In the past...

The fallen church had become the designated meeting spot for a hopeful arrangement that I could not explain, even to myself. Its faded paint and broken wood mock me, chastising me for being here; negotiating the terms of protection with such a low morality. My guard nods, his gray eyes pledging to erase this structure from his mind once we're gone. I know I can rely on my men to keep my secrets.

As I proceed forward, he pushes the door wide for me, and as I pass him, I give him a nod of recognition. Even when I came here as a boy, the temple had been a customary prayer spot for the esteemed monarchs before me. However, the assault on Hebyra had left its mark on the once-powerful prayer structure. Not from the elements, but from the immortals' ravenous anger, which ravaged our boundaries. The immortals were a dreadful species in their own right. This temple displayed to the girl the vermin that she was. A reminder that she could never be better than the species from which she came.

A roll of wind shudders through the creaking wood and overgrown plant life, even the crumbled stones bounced. An involuntary shiver shakes through me, stilling me in the hallway before crouching through the broken doorway. The dust in the hall was unsettled, with specks of its filthy pollution showing through the shattered roof's little rays of light. After waving the dust from my eyes, I search for the creature I was destined to meet. I could see the wind stirrup along the rims of my peripheral vision.

She had already arrived.

As I move further down the main aisle, between the dwindling rows of benches, I hear a gentle voice speaking from behind me.

"Your highness?"

I turn to face the voice behind me, my hand falling to the grip of my sword at my hip, releasing a rapid exhale. When I see the petite female standing beside the ruin, though, I lose my grip.

My eyes narrow as I consider the girl's appearance; she appears to be young, perhaps too young for the task I have in mind for her. Under the pouring light from broken stained glass, her young brown eyes are redolent. The same light brown tint spreads through her hair, which is thick and braided. Her garments are made of a flimsy fabric that is filthy and frail.

I briefly wonder how this girl managed to survive outside of the castle's protection, noting how she only wore leather wraps around the weakest areas of her body as armor.

The point of a bow is over her shoulder, as well as the feathered tips of arrows - but no sword was at her hip. My last memory of her was steel kissing every inch of skin she could manage; armored to the bone. But, most orphaned children tended to have negative outlooks on everyone else for some time. Hopefully, she has grown since then.

She looks normal. Human, almost but, I know better. My face scrunches up as I think of her descent.

Filthy bloodsuckers.

My people would be ashamed of me once they knew I was in the presence of a leech. Of course, Isabella claims to be only half-vampire.

My thick cloak rustles behind me as I take a step toward her. "Isabella."

"Just Bella, your highness."

I huff at her reply and clench my jaw. I had no desire to learn the girl's life other than simply her face and her wit. Names did no justice, only force could do such a thing. If everything worked out I planned, I would see no more of this girl anyway.

"I assume you might wonder why I had men approach you to meet me here," I say, pausing, deciding that no demands could be discussed without context. "As you are aware, the queen is pregnant with my heir, and will deliver tomorrow."

"I have heard, yes," she says, making me sneer aloud, not wanting her interruption.

"As you are the most trained warrior, I am to request you for a favor. The to-be born heir will need a guardian to protect them, in case vampires," I swallow the bitter thickness in my mouth that slacked my inner cheeks with the word, "attempt to harm Hebyra again."

She asks, "Is there something in it for me?"

Her brown eyes glowed a strange orange because of the light shining through the red stained glass.

"Because of your… descent, you cannot be seen in or around the castle, nor with the new heir. We cannot provide you with anything extra than you possess now. You will have to follow my child around without being seen," I state, locking my gaze with hers. "Therefore, there is not much other than… behind the scenes I can offer."

"Are you – are you serious?" Bella's words spit to me, and I can only heartedly laugh in response. Of course, she would disrespect me. I was a fool to believe any hope for the supposed half-mortal.

"You are asking me to risk my life being the guardian of your child, while you do not care about my safety? And to think the people believe you are the greatest king Hebyra ever had!"

"How dare you speak to your king like that, bloodsucker!" I snarl, sliding my sword from its scabbard and raising it protectively in front of me. Her fingers flinch back, curling to the curved wood latched to her back but she makes no move to arm herself.

Smart one, at times.

"You are no king of mine, Carlisle." Darkness settles into her light brown eyes then, and I wonder how well this girl is trained against my own knight. "You know nothing of me, nor share any respect. You ask me for a favor I would be putting danger on my life for, while I still need to live to scrounge with nothing?" She glares fiercely at me, her hands curling into fists.

"Then go!"

I release a ragged breath as I immediately lift my eyes to the direction of the entrance. The girl was lucky I hadn't taken the blade to her neck. She wouldn't be the first devil child I'd killed, and if I wanted to, I'd cheerfully career her head for the spike.

"Never return to Hebyra, Isabella. Enjoy the company of the leeches you so proudly associate yourself with." My cool facade fades as I shout, saliva flying from the edges of my mouth, knuckles white from gripping my sword tightly.

Her upper lip curls over her teeth as she lets out a harsh hiss, showing that she is, indeed, not human. Her glare stays locked on mine for some time, and I have to admire her fierceness for defying a king like that. She is lucky that I will let her go at all.

"If I ever find you on my land again, my knights will show no mercy." I breathe heavily as her back turns to me, her footfalls light as she leaves the ruined church.

"Your highness?" the knight addresses me from the cracked doorway, his blue gaze hesitant on the door Isabella left through. I turn to him, sheathing my blade as I try to calm myself. The plan failed, and I realize I have lost someone that is likely to be one of the greatest knights to walk around on this earth.

And I let her walk away.

I pinch the bridge of my nose and wave to the guard to let him speak.

"Your wife is in labor."