The Cursed Kingdom

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The gold of his crown glimmered as the Cursed King stood.

My eyes quickly trailed around the titanic room, trying to absorb as much detail as possible in a little amount of time. I paused when I saw the glass ceiling displaying the starry night sky above, my mouth falling open with silent words of awe. The clouds were still orange and purple from the little sunlight left, causing it to look more like a painting than nature itself.

My eyes then moved onto the red wallpaper and paused again. It reminded me of blood and I quickly turned my head back to the male, scared of where else my thoughts would lead me if I stared any longer.

"Why didn't you tell me you were the king?" I questioned bitterly, holding back the urge to back away as he quickly approached me, an unusual gleam of determination in his eyes. My gaze lingered on the golden swirling designs along his lapels, collar, and cuffs, finding them beautiful against the black fabric.

"Because that would've stolen my fun," he retorted, grabbing my hand out of nowhere and making me gasp in surprise at the feeling of his calloused skin against the soft pads of my palm. "So jumpy," he said under his breath, however I had a feeling he had every intention for me to hear it.

Bringing up my right hand, he kissed my knuckle firmly with his otherworldly soft lips. While Jerium's had been as light and gentle as a feather, the king's kiss felt as if he was trying to leave a permanent impressionβ€”as if he hadn't already done so to my neck.

With my thoughts now drifting towards it, I took note of how the mark began tingling again, a subtle yet annoying itch that reminded me uncannily of how a fly would feel crawling along my skin.

"So," I began dryly and kept my face neutral as I stared at his closed eyelids, dark eyelashes fluttering against his sharp cheekbones, "do you urinate on everyone who visits your kingdom?"

I felt his deep, warm exhale on the back of my hand and his gold eyes with specs of green flickered open to look up at me, making my traitorous heart flutter. He straightened his back to his full height slowly, appearing amused by my serious expression, and released my hand, which felt strangely cold without his touch.

"You're never going to let that go, will you?" he said, quirking a brow. When I didn't relent, he sighed once more, this time in defeat. "No, I have never done that on a female before. Trees and vegetation alike, but never a person. Satisfied?"

"No," I responded dryly, his smirk angering me in a way I never thought possible. "You pissed on me like a mutt marking its territory, then proceeded to permanently mutilate me, and the only people I care about are dead because of your people. And you have the audacity to ask me if I'm 'satisfied?'"

His smirk lowered into a frown the more I spoke, lines between his two dark eyebrows appearing. "Perhaps we should sit," he said bitterly, in a way that wasn't a suggestion but rather a command. With a tanned hand that had a golden watch attached at the wrist, he motioned me to the chair that was placed to the right of his at the end of the table.

Although I always prided myself on possessing great table manners despite my humble upbringing, where I could count on one hand the amount of times I ate at a table as a child, I didn't acknowledge him when he pulled my seat back and pushed it in for me after I sat down. I barely looked at him when he plopped himself down in his own chair and rested his clenched fists on top of the table, clearly displeased by my silence and emotionless expression.

"You can get upset with me all you want," the king said, eyeing the side of my face, my hair, my eyes. I wondered what he saw that had him so perplexed. Although I knew I wasn't revolting, I didn't consider myself anything special to look at either. "However, my people are blameless."

"Butβ€”" I went to protest but was silenced by his piercing eyes, entranced by them.

"The beings that killed your friends are known in my kingdom as Rogues," he explained quickly, as if ripping off a verbal bandage. "They were once people like you and I, people who unfortunately succumbed to the darkness of their curse and became more rabid beasts than intellectual beings. They live, hunt, and behave as such: animals. Although there is no humanity left, I suppose you can say I have a soft spot reserved for them. I give them refuge on the land along the borders." I looked away from him. "They are supposed to act like guard dogs, if you will, with only one simple command: only attack if someone invades or threatens my territory."

"Do I look threatening to you?" I asked sarcastically, my heart secretly clenching in despair for my deceased friends. Their deaths did not just inflict sadness but also acted as reminders of why I needed to be strong. I had to be strong, if not for myself then for their memories. I just had to be.

"No," he answered and leaned back, crossing an ankle over his knee. I noticed his eyes then flicker below my mark but he quickly corrected himself and met my eyes again. "I fulfilled my promise to you and did a full evaluation of the attack, scenting and tracking and such. I have come to the conclusion that you and your friends are as innocent as you had expressed. Somehow the rogues were able to step exactly three feet over the boundary line, allowing them to carry out their acts of cruelty."

I nodded silently with thinned lips, neither wishing to thank nor insult him.

"And their bodies?" I voiced, my tone sounding somber to my ears. I couldn't begin to imagine what I must've looked like, small, pale, and vulnerable. "I want them buried. I want them to be put to rest at home, as they deserve." My voice became uneven at the end and I could feel my eyes begin to burn with endless tears. I cursed myself internally for letting my emotions win but that only seemed to make me more upset.

The king didn't respond for a few heartbeats, staring at my disheartened expression with an unreadable one. "When I went back with my males to the scene," he said, his voice a quiet whisper, "there wasn't much left to bury."

I closed my eyes, squeezed them until it hurt while trying to block out the mental image attempting to invade my head. I tried to think of their faces and only their smiling, laughing faces.

"I understand they meant a great deal to you."

I shook my head, a tear slipping past and gliding down my cheek. I vigorously wiped it away with a hope that the king hadn't seen it. "No, you don't," I replied with a croaky voice and wiped my nose with the back of my hand in an unladylike fashion. I couldn't be bothered about manners. I couldn't be bothered about anything. "They were my family. They were all I had left and now they're... gone."

I didn't care that I was sitting in front of the same Cursed King I had been taught my entire life to fear, the same one from the stories where he killed an entire kingdom, men, women, and children alike, for the sole purpose to gain power. I knew he didn't give a shit about me or my problems, probably only getting annoyed by my displays of humanity.

When my mother had died, Tylem, Taylium, and Oriana were all there for me. They became my family and gave me a future to look forward to, a shoulder to cry on when I needed it, and a smile when I found it impossible to acquire one on my own.

But this was different.

This time I was utterly alone.

The king sat in silence as I cried, my head bowed over my lap as I stained the skirt of my dress with my tears. I don't know how long we remained like that before I finally lifted my head and allowed my blurry vision eyes to make contact with his glowing eyes.

"Why did you save me?" I rasped, scanning his face up and down like it could give me the answer I was seeking itself. "Why me? I've been told your stories. I know your past. You certainly don't care about a pathetic human such as myself. So, why?"

The king stared at me, just stared at my face like I had done to him except his gaze felt penetrating, almost like he could see through my skin and to my sad excuse of a soul. My hands fidgeted under the table as I waited for his reply. For a moment, I wondered if he would respond at all.

"I heard your screams," he uttered, his eyes never leaving me. "So I ran to investigate and when I saw what had happened, I took pity on you. Nothing more." The king paused and then added, "You should be thanking me."

"Thanking you?" I cried in disbelief. "I'll thank you when I am returned home safe and sound."

He stiffened, his eyes suddenly glowing pure, living gold and making me cringe back in worry. "You are home," he gritted out between bared teeth, giving me a clear view of his elongated canines. He pointed at my neck with a shaking finger like he was fighting for control over himself. "That mark means you belong to me. It's my claim of your very soul, heart, and mind. Get that in your head."

"So I'm a prisoner," I said in horror, placing my palm against the tender and rough flesh of his so-called-mark. "I'd be better off dead," I hissed, leaning forward daringly. "You should've let the Rogue have his way with me and then let him finish me off. Death would be kinder than being trapped in a land full of people like you."

The king growled, a deep sound which started from his chest before emitting through bared canines. The motion of him clenching and unclenching his fingers caught my attention and I was shocked to see that his nails had formed into beastly claws. When I looked back at his face, I saw nothing human there. Golden eyes full of rage stared back at me and his jaw seemed eerily elongated like it was trying to form into a snout.

"I told you never to mention that shit again," he spat, his voice not even human but more of a primal growl. "Do you wish to see me angry, mate? Do you wish for me to show you who you belong to? Because I would gladly bend you over this very table and show you just how much of a monster I can be."

My mouth went dry and I found it impossible to swallow and almost unbearable to breathe. I could feel my hands shaking, my lower lip trembling, but I refused to let my eyes move away from his. I refused to let him see how much his words affected me.

"You should've let me die," I whispered, sounding like a frightened child rather than the strong young woman I thought I could be. How wrong I had been. So, so, so wrong...

"I see that now," he drawled coolly, although everything about him looked angry and tense like he was ready to kill somethingβ€”to kill me.

"Good," I replied, nodding my head. "At least we can agree on something. Now, if you'll excuse me." I stood, brushing down my skirt. "It appears I've lost my appetite."

I went to turn but my body became completely stiff when I felt his warm, calloused and completely human hand enclose around my wrist.

My free hand shot to my side and to the pocket that resided in the area where my skirt and bodice met. This action didn't go unnoticed by the king and he smiled slyly, releasing my wrist so he could reach inside the said pocket. I held my breath, my heart dropping, knowing it was no use to fight him.

He pulled back his arm and cocked his head to the side with a smirk while he eyed the object between his thumb and forefinger. "My favorite pen," he stated, rolling the said writing tool between his fingers, and then looked up at me. "Trying to stab me with it, were you?"

"Only if I had to," I responded honestly, my heart feeling like it would break out of my rib cage and flop itself onto the table for the king to feast on.

"Next time you want a weapon, just ask me," the king said, reaching over to hand it back to me. I shakily took it, eyeing him quizzically. He seemed strangely calm for a person who looked ready to rip my head off a few moments ago. "Goodnight..." He looked at me expectantly, raising a scarred brow.

"Raena," I answered, my name sounding rather ugly coming from my mouth.

"Goodnight, Raena," the King purred, his golden eyes flickering. "I expect you to eat a large breakfast, lunch, and dinner tomorrow and will see that you do. I'd hate to have one of my males pry open your jaw so I can force feed you." It was a warning, one I knew not to take lightly.

"I will if you tell me your name," I replied curtly and meant it. I wantedβ€”no, neededβ€”to know his name.

"What? Those stories never told you?" I knew he was mocking me but I didn't care. He stood, towering a foot or more over me and looked me straight in the eyes for about ten breaths before replying, "Henrik."

"Henrik," I echoed and could've sworn I heard the beginning of a growl but it stopped too soon for me to be certain.

"Now wish me goodnight and you may leave," Henrik told me, his eyes beginning to turn completely gold again.

"Goodnight, Your Majesty," I said quickly and turned to leave but was stopped once more, this time by his voice. I tensed as I waited for him to speak, eager to be alone and away from this infuriating male.

"What's my name?" he asked from behind me, his voice soft and tender, taking me aback.

I blinked once. Twice.

"Goodnight, Henrik," I told him, not bothering to look behind me before I continued my trek towards the doors. The same two guards opened it for me from the outside and this time Henrik didn't stop me. I let out a breath when I stepped inside the hallways and listened to the doors being closed behind me.

Alone, I retraced my steps down the hallways and up the stairs and by some miracle arrived back at the room I had woken up in. I practically ripped off the dress and all of its ridiculous undergarments and placed the pen back where I'd found it, never wanting to touch it again.

After rinsing my face off and brushing my teeth the best I could with my fingers and some toothpaste I had found in a cluttered drawer amongst other male toiletries, I slipped back into the blue nightgown and laid down in the bed, pulling the covers up to my chin.

My head had barely made contact with the pillow before I was unconscious, the fastest I had ever fallen asleep before, with the smell of pine surrounding me like a blanket of its own in the pitch black room.

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