Happy new year everybody. I can't believe it is already 2019. Sorry for the delay as always... life has been a struggle yet I continue on. Please enjoy.

Snatching my belongings from the floor, I ran outside and away from the burgeoning bedlam, wearing only my smallclothes. The ground was icy under my feet, but I ignored the sting as I dashed across the courtyard. Not knowing where else to seek refuge, I headed back to my room in the novitiate, through the Sisters placed as guards, until my door was firmly shut.

It truly had been him. Standing in the flesh. My back ached from where I had been whipped. Both of them had partaken in it. Marcus was not a surprise, but Casimir... I detested when Sister Maven marched me around as if I was a miscreant. All of them had seen my mementos that I had begrudgingly collected during my time in the convent. If it had just been strangers, then mayhaps it would not be so appalling... but I knew them. Even convinced myself I had loved one of them at one point in time, though it turned out just to be the daydream of a naïve little girl.

From my dresser I pulled out my tunic from earlier and slipped it over my head. I would rather have that one be soiled from my blood than the more formal outfit. I let out a hiss as it came to rest against my back. It was not ideal to wear it when I had open wounds, but I was not sure what else I could do.

Abruptly I could hear a charge of people enter the novitiate. It was loud enough to have likely stirred every girl in the building. Shrieks erupted outside. Somebody shouted. Then I heard it. Doors were being wrenched open and slammed closed. It was as if thunder had descended unto the building.

My name reverberated through the hall. Not Imela as I had been called for over the past two years, but the true one nobody dared speak anymore. I was frightened for more reasons than just one.

Snuffing the candle, I slid down in a corner, tucked in between the wall and my dresser, and drew my knees to my chest. Everything was so clear now. My fight with Casimir, our kisses, the long avoidance afterwards, and his affections with Eleni. Even Marcus nearly taking my virtue, biting my neck. He had been using me just as much as I had been using him. Marguerite and Mother also appeared to me, how they had left me behind, discovering at the ball that they were still alive. It was too much.

Clenching my eyes closed, I stooped my head down. Why was Casimir so persistent now? I could hear him getting closer as Sisters yelped around him, indisputably struggling to assuage his rage as he ransacked the novitiate. Looking for me.

In the next room over, the door shut deafeningly. It was my turn now.

Light flooded my unlit room, casting itself onto me. All was silent now; even the Sisters had quieted down. I looked up and saw Casimir's body heavily shadowed. He was still, gazing upon me as if I were an apparition risen to haunt. In a way, I was. At least to him.

"Josephine..." I barely heard it. My name was like a prayer on his lips. He tentatively stepped forward into the room, though I remained seated in my nook.

Behind him, the Sisters observed us with curiosity. Their faces made me want laugh, and so I did. They were taken aback, unable to comprehend why the dear prince had been searching so hard for me and perplexed by my unexpected tittering.

"What have they done to you?" Casimir snarled. "What have you done?" He looked to the women behind him, shoving an accusatory finger in their faces as they leaned away. He was met with silence.

Swiftly, he turned back and closed the distance between us, kneeling in front of me. His hand reached out for my cheek, but I turned it the other way, no longer giggling.

"Josephine." He said again, as if to confirm I was truly in front of him. He plucked up my hand, but I let it go limp in his own. "Please, Josephine, say something."

"I have nothing to say to you, Your Royal Highness." I dared a peek at his face and it seemed crestfallen.

"Please don't treat me so, Josephine." He stood up and addressed the Sisters. "I'm taking her with me."

"You cannot!" One of them trilled. "She is a novice here at the Sisterhood!"

"I will, and I can." Casimir raised me from my seated position, and started walking away, but I did not budge.

"These are my quarters." I sniffed. "This is where I sleep. And as of now I am tired."

"I don't care if this is where you sleep, Josephine. You shouldn't be here at all!" He tugged at my arm, but I still refused to move. Exasperated, he hoisted me into his arms, like when he had found me at the hot springs. I whimpered when his arm bore into my back. He did not miss it and knitted his brows together.

Studying the ground the whole of the way, I did not know where we were going, but was not entirely stunned to see he had brought me to the room he was staying in. It was spacious, though not nearly as grand as even my own had been at the palace.

I had never been privy to the guest rooms at the convent, nor had I particularly cared to view them. Perhaps it is where I would have been quartered if my visit had been for a short time as promised. As it is, they had immediately set me up in the novitiate. It didn't matter to me since I knew I would never be staying in a guest chamber, but I supposed life hadn't yet turned out how I thought it would.

Casimir deposited me on the bed, before going back out and muttering lowly to somebody outside. When he came back over to me, I felt his weight shift the mattress as he sat down next to me. He stroked my cheek before lowering his own to it, his beard scratching my face.

"I'm so sorry, Josephine." He smelled like wine and roasted meat. Rolling his body next to mine, he wrapped his arms around me and squeezed me tightly, relaxing his grip when I sighed in pain. "I never wanted to hurt you," he murmured into my ear. I wasn't sure if he meant his rejection or the whip. Perhaps it was both.

We stayed like that for a while, his steady breathing warming me whilst my eyes remained unblinking. Finally, Casimir stirred, and got up from the bed when somebody knocked.

"Josephine, come with me." This time I stood, though I followed from a distance as he led me to a different room, his shoulders more hunched after I rejected his touch yet again.

Inside a bath had been drawn. It seemed like forever since I had last immersed myself in water, instead of washing myself outside with a bucket and rag. Baths were only meant for the wealthy, which I had no doubts that I was not.

Impervious to embarrassment after all that had happened with Casimir, and feeling rather emboldened, I peeled off my tunic and smallclothes as he stood behind me, and slowly submerged my aching body into the hot liquid, stretching my back as it rushed against my bleeding sores. Never had bathing felt so good. Not in a very long time.

I dipped my head beneath the calm surface, wanting my body to be engulfed completely. Sinking to the bottom, I opened my eyes. Casimir's blurry figure appeared above me after a minute, but I remained still. Suddenly he plunged his hands into the water and forced me to resurface. He was scared, I realized, and I grinned at the notion.

"Are you trying to kill yourself, Josephine?!" Casimir snapped as water ran down my face.

"No matter how close I come, death always turns me away," I laughed.

"That's not funny."

"Who said I was joking?" I said. He stared at me in return and I looked down at the water. There was a slight pink tinge to it.

He began massaging soap into my hair as I sat solemnly. It probably needed a good scrubbing after so long.

"Your hair is short now," he said as he ran his fingers across my scalp. "It was always so beautiful."

"Yes, well they cut it all off for the exact reason you said. Sister Maven sheared it to the scalp, telling me I was like a peacocking whore."

His hands momentarily stopped rubbing. "She said that to you? And cut it off because of that?"

"Obviously," I said, my lips curving down. "It's hardly anything considering the state of my back and legs. I cried when she cut my hair, but I wailed when the whip bit into my skin for the first time."

"I'll have her head for this," Casimir muttered darkly, and I couldn't help but cackle at his words.

"Are you serious?" I asked, twisting around to face him. "It is her job to train novices like me. If you truly had a problem with it, then you wouldn't have accepted the whip tonight and snapped it against some unknown girl! Your anger is not sincere, especially just because you found out it was me!"

He raised his eyebrows in shock, but he knew it was true. I could see it in his dark eyes. They matched the gaze of my own. He was searching for some shred of the girl I used to be. Did he not understand she was gone?

Tilting, my chin up with his finger, he smiled, but it held no joy. He thumbed the scar on my jaw as pity skittered across his features.

I furrowed my brow. "Do not feel sorry for me."

"How could I not, Josephine? To see what has happened to you after all these years... my heart breaks for you. I searched tirelessly for you, as your sister did as well, even after they told me you were dead. I couldn't believe it. I wouldn't." He grasped both of my cheeks in between his palms, and I noticed tears forming in the corners of his eyes. "You are so young, Josephine. And to have experienced everything you have... I cannot accept it. You have always been too pure for this world."

"The world does not care for gullible fools. You helped teach me that, Casimir, among many others. Any inane beliefs of freedom I held were shed long ago, along with my innocence and ingenuous perceptions of this world. I endeavored to escape from it, and I paid the price dearly." I swatted his hands away. "I'm tired of talking when it leads to nothing, and I simply would just like to sleep." I stood up in the basin, water cascading off me into the pool below.

Casimir's eyes nearly sprung out of his head, but his eyes lingered slightly too long on me before he quickly turned away.

"You should have warned me you were about to get out, Josephine, I would have looked elsewhere."

Reaching for the cloth next to the bath, I chuckled. "What does it matter, Casimir? It's not like it is something you have never seen before. If I recall correctly, you even tasted it." I stepped out of the tub, water dripping onto the floor. "You can turn around, Your Royal Highness. I do believe I'm respectable enough for you now."

Guardedly, Casimir looked back to me, an unreadable grimace on his face. He tossed me a nightgown reminiscent of the ones I used to wear at the palace, and I slipped it over my head, this time vigilant not to reveal myself to him in an immodest way.

"I'll probably bleed through this," I said, gesturing at the white clothing.

Shrugging, he led me back to his room and closed the door behind him. We did not see a single soul in the hallway.

"You'll be sleeping in my bed tonight," Casimir said as he changed clothes. He removed his outfit until he was standing only in his smallclothes. I observed him as he threw on a pair of loose trousers yet remained topless.

As he finished up, I made my way over to the bed and climbed in. There was no point in arguing with the prince anymore, who apparently always got his way. Anyhow, it was more comfortable than the bed I'd been sleeping on, this one noticeably stuffed with a finer material than hay.

Casimir tread over to the bed, standing by it but not getting in. He simply towered next to it as he looked me over with raking eyes.

"Is it fine with you if I sleep next to you?" Like he had when I was younger, but so much had changed.

I nodded my head, my defiance from earlier quickly being taken over by dulled pains and heavy lids, and he settled in beside me, his arms searching for me until my back was a breath away from his chest. I felt him lift the hem of my gown and I shivered, remembering I was nude underneath. His hand glided up my spine, over new and old scars, until he spread his fingers apart at the top and grazed the flesh with his palms.

"Does it hurt terribly?" He whispered into the black air, drawing circles onto my back.

"It's nothing I can't handle. I've certainly had worse." I thought to the raised lacerations on my arm and the missing spot where my toe should have been.

His hand left my heated flesh and I sighed. Instead he wrapped his arm around me and closed the gap between us, his beard rubbing against my jaw as before.

"I truly am sorry, Josephine."

I spun around to face him, our noses nearly touching. "Don't. It won't fix all that has been undone." This time, I was the one to take his face between my palms. "We all have our cages." My lips found his in the darkness, chaste in discretion. "Goodnight, Casimir."

Review and follow or whatever. Thanks for reading.