Chapter 21: Prisoner of War
The next blow, however, didn’t come. I squinted at the ray of sunlight that emerged through the grand doors of the ballroom, and saw Xander standing in a half-drunken, half-sober glory at the top of the steps. I had no clue how long we had been gone, but it couldn’t have been earlier than midnight.
“Now now, Adonis, you wouldn’t want to harm Her Majesty, would you?”
“She was talking to the Moon Goddess without my knowledge.”
“As much as I agree with you about the error of her ways, trust me when I tell you that getting on the Moon Goddess’ bad side isn’t the brightest idea. You could find yourself blocked in, metaphorically speaking.”
I couldn’t help but smirk at seeing Xander like this; protective and back to his witty self. Maybe he didn’t remember earlier tonight at all.
“Like it or not, she’s untouchable.”
He nodded his head in my direction, and Adonis took a threatening step towards Xander. They were the same height, the same build. It would be a level playing field if they broke out into battle right now.
“Do your job, Xander. Keep your Queen in line. I don’t want her out of your sight again.”
He huffed and left from the ballroom, keeping his guards tucked closely behind him. I made my way over to Alessia, shaking her awake. I was surprised when I heard Lyon’s voice emerge from behind the doors as well. He came to her side, lifting her into his arms as her eyelids fluttered open. I suppose he had taken advantage of the guards’ absence during our little scene we just caused.
“I’ll take her to the infirmary,” he smiled softly up at me as he whisked her away, leaving Xander and I alone.
I turned to speak to him, but was only met by his lips pressing against mine. I softened my stance, kissing back before pulling away. He looked sad that I had done so, but wrapped my hand in his as he walked briskly back to my room. The guards still seemed to be absent from this corridor, but he turned the lock on the door just in case.
I expected him to scold me about how foolish I was, and how angry he was, but instead I was met by a flutter of more kisses. He pressed me back onto the bed, laying me down while he caged himself over me. Propping himself up on his elbows, he looked down at me while brushing a strand of hair from my face.
“That was foolish,” was all he said.
I nodded, continuing to stare up at him.
“Did she tell you everything?”
“Everything,” I confirmed. “I need to see him.”
That obviously killed the mood as he rolled off of me, getting ready for bed once more as he peeled his gray t-shirt up and over his head. He quickly made his way back between the sheets, however, and firmly wrapped his arms around my torso as he pulled me tightly beside him. I didn’t make an effort to move away; we both needed to feel safe for a night.
The next morning, he was still clinging tightly to my frame, and I had to shake him awake in order to let me go. I hated to break the layer of serenity that coated both of us over the night, but I had more investigating to do.
“Do you know where they’re holding him?”
His response was simply to roll his eyes and groan, rolling over as he tried to go back to sleep. I didn’t let him, however, gripping his shoulder as I rolled him back to me.
“They haven’t moved him, but you’re in luck. Adonis doesn’t know what you know, but I know he’s frightened nonetheless.”
“Afraid of little old me?” I wiggled my eyebrows at him. He chuckled, swatting me away.
“The only thing more terrifying than a Queen is a Queen who knows the cards she’s been dealt. That means he’ll be scrambling with his men for the next 48 hours trying to make himself feel like he’s in control again. That’s your window.”
“Looks like I best be going,” I tried to get up, but he yanked me back down so that I was hovering over top of him.
“But I like you here,” he grinned lazily. “I’m coming with you.”
“He’ll slit your throat,” I immediately dismissed the idea.
“And I need to keep Adonis from slitting yours. So if I can’t stop you, I may as well cover your ass.”
I couldn’t deny the idea of wanting backup, I just didn’t want Xander to get on Adonis’ bad side. He had already ticked him off after last night’s charade. He had a different approach to entering the cell this time. Instead of sneaking around, he walked right up like he owned the place, and clocked the only guard on duty. I covered my mouth, staring at him in shock.
“What happened to keeping a low profile?” I hissed.
“Adonis is pissed off right now, and that means he’ll lash out easily. Do you really think that guy’s going to admit to anything that will put him on his bad side right now?”
I gave him brownie points for that stroke of logical genius, and stopped him outside the cell.
“I go on my own from here.”
“If he tries to—”
“I’m the one who gets to be upset right now, not him. Trust me, he’ll get over himself.”
Without waiting for him to object, I turned the handle and flipped on the light. I expected him to jump out and attack me, but he looked as weakened as last time as he sat in the corner. He didn’t look up at me, but I knew that he knew it was me.
“I could smell you from down the hall,” he muttered. “What do you want.”
“I want to know about The Huntsman.”
I could tell that statement took him by surprise. His eyes were wide; hollow but attentive. He opened his mouth, probably to say a multitude of things. I was surprised by the words that left his lips.
“I’m sorry,” he began.
“You thought you were saving me, with a price tag on my head?”
“I kept you protected. I never expected things to go this way.”
He struggled a little as he pulled himself to his feet, and I knew that the malnourishment from the past few weeks was taking its toll on him. As he went to teeter back over, I held my arms out to hold him up, taking in my breath upon realizing how close he was to me. He smelled horrid, and looked the same. Still, I knew the man that I met all those months ago was underneath. I needed to get out of here, but first I needed to get the information I needed. He was the former King, if anyone knew anything about The Huntsman it was him.
“Sit, please,” I begged, helping lower him back down as I sat beside him. I pulled a sandwich from the kitchen from my sweatshirt pocket, watching his eyes light up. He had downed it in a nanosecond, and turned to me with his full attention.
“I got the letters after the Coronation ball, when we met. One of them had snuck in, they knew who you were from day one. That was why I ordered you by my side.”
“Am I really supposed to believe that?”
“The letters are locked in the safe underneath my desk, Xander will know where the key is,” he said. I was shocked at his transparency. “The more the letters came, the tighter my grip was on you. That was why I wanted to rush the wedding along. Once the mating bond had been sealed, you would have been safer. Once we had a child, you would have been even safer.”
“You didn’t think to clue me in?”
I expected to be angry, to be furious, yelling at him and hitting him. All I felt was sadness. The things he did weren’t necessarily right, but at least now I knew why he was doing them.
“If I told you, you would have gone looking for trouble. I thought about telling you after our wedding night, when we were one step closer to safety. Your involvement with trying to save my brother from himself told me that it wasn’t the right move.”
We both fell silent at the statement he made. Had he known this entire time?
“You haven’t had her remove it,” he ran his finger over my mark, and my entire body shuddered.
I didn’t have the heart to tell him that Xander wouldn’t need to mark me in order for us to marry, so I let him keep his nostalgic notion.
“I’m going to get you out of here.”
“You need to promise me you won’t go looking for them,” he gripped my hand tightly.
“If they think you’re dead, Xander’s more at risk than I am. I’m not of royal blood, and I didn’t give you an heir. He’s their target now, no doubt.”
“You can’t go risking your life for him.”
The words came out dripping with venom, and I found myself curling away from his touch.
“Are you two seeing each other?”
I knew it was a question he didn’t really want to know the answer to.
“It’s inevitable, you know Adonis’ orders.”
We both knew that I was avoiding the question, but he didn’t push. I had answered it well enough. After brushing his hair to the side of his face again, I rose to leave but didn’t expect him to follow me. He turned me when my fingertips reached the handle again, and spun me around with the last of his strength. His thumb ran over my lips, and he kissed me with the same passion as the first time that we met. I let him have one kiss, but broke away as I pressed my forehead against his.
“I’ll see you soon,” he muttered.
I had to leave quickly, or I feared that I wouldn’t have the strength at all. Xander had a worried expression on his face as I emerged, re-locking the door behind me. I didn’t let out a word until we had gotten back to the room. Even then, I simply sat on the edge of the bed and held my head in my hands. The sun had risen fully now, and I wanted to waste away in the bed for the next year.
Finally, after twenty minutes, he broke the tension in the air.
“What did he say?”
“There are letters, in his office. He said you would be able to find them.”
“Did something happen in there, Cy?”
“No,” I shot down what he was thinking. “He didn’t hurt me.” It wasn’t a lie.
I still couldn’t bring myself to look up from the carpet, so I was partially surprised when he pressed his lips against my temple and rose from the bed, clicking the door shut behind him. He returned a few minutes later, with a large bundle of letters in tow. We splayed them out on the bed, and I realized they were dated. I started from the one from the coronation ball, and I felt goose bumps ripple over my arms as I read them.
We know who she is. This is the beginning of the end of your reign.
Keeping her locked in your tower doesn’t protect her. We will have your Rapunzel and your heir soon enough.
It seems your little mistress has a mistress of her own. Maybe she’ll undo you without our help.
It was no wonder that he suspected Xander and I being involved before anything even happened. The Huntsman were trying to bring out his father’s anger in him and manipulate him into ending me himself.
I couldn’t even bring myself to read the rest of them. I bundled them up and stuffed them into my desk drawer, feeling like I was being watched.
“Do we have any idea how these got into the Palace?”
“There was a messenger boy that Damien arrested a couple of months ago. He’s rotting away in the prison below the palace. Don’t tell me you want to go back down there.”
“Keeping men hostage isn’t Damien’s style,” I frowned.
“He had a torturer in there every day, but the boy didn’t budge.”
“Boy?” I was disbelieving of two things; that Damien would torture a boy and that a boy could be manipulated so easily into something like this, especially a human one. He must have had no idea what he was doing. We only had a few hours until things would return to normal, so I didn’t even let him answer my open ended question before I was out the door again. He trailed after me again like the unfortunate body guard he was today.
The guard that Xander had knocked out was still unconscious, so we tiptoed past him and made our way to each cell as we peered in. I halted immediately when I saw him; he couldn’t have been older than thirteen. He had scars up and down his arms that he would have for the rest of his life. It was no wonder that Damien had such a harsh reputation.
All to protect you.
I couldn’t help but feel like what happened to this little boy was partially my fault. I creaked open the door, and he immediately jumped to his feet in fright, plastered against the wall.
“Are you here to kill me? They haven’t brought meals today.”
“I’m not going to hurt you,” I put my hands up in surrender. “I just want to talk.”
I didn’t know what to expect from this kid; was he a trained assassin or just a helpless human looking to make a buck?
“You’re her,” he whispered. He looked like he had just seen a ghost. I hadn’t seen myself in any photographs with Damien after my arrival to the Palace, but I had no doubt they were circulating; especially among The Huntsman.
“Here,” I held out a cookie that I swiped from one of the serving platters outside a guest room. He looked dauntingly at it, like it was a bomb. When he realized I wasn’t going to swipe it away, he ate it ravenously.
“Did you used to deliver these?” I held out one crisp letter, and he backed away from me again.
The poor boy looked like a ghost. He had raven hair that swept around his eyes, far past the length of bangs. A dark blue sweatshirt clung to his frame loosely, and it was clear that he had lost some serious weight. He nodded at me, and I folded the letter away again.
“How did you get the letters?”
“I can’t tell you, he’ll come back, he’ll—he’ll kill me,”
“Are you talking about my husband?”
I could feel Xander’s tension as he shifted his weight behind me, but tried my best to ignore him.
“My husband is gone; he won’t hurt you anymore.”
“Are you like him?” He was sizing me up like a boxer in a ring, but I tried my best to look relaxed.
“No, I’m not like him. I want to find who gave you these letters, it’s very important.”
“I promise I don’t know what they said, they offered me money, and—”
“It’s okay,” I soothed.
“I’m not good with directions, but I know how to get there.”
“Do you think you could show me?” I was perking up at this fountain of information, but before the little boy could speak, I was yanked to my feet by Xander. He had a threatening look in his eyes that dared me not to try him.
“You are not walking into the lion’s den,” he hissed.
“I can show you, but you have to promise to save me before the bad men come back.”
I counteracted Xander’s dark look with one of my own, and turned back to the little boy with a smile.
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