The Crown that Was Never Meant to Be

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Chapter Eight

"This is Jewel, then?"

Cazriel sat across from Jewel and Ember, almost watching her with those unnerving, unseeing silver eyes of his.

Ember held her hand above the table, a comforting presence in this new, almost intimidating hall.

It wasn't a dining room. Not with it's intricate crown molding, the beautiful chandelier, the long table, and the fancily carved chairs. No, it was a dining hall suited for a king.

The only thing missing were fancy colored glass windows.

"This is Jewel, yes," Ember replied, giving Gwendolyn a smile as she placed a plate of chicken before the two.

Just one plate, because she somehow knew that Jewel couldn't eat much.

Somehow knew, because her mate was a seer, who already knew everything about her.

Cazriel smiled, his unseeing eyes softening. "It's nice to meet you, Jewel."

She didn't reply. She just continued to monitor him and his wife, ready to bolt the moment anything turned sour.

She knew she was being ridiculous, but it was in her nature to fear and to flee.

He sighed, shaking his head. Lifting it, he warned Ember, "It's going to take her a long, long time to be able to trust anyone. Even you."

"I know," Ember said, giving Jewel a small smile, "But I'm willing to walk that path with her, no matter how long it'll take."

She almost smiled. Almost, save for the fact that she didn't think she knew how to smile.

Hell, she knew she couldn't. Especially not with half of her face unresponsive.

She could smirk. She could not smile.

So she just lowered her head in what she hoped was acceptable thanks. He gave her hand a gentle squeeze, letting her know he understood.

"You know," Cazriel said, very, very carefully.

Jewel braced herself for whatever he would say next.

Whenever anyone used that sort of tone, it was because they were about to say something they knew would hurt. And she was not in the mood to start crying again.

"Ember could heal the eye, if you wanted," Cazriel said, "The scar, too."

"No," Jewel whispered, her voice shaking, "No."

Ember's hand tightened around hers, and she found herself gripping him tightly.

"Relax, love," Ember mumbled, pressing a kiss to her hair, "I'll do nothing you don't want."

She whimpered, thumping her head on his chest.

"Oh, sweet heart," Gwendolyn murmured, nothing put pity in her voice.

"Here," Ember nudged her away from him, toward the plate, "Let's try to eat something, okay?"

She just looked up at him as if telling him she couldn't get anything down.

"You can, Jewel. You think you can't, but you can," he assured her, his thump brushing against her hand.

She did not believe him. At all.

"Just try for me, okay? If you start feeling nauseous, I can ease it," he promised, leaning his forehead against hers.

She began to tremble, and she tightened her hand on his.

"It's going to be okay," he promised, "I'm here, love. I'm yours."

"You promise?" she whispered, her voice shaking.

"I promise," he replied, cupping her cheek.

He held the side of her face she couldn't feel, but with the rustling of hair, she knew it was there.

His lips pressed against her forehead. When he drew back, he said, "When we get home, we'll cuddle. When you're ready, you're taking a shower, and then we'll go to bed, okay?"

She nodded, leaning away from him. Turning her attention to her plate, she studied the food.

Gwendolyn had already cut the chicken into little pieces for her. The cooked carrots had been chopped up as well, the other vegetables soft and small enough that they didn't need cut up.

Swallowing nervously, she picked up the fork. Hesitation plagued her long enough that Ember stabbed a piece of chicken with a claw and plopped it into his mouth. After swallowing, he smiled.

"It's safe, love. And it tastes wonderful," he said.

She nodded, stabbed a piece of chicken, and bit off a corner.

It tasted absolutely wonderful.

She waited a moment after swallowing, to make sure the meat didn't come back up, before she took another bit. It tasted just as good as the first.

It didn't take long for her to finish the piece. She made to eat another, but Ember guided her fork toward the vegetables.

"You can't have a diet of pure meat, love," he said.

She didn't question it. He knew what he was saying, after all.

She ate about a fourth of the vegetables before he let her return to the meat.

"Is there anything else you like?" Gwendolyn asked, watching Jewel eat, almost proud of herself for making something Jewel enjoyed.

She swallowed, took that moment to make sure it stayed down, and said quietly, "I like turkey."

Gwendolyn smiled. "Then the next time you come over, I'll make you turkey."

Again, Jewel almost smiled. Again, she dipped her head in thanks, and Ember nudged her back to her food.

Gods, she hadn't realized how much she could actually eat when she paced herself.

Ember had to slow her once, a sign Gwendolyn took as a compliment.

"How old are you, sweet heart?" Gwen asked.

Jewel hesitated.

How old was she?

She honestly did not know.

"I-I'm not sure," she whispered.

Gwen glanced to her husband, who sighed.

"Darling, I'm not supposed to just give out information," Cazriel said.

"I'm sure the gods can deal with you telling her how old she is," Gwen said.

Cazriel sighed. "You're twenty one. Your birthday was three months ago. Your father visited you then. His last visit before Angelica showed up."

Jewel blinked.

Now that she thought about it, he had wished her a happy birthday. He'd also brought her another stuffed puppy, both a birthday gift and an announcement.

"A year and a few months younger than I am, then," Ember said.

She blinked.

"My twenty third birthday is two months off," he said.

She offered him a nod. She didn't know what else to do.

He, however, kissed her hair and mumbled, "Happy late birthday, Jewel."

Her lips quirked upward briefly, but she did not smile.

"I'm going to get a smile out of you if it's the last thing I do," he murmured against her ear before he pressed a kiss to her cheek and again guided her to her food.

She'd almost cleaned the plate, she noticed.

"Ember," Cazriel said.

Ember lifted his head, turning his attention toward the man.

"I'd have her stop eating if you don't want her throwing up tonight," the man said.

Jewel dropped the fork. A fear flooded into her, and she began shaking.

Every night in that prison, she'd thrown up. She'd left, and it'd stopped. If it started again, if she started throwing up again-

She let out a terrified whimper.

"Love," Ember murmured, his hand squeezing hers, "Calm down. You'll be okay. I'm here."

Another whimper escaped her lips, and he drew her into his lap. Wrapping her arms around herself, she snuggled into his chest.

"I'm going to be beside you tonight. If you wake up feeling nauseous, you tell me, and I'll ease it, okay?" Ember promised.

She pressed her face into his chest, nodding.

He pressed a kiss to her hair, wrapping her up in a loving embrace.

"Whenever you're ready, we'll go get you those new clothes, okay, love?" Ember said.

Oh. Right.

She'd almost forgotten the second reason he'd taken her out. One, to meet Cazriel. Two, to get her some new, clean clothes.

She nodded. He kissed her hair yet again, murmuring, "Let me know when you're ready, okay, love?"

Again, a nod. He went quiet, a hand comfortingly rubbing her back. Gwendolyn gathered up the leftovers on Jewel's plate, neatly transferring them into a small container, and gave Jewel a gentle smile.

"You're always welcome to come back if you want any more," the old woman said.

Jewel nodded, and Gwendolyn took her dishes into the kitchen. Cazriel watched his wife leave, then shifted his gaze to Jewel.

"I don't say this to scare you, Jewel, but this next year is going to be the best and the worst year of your life," Cazriel said.

The trembling returned.

No, it was not meant to scare her, but it sure as hell did.

"Caz," Ember warned.

"It's going to be just as bad for you, Ember," Caz said.

Ember frowned, but did not reply. He just nodded, kissed Jewel's hair, and held her a little closer.

"Be careful with her," Cazriel said, "And you'll all make it out alright."

Again, he nodded. Cazriel then smiled, and said, "There's a sweater down isle three that Jewel is going to love."

Ember snorted, rolling his eyes. He smiled, however, and he looked down at Jewel. "Then I suppose we should go get it."

She just nodded.

They left soon after saying goodbye to Gwendolyn, heading for the mall. In fact, Jewel found a sweater that she nervously presented to Ember, one she found she liked quite a lot.

The trembling, however, didn't leave her until they made it home.
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