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Thorns: Ch 5

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I walked down the steps, feeling like an intruder. The sudden silence rang in my ears and intensified the tension surrounding me.

I heard my 'father's' voice, "This is my oldest daughter, Brook. As you can see, she is beyond the description I gave you."

"The description would be considered an insult compared to her," the man next to him gruffly approved.

I recognized him as the head of the blood hound family. So my own beloved 'father' was in on this too, so much for the traditional saying of 'you can always rely on family to have your back!'

The blood hound head master was quite tall but not exactly bulky. He was lean and limber. His dark graying hair stood out against his ash white skin and pale blue eyes. Dark shadows added emphasis to his sharp pointed chin and angular features.

"My dear girl," he snidely addressed me, holding out his hand. I rested mine in his and allowed his honey hand to lead me into the group. "It is a pleasure to have you, as part of this family." He kissed my hand.

This guy was so arrogant, I could read his thoughts just by looking at his face. He wanted to say, how relieved they were that despite being a 'commoner', I had a royal and grand look. Too bad my 'parents' left out my thug childhood. Though with the reputation this man had, I thought it would only make things worse for me. They thrived off cruelty and blood.

"Now my son has yet to arrive. He probably finds that marrying a farmer's daughter below him, but we all know better don't we?" His smile was menacing but I stared at him unfazed.

Then I glanced at the other's reactions to his statement. 'Father' simply smiled apologetically, Mrs. Myrlyn looked almost insulted, but regained her facade of being proper.

She was such a want-to-be. I turned back to the man, "don't be so humble, we both know that you're just happy I am not some feeble-minded town girl and actually know how to play the game."

"Such wit!" He laughed almost like a harsh bark.

I couldn't help but hear as Mrs. Myrlyn scoffed at my boldness. It brought a smirk to my face, if only for a moment. The family head took a breath to steady himself, before stating, "I heard you were adopted, so you may as well have been from a prominent family. Your demeanor tended to agree.

I smirked slightly again, no one else seemed to realize that he just insulted my 'parents' because they were commoners. The higher classes didn't consider middle class to be prominent families or such, because they still did hard labor to make a living. Just lucky farmers blessed with good harvests. Unless other farmers cheated, like us and had two very skilled daughters with fire and water.

I didn't feel threatened, even though this man had a steely glare, trying to pry me open and reveal my secrets. Try as he might, no one could see through me so easily. That was mainly because Maple and I were the biggest mystery in our family especially to ourselves. We had no clue as to our days before being found by the mountain side. I didn't intend to find out either.

His eyes flickered away for a moment, "Ah, Ms. I wouldn't touch that if I were you." I turned to see my sister standing at the base of a bear easily twice the size of Uncle Robert. Its fur was grayish white and spiked as if it was frozen from ice and snow.

I had a stuffed snow bear toy that was 'father's' way of convincing me that things would be fine. It was a soft cuddly toy, a false replica of the terrifyingly real thing. Especially with its claws extended and mouth gaped open revealing it's large sharp teeth.

An image burned in my skull, one of me, piercing a great beast like that with a spear. I blinked for a moment then the image was gone. Was it a faded dream, a shattered image, what happened way back when?

I refocused on Maple, her hand extended to touch the pad of the Bear's forearm. Her face stared fascinated into the Bear's mask of horror.

"Maple," I called to her, and linked my arm around hers to pull her away. I always knew this place was as frightening as the rumors said, but it was far worse than I imagined. Having a giant stuffed bear in the dining hall was merely a glimpse of what my ‘father’ forced me into.

"You should look again," I froze, and turned around. Maple gave me a questioning glance but said nothing. Something called to me from behind. "Look up."

My eyes went wide, my breath escaped me, if I looked in a mirror, I was sure I would be pale white. I felt Maple’s eyes follow mine and she gave a small gasp and a jolt. It was no secret that the Blood hounds tracked and hunted the most rare and bizarre creatures. I was surprised that I overlooked this item during my first assessment of the walls.

They took up nearly one fourth of the wall, stretched out wide and placed to be intimidating. They were wide, black, bat-like wings that filled me with pain and dread. I wanted to reach up and touch them just as Maple had with the bear.

"Ah dragons, dangerous creatures those are, so powerful they can transform into humans and walk among us." I heard the Blood hound head speak from beside me. "Granted, they are not the most powerful, but powerful enough. They were hunted for a millennium. So now, there was only a handful left."

"What do you mean by dragons are not the most powerful?" I did my best to phrase it, as a question rather than snapping at him, best not make enemies with your future ‘father-in-law’.

"It’s certainly no phoenix, if that’s what you’re inquiring about. No one has seen a phoenix for centuries, I doubt they even existed, but it would be nice to have feathers of pure fire in a trophy case somewhere."

"I imagine they would set the house on fire, Father." We all turned to the new comer jumping into the conversation. He was darker than his father, with jet-black hair and neatly trimmed beard. Just as tall and handsome, as Mrs. Myrlyn would probably say if the comment wouldn’t make her seem as common as she truly was. His voice was undeniably cold as were his dark blue eyes. I couldn’t help but noticed that he stared at me in a certain way that a hunter looked at its prey.

"I am Onyx," He lowered himself to one knee and held my hand to his lips. "You must be Brook, my fiancée."

Callously, I appraised him; my air of indifference threw him off slightly. "You were expecting me to be a cowering damsel in distress. Hate to disappoint you, Lord Onyx, but you can expect me to handle myself." Everything stilled at the remark, it was an open challenge to the blood hound family, however in secret they approved of me at that very moment. Mrs. Myrlyn gasped at my blatant rebellion against my fiancé. Everyone waited for Onyx’s rebuttal to my comment.

"I wouldn’t expect any less of my future wife. I always admire a female who can take care of herself. Petty girls who rely on a man for everything tend to be such a nuisance after a while." he rose and gave me a sharp look, he planned to break my spirit soon.

I coldly glared at him, as he grabbed his father’s forearm in greeting. I barely made out the conversation whispered between the two.

"You’re late."

"I am sorry father, but you know how I am with formal events. I didn’t even want to be married."

"Didn’t suggest you changed your mind."

"I never expected someone of her stature to be a commoner."

"You never expected someone like her to be like anyone." With that, the Blood hound head walked away.

Onyx gave a wicked smile, "You seem rather interested in the items on the walls, my dear Brook." I disguised my eavesdropping as I stared at the walls. Unfortunately, I cared not for the heads and trinkets on the walls. "They are our coming of age hunting trophies, though some are not that spectacular. My father was the one to kill the dragon, however not his inauguration trophy, but it does make everything else on the walls far less impressive."

He dragged me over to the adjacent wall by the fireplace. "Right up there is mine," he pointed to a mask next to a griffin’s head. "Mine isn’t glorious as a giant, of which I was hoping to win as my first hunt by the east mountains, but finding something as rare and as priceless as a merman warrior, made up for it." I stared into the intricate mask of shells and pearls. A chunk was missing from the right eye hole. I assumed that Onyx rammed his sword into the poor creature’s eye. I felt a lone shiver as it ran down my spine, and yet I stood almost directly in front of the fire.

The blood hound head then cleared his throat, capturing the attention of everyone in the room. "Come, join us for dinner." Everyone claimed a chair along the table. Onyx helped me into one, as was the custom for the males to do during their engagement dinner. He sat down beside me, placing his hand upon mine.

"Shall we start with the evening prayer?" A woman with silver and black hair, who sat beside the family head, stated with a low proud voice.

"Lord Protector, help me through this night. Lord Protector, shine down on us with your everlasting light, bless those we have here with us tonight, smile down on my son, Onyx, my successor." My head snapped up at this, fortunately no one else noticed this breach of protocol and quickly lowered my head. "Bless the young girl who we welcome into our family, soon to be one of our own, despite her," he paused, "upbringings. We live, we witness and we rejoin you to live once again."

"We live, we witness and we rejoin you to live once again," I noticed some slurring from the others. I scanned the table, noting one or two hostile glares directed at Onyx. I thought that they would have been directed at me for being a farmer's daughter, they had no reason to glare at Onyx.

As the dinner commenced, I continuously noted who exactly each person was and the reason they were invited here tonight. Several were brothers, only a few accompanied by their wives, they humbly took over as heads of other prominent families. However, there were one or two that planned to win their father’s favor and take over the Blood hound family, the announcement of Onyx being the successor during prayer only displeased and even angered them. They had a look in their eyes, as they glared at me, one that gave me the feeling that I should never be alone with them ever.

I decidedly ate very little, and kept quiet. People more often than not tried to engage me in a conversation or two. My mind wandered back to the mask. Not only did it ruin my appetite but, that thought and the imposing dragon wings left me wishing a little to converse with these butchers.

Butchers, that was a bit of a hard word, wasn’t it? I felt so strongly about labeling them as such. It was a common label, which hardly covered my true feelings toward them. The appropriate word I felt was a lot nastier and crueler. Butchers wasn’t even remotely close to what they truly were.

As the dinner ended, I watched Mrs. Myrlyn as she repeatedly gave out excuses as to my insubordinate silence, stating that I was "shy" and "not used to people." Granted, I gave the latter credit where it was due. I was not used to behaving in public. There was indeed a difference, for which she should be happy, I was not hanging off the chandelier. However, I am afraid that would only impress these people further. The bolder and more unladylike I was, the better, the more ladylike I was the better. I couldn’t win with these fools.

After the toast to bless our future "happy" marriage, it was time for the gift exchange. Traditionally, males first so I watched as Lord Onyx unwrapped my ‘father’s’ gift, a ceremonial knife with a curved serrated edge.

"It was my father-in-law’s before he traditionally passed it down to me."

"Fine craftsman work," He continued on to Mrs., Myrlyn’s gift, a gold pocket watch. I swore she spent all her savings to buy the nicest one they had at the store in town, or perhaps managed to purchase it outside of town and had it delivered like my dress.

Finally, there was my gift to him, Oh I wished I could have picked out a dead bird or something to be a gift, and watched Mrs. Myrlyn’s face, as it turned red with horror and embarrassment. One must be calm under any given situation.

I spoke too soon; one must remain calm, unless some lady posing as your mother decided to give your stuff away. Lord Onyx held my bear claw choker in his hand looking at me in surprise. I was too busy glaring at Mrs. Myrlyn. How did she even find it? She was snooping around in my room, that sneaky horrible woman! I hoped her soul rotted in comatose!

"I never heard of any jeweler using bear claws for jewelry," he slid it onto his wrists in admiration.

"I am not a jeweler," I nearly snapped, still glaring at that wretched woman, He liked it, so now I will never get it back. Didn’t she know she gave away something I needed to remember, remember what exactly? A promise I knew a key to my past, a promise to someone.

A box appeared in my hands, as it was my turn to open the Blood hounds gifts. I hoped that they weren’t any abused, dying animals. That was something I would have done to them. They couldn’t steal my ideas. I unwrapped an old leather journal. Oh yes, they put a lot of thought into that gift. Unless you must pass down something old and underused as tradition. The next item was a topaz necklace, not much of a replacement for my beloved bear claw choker, but blue topaz was the family stone, I thought it would have been garnets.

Next thing I knew, Lord Onyx was down on his knee lifting my hand to gently slip on a silver, blue topaz ring. The room became unbearably hot, not because of the massive fireplace.

"To signify our engagement," I just wanted to get out of there. This place became dangerous, though I had no idea why. Angry eyes stared down at me, I couldn’t help but stare at the choker that was no longer mine, on his wrist. I willed myself to remember my promise, for I felt as though I just broke it.

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