WOOD AND HONEY
TROY HEPHAESTUS ARVENALDI
I have receded from the crowd of my companions after the scent of her skin fills the air, no matter the strength I put into resistance; that sweet as honey and woody aroma will always pull me in deeper than I should be.
“Troy, we will be fencing before our run with your uncle, will you be there?” My companion Amias asks as I make it down the hall.
“Yes,” I nod, “I will be there, I’ll find you later.” I say, escaping him once more.
My head instinctively turns to the direction of where Mallory could be, my senses heightening as the redolence of her lingers closely; I catch sight of her long, dark curls swinging around the corner to the dining hall. As the door to the dining area pushes open, my eyebrows immediately furrow. What could she possibly need from here? It is her time of rest, and she must take it after the strenuous work she willingly took over when she should have had her first chance to rest. If I had a say in what chores she partakes in without being questioned for my actions, she would be working the least of every servant in this palace.
Her heart is too large; that is one of the first traits I discovered about her; she takes on one too many duties from the elderly servants so they can have their own rest—while she works to unbelievable hours of the day. She grows to be so worried about others, that she forgets to worry for herself. The proportion of her work is not uniform to the amount of fare she should be consuming, and I know for fact that she is not consuming enough; it is evident in her appearance.
The clanking of plates and silverware registers as to why she has come here. When has she been assigned the task to clean after we all have eaten? This is rarely ever her chore, if anything; it is never her duty to clean after we have dined.
Has mother made changes that I am not aware of? I specifically asked her to keep me conscious of my servants, particularly this one.
My feet move me swiftly through the door with silence and speed before it can completely close. I peer across the room to the woman before me, she is carrying multiple large plates to a wooden bin; carefully placing each one into it. As Mallory stands up straight, she wipes her hands against the apron wrapped around her waist. She still has yet to recognize my presence not too far from behind her. I slowly approach closer, nearing this chastising savor only she can hold.
“Would you allow me to summon another to take this over from here?” Mallory jumps with a quiet gasp as she turns to face me, the moment her bosky eyes recognize and set on my face, they drift to the floor.
Annoyance rises, I hate that we cannot gaze upon one another; the unremitting rule for all servants are no eye contact with a royal of any stature, it is their so-called form of disrespect . . . I am not even allowed the solitude of knowing the shape of her eyes as they watch me, see every shade of green within her iris, understand how she feels with just a glance. I am being deprived of every little thing I should be able to know.
Her bone ridged chest slowly rises and falls beneath her deeply golden skin, my throat goes dry seeing how infirm she is.
Mallory holds her hands tightly in front of her, she is trying to suppress it, yet the tremble moving over her fingers is apparent. She continues to stay silent and my head slowly shakes.
“I will summon another to clean the dining room . . . please, go take rest.” Her full pink lips part to respond, for a moment it seems as if she has forgotten her words.
“It—it is my day to clean the dining hall.” She tries to say confidently.
I find a small smile hearing the gentleness of her tone; how it flows like a soft melody to put one to sleep.
“May I ask you something?” My head tilts like a child as she looks behind me and over to the door, avoiding me at all costs.
“I am afraid not, Your Majesty. Where are your guards?” Mallory asks continuing to glance around.
“It is difficult to avoid them, not impossible.” My head dips down to catch her gaze and she quickly adverts her eyes, turning slightly. My agitation reappears.
“I am not very fond of it when you do that.”
Her head slowly shakes. “I have to finish my chore . . .” her voice is barely a whisper as she speaks.
“You and I both know well enough that this chore does not belong to you; you may leave, go back to the servant grounds—I will have food brought to you.” My stomach turns uncomfortably seeing how fragile she looks. Skin and bone—one touch and I fear she would shatter like glass.
“That is kind of you, but I will politely decline.” I flinch at her words, has her malnourishment caused her to go mad?
“I—I am given my meals of the day; I am fed just as well as the others.” I do not need to meet her eye to know she is lying.
“And when was the last time you ate one of those meals provided?” I am constantly on high alert that she works too often to stop and receive one of the two meals provided; food is brought to the servant grounds for morning meal and supper. She is missing at least one a day, if not both.
We both stand in silence; the only sound is our breathing resonating in the large room. My hands run over my face in frustration, realizing I will not get a word out of her.
“Go,” I whisper. “You must eat, and you must rest. You are not being given a choice.”
Mallory quickly nods before rushing away, the large wood door is pulled open as she disappears behind it; leaving me with only a lingering, sweet scent.
I look around the room before scratching my chin, I remove my vest, placing it on the back of a dining chair. Following in her tracks, I gather the dirty plates, putting them into the wood bin she previously placed others in. After I finish clearing the table of the dining-ware, I push in the chairs, but I stop at one when a smell hits me so deeply to my core, I feel drunk.
The beige and white scarf is very well known to me, I place it over my shoulder; the essential oils imbedded into the fabric wrap around me, trapping me like a vice. Visions of previous dreams begin to flow through my mind, my eyes shut; forcing them away.
Looking down to the wooden bin full of dirty plates, I become unsure of what to do next. I cannot leave it here unless I wish for the guards who make sure the area is clean, to go after Mallory; and I am not in the mood to kill a man for laying a hand upon her.
“What a strange sight,” I turn to Amias as he watches me from the door of the dining room. “Prince Troy, cleaning? Rare.” He simpers.
“Do not become a pest, Amias. I am doing this because I must. Now, help me gauge where the hell this bin is to go.”
He shrugs holding his hand out deliberately. “Perhaps a kitchen?” His tone is laced with sarcasm, my eyes taper, and his expression softens. “Troy, what on earth are you cleaning for?” Amias chuckles.
“I already told you.” I say, I cannot tell him the full truth just yet.
He watches me precariously before nodding. His hand grabs one side of the bin and I grab the other. Both of us are capable of carrying this weight alone, yet the wood bin by itself is too much for someone of Mallory’s size to carry. How in the name of all God’s did she plan to maneuver this alone?
“Where did you get that scarf from?” Amias asks.
“I found it on the back of the chair, I will determine who it belongs to.”
THE PIERCING SOUND OF Quamfasi silver colliding together electrifies in the air, bouncing off the trees and echoing over the river. The shrieking blare startles outlying does and their fawns, causing them to rush by in a flare; birds move through the air, their wings shaking autumn leaves from the trees.
If we have any strong suit other than being born werewolves and given the gifts of power; it is our agility with swords. Since the day Amias and I were born, our fathers had this silver intricately crafted as presents of our birth; our mothers obviously frightened by such gifts, we were never allowed to use them until we came of proper age. Although, we did get our hands on them when young and ignorant, soon getting caught after the silver cut through my hand at nine years old. The scar is still deeply imbedded into my palm as a memory of the destruction silver can do.
We grew quickly into our bodies, filling out into men as young teens. Naturally growing wiser and stronger, due to our blood being of werewolf decent. Amias and I were swinging these lethal weapons around before our mothers truly anticipated, our loving bearers may have wanted to keep us safe at all times; and from all beings, but they are the reason we’re the men we are today.
“Did you see the young woman your uncle brought with him from Gordanta?” I swiftly sink below the swing of his blade; it strikes the tree next to me; bark flying from the body in a form of sharp ash.
My eyes roll at his words. “I believe she saw me before I wanted to see her; she laid naked on my chaise when I returned from my run last night.” It has reigned heavy on my mind that Mallory was near when she arrived, I am unaware if she saw her before or after the intrusion. Either way, the sex crazed girl was sent back to the chamber she is staying in with a sheet thrown in her face. Before she left, I warned her to never disrespect me in such a manner for the rest of her time being here—she left this morning and my unease was put to a rest.
“Oh?” Amias grabs his sword from the flesh of the wood. “And did you forget your name when her thighs wrapped around your waist?” He taunts.
The edge of my sword barely misses his thigh and his eyes straiten as mine do.
“Did I press a nerve in virgin Prince Troy?” I angrily whip my sword again; it fiercely whistles through the air; he jumps backward at the unforeseen strike. His movements are sudden after my thrashing—sudden; yet expected.
“You are rather aware that I touch none and bed none, other than the woman that will be my own.”
“Then will you tell the truth as to why you were cleaning the dining hall?” My forearm presses firmly against his throat as my sword blocks his own from gracing my skin. The force field building in my forearm to throw him through these woods suppresses.
A familiar stir flows like butterflies deep within my stomach, as it always does at the slight mention of her.
“Not a chance.”
As swift as an arrow from Apollo’s bow, my feet launch me into the tree above; I have become choreographed to each footing and branch that hides me perfectly.
Silence falls over us, he is circling below the tree in search of me, but this one spot will always keep me hidden from sight; only scent is what one could use to find me. I jump from the tree, the silver in my hands held high, the sharp point directed downward.
Purposefully missing him by a hair, he collapses to the ground beneath my weight; the leaves spring up and move with the direction of the wind, his sword now in my hand; mine implanted deeply into the earth next to his cheek.
The blade ever-so-lightly kisses his neck as he pants.
“And the young servant girl . . . she would not have anything to do with that would she?” Fear arises and I press the epee harder to his neck.
“Your wolf is pushing forward—one eye beaming brightly blue. I know this look, Troy.” His demeanor diverts from playfulness to trepidation. I hiss, pushing away from him, throwing the point of his sword into the side of the tree.
“That is the same expression as my own when other men speak of Philomena.” I naturally begin to pace, feeling my nerves building to an eruption.
“How long have you known?” He asks, watching me trace each and every step back and forth.
“I-I was seventeen . . .” his mien is puzzling as I take a glance at him. I continue on my persistent path.
“My God, Troy,” he rasps out. “You have known for three years and you have not said a thing?”
I laugh shaking my head. “And what would my father say about me being mated to a servant?” He would have her torn to shreds . . .
“Forget what your father would think, have you told her?” He points far off through the woods, down the path to the servant grounds. I helplessly look down the path in hopes of seeing her walking along, even using my vision to its highest capacity; it would be as if seeing her at a glance.
“No, she was barely thirteen,” I exhale hoping to ease the rising tension in my shoulders. “She has yet to come into her wolf and know of me.” I want her to feel what I felt when I found her; she will know the day she comes into her full self that I am bound to her in a manner that is immutable, as she will be bound to me . . . and we shall have one another in all the ways the God’s created.
“And you still have not told her yet, why?”
“You know why.” I stop my consistent stride and sit down, leaning back against the tree. All of the possibilities, all of the horrifying outcomes roam through my mind. My eyes reopen, Amias is sitting in front of me fiddling with an orange leaf.
“Your father has been stuck in his ways for years, I do not think it is possible to get someone as him to revoke the laws of royals and servants not having the right to be mated. What I do believe is that if you speak with him, he may-“
“He won’t . . .” I swallow to rid the dryness in my throat remembering the day. “I have already tried once before; three, actually.”
“You did not tell him it was her, did you?” Amias worries.
“It will be one cold day in hell before I tell him it was about Mallory and myself that I spoke of.” We find silence before our eyes meet again. “Can you do something for me?”
Amias smiles knowingly and nods. “I will look after her while you are in Terseius.” I become filled with reassurance knowing she will still be under trustworthy protection while I am away, it may not be as extensive as mine, yet Amias is an onlooker and protector like no other.
“I don’t-I am not partial to leaving her.” I speak lowly.
“I understand . . .” he nods, not making me say what I fear will happen without my watch over her.
“I am not your right hand for show—although I am a sight for a sore eye.” I chuckle kicking at his shoulder. “Just as you protect Philomena when I am not around, I will protect Mallory.”
“Even from our own selves.”
He simpers and nods. “When needed,” he pauses before looking down to the mark branded in his wrist and mine as well. “I am with you until death, my vow is just as much over her as it is over you.”
As I go to speak, a member of our mandem is vastly approaching. “There you two are,” Alexandros calls. “Alpha Harry is summoning all for our run before supper.”
I nod as he rushes off to where the others are waiting.
Amias stands first, holding his arm out for me to take; I grip onto the hand pulling me from the ground. The hand that will always pull me up no matter the circumstance, as mine will do the same.
FOR THE PAST THREE years I have had to grapple with the pain of having someone so close yet so far, I have become the servant to despair in all of its ways. There once were days that I would ask, why did Apollo pick her for me? Why would my fate be held in the hands of someone I cannot have? And for the most part, someone that cannot have me . . . then I see her, I hear her quiet humming as she performs her duties and every negative thought I once had diminishes. It disintegrates like winter meeting the spring, and just as the sun rises; ridding the snow into poppies, Mallory beams within the flowers; glistening, waiting, as if I am finding her for the first time again.
I have heard stories as a young boy about the lady I would be given—as I grew older, I learned the way to treat my lady to come. I watched the countless men who would bed many women, only to soon find their mate and be rejected in return of their actions. There was a shift in them; their anger untamable, the desperation for connection, the treacherous screaming in the night.
“That is how you will not act.” My mother would whisper. She has bred me into being the man that Mallory deserves; she is already everything and more for me. She thinks I do not see it, yet I am very aware of the tendencies her soul possesses; it is pure, genuine and whole.
“Troy, are you listening, dear?” My eyes flicker to my mother as she watches me intently.
Uncle Harry, my mother and I are discussing my leading of the mandem in Terseius. An outbreak of rouge wolves’ rabid with infection is what we are currently gaining control of. Terseius being the land with the highest grade of injuries and deaths, I am being sent to lead and rid them of the outlanders. This will not be my first time leading a mandem into battle. At eighteen I led Partalos through a war of rebellion; Skiandra Tribes that once ruled Quamfasi returned for revenge years after my father stole what rightfully belonged to them.
That was no easy battle to fight, the Skiandra Tribes are well known for their unusual magic and unbelievable powers. We nearly lost that war until Harry conceded. The Skiandi people did not wish for the land back; for now, it was just a horrid memory, they did not wish for a throne; all they wanted was to be left in peace.
When word got back to my father of Harry’s decisions, he had no choice but to concede as well. His tormenting and taking of their women and children ended that day. It was also that day when it came to my knowledge that Mallory is of Skiandra descent, and my father is the man who took her.
“You set sail at sunrise,” my mother says as she brushes a hand over my hair. “Remember to stay fed, drink and watch over yourself.”
“I am smothering,” her face falls and guilt arises within me.
“You are not smothering, but I am not a boy anymore.” I no longer need to be reminded of such things, although, if it puts her mind at ease to say them; I will allow her to remind me three times over and again.
“When does father return from Gordanta? You seem lonely.”
“Oh, do not worry over me. Your father returns shortly after your return from Terseius—there has been recent word of the Duke needing to keep him longer.”
“Well,” I nod, “stick with Philomena while I am away. I have already asked of her to keep you accompanied while I am gone.” She smiles up to me, placing a gentle hand to my cheek.
“I am proud of the man you have become.” I simper while shaking my head.
“Was I given a choice to turn out otherwise?”
The hand that was touching my cheek pushes gently at my shoulder. “Yes, yes you were.” Her head nods.
“You are given knowledge; it is up to you to retain it and give it purpose. You did exactly that.”
I HAVE REWRITTEN THIS note ten times throughout the night in fear of frightening her, or the possibilities of my words not sounding the way they do in my head, as she reads them.
Reaching across my bureau, I toy with the soft fabric of the white and beige scarf; my left hand simultaneously writing on a blank note card.
Meet me at the East Lake ten sunsets from today. I’ll be awaiting you in the courtyard, find me in the maple tree.