The sounds of sensual moans rang out in the night, going unheard by the woman that stood far away gazing at the intimidating tower that had a single lit candle in the meurtrière. The light flickering as the breeze teased the flame of the candle. She felt very much like that flame, withholding against the unrelenting external forces that weighted down on her. Sensing that her horse was getting exhausted by the minute, she snapped the reins prompting her horse to start walking.
The path which she was on would lead her down towards the humungous gates of the castle. The Paradise they called it, the castle and it indeedwas true if the words of those who had been inside, were taken as accounts of reality. Scoffing internally at the idea, her hazel eyes blazing, she thought, of course it was true. Compared to the hellish conditions in which the common folk dwelled, the disease, decay, starvation and constant humiliation, anything could be considered paradise.
What brought her back to the present from her musings about her life and the life of her people was nothing short of a disaster. The mud that was still wet from the rainstorm the previous night, caved in under the weight of the horse as it put one of its forelegs on a rather vulnerable spot. Down they went into the ditch, the horse taking most of the brunt, snapped its neck and banged its head against the rocks, that, although unseen were very much present. The woman, with her comprehension lost, rolled down the steep slope, her chestnut brown hair getting tangled with the twigs, scraping her body against the glass like shreds of rocks peeking through the mud.
It went on forever, and when she did finally find solid ground, she barely remembered her name. She rested face down in the mud which was what she was covered in now. She took in a breath and realised her mistake a little too late as the soft mud went up her nostrils making her experience a different kind of torture. Springing from her place she started blowing out her nose with so much force that she was sure her brains were about blow out along with the mud.
Her eyes, it seemed were bleeding and her lungs cackling. She looked around and thought to herself that she was experiencing amnesia for sure since she couldn’t recognise where she was. Her eyes darting wildly across the infertile land finally settled on her horse. Her dead horse it seemed, since its neck was bent at a most impossible angle.
She stood shakily on her feet, which she wasn’t sure were hers any more, as her sense of agency had left her soon after the fall. Walking slowly towards her horse, she confirmed its death and would have probable mourned if it wasn’t for the whitish substance that peeked from its nose which instantly shot a bolt of energy into her as she leaped away from the horse and emptied her stomach, adding to the natural stench that was the generosity of the land on which she was.
While doing so, she wondered dimly if she should stop thinking altogether as whenever she did, she usually thought grotesque thoughts and those had a habit of coming to reality. Again lost in her musings, she did not hear the smacking sounds as the hooves embedded and wrenched free from the ground again and again in a rhythmic pattern. It was only when leather-clad feet came in her line of vision that she realised that she wasn’t unaccompanied. She shut her eyelids tightly and took a deep, gasping breath as she prepared herself to face what might be her doom.
Before she could turn her face towards her would-be captor, she felt calloused hands gripping her upper arms firmly and was roughly pulled up from her spot on ground, and she came face-to-face with the man who roused fear in her at the first sight. Such was his face, the battle scars being more evident than his features. To an onlooker it would seem that someone had deliberately gone after his face. This was revenge leaving its imprint. Complementary to his scars was his expression. He had murder in his eyes, and they were aglow with delight on having found a beneficiary. Other than the eyes no other part of his face displayed any emotion.
“Charles! Stop poking the dead horse and take our guest to the best chambers in the palace.” he said in a voice so monotonous that it sent shivers down her shoulder blades.
The said Charles came to stand beside her and until he did, her captor continued to skin her with his eyes as she fought hard to not show any fear on her face, keeping it completely neutral. He let his hands drop from her upper arms and blood rushed to area where she was gripped and pain shot through her body. His movements were inhumane, so disciplined they were as he moved out of her path to go examine her horse and her trail.
Charles gripped her hand lightly, making her look up at his face in surprise. He was looking at her with kind eyes and a warm smile. He was a middle-aged man with dark blonde hair and tanned skin. “Come on,” he said in a soft voice and tugged at her arm gently. They started walking towards the horses that stood neighing not too far away.
“Come on up, let me help you.” He said and gripping his fingers together he made space for her to put her foot and straddle the horse. He climbed on behind her and snapped the reins, signalling the horse to start galloping. Feeling relatively safe for the first time in days, she let her thoughts wander and went over what she would do when she finally met him. She assumed that she would recognise him even though the picture of him that she had in her mind had to be from when he would have been no older than twenty. That was nine years ago. She wondered if like her captor, his face too would be scarred. After all he had been a warlord ever since he murdered Sebastian ‘The Sane’ and made his brother the king.
The ‘Throne-Bearer’, they called him and rightly so. It was said that he was blessed by the known and the forgotten gods, and he could turn a mendicant into a monarch if he wished so. But it was also said that he was cursed for he could never himself be the king.
She knew she couldn’t let her impulses get the better of her and that she would have to be cautious all along. She could trust no one not even her own shadow as those tend to reveal your secrets. Distant memories arose of when she had made this mistake and that had to be more than once. Before she could dwell further, a sharp pain on her cheek made her jolt and series of sharp needle-like stings followed. She realised that it had started raining heavily and the drops of water were more like bullets, and the only mercy was that these wouldn’t penetrate the skin.
The castle gates came into the view, and they were stopped by few of the castle-guard. “Charles? You are back rather soon. Didn’t question the lady already, did you?” asked a man of older years in a gruff voice. He had grey, almost-white hair that peeked through the cloth he had tied around his head. He squinted his eyes as he looked at her, and she wondered if it was because of the weather or some visual disability.
The other man stood a bit farther down towards the gates and had his side to her and thus she couldn’t distinguish his features. “Dougal! Not yet, I reckon the master would like to have that luxury for himself.” He replied, his voice amused, confusing her.
“True.” The man said, smirking as if he knew something that she didn’t. But he didn’t know that she was aware of what he was referring to. It was her captor, and she had known the moment he let her go without even asking her name that, even if she were willing he still wanted to torture for information. She had hoped that she would meet him before her captor got a chance to become her tormentor. And even though she had learned early not to hope, she still continued to do so.
“On you go then.” Dougal said and motioned for the other man to open the gates. The horse trotted down the path towards the stables, and she wondered where she would be kept remembering my captor’s words. The rain was still poring, though it was not as harsh as it was before.
Soon they reached the stables, and she could hear the sounds of the horses neighing. Charles got down from the horse and helped her do the same. He led her into the stables, and she took in her surroundings, focusing for maximum retention as one never know when something of value would be revealed, until a sight so beautiful graced her that she was left breathless.
It was a horse of utmost beauty, completely white, and its fur shining like diamonds. It stood facing her and snorted every now and then, its beautiful tail swishing from side to side. As she continued to admire its beauty, she was completely unaware of the man that had been occupying the stables before they had entered. It was his distinctive voice that made her freeze in shock.
“Charles. What brings you here? And who is this with you?” He enquired. “General.” Addressed Charles in a tight voice as if afraid to displease him.
He had to be the most attractive man she had ever looked upon but then again she was well aware that he would be like so. His black hair that almost reached his shoulders were wet, she assumed from the rain and were in a haphazard state but it only gave him a devil-may-care look. His eyes were a brilliant blue and it seemed some storm constantly brew in them. His lips were full and pink but what captured her attention the most was the scar that ran from the corner his mouth to his chin. It was light so the wound wouldn’t have been very deep but, it did nothing to diminish his appeal. He was only in his breeches and shoes and his toned, muscular body was wet and on display. He was strapping his horse which had shiny brown fur and was on the larger side just like his master.
Before Charles could answer, she walked forth and said shakily “Zuriel... don’t you remember me?” She knew that he was surprised by her boldness of addressing him by his name. But then, a confused look passed over his face, his brilliant eyes squinting and frown marring his features as he tried to place her. She walked closer to him and said in voice almost pleading, “It’s me Seraphina... your betrothed.”