The Ward: an excerpt from Bloodbound

Argania Castle, Central Argania

“What am I to do?” She whispered to herself. The maiden shuttered as lightning flashed across the sky. A sigh fell from her lips with the tilt of her head. The storm was heavy as it fell upon the windows of her chambers. With her quill, she stroked the pages of what appeared to be a diary. Her eyes fixed upon the pages. The maiden bit her lip, struggling to find the words she longed for, the answers to the questions that bound her mind within the darkness. But, deep within her heart, she knew exactly what she hoped for, of whom she loved. 

Though I am trapped here, I try to find solace in the thought that I may someday be free. Despite the Emperor’s efforts to eradicate all those who may threaten his claim to the Arganian throne, I know my brother still lives and that he will someday come for me, for our kingdom. But until then, I must be Kuzman’s prisoner. I hate my life. I’m an orphan, imprisoned, and used only for the sole purpose of holding the affection of a dying nation. I know I should be hopeful, but I can’t help but lose faith as the years go by and the days grow shorter. I wonder where poor Ethan may be. I ponder his worries, his joys, and most of all of what he loves. Oh please, dear brother, return to me. Save me from this wretched place. I long for nothing more than to be among family… Home.

The girl sighed again, closing the book. She peered out the window, leaning onto the palm of her hand as the heavy rain seemed to wash away the last bit of hope she had left. Tears formed in her eyes as she tried to remember a time before this. But she couldn’t. The Linolm dynasty ended before the Arganian princess could even remember her parent’s faces. But she could see him still, the face of her twin brother.

There was a knock at her door suddenly, which caused Armarisa to jolt upright. Quickly, she grabbed her diary and hid it beneath the pillow of her bed, before blowing out her candle on her nightstand. She kneeled by her bed, clasping her hands together. 

The door opened, revealing the body of Emperor Kuzman. Muscular and ominous, the armor clad sentinel entered the room with heavy footsteps. His grey eyes traced the room suspiciously as two soldiers followed in from behind him. 

Amarisa blinked within the shadows of her room, sighing as the Emperor grunted. “Yes, my lord?” She uttered. 

Kuzman made his way to her window, clearing his throat as he gestured for his soldiers to leave the room. “Armarisa. It seems that there has been another attack.”

“Another attack?” Armarisa asked, rising from the side of her bed. She tilted her head slightly, only to catch a glimpse of her warden. Though her body seemed relaxed, her insides were trembling. She cleared her throat. “The rebels?”

Kuzman relinquished his breath. “Yes…” He replied deeply. “They set fire to another one of our coal mines, causing another explosion in the Eastern District. With the West and East mines now closed, the Northern mine is our only means of access to the deposits we need to keep our steam engines running through the winter. How can anyone expect Argania to survive or prosper when the acts of these terrorists are jeopardizing our very way of life? ”

“I don’t know, my lord.” Armarisa responded. “That is rather unfortunate. We need our engines to stay warm. This winter especially hasn’t been so kind.”

“Hmph.” Kuzman smiled softly as he turned his body towards Armarisa. He approached her slowly. Armarisa could hear the sound of his shallow breath as he approached her. “Armarisa, there is something I’d like for you to do for me. The safety of the kingdom could solely depend on it.”

“Yes?” Amarisa asked shakily. 

“Tomorrow morning, a few of my men will escort you to the town square to meet with the town’s pressmen. He will have a series of questions regarding these attacks. I need you to go on the record condemning the actions of the rebels and announce that any further actions taken against the Empire will be met with force… For Argania’s sake, of course.” Kuzman sighed. “It’s a shame that after all I’ve done for this country, there are still those that oppose me. Even with you, serving as the peacekeeper, my mercy is perceived as weakness!” Kuzaman’s voice started to rise as his pride overwhelmed him. “This is their last chance. Make that clear. If the rebels don’t stand down, I will raid every village, every building, and every home until I find every single one of those rats. I will bleed them dry and leave them hanging in the streets. Do you understand?”

“Yes, my Lord.” Armarisa replied as she lowered her head.

“So you will do as I say?”

“As I always do, my lord.” She responded slowly.

Kuzman smiled, touching Armarisa’s shoulder firmly but affectionately. “I know, my darling girl. Your loyalty and obedience are the only thing barring me from my most primal impulses.” Armarisa turned to face Kuzman, forcing an easy-smile to her face. 

“Thank you, my lord. I do what I can for the glory of Argania.”

Kuzman nodded. “For our glory…” He whispered before placing a palm to her face. “Now get some rest. We need you at the presses early.” 

Armarisa nodded before watching Kuzman exit her bedroom. As he shut the door behind him, Armarisa’s body immediately started to shake as she broke down. How could this be her life? How could she continue to lie to the people on behalf of Kuzman, who’s only goal was to drain Argania’s resources to continue to power his steam engines and build his machines and weaponry? His conquest will never end. She thought. But the rebels… They were getting close. 

With each day they were gaining more and more widespread attention. And they knew exactly how to hit Kuzman where it hurt the most. But, still… Armarisa knew that the Northern mine was essential to keeping the capital powered and warm throughout the viciousness of the current winter. Whether she believed the rebels were acting on what they thought was best for the country, Armarisa knew that the northern coal mine could not be compromised. Not if they hoped to last throughout the bitter darkness, this winter wrought upon her nation. Her people were freezing and starving enough. This terrorism was no way to ensure that Kuzman would back down or show even the slightest ounce of sympathy for her people. By now, she understood he was incapable of mercy. 

Armarisa bowed her head as she started to pray for strength. “Please, brother, be safe…” She whispered. “By grace of the light, Ethan, come back to me.”

Bloodbound: Chapter Two

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