5. Humane encounter

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I hug my knees tighter and burry my head. How I would praise the lord if only I could merge into the closet, never to be found again.

Three heavy steps and then the closet door swing open, almost making it fall out of its hinges. I don't look up, I already know who it is. I continue to tremble. For a split second nothing happens and then I feel a steel grip around my arm, pulling me up and out of this closet.

I grab his hand reflexively due to the pain he's causing my arm. I don't dare open my eyes. If he wants to take my body, there is nothing I can do about it and no one will save me.

I whimper as his grip tightens, and he commands for me to look at him. I blink, repeatedly, until I finally open my eyes to look up at him. I can hear my heartbeat in my ears. His tall, mighty figure lurking over my small petite one.

Our eyes stay locked on each other's for a split second and then an emotion flickers through his. Before I can evaluate what it was his hand collides with my face. I yelp. Not only was my cheek still sore, but this time he put more force into it. Making the stinging pain worse.

I close my eyes and cramp up, expecting the next smack, but nothing comes. Instead he lets go of my arm and I drop to the floor on my knees. I hold my breath.

If my eyes weren't so sore I would be crying already. Was there more pain to come? Was this only the beginning? I open my mouth to take small gasp of air.

To my surprise I hear him taking a step back, so I open my eyes. He is turned away but doesn't leave until saying, "No food for the next three days. You'll stay here unless told otherwise by my servants or soldiers. Understood?"

I nod hastily, showing my compliance. "UNDERSTOOD?"

"Yes, your highness," is all I whisper, and he leaves.
I sigh in relieve. At least there where no attempts to take off my already revealing dress this time.

No food for three days. This isn't good. I haven't eaten since before our first encounter last night. Memories of last week with my mother flash through my head.

"My dear Alice, you must eat."
The queens worried face traces mine.
"I know that King Theodore being your bonded must be a big shock for you but it is important for you to stay well nourished."

My father had told me about how important it is for me to give this whole soulmate situation a chance. There must be a reason for all of this.

Bullshit.

I hate him. I hate this castle and I hate this country.

I get up and go to the bed where I take my pillow and place it against my face before screaming at the top of my lungs. I do it again and again and again until there is a knock on the door.

I sit up, my face red from frustration and loss of breath and my throat is dry.

Why knock it's not like I can tell him to go away, so I wait. The door slowly opens and an elderly ladies head pops through the crack of the door.

Oh.

"Hello, lady Alice."
Who is she? Her round, slightly wrinkled face looks at me with a small compassionate smile.

"Hello," I croak, my voice almost gone from the amount of screaming I just let out.

"May I come in?"

I nod, "Yes, of course, please do."
This might be the first humane person I've talked to so far. She may have not said more than 10 words up until now, but I could immediately feel the kindness radiating of her as she enters my room.

Judging from her plain but fancy uniform, she is a servant here.

"Oh how silly of me, I forgot to introduce myself, I'm Jane, the head of the servants here. I've been given orders by King Theodore to bathe you."

„It's a pleasure to meet you Mrs. Jane, my name is Alice." I give her a weak smile since it is all I can muster.

„The pleasure is all mine dear, would you please follow me, Lady Alice?"

I nod, and follow her through the doors and along the hallways, when a thought hits me.

„Mrs. Jane, could you do me a favor and only call me Alice? I doubt I will have the right to a title here in Walzenor."
I look at my feet as I talk.

She laughs lightly and then answers, "Sure Alice, but only if you insist. I, myself have always believed in the bond to be honest, seeing how meeting my husband has brought me nothing but prosperity, which is why I believe that I will one day be able to say Queen Alice to you."

I look up. The thought played in my head. A Lyrian ruling at the side of the enemy. At his side. I shake my head.

„Im not so sure, Mrs. Jane."

The topic ends here as we arrive at a huge bathing room. It is round and in the middle there is a big pool of sorts. Around the pool there are cupboards, with around 20 different oils and soaps on them.

Mrs. Jane hands me a small basket. "Please put your clothes in here."

I nod and wait for her to leave.

She doesn't.

I shuffle from one foot to the next.

"What is the matter?" Mrs. Jane asked me confused.

"Are you- i mean, um, are you going to stay here?"

Her eyes narrow on me. "Well yes, I am to bathe you silly. I will assist you with cleaning yourself."

Back at Lyria bathing was a place for privacy. No one was to help each other bathe.

"oh, ok.." I mumble as I start to peel my dress off, leaving myself standing there only in my undergarments.

I awkwardly undress completely and then hurry towards the pool. Mrs Jane seems unphased by this situation. I test the water with my toes, to my surprise it is warm.

Soon I am in the clear water, my scalp being massaged with oils by Mrs Jane.

This was heaven. All the pain and fear seemed to have gone. Like it had been massaged away by warm water and Mrs. Jane. But I know this would be a temporary safehaven.

She continues to wash my entire body with a soft sponge, until she stops at my right wrist. "Oh yes, it'd recognize that symbol anywhere. The small triquetra reminded me that I still haven't seen the King's sign for myself.

"Does the King have the same one?" The question oozes out of me before I can stop it.

"Yes, to the mark, it is truly the exact same one."
She pauses.

"I've heard rumors that it is punishable by law in Lyria, if one is to marry someone without the same mark. Do you mind me asking if it's true?"

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