My flesh is burning. The sanded towel I use to scrub every inch of my body is beginning to draw blood to the surface of my skin, but I don’t care. The cold water soothes the burn. I pick up the bucket, dumping the chilled water over my body. It’s all I can do not to scream.
Each time I close my eyes I can feel him. His hands roaming over my body, making me do what he wants. I finally release the scream I’ve been biting back, throwing the empty bucket across the room. His words are constantly ringing in my ear.
“You will never become the woman your King expected you to be. You will never save the people that are counting on you. You will never become the woman that half-breed will love. You will never leave this Kingdom”
And he’s right. Even if I did manage to get the power from the necklace, my father never taught me combat. The one time I tried to fight Cyrus, he easily dodged me and sliced through my back with his blade. And he’s clearly been in several battles with Hunters and none have managed to bring him any damage.
I jump when the large door to the slaves bathhouse is pushed open, revealing a servant I have come to loathe. Brigida stands in the doorway looking around, her eyes falling on me.
She storms across the room, yanking me roughly up by my arms.
“What are you still doing in here? The King is ready for his day and you are not. You useless slave!” she hisses at me. I cry out in pain as she rips my naked body up from the ground and begins to beat me like the slave the useless slave that I am.
I collide with the ground, and her feet come at me, kicking my open belly and striking my ribs with little discretion for my lack of strength under her.
The Ball is in one day. At the beginning of the week the King had just returned and was preparing for the ball. But now, the King has revealed so many secrets to me in such a torturous way, and has left me with my mind to decipher my own feelings about it.
I look up as Cyrus and Felix spar with each other in the center of the courtyard. There are servants and slaves alike surrounding them, but Dimitri is nowhere in sight. I wonder what Felix has done to him. The last I saw of him, he was being dragged from the room seeming to have lost his grip on reality. I need to know if he’s ok, but with the possessiveness Cyrus and Felix hold, it’s safest to pretend I don’t care.
I’m jolted from my thoughts as the sound of their swords colliding rings out over the field. They are so fast in their movements, it’s hard to keep up with them. I understand the reason the Hunters stole their power. It was so we could have a fighting chance. If this is what we are fighting against on the battlefield, it’s no wonder they so easily lay waste to our armies.
“Slave!” Cyrus’s voice cuts through my thoughts and I immediately move towards him with the linens I’m holding. His gaze lingers on me the entire way until he grabs them from me, wiping the sweat from his face.
Felix eyes me with a vicious smirk.
“She’s alive...,” he takes in the bruising under my eye, “barely,” he finishes. Cyrus looks at me as well, and I take note that there’s a frown on his lips as he takes in my face. He reaches for me roughly grabbing my cheek to inspect my face.
“I didn’t put this here,” he murmurs more to himself than to Felix. I jerk my face out of his grasp. He doesn’t react like I expect him to, he only eyes me for a moment before going back to his conversation with Felix. As they both speak they make their way to the table that has been set up for their leisure. There’s an assortment of fruits and meats as well as cheeses and bread. There’s also wine and water pitchers sitting atop the marble table.
I follow silently behind Cyrus, filling up his glass as they continue their conversation.
“As expected the last battle put a hole in their defenses. Now all that’s left is to smoke the King out...,” Felix tilts his head looking at me.
“Though I’m sure it would be much easier to use the King’s bastard to draw him out of hiding. At least to make him make a mistake,” he says with a smirk. I want to throw the crystal decanter at his head, but I am not foolish enough to invite such trouble into my life. So I do nothing but clutch it tighter to my chest.
Cyrus absentmindedly waves him off taking a sip of his water.
“The King will not reveal himself for a conquest he lost years ago. If anything, our best bet would be to continue with the current battle plan. He is weak. There is no need to indulge them any longer. We can leave them to die outside of our society. If anyone dares to attack, we will simply kill them. I’ve had enough of this silly war,” Cyrus says in irritation. Felix nods his head in understanding, and stands.
“I am meeting with Roman today to see what he has found regarding the materials and weapons. I believe with his expertise, we will be able to find the base and save our own while taking down the camp.”
Cyrus nods his head.
“Very good. Let me know what you find.”
Felix bows before walking away from Cyrus, exiting the palace. I don’t understand the dynamic between the two, but Felix seems inclined to follow his King’s order without so much as a complaint.
“Leave us,” Cyrus says next to me. I take note that the servants surrounding us bow before leaving me alone with the King. Cyrus motions for me to come around the table, his face still holding the same irritation I saw earlier. I immediately drop my gaze.
“What happened to your face?” he growls. I immediately step away from him avoiding his gaze.
“I was occupied, and didn’t pay attention to the time. I was punished for making you wait.”
Silence stretches over us.
“Who did this?” His tone catches my attention causing me to look up against my better judgement. My breathing hitches in my throat as I take note of his eyes dilating in front of me.
“A servant, your majesty. I do not know her name. Beatings are normal for slaves to receive,” I say trying to diffuse the situation. I may dislike Brigida, but the last thing I want is to watch him kill another servant in front of me with his bare hands. He narrows his gaze but doesn’t push the issue.
“They are not to lay their hands on you Annalise. I shall give you my seal soon,” he says.
“Your Majesty, do not waste your time on such a trivial matter. Slaves do not-”
“You are not just a slave anymore, Annalise.” I look up, meeting his gaze head on. His eyes hold an intensity that I cannot match.
“Yes, your majesty,” I whisper. Silence stretches over us and a chilled breeze washes over the courtyard. I involuntarily shiver from the cold. Winter has set in, and the snow should be falling any day now. But being a slave we do not get warm clothes. This is the time when several slaves begin to die from sickness and freezing to death.
“Did your Father ever tell you about the human King?”
“No, your Majesty.” I feel anger at the audacity he has to bring up my father when he shattered the only image I had of the man that raised me in such an evil way.
“What was your father’s goal moving you so far away from other humans? And with a half breed as your protector?” He asks.
“I do not know, your Majesty.”
Cyrus chuckles taking a bite of the fruit.
“Do you have hope for your people?” he asks. My grip tightens on the decanter, but I respond nonetheless.
“No, your Majesty.”
“Why not? They are harboring weapons meant to destroy. They are breeding their children to be strong enough to withstand a full blown Beasts power, do you not wish for them to win this war? To give you the freedom you crave?” he asks with a smirk.
“I’ve seen personally what you can do to an army, and Hunters in the same battle. I have no doubt you will come out of this war victorious,” I say. Cyrus finds my response amusing, because he tosses his head back laughing.
“Humans are very clever I will hand that to them. They use the battles as an excuse to pick us off one by one. The strong ones. They use the cover of battle to capture a Beast, and use their power to create the sadistic trinkets you people love to use.”
I have to bite back my confusion. I don’t understand exactly what Cyrus is trying to say, but I don’t think I’m allowed to pry. Cyrus stands, shocking me out of my thoughts. He stands tall over me, looking down at me before speaking his next sentence.
“You are a very clever one, Anna. But I will keep watching you. And I will never let you reach your potential,” he smiles. He steps around me without turning back.
“Let’s go. Your shivering is beginning to irritate me.”
Cyrus has decided he wants a private bath tonight. The bathroom is smaller than the large room he usually bathes in, but it’s still nicer than anything I’ve ever seen.
Cyrus sits silently in the clawfoot tub, one leg dangling over the edge of the golden side. His head is tossed back, his eyes closed as he breathes deeply. The room is warm and steaming from the amount of heat he’s using in the tub.
I study him silently from my corner of the room. He’s an evil creature. To constantly tell me how pathetic and weak I am, yet he still came for my body without any qualms even with his earlier words. I don’t understand his infatuation with me. I only wish for it to end. And soon.
As if sensing my gaze, he opens his eyes immediately locking onto mine. A surprised gasp escapes me as his eyes meet mine, an amused grin playing at his lips. He closes his eyes angling his head towards me.
“Join me,” he says. I take a deep breath.
I slowly bring my fingers up, pulling at the strings of my dress to loosen it. Upon hearing the sound of my clothing, Cyrus opens his eyes and focuses on me as I slowly take my clothing off. The dress is coming down from my shoulders when he is out of the tub and on me in an instant.
He opens his mouth to say something when he suddenly pauses, his eyes do a double take on my skin. He roughly yanks my arm up, to reveal the skin that’s been rubbed raw.
“What the fuck is this?” he hisses. His gaze is narrowed as he glares me at. I try and pull my arm out of his grasp but he only tightens it, his anger growing by the second.
“Let go,” I whisper trying my best to get free of his grasp. He finally releases me and I stumble back from him.
“You will answer me,” he growls stepping closer to me. His naked body drips with steaming water and malice as he waits for an answer.
“I... was in a hurry in the bathhouse. I wasn’t paying attention to what I was doing-”
“You’re a terrible fucking liar,” he snaps, “Did you do this on purpose to your flesh? Did you try and rub it from your bone? Do you think it will erase what has happened between us, Annalise?”
Cyrus steps so close to me I don’t have the time to react as he pushes me against the wall, forcing his body flush with mine. My skin immediately heats up from the feel of his body so close to mine. I can feel the imprint of his erection as it pushes against my naked belly. He uses his hands to pin my arms by my head against the wall.
“I own you, Annalise. I have given your life meaning by showing you favor. Do not insult me by doing something so trivial and grotesque to your flesh,” he growls. His eyes narrow slightly as he takes in my pained expression and he steps back from me inspecting my body.
His hands trace over my bruised rib causing me to cry out in pain.
“Who. Did. This.”
Even though the room is steaming, I shiver from the tone he uses. It takes a great deal of strength for me to find my voice and respond.
“A servant, your Majesty. It was my puni-”
Cyrus places his palm flat against my injured ribs, his eyes raising to meet mine. Cyrus keeps his eyes locked to mine, and I suddenly feel warmth emitting from his palm. It’s soft at first but it grows until it spreads all over my body, including my arms.
He continues to glare at me, not reacting to my terror filled breathing. His eyes roam over my face and down my body causing my heart rate to increase. I know he hears it because he smiles as his eyes focus on mine. He finally lets me go stepping away.
He doesn’t say another word as he moves towards his clothes sitting on the chair near the door.
“Wash yourself and come to my chambers.”
He doesn’t wait for me to respond as he leaves the room. I immediately begin to inspect my body upon his exit, shock coming over me.
My ribs are no longer in pain. Even my arms that once held hideous scabbing from this morning are now healed and smooth. I look back to the door that he just left through, confusion washing over me.
I don’t understand the Beast King, not in the least.