It was a two-day nonstop ride from Dragonsbane to Kilead, Astaroth, and Ryder had made absolutely sure that they did not stop to rest except at night time. He was in a hurry to get back, his troops knew that he was in a hurry to get back, and disturbing enough, the girl had been unconscious throughout the journey. Not like Ryder exactly cared enough about that, just as long as she was still alive, which Xanth had assured that she was, that was all that mattered to him.
“Ryder,” Xanth called, pulling his horse up closer to Ryder’s as the beasts trotted forward, their heads bobbing up and down as their riders led them on at a slightly slower pace. Ryder turned his head to Xanth, he was one of only a few people who could speak to him so casually.
“She has been unconscious since we left Dragonsbane.”
“And still alive?”
“Well… yes, but…”
“That is all that matters.” He replied curtly.
Xanth sighed and nodded his head, turning to look back at the carriage that had the unconscious princess in it behind them. “You should not be so cold when it comes to her, you know?”
“She will be in your charge when we get to Kilead.” He announced. Xanth spun his head towards him.
“What? I just told you not to be so cold towards her and you are leaving her in my charge?”
“Why?” Ryder looked at him with a straight face, no one could tell what he had in his mind with that expression. “Too much for you to handle?”
“N… no, that’s not what I am saying, but she is…”
“In your charge, Xanth.”
“I trust your capabilities, let’s get to Kilead first.” And with that, he ended the conversation.
Xanth knew that they would still need to have this discussion again when they got to Kilead which was not far away now, they were already in Astaroth, they just needed to get to the capital, and he would surely be the one to bring it up again. This was important, and even Ryder knew it too but he just wanted to avoid it like he had been doing so for the last thirty-eight years. But things like this were inevitable.
He sighed and signaled the envoy to move faster, he too wanted to get to Kilead as soon as was possible.
* * * * *
“Red is a dangerous color on you Lyra…” She gasped and felt the sharp sting in her neck, felt his cold lips lock onto her skin and his hand squeezing her waist. She pulled at his shirt to push him away but he resisted, he was strong, stronger than she was and she could not get him off her, so she closed her eyes and allowed her body to take the pain, then she felt some kind of relief and his body pulling away from hers.
Her mouth hung slightly open and her head spun. He smiled at her, she could see his tempting red lips but his face was a blurry mass. She gasped for air.
“...red is a dangerous color on you, Lyra…”
Her eyes opened slowly and her vision was a bit blurry but she noticed the girl beside her.
“My lady, you’re finally awake.” The girl turned to someone else standing behind her and gave an order. “Go and call Lord Ryder and Xanth, quickly.”
Lyra closed her eyes and took in a deep breath, then she opened her eyes and focused on the girl, a slight frown across her eyebrows. “I do not recognize you.”
“I am Tezani, my lady.”
She shook her head slowly, trying to sit up, the girl gave her a hand, putting a pillow behind her back to support her. “I do not remember knowing a Tezani, are you new here?”
The girl smiled and shook her head. “No, my lady, you’re in Astaroth.”
She looked at the girl in disbelief. “I’m where?”
“You’re awake.” A deep voice boomed from behind the girl and she quickly turned and bowed away, giving space for Lyra to see who had just come in, but the girl still remained in the room.
Lyra frowned. “And you are?”
Ryder narrowed his eyes at the girl and turned to look at Xanth standing beside him who was urging him to get closer, then he looked back at Lyra with the coldest expression she had ever seen and he walked closer to her bed.
Lyra’s heart beat faster and she felt fear as the strange man approached her but she tried not to show. The man walked to the bed and sat down beside her. She brought her knees up and never for once did she take her eyes off him, not that she found him attractive but that she was cautious.
“You don’t seem to have aged in the past thirty-eight years.” He said, watching her keenly as she did him. He noticed the scar on her neck and frowned slightly. “But you are still the same girl, Lyra of Dragonsbane.” A confused wrinkle came to her eyebrows and she cocked her head at him.
“I am, but did you just say thirty-eight years?”
“That’s how long it had been since you last saw.” Xanth chipped in and Lyra turned to him. What? Thirty-eight years since we last saw? She looked at the man sitting on the bed close to her. But, I do not recognize this stranger before me.
She shook her head slowly. “But I’m…” Astaroth, the girl had said she was in Astaroth. “Where am I?”
“You’re in Astaroth.”
Her eyes widened and she sucked in a breath. She had heard of Astaroth and her ruthless ruler, their destructive histories, and total lack of human sympathy. She could not be in Astaroth and if so, why? “That’s not possible…” She said, barely in a whisper. Fear engulfed her and she shuffled further away from him, pulling her knees up higher to her chin. “What am I doing here?”
Xanth narrowed his eyes at her, does she not remember what had happened? “You are the lord’s bride, Ryder’s.” he replied, gesturing to the man beside her.
“Bride?!” Her headshot in Xanth’s direction. The lord’s bride? Lord Ryder’s bride?! impossible! Mother would never have…
“Where are my parents? I demand to see them immediately!”
“You are in no position to make demands.” Ryder replied, a deadness in his tone and she momentarily calmed down. She could not face him for fear but she felt she could talk to the other man in the room, and so she did.
Her voice softened. “But how can a sixteen-year-old be a bride?”
Ryder and Xanth exchanged glances. “Sixteen-year-old? You?”
Lyra looked at Xanth without replying, although her brows were etched in a frown, there was still a soft look in her eyes. Ryder grabbed her wrist forcefully and pulled her closer to him, her face only inches away from his, she gasped in total fear when she felt his cold fingers wrap around her wrist and his eyes locked onto hers. Her heartbeat out of rhythm, and her eyes darted from his left eye to his right and then back repeatedly. She shivered, her breathing was shaky and she dared not to move. She felt like she could not. His expression was fearful and his grip on her wrist was tight.
“Ryder?” Someone called him.
Lyra heard the voice, it was feminine but she could not look away from him. He blinked once and let go of her wrist, causing her to fall back into the bed. She watched him stand from the bed and if she had thought that his face had been cold when he had first stepped into the room, then this one was colder. His gaze bore into her and she could feel every ounce of hatred or anger, or something similar just pouring out of them. Her eyes were moist and she looked away from him to the other man who looked at her with a soft gaze, and then she looked to the door and saw the woman that had called him.
Her appearance alone was intimidating and she looked at Lyra with contempt. Lyra looked away from her immediately, holding her wrist and looking at her hand, she felt lonely and vulnerable, and the fear within her ate hungrily at her heart, she almost could not bear it.
“I want to return home, to Dragonsbane.” She said in a low voice and without looking up. “I want to…”
“It would be best if you forget about ever returning,” Ryder said to her coldly and she looked up at him, the tears freely falling now. “And try to remember your life for the past thirty-eight years. They tried to make you forget and I would make sure they know that that was a very bad choice on their part.”
“They didn’t…” She was saying but Ryder stormed out of the room. The lady stood a while just watching her and Lyra could not mistake that look of hatred in her eyes before she turned and walked out of the room too.
Xanth watched her but she had already fallen back on the bed and curled herself up, he could hear her soft sobs but he knew there was no way they would allow her go back. He turned to the maid still in the room. “Look after her diligently. She must not be made to feel…” He sighed, what did he want to say? She must not be made to feel what? Not welcomed? Intimidated? Sacred? But she had felt all that already.
“Attend to her, it was a long journey and she must be starving.” He said finally and walked out of the room as well. He would need to have a talk with Ryder.