The sun shined on my face as I laid amongst the bluebells. The stream babbled away behind me while the birds chirped in the trees. It was eternally spring here and the repetition hadn’t yet broken the spell of the place.
When the brothers first gave me the Imaginarium Locket, I didn’t think I would get much use out of it, but I had. Even if I couldn’t escape from my future, being able to hide away undisturbed was a godsend. I was still carrying those stupid pictures around in my pocket and waiting for the right time to tell the Knight brothers. The idea of these images being in this place of sanctuary made my skin itch. But I couldn’t risk them being found.
‘Lizzie?’ Seb called out. ‘Food.’
My shoulders sank further into the ground as I sighed then I dragged myself up. I wish I could stay here forever.
‘Domus.’ I landed on my bed and found Seb standing at the foot of it.
‘You can’t spend all day in a locket. It’s not good for you.’ Seb wagged his finger at me. My lips curled into a smile as I watched his chestnut hair bob from side to side. Even when Seb piled on the gel his hair still looked like he had just walked out of bed.
‘I find it relaxing.’ I shifted myself off the bed and onto the plush rug. I’d been staying with the brothers for the last three weeks and had so far managed to keep the lid on the husband situation by avoiding them. With less than a week to go until I was due back in the school, I was confident I could keep this tactic up.
‘I know I keep asking, but are you really okay? You haven’t been yourself lately,’ Seb said. He shifted his weight from one foot to the next as he waited for my answer. I fussed with my bed in an attempt to avoid the question. I smoothed the crisp white sheets. From the corner of my eye I could see Seb studying me. ‘Don’t ignore me,’
‘I’m not, I’m just making my bed.’ I puffed up a pillow.
‘You never make you bed.’ Seb raised an eyebrow. ‘Now I’m suspicious.’
‘Maybe I just want to be tidier. Start a new habit. What’s wrong with that?’ I said. I walked back around to where Seb was standing to adjust the other pillow. I leaned over the bed, careful not to crease the sheets and pulled the pillow towards me. It was a bit of a stretch, but I managed it.
‘You know you can trust us, right?’ Seb straightened the edge of the pillow.
‘Yes, of course.’ I manipulated the pillow until it was fluffy. ‘I know I can.’ Leaning back on the bed to place the pillow in its place, I once again stretched over the bed, ending up on tip toes to put it in the correct place.
‘You need a hand or..?’ Seb asked.
‘No, I am perfectly…capable.’ Once I was happy with the pillow’s placement, I lowered my heels and tried to lift myself of the bed by only touching the edge of the sheet.
‘Not bad for a short arse,’ Seb said. I spun around to respond to him when I felt something fall from my pocket. I looked at Seb to see if he had noticed and when he glanced down at the floor, my thought was confirmed. ‘You dropped something.’ He bent to retrieve the folded pile of pictures.
‘Just something from class. I really should empty my pockets more,’ I said.
‘Anything interesting?’ he asked.
‘No, just scribbles.’
‘I’ll put it in the bin when we go down.’ Seb peeled back the first sheet of paper, but I interrupted him.
‘No! I mean. I might need it.’ I smiled and held my hand out for him to give me the papers.
‘Scribbles? Why would you need those?’ Seb said. He knitted his eyebrows together and then unfolded the pictures. He looked through each of the three in turn with a blank expression on his face. By the time he had looked over the notes on the back of each picture, that expression had turned to thunder. ‘Want to tell me what this is, or should I have to ask?’
‘I wasn’t going to say anything,’ I mumbled, lowering my head.
‘About what?’ What weren’t you going to say anything about?’ Seb tore through the images again. His eyes narrowed as he worked his way through the pile.
He’ll never guess. Just make something up.
As much as I wanted to lie I knew I couldn’t. This game of hiding something so big couldn’t go on much longer. I needed to come clean.
‘My potential husband,’ I said.
Seb clenched his teeth together and let out an exhale. ‘Right.’ He grabbed my hand and dragged me out of my room straight into the dining room where the other brothers were waiting.
‘I was beginning to wonder where you two had gone to. Your food will be cold now,’ James said. He pulled a napkin from the table and placed it on his lap. The other brothers did the same and soon they were eating.
‘Lizzie, tell them or I will,’ Seb said.
James put his fork down next to his plate and clasped his hands together while he contemplated his next move. I couldn’t help but focus on his emerald eyes. I was sure his eyes got darker when he was thinking.
‘Tell us what?’ Matt said as he was still chewing his food.
I turned to Seb who held up the pictures and nodded. I took a deep breath in and out before starting. ‘Seb found some pictures.’ Zach’s’ eyes lit up as his brain reeled at the possibility of those pictures. ‘No, not those,’ I said to Zach, who looked visibly deflated. ‘Pictures of potential suitors.’
‘And why would you have suitors?’ Matt asked, still engrossed in his food.
‘Merlyn said the Assembly is pushing for me to get married as a way of showing I am less of a threat. He said it would be a way diluting my blood line once Harry is finally defeated,’ I said. The brothers would either mirror my calm tone or they wouldn’t.
‘What the hell?’ Zach slammed his fork down onto the table. ‘Who the hell does the Assembly think it is? When is this happening?’ I tried to remain calm as not to set everyone off. It wasn’t easy when all I wanted to do was to retreat back to the safety of my locket.
‘When we finally sort the Harry problem out and then pretty much as soon as I finish the Academy,’ I said. ‘So, a few months, I guess. Merlyn was a little vague on that.’
‘And if you refuse?’ Matt asked having now put his fork down too.
‘Then they’ll lock her up or maybe worse,’ James said, who still appeared calm.
‘And you know this, how?’ Seb said.
‘Because I was asked to be one of the suitors and refused.’ James clasped his hands together and leaned back in his chair. My mouth fell open at the revelation. That was not expected.
‘You what?’ Zach said before slamming his palm on the table. ‘Why you?’
‘Because I am the oldest. But I said no. It’s plain to see I am not the only Knight brother who has feelings for Lizzie that go beyond friendship.’ He paused and looked at his brothers. ‘That in itself would cause an argument I do not want to start. It also isn’t fair on Lizzie to be paired off to someone she may or may not like. I wasn’t going to be the one to force her into anything.’ This revelation stunned me to silence. He must have known I wouldn’t willing go and marry some stranger. That meant he knew the risk in his action.
James had a choice, but he’d rather see you rot in some cell or... dead.
‘And you knew Merlyn would find someone else and still said no?’ Seb asked.
‘At first I thought the idea was dropped. I assumed Merlyn had convinced the Assembly it was a bad idea.’ James pulled his napkin from his lap and placed it on the table. ‘When that didn’t come to fruition, I did think he might ask one of you guys. Just because I didn’t feel it was right, doesn’t mean you three would.’
‘I don’t care what the Assembly or Merlyn say. This isn’t happening.’ Matt turned to me. ‘Don’t worry, Lizzie, you won’t have to do this. I won’t let it happen.’
I gave Matt a soft smile. He couldn’t face the Assembly alone and win. Merlyn seemed to struggle to convince them and he was a well-respected professor.
‘I’ll marry you,’ Zach said.
I leaned back in shock. I hadn’t expected him to say that.
‘Zach!’ Matt said.
Seb pushed Zach behind him. ‘Get in line.’
‘What is wrong with you guys? You can’t pick for her.’ Matt put his napkin on the table and pushed away his food. For Matt to turn up a chance to eat he must take this seriously.
‘We aren’t. We were just thinking—’ Seb said.
‘We all know what you were thinking with,’ James said.
Seb scowled at his brother and kicked the table leg.
‘No, Lizzie deserves a choice. She might not want any of us. Don’t be dicks,’ Matt said to his brothers. ‘Lizzie, what are the boys names?’
‘I—I…’ I stuttered as I tried to make sense of the back and forth conversations.
‘Cecil Forest,’ Seb said.
‘Dickhead,’ Matt said. He leaned back into his chair and fiddled with his napkin.
‘Jareth Silver,’ Seb continued.
‘Moronic dickhead,’ Matt said as he pulled of a strip of napkin and rolled it into a ball.
‘And Flynn York,’ Seb finished.
‘York? He’s the biggest, most self-centred dickhead of them all. You’ve got great options there, Lizzie, just wonderful.’ Matt rolled his eyes and huffed. He screwed up the remaining part of the napkin and threw it on his plate. James returned the gesture with an unimpressed raise of his eyebrows.
‘Can we refrain from calling them names?’ James said. ‘It isn’t helping.’
‘Oh come on. Matt is pretty close. She hasn’t got a great selection there,’ Zach said as he leaned back into his chair. He placed his arms behind him and cradled his head. He looked unfazed, but I knew him better than he gave me credit for. Zach was thinking of a way out of this. I just hoped it would be soon.
‘That as it may, name-calling isn’t helping. Lizzie, are you interested in getting married to any of these guys?’ James asked.
‘Or at all?’ Matt glared at his brothers.
‘I don’t know. I don’t know them. I don’t want to be some housewife,’ I said. I hadn’t thought about marriage. It was one of those things you thought about once you were in a long term relationship or when you hit thirty.
‘That’s fair enough. I don’t believe you should be forced into anything. We need to work on a plan to defeat Harry first,’ James said.
‘But once we do that, I’ll be married off.’ I bit my lip and clenched my fists to stop myself from screaming at my limited options.
‘We might be able to buy some time and delay Harry too,’ James said. ‘ He won’t get a chance to hurt you again.’
‘I think that’s going to be a little hard. He kind of wants me dead,’ I said.
‘True, but we will have the best chance of defeating him if we are the ones who pick the battle place and when it happens,’ James said. He leaned towards the table.
‘If we train you up, work on some ways to weaken Harry without killing him, then we might have a chance,’ Seb said.
Without killing him.
‘I’m not a huge fan of killing people, as you can imagine, but I got the impression from Merlyn we would have to... kill him,’ I said.
‘If you kill a witch or wizard, you get their power. The Assembly are using you as a way to defeat Harry and hope you then take his powers. Killing two birds with one stone,’ James said. ‘It is only then they can justify their actions as you will be labelled a threat.’
‘We can contain him without killing him. Maybe even strip him of his powers without passing them on to you. You won’t be a threat then,’ Zach said.
‘So, does that sound like a plan?’ Matt asked.
‘It’s Lizzie’s choice and it isn’t an easy one/’ James and pursed his lips together tightly.
‘Yes. I want to try it. I’ll try anything at this point,’ I said.
‘Good. That’s all sorted then. We will start the training when back in school. Me and Matt with do some research on spells if Seb and Zach do some on ways to strip powers we might have a chance,’ James said. Matt waited for James to finish and then put his hand up.
‘Yes?’ James said.
‘Now that’s sorted... can we eat?’ Matt said.
It was only later that evening, as I sat amongst the brothers watching a film, that I realised what James had said.
“It’s plain to see I am not the only Knight brother who has feelings for Lizzie that go beyond friendship.”
That meant the others liked me too. Life would be so much easier if I could choose just one brother, but I couldn’t. As James said, it wouldn’t be fair. Instead, I might end up marrying some boy I didn’t know all because I couldn’t pick one brother.
Why is my life so damn complicated?