temperature the water would reach, nearly scalding. As it filled, I slowly started to remove the bloodied and dirt crusted servants dress.

And the “borrowed” trousers from Soren.

I unclasped the sacks of soap and food that I had placed strategically under the folds of fabric and sighed as I tossed them to the side. The rain vigorous journey, and turn of events had soiled the food and nearly disintergrated the soap. Slipping the trousers to the floor, I unlatched my breast belt, carefully clutching the white opal and gold necklace and setting it on the window sill. My eyes focused on the stone for a moment, feeling the slight hum as my fingers caressed its smoothness.

Looking around the little wooden cubby in the corner of the room, I grabbed out a plush towel and wash rag along with a sweet honey and milk soap. As the water reached the top I shut the spicket off and lowered myself gingerally into the scalding water, drawing a low hiss from my lips.

Completely concious of every bruise and wound scattered across my skin, I started scrubbing each inch until I was raw from friction. Sinking my head below the surface, I closed my eyes as the hot salty tears streamed down my face, mixing into the water around me.

The golden light had saved me twice. Whatever it was or however it worked, had saved my life, and Soren’s as well. He assured me that my secret was safe with him.

I trusted him.

He has proved to me on several different occasions that he cared for me. Thinking about Soren made my heart beat a little faster, and my skin flushed. I was drawn to him, to the safety that washed over me every time I was near him.

And the way he smiles at me, makes my heart skip a beat every time. Most others avoided me, fearing the unknown. But Soren, so handsome and so kind to me, spoke to me without fear.

Now, I was not entirely sure if he was not afraid of me to some extent. Especially with whatever it was I could do. When I had realized that Soren was the grey wolf anxiety had washed over me.

I was certain he would be frightened.

He seemed to have been a bit unsure how to approach me but I was thankful that he hadn’t avoided me. I wasn’t sure what I would have done had I lost my only friend.

And then there was the dream. I had seen Soren in my dream, his wolf the same one. I was sure, there was no mistaking it. But I had never personally seen Soren’s wolf.

So how had I seen him in my dream?

My heart ached as the image of Aurelia laying lifeless before me suddenly clouding my mind and more tears slipped from eyes. She was so young and hadn’t deserved to die that way. So frightened. I could still see the fear on her dead face. The crushing grief once Odette learned of her sister’s fate had been devastating, knocking the breath from my lungs.

And as I lay there deep in the water, I choked on the sobs that broke through my chest once more.

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

Soren’s P.O.V.

Gathering the remainder of the survivors and helping with their transport to the medical wing, I assessed the damage from the attack. It would take weeks to fully clear and rebuild the east wall, but having lost many of our men, I was sure it would be even longer.

All the Pricolici who had their First Shift were wrapped tightly in white cloth and were laid gently next to the others who had fallen during the attack. It was a unanimous decision to have one giant pyre to lift their bodies back to the moon rather than light the skin with so much smoke from several pyres. There had been over 40 bodies; men, women, and children alike. Princess Aurelia’s pyre was to be lit seperate.

There was a caster coming to preserve her body long enough to bring back her mother and brother. So they could watch her body return to the moon.

Or they would return with her.

The alliance with the Ilele was imperative if we were to find the Queen and young prince and return them safely home, assuming that wherever they were they were still breathing. Our numbers were down, and our defenses with it.

Making my way towards the King’s quarters, guilt flooded through me and I had to pause right before knocking on his door. She had recieved the blunt of his anger and pain. It should have been myself, I had been the one to lose Garridan to the rogues. I couldn’t protect him. I took a deep breath.

“Enter.”

I had just lifted my hand to knock when he called out, but pulled the handle instead. As I pushed the heavy ornate doors open, a wall of grief hit me so hard I nearly fell to my knees. It took eveything I had to stay upright under the pressure of it.

Walking deeper into the room, the stench of alcohol was thick in the air with empty goblets scattered across the floor, stacked in various piles. He sat back into a large plush chair, eyes settled on the map in front of him. His hand was stroking the stubble that was starting to show. It seemed since the news of his family, he had holed up in here, drowning in his sorrow.

And from the looks of all the bottles on the floor, it was quite literal.

"Mue regele,” I started as I kneeled on the floor in front of him, bowing my head. “It was my mistake, losing him. I should have anticipated that they would be on us. I have no excuse for my failure. I am ready to accept my punishment.”

Keeping my head low, I head a low growl and prepared myself.

“Is the pyre ready?”

“Yes, your Majesty.”

“Let’s get to it then.”

Confusion and gratitude washed over me. “My King, are you going to....”

Understand lit his eyes.

“You have never let me down before Soren. Even as I was hesistant to bring you on as my advisor given your age and inexperience, you have shown wisdom and skill beyond your years. I know you did absolutely everything in your power to protect him.”

Sadness leaked into his voice at the end. I just stared at him in silence, speechless.

He gathered his emotions and hardened his face.

“We must go. We have a pyre to light and damned faeries to prepare for.”

He stood from his chair and marched from the room and I guickly followed after him, keeping in step behind him. We made our way through the winding halls and out the east exit. The destruction around us choked the air with grief. The whole castle was grieving as many had lost loved ones. Mates, children, friends... The heartache was palpable.

Stopping short before the pyre that had been filled with tens of bodies, spreading out thirty by forty feet, the King stood looking out at his people. The cries of a nearby mother seemed to break his reverie.

“We will have justice.”

And with that, simple and to the point, he lit the pyre along with fifteen other soldiers stationed at different points around it to help with the torching. It took a few moments for the fire to catch but as soon as it did it devoured the bodies. We stood for what seemed like hours until it had all burned to the ground. The sobs of the people had died down as well and some were returning into the castle. The servants who had already started the supper had prepped the main hall. All would be dining together tonight.

I turned to walk back into the castle myself when my eye caught the fire.

The fire that was braided down the left side of her face, tears staining her pink cheeks. She had her hands crossed over her chest as if comforting herself.

She should not be alone, my wolf said lowly to me.

I can’t go to her right now. We must stay with the King. We are his hand, and we have much to do.

Pacing in my mind I could feel his frustration poking at me.

Do you not feel her sorrow?

Fear clenched my heart as I thought back to when the rogue had gripped my neck. He was certainly about to end my life had she not shown up. Had she not used whatever strange power she had within her to save us. I still wasn’t sure what the hell she was, not sure I wanted to know.

But since that blast of light had shot from her hands, I had been feeling this trickle of emotions in my mind. Like I could feel what she felt.

I couldn’t explain it.

And now as I looked at her I could feel the stabs of sorrow break through my mind and it only made me want to go to her more. Running a hand through my thick curls, I tied them back at my neck and walked back through the castle. Being sure to keep my eyes away from her. I couldn’t afford the distraction to my mind, so I would have to keep my distance from her until I could sort whatever it was that was happening. Until I could clearly say whatever it was that she was to me. My heart ached and I hardened my face ready for my duties.

She wasn’t my mate. I would know immediately if she was, my wolf would know. But the pull to her was something similar and I was nervous what it meant.

Because clearly, she was no friend of mine.

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

After the supper that had been clouded with despair was finished, having lasted way too long, the King had returned to his quarters. I had seen to a few of our men, giving them instructions on where to move a few families so they were no longer in smoke damaged areas, then turned in for the night myself.

Now as dawn was approaching I slid from my bed and started readying myself to greet Sir Neculai at our north gate.

King Avrim had advised me before to be diplomatic with our words and expect trickery. It was what they were known for. So I steeled myself, scarfed down a few muffins as I made my way from the kitchen towards the gate, and waited patiently for the commander to arrive.

Thankfully I didn’t have to wait long as I soon heard the approaching of footsteps. Careful to hide my suprise, I saw four men walking from the distance with long leather cloaks lined with fur. They stood incredibly tall, taller still than most men I had seen. The one I assumed was the commander walked in the front, his dark hair cropped closer to his head. The three around him having similar cuts with varying shade. Two blondes flanked his left as a deep auburn haired one flanked his right.

The damned faeries.

He stopped several feet from me, his men stopping just behind him.

“Sir Neculai,” I greeted.

He nodded his head in acknowledgment.

“Thank you for coming, King Avrim is expecting you.”

He nodded his head once and I turned on my heels, heading back through the fields. The servants tending the livestock and gardens stopped their work and openly gawked at our guests until I shot them a glare, effectively cutting off their ogling. The ethereal presence following closely behind me was almost unnerving.

I couldn’t necessarily blame them all. These men were certainly something I had never seen before. Of course the elusive Ilele were a secluded species, rarely anyone had ever had contact with them. Every hair on my body was prickling and my wolf was on edge, pacing once again as the men behind us followed quickly.

They remained a good distance away as we walked.

Soon enough we reached the throne room, King Avrim sat in his chair atop the staircase. He stood and bowed his head slightly, shock coursing through my body. I had never seen the King bow before anyone. Behind his eyes though, I could see an emotion that I couldn’t quite place.

“Sir Neculai, thank you so much for meeting with us. We have had a much recent attack from rogues, as I am sure you had seen the aftermath upon your arrival.”

The dark haired man stepped forward, his blue eyes shining brightly. “Yes, your Majesty. What were your casualties?” His army training kicking into gear, he started assessing the situation at hand without delay.

“Around forty. It was a fair mix of our own soldiers as well as some of our people. One of my daughters...” He trailed off, not able to finish.

“How did these rogues get in?” His unspoken question was clear; how did we let them catch so many of us off guard? King Avrim nodded to me and I stepped forward.

“We were just completing our Full Moon transformations as we heard an explosion near the east side of the castle. Unexpectedly however, they seemed to have gotten through unnoticed and the explosion was just a diversion. They were on us almost immediately after. We had no time to retaliate. They have taken our queen and the prince.”

Guilt once again filled me as I thought back to watching them, silvered, as they had dragged Garridan like a sack of hay across the concrete. Laughing as his head had connected with the wall on the way out. I could still hear his yelping as they had silvered him.

Sir Neculai and his men were calculating, whispering so softly to one another that even with our wolf hearing, we could not make out their words.

Looking back to the King he said, “Our Queen does not wish us to interfere unless absolutely necessary. But seeing your position and your loss, we will implore our resources to you, providing that when the time comes, we will have your full cooperation should we ever need a favor in return.”

King Avrim looked him over for a few moments before asking, “What kind of favor?”

“That remains to be seen.”

Sir Neculai looked at the King expectantly, waiting on his reply. King Avrim looked at him a moment, eyes flickering to me and then back to Neculai.

“We will cooperate with whatever you need in the future.”

Sir Neculai nodded his head as the Auburn haired Ilele walked forward, pulling a strange looking chalice from the satchel at his hip. It almost seemed to be glowing.

“We must make a blood pact then. Should either party fail to uphold their end of the pact, his death shall be immediate.”

Uncertainty clouded over me as I looked at my king, wondering if he was really going to complete this and go through with it. But there was no hesitation on his face as he descended the stairs coming to a stop two feet from Sir Neculai. He elongated a sharp talon from his pointer finger, quickly slicing his palm, and holding it over the strange chalice.

“I swear my alliance with you, in the name of the Pricolici.” As the blood dripped into the chalice a strange hum in the air seemed prick at my skin, cuasing my beast to bark out. It was familiar but I couldn’t place it.

His wound healed quickly and he wiped the excess blood onto his trousers. The aubrun haired soldier held the chalice in front of Sir Neculai who drew a dagger from his leather belt. Slicing into his own palm, he held his hand over the chalice as the dark blood oozed into it.

“I swear an alliance with you, in the name of the Ilele.” He waved his other hand over the cut in his palm and suddenly the bleeding stopped causing my breath to catch in my lungs.

The King cleared his throat and began to speak.

“I have arranged for a few rooms for you. In light of the recent attack, I am afraid to say we have a shortage of rooms so it will be two of you to a room. Tonight we can gather for a meeting to start discussing plans to retrieve my wife and son. Soren will show you to your rooms, and then after supper we will conviene in the drawing room.”

Sir Neculai bowed his head to King Avrim, his three soldiers bowing their heads as well. The King nodded his head to me and I led the way from the throne room to the west wing of the castle where the new guest quarters would be until the east was rebuilt. After arriving to the two rooms, I gave a slight bow to Sir Neculai and his men.

It was only then did I notice the aubrun haired soldier was staring at me intently, and the look in his eyes made my beast growl lowly in my mind. There was something not quite right here. I couldn’t place my finger on it but there was something about this man that threw my wolf on edge and made the hairs on my neck stand up.

“Should you need anything, please don’t hesistate to ask.” And with that I took my leave.

As I returned to my room my mind felt weary from the events that had occured over the past few days. Tiredly I took a long drink from the goblet, the thick alcohol burning its way down my throat. Not an entirely unpleasant sensation.

It took an exuberant amount of alcohol for Pricolici to become intoxicated as our bodies ran hotter than most, effectively burning off the alcohol quicker. But it didn’t mean we couldn’t try.

Fully aware that supper was still several hours away, I gathered several bottles of the thick, potent alcohol and started drinking until I finally felt the quiet buzz in my mind, numbing the link to my wolf.

Even if only for a short amount of time, I didn’t want to feel anything. Least of all the sorrow that was bleeding into me from Zenobia.

I didn’t want to feel her for a short while. And with that thought in mind, I quickly threw back another drink, the familiar burn providing me some comfort.

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