The Cursed Kingdom

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NINE

~ HIS QUEEN ~

My eyes fluttered open to the sight of a plain white ceiling.

After a moment of confusion, I realized I was still in the bathroom but had moved in my sleep into a sprawled out position on my back. My legs, specifically my knees, felt stiff and it took a lot of persuasion to get them to finally bend. The joint in my elbow groaned when I unfolded my arm from behind my head, my fingers tingling painfully with sleep, and rubbed my face tiredly with the back of my knuckles.

With my mind growing crisper, I groaned when it registered the culprit for waking me up in the first place.

Reminding me of a fresh burn wound, my mark and the area around it seared and pulsed with a pain unlike anything I had experienced before. It was worse than when Henrik had bitten me. It was worse than when I snapped my tibia in two after falling out of a tree. It was worse than any of those things because it felt like my whole being was suffering along with it.

Like a fool, I automatically reached a shaky hand up to caress the wound. But as soon as my fingers touched the lumpy skin, more pain erupted and I had to bite my lip to keep from shouting out. My pulse quickened and a sheen of sweat broke out over my body as I rose to a sitting position. The pain made me restless, filling me with the desire to pace around the room or do any sort of action that could distract my mind.

I stood onto quivering feet and walked to the mirror to inspect my mark, having to discard my robe to get a better look at it and lean against the counter when my head began spinning. An angry bite wound, red and swollen, glared back at me. It was hot to the touch and the scabs where there were teeth punctures looked like they were oozing.

I shuddered as I assessed it, realizing just how stupid of myself it had been to not at least treat the bite wound properly with any disinfectants. After it had scabbed over, I figured it would heal fine on its own since I hadn't experienced any additional issues other than expected sensitivity.

But I was wrong and this was another consequence of my stupidity. I cursed at myself internally, closing my eyes to try to calm the heartbeat pounding against my skull.

The sudden knocking at my bedroom door was equivalent to the sound of nails on a chalkboard to my ears. Panicking when I heard Jerium's muffled voice ask if I was decent, I cursed under my breath and palmed my forehead. I thought about lying and saying no, saying I had eaten something horrible and couldn't be seen again for a very—very—long time.

But I didn't.

My shoes thumping against the hardwood floors, I rushed to the door to open it, pulling the door towards me so fast that it caused a gust of wind to blow into my face. "Yes?" I asked as sweetly as I could muster, my voice sounding embarrassingly raspy.

Jerium looked surprised I had answered. His wide gaze bounced between my rumpled clothes I knew he remembered I'd worn the day before, to my inflamed mark, and then up to my hair. I knew from looking in the mirror that the two braids I had worked on so hard yesterday morning were now mere ugly knots against my scalp and the rest of my hair that I had kept loose down my back was no better.

"May I come in?" he questioned slowly after the initial shock of my appearance.

No.

"Of course," I replied with a forced smile and stepped aside so he could walk through. After the previous night's events, the last thing I wanted was company. But I knew I didn't have any true excuses as to why he couldn't stay and I didn't want to appear rude. "Could you give me just a moment?" I requested once I shut the door and Jerium had found a comfortable spot on the small sofa located at the foot of my bed.

Jerium's response was a nod with a tight lipped smile and concerned eyes.

I ran back into the bathroom and quickly scrubbed my teeth and tongue with my toothbrush until I felt confident that my breath smelled of fresh mint rather than the previous night's dinner's grand exodus. My nose scrunched up at the memory of it.

The red mark above my collarbone stood out greatly against my pale skin, making it impossible for me to not stare at it when I took my final glance in the mirror. It looked absolutely monstrous and I hated Henrik for it—more than I already did—and called him every insult I could think of under my breath.

The mark just burned more violently with my nasty words and I hissed, my teeth grinding together as my face scrunched up in pain.

"Are you alright in there?"

"Yes!" I shouted back through the door and did one last check of myself before I headed back into the bedroom. My feet felt heavy as I dragged them along the floor to stand in the center of the room to where Jerium was now standing.

For the first time ever, he looked awkward.

He cleared his throat, taking another glance at my mark and obviously seeing its horrible state, but never made a comment about it. "I was sent to make sure you're alright," he said softly, his voice a bit deeper.

"I am." Lie.

I couldn't get the image of Henrik covered in blood like a monster straight out of a horror novel (which I supposed he kind of was) out of my head.

"So what exactly happened last night?" Jerium took a small pause between each slowly delivered word. I suddenly felt like I was talking to a judge rather than a friend and I looked down at the point of my boots protruding out from underneath my skirt.

"I saw Henrik come out of the woods," I began, watching closely for changes in Jerium's expression, "covered in blood and it made me sick." My face suddenly heated as my stomach churned with the embarrassing realization that I had thrown up in a public garden and in front of Henrik. Whatever the Cursed King thought of me, I was sure, now reflected the same amount of respect he'd give a pile of horse manure. I couldn't imagine the gossip the guards and servants were entertaining themselves with that morning.

"Is it because of what happened?" he asked hesitantly, looking guilty for saying the words. When I didn't respond immediately, he added, "To your companions."

Companions.

I wanted to scream.

They were so much more than that.

I felt my lower lip begin to tremble just at the thought of them, of how I would never hear their laughter, feel their warm embraces, look them in their eyes, or talk to them ever again. I couldn't remember clearly if Oriana's eyes were more caramel brown or hickory brown. The understanding that I'd never be able to find out made me feel sick to my stomach all over again.

"Yes," I replied in a whisper and was too upset to meet his eyes.

Jerium's lips thinned into a straight line, looking uncertain of what to do. I noticed him shifting his weight from his left and right foot, making me anxious. "Would it be possible for you to talk to the king?"

My head snapped up, my nostrils flaring in rage that he would even insist such a thing. "And why would I do that?"

"To explain," he sighed. "His Majesty was very worried about you and very upset by your reaction—"

"He's upset?" I exclaimed with a scoff at the end. My blood boiled and I could practically feel the steam leaving my ears. "He was the one out in the woods killing gods-know-what, covered in blood like some sort of monster."

"I can assure you—"

"And any person in their right mind would understand why I was upset, especially after the shit I've seen with my companions. He doesn't need an explanation—like I did something wrong! If anyone deserves an explanation, it's me! What in the damnhell was he even doing?" My voice was loud by the time I finished my rant and I wondered if the whole castle could hear it.

"He was hunting," Jerium said coolly, the complete contrast to what my tone was before. Where my voice had been like fire, his chilled me to the bone and was matched with a pair of emotionless eyes. "For you."

"For me?" I echoed in disbelief and confusion.

He took a moment to stare at me. "Yes." Seeing my befuddled expression, he continued, sounding almost impatient like he couldn't believe I wasn't getting it, "Where do you think all that meat you've been eating has been coming from?" He pursed his lips

My face relaxed and I could feel my internal flames begin to dwindle as I thought back to the plethora of meat that had functioned as my meals everyday. "Henrik caught all of that?" I asked, my eyes widening as my head swayed from side-to-side in disbelief.

"Every bit of it," he confirmed.

I swallowed and brushed away a strand of hair that fell in my eyes. "Does he do this for all his prisoners?" I retorted stubbornly, not allowing myself to believe Henrik could do anything nice, especially for me, a human who could never provide him with any sort of benefits.

"You're not a prisoner," Jerium protested frustratedly, "and no, he typically does not share such hospitality with his guests."

I didn't know how to feel about Henrik hunting animals for the sole purpose of giving me food. It seemed strange and unexplainable that he would put such effort into making sure I was so well fed.

Perhaps he's fattening you up to eat you, my thoughts suggested but I turned it down since it sounded ridiculous. Through every story I'd ever heard of him, I'd never been told one where he ate people. Just ripped them to shreds after gutting them.

"Oh," was all I could muster, now feeling slightly guilty for my reaction, although I assured myself repetitively that I wasn't to blame and that I shouldn't have felt embarrassed. There had been no way for me to know.

"Surely you didn't think he had been killing people," Jerium said in disbelief, bowing his head to meet my eyes.

My face heated in embarrassment. That was exactly what I had been thinking.

Jerium sighed when he noticed the redness of my cheeks.

"If I may repeat myself," Jerium stated softly, as gentle as a morning breeze, "I think it would be to your utmost benefit if you went and explained yourself to His Majesty." There was a warning in his tone that I didn't overlook this time, making me shudder under his gaze. There was no doubt in my mind that Henrik had sent Jerium here, and that he had been given specific orders to make sure I went to see him.

"Ok." I gave in, already dreading having to look into those two golden suns again. I knew it was either I go to him in courtesy, or he comes to me in rage. "Where's his office?"

"I'll tell you after you freshen up and change," Jerium replied, scrunching up his nose as he scanned my form. It made me feel small. "You look like something that crawled out of a gutter."

* * *

I chose one of the more simpler dresses in my drawers: a loose yellow floral-patterned dress with a square collar that stopped right before it could show any cleavage. Jerium approved it before he gave me direction to Henrik's office and left promptly afterwards to my dismay, wishing to have his presence beside me on the walk there.

As I approached the infamous door at the end of the long hallway, I could feel my heart rate begin to increase and I thought about the possibility of the vital organ breaking a rib from all its harsh hammering. Now I was positive it would rupture. And I only hoped it did it quickly so I wouldn't have to face Henrik's wrath.

The infamous dark wood door suddenly swung open and I stopped dead in my tracks, my blood going ice cold and with my arms as straight as pillars at my sides.

The person who exited promptly had the door closed for them by a guard standing on the inside, who appeared to have been making a light-hearted comment with a smirk that caused a girlish giggle to penetrate my ears.

I watched, flustered, as the female turned from the now closed door and stared at me with her cat-like amber eyes. She looked startled by my presence for only a second before her ruby red lips quirked into a smile and she showed me her pearls for teeth. As she began walking, she was so graceful that I would've thought she was floating had it not been for her heels clicking underneath her red dress.

I always thought my breasts were quite large and that my waist was tiny. And that's what I'd been told—well, more like teased—by Oriana since my body's sudden and dramatic maturity around the age of fourteen. But this she-wolf proved her and myself wrong. Compared to this goddess in front of me, I looked like an undeveloped schoolboy.

As my gaze trailed up her caramel skin, my blushing face suddenly went stone cold when I saw what was on her neck, just slightly more over towards her shoulder than mine. A mark. Only this one had obviously had time to heal, looking more like a tattoo with red ink than the disfigurement I possessed.

"Hello, there! Henrik is ready for you." Even her voice was angelic, soft and kind. I couldn't help but notice she referred to him by his first name rather than using his title.

"T-thanks," I stammered and watched her slim back and wide, swaying hips retreat until the goddess disappeared around the corner entirely.

Finally, I could breathe.

I looked back towards Henrik's office's door and decided I would write him a letter instead, feeling a sudden sense of humiliation and anger.

He had marked other females, claimed them as his property just like me—probably expected certain favors as well. It would explain why he had been so intimate with me that one morning, like it was normal for a male to do such a thing with a stranger.

Is that what that female had been doing?

I turned on my heels, my ears burning and—

"Raena." The familiar voice was muffled by the door but it was still powerful enough to make me go stiff and have a shiver go down my spine.

"Shite," I mumbled, fisting up my hands until my nails dug into the sensitive skin of my palms.

The door suddenly swung back open by the same guard, who now wore a stoic expression. It irritated me how the other female could even woo the guards with her beauty and get them to smile. If I had that power, I probably would've escaped by now, I thought grimly, thinking back to how unattractive I'd appeared in the mirror just a few minutes ago, dark bags under my eyes and a fresh blemish on the side of my nose.

Knowing I was caught, I lifted my chin and walked straight into the room. I nodded my head in acknowledgment at the guard after he greeted me respectfully, not even the hint of a smile on his thin lips.

"Leave us," Henrik ordered, his head facing downwards as he read a piece of paper on his desk.

Books upon books filled the wide space of his office in stacks beside his desk as well as on the ceiling-tall bookshelves that stood against every wall. I looked up, hoping the king wouldn't have the pleasure of seeing me so awe stricken by his palace, and marveled at the chandelier that hung from the ceiling that was painted a navy blue.

"Yes, sire," the guard responded gruffly and immediately turned to walk out after he bowed.

The gentle click of the door shutting made me flinch.

I fidgeted with my hands that were clasped in front of my skirt, unsure of what to do. My nails were longer than they had ever been, I noticed, but were still dry around the cuticles.

"Please sit," he said, gesturing to the two empty leather chairs in front of his desk. He grabbed a black and gold fountain pen—the same pen I'd once thought about stabbing him with, I realized—and started writing something on the paper, his eyebrows scrunching near the rims of his glasses as he focused on whatever it was he was doing.

Not wanting to argue, I did as I was asked and cringed when the leather seat creaked under my weight. I crossed my ankles and found myself unable to lean back and relax into the cushions. My back remained stiff and straight, my neck holding my head high.

The sound of pen scratching against paper stopped and I looked over, seeing that Henrik was now staring at me and removing his glasses to place them in a wooden container. I watched his movements carefully and stared at the protruding veins in his hands.

"I understand I startled you last night," he began, mindlessly organizing his papers and placing them aside underneath a round paperweight.

"I apologize, Your Majesty," I uttered, internally questioning my own sincerity. He stopped all movements and focused solely on me, leaning back in his chair. "I know I must've caused a great disturbance and I take full responsibility for my actions. I understand now that you were gathering food for me and so I want to also thank you for your hospitality this past week. However in that being said," I saw his head lean to the side, "I need to make things clear between us so there is no future confusion." I took a breath. And then another. "I am aware of the others."

"Others?" he commented, seeming confused but the smirk on his face revealed everything. He was looking at me like I was telling him a joke and that only made me want to scream in his face and slap him until he knew just how serious I was.

"Yes, and I refuse to be one of your mistresses," I argued angrily, wanting to stand but I held myself back. "Lycans might be fine with fornication, but I am a woman, so therefore I am not."

Henrik stared at me for a moment before sighing, his face unreadable as always except for his clenched jaw. "You always do like to think the worst of me, don't you, little Rae? Well, I hate to disappoint you but there is no 'fornication' happening within these walls and if there is, it's not with me." Henrik paused. He eyed me and said slowly, "If this is about the female you saw leaving my office, you should know you have nothing to be upset over."

I scoffed, my insides churning with something distasteful. "Don't treat me like I'm stupid. I saw her mark," I sneered defensively, crossing my arms over my chest.

The king shook his head down towards his desk and rubbed his forehead stressfully, smiling sarcastically to himself. I could hear the beginning of a snarl. "And you assumed it was mine?" I went silent, listening. I didn't understand. "You do know, little one, that a male marking his female is a practice shared amongst all Lycans?"

I waited to see if he would say anything more that I could twist into an argument so I wouldn't have to admit my idiocy and brashness. He was right. I always assumed the worst. It was easier that way. But in the end it always got me burned—burned by his glowing suns.

"I didn't," I said reluctantly, refusing to meet his eyes. I thought I had embarrassed myself all a person could muster within twenty-four hours, but I was mistaken.

This was much worse.

I could feel my anger disintegrate and be replaced by a sinking feeling in my chest, realizing how much of a mistake it’d been to agree to go to his office at all let alone open my mouth other than to apologize.

He suddenly stood and I held my breath when he walked around his desk and stalked towards me, his eyes scorching my temple. "I'm angry," Henrik said so low and quiet that I held my breath to hear it. I kept my eyes facing his desk, scared to look at the monster I had awoken with my stupidity. "Do you know why I'm angry, Raena?"

He now stood in front of me and I stared at his dress shoes, my fisted hands shaking in my lap. I feared I didn't have the power to lift my head anymore even if I wanted to. I was too terrified to face the outcome of my actions. Too weak.

"I'm angry you left me to be tortured alone in a bed that still smells of you," Henrik snarled and my traitorous body shuddered, my eyes filling with tears. This was it. This was the moment I knew he would kill me, slit my throat, and then throw my body to the Rogues. There was a pause and I listened to his ragged breathing. "But most of all, I am pissed that you think I would ever mount anyone other than the female right front of me."

I widened my eyes and finally looked up at him, forming the argument in my head that I would never belittle myself enough to sleep with him. But I gasped and all thoughts left my head when I locked gazes with the animal that towered over me.

In less than a second, his head descended and his lips crashed upon my own with such force that it felt bruising. Both of his arms enclosed my paralyzed body in his embrace and lifted me up closer to him for better access as he ravaged my mouth like he was starved.

With my back arched the way it was, my breasts were painfully pressed up flat against his solid chest.

His lips sent trails of scorching heat into my body in waves, causing my mind to go lightheaded and my lips to part. Henrik greedily took the opportunity to slip his tongue between them, taking me by surprise from the foreign feeling.

At the first contact of our tongues, he groaned against my lips, the sound and vibrations making my lower abdomen clench. Henrik let out a growl that had the hairs on the back of my neck standing on edge before detaching his lips without warning.

Breathing heavily with my eyes closed, I writhed against him as he left open-mouthed kisses from the skin below my ear, down the column of my neck, and all the way down to my mark.

A mix between a hiss and a sigh escaped my mouth at the sudden relief when he began caressing and flicking the sensitive skin with his skillful tongue, his salvia leaving behind a cooling-like sensation that had my toes curling.

No, no, no, the voice in my head chanted frantically, extinguishing whatever enchanting fire Henrik brought with his caresses and moans. It was like reality had slapped me in the face in one severe blow, showing me images of my friends being ripped apart, reminding me that I was a mere prisoner, and this male was my warden—and a king and killer of endless numbers of people.

No, no, no...

And I was allowing him to kiss me.

I was giving him exactly what he wanted.

No, no, no...

I tried to pull away but his large hand moved to the lower back of my neck and forced me to stay put. His lips nipped at my mark and I held in a moan by biting my lower lip. My hands latched onto his shoulders to which I tried pushing him back but to no avail. His shoulders felt like stones and he kept licking, kissing, nibbling, and whatever else he felt like doing to my mark.

"Henrik," I barked angrily, my backstabbing body and conscience mind at turmoil with each other. As much as I wanted him to move away, my skin longed for his touch to continue taking away my mark's pain and replace it with the pleasure he'd let me sample.

Henrik growled and finally moved away from me, the smacking sound of his lips disconnecting from my skin making me feel uncomfortable and angry all at the same time. I was angry at him, angry at myself, but I mostly felt betrayed and cheated. I had assured myself and him that I wasn't cheap and that I would never be a mistress, yet there I was allowing myself to be used by him in a way only someone who loved me should've.

I felt ruined.

There was silence as he stared at me, his golden suns focusing mostly on my mark. His lips were noticeably more plump. He looked at peace as he assessed my appearance, meanwhile I was still struggling to catch my breath.

"You said," I managed through gritted teeth, "that male lycans mark their females." He nodded absentmindedly and brushed a finger over my mark, making me shudder at the sudden relief I felt from the simple contact. I wanted to scream at him to stop confusing me—to stop making my mind think one way and my body long for another. "So what does that make me to you?"

Henrik snapped his eyes towards mine, obviously taken off guard by my question. All of his movement stopped, possibly his breathing too, as he stared at me.

"Tell. Me." I knew he could see the desperation in my eyes. Hell, I could hear it in my voice. Ever since I was marked, I'd been kept in the dark about almost everything. But I needed to step into the light. I had to or else I would wind up insane or dead trying to find it myself.

A clawed hand reached up and brushed a strand of hair away gently from my face and I did not flinch a muscle. I kept my eyes glued to his firmly, showing my remaining strength, and earnestly awaited his response.

He growled lowly, not at all angrily, and cupped my face between his hands before saying the two words that changed my fate and all of Trellomar's forever: "My Queen."


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