|23| Her Cross
Tall trees, a blue sky, and a trail that leads me somewhere unknown, walking, I pull my cloak, covering my face more than it already was. I never expected to leave like that. No one was around when I arrived at the bedroom, so it was easy to grab some of my basic stuff and escape. I felt terrible for leaving like that, but I can’t afford more issues. It may be selfish of me, but this was my business, no one else.
Looking up at the sky, I see several birds flying by. It’s been an hour since I left. By now, someone must have discovered I was gone.
Smiling wryly, I grip the bag I had with me and walk a bit faster. I had taken the small trail I found in the garden earlier. Hopefully, no one would be around. I didn’t know where I was heading to, but hopefully, somewhere, no one knew me. I knew of another kingdom that resided close to the witch’s empire. This one was close to the ocean. I’ve never been to the sea. Would it be nice to visit there?
Sighing, I think about what to do. I needed to be out of sight. Somewhere where I could spend time and then let myself get sick and die. Remembering the woman from a few nights ago, I frown. She looked at me like she’s seen a ghost. I felt every hair on my body stand as she looked at me. Who was she?
She was no ordinary woman that I was sure of. There was something on her that made me fear her awfully. Just thinking of it made me shiver. Shaking the feeling off, I reach for an opening. There was a road that led in two opposite directions. Looking around, I try to guess which one is not Ellesmere. Standing, I see that a carriage is approaching from the right side. I raised my hand, trying to stop them.
Noticing me, the coachman stops. The carriage was a really simple one. Sighing in relief that it wasn’t royal, I asked him where I was.
“I just came from Ellesmere, dear. Were you heading somewhere?” the old man asked, smiling.
“Where does this road lead to? I’m traveling, just to visit, “I said, lying. I had to create a story so no one could suspect me.
“Well, dear, this one leads to Port Mor, but there’s another road to the Kresta Empire. You know where all those mages reside,” the old man explained, “I could give you a ride if you wish?”
“Really?” I said, smiling.
“Yes, hop on, dear, and think where you want to go. We have an hour or two still. Think and let me know,” the old man said, getting down and opening the carriage. Thanking him, I get on, but not before looking towards the forest one last time. Gripping the door frame, I smile and get in. The coachman closed the door.
Looking away, I close my eyes and relax.
An hour later, I had decided where to go.
“You sure Port Mor is your choice?” the old man asked, surprised.
“Yes, why? Is there a problem?” I asked, confused.
“Not at all, it’s just a lady like you all alone going to the most bustling port has to be careful,” the old man said, “I’m from there, so if you like dear, you may stay at my home. My lady shall be happy to have a guest over.”
“Thank you,” I smiled. Closing the latch, I lean back, but some whining and ruckus outside have me getting nervous. Did someone stop us?
Unable to hear something, just some muffled sounds, I pulled a dagger out in case someone attacked me. I was gripping the bag and preparing to make a run. The carriage opened. My eyes go wide as I see a sweaty Maximus standing at the entrance.
“Maximus?” I whispered, baffled. “How did you…”
Grabbing my arm, he pulls me and hugs me.
“How could you?” Maximus said, panting. Has he been chasing me all this time? “You scared me,” he whispered as his entire body trembled.
I kneeled, unable to move. How did Maximus find me so fast?
“Here she is?” another familiar voice said from behind Maximus. Pushing him slightly, I see Alastair with his arms crossed, looking at me. A smug on his face. “It’s been a while.”
“Alastair?” I said as I moved to look outside.
“If you’re looking for everyone else, they’re not here. They are searching for you somewhere else,” Alastair explained.
“Why are you here?” I asked, feeling angry.
“Because we couldn’t let you go,” Alastair said, shrugging, “If you think you’re going to leave without a goodbye, then you’re wrong. And also, Azriel went crazy. My dear brother is flipping the entire land of the witches over to find you, so I suggest you go back.”
Looking down at the dirty ground, I sighed. Maximus was next to me, his eyes piercing at me as he waited for me to say something.
“I’m not going back,” I mumble.
“What?” Maximus said, frowning, “You are Amari.”
“NO!” I retorted, “I can do whatever I want. I’m not engaged to you or anyone. I’m free,” I said laughing, “I’m free to do what I want, right, Alastair.”
Alastair frowned at me. His cold eyes looked at me with fury.
“No, Amari, that’s where you’re wrong,” Alastair said after a moment of silence, “You are free, but not when you decide to leave like this. It would have been a different story if you had told us why you left. Why disappear like that. Don’t you understand how worried everyone was?”
He was right; I fled away, making everyone who had cared for me and worries. Nodding, I quietly lowered my head. Deciding it was best to get down, I give some coins to the coachman and apologies for the inconvenience.
“Not at all, dear. If you ever come to Port Mor, make sure to visit. We would love to have you,” the old man said, waving a goodbye. I watch as the carriage leaves, leaving a trail of dust on its way.
“Let’s go, Amari,” Alastair said, walking away. I stood with my back at him.
“Amari?” Maximus said behind me. I felt his body close to mine.
“I’m not going back,” I whispered, making Alastair stop and look at me.
“Not coming back?” Alastair hissed. Turning around, I find both of them looking at me with a frown. “You heard me, I’m not going. You guys can go back. Say you couldn’t find me.”
Alastair laughed as he pinched his nose. His laughter sounded like he was about to kill someone.
“You expect me to leave you here?” Alastair hissed as he approached me. Taking a step back, Maximus stands in front of me.
“Relax, Alastair,” Maximus mumbled. “Give us a moment.”
Alastair scowled and turned away. Getting on his horse, he looked down at me.
“You better come back. Because Azriel will come for you,” Alastair said as he glared at Maximus. Moving the reins, he leaves on his horse.
I sighed tiredly. Maximus looked at me over his shoulder.
“What?” I snap, annoyed.
“Why did you run away?” Maximus asked. I scoffed, turning around and walking down the road. “Amari, I asked you something.”
“Why do you even care?” I said, turning around. Maximus was some feet away from me.
“How could I not?” Maximus mumble as his red eyes look at me, “You disappeared. Do you have an idea how scared I got? I thought…”
“You thought your enemies kidnapped me?” I said, laughing, “No, Maximus, your enemies don’t care too much for me.” I said, turning around and walking. Maximus followed down the dirt road.
“Amari, please,” Maximus said, reaching my arm. I groan angrily.
“Let me go!” I said, pulling my arm, but his grip was firm. I could feel how strongly he was holding me. “You’re hurting me!” I said. Maximus flinched and let go. Rubbing my arm, I glance his way. “Look,” I sighed, “All I want is to go. I hate being royalty; I hate all this. All I want is to travel, do what I want, and enjoy.”
“You can do it with me,” Maximus said.
“Why is everything related to you? Do you even think about how I feel?” I spat, annoyed. Walking up to him, I push him, “Have you ever wondered what I want? Have you? Do you know if I’m happy?”
“I know you’re not happy,” Maximus whispered as I stopped hitting him. Smiling sadly, he reached for my face. He was moving my cloak so he could see my face.
“You know how I found you?” Maximus suddenly asked.
Now that he mentioned it, he found me fast. It hasn’t even been six hours.
“I found you because I can feel you. This mate bond we share,” Maximus said.
“We don’t share nothing,” I said, frowning, “this mate bond you say we have. I don’t feel it.”
“You said earlier that you had feelings for me,” Maximus whispered, leaning down, “that you felt this thing. That we both felt it, and you know I’m not lying,” he said, caressing my face.
I blushed. Maximus was too close to me. Distracted by him, I suddenly feel an arm down my legs. I yelp as Maximus carries me in his arms.
“When you disappeared, my heart started beating like crazy. It was the same desperate feeling I had when you left with Lorcan. When you got hurt as well,” Maximus sighed, “I could find you because my heart yearned for you, Amari. Can’t you see I’m in love with you? I love you.”
A strong wind blew by, ruffling my hair as I heard his words.
“I love you,” Maximus smiled. I stared at him. No words could come out of my mouth.
Gasping, I push him. I needed to be away from him.
“Put me down,” I said, looking away. My face burned hot in embarrassment. I can’t believe Maximus noted that with a straight face.
“I won’t put you down,” Maximus said, keeping me safe in his arms, “I won’t until you hear me.”
Baffle, I look down at him.
“I love you, Princess Amari,” Maximus said smiling, “I mean it. I love you.”
Caressing my face, I close my eyes. My heart was beating as I repeated the words in my head. He was so sincere that I was falling for it. But remembering the real reason I was leaving, I shake my head and push him.
“No!” I said, kicking him. Hearing someone yell from afar, I stop and turn. The three brothers with Liliths and Devika rode our way. Reaching where we were, Azriel gets down and runs up to us.
Putting me down, I look at him but move away as Azriel reaches for me.
“AMARI!” a worried Lorcan said as he pants. Azriel looked angry as he stayed quiet.
“Why did you leave us?” Lorcan asked with worry, “You know how worried I was?”
I just glare at him. I didn’t have anything to say.
“I decide to leave,” I said, moving my eyes towards Azriel. I had to be careful. If my guess were correct, Azriel would use what he knows of my curse to stop me.
“Amari! We were worried for you,” Liliths said. My eyes followed the person behind her. I frowned at Devika. Since coming over to the witch empire, the person I have least seen has been her.” Amari?” Liliths called.
“I’m sorry, but this is my choice,” I said, “I only want to be alone.”
“But Amari, how can you be alone?” Lilith said worriedly.
“Yes, Lilith is right,” Lorcan said, smiling, “Please let’s go back. We can talk about it, and then I can take you anywhere.” offering his hand; I look at it. Lorcan smiled wryly. I could see he was worried, but did I want to go back?
Looking around, I stop on Azriel. He was standing straight, looking down at me. I hated that of him. He was silently warning me. Feeling I had no choice, I fist my hands and nod. Passing by all of them, I start walking away.
I stood in the window of the enormous bedroom—my back at everyone present.
We had arrived an hour ago, after bringing me to this bedroom. Everyone excused themselves, leaving Lilith and me alone. She didn’t utter a word all the time I was getting changed. But deep down, I knew she wanted to ask me a lot.
Now everyone was back, even Maximus. For the last ten minutes, I’ve been looking outside. I could feel everyone’s gaze on me as they patiently waited for me to explain. I had no reason to explain. I had no ties to them.
“How long are you going to stay quiet?” Alastair was the first to say.
“Once you leave, I will stop being quiet,” I said without looking at them.
“Dear, please, we just want to know,” Lorcan said, approaching me. His hands squeezed my shoulders.
“I already explained Loran,” I spat, “I was clear. Those are my intentions.”
“Brother, please do something,” I heard Lilith say to Azriel. But he has been quiet since we came back. I knew he was giving me a chance, to be honest and tell them, but I wouldn’t.
“Can I speak with Azriel? Alone?” I mutter. I felt Lorcan move. Was he looking at Azriel?
“Fine,” Lorcan sighed after a while. Letting everyone leave, I see Maximus stand up. He looked serious. Looking back outside, I wait for all of them to go.
It took a while, but the doors finally closed.
Azriel didn’t utter a word. Instead, he moved to the fireplace and took a seat on the floor. I glanced at him; he wasn’t looking at me.
“Say, are we not enough?” Azriel whispered.
I looked at the sky outside. It was getting dark.
“Enough…” I whispered, “Nothing is enough in this life if you are greedy.”
Azriel scoffed with a smile.
“Right,” Azriel whispered. “But are we not enough for you to stay?”
“It’s not about staying,” I said, crossing my arms, “It’s about doing what I wish, for at least the last months.”
“What about us then?” Azriel asked.
“What about you?” I said back, “Have you thought about how I’ve been feeling all this time? How my life was before they sold me?”
“Amari,” Azriel said as I turned around. I stare at him, annoyed, frustrated.
“Don’t try to talk me out of this,” I accused, “You have no idea how many times I wished to die. How many times I had to endure suffering, how many times I wonder why it was so unfair. It hurts Azriel knowing that you have no one!”
“But you have us, me Amari,” Azriel said, hurt. His voice was trembling, “You have me, I know that we are still getting to know ourselves, but you have me. I will always be here for you.”
Shaking my head, I walk over and sit on the sofa. Leaning my face on my hand, I close my eyes.
“Did Celine not tell you what happened?” I said to Azriel.
“No?” Azriel said confused, “What are you referring to?”
“The curse,” I said, smiling wryly. I hated talking about this. But since Azriel knew of it, why hide it from him?
“They cursed me when I was born. Thanks to a mistake my father made. An innocent paid for it. Well, not only me. My brothers got killed, and my mother killed herself because of the pain and curse, leaving my sister and me alone. The king made a mistake. What was it? I never knew,” I explained. Azriel listened quietly.
“All these years, I live in a plain room at the south end of the palace. Where no one would visit or even know I was there. They used me when they needed something of importance from me. Like when I got sold to Maximus,” I said laughing, “how ironic.”
“Amari,” Azriel whispered, but I stopped him. Looking at his face, I see him troubled.
“You wanted to know, so shut up,” I snapped. Azriel looked offended. “All the time I was in my father’s place, no one asked for me. Only one person looked after me, a small young girl,” I said smiling, “Her name was Mayah. She would always bring me food, water and tend my wounds after my father or anyone else had beaten me, leaving my skin open, covered in blood and bruises. You know what’s funny, that I never cried in front of them. That I always held my head high and showed that I was strong. But I cried for the first time in front of Maximus when he raised his hand to me and mistreated me. I cried more than once, I showed him how weak I was, and I never knew why I could easily cry in front of him.”
Azriel had a frown. Sighing, I continue.
“But now I understand why I cried easily in front of him,” I said, thinking back to when he explained we were mates, “I cried because we shared a bond. One that I still can’t accept.”
“There’s no need for you to accept the mate bond,” Azriel said, frowning harder. There was something he wanted to ask, but he kept his question to himself.
“Would you do that?” I asked him. Azriel looked surprised by the question. “If you find your mate, would you do the same?”
“I…” Azriel stuttered. It was the first time he looked lost.
“Answer that question to yourself, Azriel,” I said, smiling. Leaning my head on the armrest, I look at the fire playing. The pieces of wood made a crackling sound.
“I will start dying slowly, Azriel. Slowly and painfully, I will start dying. My body will start getting sick, and slowly, I will start every sense until bedridden. That’s why,” I mutter quietly, “I want to be free and do what I want. See what I was never able to see.”
Azriel didn’t say another word after that.
The night passed by in a blur. Morning arrived, and I sat outside the balcony. A green quilt wrapped around my body as I stared at the forest.
“Have some tea, my lady,” Jonathan said, offering me a cup of what smelled like vanilla tea. Thanking him, he stares down at me.
“Sit, Jonathan,” I order him without looking. Bringing the warm cup to my lips, I sighed. I wasn’t able to sleep at all. Once my conversation with Azriel was over, he stayed in the room. The only words he said were he wouldn’t leave my side.
“Jonathan, I’ve been curious. Why did you leave Maximus?” I asked as I looked at him. Jonathan smiled but kept his head down.
“I worked for King Maximus for decades. Not only me, Nora the head maid as well. We have served him since his father passed away,” Jonathan explained. “I know King Maximus can be tough, mean, but he’s a righteous king. Maximus has taken the role of a king for himself. I know it might sound strange, but he wasn’t like this before. No, let me correct myself. He wasn’t like he used to.”
“What do you mean?” I asked as he finally looked at me and rubbed his chin.
“You see, the king was a different person. As a dragon, it’s in his nature to behave and act like a monster. But he used to be different,” Jonathan mumble.
“What changed?” I asked, curious to hear more.
“That, it would be best if he told you. All I can say is that’s related to that scar he has,” Jonathan smiled.
“The scar on his chest?” I asked, frowning.
“Yes,” Jonathan nodded, “there’s a story behind it.”
Looking down at my cup, I nod.
“I know you’re not fond of the king. It’s expected after what happened,” Jonathan said, laughing, “But let me tell you something, my queen. All the time you were in the palace, the king looked at you with eyes full of love.”
I snapped my head and laughed.
“You’re wrong,” I said, drinking my tea.
“No,” Jonathan said, shaking his head, “He doesn’t show it, but I’ve been with him, so I know every little detail of his expressions. He cares for you.”
Smiling, I stayed quiet.
“People change my queen,” Jonathan said, smiling as he stands, “The hateful old king is disappearing thanks to you. I can see some traces of himself coming back. His father, the late king, would have appreciated that a lot.” bowing Jonathan left.
Sighing, I put my cup down and stand up. Walking to the balcony rail, I lean.
“It’s day two, Amari,” Azriel said from behind.
“You still won’t let go?” I whispered, stretching.
“Never, when it comes to you, I would never; because I care for you,” Azriel said.
Glancing at him, I look down and smile.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered as I lifted my blue eyes, “But I’m taking this with me to the grave.”
“Amari!” Azriel retorted, “Stop it!”
“You won’t be able to stop me!” I said, laughing. “Because there’s nothing you can do.”
Azriel gritted his teeth.
“AMARI, I’M WARNING YOU!” Azriel yelled.
“What’s the matter?” Lorcan said as he looked at Azriel angrily, “Something the matter, brother?”
Azriel kept his eyes on me.
“Amari?” Lorcan asked. I could see Alastair and Lilith standing behind. Moving my eyes back to Azriel, I grip my fist.
“Your last chance, Amari,” Azriel hissed.
Looking away, I approach Lorcan. Standing a few feet away, I smiled at him.
“I’m leaving Lorcan,” I said smiling, “I can’t stay.”
“Is it because I forced you to be a queen?” Lorcan asked as he started looking conflicted.
“No,” I said, shaking my head, “it’s just something I decided. There’s no need to worry.”
“How can I not worry?” Lorcan said, grabbing my hands. “Why are you like this?”
“All I want is to be alone, Lorcan,” I said, squeezing his hand.
“So you can die all alone?” Azriel said, making me snap my head. Pulling away from Lorcan, I glare at him. Thin lips and dark eyes stare back at me. Was he defying me?
“Die?” Liliths said with confusion, “Do you mean someone may hurt her?”
“No,” Azriel said, approaching me. I took a step back, gritting my teeth.
“Don’t you dare, Azriel,” I growled furiously?
“I gave you a chance, Amari,” Azriel hissed.
“Stay out of this!” I said as he looked down at me.
“What is my brother talking about, Amari? What does he mean by dying?” Lilith asked. She looked like she was about to cry.
“Why don’t you tell them?” Azriel said, backing away from me, “Tell them, Amari!”
“Tell us what?” Lorcan asked, his gray eyes tried to see what I was hiding.
Taking several deep breaths, I glowered at Azriel.
“You’re crossing the line!” I whispered.
“I’m doing it because it’s your life that’s at risk,” Azriel said.
“Yes,” I mumble, “It’s my life, and you have to stay out of it!” I yelled.
“NO! NO WHEN YOU’VE BEEN CURSED AND YOU’RE DYING! I WON’T LET THAT HAPPEN!” Azriel snapped as his veins pulsed on his forehead. His fangs elongated as he got closer and grabbed my arm. “Amari is dying from a curse. They cursed her from the moment she was born.”
“Is it true?” a voice said as I look behind Azriel. Maximus stood with a pale face looking at me. “You’re dying?”
I felt tears down my face. Drying them, I pulled away from Azriel. Looking at each of them, I laugh.
“Yes, yes, I’m dying! I’m dying, Maximus,” I said between tears.
“Is that why you… you didn’t accept my love?” Maximus asked, choking.
“Yes…” I cried, “I can’t love you, Maximus. Don’t you see, I will die once I turn twenty. So why give hope if all you will get is a pain as I have gotten all this time? I’m dying thanks to a curse, that’s why all I ever wanted was to be free,” I said, crying, “I hate my life.”
An eerie silence fell around me.
“Who was it?” Maximus whispered. “Tell me, Amari, who was it?”
Sniffling, I look at him with tears. Maximus looked angry.
“TELL ME! I SAID!” he yelled as his voice broke.
“A witch,” I whispered, “A witch gave me my cross. My Cross to Bear, the only thing I can call my own and carry until I die.”