14. Bewildered Heart
Aria and I finally reached the bustling market. I looked around just to notice Ezekiel waving his hand our way. I smiled and rushed to his side.
“Finally, you’re a free woman,” Ezekiel chuckled as he patted my head. I nodded and greeted him.
“Why are there so many people?” Aria asked as I nodded her way.
“Oh, I hear they are handing invitations on the plaza,” Ezekiel shrugged.
“Invitations for what?” I frowned. Ezekiel hummed but shrugged his shoulder again. “Let’s check out.”
“Really?” Aria said excitedly. I smiled at her and asked Ezekiel to guide us.
We all walked around for a few minutes before we arrived at the crowded plaza. I cringed at how packed the place looked. It was bothersome.
“Well, there’s a lot of unexpected people,” Ezekiel hissed, recoiling behind me.
I laughed and continued watching the men in the front. They wore the castle’s cape, meaning Noah had sent them for a reason. I looked around and sighed when I saw a familiar cape a few feet away.
I couldn’t believe Zion had followed us. What was his deal?
“Let’s go to the stalls,” I said as I fixed my robe.
“You sure? Won’t you check this out?” Aria pointed to the front, to which I shook my head.
“No, we came to help Ezekiel and look around. Not be around the crowded people,” I sighed.
“True, let’s not waste time. I bet Mila has to go back soon,” Ezekiel said. I nodded in agreement and started walking away.
We finally reached Ezekiel’s stall, where his uncle was helping. We all greeted him and joined him behind the tall wooden booth. I pulled my hood off and looked at the front. Zion was nowhere in sight. Was I mistaken, or did he lose sight of me?
“Here, try this out,” Ezekiel said as he handed me a sandwich. My smile widens as I take a bite of the tasty bread. “You like it?”
“Yes!” I answered with my mouth half full.
“Well, let’s start selling them,” Ezekiel smiled. I devoured my sandwich and started helping his uncle.
There was a crowd making a line. It was fun and distracting, which I needed, especially after my minor argument with Zion. I knew Aria wanted me to go back, but I couldn’t go. So I was debating if to tell Zion the truth or keep hiding it. My mother wouldn’t dare do something if I stayed in the castle. She feared the place. So no doubt she would go.
I thanked an older woman and prepared another yummy sandwich when I felt a hand around my waist. I gasped as I looked up.
“ZION!” I say through gritted teeth. Zion had pulled me away to an alley that was close by. A small chuckle left his lips as I punched him in his chest. “Let go!”
“Fine!” Zion said defensively. His hands loosened up, and he just smiled down at me.
“Why did you follow us?” I asked him. “I thought you were too busy?”
Zion sighed and leaned against the wall.
“I know, and I’m sorry, but I couldn’t let you walk out of the castle. Especially since I knew something happened with your mom last time,” Zion explained with a sigh. “I was worried, that’s all.”
“Worried, huh?” I said and looked towards the stall. Ezekiel threw me a glare like I was doing in the alley, but I just waved at him. “I’m busy, Zion. So go back to the castle. I can take care of myself.”
I started walking when he gripped my arm and stopped me. I groaned in anger and grabbed his wrist.
“Let go!” I hissed at him. Zion sighed and slowly let go of my arm.
I stumped back and apologized quickly. I could feel Zion’s gaze still boring a hole in my head. Deciding to ignore him, I changed places with Aria and worked.
We spent four hours helping Ezekiel before every little bread disappeared from the stall. Then we cheered in excitement as we finally ended our sale.
“Thank you, girls!” Ezekiel’s uncle thank us. We thank him back and put our hood back.
“I have to go back,” I said, looking at the sky. The sun was setting by now.
“Are we going home?” Aria asked. I worriedly looked at her.
I hated this, but I couldn’t lie to her. Grabbing hold of her arm, I pulled her to the side.
“Listen, Aria, I know mom wants me back, but I won’t go back,” I explained. “I know it’s hard to understand, but I beg you to trust me. I can’t go back. I have a duty, and you know I’m responsible.”
“I know, Mila,” Aria said sadly. “Despite that, our mother is worried.”
I didn’t know if I should believe her or not. Aria was too naïve, unaware of who our mother indeed was.
I grabbed her shoulders and squeezed softly.
“Aria. I will come back, but until it is right. I have a duty, and I took the job as a saint. Things are not simple.” I smiled wryly. “So please understand.”
Aria looked troubled, so I had no choice.
“Listen, Aria doesn’t believe everything mother is saying. Mother hates the king and his family, but as a person who helps the needy, I have a job, and King Noah ordered it, so I can’t if mother asks you. So tell her they didn’t let me go, all right?” I said sternly. Aria sighed and nodded. I knew Mother wouldn’t lay a hand on her, so I felt at ease on that part. “I will be back soon, all right?”
Aria looked behind me. Her eyes widened, and I knew who was there. I snapped my head and scowled at Zion, who just smiled softly.
I sighed and turned back to look at Aria.
“Sister, this is King Zion,” I whispered. Aria nodded and greeted him. “We should go.”
“You’re leaving?” Aria asked, stopping me. Her hand gripped my brown hood.
“Yes, I will see you in two days, ok?” I smiled, and she smiled back. Then I grabbed Zion’s hood and dragged him out of the market with me. “Why didn’t you leave?”
“Leave?” Zion repeated.
“Yes, leave. Are you deaf?” I spat back. Zion remained silent as we walked side by side out of the market.
We crossed the plaza, and Zion immediately stopped. I groaned and pulled him again.
“Let’s go before people see you!” I hissed quietly. Zion rolled his eyes. Walking again, we finally reached his tied horse.
I waited for Zion to untie him so we could leave.
“Here,” Zion said as he offered his hand. I stared at it but still took it. Finally, in place, he pulls the reins, and we leave the area.
Zion’s arms held me safely in place. It was embarrassing, but I had gotten used to them.
“I was jealous,” Zion suddenly whispers near my ear. I turn to look at him, confused. “I was jealous you left me for them.”
I pinched my nose and pulled the reins to stop the horse. Zion frowned down at me.
“Jealous of what?” I snapped. “Are you jealous of my sister?”
“No,” Zion looked away.
“So of who? You decided to push me away because you were busy and then follow me when I decided to leave with my sister? Are you serious?” I groaned angrily. Zion looked apologetic.
“I don’t enjoy seeing you….”
“Seeing you on what?” I was confused. Zion remained silent, and I pulled the reins again.
We galloped back in silence. Once we had reached the castle, I furiously got down and headed back in. Taking a step inside, Zion suddenly picks me up. I yelp and put my arms around him.
“Put me down!” I screeched, but Zion ignored me. “Zion!”
I didn’t know what he was thinking or doing, so I gave up and let him carry me. We walked down different hallways before making a turn that led to the garden.
Feeling embarrassed, I cover my face and wait for him to put me down.
Finally, Zion stopped, and I opened my eyes. My eyes widened as I looked at the small secluded place we were in.
It was a small garden pergola. I looked around as Zion sat me on a wooden bench. It was adorable. Small yet beautiful in its unique way.
“I’m sorry for before,” Zion says, making me look at him. Zion stood near one of the wooden poles that had vines around it. “I, I agree.”
“Agree on what?” I asked.
“I accept your help, Mila,” Zion whispered over his shoulder. Now that was surprising.
“Why now?” I asked curiously. My fingers made small circles on the wooden bench. “I thought you didn’t want my help.”
“I do!” Zion said, making me jump in surprise. He walked over and kneeled on one leg. Then, reaching for both my hands, he slowly squeezed them. “I want you to help me get better.”
“But?” I said with a sigh. I knew he wanted something in exchange. “Hurry, Zion!”
My patience was running low, and I wanted to end this conversation.
“If you’re doing this just to stop me from going out, you’re wrong!” I said and stood up. His hold loosened on my hands. “You are not keeping me here. I even told your brother that he would not stop me. So if you think that by agreeing, you will force me to stay locked, you’re wrong.”
I walked past him and out of the garden. Zion mumbled something and started following me.
“Wait, Mila!” Zion called as he pulled my hand. I turned around and almost fell backward. Zion wrapped his arms around my body. Then, slowly, he looked me in the eye. “I’m not stopping you. I’m not. But I wish for you to stay by my side.”
My face blushed at his words. Why did it sound like a confession instead of order?
“Just promise you will stay by my side,” Zion repeated as he leaned closer. I felt my face hot as he leaned closer to it. “Don’t leave me.”
Unable to handle it, I nodded and pushed him away. Excusing myself, I rushed back into the castle. My entire body felt feverish. Embarrassed and confused, I head back to my room.
I heard a knock as I finished my tea.
“Come in,” I said from the balcony door. I looked behind me and saw King Noah smiling.
“Sorry to interrupt your tea time, Mila. But I would like to have a word with you,” Noah smiled.
“Please,” I said and offered him a seat. “Want some tea? It will help you rest well.”
“Sure, why not?” Noah said and thanked me. I handed him a warm cup and waited for him to take a sip.
“So what can I do for you, your majesty?” I asked.
Noah put his cup down and sighed. He seemed tired.
“I came to talk to you about a ball we will have,” Noah explained. I raised an eyebrow. “I think you must have seen the mess on the plaza?”
I slowly nodded and let him continue.
“The ball is called The Feast of Blessings. We used to do it when our mother was alive,” Noah mumbled. He started toying with the tablecloth. “And I want to ask you a favor.”
“What is that?” I asked sternly. Noah looked at me and smiled.
I had a bad hunch. “No!”
“Huh?” Noah said. “Excuse me?”
“No, I’m declining that favor,” I said, arms crossed over my chest. Noah chuckled.
“But you haven’t heard my favor,” Noah continued.
“I have a hunch it’s about Zion,” I said with a nod. Noah chuckled again and nodded.
“Indeed, I want you to be Zion’s partner for the ball,” Noah said, leaning his chin on his hands.
“Excuse me?” I spat. “Are you fucking serious? But, you know, don’t answer that.”
“Think about it, Mila,” Noah said. I threw him a glare and stood up from my seat. “Join my stupid brother and enjoy the ball. It will be fun.”
“Why are you doing this ball?” I said, waving my hands around. “Is it for Zion’s sake?”
Noah cleared his throat and stood up as well. Then, fixing his shirt, he walked closer and caressed my cheeks.
“Yes, I’m doing it for him. But if you don’t want to be Zion’s partner, then be mine,” Noah said and grasped my hand. Then, slowly, he kissed my knuckles and then walked away.
I felt trapped in between Zion and him.
I groaned tiredly, turning. Finally, I closed the balcony doors.