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The ride to the castle was long and hot. The windows barely opened, and there was very little foot room for the taller of us. It was more uncomfortable for those of us gifted with longer legs.
The ride took a total of two days. We stopped four times during those two days, only to water the horses. The coachmen took turns sleeping so that we didn't stop.
The five of us were let out of the smoldering coach only to relieve ourselves, and then we were immediately ushered back in.
We passed mostly in silence, opting instead to attempt to sleep, or stare out the window at the endless fields and occasional sign of civilization. Once, I thought I saw Victoria riding a horse by a barn we passed. I shoved my way to the window to get a better look, but was only met with disappointment. It was but a different redheaded girl, and embarrassingly enough, she looked about twelve years old.
I awkwardly made my way back to my seat, and after sustaining more than enough angry stares from my seatmates, I fell into a rough sleep.
When we finally arrived in the capital city of Nor, the sun had already set, and I could not get much of an image of the famed capital city.
From the bumpiness of the ride up to the palace walls, the streets were not made of marble, but of cobblestone. The lights in the windows of homes we passed showed that the walls were not made of gold, but at most, stone or brick.
Still, much wealthier than my small village.
We slowed to a stop in front of the gates, guarded by men just as large and just as dressed up as Emmett's body guard.
Our heads were all pressed to the glass, trying to get a glimpse of the whole palace all at once. Lights shone everywhere, but it was not even close to an adequate view.
One coachman from each coach hopped down and approached the guards. From my angle, I could not see what exactly happened, but the guard yelled something up to the gatekeeper and the gates creaked open.
The sound was horrible, grating to the nerves. I put my hands up to my ears, but it did not help.
Eventually they screeched to a stop and the coachmen scrambled back on and we went through the gates.
Michael spoke up.
"I heard the queen is the most beautiful woman in the land. Her harem is made of specially chosen men. If we're lucky, maybe one of us will get to marry her."
"Don't be stupid," Seth replied, "We're no more than glorified prostitutes. And royalty doesn't marry slavery. If anything, she'll marry a distant relative from another country to make her large kingdom larger still, and we'll be dispersed, thrown out to return to our old lives."
"If that happens, we'll still have the honor of saying we were part of the royal harem. And we'll be treated like royalty in the common world," Mike said.
I looked away from them and back to the property. From what I saw, there seemed to be a large main house that we were going around, and several extensions off of it to smaller houses, along with buildings that were not attached, and various empty spaces.
We pulled up to a larger extension of the main house, where lights were on behind open doors, with guards standing by.
The coachmen got off the bench and opened the coach doors.
We tumbled out, smelly and wild at the sudden burst of fresh night air.
Emmett appeared behind us, looking slightly less disconcerted, but he pulled himself together quickly enough.
"Follow me." He marched inside, and we fell single file behind him.
"This is your new home," he said, waving dismissively towards the walls.
We walked down a wide hallway, intricately decorated. It would be well lit during the day. There were many windows and open spaces by the walls. It would be easy to escape from this place, but not from the palace gates.
We were led into a large common area where three men lounged. It was surrounded by standing torches. The ceiling consisted of glass, shaped like a bowl. Stars were seen clearly from beneath.
Emmett stopped in front of the men. They stood up and bowed low to him.
"These are Alec, Laurent, and Riley," Emmett said, "They are also part of the harem, and will be making sure you don't make fools of yourselves in front of Her Majesty the Queen."
They nodded at us curtly before resuming their lounge under the stars.
We moved past the common area, dodging columns and plants.
I noticed Jacob lingering by the open wall spaces before continuing down the halls with us.
We reached a set of double doors at the end of the hall. They were solid wood, and they were wide open.
We walked into a large room where exactly eight beds were arranged. Four on one wall and four on the other.
There was a chair and a desk beside each bed, along with a single chest at the foot for whatever belongings we acquired while we were here.
"This is the room you will all share. Get some rest. Tomorrow you will all be prepared to be presented before the queen." Emmett looked relieved to be back at the palace.
He ushered us all into the room and shut the doors.
The three beds near the farthest window looked well made, but I knew they were used from the possessions on the desks.
I chose a bed near another window, and quickly crawled under the covers.
The bed was very nice, the best one I had ever slept in. The room we were in was larger than my home with Aunt Esme and Uncle Carlisle.
But I could not sleep well. It wasn't that I had had enough sleep on the ride here, but it was that I could not help missing my family.
What is she doing right now? Does she miss me as much as I miss her?
I turned over to my side and saw Michael, sleeping soundly, his mouth hanging open.
He grunted and I turned over to my other side, not wishing to see Michael first thing in the morning.
I faced the back of Jacob, his broad shoulders barely lifted as he slept.
I closed my eyes, and fell into another fitful sleep.
When I awoke, Emmett was standing in the room, a servant at his side blowing into a trumpet.
Alec, Laurent, and Riley were also standing next to him, silent as we sat up in bed, thoroughly bewildered and rubbing our eyes.
I breathed out and caught a whiff of my vile breath and covered my mouth, opting instead to swing my legs to the side and pull myself up and out.
Once we were all up, the servant ceased trumpeting, a feat I was most grateful for, and Emmett spoke up, smiling slightly.
We filed out behind him, following him through the common area, brightly lit by the morning sun, and into a dining area where we were seated at a long table.
Servants brought us bowls and platters of food. We had oatmeal and fruit, scrambled eggs and toasted bread. I drank freshly squeezed orange juice from a glass cup.
It was quite honestly the finest food I had eated in my immediate memory.
Emmett left while we feasted.
Of course. It was the same as when he took his own carriage instead of riding with us. Royalty must never socialize with the common people.
The clock struck nine and our food was whisked away. We were all urged up and taken to a large bathing area.
We were met by old women who cackled as they stripped us of our clothes. They scrubbed us rather vigorously for a good thirty minutes and threw towels at us that we used to dry ourselves.
We were given clothes to put on. They were airy, and made of linen, but they were the finest clothes I had ever worn. I looked at the others, and they wore the exact same clothes.
Once we were dressed, we were taken to the common area where Alec and Laurent waited. Alec was a young man of middle height. He had dark hair that was long enough to fringe his face and intense dark eyes. He wasn't ordinary, and I would've said he had come from a noble family if I hadn't known where the five of us had come from.
Laurent was a dark man, exotic, from the desert lands of Gaol. He had a long, serious face, with long dreads falling to his broad shoulders. I had heard of him from the town gossip, Lauren. It wasn't hard to hear of him, though. He was famous.
The king of Gaol had visited three years ago, after the sickness had passed, to pay his respects to the queen's father, and to pay his condolences to Queen Isabella. He had brought with him a gift, his way of saying "You shouldn't be alone."
This gift was Laurent. There was some speculation that Laurent was the king's own son, but I knew it wasn't true because I had read about Gaol's political system. Their throne is passed down through the male line only, so male dominance is very important to them. They would never give a prince of their own to be dominated by a woman.
Riley was nowhere to be found. I assumed it meant he was already entertaining the queen before we were to be presented to her.
After we were seated, Alec spoke.
"To be presented before the queen, there are some things you have to remember."
He walked in front of us.
"First, you must remember to never look directly into her face unless she addresses you directly. If you do, you may be punished. Severely."
He moved in front of us.
"Second, when you bow, you must bend low at the waist. Your arms must never leave your side. The floor will become your friend. Watch me."
I watched while he stood stiffly, his feet pressed together, heel and toe, his arms stuck to his side.
His bow went so low his hair fell forward, and he straightened up slowly. It was very elegant.
"Third, you must remember never to talk back to her. She will judge for herself whether she likes your personality while you are alone together. In public, you are always to humble yourself. She is your master. We are her slaves."
"This is only presentation etiquette," Laurent said, "There is much more to do when you are taken to her chambers."
"Yes," Alec said, "When taken to her chambers, you are also not allowed to look into her face until she addresses you. You are to do everything she asks."
Seeing the fear in Seth's eyes, he said, "Don't worry. She will never ask you to do anything like cut yourself or anything like that."
"Our purpose here is to entertain her and keep her happy," Laurent said, "If you fail to do that, you have failed completely."
They went on for two hours like that, explaining what we should and should not do in her presence during the presentation.
I was beginning to worry if I was capable of keeping a woman I did not love happy in a way that I saw as unfit for two people who were not romantically involved.
Two hours before dinner, Emmett appeared.
"I am to take you to the throne room. You will be presented before the queen, and she will choose which one of you to entertain her tonight."
We followed him out the doors of the harem and through the palace, stopping in front of a set of twenty foot double doors, gold-trimmed handles, held by guards who regarded us with little interest.
Emmett looked at one, who nodded and opened his door, pounding his staff.
"Presenting the five newcomers of the harem."
A light, young female voice spoke up. "Let them in."
I glued my eyes to the floor as the other door opened and we marched in, one at a time in single file until we stopped about ten feet in front of the steps to the throne, lined up next to each other.
At least in here the floor is marble.
"Hi, Emmett," the voice said happily.
"Good evening, Your Majesty." He replied, the happiness in his voice not well concealed. He seemed happy to meet her.
"So, who do you bring to me from our fair kingdom?" The queen said, teasing in her voice.
Emmett moved closer to the end of the line, next to Michael.
"I give you Michael of Perth,"
Michael stepped forward. I could only see from my peripheral vision, but it seemed like he was also looking down.
"Jacob of Veany,"
Jacob stepped forward.
"Seth of Veany,"
Seth stepped forward.
"Jasper of Linra,"
I heard Jasper's breath hitch as he stepped forward.
"And Edward of Ineas."
I stepped forward. My step was rather heavy, and made a loud clacking sound in my ears.
I heard a light step coming down the throne stairs.
"Interesting, Emmett. Two from Veany?"
She walked closer.
I could see the bottom of her dress approaching Jacob and Seth.
"I know Veany is a very close knit community," she said. Standing in front of Jacob, she asked, "Are you two related, Jacob of Veany?"
"Yes," He replied quietly.
I hadn't known that. They didn't even look remotely alike.
"Well, this should be interesting, having two relatives in my harem."
She retreated to her throne.
"Emmett, I have made my decision for tonight. Dismiss them."
We turned around and marched single file back out into the hall, taken back to the harem without Emmett.
"Do you think she liked us?" Seth asked.
"I don't know," Michael said, "But her feet were rather attractive."
"She was wearing shoes, Michael," Jasper replied.
"Hey! Don't call me Michael. That's my father's name."
"Then what do you want us to call you," Jacob snorted, "Mike?"
"Hey! That's a great idea," Michael said, "We could all nickname each other! We're like brothers now, right?"
"As if," I said, walking faster. This conversation was beginning to make me uncomfortable.
"I can be Mike, Edward can be Ed, Jacob can be Jake, Jasper can be Jas, and Seth can be..."
"What," Seth asked, "Set? There's no nickname for Seth. Let's just stick to our own names."
"Whatever," Michael-now-Mike said, "I'm sticking with Mike."
We made our way back to the harem, where we were served dinner.
An hour later, Emmett found us lounging in the common area, watching the sun set from our glass skylight.
"Michael," he said, "You are to entertain Her Majesty tonight. Follow me."
Mike grinned as he bounded after Emmett, following him into the bathing area.
We all watched, Seth, most of all, with jealousy.
I breathed a sigh of relief after seeing Mike leave. I wasn't ready for another relationship, however platonic this one may end up. I had only just left my family three days ago.
A couple hours later, we prepared for bed. As we climbed under our covers, Mike entered, grinning like a cat with a mouse.
I ignored him as he recounted the beauty of the queen to Seth, his only willing audience. He didn't, however, mention anything about her sexually, like I was expecting him to. I supposed it was because he wanted to keep it to himself, but I doubted if that was the case.
The next day was spent in lessons. If we wanted to entertain the queen, we had to be at least close to her level intellectually. We couldn't just rely on our bodies, Riley had said.
After dinner, Emmett appeared and asked for Jacob. He followed, and, like Mike, appeared right before we went to bed.
He was less talkative than Mike, and agreed that the queen was indeed beautiful, but it did not seem at all like he had been with her sexually.
The next day, it was Seth, who came back very much like Mike, with similar stories of beauty, but nothing to indicate they had done anything explicit.
I began to feel relieved. It seemed that I would indeed have to entertain her, but not in the way I had thought. It also seemed that she was going in the order of how we were introduced that day. I would be last.
The next day went much like the others. Jasper came back, much like Jacob, and we went to sleep.
The day I was to go passed much like the others. In lessons. I paid more attention this day because I was to go, but I worried.
I didn't want her to think I was stupid, nor did I want her to think that I was romantically interested in her.
Even though I was part of her harem.
After dinner, when Emmett came to fetch me, I followed him into the bathing room.
The old ladies washed me as vigorously as they had that first day, and I was dried and pampered. I was given clothes even finer than the ones I had been wearing these past days.
Emmett took me through the castle. We went up many stairs until we came to the queen's chambers. Emmett left me with a guard, while the other one went inside to announce my arrival.
I was taken in and seated on a couch. I heard footsteps and quickly stood up, facing the floor.
She walked into the room very lightly, stopping in front of me.
"Hello, Edward," she said, a smile in her voice.
Oh, man. I think I'm gonna have to stop there. I want to build up more for one of the most important characters. Thanks for reading, and please review!