He carried himself with an air of haughtiness, head proudly held high. As the doors slammed shut behind his billowing black cloak,the court ladies (even the married ones) collectively sighed in appreciation.
Not that I blamed them.
He strode towards the platform where my father and I stood with strong, sure strides, his leather breeches stretching to showcase lean, muscled thighs.
My confusion grew, eyebrows drawing together: I thought the General of the Imperial Armed Forces was a balding old man in his fifties. There was no way this young man, probably no older than Princess Amelia, had risen to that rank in so short a time.
He finally came to a stop, jerking me out of our thoughts as he kneeled in front of us. My father touched him on the shoulder, signalling his cue to rise.
“My liege,” he hailed my father
In my peripheral vision, I saw some of the court ladies visibly wilt: the man's voice was like honey; rich, thick and the deepest of timbres.
I forced myself to look him in the eyes. The General looked at me directly and curtly nodded in my direction.
My eyebrow shot up of its own accord as indignation rushed through my body. He wasn’t even going to speak to me?
I was suddenly filled with the urge to walk out right there and then. I wasn’t going to deal with a bombshell revelation and an insolent subject all in one day. I wasn’t in the mood.
Closing my eyes, I exhaled, trying to control the family temper from rearing its head.
Once I opened them, the General was regarding me with a smirk stretched over those sinfully full lips.
No. No. No.
I was not having these thoughts. I glared daggers into his golden skin as he conversed with my father, still managing to ignore me. My eyes strayed to his hair, thick, black and glossy. I wondered what it would feel like to run my hands through it.
“School yourself, girl,” I scolded myself internally. Why was this happening to me. I cursed silently in my head. Damned General and even more damned father. Why did he have to be my mentor? As far as I remembered, Amelia’s mentor had been a fat old Duchess, native to the mountainous First Kingdom, and Heather had been blessed with the company of the court Scholar for a year. All safe, responsible choices.
I was not having any of this. I promptly forgot all I had ever been taught about manners and stomped to my brother.
“I hate him,” I announced
Abel grinned at me. He was the spitting image of our father.
“No you don’t,” he countered, lifting his chin towards the still swooning court ladies. “Are you entirely sure you’re not exactly like that gaggle of geese?”
I glared at him. “Seriously, Abel?”
His face split into a manure-eating-grin, so making sure no one could see, I lifted my dress and ground my foot into his.
Of course at that exact moment, my father decided to lead the General over, whilst I was in the middle of a particularly ungraceful manoeuvre. We hurriedly straightened ourselves out and I raised my head to look at my father, completely ignoring the General’s raised eyebrow.
“Father-” I began, but he cut me out.
“Zarai, you will leave at nightfall. Show the General to the guest quarters so he can rest whilst you ready yourself.” he ordered
“But Papa-” I protested
"Zarai, please show the General to the geust quarters." My fathe repeated stonily.
He was going to dismiss me just like that? My fists clenched at my sides as heat coursed through my veins. Who was this General to ignore me for my father to ignore me for him?
"I shan't," I lifted my chin, looking at him straight in the eye.
My father stilled, halfway through turning away. My insides turned cold at the look in his eyes. He regarded me with a face so full of fury it was as if a thousand black demons had descended upon him.
I turned on my heel, storming down the aisle, glaring at whatever unwitting courtier stood in my way.
Mother was going to murder me for lack of etiquette but I could care less. I didn’t even wait to check if the General was following me, my only thoughts being to not slip on the tiles and to get out of there as soon as possible.
As soon as we exited the foyer, I stopped in my tracks, forcing the General to stop abruptly as well. I finally took a good look at him. He was tall, much taller than me: I barely came up to his shoulders.His leather armour hardly disguised the raw muscle of his chest. His black military garb was sewn with gold thread, and his shoulders were decorated with countless Imperial awards. He had black hair, waving down to just below his ears. Tanned skin and black eyes meant he was a native of the Third Kingdom.
He suddenly started moving.
“Where are you going, the East Wing’s this way!” I yelled, impatience evident in my voice.
He ignored me and kept walking. Where in the realms exactly did he think he was going?
“Hey-” I began
“Be quiet!” he snapped
I felt the blood rush to my face, seeing nothing but red. That was the last straw. I had had it with this man. General or no General, I was going to kill him.
Just as he exited through one of the stone archways into the central courtyard, I charged up behind him.
Hearing the footsteps, he turned around as I simultaneously raised my fist.
For a split second, his eyes widened in alarm.
Then, quicker than I thought possible, he caught my wrist, just inches from his face.