Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language and mature content.
Note: I changed the MC's name from Darrana to Darayna.
The less I focused on my side, or my situation, the easier it was to bear. But that strategy only worked for so long, before my arms were shaking again, and my mind was tethered to the pain. I was relieved when I realized that the last dance on my card was with Prince Blaylock. I smiled weakly as he approached me and bowed.
"My Prince." I attempted a half hearted curtsy. He stepped forward, and I rested my hands on his shoulders and corrected, quietly. "Wyl."
"How are you doing?"
"Okay." I answered. Haven't broken down yet. That's something, right?
I nodded. "Yeah."
There was a moment's pause, before the band transitioned into the waltz. We danced in silence for a long minute; my side aching, my mind searching for a fathomable way to get out of having to go to Grekeiua. "Is your side hurting terribly?"
"Mm...it wasn't so bad at first." I looked up at him, relieved that he remembered my side. Every other man that I danced with tonight pressed against my side, hurting me. Wyl was being very careful with his hands, and didn't hurt me any more than I was already hurting.
"But...then Itani strapped me into this corset...and..."
He cringed politely. "I've heard those things are distasteful."
"They're terrible." I corrected. "And they're worse when your side hurts."
I glanced past Wyl's shoulder, looking around around his arm, and saw the Prince staring at us. He lifted his glass to me slightly, as we made eye contact. I quickly stepped to the side, using Wyl's body to hide my own, as a shiver ran up my spine.
"And just what is that about?"
I frowned at his crimson tie, mere inches in front of my face. "Nothing."
I frowned harder.
"Don't lie to me." His voice was soft. "Please."
I sighed. "The Prince makes everything worse."
"He...scares me." I admitted, my voice nothing more than a whisper.
"No." Wyl scoffed. "You're Rayna. You don't get scared."
"That's what I thought." I couldn't look up at him. "But...he...knows so much..."
"What do you mean?"
"The others...I can lie to." I doubted Wyl could hear my voice; I could barely hear it myself. "But..."
"But nothing. Just keep smiling. He'll be gone tomorrow night. Monday at the latest."
I'd rather he stay here, considering my options. Here, at least I have you, and Char, and Aldik, and David to protect me. There, I'll only have David-- and Father certainly isn't going to let me have a bodyguard follow me around.
"No." I laid my head against Wyl's chest. He pulled me closer and stroked my hair. Like the big brother I never had. "It's more than that...He wants me to come to Grekeiua with him."
"Oh." He sounded surprised.
"And...he...I think he wants to propose."
"Yeah..." I closed my eyes a moment, wishing that I was anywhere but here. As long as that anywhere wasn't Prince Synakrein's cesspit. "And Father's already said we'd come. And...and..."
I felt tears welling in my eyes. My throat was tight and burning.
"Mm?" He cooed softly, as the song ended and he gently pulled me out onto the balcony.
"He knows I hurt my side."
"How?" Wyl asked incredulously, as he turned back to look at me, lifting his eyebrows.
"I don't know." I frowned. "He said he saw me holding my side, and figured it out."
"Who saw what?" Char walked up behind us, shutting one of the glass doors behind us. "Huh?"
"Shh." Wyl shook his head slightly, frowning at Char. I scrubbed at my face.
Char looked at me, and his eyes grew wide. "What's wrong, Rayn?"
"Nothing." I rubbed my eyes, trying not to smear the stuff that Itani put on my eyelashes, but not really caring much either. "Go dance."
"Tell me what's wrong."
"Leave me alone." I crossed my arms. The corset dug deeper into flesh, making me yelp and uncross my arms as I slumped across the banister.
"Charahk." I hated how weak I sounded.
"Why won't you tell me what's wrong with you?" He was frustrated. So was I.
"Why won't you go away?" I snapped back.
He recoiled a moment. Part of me felt badly for speaking to him like that. Most of me didn't care. I was too tired, and sore, and scared, to worry about being nice.
"I think." Wyl intervened, stepping between us. "That a certain young Lady should go back to her room, and get in her night clothes, and sleep off a bit of stress."
"You can't sleep off stress." I snarled. "Because when you wake up, he's still there to antagonize..." I trailed off.
"Who?" Char's gaze snapped to my face.
"Who?" He insisted. "What happened? Who did this?"
"No one did anything to me." I sniffed.
"Don't lie to--"
"I'm not!" I glared between them. "I'm not a liar, and I don't appreciate being called one. By either of you."
"Rayna, we're just trying to help y--" Wyl started, but I cut him off.
"No! Just leave me alone. That's all I want. I just want to be left alone, for once in my godforsaken life."
They were both staring at me. And now you're losing your two closest friends. Good going...I'm such a failure. I willed myself to stop crying, but I couldn't.
"Get some rest." Wyl murmured, as he stepped backward, and swept his arm toward the door. "We'll escort you out the side door. No one will see."
I felt my jaw trembling, my anger suddenly gone. I was being a complete jerk, yet they still cared enough about me, and my pride, to hide me as I ran away from my problems. To care that I was crying, even though I didn't have a legitimate excuse. I have no reason to be crying...I shouldn't be...damn it! I hate being a girl. It doesn't make any sense. I wished I could stop feeling like a jerk. "I'm sorry."
I curled in my bed, staring out the window at the starlit sky, sniffling to myself. I was more exhausted than I could remember ever being before in my life. Yet I was still awake, hours later, worrying about this trip, and this prince, which were suddenly thrust into my life. Still awake, as Father slammed the door at the end of the hall and started bellowing. "Where is she?"
"Where is whom?" Mother's calm voice.
"That-that-that...girl!' I curled into a smaller ball in my bed, carefully, and closed my eyes.
"The insufferable one that I'm obligated to my own."
"Yes." Father hissed.
"Well, if you mean Rayna, I think she's in her bed. If you mean Fania--"
"I never mean Fania. She behaves." Father's heavy footsteps were coming toward room.
"I think she's asleep--"
Light was suddenly shining into my room, as Father threw my door open. I laid perfect still, my back to the door, eyes closed. "Darayna Karin--...sleeping...the miserable little wench is sleeping!"
"Then stop shouting." Mother chastised gently. "The poor dear looked so tired earlier."
"Oh, yes, the poor dear." Father agreed mockingly, as he slammed my door shut and stormed down the hall. "I'll have words for her tomorrow."
You always have a lecture for me, Father. It's nothing new.
I stared at the canopy over my head. The house fell quiet hours before, as Father stopped his bellowing and stomping, and went to bed. Itani came in shortly after he left. She wasn't nearly as dimwitted as he was, and knew I was still awake. She gave me some herbs that took most of the pain from my side, letting me rest as I laid awake in my bed.
I finally gave up, and threw my blankets back so that I could roll out of bed. I sat on the edge of my bed a moment, sighing, and brushing my hair back, before I fumbled around in the darkness for a candle, and clumsily lit it.
Setting the candle in the window, I watched the flames a moment as they danced back and forth, flickering, jumping. Then I started pacing. Back and forth I stalked, until my legs were getting tired and my shoulders sagged. My mind was still alive. Still filled with worry.
I froze as I heard the floorboards outside my door in the hall creak under the weight of a body. A moment later there was a knock at the door. My heart thumped in my ears, my mind racing, as I slowly turned toward my door.
I let out a breath of relief as I recognized the voice. I hurried to the door and jerked it open. "Char."
"Can I come in?" I swallowed, nodding, stepping back. He quickly shut the door, locking it behind him, before turning to me and smiling sadly. "Hey."
"Hey." I shivered and rubbed my arms, looking at him. "I'm..." I'm sorry.
He was wearing a large night shirt, tucked into a pair of trousers, his hair a mess. "I saw a light in your window, and a shadow moving, and figured you were still up."
I nodded. "I am...can't sleep."
"Nervous for your trip?"
I bit my lip, considering it a moment, before nodding. He could say that. Nervous...no, I'm scared...and I feel bad about snarling at you.
"You'll be okay." He said softly, stepping forward and stroking my cheek. "You always are."
"The Prince scares me." I breathed, taking a step closer to him, savoring his scent. Char always smelled so good. And tonight he was so very close.
"He likes scaring people...just don't let him."
That's easier said than done, Char. "I...I'm not as brave as you are."
"Pff. Sure you are." He rubbed my shoulder. "You've got a load of courage."
"Not when it comes to this." I shook my head. "I've only got the 'courage' to snarl at my friends."
"Don't worry about that." He looked into my eyes. "If that's what you're upset about..."
"I...was out of line. Forgive me?"
"I'd already forgotten about it."
"Liar." I scoffed.
He grinned. I smiled back.
"There, are you feeling better now?"
"...A bit." I nodded. "Only...Wyl..."
"He's forgotten about it too."
"Good..." I frowned. "Now if only Esmond would forget about me..."
"Don't worry about him." Char repeated firmly.
"It scares me. I don't want to be married."
"I don't want you to either. Grekeiua is too far away for my best friend to live."
"Yeah-- wait. How do you know about all--?"
I frowned. "Hm...well..." I sighed. "Why does everything have to be so complicated?"
"You were born with to privilege." He made his voice deep and mocking. "And with that privilege--"
"Comes responsibility. Yeah, I know." I shook my head. "Though I wish there was a way that I wouldn't have to get married."
"Mm...that's not going to happen." I know. "You're a beautiful young woman. Every man in his right mind would want you."
Even you? I smiled slightly, my face getting warm. I wondered why he made me feel so strangely. I was certain I shouldn't feel that way. He was my friend. Nothing more. Right?
"They don't like me, once they get to know me."
"Nonsense." His lips were nearly touching my neck, tickling me. "You're a great person...a perfect bride."
"The desirable virgin bride." I sighed, closing my eyes. I wished I wasn't. Wished there was something wrong with me, so that I would be left alone, and happy. If only I were ugly...or poor.
"A man as selfish as myself would want to keep you all to himself."
I opened my eyes to look at him as he gently pushed me backward. "You mean...you'd want me?" As much as I want you?
"Oh, I certainly do. If our fathers would have it, I'd wed you in an instant."
Something fluttered inside me. "You mean it?"
"I do...if you'd have me."
I rubbed his chest. "I want you. I always have."
"You know...we don't have to have their permission."
My eyes snapped up to his face, startled. "W-what?"
"I'm nearly an adult. I'll be able to make my own choices." His hand slipped down onto my back. "And then we won't need them to agree. You and I can do whatever we please."
The thought sent a shiver through me. Char and I, roaming the country side, far from the stiff confines of the courts and from the oppressive restraints of our fathers. That sounded like true happiness.
"But not if he gets me married off before then."
"I know...I've been thinking about that."
"And...I can only think of one thing that would ever make you undesirable to that bastard Esmond."
I looked up into his face, scared, scarcely breathing. "What?"
"If you can't talk your way out of the marriage...then you could always...make yourself unclean."
My legs bumped the edge of my bed, and I started, turning, looking at it. I knew what he meant. I wanted to, even though I knew I shouldn't. A knot in my stomach, my heart beating against it. "I...wouldn't know how."
"I can help you." He lifted me onto the bed and leaned over me, his voice barely audible. "Okay?"
I nodded silently, pulling my arms from my night shirt, letting him unbutton it as I did so. The cold air, his eyes, I shivered and threw my hand over my chest. "I...I can't."
"Why not?" He was pulling his tunic off.
"I'll kiss it and make it better."
His fingertips brushed my side gently. I can't do this. "I haven't even been kissed before."
"I'll kiss you." He kissed my cheek. "And kiss you."
His lips landed on mine. "And kiss you."
He kissed my neck. "All over."