I sat on the small stone bench. I looked down at the soft pink rose petal that was pinched gently between my fingers. I rubbed the bottom of my thumb against the soft curve in the petal. My mind spun as I sat silently in the middle of the castle garden. In the daylight, it looked much different than it had the night of the ball.
I sat in the middle of a circular pattern. Many flowers and shrubs surrounded me. Rose bushes sat closest to me. The deep reds and soft pinks were a beautiful touch to the inner circle of the garden. Around the outside were various plants like butterfly bushes and sweet lavender. A water fountain stood tall in front of me. The water spilling out the top and down the sides before it landed in the lower bowl and drained back in to be poured back out the top. The soft trickle of the water was soothing despite my distaste for the position I found myself in.
I took a deep breath, the smell of lavender was overwhelming. It felt like I was in lavender fields and it made me want to cry. The only lavender fields I wanted to be surrounded by were the ones that lived in the eyes of Rupert. My heart hurt knowing my love for him was one-sided. He would never love me, his heart belonged to someone else. But did it?
When I awoke this morning I found myself in a large room. I was surrounded by soft purple walls and a room decorated for a small child. The name Ella-Rose was painted above the headboard of the bed that I had been in. When I had explored the room I had found a hight chart carved into the door frame of her closet. The last one that had been carved in was her height at the age of six. The cuts into the wood were deep, I remember feeling the roughness of each engraving with my shaking fingertips.
Was I her? How could it be possible for me to be the lost princess and the life mate of Rupert? If his Ella-Rose was a princess wouldn’t he have known? Was everything just a coincidence and two Ella-Rose’s just happen to be the bane of my existence?
I let out a rough sigh and let go of the petal that was between my fingers. I watched as it floated softly to the ground, spinning and flipping before it landed softly on the grass between my feet.
“Ella-Rose,” I heard her footsteps before I heard her voice. I didn’t turn to look at her. I wanted her to go away. I didn’t want to see her face or talk to her. I didn’t want to acknowledge her, just like I didn’t want to acknowledge this life I was now supposed to live.
“Ella-Rose,” She repeated as she stepped into the circle with me.
“It’s Ariella.” I whispered, not wanting to hear that name from her lips again.
“Well yes, technically it is to you.” I could hear the smile in her voice. “Ella Rose Wood was the name we gave you.” She let out a small laugh before she placed herself on the bench beside me. I looked up at her then. Her hair was loose against her shoulders. Just like it had been last night when she had come to Nix’s house. She wore a simple emerald silk blouse and black pants. She looked simply elegant.
“When you were four you insisted us to call you Ella-Rose.” She looked at the fountain as she spoke. “It was quite funny, you would get so mad when we would call you just Ella. Eventually, we called you Ella-Rose. You thought it sounded more like a princess name. Ella was just too simple.” She shook her head a small smile spread across her face. “I guess Ariella was the name given to you in your human life.”
I sat there silently as I listened to her speak. She told the story of my childhood, how I insisted that only those in the castle could call me Ella-Rose but to the townspeople, I was always Princess Ella. She talked about the life of a Princess that I would lead, but a few days a week I got to live the life of true child and play in the streets with children my age while my Nanny would shop.
“What?” I interrupted her as she spoke. “What did you just say?”
“That you and Rupert were quite good friends. I thought it was funny that you had unknowingly reconnected with him after all of these years apart.”
I blinked, staring at her with a blank look. I felt my mind spinning, my eyesight blurring as I felt myself getting sucked into a vortex of memories, some more familiar than others.
“Careful Ella-Rose, I might just catch you.” He said a playful smile crossed his lips.
“You know I’m much faster than you!” I teased.
“Prove it!” He smiled as he lunged over the table. I let out a scream as Rupert’s arms wrapped around me.
“Not fair!” I called as I tried to wiggle out of his arms.
“Very fair Little Rose.” He kissed my temple. “You’re it!” He quickly let me go and took off in the other direction laughter belting out of his chest. “Catch me if you can!” He turned to run backwards, his tongue stuck out of his mouth.
The scene left before it spun into a different one.
“It tickles!” I wiggled my toes as I watched the gray minnows eat at my toes. I turned to look over a Rupert. He let out a small chuckle.
“Come get your line. We have bigger fish we’re trying to catch.” He stuck his tongue out.
“You are no fun. Fishing is boring!” I placed my hands on my hips. “Can we swim?”
He turned to look at me, a large smile spread across his face. “Sure!” He stood up, leaving his fishing rod on the ground next to him. “Is the water warm?” He asked.
I turned back to look at it. “Yeah, it is.”
“Good.” He said before I felt his hands on my back. I flew forward going face first into the water. I screamed before I found myself dunked under the water. I stood up, my clothes were soaked, sticking to my body. I pushed my hair away from my face and turned back to glare at him. He stood there laughing.
“You’re so dead!” I screamed before I let out a loud laugh.
“Ella-Rose?” Grace’s voice brought me out of my memories.
I sat there staring at her, my mind still processing memories that were hidden deep within my brain.
“Grace,” I whispered. “Can you explain something to me?” I asked.
“Of course.” She smiled, happy that I wanted her to stay longer and talk.
“Can you tell me about life-mates?”
She frowned slightly before she nodded her head. “Sure.” She paused for a moment to think of where to begin. “Life-mates, or as humans would call them, soul-mates. They’re the person who’s created to be your other half. The one and the only person you’ll love, and respect. They’re your best friend, your companion. Your bond is one that is difficult to break, only the strongest magic can do it. It’s only ever been done a handful of times in the history of Changelings.
“You only get one life-mate. Losing them rips out a part of your soul. Many who lose their mates die a few years after. Those who don’t, have episodes as their brain slowly decays before they die. Like Nix, she has been having episodes for about ten years now. They’ve become more common over the years.” Grace looked down at her hands, a look of grief crossed her face before she looked back over to me.
“She’s lived a long life, longer than most to be fair.” She spoke as if she was trying to convince herself that the day Nix passes on to the next world would be more of a blessing than of a grief-filled loss. “You don’t know who your life-mate is until the age of ten. When you do, it first blossoms to a friendship before it moves into a romance as you get older. Most of us who find our mates at ten, marry our lifemates by the age of eighteen. Although most families get their children through ceremonies, it’s not uncommon to see couples create children of their own through conception.”
“What’s it like when you meet your life-mate?” I asked.
“It’s like your body knows before your heart and mind do. Being around them helps you relax, you feel like you’re yourself when you’re around them. They make your stomach flutter, they make you blush. Before you know it, you spend your time fighting the feelings of love, before you accept them as they come. It’s a whirlwind of emotions, especially once you completely mate each other.”
“Completely mate?” I raised an eyebrow, feeling awkward. This conversation was so foreign to me.
“Once you’ve accepted the relationship together your feelings will grow. For the men, they almost become uncontrollable. The need to complete the mating is so overwhelming. The need for sex is all you can think of. A lot of the time you’ll see a changeling’s eyes turn gold when passion flows through their veins.”
My mind instantly went to the night of the ball. I clenched my hands into fists as I thought of the way Rupert’s body had pressed against mine, the feeling of his hands moving over my body. The way his eyes had shined gold while we were tangled against the wall, and then again in my bed.
I could feel my heart begin to race in my chest as I connected the dots in my mind.
“Do their eyes only ever turn gold when they feel that way towards their life-mate or does it happen with anyone when they feel passionate?” I felt like I had spit the words at her, I had spoken so fast.
“Only with their mates.” She smiled. “The feelings will only settle down a little bit once each mate marks each other, and that is also when the bond is completed. Each mate must leave a mark anywhere on their mate's body to finish intertwining their souls.”
“How do you mark each other?” I looked at her confused. I felt like I was asking such crazy questions.
“You bite each other. It’s quite painful at first.” She said as she rolled up her shirt. “This is mine.” She showed me her hip. Scared into her skin was uneven grooves where a set of teeth bit her. “It’s not pretty but it’s beautiful to me.” She shrugged her shoulders before she let go of her shirt.
I reached my hand up and placed it over my breast, just under my collarbone. I thought about the mark that had shown up on my chest the next morning after the ball. Had Rupert marked me that night?
“What happens if only one person marks the other?” I looked up at Grace as I rubbed my fingers against my chest.
“The mating won’t be complete until it does. It doesn’t change anything, but it means that at any point magic can intervene and break that bond that was only half established. But like I said, that’s not common and forbidden in our Kingdom.” She smiled. “You keep rubbing your chest, are you okay?”
I dropped my hand. “Y-Yeah I’m fine.” I tried to smile.
“He marked you didn’t he?” She asked, her voice low. “May I see?”
I sat there, my hands clenched in my lap as I considered if I should show her. I sighed and wiped my hands on my jeans before I pulled down the collar of my sweater to show her the mark that Rupert had left on me.
“Oh wow.” She whispered. “This is going to complicate things.”
“Complicate things?” I asked confused.
“Oh yes. You’re mated to someone else when you’re supposed to marry Valerian. Unfortunately, our contract still stands.” She looked at me, her pity showing clear as day.
“I’m sorry, what?” I fixed my shirt and stared at her wide-eyed. “I’m not marrying that slime.”
“He’s not as bad as you think he is.” Her look of pity turned into one of disappointment.
“You’re right. He’s worse. He’s the devil.” My voice came out angrier than I had planned. I stood up from the bench, shoved my hands into my sweater pocket and stormed off back towards the castle.
Yeah, sure I’ll marry Valerian after I turn into a Zombie so I can eat his fucking face off at the altar.