The Cold King(9)

By: Amber Jaeger

The king waived her words away as if they were of no importance. The hateful mask only intensified the impression that he did not care. “I do that to everyone. It eases the transition.”

Calia bit her lip to keep her ugly retort back. He regarded her for a moment then nodded with what seemed to be satisfaction. “I brought you breakfast and some water to wash up with.” Then he turned on his heel and walked back out, slamming the bar down again.

Hot, bitter tears pricked her eyes and rolled down her cheeks. “How very kind of you,” she said under her breath.

Calia waited all day for him to come back but he did not return until well after sunset. The door thudded open again and the king stepped in with another tray of food. Calia’s stomach growled loudly and she pressed her hands down over it to quiet the noise as her mouth flooded with anticipation. The breakfast he had brought earlier was better than anything she had ever eaten. The flaky, buttery croissant drizzled with honey had almost put a smile on her face.

The Cold King said nothing, just set the new tray down and took the old one. Calia watched him warily. He was completely out of place in her dreary stone cell. His black suit was so fine it seemed to gleam in the poor light and his white shirt was almost blinding. The hateful mask was still in place and mocked her situation with its sparkling beauty.

Calia had washed with the water the king had brought that morning but there was nothing she was ever going to be able to do to compare to him.

He left and slammed the door behind him without a word. Calia sat in her rags, shivering with the blanket wrapped around her shoulders and realized she was no longer hungry.

Sniffling, she pulled her hair over her shoulder to inspect it. Working outside in the garden and constantly running errands for her mother had bleached her already light hair to almost white. As much as she tried to cover up and wear a hat, it always fell off or got in the way. The sun had darkened her skin as well and for most of the year freckles spotted her cheeks and nose. Add in her unusually dark eyes and thin frame and she was indeed a very ugly child. Everyone said so.

When she was younger she had tried to darken her hair and lighten her skin and wore layers of clothing to try to blend in with other girls but the effect was so comical people still brought it up years later.

Pain and loneliness overwhelmed her and she turned her back on the food to curl in a ball on the floor.

When the Cold King came the next morning she did not stir. She heard him pick up the old tray but then there was a long moment of silence.

“You didn’t eat what I brought you,” he finally said.

Calia didn’t respond and there was another long moment of silence. “You will stand in my presence and respond when spoken to. You will also eat the food I bring to you.”

Calia turned her head to glare at him. “I wasn’t hungry, thank you.”

His mouth turned down in anger. “You are already too thin. You must eat. I do not care if you are hungry or not. And you will stand in my presence. I do not tolerate insolence.”

Calia waited for whatever punishment he had in mind but he just turned on his heel and left. She stared at the door for a long time, her hatred for the king burning hot inside her. After a while, her traitorous stomach growled and she approached the tray as if it were a rabid animal. But under the fine silver cover was just a plate filled with tiny, spiraled pastas covered with a thick, meaty sauce. She ate every bite.

When the king came that night he brought company. The two of them talked as they came down the stairs, their warm voices bouncing into her cell. She could hear something banging along the hard floor and fear flooded her. Was she to be punished for her earlier defiance? What sort of punishment required assistance and an instrument of some sort?

When the door opened she was up and pressed against the wall furthest away. The Cold King entered carrying… a table?

Fear made her eyes swim until a lithe young man followed with two chairs and arranged them in the center of the cell. The men ignored her as she shivered against the wall. Finally the king took one seat and the young man bowed before leaving without even a glance at Calia.

She watched the king sit at the table as he seemed to wait for something. She didn’t move, didn’t utter a word as she waited with him. Finally another man entered the cell. He was different from the first, dark and tall with kind eyes, and he brought two trays of food. He arranged them on the table and bowed to the king. “Can I get you anything else, Majesty?”

The king waved him away. “No thank you, Cato. This will be fine.”

When the man, Cato, straightened up he looked to Calia and gave her a sympathetic smile. Calia jerked her eyes away from him and were instantly drawn back to the bright mask. She suddenly realized she was beginning to truly hate it.

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