Chapter 13 ♕
There was something wrong.
It seemed like the further I found myself from the palace, the worse I started to feel. My energy level had dropped drastically and I had to lean my whole body against a tree several times to simply stay upright.
I started to have more and more trouble breathing. My forehead was sweaty and the vision in front of my eyes was getting worse. I took a short breath, pushed off against yet another tree I needed to stay on my feet and continued walking.
But soon my feet started to stumble. I got more and more dizzy. Finally, defeated and tired, I lowered myself to the ground between the roots of an old tree. I groaned and wrapped my arms around my stomach. The place that hurt the most.
My common sense, the one who convinced me to do this in the first place, now began to speak to me sternly about the fact that I had not thought this impulse action through.
I tried to ignore it, but I wasn’t stupid either. Of course I knew it wouldn’t been wise to just gather up all my things and leave in the middle of the night, but what else should I have done. I was overwhelmed and didn’t think clearly.
But that was not all. Because of my eyes, I had learned over the years to sense it when people were staring at me, and that same feeling was emerging at the moment.
Bethany had told stories about these forests. The castle grounds stretched far and everything within it was under their authority, but the same couldn’t be said of the area beyond those borders.
Now I regretted that I had interrupted her when she wanted to tell me exactly what kind of creatures were creeping around here. At the time, we’d been sitting side by side on the couch and it had seemed nothing more than an innocent horror story, but now it turned out it could have remained valuable information.
I pulled my knees up to my face and tried to make myself as small as possible, just to do everything to merge myself with the dark as much as I could. That movement made my whole body burn. I felt worse and worse. The pain just got more intense. In the distance I heard an owl. I was startled by that sound, not realizing how quiet it actually was in this part of the forest.
The sound came back a few more times, but then it went quiet again. But I became alert. There was nothing to indicate that I was actually being followed by anything, but it still felt that way.
I had been walking for hours. My stomach ached, my head pounded, and my cheeks started hurting from the wind blowing against the dried tears. I had cried uncontrollably for the first few minutes after I left. And I couldn’t put into words why.
It was the worst internal battle I’d ever been in. It easily could be called a full blown war. Part of me was still pulling, begging me, to turn around and return to the safety that could be offered me there.
But then there was the other side. The side that kept me going after my parents passed away. The rational, independent and sensible side. Thanks to her, I had been able to make those responsible decisions and build a life for myself. Without her, I would have been lying in the gutter somewhere, weighed down by the debts my parents had saddled me with. Thanks to her I had survived until now and I trusted her.
It may have been completely against my feelings, and that didn’t mean every fiber in my body didn’t want to protest, but I would continue. The truth, which I tried so hard to deny, was simply that I didn’t want to count on anyone. I wanted to do it myself. In that case, when everything went lost, I knew I could only blame myself and no one else. That was the safest way to live my life.
Alone, and lonely, but safe.
I took another deep breath and it seemed as if I had just used up my last bit of remaining energy, because my body collapsed completely. This was hopeless.
I was confused, tired and lost. The cold of the night made my whole body tremble. On top of that, I wasn’t even sure I was going in the right direction. Tall ancient trees were all I could see.
I rested my head against the trunk and sighed wearily. Everything that had happened that night started to take it’s toll and slowly I felt the sleep intensify. My eyelids grew heavier.
Maybe I could just close my eyes for a moment...But then the silence of the night was shattered by a low and threatening sound.
Immediately I was wide awake and completely sane. I looked around in shock. At first I saw nothing, but when I took a closer look, I saw two yellow eyes, just a few meters away. They didn’t seem to blink and were completely focused on me.
Panic took hold of my body and I was left completely petrified.
The closer I looked, the more eyes lit up from the darkness. And before I knew it, I was surrounded. Yellow eyes stared at me from all sides. I heard them growling loudly. A defeated whimper left my throat. I was all alone. Always alone.
I heard the growling approach. They came for me. I trembled with fear. I didn’t want this. I didn’t want to be alone. Something was approaching. I could feel it. My eyes were still wide open, but all I saw was shadows.
I stared as my end, cloaked in night black fur, got closer and closer. If this were to mean my end, I would meet it with open eyes. I wouldn’t look away. My mind was a mess of voices trying to deliver warnings and life saving advice. I didn’t listen to any of them.
A distant brain cell could barely formulate that I had experienced this before. It took me a full second, given that my head wouldn’t cooperate, but then I realized immediately...the dream I had the night I met Bethany.
I tried to recall what I remembered about that dream, but my mind wouldn’t cooperate. I wanted to remember. I desperately tried to cling to what had brought me comfort in that dream. And then I remembered.
I blinked frantically a few times and my vision returned. But I immediately wish it hadn’t. I stared straight into a pair of yellow eyes and did the first thing that came to mind.
I may not have had much of a comparison, but this wolf was a lot bigger than Jade. The animal grunted dangerously, exposing its razor sharp teeth. Streams of drool slid between those teeth, as if he longed just the thought of my flesh in his mouth.
It wanted to hurt, maim and tear me to pieces. I knew that with all certainty. Running away was pointless. I would die here.
Face to face with my death, I expected to see my parents. My loving, carefree parents who have given me all the happy years of my life. But as much as it confused me, it wasn’t them I most wanted to be with at the time.
The one I saw gave me all the soothing feelings I longed for for so long. My safe haven. My home. I wanted to go to him.
And then, out of nowhere, he was there. In the flesh, in physical form. He was here.
He towered over me and held the creature that had threatened me in his claw. When I took a closer look, I noticed that its claw was buried throughout the wolf’s body. The tips of his nails became visible on the other side of the animal and gleamed with blood.
He looked at me from over his shoulder. His eyes were blood red. The same bloodshot eyes that had saved me twice now, once in real life, and once in my dream. I could trust those eyes. Those red eyes were different.
My emotions and I were in a big mess. I didn’t know him. We do, a faint voice whispered to me. We know everything we need to know. We know who he is, who he is to us. That’s all that matters.
And then I broke down completely.
I let everything in at once and started to cry like I had never done before. I couldn’t stop it. My loud, desperate cries penetrated the deepest darkest part of the forest.
It was as if his presence brought down the dam, on which I had spent so many years carefully building it, with only one simple movement. But this was more than just this one moment.
This was all the pain I ever suppressed. Everything I could never have gotten over my heart to share with anyone. The loss of my beloved parents. The shame of being abandoned as a baby. The question of what I did to deserve eyes like these. The fact that I was forced to live in a shed that no one even wished for their worst enemy to call home. That my once happy life had turned into a true nightmare.
It hurts so much. It hurts so much it was almost unbearable.
I felt it physically happen. The pain from my stomach moved to my chest, to my heart. And it slowly started to break. I felt it, and I was swallowed by it. I didn’t do anything about it. I just let it happen.
I also had not been able to keep my word to face my end with open eyes. My eyes were squeezed so tight it gave me a headache. I just wanted everything to go away. I wanted it to be quiet. I desperately pressed my hands to my ears to muffle the sounds, but it was useless.
I still heard the sounds of the on going battle. Warning growls were answered with vengeful snarls. A moment later I could just hear heavy bodies being thrown to the ground.
It was no question for me who would win this battle. No matter how many they were, they didn’t stand a chance against him. I had seen what he was capable of.
That thought was somewhat calming. And slowly, after it had turned my whole insides upside down, the inner storm subsided. And so everything slowly became quiet again. Not only within me, but also around me. The battle seemed to be over.
My body had emptied completely and now I was nothing more than an empty shell. I was drawn to the last drop of energy and hung lifeless against the tree.
My mind, on the other hand, went on full speed. The king may have saved me, but that didn’t explain why he was here in the first place. Although I had not literally said goodbye, Bethany was aware that I would be leaving around this time. There had been no reason for him to be here now, although I was grateful he was.
I didn’t know where I got the strength from, but I finally managed to open my eyes. I felt my body’s initial reaction to recoil further back, but simply the strength was no longer there.
I looked around in astonishment. Everywhere I looked there were body parts, blood and what looked like internal organs. If I had to say it in the blink of an eye, I think it would have been more than fifty opponents. But when I looked at him, he just stood there. He was unharmed. They hadn’t even managed to inflict the slightest injury on him.
As my gaze slid up slowly and met his, I saw that he had already turned his full focus on me. Again I immediately felt the same inexplicable feeling from earlier that evening. That little thread that seemed to be invisibly stretched between us. I wanted him to get closer. I wanted to touch him, feel again that warmth I had felt when he had protected me from those falling rocks. I then put my arms around him without thinking about it. I hadn’t been in such a warm embrace since my parents had been alive. I didn’t want him ever to let go, which was a ridiculous thought considering he was a ten foot wolf-like creature.
I just sat there. He was just standing there. Neither of us seemed capable of any movement. Seconds ticked by. It was as if nothing wanted to disturb our moment, because even the insects kept quiet.
I tilted my head and studied him closely. I saw something in his eyes that looked like uncertainty. He scraped his paws restlessly in the sand, as if he wanted nothing more than to get closer, but at the same time didn’t want to startle me either. Without thinking, I slowly raised my hand and held it out to him. It was no effort for me, not when it came to him.
His eyes widened and he was right in front of me that same second. He was so huge, especially from my position on the ground. I didn’t even want to know what I should have looked like in his eyes at the time. My hair was likely to be a bird’s nest and my whole face was wet and scratched. I suppressed the urge to let my vain side prevail and hide my face, mainly because I didn’t want to miss anything of his face myself.
I didn’t even think about this inexplicable attraction between us anymore. Right now I just yearned with all my heart for kind words, a soothing touch, and the promise that everything would be okay. Maybe he could offer me that? Maybe I could find everything I ever dreamed of with h-
It happened so quickly that I didn’t immediately realize what was happening. But a second later I was hoisted over a muscular shoulder and held in place by a claw that was placed around my ass without any embarrassment.
Even if I had known what I wanted to say, there would not have been a moment for it. Because before I could properly open my mouth he had already started running. Immediately I felt strange tingling from under his touch all over my body. Then my energy level shot up again. It was like being energized and fully charged again.
I was eventually forced to close my eyes to prevent nausea and vomiting. The trees passed so quickly that they all became blurred after a while. Furthermore, the jerking movements he made did not benefit my stomach. I wanted to protest because I knew very well where he was taking me. And that was the last place I wanted to be at the moment. Not only because that place had terrified me, but also because it would have required me to face both Bethany and him.
I don’t know how he did it, but he managed to complete the journey that had taken me hours in just a few minutes. By the time we got back, the sun was starting to rise slowly. He was already walking the paved path towards the main entrance.
In the meantime I had regained my senses to resist. I hit his upper back with my fists and demanded to be put down immediately. He ignored me completely and carried me all the way to a room where I had never been before.
The walls were dark red and covered with beautiful artifacts. The floor was light wood mixed with dark. There hung a huge candle filled chandelier from the ceiling and I saw a bed even bigger than the one I had slept in all those days with a satin duvet the same color as the wall. This was possibly the most beautiful bedroom I had ever seen.
I had momentarily been taken back to the beauty, but then felt myself being put down again. Unlike before, he did it carefully this time. But as soon as my feet hit the ground, he was alert, as if he was afraid I might run again. I’d be lying if that wasn’t the first thought that crossed my mind, but in that very second the doors he slammed shut just before opened again and Bethany came in. She looked more neglected than I’d ever seen her, still in the same dress from the party and with dark circles under her eyes.
As soon as she saw me, she came running straight to me and threw herself into my arms. What I thought was pure relief and fatigue, she began to cry. I immediately felt more at ease. I put my arms around her and patted her head sympathetically.
“It’s okay. Everything will be fine,” I said encouragingly.
After a while I let go of her and looked down at her. “I understand you’re upset, Beth. A lot has happened tonight. But what I don’t understand is why your brother felt it necessary to bring me back here. I already made it clear to you that I have to go home,” I said, somewhat sternly.
The only logical explanation was that Bethany had asked her brother to bring me back. Bethany, who had dried her tears and recovered herself, looked uncertainly across the room. Almost as if the answer was written on one of the walls. When she seemed about to respond, someone else was already ahead of her. Alaric immediately stepped forward, his whole face contorted with rage. In this animal form, I’ll be the first to honestly admit that it looked really terrifying. Still, I didn’t feel the urge to turn away from him. I just looked at him slightly surprised. Bethany took a deep breath, bringing my attention back to her.
“I’m sorry, Maggie. But I don’t think that’s possible,” she said gently. I immediately let go of her and stepped back suspiciously.
“What are you talking about?” I asked her.
“You see,” Bethany continued, “my brother made a discovery earlier tonight. And it is something that concerns you too”. She fiddled nervously with her hands and apparently didn’t dare to look at me anymore, because her eyes were on the floor. And before Bethany could say anything again, Alaric had opened his mouth again.
“Mine,” he said simply, “Mate”.
It was as if he was claiming something. His voice left no room for contradiction. I stared from him to her, over and over, without saying a word. Because what was there to say, because I had no idea what they were talking about.
“Mate” I repeated, confused.
And then it dawned on me. Yesterday’s conversation with Bethany. The hopeful look in her eyes that one day she would meet her mate. And then what she told me about her brother.
“My brother has no mate. Nobody knows why. He himself is convinced that he does not deserve it, because of everything he has done in the past. That the moon goddess does not experience him as worthy, but I do not believe it”.
“No” I said softly, while my head started to shake of its own accord, “No, that can’t be”.
Memories I had not asked for began to emerge. The feeling that I knew him and wanted to be around him all the time. The tingles I’d felt every time we touched each other. The voice I had heard before that brought me so much rest.
“I’m not going to let anything happen to you. You’re safe with me”
I only became more restless as I remembered even more of what Bethany had said: “When wolves turn eighteen we are able to find our mate. Or in human terms, our soulmate. Our other half, a perfect match chosen especially for us by our moon goddess. The mother of all wolves. Our mate must keep us in balance, make us stronger, protect us. A mate for a wolf is like a true love for a human. You only have one,”.
I began to walk away from them step by step. Both their faces showed something completely different. Bethany was all concerned. Alaric, on the other hand, was possessive.
If what Bethany said was true, and I meant to her brother what Cayden meant to her, I knew he wouldn’t let me go.
For the second time that night, I felt all the energy pouring out of my body and I fell to my knees.
I thought about home. It wasn’t much, it never had been and probably never would, but at least it was all mine. I could do whatever I wanted there, make my own decisions.
I’m not exactly sure why. Maybe it was the uncertainty or the fatigue, but I was unable to look at this from a positive side. I couldn’t compete with this. He wanted, demanded, that I stayed here. I saw that clearly. He wanted me to stay in a place where I didn’t belong, where I didn’t feel comfortable, a place that terrified me.
I was attracted to him, there was no denying that. But always when I had thought of my beloved, I had, in all fairness, something else in mind.
I dreamed of someone I could talk to for hours. Someone who, despite all my flaws, still looked at me as if I was worth every bit of happiness in the world. Someone who made me laugh, who could ease the pain and take me seriously. Someone who would protect me, not someone who want to claim me. But someone who saw me an equal.
And it was unlikely to find that in the growling creature that currently stood in front of me. I took a stuttering breath and let my shoulders hung.
“B-But I don’t want this,” my voice came weakly, before tears flow down my cheeks.