The Cold King(7)

By: Amber Jaeger

The butler stopped abruptly and Calia collided with his wide back. She heard him give a little sigh before he turned to rest his hand on an elegantly carved door. “Our king will see you now. Please try to remember whatever manners you possibly possess. And you will curtsey.”

Calia nodded again. Her dry mouth would not let her get a word out. With another exasperated sigh he opened the door and ushered her through.

Calia stumbled over the threshold and jumped when the door shut behind her. She looked around and her eyes found the raised throne at the end of the long room but it was empty. Cautiously she set a foot on the cream carpet running along the perfectly polished floor. The theme from corridor had continued into the room and the weak sunlight glaring in through the windows was magnified by the white walls and it burned her eyes.

She squinted to see better and inched along the runner until she stepped into the shadowy alcove encasing the throne. Calia rubbed her sore eyes and gasped when she opened them. The previously empty throne now had someone in it.

She stood rigid with shock before remembering the butler’s command. With a little hesitation she dropped into a curtsey so low she stumbled and almost fell. Cursing silently, she righted herself and kept her watering eyes on the floor.

“You may rise,” a cold, bored voice rang out. She flinched but there was no option of resisting. She forced herself up and slowly took in the Cold King.

Shining black boots rested only feet from her brown faded ones and her eyes rose without the permission of her mind. The king’s breeches were perfectly pressed and a snow white shirt peeked out from his dark, embellished jacket.

Calia forced herself to continue to look up and take in his face.

His chin was strong and smooth, centered perfectly under his strong jaw. His ruby mouth gave no hint of a smile or frown and her stomach lurched.

She had hoped to read his eyes, prayed to find some kindness in them but they were hooded by the mask covering the top half of his face. It seemed to be the same one he had worn the day before and up close she could see the surface was encrusted in diamond chips. It should have been beautiful but the cold, glinting perfection of the mask only terrified Calia. It covered not only his face but his emotions as well and she could not read him. Even his dark waves of hair framing the mask did nothing to soften his look.

It was several, horrible moments before the Cold King spoke again.

“What is your name?” he asked, drawing the words out. If he was staring at her she couldn’t tell but the skin between her shoulders was prickling painfully.

“Calia Thorne,” she whispered, then hastily added, “Your Majesty.”

The king cocked his head to the side and his terrifying mask gleamed with tiny rainbows. “Little Thorne?” he mused, correctly guessing the meaning of her name.

“Yes, Your Majesty. My mother said I was always kicking and poking into her ribs when she carried me inside her.” Nervousness loosened her jaw before she could snap it shut again.

He leaned forward a fraction of an inch. “Your mother referred to you as a thorn in her side before you were even born?”

Calia nodded as old hurt washed over her.

“I see. So you chose to come here,” he assumed.

Her voice failed her and she shook her head.

“No? Your mother must have some very redeeming qualities.” A ghost of a smile lifted the corner of his mouth. “Or you just really did not want to come here.” When Calia did not respond he continued. “Tell me, why did they choose you?”

Calia faltered, not sure how to answer him. “I suppose because I am excellent at cleaning and housekeeping and—”

“Perhaps you are. But why did they really send you?”

Fear and a hint of anger stirred in her breast. Not only had he made her a slave, he wanted to humiliate her.

She squared her shoulders and gave him the truth. “Because I am ugly and no one will ever want to marry me. No matter how useful I am my mother doesn’t want me around forever and no one else would want to take me.” Tears pricked her eyes and she furiously blinked them away.

Calia absolutely hated that she cried when sad, hurt, angry or happy and resolved once again to banish the embarrassing behavior. Again, she failed.

The king sat for a moment, tapping the edge of his hateful mask. “I see. Well, I should hope to find you as useful as you claim. You are to be my personal servant and will attend to my every need.”

Calia gasped and jerked back, her body filling with fear and shame.

But the Cold King just frowned at her. “Do not be ridiculous. You are a child. An ugly child.”

His unkind words soothed a little of her fear and she took a steadying breath.

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