Harper and I were strolling down the street when I saw the guard approach us.
Ragnar loved Harper, and she seemed to too as she made me promise to bring her back tomorrow to see him again. He whined as we left, making me chuckle at his dramatics. After we left, we floated over to a bakery where I purchased a treat for Harper. Her whole face had lit up when I handed her a banana muffin. I stopped briefly so I could put my new clothes in my room at the lodge, and led Harper back out. Then we took to the streets, where we just strolled leisurely.
That was until the black and red armored guard approached us.
“Lady Bjerke.” The guard bowed.
I watched in my peripheral as Harper froze at the sound of his voice. Stupid males and their voices. I cursed silently as the male waited for me to respond.
“The answer is no,” I said, stone-faced, hoping to move this conversation along so Harper and I could return to exploring the city.
The guard removed his helmet and spoke again. “I’m afraid the King isn’t taking no for an answer. He has requested an audience with you.”
Rolling my eyes at the King’s dramatics, I turned to Harper and took her empty hand in mine, since her other still had a muffin in it.
Crouching, I spoke to her softly since she was shaking again. “I’m sorry, but I think I have to cut our exploration short.”
Despite the obvious fear in her eyes, Harper shook her head and stepped up to me, wrapping her arms around my neck. “No, I don’t want to leave you. I’ll go with you to the King.”
I knew I should’ve sent her home to her Aunt that obviously didn’t want her. But the slight trembling in her body made a sort of protectiveness grow in me. I can’t protect her if she isn’t with me, now can I?
I wrapped my arms around Harper and hugged her. “Are you sure you want to come with me?”
Harper pulled away, her muffin clutched to her chest. “Yes.”
Her sleeves pulled back and that was when I saw them. Bruises. Dark and angry looking colors coated her arms, and who knows where else.
Rage boiled in me but knowing that Harper was watching my every move, I slid my calm mask into place. Not the place to lose my cool..
She smiled up at me as I nodded. “Alrighty Buckaroo. Let’s go see the annoying and needy King.” Her smile turned into a grin and she reached up for my hand as I straightened and turned to the guard.
The guard was shocked at my dismissal of the King.
“Lead the way,” I told the guard.
He did just that, turning and leading us down the main street towards the castle. This would’ve been no problem navigating to due to its huge size, but it was fun to watch the guard’s ego inflate.
Harper was cautious of the male, but her steps were practically skips as she walked next to me. The whole way to the castle, she was humming, a small smile gracing her face.
Since we had a good twenty-minute walk to the castle, I decided to try and talk to Harper about some tough stuff.
“So Harps,” I started hoping to ease her into this conversation. “Your aunt mentioned that you don’t like people?”
“Yep.” She popped the word just as I had earlier.
“So why me?” I asked, not quite making sense of why she choose me to talk to.
Harper tilted her head as if she was thinking. “Because you’re scary but pretty and you make me feel safe.” She finally answered.
Scary but pretty huh? That’s the first that I’ve been described like that.
I watched her expression as I asked her my next question. “Do you feel unsafe a lot?”
The guard in front of us tensed slightly, as if he knew the answer to my question. Capital gossip, I suppose.
“Yes,” Harper said simply. Her features serious for a few seconds. “But then you walked in this morning with your pretty cloak and pretty hair and grumpy face, and I’ve felt safe ever since.”
I smiled softly at the little girl. So innocent and yet so wrecked.
Harper started humming again, and before long we arrived at the castle.
“Lady Bjerke.” Guards bowed as we arrived at the doors of the castle, murmuring greetings while two opened the doors for us.
I recognized most of them and offered a stoic nod. But as tough as I wanted to seem among the castle guards, it was hard with a humming and skipping little girl holding my hand.
The guards didn’t make any moves to talk to Harper, which left me feeling relieved. I hope she can handle this.
Entering the castle, the environment changed from post-apocalyptic struggling to survive, to medieval riches. The change almost giving one whiplash.
Grand tapestry hung from the walls, a few of them ripped and burnt in places. Lamps and electricity-powered chandeliers lit the stone walls, brightening what could easily be a gloomy castle. Paintings and rugs decorated the massive entry and hallways. A lot of the decoration was before the Plague, but all the modern touches were actually installed after the Plague. Like the electricity and plumbing, because they were testing to see if things like that could even be possible after everything happened.
The amount of wealth being displayed was disgusting, but since King Samuel was a fair and okay king, nobody had a problem. It’s whatever, I guess. I’m just trying to survive.
Harper was flabbergasted at the decoration and size of the castle.
“This place is beautiful.” Harper sighed. Despite gawking at her surroundings, her hand remained solid in mine and she made sure to keep pace with me.
Every time someone passed us, Harper would tense and watch them until they disappeared. When a male passed, Harper would tuck into my leg where I could feel her trembling. And every time that happened a protectiveness bubbled in my chest, which ensured that no harm would ever come to Harper again.
The guard led us to large doors that I knew led to the throne room, where King Samuel was undoubtedly waiting. He nodded to the guards on either side of the door, which caused them to simultaneously open the double doors.
The doors revealed a large room. At the end of the large room, a huge throne, made of solid metals, stood on a raised platform. The rest of the room, decorated with expensive props and paintings, was open and made for balls.
Harper’s hand gave mine a hard squeeze as she set her eyes on the man lounging in the throne.
We walked through the large room, a few guards stood by the pillars on either side of the room and on the second-floor balcony.
I scanned the room for a familiar face, luckily coming up empty, before I turned my sights back on the throne.
King Samuel sat, legs outstretched and crossed, with his hand tapping lightly on the armrest of the throne.
Looking just as I remembered, his dirty blonde hair was styled nicely with a black and red crown sitting atop it. His dark blue eyes watched my every move, a smirk resting atop his perfect face.
Harper and I stopped ten feet from his throne. His smirk grew as he realized I would not be bowing at his feet.
Finally, he spoke, “Hello Acer.”