My muscles tense, and I stumble back, tripping over my feet and falling. I hit the ground hard, still moving back until I feel solid wall against my back. My heart is beating out of my chest, and I look around the room in complete terror, unable to find anyone in the room. I can’t even sense anyone in hear. Yet I know he’s here.
“I asked you a question.” The voice comes from the pitch black.
“Who are you.” I squeak. Silence. I feel warm hands around mine, and try and pull away, but they immediately tighten holding me captive.
“I’m not going to hurt you.” The voice says. And I believe it. His voice is so soothing. I feel his hands move from mine to where my heart is banging against my chest.
“Breathe.” He says softly. So I do. I breathe, letting out my shaky breaths, until I am some form of calmer. I feel a slight pull on my hands and realize he’s helping me up from the floor. He takes me across the room, and gently sits me down on a soft material that holds up my weight.
I feel his thumbs run across my cheek, wiping my tears.
“Tell me why you are crying. I’ve done nothing to harm you.” He says. I open my mouth but nothing comes out. I’m scared.
“How do I know you won’t in the future.” I say. He lets out a soft laugh.
“You’ll know in due time.” I can only hear the direction of his voice, but I can’t see a thing.
“Why am I in the dark.” I ask. I hear the rustle of fabric, and realize he’s shifting.
“You’ll understand in due time.” He says. I fidget with my fingers.
“Why am I here.” I ask. He seems to have no problem with answering my questions, so I try and get them out as fast as I can before he changes his mind.
“Because your people brought you here.” He says. I can hear the amusement in his voice.
“Why did you keep me. Why not kill me. I’m the last ikniri. The old king wanted me dead, why not you.” I ask. There's a slight pause.
“You’re more useful to me alive.” Is all he says. I open my mouth to ask another question, but he beats me to it.
“I have answered your questions, but you’ve yet to answer mine. Why are you crying?” He asks once again.
I look down, and begin fidgeting with my hands again in the dark.
“The men that brought me in... they killed the woman that raised me..” I choke on a sob.
“They burned her at the stake.” I finish with a fresh new set of tears. Silence. I feel his hands around my shoulders, comfortingly.
"Those men have paid for their sins with their lives." He says. I shudder as I remember the sounds of their payment.
"You killed them." I say.
"Why?" I ask.
"They brought you in, offering you as a gift to me, yet your face and body was bloodied and bruised. I think that's an insulting offer to your king, don't you?" He says.
"You're the king... the new king... the blood king.." I say quietly.
"I've always been the king. It was a matter of taking back what belonged to me." He says. He speaks to me like you would a child. I can hear the authority in his voice, but also the patience.
"It's getting late. You must be exhausted from the journey here, especially with everything you had to endure. I will send for a servant to come and help you to sleep. I will send for you very soon." He says. I don't say anything.
“No more harm shall come to you, Neytiri.” He says. I tense at the sound of my name. I never told him my name, did I?
I want to ask him how he knew my name, but I hear him walking away from me, and the large doors are pushed open, shining a small amount of light that doesn't reach the corners of the room.
I try and look for him, but I can't see. So I stand, walking towards the doors, awaiting what's next.
“This shall be your quarters. You’ll be staying in the East wing.” I look around at the room as the servant shows me around. She’s walking to the wooden closet, grabbing fabric out of a panel etched into the walls. The room is unlike anything I have ever seen. Living in the forest, our homes were huts with barely anything in them.
This room is bigger than Grans hut. The walls are made of stone, and the floor is made up of smooth wood. I walk over to the mass of fabric and wood in the corner, placing my palm on it. It sinks within the soft texture, and I quickly pull my hand back before it eats it up.
“What is this?” I ask in confusion. I look to the servant and she’s eyeing me curiously.
“It’s a bed, ma’am.” She says softly. I look back at it in confusion. The beds in my village were the floor and whatever was left of the that years kills. The skin was turned to pelts used for the winter. She walks past me, pulling open more strangely shaped doors, and pulls out a white dress, that looks terribly thin. She notices my confusion immediately.
“It’s a night gown, ma’am. For you to sleep in.” She says. I eye her curiously, and look back to the gown. I’m expected to change into something just to go to sleep? She places it on the bed, and bows slightly.
“I expect you’ve had a long day miss, and would like to sleep.” She says. I turn away from her, walking to the bed and placing my hand on the gown. I’ve never worn a gown before. Not like this, or the one I’m wearing now.
“Would you like some help, miss?” She asks. I look at her in relief, nodding my head.
After she helps me out of the gown and into the night gown, she is sitting behind me brushing my hair out. I noticed the way she has been looking at me. It must be shocking for her to see a person of legend, and suddenly be taking care of it. I hate the silence that stretches between us.
“What is your name?” I ask. She hesitates with the stroke of the brush, but answers anyway.
“Ismena, ma’am.” She says. I smile immediately.
“That’s a beautiful name.” I say. I’ve never heard a name like it. It's unique to my ears.
“Thank you, ma’am.”
“Why do you keep calling me that. My name is Neytiri. Not ma’am.” I say.
“My apologies, it’s a proper title to call you, since you are a guest of the king.” She says.
“Title...” I repeat in confusion.
“It’s what we refer to for those that are higher up than us. We cannot use their names, so we use their title. Like the king. We would say ‘my king’ or ‘milord’.” She explains. I sit in confusion.
"That's a strange custom." I say. Then I pick up what she said about the king.
“Have you ever seen the king?” I ask.
“No ma- no. No one like me could ever see the king.” She says.
“Only his personal servants, and his guard have seen him. I’m only taking care of you at the personal request of the king." She says. It's silent, and I gaze into the fire in the corner of the room.
"My Gran used to tell me stories, of the ancient kings. She used to say that they ruled like no other. From a world unknown." I smile as I remember the way her eyes would light up when she told those stories.
"There are more of you?" Ismena asks behind me. My smile falls.
"No... Gran took me in, and raised me. She was a part of the tribe of the forest." I say. I bite my lip trying not to cry, but fail miserably.
"I'm sure the king will make them pay for what they did to you." She says. I shake my head.
"He already did." I say.
"I didn't mean those men. I meant the villagers that let it happen." She says. I hadn't thought about that at all. All those people just watched Gran die. None of them stepped up. None of them even said to stop or tried to speak out. I decide not to elaborate on it anymore. He could very well not care in the least what happens to the villagers.
“Do you know why I’m here?” I ask. There’s a stretch of silence.
She continues brushing my hair, and puts it in one single braid that falls down my back. She makes her way towards the door.
“There are guards by your door, if you need anything.” She says before bowing and exiting.
I watch as the door closes behind her, leaving me alone in the room. She stoked the fire, so it's nice and warm. I make my way silently to the bed, getting underneath the covers, and feeling my body sink in. I feel as though I'm going through the floor.
I roll over, and let my reality sink in. And as I do, I let my tears fall. They fall until my pillow is soaked. I place the face deep into the cushions, trying to silence my tears, so that the castle can't hear my cries.
The castle is silent. Everyone is either asleep or doing their duties at this hour. The king walks silently down the corridor, knowing the exact direction he is going. The East wing. He makes it to the East wing, not encountering a single soul.
He makes it to the guards that are a part of Ulric’s elite that are standing in front of her doors. He doesn’t have to say a word before they step aside, pushing open the doors for him. He steps into the dark room, the only light coming from the dying embers of the fireplace. His eyes immediately adjust in the dark, and his gaze falls on the bed.
She’s fast asleep. A deep sleep as he figured since she was crying so hard earlier. He stands over her bed, looking down at her. Her hair has been pulled back into a loose braid, but there are still strands falling in her face. White strands. His gaze travels to her closed eyes. Those crystalline irises that rivals even the sky.
He pulls up a seat next to her bed, and continues watching her. He’s never been so mesmerized by a woman before. Her soft breaths are music to his ears. And he feels a peace wash over him that he has never felt before.
It is then he realizes that he is smiling. A soft smile is on his face as he gazes down at her. She has no idea the future ahead of her, or the past behind her. She has no idea that the moment those villagers brought her into his kingdom, her life will be forever changed. She has no idea of what’s ahead, and he has no idea how to prepare her for it.