The Cursed Kingdom

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Out of the thousands of villages spread through the Human Kingdom’s fifty-five provinces, Amaryllus was one of the poorest. With a population just below two hundred, our economy depended greatly on the other villages. While they needed our fine handmade clothing, we needed their crops for food and the cotton to make clothes since the harsh cold of the northern mountains always made it impossible to grow our own.

My mother, like her own mother, had been a spinstress. A fine one too. Although spinstresses were an important factor to Amaryllus’s survival, with nearly half the residents taking the said occupation, they never got paid enough to live a comfortable life. That sadly included their children.

I had grown up sleeping on a pile of straw with only a thin, scratchy sheet between it and me. It was seen as a luxury that I had something to sleep on at all with most having to subject themselves to sleeping on the floor or, like Tylem and Taylium did a lot, sleep in a hayloft.

The only people who had real beds that stood up off the floor were the Ladies and Lords, Julius’s family, who represented Amaryllus and other nearby towns in the royal court.

However, despite the straw never being exactly comfortable and sometimes rather annoying, it was home. It was my home and I loved every crack, every leak, and every flaw with all the fibers that made up my body.

That’s why when I finally regained consciousness, I knew I was dead.

The cloud I was lying on wasn’t like anything my young and benighted brain could have ever comprehended on its own. Soft and warm, I snuggled into its comfort as close to it as it would allow me to, never wanting to open my eyes in fear that it would ruin my chances of ever achieving such peace again. I slowly rubbed my hands over the soft material near my face, basking in its cozy heavenliness.

A sigh of content escaped my lips, a sound foreign to my ears and strange on my tongue. The longer I stayed still, the more my whole body seemed to sink into the cloud, allowing it to mold perfectly to fit my body and ease all its tensions.

It even smelled good, like freshly washed linen and pine with a hint of something musky. I hummed. Breathing it in greedily like a starved man would inhale food, I allowed the alluring scent to start slowly drifting me back to sleep, a part of myself silently hoping I would never wake again.

“I enjoy your scent too. I’m glad to see you find mine pleasant as well.”

I shot up in terror, an embarrassing noise that sounded awfully like a mix between a scream and a gasp emitting from somewhere deep in my chest. Now in a tense seated position on the king sized bed, I looked down at the grey sheets pooled in my lap and over to the man sitting in the dark corner, a book in hand, and the outline of reading glasses barely visible.

He looked so casual sitting there, the perfect image of people’s concept of an ideal morning. Noticing a bitter and distinct smell, I looked over at the small table next to his chair and to the steaming cup that sat on top.

“What the hell?” I breathed groggily, grasping my chest only to look down once more when my hand met an unfamiliar material. Bewildered, my eyes widened when I noticed that my body was clad in a light blue nightgown made of what I perceived as silk, a white lace trim along the end of the short skirt that barely covered my rear as well as the low ‘V’-shaped collar that revealed the line of my cleavage. “Who the fuck put this on me?” I asked aloud, pulling the covers away to observe the gown some more and becoming appalled when I noticed the triangular cutouts in the fabric on my outer thighs.

Realizing the stranger was still in the room, I quickly pulled the covers over my chest, my face feeling hot and my cheeks pulsing a feverish beat. I was mortified. Never in my life had I worn anything so immoral, especially in front of a man.

“I did,” he said in a bored tone, his voice deep and the epitome masculinity. I watched his large hands as they picked up the delicate-looking China cup, brought it up to his lips, and set it back down on the little plate when he was done taking a long sip. There was a pause of silence. “Don’t look at me like that. It’s my right and my duty to clothe you.”

“Your right?” I cried, eyes widening in horror at the thought of anyone seeing me naked while unconscious and without consent. “How can—How do I know you didn’t do anyth—” I stopped, remembering something. The blood. The screams. The terror. It all came back so painful, equivalent to a strike to the abdomen with a mallet, that it had me audibly gasping. “Wait, the wolves they—”

I reached up to my neck and bit my lip, holding back a sob that was trying to make its way past my lips. The skin that had once been smooth now felt bumpy and raw to the touch. I could barely brush my fingertips over the area without hissing in discomfort and I dreaded the thought of ever looking in the mirror again.

“What happened?” I asked slowly, my voice more steady and sure than it had been when I first opened my eyes.

I saw, in the shadows, his head cock to the side like he thought it was a peculiar question. He sighed, slipping off his glasses to place in the chest pocket of his expensive looking jacket. He almost sounded remorseful. “Your friends crossed Cursedland’s border at the wrong time.”

“No, they didn’t,” I argued desperately, lips wobbling and the bite on my neck burning. “I made sure of it. I watched their feet. Not one toe or hair crossed.”

In the deepest part of my brain, where logic was outweighed by childish hopes and my friends’ deaths had yet to be accepted as reality, it gave the strange feeling inside of me that if I defended them enough, that it would somehow prevent the whole ordeal from ever happening. That maybe if I said their names enough times aloud they would reappear and everything would be just as it was before. But, in the end, even the greatest hopes are nothing when the truth is against them.

“That’s impossible. Are you positive?” the man asked coldly. Accusatorially.

I tried not to get offended or lash out, reminding myself that I didn’t even know where I was and that I needed to be on my best behavior and act like a grateful guest. Angering this stranger, who physically already had the upper hand by being a man, without knowing the full extent of his capabilities first would have been the worst thing I could do.

“Yes,” I said confidentially, trying to keep my voice level and calm, and repeated it again just in case he hadn’t heard it the first time. I knew for a fact we hadn’t crossed over. The wolves, beasts, monsters, or whatever they were attacked us purely out of cold blood and the last thing I wanted was for my friends to be wrongly remembered as careless trespassers who got what they deserved.

“I’ll look into it then,” he said, his voice telling me he was annoyed, and suddenly stood, making me recoil in fear at how massive he was. He snapped his book shut, placed it under his armpit, and stalked over to the left side of the bed, his legs and strides so long that it barely took him but a couple steps. Grabbing the curtains, he quite roughly pulled them open to reveal the sunlight, whose bright midwinter beams landed straight on his face and revealed what the darkness had been hiding.

My eyes widened at the sight.

I had expected him to look older, his deep voice having held a maturity and somber tone about it that I assumed came from at least a couple decades of turmoil and education. Instead, I was met with the face of a young twenty-something year old. Paired with a strong aquiline nose was a set of golden eyes and pink lips that almost looked feminine but somehow made him more handsome, a nice change from his otherwise sharp features. High cheekbones and a defined, square jawline covered by smooth tanned skin, his face could only be described as the most beautiful I had ever seen.

But what really had me staring so intensely at him, consuming me with shock and something along the lines of fear, was the deep, ugly scar that ran through his a dark eyebrow on his left side, over his eyelid, and down to the bottom of his nose.

“You,” I said, my eyebrows lifting in recognition at the healed wound’s familiar pattern. “You were the wolf, the black one with scars. You stopped that other wolf from...” I trailed off and brought my hand around and to the back of my neck. There were puncture wounds there as well but they were smaller and not nearly as deep; however, the memory made them more painful than the mutilation near my collarbone and I had to bite my lip to keep from audibly sobbing.

I heard a loud growl, the familiar sound causing me to instinctively cringe, and then realized it had come from the man—No, not a man. He was a beast, a cursed beast, the same one that marred my neck and pissed on me.

The memory of it had my skin crawling.

“Don’t ever speak of that incident again, understood?” Although they were full of anything but cheerfulness, when his golden eyes faced me, I found myself pausing momentarily in awe at their beauty. With the sunlight shining in on them from that certain angle, they looked like two smaller suns themselves. “I don’t ever want to think of another male mounting my female ever again. The image of it already haunts me enough.”

I bit my lip, his choice of wording going completely over my head like water over stone. My mind was too consumed by everything that had happened that it couldn’t focus on tiny details. “And you uh-urinated on me to what? Protect me?” The sound of the words put together sounded ridiculous to my ears but he did not look amused in the slightest.

He nodded firmly, almost grimly. “Exactly.”

“Ok...” I breathed, brushing a strand of my golden hair out of my face. It was in that moment, as my hand moved past my face, that I noticed I didn’t smell like urine. In fact, I didn’t smell like anything at all, which had me questioning if he had bathed me before dressing me. The thought had a sickening taste appear on my tongue but I chose not to question it, realizing that for the sake of my sanity, it was best that I didn’t know. “And you bit me?” It came out as a question, although I already knew the answer. It was there as clear as day on my neck. But for some reason I needed to hear his confirmation. I needed to hear him say out loud what he’d done to me.

“It’s not a bite,” he protested sharply, sounding offended. He took a step closer, the action just as silent and smooth as when he was a wolf. Then he stopped with a jolt as if he realized what he’d done. He contemplated his next words carefully, looking conflicted with himself. “It’s a mark.”

“A mark?” I questioned, bringing my hand up to the bite wound again. Immediately it ignited with a burning-like sensation that had me grinding my teeth together to hold back a sound of pain. “What does that mean?”

“It’s a warning to others not to harm or touch you,” he explained without missing a beat. “It means you’re under my protection for life and I will kill anyone who harms you.”

There was a pause. “Oh...” I pondered if I should spare him a hint of gratitude but then remembered it was also his kind that slaughtered my friends and thought it best to stay silent instead. He had said the word ‘kill’ so calmly like he was comfortable with the idea—like it was a task as simple and innocent as snapping his fingers. It unnerved me. “Do you have a restroom I could use?”

He lifted his arm and pointed across the room to two dark wood double doors. I whispered a ‘thank you’ and stood, trying my best not to run and give my true feelings of fear and uncertainty away.

I twisted the knob open and closed it softly behind me once I was inside, my hand groping the walls until I came upon the light switch to my left.

When light filled the area from the small chandelier overhead, I nearly fell back from how overwhelmed I felt. The bathroom was larger than necessary, much bigger than the entirety of my childhood home, and made mostly of black marble, including the large tub off to the side and even the toilet. There was a window above the tub but it was so high that I couldn’t see out of it and I knew there was no chance of me being able to climb all the way up there.

It was at that moment I realized I was completely, utterly, entirely trapped.

After I was finished with my business, the toilet was flushed, and my hands were clean, I leaned against the marble counter and stared at my reflection.

Cold blue eyes and pale skin were what greeted me, common features of people who originated from the north. Then my gaze flickered from the bags underneath my eyes to my exposed neck and to the two irritated lines of multiple puncture wounds, two each on the top and bottom distinctively deeper from where his canines had pierced me.

My breath became uneven as I tore my gaze away from the wound and to the true horror in the mirror and watched closely as a tear appeared from my right eye and fell onto my hand. More followed and I bit my lip, mustering everything inside me to not make a sound, to not let the man outside know just how terrified or broken I really was.

Oriana had been right. I hoped she could feel my regret in the afterlife and understood just how severe I wished we had all listened to her.

I pictured Taylium and Tylem’s brown hair, wide smiles, and green eyes. But the happy memories of them playing together only led me to think of their toned arms they used to throw snowballs at each other, and that made me think of the eerily similar one I saw in the snow.

Blood. I remembered the blood against the white snow and—the screams.

I could remember the sound of their clothes and other things I didn’t want to think about ripping apart as the wolves feasted on their bodies, tearing them limb by limb until they were nothing but fragments of what they used to be.

And I had done nothing to help. Nothing at all to save them.

I was just as guilty as the beasts.

Why did I get to live? Why me? If anyone deserved to lose their life, it should’ve been me, the orphan, who had no one waiting for me to come back home and then wonder forever why I never did.

I looked at my reflection, red faced with tears running down both of my cheeks. You should’ve been the first one to die, my inner voice hissed.

My knees buckled and I crashed to the ground, my palms slapping against the hard floor in a meager attempt at sparing my body from more bruises. The coolness of the marble reminded me of the snow, mocking me and telling me where I should’ve been left to rot. Hot tears burned my cheeks as I continued crying, the only thing that I was apparently good for anymore.

The door creaked open and I instinctively shrunk from it, sobbing louder, but then stopped when I noticed it was the same man from before entering. His dark suit with a high collar appeared to be made out of velvet in that particular white lighting.

Hand still on the doorknob, he stared at me in my seated position, my arms wrapped around my knees and pulling them to my chest, with an unreadable expression and I took it as him judging me. I must’ve looked as pathetic as a child but he did not turn away.

I jumped when I heard the clicking of his leather shoes slowly nearing me, his golden green eyes, the same eyes that had stared at me as a wolf, never leaving mine.

He kneeled down next to me slowly, as if he didn’t know what to do, putting all his weight on the balls of his feet. Suddenly I saw him begin to reach for my hand but I pulled it away as quickly as I could, hugging it to my chest and above my drumming heart.

“Please don’t touch me. Please.” I sobbed through my begging and pulled my knees closer to myself like a shield, pressing my face between them and hiding myself from the world. Pathetic. I was pathetic. “I just want to be alone. Please, please, please...”

The man stayed there in that position for another minute, so silent that I questioned if he was still breathing.

When he growled loudly out of nowhere, I cringed and literally crawled away from his crouched form, which I could only picture pouncing on me at any moment to rip me open. This seemed to only anger him further, his eyes glowing so bright that they burned. He stood up on strong legs without another word or glance and stormed out the door, slamming it behind him as he left and making me jump.

I covered my ears and heard something shatter outside and then followed by a door thrown open and slammed with such force that it had the walls shaking along with me.

Still crying, I lied slowly backwards onto the cold tiled floor and stared up at the small chandelier that impressively casted all the light inside the large room. I stayed there like that, staring at the ceiling with hot tears running down my temples, for what I guessed was another hour until I somehow closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep on that horribly uncomfortable floor.

I dreamt of Oriana, Tylem, Taylium, and I playing in the snow.

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