Hendrick was a boy who knew of no limits. It was obvious that he was abusing the power associated with his status. No one dared to defy him although it was clear too that there were plans to overthrow him. I was sure too that he knew of his date of expiration. As soon as the days of mourning ended, he would be usurped. Who would have wanted a frail, young boy as a ruler? Who would have listened to a child’s advice?

          At this rate, we would never find the Book of Winds. I knew that I couldn’t play within his rules anymore. When I witnessed him stomping and kicking a maid, who had accidentally spilled tea on his boots, I confronted him. I confronted him with a slap. He had gasped once before charging at me and throwing punches at my stomach. I grabbed his wrists and then steadied his shoulders.
          “You do not use violence to solve your problems,” I reminded.
          As expected, he spat at me. Wiping his grotesque spit from my face, I spat at him too. He was in disbelief; his eyes had enlarged to the size of snow balls. Then, he became furious. He leapt from his bed and reached for the sword hanging on the wall.
          “You want to kill me now? Go ahead,” I taunted. “Try to kill me . . . if you can.”
          With that one phrase, he attacked me. His anger made his movements clumsy and stocky, which meant I could dodge his hits easily. Realizing that he was losing, he dropped the sword and ran away. He kept sprinting while I kept following him. I chased after him until we reached a great, frozen lake. It was obvious that he was unsure as to what to do. He kept darting his eyes back and forth and even cowered away from the ice. As I approached him, however, he decided to march on ice. A threat. This had to be a threat telling me if I were to come closer, he would endanger himself. Frankly, I did not care about threats when I knew exactly how to overcome them.
          “Hendrick, you are just afraid,” I announced. “You are afraid . . . that everyone will know what a coward you actually are. You are afraid . . . that no one cares about you for who you are. You are afraid . . . of death.”
          After days of interacting with me, I finally realized why he ran, and specifically, why he acted so rudely. I knew he was reacting to my words for he continually stepped backwards while I stepped forwards. I kept advancing until we were about a few centimetres away from each other.
           With one knee on the ground, I told him, “Whether you like it or not, you will be the Tsar and if you want people to respect you or to love you, you have to treat them too with care and with equality. You cannot lose to your own illness. I . . . I know of someone . . . rather dear to me who is like you of poor health, but unlike you . . . he is always fighting. He is always living.”
          He stared at me with much ferocity and for the first time, he croaked, “You know nothing!”
          With a shove, he pushed me over and it just so happened that the ice below me had cracked. In I fell to the depths of freezing water. I struggled to keep my head up by treading water. My dress, however, seemed to be dragging me down.
          “Help . . . me,” I muttered in a panic. He only gazed at me, too dumbfounded. Tears were flowing from his eyes as he crawled backwards in terror. “Help me,” I begged and reached my hand out.
          “I c-c-cannot,” he stammered. “You will die in any sense. You will die just like Mama and Papa did. There is nothing I can do.”
          I sputtered in between gasps of piercing air, “I will die if you do not even try.”
          His spineless eyes were showing signs of indecision, yet he presented his hand to me. I was about to cling onto him and I would have succeeded if he had not fled. Watching him fade with the winter mist, I sensed my muscles relaxing. Relaxation would have been wise, but . . . not when I felt all hope wane.
          Was this all there was to me?
          “You want to die?” I heard a cackling voice to my right. “You believe death is the only way to escape from me?”
          My left foot had rested on the limestone railing of a bridge. My hands had steadied my frozen body. I look at him uneasily. This man’s eyes were of the shade of ashfall and his glare was like an irremediable curse. Needless to say, he was devilishly charming with his pale, oval face, and thin, angled nose.
          “Coward,” he roared.
          I felt I heard that used on me before. I just could not remember when or who had said that to me. Even his voice seemed reminiscent; it had to be one that I would never forget. When I frowned at him, he hastily seized my wrists together and then tried to shove me from my position. I would have fallen to the river and perhaps drowned if I had not resisted. Never had I bore so much strain on my body. My muscles ached. My head burned, but most importantly, my heart stung.
          “What more do you want from me?” I demanded.
          “So you do want to live,” he snickered with a conceited grin before yanking me towards him, “and you do not even show gratitude to your saviour? Is this what your parents taught you?”
         I was still perched at the edge, while his body pressed on my knees. I leaned forward and to my bewilderment, he grabbed onto my arm, causing me to fall into his domineering embrace. Our lips met and without a doubt, there was a struggle between the two of us. We were entangled in hatred, lust, and perhaps, even love. That was . . . until I bit him. I bit his lips with so much force that blood painted our lips burgundy.
          “I despise you,” I scowled.
          Before I could escape, he had avenged for his wound. Caging me with his grip, he smothered his swollen lips against mine. Then, he too had bitten my lower lip. Our blood now blended as one; I could taste the strong, metal laced between our tongues.  
          When he licked my wound clean, he laughed. “I never thought I would be well-liked, but I never expected you to be so stubborn.”
          “Then, why did you force me into this situation? You knew very well that—“
          “Because I want you and whatever I desire, I will acquire.”
          I stomped my foot on his, screaming, “You selfish pig!”
          “Me, selfish?” He let out another chuckle. “Why, I made you a martyr and I as a villain.”
          Storming away, I shrieked, “To your liking. I never wanted to be a heroine. I never wanted any of this to happen. I just wanted to be happy. Is that so difficult to grasp?”
          “My dear . . . you do not look so pretty with all that anger.”
          I stopped to retort, “Then, I shall always be angry, so you will learn to despise me too.”
          “But why would I ever hate you? You keep fascinating me with all your acts!” He applauded in a regal manner. “In fact, I say, die more often. That way you can thank me after each time.”
          My index finger was tremulous. “You . . . you . . . you—“
          “Too delightful for words?”
          He wore another one of his infamous smiles, the sort that was spiteful, but not enough for people to criticize. He had a way with making me irate. Whenever we interacted, I would suffer from sort of pain. That pain, however, never included heartache. Heartache was for . . .     
          “Just remember that I will always abhor you,” I declared.
          He cheered, “Very well! Well done!”
          Although I was filled with frustration, I couldn’t help wondering what this man achieved from enraging Ghislaine. Why did he seem so content with her grouchy mood? Then, I remembered what I had asked a long time ago.
          “Why do you always like to tease me?” I asked him one day while we were both cleaning our palettes at the sink.
          “It’s fun,” he mumbled like a lullaby.
          “But, it’s not fun for me,” I argued.
          “Let me ask you then,” he turned off the tap and said. “Is saying ‘I love you’ fun?”
          My face grew red as I stammered, “Wh-wh-what? I d-d-don’t—“
          “I heard you say it to your boyfriend the other day,” he added, “and he said it back to you as well. In fact, he always tells you that he loves you before he drops you off here—“
         “I’m just saying that it’s said too often that it means nothing,” he explained. “ ‘I hate you’, on the other hand . . . well . . . that’s another story.”
Chapter 41                                                                            Chapter 43