I couldn’t believe my eyes. I must be dreaming. Ethel couldn’t be here; she was in Quopia. But as I stared at the woman who had been with me through thick and thin, I knew this was no dream and she was actually here.
“Hildred! Oh Hildred. Thank God!” Ethel exclaimed before throwing her arms around me and hugging me as if it had been centuries since we’d seen each other.
I tried my best not to let my tears flow but a couple of them still managed to slip out. She was here. Ethel was actually here. I thought I would never see her again and had lost her forever. But somehow Bancroft had brought her back to me.
“Ethel! Oh, I’m so happy to see you,” I said to her, praying to God not to let her leave me again. Mayhap I could talk to Bancroft to let her stay here; he could talk to Lord Aboloft and hopefully he would say yes.
“How are you? I have missed you so much, Hildred. Not a day went by when I did not think about you. You had me worried sick,” she chastised as soon as we broke away.
“I would have to agree with you, Ethel. She tends to make people worry about her.” This came from Bancroft who had been silent for the past few minutes. I couldn’t help but blush upon his words. He worried about me? When? Was it when I fled to Pran? It was still a miracle how he did not punish me for fleeing, and something which I would always be grateful for.
“Yes, my Lord. However, I am glad that you took care of her here. Seeing how happy and healthy she looks, I am relieved,” Ethel said, her eyes shining with gratitude.
Bancroft stepped forward and wound and arm around my waist. I couldn’t help the heat the seeped in my body upon his touch, which made me yearn for more. I never knew a man who tortured me could be so gentle and warm. Was that cold man gone forever? I didn’t think so, but my heart told me that he would no longer harm me.
“Hildred is home now, and I can assure you that no harm will come to her here. She is the Queen and will rule this Kingdom as one,” he stated.
Ethel nodded and bowed. “Yes, my Lord. Hildred truly is a Queen and I am so happy to see that she has taken her rightful place as your Queen.”
The thought of becoming a Queen and ruling alongside Bancroft still filled me with dread. I did not know how to be a Queen. And being a Queen meant being responsible for people, and I did not know if I was strong enough to take on such a huge burden.
“It was her destiny and I would’ve made sure she embraced it.” Bancroft kissed my temple, his affection touching my heart with a mere brush of his lips. If he had brought me here sooner, was it possible that I wouldn’t have had to suffer at his hands?
“My dearest friend was born to be a Queen,” Ethel stated.
Looking at my friend I couldn’t help but think about how my life had taken such a drastic turn. Why was it so difficult for me to accept the fact that Bancroft had changed? I guess he had hurt me for so long that it would take some time for me to get used to him being so kind to me.
“When did you come here?” I asked her, changing the subject. I did not want to talk about being the Queen, I was not ready for it.
“Lord Bancroft sent word to Lord Aboloft to send me here, and he agreed. You know, when he told me that I would be coming here to live with you, I could not believe it. I thought he would only send me for a few days but Lord Bancroft wished for me to stay here in Sodora from now on, as you needed me here.” Ethel told me.
Oh my God. Lord Bancroft did this for me? He called Ethel here so I wouldn’t have to be alone. He knew how much I missed her and wanted her to be here and he made my wish come true. Even when he punished me, he still found ways to make my wishes come true. I guess he was telling the truth when he said he loved me.
“Thank you, my Lord,” I said to Bancroft, wondering how to repay him for such a precious gift. Mayhap I could go out and buy some more brooches from him, and this time I would give them to him in person. I still didn’t know what happened to the brooch I bought for him in Sodora, but I would just have to buy more of them for him.
“Do not thank me, my beautiful Queen, for it was nothing. I knew what you needed and I simply brought your friend here so you could be happy here. If you are happy, then this Kingdom will be happy, too,” Bancroft replied, his green eyes soft as they bore into mine.
“And what about you? Are you not happy? You must tell me what makes you happy,” I said.
“I am happy. It is your mere presence that brings me happiness. All I need is you, my beautiful nymph,” he replied, kissing me tenderly, completely ignoring Ethel who was also present in the room.
“Why did you not tell me you were going to have Ethel come stay here? I was so worried when I did not see you in our chambers,” I queried.
“I wanted it to be a surprise for you. Bringing Ethel here is a way of telling you that I will do whatever it takes to ensure your happiness. I will make all your dreams come true, my love.
“I know I have hurt you, and no amount of forgiveness will make the pain go away, I know that. But I am willing to heal your scars because I am the one who caused them. And I would spend the rest of my life healing your wounds and giving you memories to rejoice over and never mourn,” he promised.
If I held on to my anger and doubts any longer, I would kill any chance of a happy life, and that was something I did not want to do. I had yearned for a life where I was happy and independent, not one where I held grudges and cursed the man who was trying to make me happy.
“Thank you, Bancroft.” I placed my head on his chest and allowed him to embrace me, completely forgetting that Ethel was present.
“Oh my! Hildred! You and Lord Bancroft… Oh my God! I told you… I told you…” She couldn’t finish her sentences, but I could see she was happy that Lord Bancroft was no longer causing me pain. I had so much to tell her, but right now, I needed this man more. There were some things I needed to talk to him about.
“Yes Ethel. I realized that I was wrong to hurt the woman I love in such a brutal way. I now know that I should’ve loved her and protected her all along and what I did was wrong. Hildred has been kind enough to forgive me but I vow to make her the happiest woman in the world,” Bancroft stated, causing warmth to fill my heart. I never expected him to show remorse in front of my friend, but I guess that cold, arrogant King was no longer here and I could finally breathe easily.
“I—I wish to talk to you in private,” I said to Bancroft. Even though there was a lot I needed to discuss with Ethel, I first needed to talk to him, and then I would sit comfortably with my friend and spend hours telling her everything that happened since I came to Sodora.
“Are you sure? Don’t you wish to spend time with Ethel?” He asked, his eyes soft as he looked at me as if I was the only woman he looked at.
“I can talk to her later. I need to talk to you right now,” I replied.
“You should listen to what she has to say, my Lord. I would like to rest for a few hours if you give me permission,” Ethel added.
Bancroft smiled at her. “This is your home now, Ethel. You are no longer obliged to take permission from me. If you wish to rest, all you have to do is do so. You are the friend of the Queen, which means that you have a special place and status in this castle.”
He was treating my friend with such kindness, it filled my heart with love for him. I wanted to see just how kind he could really be. Mayhap in the future, I would believe that Lord Bancroft was a kind soul and no longer chose to act on the darkness that I knew resided within him.
“Of course. Thank you, my Lord.” Ethel bowed before walking out of the room, being escorted by the maid who brought me here.
“Now what is it that you want to talk to me about, my dear rose,” Bancroft said as soon as the door closed behind Ethel.
I smiled. “Thank you, for bringing Ethel here. I don’t know if you know this, but she is the only friend I had back in the harem. She is like a sister to me.”
“She is also the one who first helped you escape the castle and would’ve succeeded if I had not caught you,” he replied.
My cheeks heated as I thought back to the time Ethel helped me escape through the catacombs. It seemed like a different lifetime altogether, which told me just how far I’d come and how much I’ve changed.
“Yes. Who told you about us running away? I realize I never asked you, but it was something I thought about. How did you know where to be?” I questioned.
“The guard who agreed to help you and Ethel told me. He might have agreed to help you out but at the end of the day he was loyal to his King and knew that no lady of the harem is to flee, no matter the circumstances,” he answered.
The knowledge that the guard betrayed us filled me with irritation. Why did he choose to help us when he was going to betray us at the end? I suffered so much because of him. If he hadn’t told Bancroft, then I would’ve fled the castle and built a new life for myself. I would’ve been free.
“Don’t look so angry, my beautiful Queen. I did reward him after I caught you. If he hadn’t told me, then you would’ve managed to flee and I would not have been able to bring you here,” he said.
“How can I not be angry? You punished me so brutally after you caught me. I will never forgive that man,” I seethed.
Guilt and pain flashed in Bancroft’s eyes. “I should not have done that. I was so angry at that time. You nearly escaped and if you had succeeded, then I would not have been able to live my life.”
“Why did you reward him? He should be punished. He caused me a lot of pain.” I shuddered when I thought about the way Bancroft had struck me.
“Forgive me, my dear. But I rewarded him only because he brought you back to me,” he answered.
I did not know what to say to him. He obviously had his reasons for rewarding that traitor but I would never forgive him what he made me go through. I could still remember the pain I felt when Bancroft struck me because I dared to escape.
“Tell me, what can I do to make you feel better. I do not like that you are so upset. Tell me, my fiery nymph, what can I do?” He asked, and I could hear the helplessness in his voice.
“There is nothing you can do. The past is gone, leaving nothing but scars in its wake. I have to suffer the pain of it; there is you can do about it.” I told him.
“No. I refuse to see you like this. You are my Queen and I cannot be at peace knowing the woman I love is distraught. You are still angry over what happened and I understand that. I just have to find a way to make you let go of the pain,” he stated.
“Oh really? What can you do?” I asked. It was sweet how he wanted to make me feel better, but there was nothing he could do. He could only soothe pain that his action brought, he could not make me forget.
I watched Bancroft for a few minutes as he contemplated my words and decided about what to do. Could he really find a solution to all this? Was there even a solution to this?
“How would you like to revisit the past?” I frowned when I heard his question. How could he say such a thing? Visiting the past was impossible; that time was gone, it could not come back.
“What do you mean?”
“Give me a yes or a no. Would you like to visit the past?” What in the world was he thinking? There was no way we could go back in time.
“How will you do it?” I enquired, curious to know his answer.
“That is not what I asked, my rose. Would you like to visit the past or not?” He repeated.
I sighed. “Yes, I would.”
“Excellent. Now stay here. I will be back.” I watched him walk over to the wooden cabinet and open it. My heart pounded with anticipation as I wondered what he was looking for.
Bancroft finally returned after two minutes, with his hands behind his back, hiding whatever it was he had found in the cabinet. He stopped when he was standing a few inches away from me.
“I know I have caused you a lot of pain, my beautiful rose. And no matter how much I ask for forgiveness, it would not take your pain away. And so, there is only one thing I can think of which might help you,” he said.
“What? What is it?” I asked.
I gasped in horror when Bancroft produced a dagger and held it out in front of me. What was going on? How was this dagger going to help me? His next words, however, gave me my answer.
“I want you to kill me.”