We had been travelling for over an hour before I saw the first signs of life outside of trees and wild animals. Val hadn’t said much about where we were going, and the farther we got from Emerald City the more nervous I got.
As we rode Val kept his eyes on the path in front of him. He held no smile, made no effort to make any conversation or quick jokes. His eyes were narrowed, his lips tight in a frown. I made glances at him as we rode in silence. There was a few times that I thought about trying to speak to him but I knew he wouldn’t reply or he would say something to end the possibility of having a conversation.
As we exited the dense forest the narrow path widened and the land before us opened up into a bustling city. This city was so much different from Emerald City. The houses were small, the shops seemed to only be in a designated area. The streets weren’t cobblestone but were dirt instead. The odd pot of flowers were set outside the doors of small homes, but it didn’t feel as alive as home did.
The atmosphere here was different. As we travelled through the streets, people would jump out of our way and keep their heads down. They held no smiles, no energy. It seemed as if they feared us as if they feared the man on a horse next to me.
I turned to look at Valerian. He no longer held his look of anger. He sat up straight on his horse, his shoulders back and head held high. He would glance at those around us with a satisfied smile on his face. He was arrogant but even more than that. He was something I had never seen from him before. His drastic change in his personality made me want to vomit. It felt like the man that I had been spending so much time with the last several weeks had just been a fake face. A front to try to win me over, to prove that he was better than everyone else. To prove that he was better than Rupert.
“Where are we?” I asked, but I had a feeling that I already knew where we were.
“My home.” He replied. “Welcome to the Carnelian Kingdom.”
The feeling of welcome was the last thing that I felt. As we continued down the path I could see a large building in front of us. It reminded me of a classic medieval times castle. It was very boxy, tall towers in each corner. The path that lead to the front of the building came around in a roundabout. In the center of the roundabout stood a large stone fountain. Around the fountain, ivy twisted against the stone base before it grew out into the grass, suffocating the small daisy-like flowers that were trying to grow.
Valerian dismounted from his horse and came towards me. He offered me a hand, I accepted as I climbed off my own horse. I looked up at him. His golden dark eyes were looking down at me. I tried to offer him a smile, one he did not return.
“Val, are you sure you’re okay?” I felt uneasy. “You seem like there’s something bothering you.”
He shook his head. “I’m fine. Let’s go inside.” He put his hand to the small of my back and ushered me towards the wide steps leading towards the arched door.
Two men came from the side of the castle and moved towards our horses. They collected their reins, giving us a small bow before they took them towards the stables, so I presumed.
Valerian’s hand left my back and he moved up the steps. I stood there staring at him, hesitating to move after him. Everything about this day felt wrong. Everything felt different. He was different, his city was the opposite of Emerald City, his castle was showing its age with dark spots and ivy growing up the walls. The clouds were heavy in the sky, making the day seem even more ominous.
He turned back to see if I was following him. I took slow steps to meet up with him. This time he waited for me, his hand coming to my back once again. He led me through the thick wooden doors that seemed to open on their own.
I could feel the sweat beginning to form on my palms as my heart began to beat frantically in my chest. I looked around the walls of the building as we walked in. The walls were a deep gray that held old paintings of past and present family. The sound of the doors slamming shut behind us, made me jump. I turned around to look, two men in uniform with swords attached to their hips stood blocking the door. The one man pushed a heavy bar across the door. I felt as though I had just become a prisoner. No one would be passing through that door, whether that was coming in or going out.
“Follow me.” His voice was deep, urgent and stern.
“I have a strong feeling this isn’t a choice I get to make.” I looked at him, my arms crossed over my chest as if I was trying to shield myself.
His eyes flashed to mine. The light hitting the gold. They shined bright, but the golden brown wasn’t alone this time. A deep shade of a bronze-red mixed in with his eyes. This was the first time that I had seen that colour in this irises. Like mine showed violet, his showed red.
He smiled at me, for the first time all day it met his eyes. His smile was sinister, it sent a chill down my spine.
“You no longer have the freedom to make choices, Ariella.” His hand reached out and gripped the top of my arm.
I let out a gasp and a small hiss of pain as he pulled me towards him. He began to walk down the hall, me being forcefully pulled beside him. Everything inside me felt broken. My mind couldn’t comprehend what was happening, or what he had just said. I felt like a robot, my body stiffly moving beside him because I had no choice.