Being brandished by the King to his enemies was no easy task. Like a knife or a spear, I had to be sharp, impeccable. Unafraid. Completely capable. And most of all, intimidating.
When night fell, I was no longer a typical seventeen-year-old girl. I became a weapon.
Now, as the servants draped shimmering black cloth over my shoulders, I stood straight before the mirror. I lifted my chin, raised my shoulders. Regality. Fear. Be what they want you to be.
All in black and silver, I became what the kingdom’s people only dared whisper about. The name caught from the shadowed alleyways, the King’s protector. She who darkness follows. Nyx. Lady of the night.
The servants curled my fiery hair, keeping it plain and manageable. Then, they tucked it into my midnight cloak and pulled the hood over my head. The stark red would only damage my appearance. My eyes were traced in black, and the rest of my face went without decoration. Plain. Sharp. Unblemished, except for the one design that crossed my right eyelid, and traveled down the line of my jaw. Jagged and bloodred. My Mark completed me.
My hands were hidden in long, elegant sleeves, as the servants slid a knife into my left palm.
All at once, they stepped away, and I stumbled. The world spun and my knees went soft. Darkness swam before me. The servants’ shadows stretched and warped, blinking their red eyes at me. They bared their fangs and hissed. Footsteps echoed around the room and sharp nails dug into my shoulders, hoisting me up.
I screamed and thrashed, my booted foot connecting with someone’s body. Tears streamed down my cheeks and I couldn’t breathe. They couldn’t take me. No no no no no.
Someone faced me and shoved a vial of sour contents down my throat. I gagged, the liquid burning like acid. It burned all the way down into my stomach, lava to my insides. I heaved a breath, and the shadows shrank away from me, ruby eyes fading, and returned to their owners. I slumped, my eyes flickering shut.
“Violet,” someone hissed in annoyance.
I opened my eyes to find several frustrated faces meeting my gaze. Slowly, I lifted a hand. A servant with dusty brown hair carefully grabbed it and jerked me to my feet.
Once again facing the mirror, I frowned at my reflection. My hood had fallen off during the frenzy, showing my glaring red hair. The brown haired servant delicately placed the hood back where it belonged.
Servants back at work again, I stood still. I felt numb, a feeling I was quite familiar with. My heart pounded faintly in my ears, and I heard each breath I took, my chest calmly rising and falling. Serenity. The vial gave me peace.
One last woman adjusted my silver bodice, then secured my cloak. I fingered my knife.
My chamber doors were pulled open, and I was swept into the corridor. Guards immediately followed me, ensuring safety. The King’s pet couldn’t risk falling into any other hands. Their crisp blue and white uniforms stayed in my periphery.
I passed sculpture after sculpture, marble pedestals laced with gold. Great, yawning windows lined the entire leeward side of the palace, melted moonlight streaming through them and into my corridor, splashing onto the paintings opposite. Ancient members of the royal family peered down at me, their canvas faces fixed into permanent frowns.
My boots clicked across the marble beneath me, and we took a turn. This corridor contained no windows, lit only by flaming torches listed on golden sconces. More paintings filled the spaces in between, but this time of deceased Kings and Sovereigns, all angry and wrinkled.
This trip was as familiar to me as the back of my own hand. My only escapes from my chambers consisted of this. Of being displayed like a prized trophy.
The few servants we passed were all familiar and surely trusted enough to be out after dark. The new Sovereign- though I’d never seen him myself- had posted a strict curfew for all castle occupants a few years ago. The day before I’d first been let out of my chambers. Maybe he considered me a danger. Maybe that was why he’d never seen me himself as the old Sovereign had.
My lips twisted into an amused smirk as we reached a set of mahogany double doors. A servant to my left announced our presence with the huge bronze door-knocker in the center. It was shaped into a coiled viper, the King’s signature animal. The knock echoed through the silent hall.
We stood in silence for a while, until someone coughed behind us.
I turned around and noticed that the guards and servants were all kneeling, foreheads pressed to the cold floor. I locked eyes with the King and gave a nod. “Your Imperial Supremacy,” I said. That was all the respect he would receive of me, and he knew that. Of course, he didn’t complain.
The old man licked his lips. “Rise,” he said briskly, and the ones beneath us rose. Hesitantly, he met my gaze, ruddy gray eyes full of… fear.
I wanted to laugh.
“We are doing something different tonight,” the King explained, already bustling down the hall. Some of my guards moved between us as if to protect him.
I stayed silent, head held high as we picked up the pace.
“You understand, Miss Kendryek,” King Alistair began, shooing the servants down a different corridor we passed, “that this occasion is especially crucial?”
I bristled at his use of my surname. “Aren’t they all, Your Majesty?” I said, swallowing my discomfort in the waves of peace held in my chest. The steady rhythm of my heartbeat pulsed in my ears. I sighed.
“Of course, of course,” he replied calmly. “I would not ask for anything unimportant. This occasion may rise just a bit above the others, as you will soon see. I need you to be on your best behavior.”
My “best behavior” consisted of deadly smiles and sharpened knives. I rubbed my thumb along the wooden hilt of the one hidden in my sleeve. “Yes, sire.”
“Wonderful,” Alistair said in front of me. “Let’s begin.”