Hunted- (tentative title) chapter 2

Chapter 2- Engagement ______________________________________________________________________________

    The room around me felt like it was getting smaller.  I paced around the kitchen in my father’s cottage anxiously.  Were the walls always this close together?  I felt trapped.  Tritus, the most punctual man in the world, was late.  It made me feel even more claustrophobic.  This was my first opportunity to give a full report of what had happened at my disastrous first command of a raid.  I was dreading his return, yet anxious for it to come.  He was never late and it worried me.  My father had been acting so peculiar the past couple weeks.  I could not begin to guess what the old man was planning and it made me uneasy.  I did not enjoy being left in the dark by a man who had never bothered to hide anything from me before.  When asked about it, the hulking and usually intimidatingly serious man would merely grin foolishly.

            This behavior was so out of character for Titus that I was sure it could not have anything to do with work. We both lived for our work, and took our positions as knight, guards, and protectors impossibly seriously.  Tritus was the head of the guard and chief commander of the king’s hunting force.  I was his right hand man, second only to my father, and this had made Tritus prouder than anything else I had ever done in my life.  People often thought I had attained the title due to the fact that my father ran the entire guard.  Added to that was the fact that my best friend and almost constant companion was Darius, the prince and heir of the kingdom, making the king himself practically like family.  Indeed the queen was the closest thing I had to a mother.  Queen Izabella treated me as though I were nothing less than her own flesh and blood.  I at least knew the worthiness of the position that I held and how hard I had worked to attain it.  Tritus had been sure to treat me just the same, if not even a little harsher than the rest of the recruits. I believed in the guard and its mission with every fiber of my being.  The only person who took the job as seriously as I did was Tritus himself.

            Therefore, I concluded, this secret that had Tritus practically giddy with excitement could not possibly have anything to with the guard.  This should have put me at least slightly at ease, knowing at least my father could not be out doing anything dangerous, but somehow it did not.  What could possibly have one of the most feared men in Galashenia giggling as though he were a thirteen year old girl?  He promised to be back with an answer to all of my questions within the hour.

            He might at least have told me where he was going.  What if something happened to him on the way?  I wouldn’t even have a clue where to start looking for the old fool.  Was he really so thick to think that he can handle anything on his own?  Any normal man Tritus can handle, even as old as he is.  Even so, all the strength in the world is no match for purely evil magic.

            The front door creaked open and I rushed to see if it was Tritus back at last.  My imagination was running away, presenting horrible images of the condition my father could be in.  Tritus is never late, something has to be wrong.  Yet I turned the corner to see that same grin still plastered onto his face.

            “Sorry, that took me a little longer than I had thought.”  Tritus said at last.

            “So are you willing to let me in on this secret now?  And since when are you ever late?  I’ve been going crazy stuck here, not even knowing where you went.  What if something happened to you?  You know the kinds of things that are out there.”  I felt as though I were the parent, lecturing a child late for curfew.

            Tritus’s booming laugh echoed through the entire house. “Relax Jackson.  Honestly, you have become worse than even I am.  You see magic lurking around every corner.  You need to learn to leave your work behind and let a little more enjoyment seep into the rest of your life.  This obsession with magic has literally taken you over.  Save your worries for work.  Today is a happy day, after all.”

            “What exactly is so happy about today?”  I said skeptically.  “Today is the farthest thing from happy in my opinion.  You haven’t heard my report yet.”  I grimaced.

            Tritus’s eyes fell for the first time.  He looked grave.  “I have heard all I need to about it for now.  I am sorry it had to end that way.  I had hoped things would go easily for you.  Understand though son that you did the best you could with the situation you were presented.”

            I felt my throat close tightly.  For now, I was a son confiding in my father, not a soldier reporting to his superior.  My voice broke when I tried to speak. “I killed her.  We went in for arrests only and I killed her.”

            “And if you hadn’t, she would have killed everyone in there.  She was willing to burn that place to the ground, killing herself and her friends in order to kill you.  When it’s kill or be killed, you have no other choice.  You do realize that you saved lives by taking hers.”  He said.

“I am sorry that I let things get out of hand.  I should have been more careful.  I should have had control of the situation.  I understand if you want to take my command from me.  I know I deserve far worse.”  I said. 

“You do not have to shoulder the blame for every little thing that goes wrong in the world.  Forget magic killing you, you my son are going to worry yourself to death.  Please stop fretting, leave your work where it belongs and join me in a toast.”  The smile began to return, wiping out the grave look.

            “A toast to what?” I was hardly even interested anymore.  If it involved celebrating, I was out.   That was the last thing that I was in the mood for.

            “I was just working out the details of what will hopefully be the next wedding in Galashenia.”  Tritus winked at me.

            “And whose wedding would that be?”

            “Yours.  Should you be agreeable to the arrangements I have made, of course.”

            A wedding?  My wedding?  Taking a wife, becoming a husband, falling in love; these were all thoughts that had not really entered into my consciousness.  I grew up wanting to be a soldier, not a husband. 

            “To whom am I supposed to be getting married?”  I asked, more for curiosity’s sake than anything else.

            “Violet” said Tritus.

            Violet…  How could I not have guessed that?  Darius’ cousin, Violet.  She was beautiful, perfect, and practically a princess.  Not only was she stunning and sought after by every man in the kingdom, but she was also completely infatuated with me.  She had been head over heels for me ever since the summer which I had spent with Darius visiting his Aunt and Uncle in the country.  His eleven year old cousin Violet had followed us around like she was a lost little puppy dog.  I had tried to be kind to her, feeling bad for Darius’ taunts and attempts to evade the girl.  I had no idea then that kindness would cause a complete infatuation that would last the next ten years of the girl’s life.  At 16 she had moved into the castle to study with Queen Izabella’s tutors.  She claimed the move would be a learning experience for her.  Izabella welcomed her niece as though she were her own daughter, and Violet had been treated like a princess from the moment that she had arrived.  Darius teased me unendingly about the fact that the real motive behind Violet’s move had been me.   I had difficulty understanding why she would move across the country to be close to me.  I understood even less why she would want to marry me.

            “Well?”  Tritus asked impatiently, bringing my thoughts back to the present.  “What do you think?  You have got to be the luckiest man in this land.  Violet wants to marry you.  I tried asking the girl what she was thinking.  She seems set on the idea that she wants you above all the others who have tried.”

            I groaned.  “Violet knows about this already?”  I had hoped that I could graciously turn this idea down before they ever brought it up to her.

            “Of course she knows.  It was practically her idea.  She overheard Izabella and I talking about you.”  He hesitated momentarily and then began again in a rush.  “You know we both just want to see you happy.  We thought if we arranged a match up for you, one that could turn into a marriage arrangement, it would make you happy.  Well, Violet approached us, begging to let it be her.  Izabella was thrilled, she would love to see you two together.”

            “Why were the two of you discussing my life?  If I had wanted you involved, I would have asked.  I love Izabella, I really do.  But she insists on always intervening in things that she has no business in.”

            “She’s worried about you.  Frankly, so am I.  We both just want to see you happy.  She looks to you as her own son.  You’re so serious all the time; I can hardly remember the last time you even really smiled.  You take your job so seriously.”

            “Who’s the one who taught me to take magic so seriously?  ‘Never let your guard down.  Never trust anyone; they may be a magic user.’ “I attempted a mocking impression of Tritus and his booming deep voice.

            “I know.  I wanted to make you aware of the dangers in this world.  Even at a young age, I wanted you to know the kinds of monsters that are out there.  I wanted to keep you on your guard.  I lost your mother to their violence; I couldn’t lose you as well.  I had hoped it would inspire you to want to join me in hunting them down one day.  And so it did.  But I never thought that the obsession would take over your entire life.  You have no room for anything else.  I want you to be happy, Jackson.”

            “I am happy.  This “obsession” as you call it makes me happy.  This is what I was born for.  I love the idea of protecting the innocent people around us.  Nothing could be better than that.”

            “Love can be better.  Nothing makes your life more complete than falling in love with one woman.   You, however, are so wrapped up in work that you are hardly able to even notice a woman, let alone give yourself a chance to fall in love with one.  Violet is crazy about you.  Yet you have hardly shown her anything more than brotherly affection.”

            “I’m sure love is wonderful.  But love is something not intended for my life.  I accepted that long ago.  Violet is beautiful and wonderful.  She is kind and loving and everything I could ask for.  But no matter how hard I try, I cannot bring myself to love her anymore than I would love a sister.  I cannot return her affections, and so I cannot marry her.  It would be unfair.”

            “If a woman like Violet cannot stir any emotion in you, then who can?”

            “That’s exactly my point.  Love is not something meant for my life.   It’s time that you accepted that too.”

            He groaned hesistantly.  “Violet is on her way here with Izabella and Darius.  I’m sorry we didn’t give you a little more warning.  I honestly thought you would be thrilled.”

            I stormed from the kitchen, and into my bedroom to think things over.  I was furious with Tritus for keeping this a secret.  I was furious with Izabella for meddling in my life again.  Mostly though, I was furious with myself for not being able to love Violet, knowing that I was going to hurt her.  I loved Violet like she was a sister.  I would have gladly given my life to protect her from being hurt.  Yet it seemed the pain that she was doomed to suffer was one I could not shield her from because I was the one causing her that pain. 

                Why did she have to fall in love with me?  I thought angrily.  There wasn’t anything that special about me.  I was not unattractive, I was just not anywhere near to being worthy of Violet.  Any single man in the kingdom would have given anything to be in the position that I was, a position that I hardly felt worthy of.  Violet was more than any man could have wanted, with her long flowing dark brown hair and her remarkably seductive hazelnut eyes.  Her face was exotic and perfectly sculpted to look like a goddess.  Every man worshipped her as though she truly were a goddess.  That is, every man except for the one that she wanted.  I saw no more appeal than that of her beauty.  Beyond her gorgeous face and alluring eyes, I saw nothing.   There was no intrigue, and nothing about her drew me in.

                I wracked my mind for a way out of this situation.  I wanted desperately to find a diplomatic, peaceful way to end this.  I wanted a way that I could not marry her, and still manage to not hurt anyone.  I wanted something that simply did not exist.   I barely had time to contemplate my options when there was a knock on the door.   I heard Tritus open the door, and greet the queen as though she were his oldest and dearest friend.  After some low worried murmuring, I heard footsteps come towards my bedroom door.  I braced myself for the sight of the beautiful face I was about to turn away, but to my intense relief saw Darius instead.

                “I hear you’re getting married…  or not as it turns out.”  Darius said, grinning.

                “I can’t believe you think this is a joke.  Violet is going to hate me.”

                “Serves her right, I say. My cousin never seemed to know what was good for.  And now look at her; she managed to choose the one man in the whole country who would actually turn her down.  I think the woman looks for disappointment.”

                “You don’t seem surprised by any of this.”

                “I saw this coming years ago.  I knew that someday she would make her play to finally get you.  I also knew that you would turn her down.  Nobody is blind enough not to notice how madly in love with you she is. Nor is anyone blind enough to notice how completely not in love with her you are.  I think she has just deluded herself all these years into interpreting your signs of friendship into being something more.  Violet tends to see what she wants to see, not what is actually in front of her.”

                “Some warning might have been nice.  Now, I have minutes before I have to face her and I have no idea what I am going to say to her.”  I felt like I was going to be sick.

                “Come on, it would have been no fun to warn you about this.  Then I would miss the entertainment of you trying to figure out a way out of this without hurting anyone.  I know that’s exactly what you’re doing.  Kind hearted Jackson has to find a way to make everyone happy.  Sorry brother, there is no way out of this one without hurting someone.”

                Darius knew me way too well.  He always knew just what I was thinking.  “Unfortunately the only person who is going to get hurt here is Violet.  I am faced with two options. Turn her down, and hurt her.  Or, marry her and doom her to life with someone who doesn’t love her which will also in the end wind up hurting her.  There is no right thing to do.” 

                “You can leap into magical blazing flames to stop a dangerous killer without thought.  Yet look at you now.  The thought of talking to my cousin has you shaking from head to toe.”  He said, laughing all the while.

                I glared at Darius, wincing at his mention of the previous night’s raid.  “You know, you seem to have the false impression that being a prince will save you from people punching you in the face.  You should know that I reserve no special treatment for anyone who is willing to make fun of my problems.”

                “I expect no less from you, my friend.  However I still have yet to see the day when you punch me in the face without immediately turning to apologize for having done it.  You’re too soft to hurt a single soul without immediate apology.  You’re so soft hearted, it’s entertaining. “ He mocked again.

                “I’m so glad that I amuse you.”  I couldn’t hold in the sarcasm.  I hated how he was making light of this situation, but knew there was no use trying to make him stop and decided to change the subject rather than argue. “You know you’re wrong about that though.  I have hurt people.  I have killed people.  You’ve seen me do it.  You still think me soft hearted?  You do remember that I have a job that involves hunting down and killing magic users?”

                “Oh come on, you know they don’t count.  I’m talking about people who actually have a soul.  Killing monsters is not the same thing.  You know people have actually started petitioning my father to reinstate trials for witches and wizards?  Like, to actually present a defense for their magic use?  There are still people out there rallying for their rights, like they were actually people.  Just wait for the day one of the so called “people” uses their magic to kill a member of their family, and then we’ll see how fast they change their minds.”

                “How’s your father taking to that?  He can’t be very happy.  He finally just abolished the idea of holding trials for magic users.”

                “Well, to be honest I haven’t even bothered my father with their protests yet.  He spends most of his days locked in his room.  Poor old man is so terrified of magic, he’s afraid to leave.  I don’t blame him.  Who knows how many of them are targeting him?  Not that any of them will need to finish him off.  He’s getting sicker every day.”  Darius’ usually joking tone disappeared at the mention of his father.  His voice was wrought with worry and sorrow.

                “He’s still getting worse?  I thought you had found a healer was working wonders with him?”

                Darius laughed, although it was not his usual mirthful laugh.   It had a menacing and spiteful ring to it. “You won’t believe this.  It turns out the “miracles” she was working were exactly that.  One of the servants caught her reciting some weird incantation over my father’s bed when she thought that everyone had gone.  She was a witch, isn’t that unbelievable?”

                I stared in shock.  I had met her once.  I had almost liked her.  I thought she was actually starting to help the king.  And it turns out she was a witch, just another monster.  “What did your father do when he found out?”

                “Now you’re really not going to believe this.  He ordered her execution, but she disappeared out of the dungeon before the executioner ever arrived.”

                My face went blank with horror.  “She got away?  After having personally used magic on your father?   Why didn’t you tell me?  Why aren’t we out hunting for her right now?”

                “Because…” Darius smiled the mock returning to his voice “I heard you were busy planning a wedding.  Plus, I have a feeling she is long gone from here by now.  Anyone with the power to get out of our dungeons certainly has the power to get far away very quickly.  It will be a long time before we ever see her again.”

                A shiver ran through my body at the thought of the witch sitting at the bedside of the aging, very ill king.  The things she could have done to him…. Why hadn’t she done them to him?   Clearly she had a plan larger than just killing the king.  She must have known that killing him wouldn’t stop her kind being hunted.  He had more than enough people like myself, Tritus, and Darius to continue his ambition of eradicating magic and all who use it.  It was the only way to keep the world safe for everyone else.  Maybe she was trying to get close enough to manipulate him, control him to their advantage.  That was the only rational explanation of why she would have used her magic to make him better instead of worse.

                I turned to Darius who looked just as deep in thought.  Perhaps he was even thinking through the exact same possibilities as I was.  We had spent so much of our lives together, even our minds worked in sync now.  Darius shook his head as though trying to shake the horrible thoughts out of it and the smile returned to his face.

                “So” He said “any ideas for Violet yet?  Have you found you diplomatic solution?  You do know that she will be here any moment.  You’re running out of time to figure this out.”

                “Darius, I need your help.  I need to talk to Violet alone.  It’s bad enough that I have to hurt her.  There’s no need to do it in front of everyone.”

                “Come on, I’ve waited years for this.  This is going to be so entertaining; it will ruin everything if I don’t get to watch you go down in flames.”

                “Please Darius.  You are like my brother.   You know I would do anything I could to help you.  Please help me with this.  Get Violet away from the crowd of people so that I can explain this to her one on one.”

                “I can’t believe you’re pulling the ‘like a brother’ card on me.  Do you know how unfair that is?”

                “Come on; just tell her to meet me by the river when she gets here.  Distract everyone, let her slip out.  I’m going out the through the garden so that no one will see me leave.  I’m not interested in answering their questions just yet.  I’m especially not looking forward to my next conversation with your mother.  Izabella is going to be so disappointed.”

                “What?  Are you afraid you won’t be her favorite son anymore?”  Darius laughed.

                “Come on Darius, no more jokes.  Just tell Violet, please.”  My voice was pleading now.

                “Fine, go.  I’ll tell her.  Just know that you ruin every moment of fun I ever get to have. “

                “Thank you.”  I was still terrified of the conversation that was ahead of me, but I was relieved that I at least did not have to face it in front of everyone.  I couldn’t take their disappointed stares.

                “Go, Jackson.  I hear Violet talking to Tritus.  Your time is up.  Go now, or you might as well waltz in there now and announce that you’re spoiling all of their fun too.”

                I smiled at him, and slipped out the garden door.  Darius may take every chance he had to make fun of me and make light of my problems, but he was always there to help me in the end. 


                I waited by the river, still unsure of what I was going to say to Violet.  I was glad for the extra time I had to think.  However, far too soon I heard someone making their way through the trail in the beautiful lush forest that lay behind me.  I did not even have to turn around to know who it was.  Violet came to sit next to me in the grass.  For a long minute we just sat in silence, listening and watching the gentle flow of the river in front of us.

                “I can’t do it Violet.”  I finally broke the silence.

                “What do you mean?”   She asked, but the look in her eyes told me that despite her question, she knew exactly what I had meant.                          

                “I can’t marry you.  You deserve far better than me anyways.”  

                “Who are you to decide what I do or don’t deserve?  Don’t I deserve what makes me happy?  I know that’s you.  I have always known that.  For as long as I have been capable of having these feelings, they have always been for you.”

                “I’m sorry, Violet, but I don’t have those same feelings.  That’s not to say that I don’t care about you.  You know how much I care for you.  I’ve shown it through years of friendship that I would do anything for you.  But I love you as a sister, not a wife.”

                “If you would really do anything for me, than do this.  Marry me.” She said, very matter of factly.

                “I won’t doom you to spending your life with someone who doesn’t love you.  It’s not fair to either of us.”

                “But you do love me.  You just said so.” She said.

                “Not in the right way.”  I was desperately to make her understand.

                “Well, maybe that’s good enough for me.  You’ve done your part and told me the truth about how you feel.”

                “Why would you settle for that when you could have anyone?” I just did not understand her.  She really could have anyone that she wanted.  Well, anyone but me.

                “Because I don’t want just anyone.  I want you and I won’t settle for anything less.  I’m stubborn, Jackson, and I am used to getting my way.  I don’t plan on giving up until that happens.”  She was right.  Violet was the most stubborn person I had ever met.  I was not in for an easy fight on this issue and I knew that it wasn’t going to end with one conversation.

                “You could have someone far better than me.”  I told her. 

                “You really do have an absurdly distorted view of yourself, don’t you?  You are the most beautiful man I have ever met, inside and out.  I couldn’t find any better even if I tried.  Everyone has told me that I deserve the best.  And that my dear Jackson, like it or not, is you.”

                I turned to look at Violet’s face.  How could she speak of anyone else being beautiful?  No one’s beauty could even compare to hers.  So why can’t I love her?  I looked deep into her eyes that were broken with pain and I tried to search within them and within myself for any feeling that could possibly justify saying yes to this whole plan.  Yet the only feeling I could manage to find was anguish at knowing that I could not ever love her the same way that she loved me.  Was I incapable of love?

                “What you deserve is to be loved in return and that’s something that I cannot give you.”  I finally said. 

                Tears began to fall from her face.  I turned back to look at the river, not being able to watch her tears.  They were tears of longing, tears of pain, and tears that were all for me.   I reached a hand towards her, about to brush away the tears that now soaked her cheeks.  But, I hesitated and pulled my hand back.  I supposed that it was not my place anymore to comfort her like a friend might.  Not when I was the reason behind the pain.  I did not know what to say next, how to end the conversation.  The tension in the air was more than I could take.

                Violet finally spoke “You know what I love so much about you?”  Her voice cracked as she tried to speak through her tears. “I love the fact that you love everyone around you, stranger or friend.  Unfortunately the unconditional love you have for all human life I think is exactly the reason you have no more room left in your heart for just one woman.  It leaves no room for me.  I pray someday you are able to open your heart to someone.  Love can be agony.” She sniffed a little as if to emphasize her point “but love can also be beautiful.  It has been both the best and worst experience of my lifetime and it would be a waste if you never get to feel it.  I hope someday you open your heart to loving someone and hope that someone turns out to be me.  I’ve waited 10 years for you already; I suppose I can wait a little longer.”

                “Please don’t wait a minute longer for me.  I know that my feelings are never going to change.  I’m sorry Violet.”

                “No more apologies Jackson.  I’m tired of hearing them.  Just know that my feelings are not going to change either.  And I am far more stubborn than you will ever be.”

                Violet turned to give me a weak, half hearted smile, and then turned to make her way back through the forest, leaving me with only my thoughts and the sound of the river for company.

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Novel / Novella
writing staceymarche
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Jackson is a witch hunter who takes his job way too seriously. He believes there is no room left in his life for love and marriage, and therefore turns down the marriage arranged by the queen and his father to one of the most beautiful women in the kingdom.
A Word from the Writer
This is a very rough preliminary draft!! pleas share any advice, critique or comments on anything. Let me know what you think about the story, my writing style, my characters, anything at all that might help to make it better! Thanks!