The Cursed Kingdom

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The castle’s library was a lot smaller than I thought it would be.

Although it was certainly large—at least, large in the sense I could’ve fit a house inside it—I felt an odd sense of disappointment and awe all at the same time while I stared at it, my eyes sweeping from one side to the other.

The room had a fireplace, which was not worth comparing to the elaborate one in Henrik’s bedroom, situated in the center of four floor-length windows, the stone structure only—and very slightly—brightened by the painting of orange flowers above the mantle. In front of the dull fireplace was a low table with a plain, blue fabric chair and two matching sofas around it, the pieces of furniture covered in their own thick layers of dust. Surrounding the small reading area were rows of bookshelves, all blanketed in endless stacks of grey and some even possessing cobwebs in their corners, emphasizing just how long it’d been since someone cared for the poor library.

Its rundown appearance gave me the impression I was trespassing across something forbidden, something that belonged to another time that wasn’t meant for me. But I shook off the strange sensation, remembering the precise directions Henrik had given me from the dining room and his verbal permission that I could, in fact, look around.

So why did it feel so wrong?

My belly full and aching from Henrik’s idea of a fulfilling breakfast, which had been purely meat except for my glass of water, I softly walked across the room to the window on the right side of the fireplace to pull away its closed curtains. The pieces of thick, black fabric, whose texture reminded me of velvet, were covered in grime and my handprints were left behind wherever I touched them, dark and distinctive and in complete contrast to the light grey layer that covered the rest of the curtains.

When the job was done and I was left staring out at the wintery outdoors and the room was filled with the soft light I craved, I wiped my dirty hands off on the pink robe and prayed Henrik could learn forgiveness in the midst of his kingly duties. I knew that probably was impossible but I hoped nonetheless that he would disregard the new smears of grey on the robe’s pink wool.

A sudden tickle in my nose had me sneezing again and I blamed it on the room’s plethora of dust rather than my cold. But then I realized that the two were most likely working together because once I started, I didn’t stop and I ended up sneezing until my cheeks ached and my head felt light from the lack of air.

With watery eyes and a runny, dry nose that I had to wipe with the back of my sleeve every few seconds, I began zigzagging between the shelves randomly, scanning the books’ spines to find something—anything—of interest. But none caught my eye and after ten minutes, the books’ brown leather covers starting to blur together until I reached the very back of the library, where it was darkest and smelled the most pungent

The floorboards creaked beneath my feet just once and I cringed at the sharpness of it, like a dagger digging through flesh, in the otherwise silent room.

I kept walking.

I didn’t stop until I saw it. Way back in the farthest corner, stacked lopsidedly between the shelf above it and the books holding it up, was a book that immediately caught my eye. There was nothing really special about it at first glance, however my curiosity encouraged me to peek at whatever was inside and I chose to listen to it. It wasn’t like I needed much persuasion anyway.

I got on the tip of my toes and stretched my arms as far as they would go, which thankfully was just enough to reach. If I had been only an inch shorter, I would’ve been met with a different outcome.

When my palm made contact, I immediately noticed that whatever its cover had been made from wasn’t like the polished leather that the other books shared. It was rough with bumps, almost like scales.

When I pulled it down to further examine and I settled back flat on my feet, I noticed it looked like them too, tiny black scales that reminded me of some sort of lizard or other reptile. The book itself was as thick as the width of my hand and its pages were browned and crinkled with age.

I traced the title sewn into the front with soft brush strokes of my fingertips, furrowing my eyebrows together as I mouthed the foreign word aloud.

"Galycia,” I whispered, or at least tried to. The word sounded incorrect on my tongue and with my accent so I didn’t attempt to repeat it again out of embarrassment of accidentally insulting whatever language it derived from.

My mark suddenly prickled, starting from the center and spreading like quick pulses to the outer edges. I ignored it. After getting used to its odd sensations, I thought absolutely nothing of it.

I looked around only once more before I hurried back to the sitting area and plopped myself down on the, from what my eyes could perceive, least dirtiest seat. The couch was surprisingly comfortable and soft and I leaned against the plush armrest, my legs crossed over one another with one foot bouncing on the floor anxiously.

The book’s spine groaned in protest as I pried it open as gently as I could to take a look at what was awaiting inside in those ancient pages, pages that no doubt people from hundreds of years ago had felt under their hands just as I was. Knowing just how fragile old books such as that one could be, I was sure to be more careful with it than glass.

There was a long, somber introduction from the author which I quit reading after the first paragraph when I realized all he was doing was praising himself. “Chapter One” began on page eleven and I skipped through practically all of it, past the picture of a strange reptilian-looking creature, until I came upon “Chapter Two” which had a map, a very old looking and crinkled map, that had marks all over it and faded scribbles I could hardly read. There was a prominent dent in the corner as well.

My eyes made their way to the bottom and widened in surprise at the name below it. Trellomar. It was then I realized it was a map of the entire continent, my home, laid out in front of my eyes for the first time ever. I drank in the image greedily, shocked to see how big oceans were and how tiny we were in comparison.

Although I had lived in Trellomar as a loyal villager my entire life, I felt like I was looking at the map of somewhere far away, like a different world that I knew nothing about. Yet this was supposed to be my home.

The map also showed boundaries between kingdoms, jagged lines that truly seemed to have no reason for their placement at all. There was the Human Kingdom, which apparently was still known as Mortalis when the book was published, from the middle to the east coast, the Mage Kingdom to the West, and the Fae Kingdom in the furthest south and taking up most of the smaller islands around it. Off in the Eastern Ocean, named Obstreich, I was shocked to learn of another continent. There was one in the West too—and another just below it.

My brain hurt and I wiped my nose on my sleeve, sniffling. No one in Amaryllus had ever mentioned other continents. Not even in school. And these other continents had names—Reushire, Draterra, Numalem—so I knew they had to have some sort of history as well. But, unlike Trellomar, they had no boundary lines listed, no other kingdoms. Just their names and a single circle drawn with what looked to be black ink in the dead center of Draterra, which I thought odd.

My eyes drifted to the north which was marked in the same ink with ’x’s in seemingly random places, some near the coastlines and others in the mountains. The small kingdom in the North East was labeled as Galycia, same as the title on the front page, and I questioned if that had been a mistake. As far as I knew, a kingdom named Galycia had never existed and the map’s borderlines weren’t correct either. Amaryllus wasn’t even on the map and the Human Kingdom’s northern borderlines took up half of the space where the Cursed Kingdom should’ve been.

But then I remembered the stories, the ones about Henrik wiping out human villages and an entire kingdom to gain the throne. Was Galycia the kingdom from those stories?

The book suddenly felt heavy, like dead weight. Was I truly holding the last thing left in the world that could prove a people’s existence?

I felt numb and unworthy to be holding something so precious if that were true. It suddenly was no wonder why it had been placed so carelessly in the far back of a forgotten library, where no one would even care to look. It was proof of just how little Henrik cared about the people he had destroyed, treating their memory as if it was nothing—which to him it probably was.

I closed the book gently and startled when the door suddenly opened, making me shoot to my feet in fear of what Henrik would do if he saw me reading that book.

But it was not Henrik at the door.

“Jerium?” I voiced aloud, making the said male’s lips twitch into a smile, completely unaware of the weight I held in my hands.

“Madam Raena,” he greeted chirpily, “His Majesty has requested for me to keep you company and provide you with anything you need in your time of illness.”

“Oh, that’s not necessary.” I brushed him off, pleading with him silently that he would get the hint and leave me to my own devices. But just like any male, he didn’t.

“Nonsense. I’m to give you a tour, seeing that you’ll be staying here awhile and all.” I saw him finally acknowledge the book in my hands but if he had a reaction at all, he gave no physical sign. My fingers twitched against it. “King’s orders,” Jerium added, making me slump my shoulders in defeat. I knew exactly what that meant: I didn’t have a choice.

I placed the book down on the table gently and padded across the room to Jerium, my bare feet cold against the stone floor.

He held out his arm for me to take and I was about to accept it but stopped when I noticed bruises underneath both of his eyes. Although faint, they were there nonetheless in shades of green and blue. They looked days old, but I knew for certain they weren’t there the night before.

“What happened?” I asked, reaching up a caring hand and not thinking much of it. Although Jerium was still only an acquaintance, he’d shown me only kindness since I met him so I reacted in a way I would to any of my friends.

The twins, especially when we were younger, would always get into all sorts of trouble that would end in injury. So broken noses or really any type of bruising were not uncommon to me, especially taking care of them.

Jerium flinched at my touch but didn’t pull away, letting me gently prod the swollen spots for sensitivity. “Don’t,” he hissed, sounding irked, but still did nothing to remove my hand.

“What happened?” I repeated more firmly, settling on the fact that he had the symptoms of a broken nose and brought my hand down to my side. I stared at him and he stared at me just as intensely.

“I got in a fight,” he grumbled like a child.

I scoffed, crossing my arms below my breasts. “A fight?”

With a raised brow, I looked him up and down, in his nice suit, pristine leather knee-high boots, and a jacket with a decorative golden sigil pinned to its right lapel on top of a shirt so white that it hurt to look at. I knew men who got into brawls. I was friends with two of them my whole life. Jerium looked too refined to ever pick a fight and the image of him even raising a fist looked awkward in my imagination.

He nodded, lips thinning.

“Well, did you win?” I said, hoping I sounded lighthearted and friendly. If not a friend, I at least needed a person at my side who I could talk to, who I could trust and who could hopefully learn to trust me. Besides, Jerium knew the Cursed Kingdom a whole lot better than I ever could which also meant he knew how I could escape.

I must’ve done something right because Jerium smirked and shook his head down at the floor in disbelief. “No,” he said, a chuckle in his voice but I couldn’t see what was funny. He must’ve seen the look on my face. “There was nothing to win,” he explained, making my eyebrows furrow in confusion. Although I was certain he understood I was still befuddled by what he meant, he didn’t elaborate further and I didn’t push him to. Something told me it would be a complete waste of my energy.

He lifted his elbow towards me once more in a silent offering and this time I accepted it.

As we walked out of the room, Jerium carrying most of the conversation, I tried to leave all thoughts about the book behind, knowing my curiosities would have to wait.

Thank you for reading!! I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Xx

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