Cassandra was fairly certain that her heart had ceased its beating.
Feeling her face drain of color, Cassandra lowered her eyes and began to twist a blade of grass around her finger. The sound of the birds' cheerful chirruping was silenced by the darkness of Cassandra's mind as she absently pulled the grass from the earth. At long last, she looked up at the King and shook her head. "I don't think so."
Was it just Cassandra's imagination, or did King Amadeo's eyes fill with tears. Quietly, the King asked, "Not even when you were a child?"
Uncomfortable but also wanting to speak her heart for the first time in ages, Cassandra thought again. "I guess I thought I was alright when I was a little girl," she mused, then sighed. "But not for long."
"Were you sold into slavery when you were a little girl?" The King's voice was gentle.
"It's not slavery. I've chosen this."
"You can be a slave to something you've chosen."
The words pierced Cassandra's very soul, and she leaned further away from her companion. "I'm not sure I want to talk about this," she said. Brushing hair from her eyes, she bit her lip and waited for the King's response to her rude statement.
"I guess I just want you to know something," King Amadeo finally replied.
Not wanting to hear what the King had to say, because it would probably bring only further unease to her spirit, Cassandra looked up at the sky and let out a long breath. All around her, the grass stirred gently in the wind, and the tree branches rustled to the rhythm of the sun. But inside, Cassandra felt naught but searing pain, pain that she'd long since unsuccessfully tried to staunch.
The King reached out and laid his hand on Cassandra's. The action caused Cassandra to want to move away, but strangely enough, she found the courage to allow the King's tender touch. In any case, it was better than what Hadrian did to her.
"Cassandra, you don't have to pretend to be put together around me, alright? I know what it's like to be in pain."
"But you're not bad like me. You're good. I'll bet you've never so much as kissed a woman. Look at me. Don't you see who I am? I'm not a good person. I've done things that cause me to be the object of nearly everyone's scorn. I have no right to think I can pour out my heart to you. In fact, I don't have any right to be here."
With that, Cassandra leaped from the ground, knocking over the bottle of grape juice in the process. "I've got to go," she muttered. "I'm sorry. I've taken up enough of your time."
King Amadeo stood, also. "No, Cassandra, wait! You mustn't go back to Hadrian. He will harm you."
"I already know that!" How does he know Hadrian's name?
"He will never satisfy you, Cassandra!"
"I've made my choice," Cassandra said, whirling around to face the King. "I know what I want. Let me leave."
Though he did not pursue her, the King called out as Cassandra ran, "I will not give up on you, Cassandra. I'll let you make your choice, but I will also find you again." His voice turned to one of impassioned urgency. "Come to the castle, Cassandra! There's a place for you to stay, a guest suite where no one can hurt you."
But Cassandra kept running away. Running and running and running away.