Cross To Bear (Book 1)

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|2| Etuicia Empire

Amari POV

A bump has me waking up scared. For a second, I have forgotten where I was. Sighing, I sit up and fix my dress. It was my second day on the road. Etuicia Empire was five days away from the Pallatine Empire. The bumpy roads and lifeless views made my days boring.

Opening the carriage window, I look outside. So far, we were still on the Pallatine territory. One more day, and we would finally leave this place. As much as I wanted to get down and rest, I couldn’t.

Good thing I brought some of my books and paper, which has been keeping me entertained. I sighed once again.

I stare up at the blue sky. By the looks, it might be around the afternoon. Soon we would stop to rest. The two coachmen that were with me have been kind enough to stop occasionally. They know I’ve been struggling with the ride. After all, it was my first time leaving the palace.

In all my years, I never went out. Not even got on a carriage. It was my first time. It should be exciting, but that’s the least I was feeling right now. Just remembering the awful and painful days I had was enough to make me shiver. My father never loved me. And my sister never even dared to look at me.

Celine, that’s my sister’s name. Celine was four years older than me. Her golden locks and blue eyes made her one of the most beautiful princesses. She had everything I didn’t have beauty. Was I envious of her? Maybe a bit. While her white porcelain skin shined brightly under the sun and her voluptuous body captivated everyone’s heart. I remained like the ugly duck. My white scarred skin and face freckles made me look already awful. The only thing I was happy about was my eyes. They were icy blue, just like the morning sky after a long night of rain.

Hearing the horses make a minor stir. I peer outside the window. Stopping the carriage, I try to look what’s ahead.

“Sorry my lady, we had to stop. It seems they are doing gate checkout,” the coachman explained with an embarrassed smile. Nodding his way, I sit back in. I haven’t even realized, but we were already at the empire’s gates.

Deciding it was best to read a book. I look for a romance book that would make me distracted. I was a bookworm and addicted to those fantasy worlds that would pull me out of my miserable life, especially when my father punished me.

As the carriage ambled, I patiently waited. By the time I look out the window. I noticed the tall wooden gates. They were wide open as travelers walked in and out of the enormous empire’s walls.

Sellers offered different things. Curious to see what they had, I leaned on the window and looked outside. Other colorful dresses and food capture my eyes. The beautiful colors and designs make me wonder how nice it would look if I had one. But I had no money on me. The only small pouch with the money I had was one that Mayah gave me. But I saved that for emergencies. I missed her right now.

Smiling sadly, I get back in and close the curtains. I couldn’t desire for something that would never happen.

The setting sun showed that it was past six. My stomach rumbles as I wait for the coachmen to stop. I needed to prepare at least something to eat.

When I was in the palace, I used to stay days without eating. When someone punished me, they would take my food away and give me water. But Mayah as a loyal and good friend, brought me pieces of leftover just to make sure I had something to eat.

As I hear a slight knocking coming from the front, I unlock the small latch and look who it was.

“Sorry, my lady, but we won’t be stopping tonight. We have to arrive earlier to the Etuicia Empire,” the coachman said.

Quietly I smiled and locked the latch. That meant no food for me tonight. Deciding to give up on the idea of eating something, I laid down. My buttocks hurt from too much bumping up and down. Even though the seats of the carriage had cushions, it still hurt. I felt my back would crack any moment if this continued.

I was taking a deep breath. I think about what’s going to happen now that I was to be wedded to the Etuicia Empire.

As I grew up, I heard rumors of the king of the Etuicia Empire. The maids in the palace would whisper between them about him. I got to hear from him by chance. After I heard them, I asked Mayah. She said that the king was someone handsome but feared by everyone. They said he would torture all his women. That was a reason he never got married. But why now? What change?

I remember asking Mayah for his name. I was too curious to know more about him. She mentioned she didn’t remember well, but his name started with an m. Something around it made me look for it, but there wasn’t a single book about him in the palace. And because I wasn’t allowed to go to the library. I had no other choice but to look at the old dusty books that they left.

Never did I get to read or see his name. It was something I was always curious to know. The king of the Etuicia Empire. Now that I think about it, if the rumors were true. I would probably die. Just thinking of the possibilities made me nervous. Would he torture me? Hate me? Would he punish me for how I looked?

I wasn’t the most beautiful girl, and I also was a virgin. So what did I know? I was just a girl abused at her own home.

Hearing voices, I get up. I fell asleep in the worst position. My neck and arms were stiff. I was groaning as I try to move my neck. I hear more loud voices coming from outside. Curious to see, I peek through the curtain. The carriage was moving slowly. Did we arrive somewhere?

Uncertain of what was happening. I unlocked the small latch and called one coachman.

“My lady, we are in the small town of Riverdale. We are missing one more day. We shall stop for a while and have you rest. So please sit, and we will let you know once we find a place,” the coachman said as he smiled brightly at me.

Smiling back, I nod and give him a quick thanks. This town sounded bustling. Eager to arrive, I bit my lip and looked out the window. The place was full of townspeople. Food stalls and merchants move around the small market we were passing. I watch with amazement as the smiling people busy themselves.

“This is different,” I said to myself. My eyes moved curiously around. I couldn’t wait to take at least a small stroll.

Feeling the carriage stop, the coachmen knock on the small latch. Opening it, I look up.

“We arrived, my lady,” the coachman said. Smiling, I put my things away and grabbed the small bag I had.

As the carriage door opened, I stepped out. My legs wobble. It’s been a day since I stood up. Carefully not to fall, I hold myself from the small door rail. Excited, I waited for the coachmen to give me orders.

We are supposed to stay for an hour. That was enough time for me to explore a little. As I remember the spot we are, I tell them I shall be back and head to the busy market. Gripping my bag, I stroll around the place. I was dying to buy something, at least food.

My stomach growls as I pass by a small food stall and smell the delicious fish. My mouth watered as I stared at the cooked fish.

“Would you like to buy some, my dear?” the lady asked as she smiled kindly. Gulping, I nod and take out some of my coins. Paying her, I grab the fish and head to the rest of the stalls.

My time was about to end. I needed to head back before something happened. Paying for some fruit I bought, I head back to the carriage. I was in such a hurry I didn’t notice who made a turn and bump with me. Falling hard on the ground, feeling a slight sharp pain on my hand, I wince.

“S-Sorry,” I stutter nervously, looking up and seeing a man with a cape. He loomed over me. It barely showed his face because the dark cloak covered it. I was cringing as his eyes met mine for a split second. I apologize again and stand up.

He didn’t say a word, so I bowed and fled from there. Why was he giving me the creeps? As I walked in a hurry, I could feel his gaze still lingering in me. Looking over my shoulder, I see him staring at me. Gasping, I fled from their almost running. It wasn’t good. I didn’t know who he was, but all I needed to do right now was get out of his sight.

Finally, I reached the carriage. Both coachmen were eating. Noticing me, one of them stands up and opens the door.

“Oh, here this is for you,” I said as I offered some apples for both of them.

“Thanks my lady,” the coachman said, bowing. I nodded and got in.

I was setting the food down on the floor as I fix my dress and hair. Braiding my hair, I feel a sharp pain again in my left hand. Looking at it, I see dried blood. Was I bleeding?

The fall made me scrape my hand accidentally. Cleaning it with some water, I recall the man.

He was a strange one. Just remembering gave me goosebumps.

“Forget it, Amari,” I said to myself. Putting a smile on my face, I turn to grab an apple. But I wasn’t feeling that hungry anymore. Sighing, I put it back down and grab my book.

It’s been a few hours since we started moving. I had read some of my books, drawn, wrote, ate, and slept. It was boring that I was feeling oppressed. It was frustrating. Sighing, I ruffle my now messy hair and open the window. The cool air was gracing my face. The sun was setting down. Were we still far from the Etuicia Empire?

I look outside. I didn’t notice it before, but now I can see open fields. With tall trees afar. The greenery and blue sky looked amazing combined. Looking around the area, I see a lake. Gasping, I sit up and stare at it.

“Wow,” I mumble, as my eyes stay on the lake.

“That’s the Myriad lake,” the coachman said as he looked at me, “We are close to the Etuicia Empire. So be prepared.”

Smile gone, I nod. We were close now, and I was getting closer to my new home. Nerves started peeking on me. I toyed with my hands as I started wondering how everything might be. Would I get killed? Would he punish me? or would he abuse me?

Just the thoughts have me hyperventilating. Putting my hand over my chest, I try to calm down.

“Don’t cry, don’t cry, Amari…” I whispered. My mind was jumbling with thoughts of what could happen. I didn’t even know who my so-called husband indeed was. Sniffing, I close my eyes. I needed to keep my head high and not show my weakness.

I was drying my tears with the back of my hand. I couldn’t keep crying. Taking a deep breath, I pulled out a small bag the head maid gave me. She explained I had some needs in there, makeup, lotions, and some jewelry. It surprised me they even gave me this. But as she mentioned, just to use as I arrived in Etuicia.

“We are at the gates of the Etuicia Empire!” the coachmen yelled.

I flinched in surprise.

I haven’t dared to open the curtains of the carriage. After I got ready, I leaned back on the seat and started preparing mentally. I looked at my hands and saw the scar from earlier.

“You’re a monster,” I mumble.

Seeing this small scar reminded me of the ones I had on my back. I have been able to clean them a bit during the trip. Some were fresh, and others had healed a bit. Now that worried me. Because what if the person feels disgusted?

As my mind wonders, I feel a sudden stop. The horses whined outside. Gripping the seat, I wait for them to say something.

Hearing a soft knock coming from the door, I panic.

“We have arrived, my lady,” the coachman said.

“Thank you,” I mumbled nervously.

I was fixing my things.

I make sure I’m good before stepping down. As the coachman opens the door. I took a deep breath and smiled.

Eyes wide, I stop as I look at the palace before me. The coachman offered me his hand. Taking it, I slowly get down the steps. I still had my eyes plastered on the palace. Its magnificent pillars and grand entrance made me feel so small. The whole place was gray and white. What a gloomy place, I thought.

I was standing at the entrance. As I look around me, I noticed a beautiful garden decorated the opening of this gloomy place. There was a white fountain with an angel in the middle. Some rose bushes on the sides as other trees and flowers surrounding it. Frowning, I notice that a vast forest surrounds this place. Lines of trees stand on the way.

I heard someone clear its throat. I snap my head around. A man with gray eyes and black hair looked down at me. The man was tall and bulky. He was wearing a black uniform, but his imposing aura made me gulp hard. Who was he?

“Welcome, I’m Sasha, the head butler of the king. Please follow me,” the man called Sasha said. With a serious face, he looked down at me. Feeling uncomfortable, I bow at him and introduce myself.

Giving a glance at the coachmen, they both nodded. I didn’t notice it because of my distraction, but three other men were waiting on the side. They had their eyes cast down, and they were wearing the same black uniform but with golden details.

Keeping my head high, I walk in. I needed to get a grip.

As we approached the entrance, two enormous dark wooden doors opened. Some guards stood on the side as they opened them wide for us to walk in. I nodded and looked down at the floor. I frowned as I saw my reflection on the white marble floor. The floor was so clean that it kind of shocked me. Shaking my head, I raise it and look ahead.

My mouth hangs as it registers what I was seeing. Rows of paintings and furniture adorn the long hallway we were walking. I look from side to side. They decorated the gray walls with different portraits. The dark wooden frame making the colors pop out.

“Wow,” I whispered, sounding stupid.

Shutting my mouth, I see Sasha looking at me over his shoulders. Rolling his eyes, he turns away. Did he also just scoffed at me?

I decided to ignore it.

As I keep looking at the palace, I notice the rooftop. It was terrific. It had this high ceiling in the shape of a dome. Frowning, I stare up. Were those drawing up there? They drew small creatures on the top. It was so artistic that it looked like a story. But what captured my attention the most was that there were some dragons. I furrowed my eyebrows as the thought plays on my mind. Dragons didn’t exist, right?

I continue following Sasha. We made a quick turn, and now we were in another hallway. How long were we planning to walk?

As we make another turn again, I see servants walking up and down. Some bowed as they noticed us. Others just stopped and bowed their heads. None of them looked at me, strange. Too distracted by my surroundings. I bump into someone. Muttering a groan under my breath, I look up. Sasha looked down at me with a scowl. Gasping, I back away nervously.

“S-Sorry,” I said as I covered my painful nose.

Sighing, Sasha says something to the two guards.

“This is where the king is. Remember to be respectful and do as he asks. Are we clear?” Sasha said with a sigh.

Nodding, I smiled at him. Sasha turned his back to me and ordered the guards to open the doors. Nervously I started toying with my hands. Why was I nervous now?

As the two dark wooden doors open with a creaking sound. I hear an angry yell coming from inside. I cringed as I listened to the man curse. He sounded so mad that my body started shaking in fear. Biting my lip, I close my eyes and breathe deeply. Hearing footsteps, I look up. Another person dressed like Sasha joined us. Asking Sasha to leave us, he asks me to follow him. Sighing, I followed suit.

I look to the front. Head high and straight back, I take my first step. I didn’t know what would happen, but now I had no choice. This would be my new test. But am I ready for it?

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