Chapter Twenty-Eight- LIVIA
I’ve heard about The Wall, how massive and indestructible it used to be when magic was woven through it. Even without magic it has stood for hundreds of years--until now.
I stare at the gaping hole, an impressive feat that was said could never happen. And my sister, Vera, is the one responsible for its destruction.
I tilt my head from side to side, trying to stretch out the soreness in my neck. My captor is relentless with his travel; we’ve ridden for two days non-stop, and my body is screaming in protest.
Vera has kept her distance the entire time. It is unnerving being so close, and not to be able to speak to her. I’m sure she’s only following to make sure I am delivered safely to the king. I was hoping Bellek would have talked some sense into her, but with the passing of two days and her not so much as lifting a finger... she has left me on my own. Even so, my emotions are twisted, having a sister near me who massacred an entire room. It plays over and over in my mind. How do I deal with that?
I shake my head. None of it matters. What matters are the people left far behind me. My chest tightens yet again. The image of Amah lying in a pool of her own blood flashes across my mind. Without me there to heal her, she will not survive.
Anger follows but it’s in vain. For the past two days I’ve tried to unleash the dark side of my gift. I even tried to heal my captor, just to see if my gift works at all, but nothing came of that either. I know something is wrong. He is immune somehow. But that shouldn’t happen--should it?
The assassin takes off again. Dread settles over me as we enter the Eastern Kingdom. The cold air from the West falls away and is replaced by a sticky dry heat. The change is sudden, and shocking. Already sweat starts to form on my neck.
Cover from the pines helps shield us from the heat, but it’s not long until we pass through that small comfort, and come face to face with mountainous terrain.
Mountains of rock circle my horizon. They are almost beautiful as they stretch high into the sky, their tops lying hidden amongst the sparse clouds. To the north, a brilliant stone arena rises up from the ground, looking like an extension of the mountains that surround it.
Tufts of grass holding desperately to life poke out from the hard ground below. The sight alone leaves me feeling parched, reminding me I’ve had nothing to drink for two days.
Black Ridge Castle towers above us, muting the sun and casting haunting shadows. Images of different kinds of torture fill my head, causing the beat of my heart to quicken. I pray to the Maker this place won’t be the end of me. I also pray my uncle sends someone after me--and fast.
We pass through a steady flow of people carrying on in what seems to be planned urgency. They ignore us, except for two who come to fetch the horses. The giant assassin dismounts, lifts me to his shoulder and takes me with him. My wrists burn something fierce from the harsh rope he’s used to tie a knot around them.
He takes my arm and guides me through a cave-like structure, then up into the castle. We pass through long corridors with vases placed neatly along the walls and lit torches between each window. The soft rugs under our feet mute our steps. It’s as if the decor tries to balance out the obsidian stone that sucks out the light from everything it can.
I look over my shoulder and see Vera following behind us. The assassin jerks me forward. Anger rushes up and I grit my teeth. I can’t let this place defeat me. I must stay strong.
Two large double doors come into view, manned by red-masked assassins on either side. I focus on my anger and prepare to face the king.
When the doors open, I see the king sitting upon a black, ornate throne. His robes are like dark shadows that match his castle. I had envisioned him to be a harsh looking man, and I’m surprised by blond hair framing an angelic face.
The assassin releases me, and unties my wrists before joining the king on the dais. The king and I look at one another, neither of us looking away. He smiles. “Welcome to the Eastern Kingdom, Princess Livia,” he smiles sweetly. “Your travels must have exhausted you?”
“Of course, I’m exhausted,” I retort. “Don’t demean me so.”
His expression softens. “Please forgive me. It wasn’t my intent.” He snaps his fingers, and a serving girl steps forward.
“A room has been prepared for you,” he says. “I’m sure you are hungry and are in need of a bath. You will find my servants instructed to do whatever you wish.” The corner of his mouth curls up. “Except leave, of course. Once you are presentable, I will come visit you. I’m sure you and I have plenty to discuss.”
I deeply doubt that.
The serving girl grabs my hand and takes me away. Glancing back, Vera watches me with a frown upon her lips. She was probably expecting me to be treated much differently--as was I.
I yank my hand back from the girl.
“I don’t mean to be rude but my wrists are fragile at the moment.”
“Yes, princess. Please forgive me, princess,” she says. “Come this way; we’ll be in your chambers soon.”
Her small voice is kind and I feel shame for speaking to her so harshly. It’s not her fault that she serves a wicked man. So I quietly follow, and try not to cause her any trouble.
She leads me to a large chamber with a fire lit inside. The furniture is simple, unlike the elegance of such rooms back home. No intricate designs or popping colors, only solid reds and golds. A plate of steaming food and bread are placed nearby. My stomach rumbles.
“A bath has been drawn up for you, princess. Right through those doors.” She points across the room to another chamber. “Do you need my assistance?”
I shake my head. “I’ll be fine on my own. Thank you.”
“As you wish, princess. New garments hang inside the standing chest in the corner. They are yours. We took measurements from your sister so they should fit you perfectly.” She turns, and leaves.
I rush over to the food and shove a roll in my mouth. My stomach grumbles in response. I finish off two more rolls and a bowl of soup before I peel off my dust-layered dress that’s covered in blood, and slip into the warm water.
I soak as long as possible, letting the heat caress away the pain. For a hostage, my prison isn’t as harsh as I imagined it would be. But I know these temporary comforts mask the reality of my situation.
When I’m finished, I braid my hair and look through the many gowns. I hope for something simple but I am quickly disappointed. It seems fabric was scarce for the making of these dresses, and I desperately try to find the least revealing one. Once I do, I slip it on and stand in front of the mirror. The neckline plunges down to a point below my breasts, making me fully aware of what isn’t covered. I’m tempted to put the dress I traveled in back on, but it’s filthy and tattered.
A knock comes at my door, and it opens before I have a chance to answer it. King Kgar enters.
I swallow back my nerves as he strolls over to the table and pours two glasses of wine. He hands one to me as his eyes roam over my scarce attire. I tilt my chin up refusing to let my insecurities show.
“Come, let us sit and speak with one another.” He motions to the chairs in front of the fire. I set the wine glass down, having no intention of drinking anything he’s handed me, and follow him over to the chairs.
He leans back and places one leg over the other. “Now, Livia. I’m sure you already know why I have you here. You must know of the prophecy?”
“I don’t, actually. I’ve never been told the prophecy in its entirety.”
His eyes widen. “Really? Interesting. Very interesting.”
“How so?” I ask.
“You are the future queen, the heir of the most powerful queen in all the four kingdoms. It’s surprising how much in the dark they have kept you.”
He has no idea.
King Kgar stands abruptly. “Come with me.”
Silent Watchers flank us the moment we leave my room. I keep up with the king’s long strides as he leads me down a dark corridor; moonbeams cast a dim light ahead of us. Our steps lead us up a stairwell and into a circular room where a roaring fire greets us. A boar’s head is mounted above the mantel, with a slew of weapons surrounding it.
King Kgar walks across the room and pulls back a curtain along the wall. “And here it is. The prophecy.” It’s a large tapestry with the four Guardians woven into the edges. In the middle, large gold letters reveal a prophecy that has been hidden from me my whole life.
On the first day of winter snow, take heed. True blood will be born anew. Be wary of the shadow, for death will follow. Bonding will save him and awaken what dwells inside. Together, nothing can stop them.
I read it again and again. I try to work it out.
“Prophecy is a tricky beast,” Kgar admits. “It seems easy enough, yes? I see you working it through your pretty little head.” He takes my hand.
I try to take hold of him with my gift. I close my eyes but I’m faced with a black wall. Nothing is there. I reach for the other side of my gift and feel its prickle, but the black wall blocks me. I open my eyes to find the king’s wicked smile.
“How?” I ask. “How do you block my gift?”
“You’ll discover I’m full of surprises, my dear princess. One step ahead at all times.” He drops my hand and chuckles to himself as he walks over to the fire. “The prophecy you read states that only bonding can save him, and together nothing can stop them.” He takes something shiny off the mantel, unraveling a long slender chain; there’s a slim collar at the end. “I believe it means that if I bond myself to you in marriage, then together we will rule them all. You being the firstborn and rightful heir to magic.”
I place my hand over my mouth. He is mad! I turn quickly, hoping to escape but run straight into the giant assassin responsible for my capture.
“Ah, Bruce. Do you mind helping me for a moment?” Bruce grabs my arm and pulls me over to the king. His fingers dig into my arm and I bite back the pain. He holds me in place as the king snaps a collar around my neck. “A perfect gift for my perfect bride.”
“I will never marry you!” I snap.
“Yes, you will. Or I will hold you down to sow my seed. You will not deter me from plans that have been in place for sixteen years. If I were you, I would play along.”
“And why would I do that?” I seethe in anger.
“Because if you don’t cooperate you will watch me inflict your punishment upon your dear sister. Although once you bear me children, I will get rid of you just as Bruce, here, did your parents.”
Kgar snaps his fingers and Bruce yanks the chain, making me follow after him. I knew it wouldn’t take long for the king to show his true self. I’m not sure how to stop his mad plans, but there has to be a way to keep this from happening. The thought of producing any children by this monster causes my stomach to roll over.
When we get to my chamber, Bruce loops the chain around my bed post and places a lock on it. This man killed my parents? Anger sweeps through me as I watch him leave. No wonder Amah headed straight towards him. Tears swell up in my eyes.
Kgar is cunning. Being forced to marry him drives my hidden fear straight to surface. I crawl up onto the bed and slide under the covers. The chain keeps me from lying comfortably. There is no way for me to escape this place, and I fear no one can save me. Tears fall down my face. I’m powerless and alone. Not even my own sister can save me now. The tears continue falling until sleep takes me.