The Cursed Kingdom

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It felt as if I was lying against the hearth of a fire, whose flames gently licked at my skin and caused a layer of unwelcome sweat to cover my body.

As I found consciousness despite my many attempts to ignore it, I groaned out loud in protest at the awkwardness of my position, my one arm pinched between my body and the mattress, but decided that I was still too tired to move. My limbs were much too heavy to do just about anything and my skull felt like it'd been stuffed with cotton overnight.

I lied there like that, uncomfortable and sweltering, for another minute until the sensation of my nose being pressed against the pillow at an odd angle became too much.

I attempted to push myself up and discovered that there was something in my way, causing me to scrunch my eyebrows together as my foggy brain, which could hardly remember my own name, tried to process the heavy object keeping me from moving. After I tried repeating the motion with the same outcome, I frustratedly pried my eyelids apart to determine the culprit that had disturbed my peace

I let out a startled gasp, one thankfully not loud enough to wake him, when I looked over my shoulder and saw Henrik's face right next to mine, his aquiline nose nearly brushing my cheek.

With one bulky arm thrown over my waist above the covers and the other supporting my neck, whose hand resting under my mark was too close to my breasts to be considered acceptable, Henrik's front was pressed up against my backside with not a centimeter of space between us. Pink mouth slightly ajar as it released small puffs of breath, dark eyelashes fluttering against his high cheekbones, and his hair a mess on top of his head, the king looked as serene and innocent as a newborn infant. However, that didn't stop the pounding of my heart or the fear I felt for him and my desire to sleep was suddenly overpowered by my need to run as far away from him as possible.

I moved my leg towards the edge of the bed subtly and released my arm from under the bed covers. From there, I tried using my free hand to gently lift his arm from on top of me and shrieked when I heard a growl in my ear, the vibrations tickling the sensitive skin. In any other circumstances, I would've burst into a fit of giggles from the sensation. Instead I went silent with fear.

"No," he muttered without opening his eyes and swatted my hand away to maneuver his arm back where it was originally, only this time a lot firmer. He sighed and I felt him relax against me once more.

"Yes," I hissed back and dug my nails into his forearm, trying to pull the limb off of me. It didn't budge, not even a little, and he chuckled at my failure.

"I am the king. You must do as I say," he groaned and rolled over on top of me and brought me with him so that I was now lying completely on my stomach. He sighed in content and nuzzled his nose in my hair, making my face scrunch up in disgust and confusion.

He began to snore.

"Get off of me! What are you even doing here?" I asked, my words cut short deliberately so he could hear my anger. I let out my own version of a growl and tried to do a push up position to get him off. Like his arm, the rest of him didn't budge.

"This is my room," he replied, his voice muffled by my hair. "Where else would you have me go?"

"Don't you have a throne somewhere you could sit on?"

"I do. But you'll find that a throne entirely made out of gold is not that comfortable," Henrik uttered, his fingers fluttering as soft as butterfly wings along my mark and upper collarbone.

I bit my lip, trying to suppress how weirdly good it felt.

I cleared my throat, remembering who I was but most important who he was. "Ah, yes, how unfortunate of you," I drawled sarcastically. I could've sworn I felt him smile against my neck but that could've been my imagination. "Ok, I'm done," I remarked towards his weight on top of me, and tried to wiggle myself free of him, moving every inch of my body like a worm in hopes that I would somehow get free.

"I wouldn't do that," he breathed heavily against my neck, his hold on me tightening in an attempt to cease my movements. I thought that was a sign he was starting to get irritated so I kept going, hopeful that he would eventually move off of me himself.

"I'm not gonna stop untilโ€”" I stopped still as death when I suddenly felt it, hard and heavy against the back of my upper thigh. My heartbeat quickened and my palms became sweaty like I'd dunked them in a bucket of cold water. We both went silent. "You're joking."

"I tried to warn you," he practically groaned and stuffed his face farther into the crook of my neck, inhaling my scent to memory. "I'm an unmated male, Raena." My name sounded like a purr. "When my body senses an attractive female squirming beneath it, it gets a mind of its own and well..." he pressed his pelvis further into me and I swore, silently glad he couldn't see my shocked and very flushed face pressed into the pillows.

Two of my best friends since childhood were boys, both of whom I used to bathe and share a room with when I was young and still thought kissing was the single most repulsive act a human being could do. So the male anatomy and its particular functions weren't foreign to me in the slightest. But having a male react to me so forwardly and particularly in the way Henrik was doing it made me uncertain of how to respond. The thought of it being the last time anyone would show interest in me crossed my mind but I pushed it away. Last time or not, I would not be degraded down to a harlot for his own personal pleasure.

Trying to act confident and give the allusion of indifference, I replied as snarky as I could, "Are you trying to impress me?" I faked a scoff, my adrenaline and anger driving me to say what I did next. "Because from what I can tell, it's very underwhelming." I wanted to slap myself as soon as I said it, feeling ridiculous. Yesterday I had blushed at a male kissing my knuckles, and there I was now telling one of the most dangerous kings in history that he had a small penisโ€”like I, a virgin, somehow knew the difference.

"You're lying," he growled, now every part of him rigid. I cringed and my breathing became uneven. I could feel every bulge of muscle along his bare chest against my back, moving up and down with a sort of grace that everyone else seemed to lack.

I could tell he was angry, that much I was sure of from the claws gently pressing against my waist. I should've taken that as my cue to shut my mouth yet I didn't. I just had to keep going for some unfathomable reason. Like I was just waiting for him to slit my throat. Like I wanted him to do it.

"You. Wish."

There was a long defeating pause and I waited. I waited for him to scream or rip my head off or both for insulting his manhood.

Instead, he leaned down and whispered, this time more like a hiss, "You're lying." I shivered and tried to push him off again to no avail. "And I fully intend to show you one day just how wrong you are." He leaned in closer, his breath scathing the shell of my ear. My breathing became erratic and I felt myself begin to grow uncomfortably warm, making me shift my legs without thinking. He took a loud inhale and his chest rumbled. "Do you like that, hmm?" he growled, pressing himself further into me while rocking his body slightly, and elicited a gasp from my lips. "Do you like the thought of me fรผcking you?"

My eyes widened at his crudeness.

My blood boiled at what I thought was an insinuation that I was an easy conquest for him to take.

I opened my mouth, fully intending to use the knowledge my mother had given me and tell him exactly what he could screw. But instead of words, I was met with a tickle in the back of my throat that caused me to cough which was followed by another, and another, and another, until I was in a full blown coughing fit that had my body racking from the force. They weren't dry coughs either. These crackled and resulted in a thick wad of phlegm entering my mouth and making me cringe.

Whatever attraction Henrik thought he had of me, I was sure died right there in that moment.

"Shit," the King muttered and finally rolled off of me, allowing me to spring off the bed and run to the bathroom sink where I joyously spat out the green gunk.

"Shit," I said myself after seeing the color, and twisted the sink handle on the left so that warm water could rinse it all down the drain.

I wasn't a doctor, not even close, but I had enough books to read and life experiences to know green phlegm was typical a sign of the beginning of a virus, which ranged from a simple common cold, pain in the ass bronchitis, or all the way to the ever raging flu. The problem was with the last two that if they weren't treated correctly, I could quickly end up with pneumonia like my mother had. My stomach dropped at the very thought of her, of her sunken eyes and blue lips. One moment she'd been sneezing and the next, she was dying.

"I knew you should've eaten something last night," I heard Henrik growl from the doorway. I looked in the mirror and met his eyes in the reflection, resisting my urge to look down at his bulging muscles under inked, scarred skin and the other thing bulging beneath his briefs.

"Do you have something warm I could wear?" I asked instead, trying to divert my mind from anywhere other than him.

He turned without responding and came back not a moment later with a fluffy-looking pink robe. I raised a single eyebrow in silent confusion, not ever imagining him ever wearing something other than something dark or somber but kept my questioning to myself.

I reached for the robe but he pulled it back in a blur, snapping his fangs at me and making my heart leap into my throat.

I doubted I would ever get used to that part of him, the one that wasn't human.

"Turn around," he growled, his eyes daring me to go against him.

Not wanting to argue and still completely exhausted, I did as told and childishly huffed in annoyance so he'd at least hear how much I didn't want to comply.

Slowly and cautiously, he helped me put the robe on to a degree where I really didn't have to do anything at all, not even lift a finger. When my arms were through both sleeves, he turned me by the shoulders back around to face him and my eyes widened when I came eye level to his defined pectorals and had a closer look at his tattoos.

My gaze trailed the black swirls, triangles, squares, and other patterns of ink across the uneven skin along his chest, sides, and upper arms. In my village, like many others, tattoos were seen as disreputable and anyone who had them was shunned. But as I stared at Henrik's on top of what looked like many years of terrible scars, I couldn't see my people's logic and even found myself labeling them as beautiful.

I licked my lips and gulped, closing my eyes. The Cursed King, I reminded myself. He's the Cursed King, a murdererโ€”a monsterโ€”who would slit my throat if given half the chance. Him being kind was a trick, I just knew it, either to lead me to my death, into his bed, or both.

With deft fingers, Henrik finished tying my robe together snugly so it wouldn't fall open. When he was done, he looked up at meโ€”well just slightly less down so he met my eyesโ€”and stared at me with those piercing eyes of his that looked like two golden suns.

"Comfortable?" he grunted, running his large hands up and down my arms. I nodded wordlessly. "Warm?" I repeated the motion, glaring at him, trying to figure him out, and wishing he would stop being not completely intolerable so I could hate him easier.

I pulled back and sneezed into my elbow and turned to face him again, sniffling. That was when I realized just how empty my stomach felt, remembering how I'd only consumed a piece of buttered bread and a tiny shot of vodka before my friends and I left the twins' house for the woods. Henrik was at least right about one thing: refusing dinner was a mistake, especially considering I had been half naked in the freezing winter snow just the morning before and underwent a lot of trauma in a very short period of time. The fact I'd gotten sick was truly no shock at all.

The sickness is at least well deserved, a voice from deep inside myself sneered, making me tense and a dull throb to begin in the back of my head, right where my neck and skull met. It's the least you can suffer for surviving and for being the only one out of the four that can ever get sick again in the first place.

I winced as if physically wounded. Now my stomach felt too heavy to eat anything.

"Come," Henrik told me as he started to walk out of the room, giving me a clearer view of his muscular, marred back. I cringed at what must've been hundreds of long, red sunken valleys of skin covered by swirls of black from his tattoosโ€”and at the thought of how many weapons must've been used to create such a beautiful disaster. "You must eat."

So says the king, I sarcastically thought to myself and wordlessly followed him like the coward I had become and waited silently on the bed when he began dressing himself.

I could've sworn I saw him smirk out of the corner of my eye, but I kept my gaze stubbornly glued to the floor, consumed by only one thought: I need to find a way to escape.

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