Happily Never After

Annabelle Hearst is just another person in the Headow kingdom, ruled by the Tomlinson family. Pressured by his father the king, Prince Louis is searching for a bride, a wife to make him a heir. He stumbles into Annabelle, one of the few who doesn't venerate the royal family. Can he convince her to come to the live the royal life with him willingly, or will he have to force her into it?

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16. Getaway

Hands are on me in a matter of seconds. Next thing I know, I’m being pulled away by both Zayn and Louis as the king attempts to calm the people, surrounded by his own personal guards. I hear Louis curse repeatedly under his breath as I’m urged out of the Great Room and up to Louis’ and I’s chambers.

“There’s a change of clothes for you on the bed,” Louis states. “Hurry and go change in the bathroom and come and join me here afterwards,” he instructs, urging me towards the bed.

I feel woozy and disoriented, completely overtaken by the events as I walk over to the bed where a pair of pants and a sweater lay. I grab them and head to the bathroom, shutting the door behind me.

The distinct sound of something shattering fills my ear.

“No I will not calm down! Someone tried to kill my wife, Zayn! The bullet went right by her head!”

I shudder as I hear Louis scream on the other side of the door.

“I thought you had security covered for this event! It’s the second time in nineteen years that an incident like this happens!”

I move away from the door and attempt to remove my dress, only to realise that I can’t do it without help. Trembling, I open the door of the bathroom and peer at them.

“Sir we had everybody who entered the castle searched from head to toe─”

Louis' eyes meet mine. A frustrated frown appears on his lips.

“Annabelle I thought I told you─”

“I need someone to undo the lacing of my dress,” I explain, keeping my gaze locked on the ground.

He takes three long strides in my direction and stops right behind me, his fingers latching on the lacing. I feel the red gown loosening as he hastily undoes the lacing. But even if the dress isn't squeezing air out of my lungs anymore, I feel just as tense and suffocated as I was a minute ago.

“Go now,” he ends once he’s done.

I shut the bathroom door behind me, rapidly sliding the dress off me and changing into the sweater and pants.

“The culprit is someone who was already inside the castle walls,” I hear Zayn talk quietly.

“Who?”

“I don't know. I didn't get a good glance at the bullet’s provenance, nor the people in the crowd. It could be anybody, from a noble to a servant. Maybe even a disguised slave.”

I wash my face will cold water, looking at myself in the mirror.

Kill me. Somebody had tried to kill me.

I'll head downstairs and talk to the other guards, see if they heard anything. Your carriage will be ready by then and you and your wife will be able to leave the castle for a couple of days while we sort out who the traitor is among these walls.”

“Good. I'm not bringing her back here if her life is in danger Zayn.”

“I know Sir.”

What had I done wrong? Why would someone try to kill me?

There are three short knocks on my door.

“Annabelle are you nearly done?” Louis enquires softly from the other side of the wooden door. I open it, changed. “Are you okay?” he enquires, taking a concerned step towards me.

“What did I do wrong? Why would somebody go as far as wanting my death? I haven't done anything yet,” I say, eyes filling with tears. “Why?” I repeat, looking at him.

He opens his arms and I find myself digging my face in his neck. His arms wrap around me protectively, his hand rubbing my back.

“Shhh....We'll find out who did this okay?” he murmurs in my neck. “We're not coming back to the castle until I'm sure you're not in danger, alright?”

I sniff, nodding in his neck.

“I'm sorry I'm such a mess─”

“Don't apologize,” he shakes his head. “You have every right to be all over the place Belle,” he mumbles.

I blink, not used to hearing anyone but my family calling me Belle.

“Come on,” he kisses the top of my head, leading me out of the bathroom, “Let’s head downstairs to the carriage,” he continues. I’m bemused as he takes me to the boudoir and not the staircase.

“Why—”

“Too dangerous,” he responds. “There’s a secret passage that’ll lead us right to the carriage under everybody’s noses,” he elaborates quietly, his hand sliding into mine as he walks through the boudoir and stops in front of the painting of his great-grandmother. He releases my hand for mere seconds, searching for something behind the portrait. His hand must’ve latched on something because next thing I know, he’s pulling the painting away from the wall, revealing a door in a brick wall. So that must be where Niall had disappeared to yesterday.

Not wasting any more time, Louis pulls me through the door, placing the painting back in its rightful place behind us. I shudder as I look at the brick corridor stretching in front of us.  The air is humid and the narrow passageway lighted by very few torches. Louis’ warm hand slides into my clammy one, encouraging me to trudge forwards carefully. 

“Where does this tunnel lead?” I enquire softly, my voice echoing against the wet walls.

“Near the stables. I used to pass through here when I was younger to get to Paris without my father noticing. I haven’t come through here since he’s been moved to the stables in the courtyard,” he admits. “Truth be told, I’d forgotten all about it until you asked me about the painting yesterday.”

“Are there many secret passageways like this one in the castle?” I question, curious.

“According to my mother, there are five. I’ve only found three. Gave up on finding the other two when I was eighteen,” he shrugs as we keep walking down the corridor. The air starts getting colder, signalling we were close to arriving outside.

“Why did you give up?”

“My father didn’t like me lurking and rummaging in rooms without a proper purpose. And he was right: it was a waste of time.”

“Does your father know about these secret passages?”

“I don’t think so…But I wouldn’t be surprised if he had his own near his chambers. The man cares so much for his well-being,” he huffs as we reach the end of the tunnel. A wooden slab covers the exit. Pulling up his sleeves, Louis places his hands at the far end of the wood, inhales and pushes. The slab moves with a low, grating sound.

A breeze nips my skin. I help Louis push the rest of the wood away from the exit.

“And now’s the tricky part,” he exhales. “You have to crawl down there to get outside,” he states, motioning the small entryway near the ground. “Might be all muddy.”

“Not a problem,” I say. “I’m used to getting dirty.”

“Of course you are,” he nods, exhaling loudly.

“What does that mean?” I frown.

“It means I often forget that I picked you up on the streets of Headow Annabelle,” he replies.

“And that’s a bad thing?”

“No. Of course not love. It simply proves how much you’ve changed since then,” Louis expresses softly. Have I really changed that much? “Come on Annabelle, we need to hurry,” he presses. “I’ll be right behind you alright? I just need to make sure that the exit is shut behind us,” he states as I get down on my knees and head into the miniature tunnel.

My hands dig into the humid earth as I cautiously start going forwards, focusing on the constricted pathway stretching out in front of me. Suddenly, there’s no source of light to guide me anymore.

“Lou?”

“It’s fine Annabelle. I simply shut the door. Just keep going forwards,” he murmurs behind me.

I feel the dirt caking underneath my nails, reminding me of the times when I’d used to help in the garden with my parents. I had to be about the twins’ age at that time.

“Why do we dig so many holes?” I ask my father, sitting on my knees in the dirt while pulling out another handful of dirt. My dress was dirty all over, so was my face.

“To plant seeds,” he responds smiling as he wipes his forehead wit the back of his hand.

“And why do we plant seeds?”

“So we have food to make a meal every day,” my father replies. “Most people have to grow their food if they want to fill their little tummies,” he says, poking my stomach once.

“Don’t do that,” I giggle.

“Do what? This?” he taunts, repeating the action.

“Yes!” I grin. Before I know it, he begins tickling me. I can’t stop laughing, trying to get his hands away from me. We end up rolling around in the dirt.

“Dad stop!” I giggle. “Stop it tickles!” I laugh, blindly trying to get him to stop.

“I know it does, or I wouldn’t be doing it,” he retorts, grinning. He takes me in his arms, hugging me tightly. “I love you pumpkin,” he exhales happily, finally letting go of me.

“I love you too. Are we going to be planting pumpkins?!” I enquire excitedly.

“Would you like that?”

“Very much!” I nod.

“Then I’m going to get some pumpkin seeds at the market tomorrow,” he declares.

I hug his neck tightly.

“Arthur! Annabelle! Come and wash your hands, its supper time!” Mom calls out from inside the house.

I shake my head, pushing the memory away as rapidly as it came. I jump and squeal as my hand lands in a puddle of water.

“Are you okay?” the Prince asks worriedly.

“I’m good,” I exhale shakily. “It’s only water.”

I keep going forwards, until I notice a faint light pouring in from the right side of the tunnel. My knees slosh into the water as I crawl quickly in its direction. Someone wants to kill me. The thought tastes sour.

I finally reach the end of the small tunnel, pushing away weeds and high grass as I stand up to breathe in some fresh air. We end up right outside the castle walls, near the Queen’s garden. Louis rapidly trudges out after me.

“There’s the carriage,” he states, motioning the coach on the cobblestone road a few meters away from us. Zayn’s standing beside it anxiously. “Let’s go,” he presses, his hand locking with mine as we hurriedly walk to it. I’m urged inside by the two men as they stay out to whisper hastily.

Louis rapidly joins me in the carriage just as I’m about to lean in and listen to them. Slouching on his seat, he breathes in deeply, passing his hand through his hair in frustration.

“Are you alright?” I question.

“I should be the one asking you the same thing,” he exhales, his blue eyes meeting mine. His hand grabs mine and it’s then I realize that I’m shaking. “If I can promise you anything Annabelle, it’s that the person who did this will pay with their life,” he promises, staring into my eyes. I don’t want anyone to die because of me.

I shake my head but he turns his head at that exact moment to look outside.

“No one dares to take away one of my few sources of happiness and live,” he decides lowly. His voice sends shudders down my spine. Louis’ gaze falls back on me, worry clouding his features. He grabs the thick blanket from the seat in front of us and wraps it around my shoulders. The fur is heavy and is meant to keep me from shivering, but I’m unable to stop the tremors from racking my body. He rubs my arms. Louis wants to kill someone. Someone who tried to kill me.

Something breaks inside of me and I start crying.

“Annabelle?” he questions, concerned. “Annabelle you’re safe now. I promise you I’m not bringing you back to the castle until I’m absolutely positive it’s safe. Everything’s going to be alright, princess.”

I shake my head again and again, tears rolling down my cheeks as he hugs me closer to him.

“Talk to me love please…I don’t like seeing you cry,” he murmurs apprehensively. I simply keep shaking my head, too exhausted by today’s events to muster a sensible response. To my surprise, the prince begins singing softly to me. “Close your eyes, lean on me. Let your mind, wander free. We’ll stay quiet, underneath, shooting stars, if it helps you sleep. And hold me tight, don’t let me leave, hold me tight ‘till you’re at ease―”

“I know this lullaby,” I mumble in surprise. “My mother used to sing it to me when I was younger and I had a bad day.”

“My mother would sing it to me for the exact reason,” Louis speaks, also confused.

“Can you keep singing it? Please,” I whisper, my eyelids heavy with weariness while tears keep rolling down my cheeks. He doesn’t question my demand.

“Come on let the night, be your light, forget all about the troubles that passed. When the sun will rise, and you open your eyes, you’ll be greeted by beautiful blue skies.”

Drained of all energy, I fall asleep before he can end the lullaby. 

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