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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12. Silent

Louis steps back inside my room minutes later, his own outfit different

“Are you ready?” He enquires without so much as a smile, arranging his cuff links.

“I am,” I nod, standing as Perrie finishes brushing my hair.

“Good.”

His arm latches under mine and he sighs loudly, his thumb and forefinger rubbing his temples briefly.

“Let’s go,” he decides finally, walking us out. Our steps echo throughout the castle, making the atmosphere more nerve-racking than it should be. We stop in front of the dining room’s doors.

“Let me be clear Annabelle... I ask you think before you speak,” he states, looking into my eyes. “Especially tonight. Do you understand?”

I nod, a little annoyed.

“Words please.”

“Yes.”

“A complete sentence.”

 “Yes I understand very clearly Louis Tomlinson,” I huff sarcastically. His hand grips my arm tightly.

“This is exactly what I don’t want you to do,” he snaps. “One wrong word from you and tonight might not be as pleasant as our wedding night.”

My eyes search his for an ounce of sympathy, a spark of what I’d witnessed this morning in the clearing, but I find none.

“Fine,” I agree, shoulders sagging slightly. “I’ll stay silent.”

His own shoulders drop, but he nods, before taking a deep breath and pushing on the doors.

Keeping silent, Louis and I walk to the big table, taking a seat across of each other. Harry and Élodie also enter silently, Élodie sitting beside Louis whilst Harry takes a seat beside me. Seconds after both of them are comfortably seated; the king walks in, sitting at the end of the table right beside me and Louis. I’m tense.

“You could have stood up to greet me,” he grunts to Louis, plopping down in his seat heavily, “it shows respect for your King.”

Louis says nothing and his father doesn’t pay attention to his silence, snapping his fingers. As the sound resonates through the rooms, servants come barging in with food on silver platters.

I’m assaulted by various odors as more than fifty silver plates are deposited in front of us. There’s so much food it’s almost offensive. So much food, yet some people are starving outside!

I open my mouth to make a remark and shut it almost immediately noticing Louis’s warning look. I gaze downwards, biting my lip.

Minutes later, there’s a huge plate of steaming food in front of me. There’s no sound apart from the clinking of utensils in plates. I poke around my food, taking very small bites and avoiding looking at anybody in the eyes. But then the king speaks.

“The Exhibition ceremony is tomorrow, isn’t it?” he enquires, putting a piece of meat in his mouth.

“Yes,” Louis answers.

“You know that if the people of Headow dislike her, she doesn’t get her title, right?” he continues.

“I’m very aware of that father,” he responds dryly.

“Is your speech ready?”

There’s a moment of silence. I lift my head up, only to realise the king is talking to me.

“My speech?” I ask, voice wavering.

“What did you expect?” He scoffs. “Woo the people with your good looks?” he laughs, the sound bitter. “Darling that’s not going to work.”

“A speech?” I direct the question to Louis, my eyes big. He’d never told me I had a speech to make, let alone say. I don’t talk to crowds. At all. Hell, I had difficulty speaking in front of a classroom; forget the whole population of Headow!

“Annabelle it’s going to be fine,” he waves me off, taking another jab at his food.

“Louis it’s a speech,” I persist, voice filled with worry.

“Annabelle we’ll talk about this later.”

“Later? The ceremony is tomorrow!” I burst.

“She’s not very tame, is she?” the king comments, chuckling darkly as a spoonful of potato soup is brought to his lips. I watch with mounting anger as some of it dribbles through his scruffy beard.

“Forgive her father, the last few days have been emotionally rough―”

“You are pathetic son,” the man beside me states, cutting Louis’s off. “Letting a woman control you like that is one of the greatest signs of weakness. She shouldn’t argue with you. Ever.”

“She is right beside you,” I retort.

“Anna―”

“AND SHE IS TALKING TO THE KING!” he bellows suddenly, making me shrink back in my seat.

“But she has the right to voice her thoughts,” I add, keeping a straight face. “Because she is a person, just like the king.”

His fist descends harshly on the table, making the food and my heartbeat jump.

“Son! A word!” He roars, standing up.

I watch with growing fright as Louis and his father exit the room. My eyes meet Élodie’s and she shakes her head in disbelief. Why was I the only one who reacted to the king’s harsh words?

“I guess dinner’s over,” Harry states quietly, wiping his hands with the napkin. “I wish you a... pleasant evening,” he ends, standing up before walking around and hooking his arm around Élodie’s. I gaze at their two forms as they step out of the dining hall, a sinking feeling in my stomach.

I stay sitting awkwardly for a good ten minutes before I stand and decide to head back to my room. Lifting the hem of my dress, I step outside the room and walk up the stairs leading to my quarters. I’m intercepted by Zayn as I near my door.

“What are you doing?” He frowns. “Where’s Louis?”

“Talking with his father,” I mumble.

 “About what? What did you do?!” Zayn asks, worry etched on his features. He doesn’t let me answer. “Head to his quarters. Now,” he instructs, walking briskly in the opposite direction.

I roll my eyes, my shoulders sagging as I make my way towards Louis’s room unwillingly. I light the oil lamp by the side of his bed as soon as I step through the doors, making the room bathe in a soft orange glow. My thoughts are running wild as I remove my jewelry and slip off my shoes. Louis is going to want to kill me. I need to make it up to him. As I sit on the bed to sort them out, Louis walks in looking pained.

“Lou―” I stand but he silences me.

“Don’t. Don’t talk Annabelle. Please,” he says, not even looking at me, heading for the far end of his room. “I’m so tired. Just go to sleep,” he huffs as he removes his jacket, surprising me. It’s only then I realise the red staining through his top. My eyes grow big.

“Is that blood?!” I question in dread, standing up to inspect it. “Take off your blouse,” I tell him.

Louis spins around so quickly my heart skips a beat. His face is so close to mine I’m scared to breathe.

“When are you going to finally listen to me?” he whispers harshly, his hands gripping mine. “Go. To. Sleep. You’ve caused enough trouble today,” he demands.

“Louis for goodness’ sake you’re bleeding!” I state in exasperation. “Let me do something helpful for once!”

“No.”

“Louis,” I bite my lip, “I’m begging you to let me see,” I say, placing my hand on his chest. His troubled eyes meet mine and he pushes my hand off softly.

Grumbling, the Prince pulls his chemise off his head. What I witness leaves an ache in my chest. A series of scars mingled with three fresh gashes dance on his back.

“Louis,” I whisper, my finger sliding slowly down his back. How didn’t I notice these yesterday night? My heart lurches, looking at the red and pink scars that are clearly old. “Is this my fault?”

“No.”

“Louis, is this my fault?” I repeat.

“No. It’s mine, it always is. I never learn,” he shakes his head.

“But I’m the reason you don’t learn, aren’t I?” I insist.

Louis stands, unmoving, with his head bent. His father is a monster. Who could possibly do that to his own son?!

I pull my hands away before walking to the bathroom adjoined to the bedroom. Grabbing a small towel, I soak it in some cold water, wringing it before bringing it back to the bedroom.

“Go lay on the bed,” I instruct. “Face-first.”

“Annabelle this isn’t necessary―”

“It is.”

Sighing loudly, Louis drops his body on the bed, letting his arms dangle over the mattress like a frustrated child. I take a seat on the bed beside him, and place the wet towel on one of his fresh wounds. He hisses, his back muscles tensing as I carefully dab the lash.

“What happened?” I question, applying pressure on different parts of the gashes.

“Discipline,” he mumbles, flinching as I move the cold towel to another spot. “I’m weak. My father just likes to remind me,” he continues. “Why did you talk,” he enquires, “after I’d explicitly told you not to?”

“He asked me a question, I couldn’t have stayed silent,” I reason, grimacing as blood oozes on the towel.

“Yes you could’ve... He would’ve directed the question to me if you’d simply stayed quiet a couple seconds longer,” he snaps before sighing loudly. “I’m only trying to protect you Annabelle, but you’re making the task at hand much harder then it’s supposed to be.”

“Well something tells me you like that about me because you wouldn’t have gone for me in the first place. If really you we’re stalking me, you should’ve known what you got yourself into,” I reply coyly.

He chuckles faintly.

There’s a knock at the door.

“Come in,” Louis says. Zayn walks in, a series of thin cotton strips in hand.

“Sir, I warned you these Disciplines would be getting harsher,” he huffs, walking towards us. He places the bundle of cotton strips on the bed before stretching them. “If you could sit, please, it’d be easier,” the guard trails on.

Grunting, Louis shifts so he’s a sitting position, wincing in pain. I watch as Zayn starts wrapping the bandages around Louis’s torso.

The proceeding seemed rehearsed, as if it had been done repeatedly. It frightened me. How many times had the king beaten his son? How many times had Louis been broken like this?

 “How many times did you do this?” I question softly, dreading the answer.

“Too many,” Zayn responds, gritting his teeth.

I stare at both of them in unease, gazing at Louis’s injured back as it slowly disappears beneath the cotton.

“All done,” he sighs. “We’ll get them checked by the doctor tomorrow morning, to make sure they’re not infected like last time,” the darker man continues. He shoots me a sideways glance. “Maybe now you’ll understand the importance of doing what you’re asked to do?”

“Zayn. Out,” Louis states. “Thank you for your care but that comment was out of place and definitely not for you to say. See you tomorrow,” he ends, pointing the doors.

“I’m sorry,” he bows, shooting me another meaningful glance. “Good evening,” he declares before exiting, shutting the doors on his way out.

A brief moment of silence follows his departure. Louis clears his throat.

“About tonight―”

“Louis I’m really, really, sorry,” I tell him.

“Annabelle what did I tell you about interruptions―”

“And I’d like to make up for today’s numerous mistakes by pleasing you however you wish to be pleased tonight,” I get out quickly, shutting my eyes as I interrupt him again.

“What?” he whispers, incredulous.

“Please don’t make me repeat it,” I ask. “I’m just... I’m really sorry. I’ve always spoken my thoughts and today just got really out of hand and I’d like it if you forgave me... If all of this,” I motion around, “the husband and wife thing is going to work, as well as this morning’s deals, both of us are going to have to do our part. And this is me doing mine,” I sigh, gazing down at my hands. “I want to please you tonight.”

I lift my head up to look at him when he doesn’t answer. His features are bemused, surprised even.

“Please say something?”

“Annabelle―” he shakes his head, “I do not wish for you to give yourself to me out of pity because of what my father did,” he continues. “If it’s a request for forgiveness then fine, I’ll accept it. But if it’s to lessen your guilt, I want none of it,” the prince explains. “Like I told you before dinner, if you really are sorry about your actions, then I have no objection.”

I look at him longly. He could’ve yelled at me, raped, done whatever he’d wanted with me when he barged in. He had every reason to be angry after me: I’d disobeyed him repeatedly, making him suffer his father’s rage. Yet he reacts calmly about the whole thing.

“I want to please you tonight,” I repeat yet again.

“Then you already are pleasing me,” Louis says. I frown, not understanding. “All I need to be pleased is your love, Annabelle, and your declaration has confirmed the fact that I can be forgiven for being so harsh and insensitive. Thank you,” he sighs, his fingers lacing with mine before he brings my hand to his lips and kisses it. Our eyes lock. “Can I kiss you?” he whispers, his blue eyes shifting downwards for a mere second.

It’s then I know that this is the Louis from the clearing. The Louis’s that’s so afraid of not being loved. It’s the Louis that can sweep me off my feet.

I don’t answer, letting myself lean forwards to join our lips. His whole body very visibly loosens up and his hand moves so it’s cupping the back of my head.

My heart is beating wildly in my chest as he pulls away. I crave more. My arms wrap around his neck as I take him in for another kiss. He groans on my lips.

“Annabelle,” he whimpers.

“Louis,” I respond, breathless.

His hand slides to my shoulders, before heading lower, pulling on the string that held the lacing of the back of the dress together. The dress’s material loosens, allowing it to slide it lower down my body.  His fingers trace gentle around one of my exposed breasts as he moves, forcing me to lie on my back. He kisses me once more, making my pulse race. My own hands reach forwards to rid him of his belt and trousers but he stops me.

“We’re not doing this tonight,” he shakes his head, out of breath. “My back is killing me,” he grimaces, stepping away from the bed.

“Oh. Right,” I nod, panting faintly. I can’t help staring at the man before me as he slips out of his trousers before pulling a pair of silk pants over his legs. His bandaged chest is heaving, also worked up from our kissing.

“Here.” He hands me a very short dress, also made of silk. Clearly it’s made to be nightwear.

Pushing the rest of the dress off my body, I stand and pull the flimsy material over my head. I turn around so he’s facing my back, still a little self-conscious. Louis says nothing about it, slipping under his bed sheets. Shutting the lamp off, I join him seconds later, keeping quiet.

“What did you like most about today?” Louis questions after a few seconds, surprising me.

“The horseback riding and swimming in the river was very nice,” I admit.

“It was,” he acknowledges. “We’ll have more of them.” There’s another short pause. “Annabelle how would you feel about a tutor?” He enquires.

“A tutor?”

“Yes. Maybe if you’re more informed about the royal duties and behaviour, you might think twice about talking,” he elaborates.

“I wouldn’t mind. I think it’d be nice.”

 “I’ll find one for you,” he decides. “And about tomorrow’s speech: it’s already written for you. You just have to rehearse it a couple times tomorrow morning and you’ll be all set.”

I shift, uneasy.

“Is it long?”

“Not at all. Barely three minutes. You’ll do fine,” he reassures.

Quiet fills the room, interrupted by our soft breathing.

“Louis about your father,” I start.

“What about him?” he says, tone cautious.

“He’s wrong about you. You’re far from being weak,” I tell him. “You should show him.”

He sighs, not responding anything. I wait and wait, yet he doesn’t reply. But just as I’m about to give up, he answers.

“I wish I could,” he whispers so silently it’s almost as if I’d imagined it.

Then I’ll help you.

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