Head down, I trail behind Trent, staring at the floor. We're walking down the 'driveway' of the palace and I've been told to do nothing but hide my eyes from the scenery ahead, hide my face. Innocently walking in his footsteps, I expect nothing but a few more metres until we reach wherever we're intending to go, but next thing I know, I'm being shoved into a sort of carriage, hurled forward by horses. Trent is ordering for the doors to be closed and when I peek out from the hood in which I was told to hide beneath, I notice how the carriage has no windows. How am I meant to look out? Turning to my side, I see Trent grinning at me.
But he notices my frown. "What's up?"
Looking away, I fiddle with the hem of my dress. Perhaps this isn't going to be all I think it's going to be. Something is digging inside me and I just have a sudden feeling of not wanting to know the unknown. What if I don't like it?
Instead, I say to Trent, "Nothing."
Unexpectantly, he reaches over to squeeze my hand and I flinch in shock. He immediately backs away, muttering a 'sorry' to himself. It seems I ruin everything. Even at the chances of innocent friendship.
An hour or so goes by in silence. And it's deafening. With every step further inland, my mind twists with more nerves. Trent seems to notice, but doesn't say a word. I try to focus on the sounds of the constant tapping of horse hooves on the gravel roads, but it's not enough to distract me.
"Hey, stop worrying." Trent finally speaks up.
"I can't. I can't do this." I stammer, tears already pricking at my eyes. I wish I could be strong, but I'm not. I'm just a weakling.
He turns to face him. "Of course you can do it. Valencia, you're born to be brave. Act it."
Before I have a chance to disagree with him, the carriage jolts to a stop, along with my heart. Trent starts to get up, but I pull him back down by his sleeve.
"I don't want to get out." Fear suddenly courses through me and I feel my head spinning. Why am I so timid? Isn't this what I wanted? But I guess what you want is what you fear, because despite all attempts to be positive, you know it'll never turn out how you expect it. And I guess that's what's holding me back.
"Valencia," Trent's hissing now, and I can tell he's getting agitated with me.
"Okay." I say, but I'm acting. This is all one stupid, pointless act.
"Any questions before we leave the carriage?" Trent asks.
I shift from one foot to the other. "What happened to me over Winter?"
He glances at me for a second before looking away. "You were sleeping."
"Sleeping? For two months? I'm not that gullible!" I call out a bit too loudly. He hushes me immediately.
"You're not giving a good impression," he hisses at me once more.
"Fine," I mutter, wrapping my hoodie around my dress, enclosing my body.
It's only a few seconds before I hear my answer anyway.
"We put you to sleep until we knew what to do with you."
I look up to see his eyes wide, mouth a slit. "It's never happened before. We had to make sure we were doing the right thing."
And in this moment, I'm stunned. So stunned that I have no time to think it through. So stunned that I find myself stumbling forward. So stunned that, hitching up my dress, I step out of the carriage with all the confidence in the world.
But what I see before me is enough to send me falling, my expectations shattered, my nightmares alight. For nothing stands before me.