The Queen in Shadows

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Chapter 15

She gets up from her seat quickly, closing the distance between us, pulling me into a tight hug. I’m too shocked to return the gesture.

“Noelle! I’m so glad to meet you!” Her voice is as elegant as she is, warm and silky, it matches her perfectly. Phoenix got his piercing blue eyes from her. The same windom and kindness pour out of them.

“I...Y-Your majesty,” I bow my head.

“Oh, Darling, I’ve been convicted of treason! I am no longer “your majesty!” She laughs. When Phoenix and I don’t laugh she straightens her shoulders and makes her face serious. “Too soon to laugh about it? Sorry. Please, call me Helene.”

“Helene,” I almost whisper.

“I saw you at my trial,” she says casually. I choke, she recognizes me from the trial? How?

“You were the only person watching that didn’t look like they were enjoying it.” She says with a small laugh,

Phoenix and I frown. How is she taking this so well? She was convicted of treason and she’s awaiting execution, yet she’s very cavalier about the whole thing.

“Mom, let’s eat, please.”

The Queen grabs my hand and pulls me toward the table. I look at the food and begin to feel nervous. I’ve never eaten any of the foods they have here. I recognize bread, but it looks fancy and different from the flour and water mixture we eat. Everything smells amazing but I’m afraid I’m going to make a fool of myself.

“Ellie? Everything ok?”

“Yes,” my voice is small.

“You don’t like any of this?” He asks me quietly.

“I’ve never tried any of this,” my cheeks heat, embarrassed.

He looks stunned, then ashamed.

“I’m sorry, Ellie. I... I didn’t realize.”

He links my hand in his. We stand together, silently for a moment, both embarrassed. Me, by my obviously impoverished circumstances. Him, by his excessive wealth.

“That is nothing for you to be ashamed of, Noelle,” the Queen says softly. “Your life is out of your control. Don’t be embarrassed for being born oppressed, that shame is ours.”

Phoenix hangs his head. I squeeze his hand to get his attention. When he looks up at me, I mouth “it’s alright.”

“You forgive us too easily, Ellie,” his voice is sad but he smiles and squeezes my hand.

The Queen begins serving the food, putting small portions on our plates. I sit in stunned silence. Not only is a vampire serving me, the Queen is serving me. I discreetly pinch the skin on my arm. I’m eating lunch with the Prince and the Queen. How did my life get to this place? I think back to our conversation earlier, when I told Phoenix that I trust him. I meant it. Despite everything, our monumental differences, the secrets still held between us, I really do trust him.

“This is delicious.”

Phoenix ′ face breaks into a wide grin, causing me to do the same. I flinch slightly when my cheek aches from the movement. Phoenix′ jaw ticks when he sees.

The Queen reaches over and squeezes my hand, noticing the momentary pain, too. “You know, I had to talk Phoenix out of having Lady Vicioso punished. He was very upset last night.”

“I’m actually still upset. She can’t touch her like that," he growls.

“It’s sweet that you care, Phoenix, but really, she is allowed. Legally, what she did isn’t wrong.” I tell him.

His face twists in anger, “it shouldn’t be legal.”

“What is and what should be are very different things, son,” the Queen says softly.

“What is this?” I try to change the subject, uncomfortable with his anger over my treatment. I’ve actually been very lucky, only on the receiving end of physical abuse three times. That’s nothing compared to most servants, and definitely nothing compared to wolf slaves.

“It’s salmon, Ellie. Do you like it?”

I smile at her use of Phoenix ′ nickname for me. “Yes, very much.”

“Do you mind if I use your nickname?”

“That’s not my normal nickname. Only Phoenix calls me that but you can too.”

“Wait, what is your nickname?” He asks.

“My family calls me Elle.”

“Do you want me to call you that?”

“No!” I answer much too quickly, “I like it. You can call me Ellie.”

He smiles and links our hands together under the table.

“Ellie it is!” The Queen says smiling “I’m so happy to meet you.”

We eat mostly in silence, occasionally making some small talk. Phoenix definitely gets his calming aura from his mother. I feel safe, cared for. My wolf is elated when we talk about the forest. The three of us seem to share a mutual love for nature, the forest in particular. We talk about swimming and the botanical gardens. I feel completely at ease. They don’t think my love of flowers is ridiculous or useless like my uncle. After a few hours pass the Queen stands up, sadly.

“I’m afraid it is time for our visit to end. Arius has been coming in the afternoons and I don’t want him to see you here.”

Phoenix tense,s “Arius has been coming here? Why?”

“Go, Phoenix , I can handle him.”

The mood in the room changed quickly. Phoenix is now pulling me quickly towards the door.

“Wait, give us one more minute, son.” Helene grabs my other hand, pulling me gently into a hug.

“He will need you when I’m gone,” she whispers quietly into my ear. “Be there for him, Ellie, please. Trust him. Don’t be afraid of him.” When we separate her eyes are filled with tears. “It was an honor and a gift to meet you, sweet Ellie.”

My lip quivers, I pull her toward me again, whispering only to her, “the honor, truly, is mine. I wish I could express how grateful I am to you, for everything.” I try to emphasize “everything” so she will understand that I don’t just mean lunch.

When we pull away again she wipes a tear from my cheek. “Remember what I told you.”

Phoenix hugs her quickly,“I’ll be back tonight. We have to hurry. I don’t want Arius to see her now.”

With that we quickly leave the room, I take one last glance at the Queens face before I’m pulled down the dark hallway. Phoenix walks so quickly to the trolley I have to jog to keep up. He speeds away, taking me in the opposite direction of anything familiar.

“Who is Arius?”

He grinds his teeth together, a growl rumbling deep in his throat.

“He is a vile, conniving worm that speaks poison into my father's ear.”

“Oh,” I say stupidly, how do you respond to that?

He parks the trolley at the edge of the forest, sighing and rubbing his hands over his face.

“My father has never been a good man but he wasn’t always a monster. There was a time, not even that long ago, that he loved my mother. I remember it. I don’t know how he did it, but... it’s almost like he is the King and my father is just his mouthpiece. Arius is a cruel manipulator who somehow has my fathers ear, exclusively. He doesn’t consult with anyone anymore, there is no counsel, just Arius and my father. They are planning something, we all know it, we just don’t know what it is. My father would never have done any of this to my mother without Arius. Her views have never changed, she’s been a “radical thinker” since before they married. Arius is getting rid of her.”

We walk into the woods together. I reach out and grab his hand. If someone had told me a few days ago that I would be walking through the woods with a sweet, handsome prince, I would never have believed it. My wolf is clawing at me, begging to be let out. We stop at a fallen tree, Phoenix sits and pulls me to sit on his lap. He lays his head on my shoulder, his face in my neck.

“I’m sorry about your dad.”

“I don’t know what I can do about it. He won’t even see me without Arius present. What kind of father won’t see his own son?”

“I wish there was something we could do. It feels kind of helpless. Maybe we can find a sneaky way to get your father alone.”

“A sneaky way?” He laughs.

“Yeah, you know. Maybe you could set up a meeting with Arius, then, when he’s could, not show up. Go see your father while he’s alone.”

He pulls back to look at my face, a sweet smile on his lips. He kisses my forehead, then my nose, then my cheek. My body feels like it's on fire, his lips against my skin igniting something in me.

“I tried that,” he chuckles, “great minds think alike.”

“It didn’t work?”

“No, he was there with my father when I went to him.”

“We’ll think of something, Phoenix . That was a pretty solid plan. We can come up with something better together.”

“Hey, Ellie... um... What happened to your parents? You mention your aunt and uncle but never your parents.”

“They died when I was four.”

“Do you remember them?”

“I remember my dad a lot more than my mom.”

“Was it... did they die...because of vampires?”

“Yes,” I whisper.

“Shit, I’m so sorry, Noelle.”

“I don’t blame you for anything, Phoenix . Please, don’t feel guilt over it.”

“I feel guilt, Ellie. It’s my kind, the world we created, that got your parents killed.”

I want to tell him. I want him to look at me with such gentleness and care, to kiss me softly, to call me Ellie, when he knows who I am. I want him to know me, completely, to accept me as a wolf and to trust me as I do him. Right now, he accepts me as a human, it doesn’t seem to bother him, but it doesn’t really mean anything. A wolf is something even lower. A wolf is an inferior, unsavory, expendable slave. I want to tell him what I am but I’m afraid. He’ll turn on me. I won’t be Ellie anymore, I’ll be trash.

I freeze when his lips lightly press against my neck. His arms snake around my waist and squeeze me, pulling me into his chest. Something about his lips on my neck makes it hard for me to keep control of myself. My wolf is pushing to the surface.

“Come back tomorrow, please.”

“I can’t, Phoenix . I need to get another job.”

We can’t survive without my salary. Today was a dream and tomorrow I need to go back to reality, back to my place in the world.

“Ellie, I’ll take care of that. I’ll take care of you. Please come back.”

Yeah, he’ll take care of it, until he finds out I’m a wolf, or until he finds out what my family is involved in. I pull myself off of his lap, I need space. He is bewitching me.

His soft lips, his easy smiles, his hand locked with mine.

He is going to pick his wife in six days.

My whole body aches at the thought of him with anyone else. I feel physically ill, I need to get away from him, right now. I can't allow this to continue.

“I need to go home, Phoenix . Right now. I need to leave.”

“Whoa, Ellie. What’s happening?”

“Nothing Phoenix , I just need to go. Please.”

“Wait, no. Did I do something wrong? What happened?”

“You kissed me!”

“I...yes...that upset you? I’m sorry. Please stay, I won’t do it again!”


“Please, don’t go Ellie. You’re...”

“Stop!” I cover my ears with my hands, running back toward the trolley. Shit. The trolley. I didn’t think this through. How am I going to get back to the entrance? I don’t know where I am.

“Please, Phoenix . Please take me back” tears spill down my cheeks.

“Ok, Ellie. I’ll take you back. Don’t cry please.”

We don’t speak as he drives me back to the gate. Before the trolley even stops fully I jump up and run for the gate without looking back.

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