Kingdom of Serpents

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Summary

Maude Bellevue is the princess of Ourboros, the most powerful kingdom in the realm, a land littered with betrayal and deceit. Even Maude herself, the princess and heir to the throne, has a secret that could sentence her to death if anyone found out. When she gets kidnapped by the notorious crime lord of the Lower City of Nerisa as a ransom for retribution of the cruelties of the king, what will she do when her secret is a secret no longer? Willl she embrace her destiny and the freedom that is offered to her, or will she stay loyal to her father?

Genre:
Fantasy / Romance
Author:
Helen Granger
Status:
Ongoing
Chapters:
2
Rating:
n/a
Age Rating:
18+

Chapter 1

I tugged him against me and pressed my lips against his desperately as if I were drowning and he a breath of fresh air.
In a way, I was. Drowning in responsibility, in exhaustion, in expectation. The stolen moments I shared with Dalton felt like they were my only moments of escape. He gave me a reprieve I could find nowhere else - a moment where I could stop thinking and instead just…be.
His arms wrapped around me tightly and my fingers slid into his long, chestnut hair.
“Maude,” He murmured against my lips, his hands trailing down my body, my long-sleeve silk dress inhibiting skin-to-skin contact. Yet they were warm, and I felt them nonetheless, shivering from his touch.
“Dalton,” I murmured back, my voice heavy.
His hands moved back up, pulling at my gown. “Come on,” He whispered. “We have time.”
I shook my head, my head clearing from lust at his words.
“Maude,” He murmured huskily in my ear, pulling harder at the sleeves. “Trust me,” He tugged enough to make my shoulder start to rip and panic enveloped me.
“No,” I said sharply, pushing him off and I moved off of the bed, placing a hand over the rip that he had created in my day dress.
“Maude,” He began, a look of concern etched on his face. His Royal Guard attire was disheveled and I turned away, suddenly disgusted by my actions. We could never be anything more, though he always talked of it. I was a princess, meant to take over the throne, he a knight forever tied to protect my kingdom.
My hand remained firmly on my shoulder and I shook my head. “I’ll see you later. Please, leave. My mother will be coming by soon.”
He sighed deeply and stood from my canopied bed, pausing a moment to fasten his belt adorned with his sword and dagger. He waited a moment too long, perhaps for me to say something, anything, but after the prolonged silence, he trudged out of the door.
I only relaxed when I heard the door snap shut and I turned to gaze at the rip that he had made in my dress.
I shut my eyes tightly as I stepped in front of the mirror, afraid of the truth it would reveal. The thing was, that I did trust him. I perhaps loved him, in my own logical, critical way. If it weren’t for…everything else, I would’ve gone farther. Perhaps much farther. Yet, I could never forget who I was pretending to be, no matter the personal cost.
As the daughter of the king and queen of the great kingdom of Ourboros, I was well known across the land. I took after my mother, who was notorious for her looks, and like her, my body curved in all of the right places, the same strawberry blonde hair hanging in curls all the way down to my waist. Freckles dotted my cheeks that, despite the harsh winters of the city of Nerisa, made me look as if I were always kissed by the sun.
My entire life I had been told of my beauty and of the men that would line up for me when I would be married and as such, that was not what I was afraid of seeing in my reflection. It was then that I had learned how much I loathed the attention that followed girls as they stepped into womanhood.
I hesitantly opened my eyes, taking in the appearance I dreaded so greatly. No, it was not the way my breasts had filled in, nor the dip of my waist that had begun to attract the wrong sorts of men.
Instead, it was the intricate, tattooed red ink that had slowly made its way from my left breast, surrounding my heart, to where it was now, inch by inch of delicate ink up to my collarbone. The dress had ripped at the seams, and with my hand no longer covering my collarbone, the tattoo peeked out from the top of the dress.
The artwork was beautiful in every sense of the word, elaborate swirls and depictions inked upon her body, unerasable, yet that did not scare me.
It was what it meant - of it not being ink at all, but the telltale sign of blood magic. Namely, the forbidden magic that had been outlawed for decades now.
I took in a sharp breath as my hand traced the red lines up to above my collarbone where a new swirl had grown. Each passing day the tattoo grew, the nineteenth year the supposed year where a blood magic witch can embrace her power. I flinched at its growth and the severity of my secret was not lost on me. I could let no one see what I hid beneath my gowns.
Ourboros had forbidden the use of magic a century ago during the Great War. The witches at the time had made a play for power, launching the deadliest war in history against Ourboros and the other kingdoms, Delfreth, Volis, Nolridge, and Stadmire.
They were unsuccessful – but only barely. The death toll, in the end, had reached the millions and the king of Ourboros at the time, as the leading and strongest kingdom of the group, vowed to never allow the practice of such devastating magic. The other kingdoms reluctantly followed suit but did little in prosecution compared to Ourboros.
Ourboros for the next fifty years spent every waking moment on an unrelenting mission to defeat anyone associated with the blood witches, tearing apart homes at the tip of another throughout the vast lands, the soldiers as cold as ice. They were unforgiving and killed anyone that was suspected of practicing such magic, for they would rather them be dead and innocent than alive and possess magic.
The city of Nerisa, the capital of Ourboros, was notoriously the worst. Though it thrived in trading with other kingdoms and craftsmanship, the genocide of the witches had caused the Lower City of Nerisa to become very poor, constantly being ransacked by the soldiers, with the Upper City, where the lords and ladies resided, remaining extravagant and elegant.
As the death toll climbed, the divide between the Upper and Lower City had grown tremendously and now was considered too dangerous to visit. It was littered with crime and trouble, and though I was never allowed to leave the castle, my father made me promise to never go there, anyway.
It was why we had been nicknamed the kingdom of serpents – for not only was our royal emblem of the snake but because of the treacherous deceit and betrayal that had riddled the land for years now, all in fear of this magic that had unspeakable ability and power that rivaled royalty itself.
And here I was, a princess of Ourboros, a kingdom that had long despised and persecuted the use of magic, with the same magic brewing inside of me, a traitor in every sense of the word.
When I was younger, I had never thought twice of the strange birthmarks that had begun to grow on my chest. It was only when my mother had helped me into the bath, her face as pale as ice, that I knew something was wrong. Even today, the soldiers had no hesitation in killing anyone suspected of such treachery. Every day after that, my maids no longer helped me bathe or dress, only my mother, and it became our unspoken secret.
As I grew older, my mother had made me swear to never allow anyone else to see my body, for it was a gift to be treasured only by a special few. Soon I would realize that my mother’s intention was to protect me from the servants that could tell the truth of the princess meant to inherit Ourboros – that she had the same gift that my own father had put hundreds of thousands of citizens to death for.
But back then, there was nothing more to do – I simply wore high-necked, long-sleeve gowns to play with others, always dressed alone or with my mother, and became the beloved princess that was now known by so many as the innocent, shy child that did not enjoy hanging with others.
Meanwhile, my mother secretly invited healers and priests of all kinds, begging them for a solution. They had tried all sorts of experiments on me, from brutally painful, cutting my body open, to taking all sorts of herbs and medications for weeks on end. Nothing had worked – and each healer, for the protection of the royals, were subsequently sent to their death to protect me.
Yet, as much as we had avoided trouble in the past, we no longer had precious time to waste pretending that it didn’t exist. For King Edgar, my father and the man known as the King of Serpents no longer had the patience for me to do what he considered ‘gallivanting’ through society. He had decided that I was to be married, to begin producing heirs for the kingdom, and would hear no arguments from me nor my mother.
That was the thing about my father - if something suited his interest, he would do it, no matter the cost.
My mother had subsequently spent the last few weeks reassuring me that it would all be fine, but I knew the truth. No longer was I a girl that believed the fairytales that my mother spewed into my ear. It was not marriage nor marital activities I was afraid of - but who I would be forced to marry and the act of consummation itself.
That was the other thing about Ourboros, the kingdom of serpents - it found immense pleasure in making private events a public affair. If I were to be married, then not only my father but his entire council would witness our consummation in order to verify our marriage was whole and truthful.
They would see the truth. I was living on borrowed time.
“Maude, darling?” My mother’s voice drew me out of my thoughts and I quickly fixed my gown as the door opened, holding my hand up to my collarbone in subconscious defense.
“Yes, Mother?” I said lightly, turning towards the large, oak doorway. My mother, Queen Rosalind, was as magnificent as always, dressed in an enormous pink gown tightly cinched at the waist. Her matching golden hair was up into a braided bun, and her gown dipped low to reveal her cleavage, something I could never do.
A frown crossed her features, and her heels clicked on the wooden floor as she walked towards her daughter. “Why aren’t you dressed? The servants will be here any moment to tie your hair up. You know we’re entertaining a few guests for dinner.”
“Guests?” I asked disinterestedly as I hesitantly wriggled out of my day dress and stepped into the lilac gown that had been laid out for me. Despite the hot summer heat, it had long sleeves, and I begrudgingly pulled it up over my waist and placed my arms through the thick sleeves, feeling as if I was being suffocated by the fabric.
“Yes, dear, I told you earlier,” My mother said impatiently as she stepped forward to button up the back of the dress. “One of the families from the Upper City. Your father is good friends with the husband and he thought we’d do good to get to know the rest of them.”
“Ah,” I answered softly, turning back to look in the mirror, the red markings hidden by the heavy fabric. The false appearance of the princess of Ourboros had returned.
I sighed deeply as the maidens scurried into the room and flocked to my side, beginning to comb out my long, golden hair and place it into an updo similar to my mother’s. That was really all life in the castle was – entertaining others, all for the politics, every move a play for power.
Lately, whenever my father had invited guests to the castle, they had always been of the highest of standing and subsequently had a son either my age or older that was anxious to be married. I suspected tonight would be no different, and despite knowing that I couldn’t escape it, dread coiled in my stomach anyway.
I watched my reflection as they twisted my hair at the nape of her neck, leaving my face bare of any cosmetics. My mother’s explicit orders – to leave the picture of innocence that had long been associated with my appearance.
If only they knew.
“Shall we?” My mother stepped forward, holding out her elbow. I nodded, standing and stepping next to my mother, and we began the stroll down to the Great Hall.
The castle was enormous and by far one of the most beautiful castles in all of the kingdom. It overlooked the city of Nerisa, a bustling city on the edge of the ocean, and on quiet evenings, the sound of the waves crashing on the shore could be heard on the castle’s balconies.
The castle itself was made of medieval sand-colored stone and had both regular and hidden passageways that led to so many different rooms that even I, who had grown up in the castle, hadn’t been to all of them. Every room was just as grand and meant to impress visitors, subtly reminding them of the royalty that resided here. The Great Hall and ballroom, where they most frequently entertained guests, had vast overlooking marble statues and crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling that sparkled in the candlelight. Paintings of past royalty and scenery of the kingdom’s countryside, where the royals had other castles, littered the hallways, bordered with gold.
Despite the beauty of the castle, my favorite room would always be my bedroom – the large canopy bed opening up to the magnificent ceiling, in which my mother had commissioned Nerisa’s best painter to depict all sorts of scenes from my favorite books as a child. Each night I would lay to sleep, looking up at the stories that my mother used to read to me. It was the only room where I felt safe in my skin, as if I could breathe despite the tattoo that I knew rested upon my breast, the secret that would eventually lead to my death.
Coming in a close second was the library – for it was just as big, if not bigger than the grandiose ballroom and was filled with stories waiting to be read. After I had grown out of schooling and officially been presented to society, one would normally be able to travel the streets with a maid, visiting the shops and beach and various parties put on by the lords and ladies. However my mother had forbidden me to leave the castle and thus all of my hours were spent with the endless tasks reading, painting, or embroidering something or another. I had eventually convinced them to give me fencing training as something to occupy my mind, but when my father had caught wind of it, he had shut it down, citing it was much too dangerous for a lady.
If anyone would have asked me, though, I would have told them that my life was far from what I would ever have desired and I’d much rather be exploring the city and the balls that the oligarchs put on. All I had to tell me of the city I’d grown up in were my maids and servants down in the kitchens, and with each passing day, my longing for adventure grew tenfold.
But no one ever bothered to ask me, as that was how I was to be known to the public: the shy, introverted princess that had no interest in such frivolities, and thus I was stuck living vicariously through the characters of the books I’d read and the few friends in the castle I had grown close with. I had been raised in Nerisa with the occasional trip to the countryside yet not once had I been allowed out of the castle’s gates to roam the stunning marbled streets of Nerisa. I had never gotten a choice – no one could ever know my secret.
We strolled down the grand staircase in the main foyer, soldiers lining either side of the massive oak doors that signified the main entrance.
The soldier on the far left bowed deeply at the sight of the two of us. As the right hand of the king, he was one of the servants most well known by both of us, for he was constantly at the side of Edgar. In a way, he was like my uncle and was the man I turned to when I needed sound advice. He was a man much kinder than my father and loved me as if I was his own. He had been the one to teach me fencing, and sometimes, despite my father’s orders, he would take me to the fencing yard anyway, letting me work off my boredom.
“Your guests have arrived, Your Majesty. I have seen them into the morning room, and they will be escorted into the grand dining room at your convenience.” He stood up stiffly, his back as straight as a rod.
“Thank you, Halston.” Rosalind said coolly as the pair of us turned to walk down the long, resplendent hallway to the end at which the morning room was located.
The hallway was one of the most elegant of the castle for it led to the throne room, the grand ballroom, and the other rooms that they most regularly entertained visitors in. Paintings and golden furniture decorated the hall, amplifying the wealth and power that the residents of the castle held.
We paused in front of the door leading to the foremost dining room where yet another soldier of the Royal Guard stood, in which he also bowed before turning to open the door. I felt my stomach twist as I awaited the next man my father would attempt to unabashedly set me up with. My father loved nothing more than the power that he held as the king and how he could make anyone do anything because of it.
I couldn’t help but feeling if he knew about my secret, he would kill me without a second thought in order to protect himself.
“May I present the Queen of Ourboros, Your Majesty Queen Rosalind, and the princess of Ourboros, Your Grace Princess Maude.”

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